Christianity 201

March 3, 2017

Devotional for 3/3: The Trinity

Someone pointed out the coincidence (if that applies) that a major motion picture about the Trinity is releasing on 3/3. That got me thinking that perhaps we could look back at this topic as it has been discussed here.

In November of 2014 we began with a quote from Tozer:

Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.
~A.W. Tozer, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 4

and then continued to look at “who does what.”

In the Holy Scriptures the work of creation is attributed to the Father

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below

to the Son

Col 1:16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.

and to the Holy Spirit

Job 26:13     By His breath, the heavens are made beautifully clear;
        by His hand that ancient serpent—even as it attempted escape—is pierced through.

Psalm 104:30 When You send out Your breath, life is created,
    and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.

The article continues as a scripture medley worth checking out… continue reading here.

In July, 2013 we looked at the idea of “One What and Three Whos” with this item by C. Michael Patton:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Spirit of GodSince there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos…

For more on the idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity… continue reading here.

In February of 2011, we offered “The Trinity Collection,” to go-to verses in which all three members of the Godhead are referenced:

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIrV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

That’s pretty much the entire piece… read at source here.

Also in February, 2011, we had a discussion at Thinking Out Loud and noted that

…four of the seven statements in the National Association of Evangelicals Statement of Faith which specifically refer to God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, of which the first is primary for this discussion:

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

(For Canadian readers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith is identical.)

For that article… continue reading here.

Finally, in January of this year, here at C201 we quoted Fred Sanders on Trinitarian Praise:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be, world without end.

The glory of God is from everlasting to everlasting, but while the praise of the Trinity will have no end, it had a beginning. There was never a time when God was not glorious as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. But there was a time when that singular glory (singular because, to gloss the Athanasian Creed, there are not three glorious, but one) had not yet disclosed itself so as to invite creatures to its praise. To join in the ancient Christian prayer called the Gloria Patri, directing praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to come into alignment here in the world “as it is now” with triune glory “as it was in the beginning.” All theology ought to be doxology, but Trinitarian theology in particular is essentially a matter of praising God. This doxological response is the praise of a glory (ἔπαινον δόξης, Eph 1:6, 12, 14) that always was, and whose epiphany in time entails its antecedent depth in eternity. Those whom God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ are summoned to join that praise: “Blessed be God the Father, who has blessed us in the Beloved and sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:3–14, condensed).

For more of that article… continue reading here.

July 23, 2013

Is There a Hierarchy within The Trinity?

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As much I’d love to engage comments on this one, I find this topic often attracts people who want to debate Trinitarian doctrine itself from one particular viewpoint. Therefore, I suggest that today comments be referred to the source blog of the article.

This appeared at a blog I highly regard and respect, Parchment and Pen. Author C. Michael Patton originally posted this under the title Why Jesus is Greater than the Holy Spirit.

I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. This is how I would formulate this doctrine:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Spirit of GodSince there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos.

Confused? Good. Anytime you have an “aha!” moment with regard to the Trinity, it is a good sign you have just entered into the world of heresy.

While I don’t believe there is an ontological hierarchy (gradation of essence, or all that stuff I said above), I do believe there can be a hierarchy in person. In other words, one member of the Trinity can take on a different rank than another. I think we can all agree that at the incarnation, this hierarchy presented itself as Father, then Son, then Spirit. After all, even Christ said that the Father was greater than he was (John 14:28). This is sometimes called a “functional hierarchy.” This should not be too difficult to process, as we can see many analogies to this in our own world. For example, President Obama is greater than I am in one respect. He is the President of the United States. Therefore, his position and authority are greater than mine. But he is not greater in essence. Similarly, parents are greater than children in rank. But they are not greater in their being. And (cover your eyes, egalitarians) I believe the Bible presents the husband as having greater authority than his wife. However, he is not greater in his ontos or humanity.

When it comes to the Holy Spirit, I believe the Holy Spirit is last on the divine authority totem pole. The Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Holy Spirit, and the Father is sent by none. There is much less said about the Holy Spirit in the New Testament than either the Father or the Son. But as far as honor and dignity, it would seem that Jesus Christ tops them all. When I read the Bible, I am struck by how much Christ is the center of all things. He is the image of God which is seen, the one who becomes incarnate and relates to humanity more than any other, he is the one who calls us friend, he is our intercessor, and he is the one in whom we are to believe for eternal life. In fact, the very name of our faith finds its basis in his name. It is not called Holy Spiritanity or Fatheranity. It is not even called Yahwehanity. It is called Christ-ianity.

Another way to think about it can be illustrated as follows: The first two members of the Trinity have very relational names. We find it easy to relate to the title “Father,” since most of us have an example (though not perfect) through our earthly fathers. So “Father” is endearing. And “Jesus” is a personal name. I figure that he will always go by that handle. And the father may always go by “Father.” But what about the Holy Spirit? “Holy Spirit” is such a distant and (forgive me) cold name. Is that really his name? First name “Holy” last name “Spirit”?  Do those who are close to him just call him “Holy,” while everyone calls him “Mr. Spirit”? Maybe in heaven we can get the insider scoop on what his real name is (not Yahweh…that is a Trinitarian name, as they are all Yahweh). Maybe Bob, John, Nate, or Michael. Just something more personal, as I envision having a very distinct relationship with him in the new earth.

My point is this: the Holy Spirit, while having equal power, authority, and diginity as the Father and the Son, and having the same nature as Jesus and the Father, is the least spoken about and recognized of all three members of the Trinity. By the way, before you begin to feel sorry for him, realize this: this is intentional. The Holy Spirit does not seek air time. We often talk about Christ’s humility (and rightly so), but we rarely recognize the Holy Spirit’s humility. His primary purpose is not to get you to recognize him (as deserving as he is), but to recognize Christ.

In the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-17, the most Trinitarian section of the Bible), Christ speaks a lot about sending  the Holy Spirit (sometimes called “the Helper” or “the Spirit of Truth”), but notice what the primary goal of the Holy Spirit will be:

John 15:26
“When the Helper [Holy Spirit] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.”

Did you get that? The all-powerful, omniscient, everlasting creator of all things — the Holy Spirit — will not testify about himself, his glory, and his person, but about Christ, whom the Holy Spirit loves with a greater love than we ccould ever imagine. Why doesn’t the Holy Spirit testify about himself? After all, he has every reason to pat himself on the back and toot his own horn, yet all he wants to talk about is Jesus. Why?

I can’t tell you how the role distinctions were chosen for redemption. It is possible that the Holy Spirit could have been the one who became incarnate and died on the cross. It could have been the Holy Spirit to whom all attention was given. Yet this is not the case. He elected to humble himself to the point of almost non-recognition.

I believe the Holy Spirit is just as much God as the Father and the Son. I believe the Holy Spirit deserves as much honor as the other members of the Trinity. Yet the greatest way for you to honor the Holy Spirit and evidence his work in you is to glorify Christ. What an example He is.

Why is Jesus greater in function than the Holy Spirit? Because that is the way he wants it. Amazing!

Similar Posts:

February 3, 2011

The Trinity Collection

No, it’s not a new jewelry line.  It’s a compilation of the various “trinitarian” verses in the Bible taken from a list in one of the various study Bibles, probably the NIV Life Application Bible.

trinity 1trinity 2

I list these here today because I’ve just spent a record two hours preparing tomorrow’s blog post at Thinking Out Loud, where we look at the question, “Do doctrines like ‘trinity’ really matter?”  In other words, dealing with people — some of them high profile Christian ministers and musicians — who don’t share the view of “God in three persons” normally expressed in Catholic, mainline Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical and Charismatic Christianity.  If you want to read that article, link here.

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIRV*

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

*The passage from Acts was on a poster in my bedroom when I was younger. In the Living Bible, it read, simply, “The Father gave the authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit.”

November 8, 2014

Tozer: Trinity Job Descriptions; Who Does What?

Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.
~A.W. Tozer, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 4

 

Today we look at the work of God. Classic writer A. W. Tozer, who helped found the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, sets this up well in the first paragraph, and describes a situation that many Christians fall into.  Because we’re dealing with an older writing style, I thought we’d mix things up a bit, and use The Voice Bible (except where noted) as the base text. The cross references aren’t spelled out in the original; I’ve taken the time today (partly for my own benefit) to look them all up for you. Because the page numbers may differ in various editions of The Idea of the Holy, suffice it to say that this is the section that concludes chapter four.

O marvelous!  O worshipful!
No song or sound is heard,
But everywhere and every  hour
In love, in wisdom, and in power,
The Father Speaks His dear Eternal Word.
Frederick W. Faber

A W TozerA popular belief among Christians divides the work of God between the three Persons, giving a specific part to each, as, for instance, creation to the Father, redemption to the Son, and regeneration to the Holy Spirit.  This is partly true, but not wholly so, for God cannot so divide Himself that one Person works while another is inactive.  In the Scriptures the three Persons are shown to act in harmonious unity in all the mighty works that are wrought throughout the universe.

In the Holy Scriptures the work of creation is attributed to the Father

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below

to the Son

Col 1:16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.

and to the Holy Spirit

Job 26:13     By His breath, the heavens are made beautifully clear;
        by His hand that ancient serpent—even as it attempted escape—is pierced through.

Psalm 104:30 When You send out Your breath, life is created,
    and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.

The incarnation is shown to have been accomplished by the three Persons in full accord

Luke 1:35 The Holy Spirit will come upon you. The Most High will overshadow you. That’s why this holy child will be known, as not just your son, but also as the Son of God.

though only the Son became flesh to dwell among us.  At Christ’s baptism the Son came up out of the water, the Spirit descended upon Him and the Father’s voice spoke from heaven,

NLT Matt. 3:16 After his baptism, as soon as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God coming down in the form of a dove. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, and I am wonderfully pleased with him.”

Probably the most beautiful description of the work of atonement is found in Hebrews 9:14, where it is stated that Christ, through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God; and there we behold the three Persons operating together.

Hebrews 9:14 then how much more powerful is the blood of the Anointed One, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself as a spotless sacrifice to God, purifying your conscience from the dead things of the world to the service of the living God?

The resurrection of Christ is likewise attributed variously to the Father

NIV Acts 2:32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.

to the Son

John 10:17 The Father loves Me because I am willing to lay down My life—but I will take it up again. 18 My life cannot be taken away by anybody else; I am giving it of My own free will. My authority allows Me to give My life and to take it again. All this has been commanded by My Father.

and to the Holy Spirit

ESV Romans 1:4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The salvation of the individual man is shown by the apostle Peter to be the work of all three Persons of the Godhead,

I Peter 1:2 I am sending this letter to those who have been selected and destined by God the Father and made holy by God the Spirit that you may be obedient to Jesus the Anointed and purified by the sprinkling of His blood. May grace and peace beyond all reckoning be yours.

and the indwelling of the Christian man’s soul is said to be by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Jesus: John 14:15 If you love Me, obey the commandments I have given you. 16 I will ask the Father to send you another Helper, the Spirit of truth, who will remain constantly with you. 17 The world does not recognize the Spirit of truth, because it does not know the Spirit and is unable to receive Him. But you do know the Spirit because He lives with you, and He will dwell in you. 18 I will never abandon you like orphans; I will return to be with you. 19 In a little while, the world will not see Me; but I will not vanish completely from your sight. Because I live, you will also live. 20 At that time, you will know that I am in the Father, you are in Me, and I am in you. 21 The one who loves Me will do the things I have commanded. My Father loves everyone who loves Me; and I will love you and reveal My heart, will, and nature to you.

The Other Judas: 22 Lord, why will You reveal Yourself to us, but not to the world?

Jesus: 23 Anyone who loves Me will listen to My voice and obey. The Father will love him, and We will draw close to him and make a dwelling place within him.

The doctrine of the Trinity, as I have said before, is truth for the heart.  The fact that it cannot be satisfactorily explained, instead of being against it, is in its favour.  Such a truth had to be revealed; no one could have imagined it.

O Blessed Trinity!
O simplest Majesty!  O Three in One!
Thou art for ever God alone.
Holy Trinity!
Blessed equal Three
One God, we praise Thee.
~Frederick W. Faber


Other Tozer readings here at Christianity 201:

 

 

 

June 23, 2013

The Other Side of “Trinity”

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwisIn February of 2011, I wrote an article at Thinking Out Loud asking, ‘If the doctrine of the Trinity is one of 7-10 core doctrines that turns up in the statement of faith of almost every denomination, can non-Trinitarians be consider ‘Christian’ in the regular sense of the word?’  Last week someone dredged up at the post and wrote several long and heated posts suggesting that yes, indeed they can. I had just about forgotten that when I came across a similar piece that sets out the argument of non-Trinitarians in a more calm and rational manner. I’ve heard this stated before and certainly some of it, I am sympathetic to. But I decided it’s good to be challenged — this is after all Christianity 201, not 101 — so I’m featuring it here today. It’s actually part one of a two part (so far) series; the author is Kermit Zarley and the link to this part — to read at source or leave comments — is The Holy Spirit Is Not a Person; God’s Identity that Only Worsens. Inclusion here does not imply endorsement.

Most Christians believe in the Trinity since that’s what their church teaches. It says God is one essence consisting of three co-equal and co-eternal Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So, the Holy Spirit is deemed a full-fledged Person.

The church didn’t always believe this. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, there was no consensus among church fathers, called “apologists,” about the constitution of the Holy Spirit. Most of them didn’t think it was important. In fact, there was a widespread fluidity of ideas among Christians about it. Some thought the Holy Spirit was an impersonal power; others ascribed full personality to the Holy Spirit. Eminent church historian Philip Schaff observes, “the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was far less developed, and until the middle of the fourth century was never a subject of special controversy.”

Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed only state, “I/We believe … in the Holy Spirit.” Due to this brevity, it is absurd for later Trinitarians to assert that a person must believe the Holy Spirit is a full-fledged Person in order to be a Christian.

The Arian-Nicene Controversy of the 4th century was conducted mostly in Greek. All three parties in conflict agreed that the Spirit is a separate hypostasis (subsistence) from the Father and Son. Arius deemed the Spirit’s essence to be unlike that of the Father or the Son. Eusebius, church historian who led the middle party, said the Spirit is inferior in essence to that of the Father and Son, “a third power” in “third rank” to them.

Jannes Reiling contrasts biblical teaching about God’s Spirit with the above view by rightly alleging, “Within the Bible neither ruah nor pneuma are used as a divine name. They are not worshipped as divine beings…. The OT does not represent the spirit as a divine being connected with, yet distinct from, God. It is always functioning as an intermediary between God and mankind…. In the NT the spirit is not envisaged as a divine being (hypostasis), but as an instrument of divine action or revelation.”

James D. G. Dunn says of the Old Testament (OT), “‘Spirit of God’ is simply a way of speaking of God accomplishing his purpose in his world and through men.” He adds, “‘Spirit of God’ in Judaism denoted the power of God.” He says of the writings of Paul and John in the New Testament (NT), “The idea of God’s Spirit as a power and presence (i.e., God’s) … that thought is well established…. But of the Spirit as an entity in any sense independent of God, of Spirit as a divine hypostasis, there is nothing.”

Non-Trinitarian, Dutch theologian Ellen Flesseman-van Leer explains that the Holy Spirit is “not an independent entity alongside God, but the evidence of God’s active presence in the world.”

The Apostle Paul mentions both God the Father and Jesus Christ in the salutations of all ten of his NT letters (assuming he wrote them all), yet he does not mention the Holy Spirit. This absence suggests that Paul did not regard the Holy Spirit as a person.

One reason Trinitarians think the Holy Spirit is a full-fledged Person is that English Bibles usually capitalize “Holy Spirit” and “Spirit” when associated with God. Yet the Hebrew and Greek languages did not have upper and lower case when the earliest biblical manuscripts were written. Such capitalization is merely interpretation of the translators of these versions since they were Trinitarians. In contrast, Jews don’t capitalize “holy spirit” or “spirit” because they don’t think it refers to a person.

Most Christians also think the Holy Spirit is a Person since nearly all Bible versions ascribe personal pronouns to the Spirit. The best biblical example is the frequent “he” in Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit in John 14-16. But pronoun gender in Greek is irrelevant. Whether pronouns applied to the Holy Spirit should be translated “he” or “it” is strictly a theological decision. It is the same there for the pronoun ekeinos.

Binitarian, UK theologian C.F.D. Moule says concerning the Bible applying personal pronouns to the Holy Spirit, “the appeal to Scripture,… proves nothing as to the eternal ‘being’ of the Spirit. It only shows that ‘Spirit’ is a word for a personal God’s personal activity.” Moule concludes, “the fact that Spirit is the mode by which a personal God is present does not seem, in itself, to necessitate the recognition of Spirit as essentially personal;… it seems gratuitous to insist on using a personal pronoun” for the Holy Spirit.

Another reason most Christians think the Holy Spirit is a Person is that the Bible can personify the Holy Spirit as it does God’s Word or Wisdom. When it says the Holy Spirit did some activity, such as speaking, it should not be taken as depicting personality. Jesus once said, “the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles’” (Luke 11.49); yet he did not intend to attribute personality to wisdom. The best OT example of the personification of wisdom is in Proverbs 8—9.6.

Catholic theologian Karl Rahner and biblical exegete Murray Harris rightly admit that the NT never identifies the Holy Spirit as God. Thus, some Trinitarians have wrongly contended that it does in Acts 5.4.

The Bible teaches that man is a tripartite being consisting of body, soul, and spirit. Since God made man in his own image (Genesis 1.26-27), man’s spirit must correspond to God’s Spirit. Moule states, “there is a certain kinship between God and man—between Spirit and spirit.” Yes, and it should be understood from creation that the Spirit of God is to God what the spirit of man is to man. Since man’s spirit is not a person as we moderns understand personhood, God’s Spirit must not be a person either. Rather, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father (Matthew 10.20; Mark 13.11).

(In my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ, I devote 14 pages to an appendix, “The Nature of the Holy Spirit,” citing 25 scholars and their writings as well as the writings of 5 church fathers.)

…Still in? Here’s the link to part two: If the Holy Spirit Is a Person of His Own, then Why Isn’t He Sitting on Heaven’s Big Throne?

June 28, 2020

Jesus and Ritual Hand Washing (Part One)

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NIV.Mark.7.1. The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

Today our searching for devotional sources to highlight here took us to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting. He states that his “blog’s central aim is to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.”

I wanted to include this article in full, but at nearly 1,500 words, it was a little long for our format. But as I tried and tried to edit it — knowing that many of you don’t click through for the ending — I decided instead to run this in full in two parts, today and tomorrow. But you’re encouraged to click the title below and read it in one sitting.

From Hand Washing to #SyrophoenicianLivesMatter: Mark 7

As human beings we have an annoying trait of complicating what God instructs us to do. This is where Mark 7 begins, but not where it ends. At the start of the chapter it is the Pharisees who are complicating God’s instruction. In fact, Jesus will go on to explain they are doing something even worse.

Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus faces hostility from the religious leaders. It was not just Jesus that the leaders had it in for, Israel had a long tradition of prophets who criticised the status quo and thereby the leaders. In Jesus’ time it was still the case. Many people would announce a new teaching, usually centred on the need for political change. Then they set out to bring truth to power. Some, like Jesus, gave everything in the attempt.

Here, the Pharisees have taken some of God’s instruction (torah) and made an extra burden of tradition to go on top. The Law (torah) required priests to ritually clean their hands. This was an act of grace as it reminded them that when dealing with the Holy God of Israel a clean heart is essential.

Please note that this is not about hand hygiene—though this is the centre of our daily lives at present. As an aside, we might want to have a word with Jesus and his disciples on this count.

The accusation that the disciples have not washed their hands, is a claim that they have not obeyed the extra rules made by the Elders. These rules had been added as a burden on everyone. When you are travelling doing itinerant ministry, is not feasible to carry the necessary dedicated washing cups, pots, and bronze kettles. And Mark’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus liked his disciples to travel light.

Jesus, as a rabbi, is responsible for his disciple’s actions. At this level, the Pharisees are justified in bringing the matter to Jesus. The problem with their case is, however, twofold. Firstly, their motives are dubious. This, however, is not the point that Jesus takes up with them. The second issue is the key one. By focusing on man-made traditions these become a distraction from God himself.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

We must not get self-righteous at this point by spotting what we do without thinking. In my own Baptist tradition, the trinity of words: tradition, doctrine, and ritual are often unspoken and these matters judged as peripheral. We might read what Jesus says about human traditions and then go further than Jesus does.

In quoting from Isaiah, God-sanctioned tradition, Jesus is primarily pointing out that God desires true worship. He wants hearts that are set on him. At the same time, he affirms that doctrine and ritual still have a place. In the New Testament, the disciples and Jesus’ brother, James, affirm both doctrine and ritual. In the case of ritual, we still have cleansing effected baptism, we have Christ’s sacrifice proclaimed in bread and wine, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit through anointing with oil. All these are mandated by Jesus and/or the testimony of the New Testament.

Our Christian tradition makes it easier to see some things than others. Let us not abandon other commandments of God. And Let us remember that working these out requires a framework of tradition, doctrine and ritual.

Things get worse for the Pharisees as Jesus spells out why he has quoted Isaiah. He suggests that their specific traditions get in the way of God’s commands. He mentions the idea of ‘corban‘ in which something could be set apart for God. The specific issues seem to be that some where giving land and wealth, made ‘corban‘, to the religious leaders. In doing so, some then deprived their parents of the support that was their due in old age, according to the Law.

Then Jesus gets to the revolutionary bit. Jesus’s comments about the human heart, our insides, our outsides, and purity is both great teaching, spells out a bigger problem—a problem for everyone.

With reference to our basic bodily functions, Jesus explains that what we eat cannot make us unclean. This even transforms some of the commandments of the Law. This is a trajectory that enables God’s people to eat screech owl and even pig should they wish to. The repercussions of this took years to work out after Jesus death hence the editorial note in verse 19.

The counterpoint to this is that we know a person’s heart by their fruit. There is that horrible list: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. Jesus and the Pharisees are on common ground with this list. They can also agree on its root cause.

Jesus and the Pharisees agreed on ample evidence from the Scriptures that the heart is the underlying problem:

  1. God judges people on the basis of their heart, ‘for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV).
  2. The law acknowledges the problem of the uncircumcised heart (Leviticus 26:41).
  3. Proverbs 20:9 puts the issue as a rhetorical question: “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin”?”

Why does he tell them what they already know? The problem is that human effort, via traditions, cannot deal with the sinful heart that we each have. Not even God’s commandments can do this. They might be a helpful bandage or provide palliative care, but they do not deal with a sinful heart. This is a bigger problem than ritual impurity over the lack of hand-washing…

 

March 17, 2020

Biblical Christianity and Social Distancing (1)

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. – Genesis 2:18a

Although this verse is usually presented in the context of what Ellicott terms, “the divine appointment of marriage;” it also reflects the wider principle that we were made for community.

The present period of lockdown, quarantine, or social distancing is contrary to our nature, though I know a few Christian introverts who would say they don’t mind this at all. At least for now. We’ll see what they say in about ten days. God made us as social beings.

My research today took me to a website I was previously unaware of, TheNIVBIble.com which led to this article:

We Were Made for Community

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.John 13:34

In our individualistic society, many of us often feel alone. Sometimes we are actually alone; at other times we simply feel lonely. Some of us, conditioned by our culture, believe we are better off by ourselves and think we do not need the help of others. However, the gospel—and all of Scripture, for that matter—reinforces the truth that we were created for community. God created us not to be isolated beings, but rather people who live life with others. The primary way that we as Christians live in community is by belonging to the church.

When our culture thinks of community, it often thinks of a social club or an organization formed around a specific interest or cause. But the church is something much greater. It is Christ’s “body” (Colossians 1:24). And the nature of our relationships with other Christians is described in the New Testament as koinonia, a Greek word often translated as “fellowship.” It means that we as Christians have communion with one another and participate in life together. Not only that, but we also have communion with Christ and participate in his life and mission. We are members of his body.

Unity in Diversity

The fellowship of the church is concretely expressed in diversity. God wants to transform us from people who prefer to be with those who are like us into people who love those who are unlike us and unlike those with whom we would typically associate.

In his book The Living Church, John Stott discusses the practical consequences, “both negative and positive,” of this kind of loving fellowship:

“Negatively, if we love each other, we will not stand in judgment on each other, or speak evil against each other. We will not bite or devour each other (as if we were wild beasts). And we will not provoke or envy or lie to each other. Positively, if we love each other, we will be kind and compassionate to each other, forbear and forgive each other, submit to each other and build each other up, practice hospitality to each other ungrudgingly, encourage each other, admonish and comfort each other, pray for each other and bear each other’s burdens.”

Community is opportunity. Fellowship in the church becomes a tutor and an avenue for us to love and serve others, even those outside the church. Above all, the church is called to mirror the love of the Trinity. God exists in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is the true unity in diversity, and we are invited to not only share in the love of the Trinity, but also to extend that love to everyone we encounter.

Love In Our Workplace and Community

One reason why God has established the church is so that we can experience concretely the love of Christ. Yet this love was never meant to be restricted to the community of the church. Rather, it should generously overflow into all of our communities, including our workplaces. The love of Christ changes the way we see our work community.

Our coworkers are not merely people who help us get our work done or help us advance professionally. No, God has placed them in our lives so that we may love and serve them, even if they are radically different from us. We are called to love them, as Stott explained, both negatively and positively so that they might not only flourish but also experience God’s love and mercy.


The article then concludes with a question that is a bigger challenge today than it was a week ago:

What communities do you belong to? How might you show greater love to someone today?

I encourage you to find ways to reach out even when physical proximity is not an option.

February 16, 2020

What is the Mystery of Godliness?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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A year ago our search process took us to Pembrokeshire, Wales; and to a congregation — Penuel Baptist Chapel, Roch. — where a large number of the leaders take turns giving the weekly sermon. This article was written by Thomas Kitchen. Click the header below to read this at its source, and then take some time to explore other articles.

Something Unknown Unless God Reveals It

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3:16

There are lots of mysteries in the world, for example the Bermuda Triangle; lots of aircraft have flown into this space only to disappear. The Antikythera was an analogue computer of 100 BC used to determine the position of the stars and planets, yet it is a mystery why it would be about another 1000 years before this technology was found and used again. Turning to this passage to day (1 Timothy 3:14-16) we are going to focus on verse 16. What is the mystery of godliness?

This is a verse short verse yet it is packed with such a lot of truth. The gospel, the good news, is explained here, and the importance of the church is explained.

He was manifested in the flesh.” This is evidence that Jesus really is God. He didn’t start life as a man, He has always been around, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). It is wonderful to hear this gospel. This wonderful news doesn’t begin with one of us. This is someone who became flesh, this is Jesus, who created everything we see, know, hear, taste and feel.  Jesus comes into this world He created and lives among humans, the ones He created. So many have no idea He is the creator of their own soul and body. He is the one who is above all, God incarnate. We see glimpses of this across the Old Testament – with Adam and Eve. Moses, the prophets. Then Jesus comes, God in the flesh. He showed Himself to us completely. In Isaiah 40:12-15 we see humanity’s worthlessness against the King of Kings.

It is utterly astounding what Christ did for us in coming into the world. There is lots of build-up in the Old Testament, glimpses and clues, but now Jesus has come salvation is put into action, the plan worked out before time itself. Jesus – fully God, fully human.

He was vindicated by the Spirit.” He was justified by the Spirit. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This speaks of Jesus being blessed. God is pleased it is His Son carrying out this work of salvation for us. He is pleased with His Son, who is without sin, who is justified and perfect to carry out this task. It had to be Jesus, the Son of God. He was willing to do His Father’s will even though it was hard for Him. But He knew what it would accomplish – the saving of His people.

Seen by angels.” This is an odd sentence at first glance. You would have thought it would have been seen by men and women next. But this phrase is important. It is talking about God the Father’s hand in guiding Jesus. Angels were there at His birth, ministered to Him in the wilderness, at the Garden of Gethsemane, when He rose from the dead and went back into heaven. Angels were with Him every step of the way.

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world,  taken up in glory (1 Timothy 3:16).

God is there in the entire process, working in us, through us and for us.

Proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world.” The nations refer to Gentiles and Jews. The Gentiles are everyone other than Jews. Jews considered themselves to be very different and holier than others. Jesus Himself was Jewish and was brought up with Jewish customs. This matters because Jews considered themselves to be a chosen people which brought them above and beyond other nations. But Jesus wasn’t like that, He knew that no person in the nations was holy. We are all sinful, we are all a drop in the bucket (Isaiah 40:15). But one of the best things about the gospel is it is for all. There are certain blessings in the Old Testament for Jews, but the New Testament is opened up for all. The gospel is proclaimed to all, not just the Jews. It is an invite for all to come to Jesus Christ – and only Jesus Christ. The gospel is for all languages, all peoples, all nations and all tribes. That is how heaven is described.

God had made Jesus Christ salvation for all. This message for us is ‘Come to Jesus Christ.’ He is not just an example for us, He not only bore our sins and we start with a clean slate, He took all our sins and gave us His robe of righteousness. He takes our filthy rags and He gives us our royal robes. One day, if we are trusting in Him, we will be with Him, worshipping Him face to face. We will be perfect, with a new body, eternally with our God. What a day that will be!

Taken up in glory.” This, of course, refers to Jesus going up into heaven. He rose from the dead, showed Himself to many people, to many witnesses, and ascended into heaven. Jesus was taken up into glory to be at the right hand of His Father where He prays for those who trust in Him. Jesus also had His trials, His difficulties. He can empathise with us. He is now praying to the Father for you. This is the glorious message which can never be destroyed. He gives you the faith you need. God does it all, He is the one who raises us from our deadness in sin, He is the one who opens our blind eyes. It is God who brings us back to life (Ephesians 2:1).

What is the mystery of godliness? Looking back to the original language, the Greek word for mystery is mystírio. This is something that is unknown unless God reveals it. What has been revealed to us? The person of the Lord Jesus Christ – who He is, what He has done on the cross. He has been revealed to us. It is unknowable unless it is revealed by God. We can know Jesus for ourselves because God has revealed this to us through His word, the Bible. Of course, there are mysteries we can’t fully understand – for example our Creator God being nailed to a cross, bleeding and dying. This is fact we can’t understand completely. We know this happened but we have to decide if we are going to submit to Him and worship Him forever.

He was raised to glory. One day He is coming again. Every knee will bow. The mystery of His glory will be revealed. Then it’s heaven or hell. Knowing about the gospel is all well and good but it has to go to our hearts. Knowledge without repentance is just a torch to light you to hell, “Knowledge without repentance will be but a torch to light men to hell” (Thomas Watson). If we know the gospel but do nothing about it, then all that knowledge is lighting our way to hell. There are many reasons why sinners go to hell, but there is only one reason sinners go to heaven – they have been washed by the blood of Jesus.

There are Christians who say they know everything they need to know, but we need to be reminded of the gospel every day. We need to hear God’s word, to pray and to preach to ourselves out loud, on our own, reminding ourselves what the He has done for us, what the gospel has done. Say to yourself, “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world,  taken up in glory,” (1 Timothy 3:16). No matter what happens, that is our hope. Our identity is in Christ. If our identity is in marriage and our marriage breaks down, we lose our identity. If our identity is in our job and we lose our job, we have lost our identity. Preach to yourself and you will be encouraged and helped by the Spirit.

Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day

February 11, 2020

Praying on Behalf of Others

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Part of our mission here is to introduce you to new writers, but a subset of that includes highlighting the work of younger writers. Karsten Harrison is still in high school, but I recently enjoyed reading three different articles on his blog, For the Disciple, which were part of a series on prayer. (See January entries.) sClick the header below to read this one at source, and then take a few minutes to look around at other articles.

How to Pray: Supplication

Prayer is the unifying act between God and man. This beautiful action marks the covenetial communion between Lord and His image bearers. In the Spirit, we pray to the Father and through His mediating Son. This truth is absolutely precious: we are intimately interacting with all three persons of the trinity in the act of covenential prayer. Prayer is intimacy with the Father, and a healthy prayer life reveals a true, meaningful connection to the Lord of all creation. Furthermore, prayer is not to be taken lightly; rather, it is a delicate procedure that requires intentionality. When we pray, we are to adore the Father, confess our sinfulness, give thanks to the Father, and finally, supplicate our prayer for others.

Continuing the theme, Nehemiah 1 depicts a true, intimate prayer. In Nehemiah’s prayer, he demonstrates adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and even supplication on behalf of his fellow Israelites.

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, ‘O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.’

Now I was cupbearer to the king.”

Nehemiah 1:4-11 ESV

All prayer must conclude with a ministerial mindset: praying on behalf of others. Jesus was sent by the Father to redeem all of humanity; not just you. Because of this truth, it is important that urgent requests are made on behalf of those that are lost. Furthermore, believers are to pray for other believers. The church is one, unique body of people who share in the common faith in Christ. This means that believers must, be fervent in praying for one another: in fleeing from sin, in receiving wisdom, in pursuing Christ more, in reading more, or whatever else a fellow believer may be in dire, spiritual need for.

Jesus, likewise, demonstrated this act of prayer in John 17. This entire piece of Scripture emphasizes the prayer Jesus makes on behalf of His disciples.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

John 17:9 ESV

Christ prayed specifically for you: that you would be filled with joy in Christ, kept in the Father’s hands, sanctified in the truth of the gospel, unified as one body, that you may be glorified. As believers, we are to pray on behalf of others. We are to make supplication to the Father for those around us.

Scripture Reading

“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

‘I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

‘I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’”

John 17 ESV

Application

  • How can you come to God and pray for others?
  • What are some needs in your community that you can specifically be praying for?
  • Who is someone you can pray for today?

December 23, 2018

Christmas: When Seekers are Hiders

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re also featuring a writer who is new to us. (Again, thanks for the recommendations.) Rebecca LuElla Miller is a freelance writer and editor who has appeared in too many publications to list here. This article has appeared three times on her blog, A Christian Worldview of Fiction. Click the title below to read at source.

Wise Men And The Seeking Thing

“Wise men still seek Him,” the signs say. I saw one the night my friend and I cruised through a community lavishly decorated with lights and Santas and candy canes and an occasional nativity scene. Years past when I was a teacher, I even had those words as the title of a Christmas bulletin board in my classroom.

The phrase, layered with meaning as it is, sounds sort of profound. And Christ centered.

But here’s the thing. In my experience, it doesn’t seem like we seek God so much as God seeks us.

First, God isn’t hiding. He has purposefully and dramatically made Himself known. That’s what the first Christmas and the ensuing thirty-tree years were all about. Jesus came to show humankind the Father.

Secondly, people seem to be more interested in dodging and ducking and hiding from God than in seeking Him. Of course many flat out deny and reject Him. C. S. Lewis wrote of his reluctance, his fight, actually, against God. He called Him his adversary once and wrote this of his conversion:

That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. (Surprised by Joy)

It seems to me, the people who fall into the category of “seeker” are more apt to be hiders, ducking behind the quest for the spiritual in order to avoid God and His claim on their lives. Scripture says clearly that anyone who truly seeks, finds.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matt. 7:7-11)

Consequently, it seems to me the seeking process isn’t some protracted, drawn out, involved study of world religions or long nights of deep meditation. Those kinds of things are hiding tactics, more likely to obfuscate than to reveal. God has told us what we need to do to find Him: look at His Son Jesus.

Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

So there’s Christmas in a nutshell. When we look at Jesus come down from Heaven, we are seeing the Father: His love for the lost, His sacrificial heart, His generosity, His mercy and grace, His forgiveness, His humility, His desire for reconciliation and peace, His goodness.

Do wise men seek Him today as they once did over two thousand years ago? Those ancient magi thought they were going to find the King of the Jews, and they did. But they also found the Creator of the world, the Redeemer of Mankind, the Friend of sinners.

Whoever seeks Jesus on those terms is bound to find Him.


Here’s the Christmas lyric version of Offering by Paul Baloche…

…and the Christmas lyric version of Your Name, also by Paul Baloche.

 

August 30, 2018

Jesus: His Glory and His Greatness

Clarke Dixon, who normally occupies this space on Thursdays, suggested today that we use the sermon notes from the person who replaced him on a recent Sunday. I agreed; this is great material to review.

by Blake Tufford

Part One: The Glorious Person of our Lord Jesus Christ

What do we learn about Him in this passage from Hebrews chapter 1?

First, He’s greater than all the prophets. In the past god has spoken through them many times, and in many different ways. He has spoken miraculously through a prophet like Elijah. Elijah stood up bravely against wicked King Ahab and all the false prophets of Baal. Through his prayer God sent down fire to consume a water drenched sacrifice, and then sent rain to end a four year drought. But Jesus is greater than Elijah! God has also spoken through Isaiah. He’s the one who wrote of Christ’s suffering 500 years before it happened. Isaiah predicted He would be “wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, that the chastisement of our sins would be placed on Him, and that through His stripes we would be healed”. But Christ is greater than Isaiah! God also spoke miraculously through Jeremiah.

Again, centuries before Christ’s birth he wrote: “Behold the days are coming declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous branch, and He shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and judgement…. And this is the name by which he shall be called, The Lord our righteousness”! And our Jesus is greater than Jeremiah, and greater than all the other prophets. It is He who has spoken in these last days. We read in the first chapter of John’s gospel, ‘In the beginning was the word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Jesus is God’s final word and we do well to hear Him. God is speaking to us in these last days through Jesus.

Second, He is greater than the angels. In fact it is He whom the angels worship. (v.6), and it is He who sends out the angels (v.7). Angels are associated with all the great events in the old and new testaments. It was an angel who came to Mary with the astonishing news, troubling news for her, that she was to give birth to the son of God. It was angels who met the shepherds with good news of great joy. And it will be angels who will join with all creation in singing His praises in heaven. Rev. 5:12, myriads of them, thousands and thousands singing “worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might, and honor and glory and blessing.” But Jesus is far greater than angels.

Third, He is the one through whom the world was created (v2). That truth is also repeated in John 1, “All things were made through him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” He was with God from the beginning when the world was created. He is the great creator.

Next, His person He radiates the glory of God (v3). He is “the radiation of the glory of god, and the exact image of his nature.” It is no surprise to us then that He Himself said, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father”(John 14:9) He is God the Son, second person in the trinity, fully God and fully man.

Finally, He is altogether lovely. And as He is indeed altogether lovely, He is also altogether loving. His nature is love. Rom. 5:8 says “In this He has manifested his love in that while we were yet sinners,(even His open enemies), He gave Himself for us.  And we read in Galatians that having once loved his people, He loved them to the end. Jesus is love personified. Jesus is glorious in every way.

The greatness of His person: The one who is greater than the prophets, greater than the angels, the great creator, the one who radiates God’s presence, and reflects His love. He is God’s final word. It is no wonder then that we read in Phil. 2 that there is a coming day when every eye will see Him, every ear will hear His voice, and every knee will bow before him.

Let’s be sure we are those who hear Him now.

Part Two: The Greatness of His Work

We’re thinking now of what He has done, what He is doing now, and what He will yet do. Jesus holds the offices of Prophet, Priest and King. As our Prophet He fulfills all the promises we find in scripture to shed light on our path, to guide us on the way, and to direct our lives. As our Priest He fulfills all the promises found in scripture concerning pardon, forgiveness, peace with God. As our king he fulfills all scriptural promises concerning defence from our enemies, protection in danger, deliverance from evil.

I want us to think more specifically about His priestly role, all He has done to secure our salvation. It is important we do so because He is not one of several ways to God, He is the only way. “Neither is there salvation in any other for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we may be saved,” (Acts 4:12)

First,  He is our mediator. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.”(1Tim 2:5) We can’t come through our church, we can’t come through His mother Mary, nor through any of the saints. No, we come through Christ alone. “He only can unlock the gates of heaven and let us in.

Second, He is our substitute, our sin bearer. I’m going to the Old Testament book of Isaiah again to read these familiar words. “He was wounded for our transgression, He was bruised for our iniquity, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, the Lord has lain on Him the iniquity of us all.” Think of the wonder of that; He endured the punishment our sins deserved. “All my iniquity on him was laid. All my indebtedness by him was paid”.

Third, He is our propitiation. This is one of my favourite words! John 2:2 “He is the propitiation for our sins.” Other versions say atoning sacrifice. He is the one who took God’s anger. He removed it. We often hear “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”. But how often do we hear “God is angry with the sinner every day.” (Psalm7:11, KJV) In His holiness god cannot abide sin, but the wonderful news is that Christ propitiates that anger. He removed it by being punished in our place.

Fourth, He is our redeemer, the one who buys us back from slavery to sin .”In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of god’s grace.” (Eph. 1:7) That word redeemed brings before our minds the picture of a slave being bought back and set free.

Redeemed how I love to proclaim it,
redeemed by the blood of the Lamb,
redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child and forever I am.
Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the lamb.

Fifth, He is also our justification. This is a legal term confirming the believer has been declared righteous. “Those He called , them he also justified”. (Rom. 8:20) Imagine for a moment the terror of standing in god’s presence, clothed in our own righteousness, our own goodness. (We could say our own lack of goodness.) But we don’t need to, we can stand in His presence justified, because you see, the believer is covered in Christ’s righteousness.

Sixth, He is also our keeper. He enables us to persevere. When He was here, the Lord Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice . I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can snatch them out of my hand.” If our salvation depended on ourselves, on anything we can do, then we would have every reason to fear. But since it is Christ’s hand holding us we may rest secure. We often see in films or on TV, someone falling and hanging over a roof edge or a cliff by one hand. They’re dangling desperate for help. Sometimes they’re pulled to safety, sometimes they fall to their death. But our Savior will never let go.

Lastly, He is a coming King, but He is reigning right now as King of kings and Lord of lords. This of course was predicted long ago. We read about it in Isaiah 9, a verse usually read at Christmas, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.” He entered Jerusalem as king, and was rejected. But He was raised from the dead, and we read in Eph. 1 that He is now seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms, that He has all authority, dominion and power, that God has placed all things under his feet, and appointed Him head over everything.

The glorious work of Christ: We have seen him as our mediator, substitute, propitiation, redeemer, justifier and keeper. He is reigning now and will return one day in glory and power.

What is He saying to us?

I believe He’s saying, “Look unto me and be saved all the ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other.”

March 31, 2018

Hating the Passing Things of This World

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
 ~John 8:12 NIV

Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.
 ~Ecclesiastes 1:8 NLT

Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.
 ~I Cor. 7:31 NLT

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
 ~I John 2:17 ESV

Today’s reading is drawn from a posting of seven chapters of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, posted by Random House at the link in the title below, where you can read all 7 chapters. This book is an all-time Christian classic if you haven’t read it.

Wikipedia fills in some information:

Thomas à Kempis,  (c. 1380 – 25 July 1471) was a German-Dutch canon regular of the late medieval period and the author of The Imitation of Christ, one of the most popular and best known Christian books on devotion. His name means Thomas “of Kempen”, his hometown, and in German he is known as Thomas von Kempen.  …Thomas spent his time between devotional exercises, composition, and copying. He copied the Bible no fewer than four times, one of the copies being preserved at Darmstadt, Germany in five volumes. In its teachings he was widely read and his works abound in Biblical quotations, especially from the New Testament.

I have made only one editing change, taking out the use of numbered paragraphs (which I believe cause readers to rush through the material) and substituting each new section with the first sentence in bold type.

The Imitation of Christ and Contempt for the Vanities of the World

“Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness,” says the Lord. These are Christ’s own words by which He exhorts us to imitate His life and His ways, if we truly desire to be enlightened and free of all blindness of heart. Let it then be our main concern to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ.

Christ’s teaching surpasses that of all the saints, and whoever has His spirit will find in His teaching hidden manna. But it happens that many are little affected, even after a frequent hearing of His Gospel. This is because they do not have the spirit of Christ. If you want to understand Christ’s words and relish them fully, you must strive to conform your entire life to His.

What good does it do you to be able to give a learned discourse on the Trinity, while you are without humility and, thus, are displeasing to the Trinity? Esoteric words neither make us holy nor righteous; only a virtuous life makes us beloved of God. I would rather experience repentance in my soul than know how to define it.

If you knew the entire Bible inside out and all the maxims of the philosophers, what good would it do you if you were, at the same time, without God’s love and grace? Vanity of vanities! All is vanity, except our loving God and serving only Him. This is the highest wisdom: to despise the world and seek the kingdom of heaven.

It is vanity to seek riches that are sure to perish and to put your hope in them.

It is vanity to pursue honors and to set yourself up on a pedestal.

It is vanity to follow the desires of the flesh and to crave the things which will eventually bring you heavy punishment.

It is vanity to wish for a long life and to care little about leading a good life.

It is vanity to give thought only to this present life and not to think of the one that is to come.

It is vanity to love what is transitory and not to hasten to where everlasting joy abides.

Keep this proverb often in mind: The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. Therefore, withdraw your heart from the love of things visible and turn yourself to things invisible. Those who yield to their sensual nature dishonor their conscience and forfeit God’s grace.

 

April 1st is Christianity 201’s 8th Birthday!
While Christ’s resurrection is the dominant theme in our thoughts tomorrow, Christianity 201 concluded its eighth year this evening, and now begins year nine of providing devotional content and Bible study discussion material. Our motto continues to be “digging a little deeper.” My hope is that we’ve provided helpful resources for your devotional and Bible study reading and have introduced you to many new authors who are doing the same online.    ~Paul

March 11, 2018

Sunday Worship

Oh, that we might know the Lord!
    Let us press on to know him.  – Hosea 6:3 NLT

High Versus Low Thoughts about God: A.W. Tozer

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. … Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. …

Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ”What comes into your mind when you think about God?” we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the Church will stand tomorrow. …

A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God….

It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.

All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him….

The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is – in itself a monstrous sin – and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness. Always this God will conform to the image of the one who created it and will be base or pure, cruel or kind, according to the moral state of the mind from which it emerges….

The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place. ‘When they knew God,’wrote Paul, ‘they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.’

Then followed the worship of idols fashioned after the likeness of men and birds and beasts and creeping things. But this series of degrading acts began in the mind. Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.

Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.

Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ‘What is God like?’ and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.

The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him – and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.

The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer, Chapter 1


••• The quotation in the first paragraph figures largely into the opening of John Mark Comer’s book God Has A Name.

  • For a 50-minute video teaching of this material, go to this link on our other blog.
  • For a review of the book, go to this link at Thinking Out Loud.
  • For an excerpt from the book, go to this link from here at C201 two weeks ago.

••• For more about A.W. Tozer:

  • A classic A. W. Tozer Devotional; go to this link from C201 in November, 2013.
  • Tozer on the Trinity — Job Descriptions: Who Does What? Go to this link from November, 2014 here at C201
  • For excerpts by Tozer on Christian Leadership which then links you to a series of short excerpts, start at this link from C201 in October, 2013

••• Other Tozer readings here at Christianity 201:

 

October 30, 2017

How Was Jesus Involved in His Own Resurrection?

It’s just been six months, but we’re back with pastor, author and Bible translator Christopher R. Smith at the blog Good Question. This one is certainly interesting; click the title below to read it at their site.  (Note: Underlined sections in scripture quotes are passage links.)

Did the Holy Spirit raise Jesus from the dead?

Q. Paul writes in Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.” Can this statement be used in support the idea that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead?

For this particular statement to be used that way, it would have to refer to “the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead” rather than “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead.” However, there’s another interesting statement in Romans that suggests that the Holy Spirit might indeed have had a role in raising Jesus from the dead. Paul says something a little earlier in the letter that’s parallel to this later statement: “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Here Jesus’ resurrection is not attributed directly to the Father, but to something (or someone?) associated with the Father.

We may observe more generally that all of the activities of the Trinity involve all of its persons, so it would have been uncharacteristic for the Father alone to have raised the Son, without the involvement of the Spirit. As Christian thinkers in the first few centuries after Jesus tried to wrap their minds around the Trinity, one thing they agreed on was that it would be inaccurate to distinguish between the persons of the Trinity by appealing to their roles or responsibilities. That is, we shouldn’t say, “The Father does this while the Son does that and the Spirit does this other thing,” or, “The Father is responsible for this, and the Son for something else, and the Spirit for yet another area.”

We have some vivid pictures in the Bible of the persons of the Trinity all working together to accomplish important things. For example, in the Genesis creation account, God the Father creates through the Word while the Spirit hovers over the waters. At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens open and the Father speaks while the Spirit descends like a dove. While he was on earth, Jesus himself said, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also.” I think we can legitimately expand this to say, “Whatever the Father and the Son do, the Spirit does also.”

So in some way the Spirit must have been involved in the resurrection of Jesus. I picture it as being something like the way the “two witnesses” in the book of Revelation are raised from the dead: “The Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet.” (Many English translations say “breath of life” or “spirit of life” instead, but I think the text could well be referring to the Holy Spirit.)

This raises another very interesting question: If all three persons of the Trinity work together in every one of their activities, was Jesus involved in his own resurrection? The book of Hebrews makes this interesting statement: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Jesus actually did die an earthly death, on the cross, and so this statement that his prayers to be saved from death were heard seems to be describing his resurrection. In that case, Jesus was involved in his own resurrection through his prayers and submission, that is, his trust in God.

Hebrews goes on to say, “Although he was the Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he was perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” This, too, would suggest that the Second Person of the Trinity was involved in his own resurrection through his trusting obedience, and in that way he contributed to the achievement of salvation for humanity that the whole Trinity was working for together.

 

October 1, 2017

Sunday Worship

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Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, They shout joyfully together. – Isaiah 52:18a, NASB

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. – I Corinthians 12:12 NIV

As someone who has been part of music ministry in many different churches, I don’t know how I missed today’s analogy before. (I’ve added italics and bold type for emphasis!) We begin with a return visit to Christward Collective and a piece by author Gary Wilbur. Click the title below to read the article in full at source.

Singing in Parts

I love plainsong chant and the power of unison singing. This type of singing fulfills particular roles in worship that part-singing cannot. However, I would suggest that the current status of congregational singing is not lacking in unison options but is in fact neglecting the benefits of singing in parts.

One reason that people do not sing in church is the lack of opportunities to do so with a voice part or a melody that fits into their vocal range. Altos and basses were not physically made to sing in the same range as sopranos and tenors. When faced with a high melody line and no opportunity (or training) to sing anything else, basses and altos either stop singing or strain their voices. If they are able to hit the higher notes, they do so in a different part of their voice that makes them stick out of the blend.

Singing in parts allows for different voice ranges to have vocal parts that fit their voice. This allows them the opportunity to participate more fully in congregational singing—which is, of course, a significant reason for singing together in the first place.

In addition, when people sing in harmony the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Literally. Notes sung together cause sound frequencies to resonate together in such a way that “sounds” other notes that are not physically being sung. The combination of voices creates the opportunity for additional notes and harmonies to fill out the music with greater richness.

Singing in parts is a reflection of the Body of Christ that serves one another with different functions. The melody is supported by the harmony, the inner voices contribute tension and release, color, and enriched harmonic textures. The sopranos need the basses who need the altos and tenors…

He then moves on to talk about some of the practicalities of music ministry that aren’t applicable to all readers here.

It’s import to note that the idea of the capital “C” Church as a body is itself an analogy; so that when we noted that part singing is analogous to the notion of that body, we’re actually proposing an analogy to an analogy. We can get quite carried away doing this.

But we wouldn’t be the first to propose that the music of the church can be a microcosm of something taking place on a larger scale. For example, most of the basic chords in music are comprised of three notes, and writers in past centuries saw this as analogous to The Trinity.

Augustine wrote, “In that supreme triad is the source of all things, and the most perfect beauty, and wholly blissful delight.”

That quotation was sourced at the article “A Perfect Chord: Trinity in Music, Music in the Trinity” by Chiara Bertoglio (link here; opens as a .pdf) where we also see this:

In Greek theory and philosophy, since music is an expression of order and harmony, it is analogous with the harmony of nature, and is sympathetic with it. For Christians, the harmony of creation mirrors the Creator.  (p488)

But music can be highly complex. How far do we take such analogies?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer significantly used the musical image of the counterpoint between cantus firmus and higher parts as a metaphor of our love for creation and Creator: our love for God is the basic melody, ‘to which the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint.’ (p491)

And what do we say of polyphony? Or poly-tonality? Or the place of unresolved chords or even discords? It gets complicated when we try to impose too much on an analogy or metaphor; when we run too far down the rabbit trail!

So let’s leave it where we started, namely that Singing in parts is a reflection of the Body of Christ that serves one another with different functions.

That’s an image I believe we all can embrace, and can remember the next time we hear four-part harmony sung in worship to God.

 

 

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