Christianity 201

June 22, 2018

Fire & Brimstone – Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

We have already seen the reality of the judgement of God, that separation from God and His goodness is real and therefore hell is real. But what does it mean to “go to hell”?

There are three possible views on hell which could be summarized by the words fire, torment, and destruction.

Fire: The first takes the language used in the Bible about hell most literally and those who hold this view think those in hell will literally experience everlasting fire along with everything else mentioned.

Torment: The second view holds the language around hell to be metaphorical, but still very descriptive of experience. Those who hold this view don’t think those in hell will experience literal everlasting fire, but will experience everlasting something, and that something will be bad.

Destruction: The two former views reflect what we call ‘eternal conscious torment’ and are considered to be the more tractional views. The third view is different. Let us look at this third view more closely since many of us already know the traditional views.

Remember that time Luther posted his 95 theses which helped spark the move from what tradition taught to what the Bible taught? John Stott called for a similar move in the last century:

As a committed Evangelical, my question must be—and it—not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say? And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilation, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture.  – John Stott.

You can read that passage in its context here.

Is it possible that hell, the experience of separation from God and his goodness, could be summed up by ‘destruction’ rather than ‘everlasting conscious torment’? Does the Bible teach that? Let us consider the same passages we looked at in the last post when we asked if God’s judgement was real:

. . . then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:16-17

Adam is given the gift of life and is warned that the consequence of rebellion against God is death. Nothing is said about eternal eternal conscious torment at this point.

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24 (emphasis added)

Adam and Eve did rebel against God and the consequences started to fall into place. Here, at the very first sin, the consequence of rebellion is framed as death, not everlasting conscious torment. This death and life theme is reflected when Paul brings up Adam’s sin and the resurrection of Jesus:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (emphasis added)

In that same chapter on the resurrection, Paul does not speak of going to heaven rather than hell as we might think he would. He speaks of eternal life made possible through the putting on of immortality:

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
  “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:50-57

The focus here is on life versus death, rather than heaven verses hell. The Bible does speak elsewhere of the unrepentant also being raised for judgement. But from this passage in Corinthians we can infer that the unrepentant will not receive the wonderful gift being celebrated by Paul here, namely the gift of being clothed in imperishability and immortality. We should note here that the concept of the immortality of the soul is a Greek concept that has more to do with Platonic philosophy than Biblical teaching. Our souls have not been around for eternity, they were created. Adam and Eve could have enjoyed everlasting life in the Garden, but sin messed that up. Our default without Christ is mortality. God, however, graciously offers the gift of eternal life in Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

This last verse reminds us of the doctrine known as the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus. That is a fancy way of saying that Jesus paid the wages of sin on our behalf. No one believes that Jesus is experiencing eternal conscious torment on our behalf.  He experienced death, and in a mysterious but real way, separation from the Father and His goodness.

Consider, finally, these verses that speak in a matter of fact manner of everlasting life versus destruction.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

But what about those passages that speak of everlasting torment? When Biblical teaching which has the sound of metaphor is placed next to Biblical teaching which sounds quite matter of fact, perhaps we should consider the matter of fact statements to be pointing to facts, and the metaphor to be poetic. “The wages of sin is death” is a matter of fact statement and so, in fact, sin without the atoning work of Jesus will lead to death, separation from the presence and goodness of God. That “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12) is a poetic way of saying that to experience separation from God and his goodness, to experience death, is utterly regrettable. That too, is a fact! But to take the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as a factual description of the experience of separation from God may not be what is intended.

Likewise, when Jesus speaks of hell he often is being poetic by using the word “Gehenna”. Gehenna was locatable on a map and was a place of idol worship, including the incredibly evil practice of sacrificing children. The people of Jerusalem ended up burning their garbage there. When Jesus speaks of people going to Gehenna, in the Sermon on the Mount for example, the idea is that if you want to appeal to your own righteousness, then you will end up being taken out with the trash. Perhaps what we learn through the poetry of Jesus’ words on hell should not be lost by forcing them to become a scientific description.

Which view of hell is correct? I’ll leave that up to you to research further and decide (A good start is to read both John Stott and J.I. Packer on the topic). Whichever view is correct, we agonize over our loved ones who do not know Christ. Whichever view is correct, we agonize over anyone who would choose to be separated from God and His goodness. Whichever view is correct, we thank God for His wonderful love and grace.

Is it time to bring back fire and brimstone? Whichever view on hell we think is correct, are we witnesses that hell is eternal conscious torment, or that Jesus rose from the dead and is Lord, even over death? Keep in mind that our unbelieving friends do not yet believe in hell. They already believe in death. The Good News is that though “the wages of sin is death”, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the Good News we share. We don’t need to be angry fire and brimstone preachers to do that.


Clarke Dixon is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to a 31-minute sermon of this topic.

June 21, 2018

Fire and Brimstone – Part One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Part two will run tomorrow, or you can read ahead by clicking the link at the bottom of this page to see it on Clarke’s blog.

by Clarke Dixon

Do we need to bring back hell-fire and brimstone? Preachers don’t seem to preach on hell as often these days, and for that some people are very grateful. Others think that something important has been lost. The good folk at Calvary may or may not have noticed I rarely use the word “hell”, preferring to refer to “separation from God”. But is there even such a thing as being cast out from the presence of God? There are those who would say that God is so loving, that everyone will be saved in the end. That might be what we would like the Bible to teach. But is it?

A brief overview of the Bible will help clarify our thoughts on God’s judgement. Let us begin at Genesis:

. . . then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:16-17

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24

The Bible is clear from the get-go that separation from God and His goodness is a consequence of rebellion against Him. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, the place where they could fully experience the presence of God, plus the way to the tree of life was guarded. Death became a reality, a sure thing. The gift of life was taken back.

This is reflected in the New Testament:

For the wages of sin is death . . . Romans 6:23

That is the bad news. Now for the good news:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

While it is clear that judgement against sin results in death, it is also clear that Jesus came to give us life. But perhaps Jesus came to give everyone life?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

John 3:16 is a favourite verse for many, but implicit there is the fact that eternal life can be refused. Further Scriptures confirm that there are those who refuse and so are perishing:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

The Bible is clear that though Jesus came to give us life, people can say “no thanks”.

The Bible is also clear that God is a good father:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13

Would we as imperfect Dads go and force an adult child to return home, locking them up in our living room? God invites people to call him Father, but he gives people the freedom to people to say “no, I’m not coming home”.

There is such a thing as being cut off from God and his goodness. Hell is therefore a reality. So, time to bring back fire and brimstone, right?

We will consider that in Part 2.


Clarke Dixon is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to a 31-minute sermon of this topic.

June 20, 2018

Overrealized Eschatology

Ephesians 3:14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

This is our very first time with Ted Gosard who blogs at Jesus Community. Like our sister blog, Thinking Out Loud, Ted has an extensive blogroll of interesting websites and writers which I encourage you to be aware of. Given the wide mix of authors we introduce here, we thought this article provided balance on what can be a sensitive, personal subject for some. Click the title below to read this at source.

The Deeper Life Mystique and Mistake

June 19, 2018

Glorifying Unrighteousness through a Dangerous Proclamation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm

by Russell Young

Of course, there is no glory in unrighteousness, but many would be convinced otherwise. Perhaps you have heard someone declare, “I am a sinner.” Is this a statement of contrition and humility or of self-righteousness? In contrast, how often have you heard, “I am not a sinner.” You may say that the one who does not identify as a sinner is arrogant and prideful beyond belief. However, having once been a sinner does not mean that a person must continue in that state, and a believer does not, at least not if they practice repentance and confession. John has recorded, “No one who lives in [Christ] keeps on sinning.” (1 Jn 3:6) And, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (1 Jn 3:910)

John’s writing is challenging. The person who declares himself to be a sinner is also declaring that he or she is not a child of God but is, according to John, a child of the devil. This should shock most and should confound the church. Licence has not been given to sin by declaring that all sin that a person might commit is or will be forgiven; in fact, eternal condemnation is promised to those who engage its practice. (Mt 13:41)

Teaching that promises total and forever forgiveness, in spite of continued lawlessness, is liberating. Jude says that people “will slip into the body who change the grace of God into a licence for immorality.” (v 4) Such understanding gives permission to live as the confessor wishes and releases the conscience from guilt and thought of judgment thus removing consequence for lawless acts. Along with this freedom, the proclamation of being a sinner may also be presented as evidence of humility; after all, proclaiming weakness or fault is an act of humility. If the professor is asked to explain specifically the nature of his or her sinning, that one would likely be less forthcoming. It is one thing to place yourself in the category of all humanity, to be like everyone else, distinct from the majesty and holiness of God—a sinner, but it is another to admit to the nature of your failing which might bring condemnation, distancing yourself from the righteousness of the church body.

The point of John’s teaching must be appreciated, however. How can he make such statements? It is his position that those born of Christ cannot continue to sin because God’s “seed” remains in them. Since the Reformation it has been emphasized that salvation is by grace; however, philosopher-theologians have developed their own understanding of God’s grace. Many take it to simply mean that God chose those who would be his, so those who confess belief are free of judgment and eternally secure. How can God’s grace be more expansive than that? However, from John’s teaching, such a doctrinal position lacks validity unless the “chosen” person no longer sins. This would mean that those who sin have neither been chosen, nor are they born of God. The person who admits being a sinner by such understanding must have no eternal hope.

The best explanation for John’s statements emerges from his teaching that “no one who lives in [Christ] keeps on sinning.” Christ did not sin while in the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary and those who live (actively) in him, who are grounded in him and led by him, will not sin. When they sin, they have left him and have gone their own way. John goes on to explain, “No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 Jn 3:6) The key to understanding these verses rests in the two words “seen” and “known.” If “seen” is understood as “discerned” or “perceived” him (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #3708), the meaning becomes clear. Those who willingly engage in sinful practices just do not appreciate or understand who Christ is and what he is about. They have allowed themselves permissions that he does not find tolerable. Their perception of who he is does not match his reality. The word “known” has a similar understanding. It means to have knowledge of him or to understand him. (Strong’s Greek Dictionary # 1097) John is making the point that the person who truly perceives and understands Christ cannot sin; the Lord’s glory will overwhelm them and any willingness to sin will be far from their thoughts. To grasp who Christ is and what he has done and is doing for them will melt them into complete adoration of him. They will love him with all their heart, mind, and soul. (Mt 22: 37) Those who willingly forgo his glory in their own willfulness simply have not seen or known him.

Paul addressed the fate to those who do not “know” God. “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified by his holy people and to be marveled at among those who have believed.” (2 Thess 1:89) “Believers” obey; they don’t utter empty promises. Holiness is developed through righteous practices. (Rom 6:19, 22)

Those who know that they are sinning through their profession of being sinners and who are not repentant will not find an eternal presence with the one they have vowed to be their Lord. Self-righteous humility, humility without contrition, is not honourable. There is no glory in unrighteousness; it will bring judgment and God’s wrath in the end. Those who face the temptation to sin must avoid it at all cost; to deliberately sin is blasphemy. Victory is available for those who remain in Christ, for those walking in the light, who are being led by the Spirit, and cleansing for known sin has been made available through repentance and confession. (1 Jn 1:9)


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

 

June 18, 2018

Christianity 201: Post #3,000

2 Timothy 2:2

You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.  (NLT)

You have often heard me teach. Now I want you to tell these same things to followers who can be trusted to tell others. (CEV)

2 Corinthians 3:5

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  (NIV)

By ourselves we are not qualified to claim that anything comes from us. Rather, our credentials come from God (ISV)

I am always surprised when it will occur to me to mention something which I value of prime importance that I wrote about earlier at Thinking Out Loud and then I go there and discover I’ve never put that into print. I’ve spoken about it many, many times, but it never quite made it into writing on that blog, or for that matter, this one.

I think that each of us have what I would call prime spiritual values, things which perhaps aren’t the most important thing — that would be Christ’s death and resurrection — but things that are distinctives or things we feel that God has given us as primary mission or perhaps our primary legacy.

For me, the first scripture above demonstrates what I call the chain of grace. I didn’t invent this term, but it describes the situation whereby person A shares the truth about Jesus with person B, who then accepts that message and passes it on to person C, who then joyfully receives Christ and immediately tells person D.

I got to see this firsthand once, though the story was told backwards. It was a testimony of four high school students. It started with person D, who was so thankful for the influence of person C in their conversion; followed by person C who thanked God for the witness of person B who led them in a prayer of confession and faith; followed by person B who explained to us how they were moved to become a Christian by the care and concern of person A; and then we met person A who shared her story.

It was an electric moment. Decades later, I still wish I had a recording of that.

But that’s how it’s supposed to work. I am entrusting a message to you — the God story — but embedded in that message is the mandate that you will then entrust this message to others. (Who will then pass this message on to others. And so on.)

The second verse above is a reminder that we do this under God’s authority, not our own. We’re not trying to build our empire, but his. We don’t speak what we’ve reasoned, rationalized or otherwise deduced, but what has been given to us. 

We did not make this up.

…Every day at C201 — with the exception of the articles I write myself, and those of our two regular contributors — I go on a mission of hunting and gathering. About half the time it’s triggered by revisiting people whose writings I have found encouraging before, and the other half is a voyage of discovery.

I’m looking for people who have something valid to say to the wide variety of readers we have here which is rooted in scripture and goes beyond the superficial. At the same time, I’ve often included something very straightforward for that reader who lands here and is investigating Christianity for the first time.

There is so much great writing online, and I’m so happy to be in a position to celebrate those gifts and share the fruit of their writing with you here. I know that from one day to the next it might seem rather random — our writers have included Messianic Jews, Catholics, Charismatics, Quakers, Orthodox and ultra-Conservatives — but I hope you’ve found the mix enriching. I also try to break away from North American writers as much as possible to present a broader Christian worldview.

Would it be better to just stay with a single writer or a single theme or a single passage of scripture? Yes. Absolutely. That’s how I started my own devotional life, reading the works of the late Selwyn Hughes from the UK who would spend 60 days on a single theme.

Our mandate here is different. It’s a showcase of what God is doing in the lives of Christians across the internet spectrum.

In that, I hope you also can rejoice. Many of these writers normally get a half-dozen readers per day, but on one day, we can share their thoughts with a much greater readership. Some have far more readers than we do, but there might that one person who has never tapped into their books, podcast or online writing.

God’s family is so much bigger than we can imagine, and he is so active in the lives of his people.

Today, with this our 3,000th post, let’s celebrate that.

 

June 17, 2018

His Present Kingdom

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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But he said to them, “It is necessary for me to proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.”
 – Luke 4:43 (Christian Standard Bible)

“Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in.
 – Luke 16:16 (NLT)

For today’s Sunday Worship column we’re returning to visit with Paul Burleson. Click the title below to read this at his blog.

Some Thoughts About Kingdom Living

What do we mean when we say “Kingdom Living?”

It might be good to know because it is clear from scripture [Luke 4:43] that Jesus came preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. His life and message were all about what the Kingdom was like. So to be “Jesus followers,” and more importantly, when we have Him as the very SOURCE of our very LIFE, we will have our feet firmly planted in “Kingdom living.”

So, what is the Kingdom of God? It is, in simple language, living life where what God wants done [His Will] is being done. That’s what the simple phrase in the Lord’s Prayer is addressing. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” It will be a “future Kingdom, of course! But until He comes with that “Future Kingdom” the “Present Kingdom” is ANYONE’S life in which the King truly rules and reigns right now.

The “Present Kingdom” looks like your life, whatever that entails.

  • Whether it is simply going to work, playing, or going on vacation. Whether it’s being married or unmarried.
  • Whether it’s going to a gathered meeting with your part of the Church, whatever you call that group, or NOT going to a gathered meeting.
  • Whether it’s seeing a child born or family member or friend die. Whether it’s being young, old, or somewhere in between.
  • Whether it’s being married, divorced or being abandoned.
  • Whether it’s being healthy or sick.
  • Whether it’s being wealthy or living from pay-check to pay-check. Whether it’s seeing the beauty of God’s creation or being blind and seeing darkness all of your life.
  • Whether it’s being handsome or homely, beautiful or plain, or being ordinary in the looks department.
  • Whether it’s having a College degree, a Master’s degree, or even a Doctorate, or NOT having finished high school.
  • Whether it’s having traveled extensively or NEVER leaving the neighborhood.

It’s experiencing any and all of these things with OTHER things that could be listed. It’s being a person, right in the middle of all of it, in whom God is real and is being responded to, in faith, while living out our unique journey with our eyes on Him and His Word, trusting His Spirit for life and strength, knowing His Son intimately and knowing that what He accomplished in His Cross and empty tomb experience is the “SOURCE” for what makes life, in any of the aforementioned circumstances, absolutely worth living and celebrating.

Add to all that knowing some truths that are ABSOLUTE for us as well, and you have THE KINGDOM OF GOD!.

Those truths are these! As we live in His “Present Kingdom” He is available to us and we hunger to know Him better. [Matthew 6:13/Luke 16:16] We keep on trusting that GOOD will come out of all kinds of things happening, GOOD or BAD. [Romans 8:28] And that NOTHING can separate us from His unconditional love and effective care. [Romans 8:35-39] Then, finally, knowing that one day HE WILL RETURN and the “Future Kingdom” will come with Him. We then will be found living in a new dimension, involving a New Heaven and a New Earth, called “Eternity.”

THAT’S what is meant by “Kingdom Living” IMHO.


Coming tomorrow: Christianity 201 Blog Post #3,000

June 16, 2018

From Offended to Offensive

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Each time I visit the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case, I end up reading 3 or 4 articles; the writing itself and the message are both well presented. As usual, click the title to read at source.

The Airing of Grievances

“I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!” – Frank Costanza

Hopefully you all are old enough and refined enough to remember the celebration of Festivus, the fictional secular holiday that took place on the TV show Seinfeld as an alternative to on overly-commercialized Christmas holiday. After an awkward dinner, the family gathered around to lament the ways in which they were disappointed by one another over the past year.

Speaking of grievances, the is certainly no shortage of them going around lately. Big ones, small ones, accusations, denials, apologies… you name it. Since privacy is a thing of the past, we all have a ringside seat to the public ‘airing’ of these grievances. So-and-so pens an “open letter” to such-and-such… he or she responds with an apology or retort, to which five other people respond with their own open letters or dissenting opinions. It’s truly a sight to behold.

It’s an interesting thing watching a secular culture address issues of wrongdoing, repentance, and justice. There are very real, very grievous sins that need dealing with, while other troubles would be better left out of the public eye. The world has constructed a kind of system in which it’s easy to accuse and imperative to apologize if you know whats best for you. But does this system satisfy victims? Does it lead to genuine repentance on the part of the accused?

Sin is a very serious thing, and as Christians, we should take repentance and forgiveness just as seriously, both individually and corporately. The devil has a field day though, when we get so mixed up in the emotionalism of the latest outrage that we fail to see the proverbial forest through the trees. Accusations and apologies must never be weaponized, for when they are, the beauty and freedom of what Jesus did for us is whitewashed.

The secular world has no basis for their demands other than what is popular at the time. They are a mob that rides a cresting wave of opinion that will soon change. We must not believe that the world holds more truth than scriptures. True freedom and liberation come when we address sin Gods way. I read a blog yesterday that put it this way:

“This is where the devil hijacks our repentance — on both ends of this transaction. If he can get the perpetrators to confess vague sins, he can keep sinners shackled in the ambiguity of sorrow and regret without any real confidence of forgiveness and freedom. And if he can get the victims to traffic in the vague confessions, the devil can keep victims in the ambiguity of sorrow and shame without any real confidence of resolution and freedom. And tenderhearted Christians can get sucked into this black hole because it can feel very spiritual and brokenhearted. But there is a massive difference between the broken and contrite heart that God loves and leads to true freedom, and the emotional death camp of vague guilt and shame. Another way to say all of this is that Christian repentance must be obedient to God’s Word, not merely an emotional dumpster dive. And this means that when the world around us is demanding submission to their false gods, Christian apologies must be even more careful, especially for those who would be leaders or teachers. We have an even greater responsibility.

What sticks out to me is the repetition of the word freedom. The goal, the endgame, the purpose for us in all this is for us to have freedom through what Christ has accomplished. The secular way offers no resolution, and it doesn’t want one. The enemy wants us to spin in circles in a vicious cycle of offense that never ends. So again, we don’t ignore sin, but we must be extremely careful about what the world is demanding we bow to. Throughout the Old Testament, Israelites were told to bow to false gods, and it’s no different today. Often these gods come in the form of ideas and ideologies the world demands we embrace. The waters have become muddied with false choices about race, gender roles and privilege. It’s not that we don’t owe apologies at times, it’s that we must be very careful about what we are submitting to.

Timothy warned about this:

“But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:23-26

The point is not that we be ‘right’ all the time. We are to point people to the truth, that they too can escape sin and its consequences. The purpose of Christian leadership is not to demonstrate how fantastically ‘in tune’ you are with the current trends or how ‘woke’ you may be to everyones offenses:

“What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

 This isn’t a Bible verse, it’s from the Westminster Catechism, but it sums it up nicely. We are not here to bask in offense or victimhood any more than we are here to dominate or put ourselves on a pedestal showing off how compassionate we are. We forgive because we are forgiven, we confess our sins to God and to one another for the purpose of reconciliation and freedom. The “emotional death camps of vague guilt and shame” are not our dwelling place, no matter how important we may feel there. We are called to deal with sin differently, in a way that allows for true healing and freedom.

“A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city. And contentions are like the bars of a castle.” Proverbs 18:19

An offended Christian will usually turn into an offensive Christian, and we aren’t meant to carry that burden. Abiding in Jesus allows us to deal with the truth of real sin and not pick up needless offense at every turn.

June 15, 2018

Defending Yourself and Protecting the Attacker: Are Both Possible?

Keith Giles is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Jesus Unbound: How the Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God, available July 4th, 2018. He is also the author of the best-seller, Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb. He is the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in California. This is his second time featured here at C201. Click the title below to read this at his Patheos blog and check out other articles.

The Aikido Spirit of God

If you’re not familiar with Aikido, it’s a style of martial arts that uses an opponent’s energy against them to redirect their kinetic force to turn it back upon them.

Or, as the Wikipedia entry explains:

Aikido’s techniques include irimi (entering), and tenkan (turning) movements that redirect the opponent’s attack momentum.

The man who invented this style of martial arts created for one purpose:

“to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury”.

This is exactly what God does.

Consider that God never wanted anyone to rule His people other than Himself. God wanted a people who would look to Him as their King. But, unfortunately, His people wanted “a King like all the other nations have” and even though He was grieved by their choice, He gave them what they asked for.

After giving them a King, God told them that He would send them a Messiah who would rule on David’s throne forever. But notice, it was never God’s desire for King David to have any throne at all. Yet, God used the disobedience and rejection of His people and redirected it to the Messiah to come.

God also never asked anyone to build Him a temple. When King David set out to build one for God, His response was: “Heaven is my throne and Earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me?” and then promises that, instead, God will build a house for David which, again, is a nod to the coming Messiah who would build a Temple not made with human hands but from human hearts that are surrendered to God [the Ekklesia where God lives by His Spirit – the Church].

So, once again, God takes our mistakes and turns them around to bless us anyway.

As Joseph told his brothers who had sold him into slavery out of jealousy: “What you intended for evil, God meant for good.

This is the Aikido way of God.

Another example of this is animal sacrifice.

Moses knew of no other way to worship a god [any god] other than a blood sacrifice. There simply wasn’t any other form of worship known to mankind in that ancient world. So, Moses assumes that to worship Yahweh, something must be slain on an altar to please God.

But, according to Jeremiah, God never wanted animal sacrifices in the first place:

For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.  But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’  Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” [Jeremiah 7:22-24]

Again, God did not want animal sacrifices. Moses did.

But, God allowed this to be practiced in spite of this and, instead, used this misunderstanding to point to Christ who would come and fulfill this picture of the scapegoat and redeem the barbaric practice of sacrifice to liberate us from the bondage of guilt and sin.

This is why Jesus echoes the prophet Hosea and says:

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” [Matt 9:13; 12:7]

God is always taking our disobedience, our misunderstandings, our limited vision, even our total rejection of Him, to redirect it back around to bless us and redeem us and draw us nearer to Himself.

God uses everything – all wisdom, all knowledge, all ignorance, all disobedience, all rejection, all striving – to declare His love to us and to set us free from everything that entangles us.

This is who God is. This is who God has always been. This is who God will always be.

His love endures forever.

 

June 14, 2018

Olfactory Theology

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

You can tell a lot about presence with the sense of smell. Like the smell of a roasting turkey letting you know that a great Christmas dinner is on the way. Or the time a horrible smell alerted me to the presence of a mouse that had wandered into a live trap and died. I hadn’t put bait in it so didn’t expect to catch anything. The poor mouse would still be there if the smell had not given away its presence. The Bible tells us that we as Christians ought to smell:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 2 Corinthians 2:14-16

We are the “aroma of Christ.” In other words, through our presence people ought to be able to tell that Christ is present. When a Christian is near, people should “smell,” or be aware of, the presence of God. But do they? Sometimes they might smell something else entirely.

I am reminded of a debate which touched on the topic “Was Hitler a Christian?” If you point to his family of origin, and/or to his denominational affiliation you may answer “yes.” However, if you look to his track record of picking up a cross and following Jesus in the way of sacrificial love, grace, and forgiveness, then you would answer “no.” Whatever your answer, it is obvious that Hitler did not spread “in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing [Jesus].” He was not “the aroma of Christ to God” or to anyone else for that matter. Instead he left behind a terrible stench from a form of Social Darwinism.

Never mind Hitler, what about us? Here is a good New Year’s resolution: To smell better. To be so Spirit filled and centered on Jesus that the presence of God is palpable.

We are the “aroma of Christ to God.”* Here the writer, the apostle Paul, is alluding to the living of his life as a sacrifice to God, with an aroma that would be pleasing to Him. We can think here of these other words of Paul:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

When our lives are conformed to this world then the aroma of our sacrifice is rotten to God. Here is another good New Year’s resolution: To be a sweet smelling sacrifice to God, not conformed to the world, but changed by God Himself.

We are “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”* We will understand this better if we observe the mixing of metaphors that goes in this passage. In verse 14 it sounds like we are led as a band of victors: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” However, scholars point out that this “triumphal procession” is not a parade of victors, but captives. This is in reference to celebrations in Rome in honor of conquering generals. The captives would be led through Rome, often to their execution. So does Paul have in mind here the idea of being a conqueror? Some Bible scholars point rather to the idea that Paul sees himself as surrendered fully to Christ. Though sin once made him an enemy of God, reconciliation was offered by God. It is a surrendered life that “spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.” In contrast, we can only spread our own fragrance if we live a self centred life. Here is another good New Year’s resolution: To be surrendered to Christ.

But what about the aroma “among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing”? There would be a lot of incense burned at Roman celebrations including the triumphal procession. No matter whether the aroma of the incense was pleasing or not, it would be a welcome smell to the conquering people, but will be the smell of death to the conquered. Here the metaphor changes as the Christian becomes the incense. We become the aroma of Christ that elicits a response from the world. To some we will be “a fragrance from death to death,” and to others we will be “a fragrance from life to life.” The presence of God being palpable does not necessarily mean that Christianity will be palatable. The one who rejects God will find the fragrance of Christ to be objectionable as he or she continues life a captive to someone other than Christ. Of course, anyone, at any time, can join Christ’s triumphal procession in a life surrendered to God. 

Strong smells always elicit a response. We can think of a turkey dinner or a skunk. The message of Jesus will elicit a response. Here is a good New Year’s resolution: To smell so strongly of Christ, that we elicit a response. If no one ever asks us about our faith in Jesus, perhaps we are not smelly enough?

Our passage ends with a great question: “Who is sufficient for these things?” The answer is no one, at least not on our own. Just as Paul depended on the presence of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in being the aroma of Christ, so can we.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

(All scripture references are from the NRSV)


With Clarke away from the pulpit last week, this is an archived post from his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.  * italics added

June 13, 2018

Christianity is never sentimental about death

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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Today we’re back with Colin Sedgwick at Welcome to Sedgonline. Click the title below to read at source, and then navigate around the blog to look at other articles, including this one, which also made the short list for today!

Thinking about dying

Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

Every couple of weeks I attend a small poetry-reading group (oh, what wild, crazy, nefarious activities we retirees get up to!).

Recently someone read a poem by the Welshman Dylan Thomas – you may very well know it. It doesn’t have a title, but is known by its first line: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” The “good night” referred to is death, and the person Thomas is addressing is his father. He is pleading with his dying father not to meekly submit (“go gentle”) to the approach of death: “Old age should burn and rave at close of day;/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I know nothing about the circumstances of Thomas’ father’s death, and I certainly would never pass any kind of judgment. But I couldn’t help but feel how sad those words are – and how alien to the Christian understanding of death.

Christianity is never sentimental about death. Paul bluntly refers to it as an enemy – “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

And though I love the old hymn based on words of Francis of Assisi, “All creatures of our God and King”, I must admit I’ve never felt comfortable with the verse that starts, “And thou, most kind and gentle death,/ Waiting to hush our latest breath…”

No! Death may indeed come as “kind and gentle” to a very tiny minority; but it’s not like that in the experience of most people, and that’s not how the Bible sees it: “enemy” will do for me, thanks very much!

But Christianity is all about hope, even in the face of death: at its heart is the greatest story ever told – that death, though certainly an enemy, is a defeated enemy, overcome not in some “spiritual” or “mystical” sense, but in hard physical reality on that first Easter morning. Jesus died; and Jesus rose again. Hallelujah!

Personally, I have no wish to die. I shrink from the very thought. I enjoy this life too much, and feel that there is still a lot of living, and loving, to do. No doubt I will cling to life as long as I can – that’s just a natural part of the way we human beings are made. Probably you feel the same.

But when that time comes I hope that God, in his grace, will help me not to “rage, rage”, not to “burn and rave at close of day”, but to approach death with the attitude of Paul: to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.

What extraordinary words those are! Have you ever seriously reflected on them? If they mean anything at all, they mean that, whatever he or she may lose, the Christian can only gain by dying.

Jesus knew better than anyone the horror of death. His suffering wasn’t just physical, but far worse – the suffering of being abandoned by his heavenly Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried (Matthew 27:46). But at the end he was able to pray – and “with a loud voice” too! – “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). John adds the vivid detail: “With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). Forgive the cliché but… what a way to go!

Paul brings his great resurrection chapter (1 Corinthians 15) to a climax with words of victory and triumph, some of them echoing Old Testament passages: “ ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ … But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” No burning, raging or raving there!

Why don’t we proclaim this breath-taking, life-changing, joy-giving truth more loudly? We need it for ourselves – oh, how we need it for ourselves! – for, unless Jesus returns first, we are all going to die. But, still more, our sad, troubled, frightened world needs it too – yes, your friends, your family and your neighbours, and mine. Trumpet it to all and sundry – and not just once a year when Easter happens to have come round!

I’ve quoted a hymn that I can’t really sing with conviction. But here’s another one that, so refreshingly, faces death head on by Matt Redman; it’s being sung everywhere, and deservedly so, I think…

And on that day when my strength is failing,
The end draws near and my time has come,
Still my soul will sing your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore…

I can sing that all right! — with the unspoken prayer at the same time “Yes, Lord, may it indeed be so!”

What about you?

Lord God, help me to live fully in Christ – and then to die triumphantly in him. Amen.

 

June 12, 2018

Time Will Tell

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:51 pm
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But if you fail to keep your word, then you will have sinned against the LORD, and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. – Numbers 32:23 NLT

In preparation for something else I came across this verse a few weeks ago:

I Timothy 5:24

The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. (NIV)

Remember, the sins of some people are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later. (NLT)

The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. (ESV)

As a matter of general principle this is true. But the Christian Courier notes the context, which is setting people aside for church leadership:

The thrust of the first half of the passage, therefore, seems to be this: Some men’s sins are so evident (open, unconcealed, obvious), that their possible appointment to a leadership role may be dismissed immediately. In such a situation, “judgment” (opinion, determination) can be made early-on; the issue, then, will not have to be dealt with in a more open forum later. There is no need to proceed further in the case of well-known transgressors.

On the other hand, the “problems” with others may not be so apparent initially. A man may be appointed to an important role, only to have his serious character flaws revealed at a later time. Therefore, be deliberate and cautious in the appointments made for leadership roles in the church.

Barnes Notes says,

They conceal their plans. They practice deception. They appear different from what they really are. But the character of such people will be developed, and they will be judged according to their works. They cannot hope to escape with impunity. Though they have endeavored to hide their evil deeds, yet they will follow after them to the judgment-bar, and will meet them there. The meaning, in this connection, seems to be, that there ought to be circumspection in judging of the qualifications of men for the office of the ministry. It ought not to be inferred from favorable appearances at once, or on slight acquaintance, that they are qualified for the office – for they may be of the number of those whose characters, now concealed or misunderstood, will be developed only on the final trial.

William Barclay’s Commentary notes the sovereignty of God in all this. His words remind me of Jesus speaking of letting wheat and weeds grow side-by-side:

This saying bids us leave things to God and be content. There are obvious sinners, whose sins are clearly leading to their disaster and their punishment; and there are secret sinners who, behind a front of unimpeachable rectitude, live a life that is in essence evil and ugly. What man cannot see, God does. “Man sees the deed, but God sees the intention.” There is no escape from the ultimate confrontation with the God who sees and knows everything.

There are some whose good deeds are plain for all to see, and who have already won the praise and thanks and congratulations of men. There are some whose good deeds have never been noticed, never appreciated, never thanked, never praised, never valued as they ought to have been. They need not feel either disappointed or embittered. God knows the good deed also, and he will repay, for he is never in any man’s debt.

Here we are told that we must neither grow angry at the apparent escape of others nor embittered at the apparent thanklessness of men, but that we must be content to leave all things to the ultimate judgment of God.

Matthew Henry covers verses 24 and 25 together:

Observe, Ministers have need of a great deal of wisdom, to know how to accommodate themselves to the variety of offences and offenders that they have occasion to deal with. Some men’s sins are so plain and obvious, and not found by secret search, that there is no dispute concerning the bringing of them under the censures of the church; they go before to judgment, to lead them to censure.—Others they follow after; that is, their wickedness does not presently appear, nor till after a due search has been made concerning it. Or, as some understand it, some men’s sins continue after they are censured; they are not reformed by the censure, and in that case there must be no absolution. So, also, as to the evidences of repentance: The good works of some are manifest beforehand. And those that are otherwise, whose good works do not appear, their wickedness cannot be hid, and so it will be easy to discern who are to be absolved, and who are not.

This brings us to case discussed in verse 25 which perhaps we will look at another time:

In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.

I encourage you to read the whole chapter.

June 11, 2018

Sin is More Than Humans Behaving Badly

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our third time at Mystery of Faith, written by Glenn Packiam, lead pastor of New Life Downtown, a congregation of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Click the title below to read more articles.

The Problem of Sin and the Power of the Cross

In our world, sin is seen as behaving badly, or breaking some arbitrary code of morality. But the Bible talks about sin in a different and much deeper way.

Sin in the Old Testament is portrayed in various ways. Psalm 51 alone uses several Hebrew words to describe it: failure, waywardness, rebellion, and evil. Sin is all of those things: it is a failure to live up to our creational vocation to reflect God’s wisdom and rule into to the world; it is a waywardness of life that drifts from the path of righteousness; it is a rebellion against God as King; it is a complicity in the evil of the world around us.

But the Old Testament gives us more than terms and concepts; it is rich with stories and symbols. So it is the key rituals that relate to sin which give us insight into the problem of sin. Yom Kippur was the ‘Day of Atonement’; it is prescribed in Leviticus 16. Passover is the great story of Israel’s rescue from Egypt; it’s story is told in Exodus 12. Through the enacted symbolism of both events, we come to see sin as a ‘stain’ that must be purified, a blame that must be removed, a power to be freed from, and a penalty to be saved from.

The stain of sin is sin in the goat sacrificed on Yom Kippur to purify the worshipper.

‘Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.’

Leviticus 16:15-16

This imagery is a picture of the stain of guilt that needs to be cleansed. The sacrificed goat is a picture of purification from the stain of guilt.

There is another goat the Yom Kippur scene, one which is kept alive. The priest lays hands on this goat, transferring the sin of the nation upon it, and then sends it away.

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.”

Leviticus 16:20-22

This is a picture of blame. Even if the stain of guilt were removed, there is still the fact of culpability; we are to blame. The living goat represents the bearing of the blame.

Finally, there is the Passover Lamb. The blood of the lamb is placed on the doorposts so that the people of God may be saved from Death. Death is the judgment upon Sin, a judgment that fell upon Egypt that fateful night. In being saved from Death, Israel was also rescued from slavery to Egypt. The blood of the lamb means a rescue from the powerofsin which leads to the penalty of death.

‘Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” ‘

Exodus 12:21-23

The bull represents the purification from the stain of guilt; the goat represents the removal of the blame. The lamb represents the rescue from the power of Sin and penalty of Death.

The New Testament picks up on each of these themes as it tries to help us understand the power of the cross. Paul seems to draw on Passover imagery more than that of the Day of Atonement. In Romans, especially, we see Sin as a power we were enslaved to, which leads to Death as a consequence of this enslavement. Jesus is the one who sets us free from this slavery.

‘When you were slaves of sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What consequences did you get from doing things that you are now ashamed of? The outcome of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God, you have the consequence of a holy life, and the outcome is eternal life.’

Romans 6:20-22, CEB

In Hebrews and in the Johannine epistles, Jesus is seen as the one who removes the stain of guilt from us, cleansing us fully.

‘He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.’

Hebrews 1:3-4

‘But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.’

1 John 1:7

‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.’

1 John 2:2

And in both Paul’s and Peter’s writings, Jesus bears the blame of our own behavior in His body, thus expiating it from us.

‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh…’

Romans 8:3

‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.’

1 Peter 2:24

To put it another way, the problem of sin is that it is a contagion and a captivity, which involves our complicity.

As a stain, sin is like a contagion that must be cleansed— as a virus must be eradicated from the body.

As blame, sin involves our complicity and thus blame must be borne.

As a power which leads to the penalty of death, sin is a captivity from which we must be freed.

In His death on the cross, Jesus purifies us from the stain of guilt, removes from us and bears in Himself the blame, and frees us from the power of Sin and Death.

Good Friday, indeed.


This post was inspired by reading Chapter 4 in Fleming Rutledge’s very excellent book, The CrucifixionThough Rutledge deals primarily with Sin as a power we were under, it was the way she wove in our complicity in addition to our captivity (terms that come from a quote in her chapter) that provoked my reflection on the nature of the problem of sin. It prompted a recollection of Goldingay’s work on the ‘stain’ of sin in Old Testament texts. My attempt to hold all three concepts together caused my to reflect on whether the sacrifices related to Yom Kippur and Passover might actually address each of these aspects of the problem of sin. Thus what you have read is a musing aloud, and not a final word by any means. I pray it provokes just the sort of prayerful reflection in you.

 

June 10, 2018

Only One Sacrifice Could Effect a Momentous Achievement

Deborah (named after the prophetess) is a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales; a Christian for over 40 years, and an avid reader of the Bible. This is our first time featuring her writing here. To discover more, click the title below and then look around at some of the other articles.

Focus on Jesus: He is the ultimate sacrifice

“Fix your thoughts on Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1)

Hebrews 9:1-10:18

The worship of the old covenant took place in the Tabernacle (and, later, the Temple, which was constructed in a similar way) The sanctuary was divided into two rooms by a heavy curtain. In the outer room, the priests would perform certain duties (such as burning incense and tending the lamps); but they could not enter the inner room, where God was present. Only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, was the high priest allowed to enter the Most Holy Place – provided he took with him the blood of sacrifice to sprinkle onto the lid of the Ark.

Thus the very nature of Tabernacle worship bore witness to its inadequacy. God was not really approachable; even while living symbolically in the midst of His people, He remained at a distance, and access to His presence was severely restricted. There was an impenetrable barrier between the first and second rooms that no amount of animal sacrifices could break down. This symbolized the real barrier between human beings and God – which was never a physical barrier in a building but an internal, spiritual barrier located in the conscience. And so it could not be removed by the physical rituals of the old covenant.

But the death of Jesus has changed everything!

“He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, so obtaining eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:11,12)

What made the difference was the nature of the sacrifice that He offered and the location where He offered it. For He alone was able to enter God’s actual presence in heaven – not once a year, but once for all. And the death that He presented as atonement was not that of an animal but His own. Thus He paid the full redemption price for all God’s people – a price for which nothing in this world would have been sufficient (I Peter 1:18,19).

The animal sacrifices had to be endlessly repeated because they never actually achieved anything. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4) But Jesus was a willing, rational and morally perfect Victim, and His sacrifice was accepted by God – which is why it will never need to be repeated (Hebrews 10:14). He had to die only once to save everyone!

Only one sacrifice could effect this momentous achievement – but now that it has been made, there is no need to repeat it or add to it. It is ‘the sacrifice to end all sacrifices’; the old system has been abolished at a stroke. The real, heavenly sanctuary has now been cleansed, signifying that God has forgotten our sins and that we shall be welcomed into His presence. We can neither be shamed by them now, nor condemned for them later! So while the repetition of the old covenant sacrifices was a reminder of sin’s continuing dominion (Hebrews 10:3), the repetition of the Lord’s Supper is for us a reminder of sin’s definitive removal.

All Bible quotations are from the NIV

June 9, 2018

Biblical Horses

We’re on a tighter than usual deadline today, and as I write this, the world is watching to see if a particular horse will win the American “Triple Crown” of racing; with the result coming about 80 minutes after we will have published.

Horses figure into the Biblical story arc many times in many ways. I’ve divided a few of these into four categories.

Prophetically

Zechariah 6:1-7 NLT Then I looked up again and saw four chariots coming from between two bronze mountains. The first chariot was pulled by red horses, the second by black horses, the third by white horses, and the fourth by powerful dappled-gray horses. “And what are these, my lord?” I asked the angel who was talking with me.

The angel replied, “These are the four spirits[a] of heaven who stand before the Lord of all the earth. They are going out to do his work. The chariot with black horses is going north, the chariot with white horses is going west,[b] and the chariot with dappled-gray horses is going south.”

and again in Revelation:

Revelation 6:2 I looked up and saw a white horse standing there. Its rider carried a bow, and a crown was placed on his head. He rode out to win many battles and gain the victory.

Revelation 19:11 NLT Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. 12 His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. 13 He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. 15 From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. 16 On his robe at his thigh[a] was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

As a symbol of strength, security

Many of these examples show the horse’s strength being used comparatively in order to make some greater point.

Jeremiah 12:5 The Voice  If you are worn out after only running with a few men, how will you one day compete against horses? If you stumble on the easy terrain, how will you manage in the thick brush near the Jordan?

Psalm 20:7 CEB  Some people trust in chariots, others in horses;
    but we praise the Lord’s name.

Proverbs 21:31 EXB You can get the horses ready for the day of battle, but it is the Lord who gives the victory
Habakkuk 1:8 CSB Their horses are swifter than leopards and more fierce than wolves of the night. Their horsemen charge ahead; their horsemen come from distant lands. They fly like eagles, swooping to devour.
The passage below shows that these beasts represent an object of fear for the people of Israel. The strength of the opposing army is often measured by the number of its horses (and horsemen.)
Deuteronomy 20:1 “When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you!
The extended passage below is also using the horse as a measure of comparison. In this chapter, God’s response to Job is bringing the story toward its climax and this section is typical of how God answers Job.

Job 39:19 NLT “Have you given the horse its strength
    or clothed its neck with a flowing mane?
20 Did you give it the ability to leap like a locust?
    Its majestic snorting is terrifying!
21 It paws the earth and rejoices in its strength
    when it charges out to battle.
22 It laughs at fear and is unafraid.
    It does not run from the sword.
23 The arrows rattle against it,
    and the spear and javelin flash.
24 It paws the ground fiercely
    and rushes forward into battle when the ram’s horn blows.

Submissive to our dominion

James 3:3 ESV If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.

Psalm 32:9 NIV Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.

Not invincible

Exodus 15:1,4 NLT Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD: “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; he has hurled both horse and rider into the sea… Pharaoh’s chariots and army he has hurled into the sea. The finest of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea.

We find the horse often is one of nature’s many parables in scripture. Their might and dignity captivate us.

All of God’s creation is declaring God’s glory.

 

 

 

 

June 8, 2018

Selwyn Hughes on Proverbs

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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It’s unfortunate that outside the UK, so few are familiar with the devotional writings of the late Selwyn Hughes. His devotionals were part of my own routine for at least a decade, and unlike other small devotional booklets, you had to pay for them. Furthermore, he would stay on the same theme for 60 days, so each day’s reading built on the previous days. His writing is currently available on the website Crosswalk. While I couldn’t get the earliest ones on this series from the book of Proverbs, I thought we would join the study a few days in progress…

 ►►►To continue with this series during this month, bookmark and track at Crosswalk – Everyday Light

Proverbs 28:1-17
“‘ a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order.” (v.2)

…[A]ny church which does not encourage its people, especially its youth, to dig into the book of Proverbs is doing them a major disservice. I was introduced to Proverbs within weeks of becoming a Christian and this book, perhaps more than any other in the Bible, has supplied me with wisdom for living that has enriched my life. Moreover, the teaching in this book has greatly empowered my ministry and my writing. Every young person in the Christian Church needs to be steeped in the book of Proverbs as there is nothing in the entire annals of literature that can so prepare them for life. Alexander McLaren, a famous preacher from a past generation, said: “Proverbs is portable medicine for the fevers of youth.” How true. And we might add that with medicine what matters is that you take it whether you know the doctor or not.

I have known a number of young men and women who have told me that they came to faith in Christ through reading the book of Proverbs. One such person told me: “When I applied the principles of Proverbs and saw that these wise and witty sayings really worked, I was drawn to search for the One whose hand was so clearly present in the book and also in my life. After reading the Instruction Manual I wanted to know the Instructor.” Not everyone, of course, will react in that way, but I myself am convinced that encouraging and exposing people, especially young people, to the ideas and concepts of Proverbs is one of the greatest forms of evangelism that can be conducted.

Proverbs 8:12-36
“Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors ‘” (v.34)

The more you read and study Proverbs, and the more you apply its words to your life, the more you will find that its wise and witty sayings “work.” They work because that is the way the Lord has set things up. It was said of Jung, the famous psychologist, that written over the door of his study was: “Invoked or not, God is present.” This interesting statement provides us with a clue to understanding Proverbs, for whether men and women invoke the Creator or not, His creative and sustaining wisdom goes on giving them a world where wisdom operates and where things make sense to humankind.

Someone has described Proverbs as “the scrapbook of common grace.” “Common grace” is the phrase theologians use to describe the grace that God gives to humanity in general so that, whether they turn to Him or not, they are enabled to live more effectively and wisely on the earth. “Wisdom,” says Charles G. Martin, “writes the handbook of instruction in God’s workshop and when people despise wisdom, that is, true wisdom, they blot the copy book of life.” …

Proverbs 9:1-9
“Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars.” (v.1)

…I would encourage you to read through the whole book of Proverbs, preferably in two or three sittings…Our text for today tells us that wisdom is like a house built on seven pillars. There are two ways of interpreting this text. One view says that both wisdom and folly have a house to which humankind is invited. Wisdom has a much larger house than folly, being built upon “seven pillars” – a sign in ancient times of wealth, status and prestige.

There is no doubt that this is one meaning of the text, but the other view – and this is the one I am following in these studies – is that wisdom has seven major aspects. The book of Proverbs does not state categorically what these seven aspects are, so, based on my study and understanding of this great book, I am going to give you what I consider to be the seven major aspects of wisdom. Never in the history of the human race have there been so many problems, so much confusion, and so many conflicting philosophies of how to live. Those who lack wisdom do not have the perspectives that enable them to discern the connection between cause and effect and therefore they don’t understand what they are stumbling over, or, if they do avoid problems, they don’t understand why they avoid them. We need wisdom to live and Proverbs will show us how.

Proverbs 3:1-18
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding ‘” (v.5)

…The theme of trust is everywhere in Proverbs; it punctuates almost every passage. The word “trust” itself occurs quite often, the frequency varying according to the translation you read (in the King James Version, for example, “trust” appears ten times) and its synonyms, such as “lean,” “acknowledge,” “depend,” are found scattered through the book.

According to Rabbi Bar Kappa, the verse [above] is the pivot around which all the essential principles of Judaism revolve. He claims that these words summarize the teaching of the whole Old Testament and give a clear focus to the fact that the wise are those who trust God and follow His directions for living. But what exactly is “trust”? How important is it to daily living? Why do the word and its synonyms occur so many times, not only in Proverbs but in other parts of Scripture as well? The dictionary defines trust as “a firm belief in the reliability, honesty, veracity, justice and strength of a person or thing.” Basically “trust” is confidence that what we believe about a person or thing is true. We tend to think of trust as a spiritual quality, but actually it is an essential posture of life for everyone… All government, all economics, all institutions, all marriages, all relationships between people, are fundamentally governed by trust. We cannot relate well to God or others unless the capacity to trust is present within us.

Proverbs 14:14-26
“A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.” (v.15)

…Without trust, society would deteriorate into paranoia – the feeling that everyone is out to get you. Mental health specialists see an inability to trust as a symptom of emotional illness. Erik Erikson, a famous psychiatrist, says that the capacity to trust is the foundation of good emotional health, and conditions such as chronic anxiety, high nervousness or paranoia could be caused by an inability to trust. Although people may let us down and betray our trust, we must be careful that we do not allow those experiences to lead us to the conclusion that everyone we meet is a conspirator.

On the other hand, you will no doubt have come across the expression “a trusting fool” – a phrase used to describe the person who is unable to discern the diabolical schemes that might be hatched up to exploit him. Erikson also says: “Unless we have a balanced approach to life – a basic trust together with a certain degree of caution – then we will never achieve emotional maturity or wholeness.” Note his words carefully – “a balanced approach to life.” Therein lies the secret. We must learn how to trust while at the same time exercising a certain amount of caution. Our text tells us that “a simple man believes anything,” but that does not mean we should go to the other extreme and believe that everything people tell us is a downright lie or fabrication. Truth is a narrow column and we must watch that we do not lose our balance and fall off.

►►►To continue with this series during this month, bookmark and track at Crosswalk – Everyday Light

 

 

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