Christianity 201

July 9, 2018

The Doctrine of the Fall

We’re featuring a new resource today, Life Walk With Marlene. She writes,

This blog is about my experiences, thoughts and feelings on my journey called living the Blessed life. It is about the ups and downs along the way. The Blessed life is about knowing the Author of life. God alone shows the Way to living the good life that He intended for His creatures since the beginning of time. Travel with me and let us discover together the way to a truly happy life.

Click the title below to read this one at source.

The Fall of Man

Fall: The Semblance of Man to God, Knowing Good and Evil

For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5)[1]

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever. (Genesis 3:22)[2]

Man was created in the likeness of God to have a relationship with Him, to be His representative in creation. Why then was he faulted for becoming like God – knowing good and evil? Is this “likeness” similar to what God first intended it to be? Is it not a part of the inherent character of God to discern good from evil?

I believe it is not for “knowing” per se that man was faulted. Rather, it was his act of disobedience to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Previously, God instructed Adam

Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 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 surely die. (Genesis 2:16-17)[3]

Adam and Eve disobeyed God and fell into “shame.” They became aware of their nakedness and covered their bodies with fig leaves. Their eyes were opened. They knew guilt and hid themselves when God came looking for them.

Knowing good and evil brings forth shame and guilt. A baby who knows neither right nor wrong feels not shame or guilt. In the previous section, conscience was mentioned as part of the character of God (His image and likeness). Conscience is linked to knowing good and evil. Man became aware of good and evil because he disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

The shame in their newly awakened consciousness of their own nakedness speaks to a deeper shame of their own sinful state. Adam’s fear and hiding “because I was naked” (v.10) was a confused cover for a fear and conviction of sin.[4]

The second reason for man being found guilty for knowing good and evil like God is found in the context of the serpent tempting Eve. Genesis 3:4-5 recounts

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.[5]

The serpent deceived Eve by pointing out how God lied when He warned Adam that eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil would lead to death. The serpent also implied that God did not want man to be like Him knowing good and evil; God did not want to share this “power” of discernment, which belongs to Him alone. Essentially, the serpent was convincing the woman to be “like God” – on the same level as God in the context of pride and power, at the expense of disobeying God’s command. The image of God in man, originally to be man’s glory as he “reflects” God’s glory, is “marred” because man seeks to be like God, thereby, “replacing” God.

What about Genesis 3:22? God seems to be saying that knowing good and evil, like Him (in the plural sense), is “not good” for man. What does “knowing” in this context mean?

The Hebrew term for “knowing” in this verse (verse 5, also) is not unique to this passage or chapter; it’s the same word “yada” used elsewhere, some 960 times in the Hebrew scriptures.[6]

Yada” can mean to learn, to perceive, to discern, to distinguish, to know by experience, to recognize, to consider, to be acquainted with, and other fairly ordinary definitions of the word listed in

How did Adam and Eve get to know evil when all God has created since day one is good? They knew good because it was all that they “experienced” before their disobedience. Adam knew of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He was told “not” to eat from it for he will surely die if he did. (Gen. 2:16-17)[7] Adam may have inferred the existence of “evil” as 1) something tantamount to deviation from God’s law or directive, and 2) something he was to avoid knowledge about. (Related: Good Ignorance: Handling the Knowledge of Evil) Therefore, Adam knew of evil as a theory until he knew or “experienced” evil in his disobedience.

How about God? If experiential knowledge is the kind of knowledge Adam and Eve gained from disobedience, can we then conclude that God also has/d experiential knowledge of Good and Evil?

The Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of Us, knowing good and evil.”[8]

As God is the paradigm of “Good,” how can it be possible for Him to have personal, experiential knowledge of Evil? Adam came to know by experience, specifically his experience of doing evil – evil being privatio boni, the privation (lack, absence) of good. Adam came to know evil when he did the opposite of good, which was obeying God. On the other hand

God’s omniscience allows Him to know all truths, including what is good, which is rooted in His own nature. And being a God of reason, He knew from eternity past that the absence of good would be evil. Therefore, it is not necessary for Him to know this truth by experience – either seeing it in others or doing it Himself – the latter being impossible. Adam, a non-omnnicient being, could only know evil by either seeing it in others or doing it himself – the latter being the unfortunate reality. In short, Adam became like God in that he knew evil, having come to know it by doing evil. God also knew evil, but by His perfect knowledge of all truth, including the necessary truth that evil is the absence of good.[9]

Implications and applications: Knowing good and evil is part of God’s image and character. Man’s knowledge of good and evil holds him accountable to follow His Creator, so that he will and can live his life in the goodness of God’s image. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and took it upon themselves, wanting to “be like God” – all knowing. This sin is pride. The antidote to pride is humility.

Humility is foundation to all other virtues man should learn to live his life. It sounds paradoxical that man, created in God’s image, with “royal splendor” and dignity, should take pride in his status, yet attempt to remain humble in the same image. Humility is not about self-abasement. It is acknowledging that whatever we have comes from God. It is about dependence on God and not on ourselves. Being in God’s image is to be humbly dignified, totally aware that we are God’s creature – a mere reflection of His glory, and not take His glory upon ourselves in our egocentricity.


[1] New American Standard Bible.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Godandneighbor. “How could Adam and Eve Sin Before Knowing Good and Evil?” God & Neighbor (2012) [home page on-line]; available from http://godneighbor.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/how-could-adam-and-eve-sin-before-knowing-good-and-evil/#comments; Internet; accessed 21 September 2013.
[5] New American Standard Bible.
[6] Godandneighbor.
[7] New American Standard Bible.
[8] New American Standard Bible.
[9] Godandneighbor.

June 19, 2017

The Mystery that Jesus and God are One

I Cor 2: 6 Among the mature, however, we speak a message of wisdom—but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of the mysterious and hidden wisdom of God, which He destined for our glory before time began.

Eph. 3:8 Though I am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to illuminate for everyone the stewardship of this mystery, which for ages past was hidden in God, who created all things.


Beholding the Mystery that Jesus is God

The claim that Jesus is God is at once mysterious in its complexity and critical for the salvific power of the gospel. In this Seven Minute Seminary video, Dr. Justus Hunter encourages the church to grapple with this perplexing claim, both intellectually and doxologically.


I want to encourage you to check out the full list of videos at Seven Minute Seminary. We use video here sparingly, but this site is a wealth of great teaching on topics you’ll find engaging.


Thinking about mystery reminded me of this Matt Redman song. Later in the song he changes “Heaven’s perfect melody” to “Heaven’s perfect mystery.” I know the subject is different in this song, but I felt that someone reading this today might also appreciate also looking at the mystery of God’s love for us.

May 27, 2017

Jesus: His Three Count Case Against the World

A year ago here we introduced you to Jean’s Gospel, a series of teachings which appear on Michael Newnham’s blog Phoenix Preacher. Today we looked at a few of Jean’s more recent writings and chose this one to share with you. Click the title below to read this at source:

Jean’s Gospel: The Advocate

But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:5-11)

When Jesus said, “I am going to him who sent me,” the disciples did not grasp the full significance of His departure. They understood only enough to cause them sorrow. His leaving would end their hopes that Jesus would establish a visible kingdom and government on earth. Moreover, Jesus had just finished preparing the disciples for the rejection and persecution they would receive from the world. Could they accomplish their commission without Jesus physically with them?

But just moments earlier Jesus had told the disciples they would accomplish greater works than He “because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Now He adds: “it is to your advantage that I go away.” Jesus was not leaving them alone. When He returned to the Father, He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them as their Helper, Advocate and Comforter. The disciples would be the instruments of the Holy Spirit, and He would guide them into all truth.

Christ’s kingdom will remain and grow, but as a spiritual kingdom: “he will convict the world.” His kingdom is not a government constituted in worldly fashion by human wisdom and power, but a government of the Holy Spirit, in which Christ rules invisibly, not with bodily power, but through the Word alone. The Church proclaims Christ, His Word and His kingdom to the world.

But first Jesus had to return to the Father: “if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.” Jesus had work to finish, in the flesh, as the world’s High Priest, by offering himself as the perfect sacrifice and substitute for the sins of the world. Thus His route to the Father would take Him to Calvary, to a sepulcher, to His resurrection, to His ascension and finally to His exaltation at the right hand of the Father.

“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:8)

Pilate and the Jewish leaders thought they could convict and put an end to Jesus and His followers, but actually the Holy Spirit, through the office of preaching, would take the initiative, reverse the roles, and convict the whole world – rich and poor, strong and weak, kings and slaves, that the world is in the wrong before God. The world will be compelled to hear the Holy Spirit’s case against it regardless of rejection, threats, intimidation or persecution against Christ, His Church or His preachers. No one will be able to escape sin, death and hell, nor enter heaven, who does not hear and submit to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes His case against the world in three counts: concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.

Count #1: “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;” (John 16:9)

Because it does not believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin.

When Paul preached in Athens, he accused the Greeks of “ignorance” concerning God (Acts 17:22-31). God is not “an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29). Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to God. If “sin” is defined as “missing the mark”, then one always will miss the mark if one is ignorant of the target. Unbelief in Jesus is the chief sin, because Jesus is the image of God and without belief in Him one is ignorant of God.

Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15); “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3); “Whoever has seen [Jesus] has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Only with belief in Jesus can one begin to fear, love and trust God; only then can one begin to live according to God’s will and commandments.

Belief in Jesus, that He is the Son of God, who has made satisfaction for our sins, who died and was raised for our justification, etc., falls outside of empirical knowledge and human wisdom, so none of us acquires a belief in Jesus through human means. The Holy Spirit must convict the world of who Jesus is and what He suffered in our stead, and of His victory for our benefit. He who does not believe in Jesus cannot be rid of sin nor escape the wrath of God, because he has no forgiveness and abides under condemnation.

Count #2: “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;” (John 16:10)

The Holy Spirit will convict the world that Jesus is righteous and the world is unrighteous, because Jesus goes to the Father and the world sees Him no longer.

Jesus is the One of whom the Father said: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) It is Jesus of whom David was speaking: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’ ” (Matt 22:44). By His going to the Father, the Holy Spirit convicts the world that Jesus alone is righteous.

On the other hand, there is no righteousness on earth. As God warned Moses: “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 33:20). David also wrote: “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” (Ps 143:2).

Therefore, man cannot obtain righteousness by his own efforts; he must clothe himself in the righteousness of Christ through faith in the Gospel. As Paul wrote: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:8b-9).

Count #3: “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:11)

The Holy Spirit will convict the world of God’s judgment in favor of Jesus and against the world. He will testify that Christ’s death and resurrection prove that Jesus defeated the powers of sin, death and Satan. By His victory, Satan is judged and condemned. Anyone who shares the unbelief of Satan is similarly judged and condemned.

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ ” (Acts 2:37)

The Holy Spirit has two offices. With the Law He performs His alien work which is to convict and condemn the whole world. With the Gospel He performs His proper work which is to comfort and make alive. “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6b).

What is the Father’s desire for everyone who receives the Holy Spirit’s verdict? Quite simply this: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Amen.

 

September 20, 2016

The Disappearance of the Triune God Doctrine

ESV Gen 1:2b And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

For today’s devotional, we went to the blog of one of my former employers, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. To read this at source, and look around at other articles, click the title below. Jonathan Rice is an editor and writer with InterVarsity.

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwisWho Is the Holy Spirit?

When describing God, the language of the Bible is not merely truthful but careful. For instance, biblical descriptions of the Holy Spirit in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek always use a personal pronoun. The Bible never refers to God’s Spirit as an “it,” as if the Spirit is merely an impersonal object.

Such care for language is evident in Genesis 1:2, where the Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruach) is grammatically feminine. And though in the New Testament, the Greek word for “spirit” (pneuma) is neuter, it is still a personal pronoun, implying that the Holy Spirit not only transcends gender but also possesses personhood. So in contrast to popular notions that speak of God’s Spirit in abstract terms, the Bible speaks most clearly of the Holy Spirit as a personal deity.

An impersonal deity, a mere force of energy, is incapable of loving us. Such an impersonal energy is emotionless, feeling neither joy nor grief about our lives. But in Ephesians 4:30, we read that the Holy Spirit is grieved by our unwholesome talk, among other sins. And in 1 Corinthians 12:11, the Holy Spirit personally determines the distribution of gifts among believers for the common good of the church. In each of these biblical verses, the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a thinking, feeling, choosing Being—a true personality.

The personality of the Holy Spirit is typically manifested through actions. The Bible shows the Holy Spirit acts in this world by creating (Genesis 1:2), empowering (Zechariah 4:6), guiding (Romans 8:14), comforting (John 14:26), convicting (John 16:8), teaching (John 16:13), restraining (Isaiah 59:19), and commanding people (Acts 8:29)—all of which require intelligence, emotion, and will. Other Scriptures indicate that the Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3), another relational behavior that implies the Spirit is a person.

Regardless of these biblical evidences, some people continue to believe that the Holy Spirit is simply a convenient term to indicate God’s activity. While describing the Holy Spirit as being active is certainly consistent with the biblical revelation of the Spirit’s personality, descriptions such as Comforter, Encourager, Healer, etc., when relied upon alone, are detrimental to our building a sound biblical theology about the nature of God, since any abstract, depersonalizing, reductionist notion of the Holy Spirit undermines the doctrine of the Trinity. So whether one obscures or denies the personhood of the Spirit, the result is the same—the existence of the Trinity is undermined and the personal triune God of biblical Christianity fades away.

Why the Loss of the Doctrine of the Trinity Is a Problem

The disappearance of the doctrine of the personal triune God is a problem, for the personhood of the Holy Spirit is a necessary truth of the whole gospel and should constitute a part of the theological legacy we leave for future generations. But these days the doctrine of the Trinity is again being questioned, though the church has repeatedly through the centuries affirmed the existence of the Trinity and the personhood of the Holy Spirit through historic church councils and creeds.

So just as the Bible is not merely truthful but careful in its use of language, our learning what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit is essential for our careful articulation of the whole gospel.

Today when you hear the Spirit’s gentle voice in your life, listen carefully and ask God to guide your thoughts, words, and actions. Through the person of the Holy Spirit, you can be a living testimony of the gospel and a worker for Christ in this world.


What is Christian doctrine? And do words such as eschatology, sanctification, and atonement really have anything to do with our everyday, going-to-class, working, hanging-out-with-friends lives?

Christian doctrines begin as interpretations of the Bible. Throughout the history of the church, Christians have preserved what they believe the Bible teaches. They form doctrines so that they may remember what other Christians have historically believed about God, humanity, and God’s mission in this world.

These days it’s no less important than in ages past for us to understand Christian doctrine. So we’re offering you brief posts about what Christians have historically believed are the core teachings of the Bible. We hope you find that these historic teachings not only broaden your understanding of Christianity but also deepen your love of God.

March 30, 2016

How Easter Explodes a Religious Myth

•••by Clarke Dixon

Christianity, and religion itself, is often seen to be something helpful. So, for example, it can provide a crutch for those moments you may feel weak. It can provide a belief system for those moments that you need to know there is more to life than what you can see. It can be something you pay attention to for a few moments in a day for the sake of your spiritual health, kind of like an exercise program for your soul. It can provide a good dose of morality for your day.

All these things are helpful, but they all have something in common: they relegate Christianity to the sidelines of your life. They make Christianity something that you can put on the back burner until the time comes you might have need of it. Worse, they turn Christianity into something optional, so that if your spiritual and religious needs are met some other way, then okay, leave church attendance and Jesus following for those who are into that kind of thing. Easter Sunday explodes the myth that Christianity is a religion that can exist on the sidelines of our lives. How so?

It is often claimed that the early Christians invented a religion that had not too much to do with the actual historical Jesus. However, in our recent sermon series we have been looking at how the writers of the four Gospels were either eyewitnesses themselves (Matthew, John) or were very intimately connected with eyewitnesses of the events and key Person they describe (Mark, Luke). Additionally the Gospels were written not long after the events described, indeed early enough that what was written could be checked against what eyewitnesses were saying. Now let us venture beyond the Gospels to consider something that was written even earlier by Paul. In fact many Biblical scholars conclude that Paul was quoting an oral tradition that went back even earlier, possibly a baptismal affirmation. I have highlighted the possible “confessional”:

Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1st Corinthians 15:2-8 emphasis mine)

The earliest traditions about Jesus were not about his being a good teacher, with later traditions adding in the supernatural bits. The earliest traditions point to the supernatural, in fact they speak of the resurrection of Jesus. As Paul points out to the Christians he is writing to in Corinth, most of those who had seen Jesus following his death and resurrection were still alive – so you can still check the story out with them.

It is fascinating also, that Paul does not mention that Jesus first revealed Himself to the women by the empty tomb. The fact that women were the first eyewitnesses is somewhat embarrassing to the still very patriarchal society of that day. In that time and place if you wanted to invent a religion based on a fabricated resurrection, you would not call upon women to be the first witnesses. Nor would you call upon Mark and Luke to write Gospels. These things speak to the genuine nature of the eyewitness testimony.

These eyewitnesses of the Risen Jesus were not going about trying to start a new religion. They were going about telling everyone about all they had seen. They were not fabricating Jesus, they were responding to Him. They responded with repentance. They responded with prayer and lots of it. They responded with reading the scriptures they had at that time, what we call the Old Testament, with their eyes open to seeing Jesus in them. They responded with sharing the Good News of all that had happened and with all that God was doing and had promised to yet do. Christianity from the get go was not a new religion, but a response to the Person of Jesus the Messiah. It was not a thing to practice, but a Person to know. The earliest Christians were not aware of “taking up religion,” but they were very aware of taking up a cross to follow Jesus. They responded to the evidence of God’s love with love. Christianity was not something “helpful” for them, it was something real and true.

On Easter Sunday we celebrated a baptism in our church. In Baptist circles, baptism is a profession of faith. In baptism one is not saying “I am taking up religion,” or “I am joining this church or that denomination.” Neither is one saying “I am perfect.” Baptism shows the desire, not to take up religion, but to take up a cross and follow Jesus who died and rose again in a very real display of God’s love.

Religion is something that can be put on the back burner. Perhaps many should be taking their religion off the back burner and putting it where I put all the meals I have burned over the years, the garbage bin. Jesus is someOne who died and rose again. He cannot be sidelined. He belongs neither on the back burner nor in the bin. Jesus belongs at the center of our lives. Easter Sunday confirms that fact. And as the early Christians showed by moving their worship from the Sabbath, Saturday, to the day Jesus rose from the dead, every Sunday is Easter Sunday.


Read more from Clarke at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

February 5, 2015

Knowing What You Believe

(The Message) II Timothy 1:11-12 This is the Message I’ve been set apart to proclaim as preacher, emissary, and teacher. It’s also the cause of all this trouble I’m in. But I have no regrets. I couldn’t be more sure of my ground—the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end.

Today we’re going to look at a creed — though not set out in that form — that many of us would not have had the opportunity to encounter before.  This is from Dr. Michael J. Kruger at the blog Canon Fodder:

One of the Clearest (and Earliest) Summaries of Early Christian Beliefs

Statement-of-FaithSince I am currently writing a book on Christianity in the second century, my research has been focused on some of our earliest patristic texts.  These texts are a treasure trove of fascinating statements and declarations that provide tremendous insight on what early Christians really believed.

Some of my prior posts on this theme include discussions of the persecution of Christians, early Christian sexual ethics, the divinity of Jesus, and the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.

Most recently, I came across an amazing paragraph in one of our earliest Christian apologies.  Aristides, a converted Athenian philosopher, wrote an apology to emperor Hadrian around 125 A.D.  As such, it is one of the earliest patristic writings we possess.  It is a lengthy treatise which compares the God of Christianity with the gods of the barbarians, the Egyptians, and the Greeks.

But, at one point, he summarizes what Christians believe in a manner that would rival even the Apostle’s Creed:

The Christians, then, trace the beginning of their religion from Jesus the Messiah; and he is named the Son of God Most High. And it is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin assumed and clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man. This is taught in the gospel, as it is called, which a short time was preached among them; and you also if you will read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it. This Jesus, then, was born of the race of the Hebrews; and he had twelve disciples in order that the purpose of his incarnation might in time be accomplished. But he himself was pierced by the Jews, and he died and was buried; and they say that after three days he rose and ascended to heaven (Apol. 2).

Aristides makes it clear that Christians affirm a number of key truths:

1. The divinity of Jesus:  “God came down from heaven…”  In the mind of Aristides, Jesus is not an angel, or a semi-divine being, but the very God of heaven itself.

2. The incarnation: “clothed himself with flesh.”  In very vivid language, the author affirms that Jesus is God enfleshed; he took upon himself a real human body (contra the Docetists).

3. The virgin birth:  “from a Hebrew virgin.” This doctrine flows naturally from the prior two.  If Jesus is God, and he took on human flesh, then his conception would be distinctive from other human beings.

4. The authority of the Gospels: “taught in the gospel…and you also if you read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it.”  Notice for Aristides, there are books called a “gospel” which you can “read” to learn more about the person of Jesus. Moreover, these gospels contain a certain “power” which the reader can discern.

5. The authority of the apostles: “and he had twelve disciples.”  Aristides recognizes that Jesus had an authority structure through the twelve that was necessary “so that the purpose of his incarnation might in time be accomplished.”

6. His death on the cross: “pierced by the Jews.”  This is a clear reference to Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate at the request of the Jewish leadership.

7.  His resurrection: “after three days he rose.”  Jesus did not stay in the grave but was raised from the dead.

8.  His ascension: “ascended into heaven.”  Jesus returned to his former heavenly home, in a position of power and glory.

This is a surprisingly thorough and wide-ranging summary of core Christian doctrines at a very early point in the life of the church.  And it was this form of Christianity that was publicly presented to the Emperor. Once again, we can see that core Christian beliefs were not latecomers that were invented in the fourth century (or later), but appear to have been in place from the very beginning.


January 11, 2015

The Scandal of Particularity

The Message John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me.

NIV Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2a but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…

Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation.
Israel in 4BC had no mass communication.  (Song – Superstar)

one-way-jesusToday’s topic is something a little different. Don’t worry if this seems a little obscure, but scan the quotations below and try to get a handle on what’s under discussion. Some of it can be simply reduced to the questions, “Why one chosen people?” and “Why only one way of redemption?” Note: Not all the sources used today are necessarily Christian writers; they were selected for the relevance to the topic.

I noticed the phrase “scandal of particularity” in re-reading a favorite Phillip Yancey book, Reaching for the Invisible God; and decided to dig into it a little. He wrote:

Moses saw a burning bush that bedazzled him, changing the course of his life and of history.  Out of flames of fire he heard the voice of God speaking.  Yet God experienced that same burning bush as an accommodation, a limitation.  The bush appeared before Moses in the Sinai wilderness, but not in China and not in Latin America.  Thus began what critics call the “scandal of particularity.”  Why would God choose Israel out of all the available tribes?  Why would God incarnate himself in the person of Jesus and settle in a backwater province of Palestine?  God had little choice, to put it crudely, if he wished to communicate in a way humans could understand.  To impinge on our world, God must subject himself to the rules of time and space.  Any correspondence between the invisible and visible worlds, between God and human beings, works two ways, affecting both parties.  (p. 115)

At the blog Ex Cathedra:

That’s a theological phrase. It refers to the resistance many people have to the idea that God, the creator of the universe, would enter human history in a very localized way. For example, choosing the Hebrews to be in a peculiar covenanted relationship with him. Or in Christianity, becoming incarnate in one man only and making him the gateway to salvation for the whole world.

For people who assume that a Big God would never restrict himself to such a particular and peculiar path, but would teach universal moral truths through the varied prisms of every religion, this is an outrage, an offense, a scandal.

Lots of Christian theologians nowadays simply assume that in our “global and multicultural post-colonial world”, the assertion that only one religion (theirs) is true would be grotesque. They never notice, however, that certain other religions like, oh, I don’t know, Islam hold exactly the same view and without qualification or apology. And even for the dharmic faiths, one would have to ask, if Hinduism were sufficient, why did Gautama go to all that trouble to get himself enlightened?  Etc. etc.

Dan Wilt:

What if there is actually one way in the world? What if it’s a wide road in the coming to it, but a narrow road in the progressing on it? What if there indeed is a way of living for human beings, that one unique faith system (I include the faith systems of naturalism and evolutionism, all part of the “humanity’s best guess” club), at its essence, promulgates? What if the scandal of particularity is exactly the plan, and a way has been made that addresses hatred, death, love, goodness and the strangeness of the human condition.

…Jesus is the reason that Christian faith is a problem. “…No one comes to the Father but by me” is the bone of contention, and a Jesus who has been aligned with the Crusades, Inquisitions and Acquisitions of history is an unacceptable personage in the 21st century world…

…Jesus keeps us on my toes, I do declare. I believe that God is willing to live there on this rocky edge as well (I note here that in those times, for some beautiful reason, it is the music of worship that anchors and renews me in mind and heart). My layman’s studies of world history and civilization tell me that the “my god is better than your god” game is a long-standing past time. We view particularity, in some fields, as lacking in academic sophistication. However, in other fields, to be increasingly particular and specific leads us also the greatest of discoveries, and even to the answering of macro questions that have haunted us for time immemorial. Particularity is not always a bad thing. Certain us/thems, on sides of ideas and explorations, can be helpful to the whole – disagreement is not always the enemy.

At the blog The Three Taverns:

…This scandal rocks the Church, that is, the holy Christian and apostolic Church, and it offends the world at large.

It is the scandal of particularity. It is not some deep dark secret that God has been trying to hide. It doesn’t uncover some character flaw in God or moral failing on His part. It is not some devious and sadistic action on His part that brings Him joy in bringing upon people needless pain and harm. What it is is simply the way He does things. What He does and how He does it is scandalous. It is offensive.

The reason is it is? Because it is specific. So specific, in fact, that it is exclusionary. Not meaning that His love is exclusionary. His love is anything but. His love is inclusive. His salvation is for everyone. God loves everyone. He has offered salvation to every person. Jesus died for everyone. So, no, it’s not His love. It’s the way He brings about His love.

And here is the scandal of particularity. God’s love is in His Son Jesus Christ. It is in Him alone. That’s the scandal. That’s the particular nature of it. If you casually read the Scriptures you may not see it. If you read them carefully and take them to heart you will see more and more the scandalous nature of God and how He relates to us. You will see that no matter how you would like to view yourself God sees you in your sin. No matter what you think that you think of God, God knows that as you stand He is your enemy. No matter how you would like to shy away from your sin and the consequences that go along with it, God doesn’t shy away from it, He meets it straight on…

At Sacra Doctrina:

[Lesslie] Newbigin time and again underscores the importantly historical character of the Christian faith, that the concrete particularity of the Christian gospel is precisely what makes it relevant for all times and cultures.

This is the trajectory of the biblical witness, a continual narrowing of God’s electing and redeeming purposes (Noah, Abraham, Israel, David, a remnant, etc.) until they all come to focus upon the person and work of Jesus Christ, in order that the universal purpose of blessing might come to all nations.

Newbigin explains the Scriptural “scandal of particularity” in relation to the universality of the gospel. These two themes appear in Scripture side by side, without any apparent sense of tension. Newbigin explains this in terms of the biblical view of humanity, which doesn’t begin by “looking within and finding at the core of human reality a purely spiritual entity that is the object of God’s saving purpose” (70). Rather the biblical focus is upon “this real world of real people” in all of their created materiality and interconnectedness.

 

 

August 13, 2014

Justification, Sanctification and Glorification

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For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–
For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.
 (Romans 6:6-7 NLT)

Jeremy Myers has been running a series of word studies at his blog, Till He Comes, concerning words that do not refer to eternal life, even though we think of them in terms of it. This is actually part three; you might want to click the link in the first paragraph to read the parts sequentially. To read the first one at source, click the title below.

Words that DO NOT Refer to Eternal Life (Part 3): Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification

In previous posts we looked at several words that do not refer to eternal life: salvation and Kingdom of Heaven, and inheritance and reward. This post we will look at three more.

Justification

While it may be true that justification and eternal life are very closely related, they are nevertheless distinct in biblical theology.

To be justified is to be “righteousified.” That is, justification is to be declared or considered righteous by God. It is not the same thing as being “made righteous.”

It may be best to think of justification as being “in right standing” with God whereas eternal life is the actual reception of God’s life in us. The two are closely related and occur simultaneously when we believe in Jesus, but are still distinct.

The critical point to remember is that neither the reception of eternal life, nor the declaration of righteousness actually makes one righteous in all their thoughts, actions, and behaviors. If it did, we would never sin again. But we do sin, which brings us to the topic of sanctification.

Sanctification

It is because of this ongoing sin that we need sanctification. This is the life-long process of being sanctified, that is, of becoming more holy.

Sanctification occurs as we follow Jesus in discipleship and learn to love others like Jesus through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Sanctification often leads to the temporal experience of eternal life, but is not eternal life itself.

Through sanctification we begin to understand what it means to live under the rule and reign of God, and we begin to see other people as God sees them, and ourselves as well. Based on this brief description, you may realize that sanctification is vitally important for the Christian life.

Indeed, it is probably not an overstatement to say that the vast majority of the New Testament is concerned with Christian sanctification.

Glorification

Glorification then, is the future event when we finally gain our perfect, glorified bodies. It is with these redeemed and sinless bodies that we will live forever with God and will serve Him and one another for all eternity.

justification-sanctification-glorification

Though it is an oversimplification, we could say that if justification is deliverance from the penalty of sin, and sanctification is the deliverance from the power of sin, then glorification is the deliverance from the presence of sin.

So justification, sanctification, and glorification are not themselves eternal life, but maybe it would be safe to say that they are aspects of eternal life. Justification is when we receive eternal life; sanctification is when we learn to live within eternal life; and glorification is when we fully experience eternal life.

August 3, 2014

Testimonies to Christ’s Sinlessness

Today we want to introduce you to, and give you a sample of another website just discovered: WayOfLife.org and the ministry of Way of Life Literature.  More information is shown at the bottom of today’s devotional.  Click the title to read at source, and then take a few minutes from there to look around the rest of the site. (Note: Scripture references are KJV, but if you are struggling with them, copy/paste the references into BibleHub, BibleStudyTools, or BibleGateway.)

Testimonies of Christ’s Sinlessness

Two thousand years ago a man walked this earth who was like no other man who. His birthplace was a stable in the tiny town of Bethlehem in Israel. He lived on this earth for about 33 years and was crucified by the Roman government as a criminal. He life was under the microscope of human observation. He did not live in secret. His ministry was public, and his every word and deed was examined by those who lived at that time. And the record of His life has been examined by the world ever since. No man has been as intensely examined as Jesus of Nazareth.

Before His death Jesus issued an amazing challenge that has never been answered, a challenge that only an insane or a sinless man could offer. He said, “Which of you convinceth me of sin” (John 8:46). The word “convince” means to bring an accusation that can be proven, a charge that can stand.

Though He was accused of wrongdoing by those who hated him, the accusations were blatant and obvious lies. The Roman governor himself said that Jesus was innocent of all charges. He wasn’t crucified because of any sin He had committed. He was crucified because of the jealously of false Jewish teachers and the idolatry of the Roman Empire with its Caesar worship. But far more than that, He was crucified because He came to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He came as the Son of God to make atonement for man’s sins so that men might be reconciled to God.

The fact of Jesus’ sinlessness proves that He was the Son of God. Every man since Adam has been a sinner by nature, by thought, and by deed. Children don’t have to be taught how to sin. We don’t need schools to educate children in how to lie and cheat and dishonor their parents and disobey authority.

I believe that the Bible is the Word of God for many reasons, and one of those is that what it says rings true to what can be observed in life. The Bible says, for example, that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). I can observe that in my own life, and I can see it everywhere in the world today and everywhere in human history.

Everywhere except in Jesus.

Following are some of the testimonies to Jesus’ sinlessness:

The testimony of PilatePilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. (Joh 18:38). See also John 19:4, 6.When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. (Mt 27:24)

The testimony of Pilate’s wife

When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. (Mt 27:19)

The testimony of the thief on the cross

But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. (Lu 23:40-41)

The testimony of the centurion

Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man (Lu 23:47)

And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God. (Mr 15:39)

The testimony of the apostle Paul

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2Co 5:21)

The testimony of the apostle Peter

Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: (1Pe 2:22)

The testimony of the apostle John

And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. (1Jo 3:5)

The testimony of God the Father

While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. (Mt 17:5)

_____

About Way of Life – The name “Way of Life” is from Proverbs 6:23: “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” The biblical instruction that molds men to God’s will requires reproof. It is not strictly positive. It does not focus on man’s “self-esteem.” It does not avoid controversial or unpopular subjects. It warns as well as comforts. It deals with sin and false teaching in a plain manner. It is reproves, rebukes, exhorts with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2). This is what we seek to do through Way of Life Literature. The Way of Life preaching and publishing ministry based in Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario, of which Wilbert Unger is the founding Pastor. A mail stop is maintained in Port Huron, Michigan.

July 12, 2014

“I Follow Paul” “I Follow Christ”

ESV I Cor. 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

NIV I Cor. 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

 

The dialog I chose as a title for today’s thoughts was probably pretty typical in the days of the early church, and the tributaries of that discussion still run through the church today.  Clark Bunch tackled this earlier this week and gave us permission to use it here. To see the article at source, and especially to engage with the comments that followed, click the title below.

A Defense of the Apostle Paul

by Clark Bunch

Saul of Tarsus developed quite a reputation in the world of the early Christian church, zealously hunting down those who taught and preached in the name of Christ. He was on his way to Damascus, with arrest letters from the Jerusalem Sanhedrin in hand, when he had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul he became one of the most prolific church planters and writers of the first century; 14 of the 26 New Testament books are his letters (epistles) to various individuals and churches.

But here’s the rub: Do we today make too much of Paul? Does our attention become Paul-centered rather than Christ centered? Just because he wrote many epistles that become a major component of the New Testament, is everything Paul wrote the Word of God? Which is why I propose a defense of Paul to consider and respond to these criticisms.

It is human nature to pick favorites. And just like baseball fans have a favorite team, a favorite pitcher, or a favorite park, Christians becomes “fans” of particular leaders. I would rather listen to John Piper than Joel Osteen (but that has more to do with theology than fandom). In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul responds to reports that some in the church are saying “I follow Paul” while others mention Apollos, Cephas, and even others proclaim “I follow Christ.” In a sense Paul has already responded to the Paul-centered argument when he asks “If Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?” He urges all believers to be united in the same mind and judgement and that there be no divisions. He further says that he was not sent to baptize but to preach the Gospel “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Which brings me to my second point:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

The primary goal of all of Paul’s ministry was to proclaim the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. He wanted the faith of his listeners to rest not in his wisdom or in any other person but in the power of God. He was preaching Jesus and the resurrection in Athens when he attracted the attention the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, and later reasoned with them concerning their altar dedicated to the unknown god. He proclaimed, in the Aeropagus of Athens, that The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. Acts 17:24-25

Paul desires we have the same mind in us as was as Christ in Philippians 2, who took the form of a servant obedient to the point of death. He proclaims the preaching of the cross foolishness to those who perish (1 Corinthians 1) but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation in Romans 1. The word Christ is referenced in the writings of Paul 364 times. There are guidelines for selecting leaders and instructions for members of the family written by Paul, but the overwhelming majority of his letters (and travels, and sermons) is focused on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The New Testament books of Paul are so Christ-centered that studying Paul becomes in and of itself a Christ-centered act.

Paul himself warned us not to make too much of Paul. What about his writings? What makes his letters scripture? One of the key facets of the Bible is that it does not contradict itself. In the first and second centuries there were many accounts of the life of Jesus and church leaders made decisions about biblical canon, what would be included as scripture in what was becoming the New Testament. The accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke have many identical accounts that corroborate each other and paint a certain character portrait of Jesus. Other accounts, such as the Gospel of Judas or Gospel of Mary, paint a portrait that is out of character when compared to the others. The 14 letters of the Apostle Paul share the Gospel of Jesus that is in character with 1) what we know about Jesus from the 4 Gospel writers and 2) in line with what we know and understand of the Old Testament. Paul warns his listeners to not accept doctrine that does not agree with the words of Jesus Christ. (1 Timothy 6:3-4) That is possibly the strongest argument I can make. As a Pharisee, Saul had been a diligent student of the Law. He could read, write and probably speak at least four languages, including Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Latin. As one called of God (Acts 9) Paul was uniquely qualified to proclaim the Gospel message to Jews and to Gentiles. Look at his comparison of Adam and Jesus as types of first men (Romans 5) and the use of Sarah and Hagar as an allegory for two covenants (Galatians 4).

Did Paul make some mistakes? Did Paul sin? Absolutely. So did Abraham, Moses, King David, the Apostle Peter and every other significant character of the Bible, Old and New Testament (with one obvious exception). Many of those Old Testament figures, despite their well known faults, are spoken of highly by Jesus and by the writer of Hebrews for their faith. Peter, who famously denied Jesus three times, was later charged with leading the disciples. Saul of Tarsus had a personal encounter with Jesus the Christ on his way to Damascus and became a changed man who suffered much and did much in establishing the New Testament church in its early history. The same God that inspired the Old Testament writers and the Gospel accounts gave us the rest of the New Testament. He did not suddenly become incapable of doing so early in the first century. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible tells one story, about how a holy God relates to a sinful, fallen and broken people. At the center of that story is Jesus. The goal of this blog, and hopefully every Christian endeavor, is to be God-honoring and Christ-centered. The work of the Apostle Paul, including the 14 surviving New Testament epistles, do that and can help us do the same to the glory and honor of God.

 

Related posts here at C201:

August 26, 2013

Thoughts on “Once Saved, Always Saved”

This is from Jeremy Myers at the blog Till He Comes; you’re encouraged to read at source.

Eternal Security

I sometimes get asked if I believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved.” One reader recently sent in this question:

Can a Christian lose their salvation?

The old saying is once saved, always saved.

I have two ways of answering this question, both of which are stated below.

1. Why I do NOT Believe “Once Saved, Always Saved”

The reason there is so much debate over this statement is because of the word “saved.” As I have written about on numerous times previously, the word “saved” (and other related words such as “save” and “salvation”) are used in a variety of ways in the Bible. When you do a study of the ways these words are used, it quickly becomes obvious that the vast majority of them have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anything related to gaining or keeping eternal life.

So, for example, the word “saved” might refer to being delivered from one’s enemies, or getting healed from a sickness, or being rescued from drowning at sea. Obviously, these words are not related to gaining or keeping eternal life. I would guess that the majority of times the word “saved” (or save, salvation, etc), are used in Scripture, they are used in this way (e.g., Matt 8:25; Acts 27:31).

Another percentage of words refers to various ideas that are related to eternal life, but are not eternal life themselves. Often, the words in these contexts refer to some aspect of sanctification, or maybe getting rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, or some other related idea (cf. 1 Cor 3:15).

Finally, there is a tiny fraction (I would say less than 1%) of uses where the term probably does refer to receiving eternal life, though even in these contexts, the actual meaning of the word is debatable.

In Acts 16:30-31, for example, the Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” On the one hand, it seems that the jailer might have been asking about how to receive eternal life. But frankly, at this time, that may not have been the primary question on his mind. At that time, if a jailer let prisoners escape, the jailer would be tortured and killed. Maybe the jailer was not asking how to get eternal life, but how to be delivered (saved) from being killed by the authorities. This reading is possible. I am not sure how the jailer meant his question, and so don’t mind reading it either way. Besides, whatever he meant by it, Paul and Silas answer the most important question, which is how to receive eternal life: believe in Jesus for it.

There are a few other examples of places where the word “saved” could be understood as eternal life, or could be understood as referring to something else (Eph 2:1-10 is one), but these examples are less than 1% of the uses in the Bible.

But here is what happens. Most church-going people assume that the word “saved” almost always means “get forgiveness of sins so you can go to heaven when you die” even though it rarely means that. So when they come across a passage like 1 Corinthians 15:2 where Paul says the Corinthians will be saved only if they hold fast to the word that was preached to them. And people say, “See? If you don’t hold fast, then you aren’t saved? See? Once saved, always saved is false!”

Right. But what does the word “saved” mean in this context? Is Paul really talking about the concept of “forgiveness of sins, escaping hell, going to heaven when you die?” No, he is not. Paul is using the word “saved” in the same way he uses it in 1 Corinthians 3:15. The word “saved” in 1 Corinthians refers to reward and honor at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is something Christians can lose.

So the question, “Do you believe in ‘Once Saved, Always Saved?’ is a trick question. There are numerous verses in the Bible which indicate that there is some things in our Christian life which can be lost, and these texts use the word “saved” to talk about how to be saved from losing these things.

So do I believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved?” No. I do not. This slogan is unclear, imprecise, and does not fit with many Scriptures which indicate that there are many spiritual blessings in the Christian life that can be lost.

2. Why I believe “Once Saved, Always Saved”

Of course, after saying what I have said above about “Once Saved, Always Saved” I always try to then answer the question that people are really asking. When people ask if I believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved” what they are really asking is if I believe that eternal life can be lost. That is, do I believe in eternal security?

And the answer to that is a resounding Yes!

Once you see the difference in Scripture between the word “saved” and the terms “eternal life” or “everlasting life” or even something like “justification” you being to see that while there are numerous verses which talk about saving something that can  be lost, there is not a single verse in the Bible which talks about losing eternal life, losing everlasting life, or losing our justification. All of these gifts of God, once given, are never revoked or taken back.

There is no place in the Bible that talks about getting unjustified, unsealed, unregenerated, unindwelled, unbaptized by the Spirit, or any such thing.

If everlasting life can be lost, it has the wrong name.

Yes, I know there are difficult verses in the Bible, and troubling passages (Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10 for example), but with a basic framework understanding of what Jesus teaches about eternal life being given freely to everyone and anyone who believes in Him for it, and that since Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners there is no sin that can take away the benefits of His death from us, and dozens of other Scriptures which talk about God’s infinite, unmerited, outrageous, scandalous grace, the clear teaching of Scripture seems to be that once God gives eternal life to someone, they have it eternally.

Yes, yes, there are people who might abuse this idea. Yes, there are people who think they have eternal life, but don’t. Yes, there are lots of false ideas out there about what eternal life is and how to get it. I am not talking about any of that. All I am saying is that according to Scripture, if a person has eternal life, then they have eternal life eternally. They shall never perish!

So do I believe in Once Saved, Always Saved? You tell me! What are your thoughts about the saying, “Once Saved, Always Saved”?

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December 19, 2012

What the Bible Means by ‘Redeemer’

K. W. Leslie is doing a series on his blog on Christianese, the words we in the church toss out as a type of code that is largely not understood by the world at large. You might think you know what the Bible means by ‘redeemer’ until you read this, which I encourage you to do at his blog, More Christ, where this appeared recently.

Redeemer. [ri·DĒ·mər, noun] Rescuer. One who atones for sin, error, or evil. Usually Jesus.

To most people’s minds, “redeem” is a word we use when talking about recycling cans or bottles: The redemption value of a recyclable container is the extra amount we paid when we bought the item, which we’re supposed to get back after we’ve taken the container to a recycling center.

Christian redemption isn’t quite like that. (Though I’ve actually heard a sermon about Jesus recycling sinners.) The original word for redeemer, ga’al, was a family member who, when you were in trouble, helped get you out of it.

If you were in debt and had to sell your property, your redeemer would buy it back. (Lv 25.25) If you were obligated to sell yourself—for slavery was an option in bible times—your redeemer would buy you back. (Lv 25.48) If you were a poor widow or orphan, your redeemer was expected to look after you, or even marry you. (Ru 4.1-10) If you were murdered, your redeemer was obligated to find your murderer and execute him (Nu 35.21) —unless your murderer went to a nearby city and requested a trial. But if found guilty, the redeemer would still execute him. (Nu 35.25)

For the Christian, Jesus is our redeemer. We were slaves to sin, but God has adopted us as his children, (Jn 1.12) and our brother and redeemer Jesus has purchased us out of that slavery. Yes, Paul described us as slaves to God, (Ro 6.22) but that’s because he was mixing his metaphors. If you prefer the idea we’ve been bought by God as his slaves, fine. If you prefer the idea we’ve been freed by Jesus so we can now freely follow him, fine. (Ga 4.5) There’s no specific formula for how God’s salvation works, so the scriptures describe it in a few different ways. And most Christians like the redemption idea ’cause it means we’re free. “If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” (Jn 8.36)

When we talk or sing of how our Redeemer lives, that’s actually a quote from Job:

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
and he will stand upon the earth at last.
And after my body has decayed,
yet in my body I will see God!
I will see him for myself.
Yes, I will see him with my own eyes.
I am overwhelmed at the thought!

—Job, Job 19.25-27 NLT

Job was an Edomite, so the customs of Edomite redeemers were a bit different from the rules for Israelite redeemers. Nevertheless, they were family members who would rescue you from your troubles—and here Job clearly recognized God was his rescuer, and that he’d come to save him. Christians sometimes interpret this as a Messianic prophecy, though it’s not: Everyone who believes in resurrection understands how after we’re raised, we’ll see God with our own two eyes. Christians just happen to know he’ll be Jesus. Job didn’t necessarily know this. All he did know—correctly—is God was his redeemer: He was an adopted son of God, so God was family.

As are we. That’s why we can borrow Job’s quote and say the same thing: Jesus is alive, he’s bought our freedom, and at the End we’ll see him with our own two resurrected eyes. Eventually.

K. W. Leslie

December 8, 2012

I Am “Again-Rising”

I Am The Resurrection

NIV John 11: 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Carley Evans has a very focused blog, and although she has been featured here twice already, her writing very much suits the kind of thing we were speaking of here yesterday.

Here she notes that in the ministry of Jesus, miracle-working time is not a time for parables. In those moments Jesus is very forthright and makes one of the signature statements about his ministry.

Before we jump in to this, I also want to note Carley’s choice of the Wycliffe Bible for this, as it gets us closer to a literal rendering of what Jesus actually said.  Young’s literal translation echoes this:

25 Jesus said to her, `I am the rising again, and the life; he who is believing in me, even if he may die, shall live;

26 and every one who is living and believing in me shall not die — to the age…

Years ago a pastor shared with me, “Let the translators do the work for you.” I have greatly valued this advice, and if you read today’s thoughts at their source, and then browse older posts, you’ll see that Carley does this. (This one is making me considering getting a print copy of the Wycliffe translation.)

Jesus speaks in analogy or parable quite often, but before asking Lazarus to wake up from death and come out of the tomb, He tells Martha, Lazarus’ sister: “I am again rising and life; he that believeth in me, yea, though he be dead, he shall live.” Jesus does not tell Martha a story meant to represent something else; rather, He tells her the truth – that He is eternal; that, despite death, He lives forever; that, belief in Him results in this same eternal life.

Don’t you wonder how Jesus stays out of the pits where the lepers live? How is it no one throws Him in with those society hates? Well, yes, His neighbors do attempt toss Him over a cliff; but in general, especially today, Jesus is called “a great teacher.” A great teacher? Jesus is not a great teacher if He is not God. He claims to be God, the One and Only God. Jesus either tells us the truth – that He is God – or He’s crazy. Why does anyone listen to an insane man?

Jesus gains the ears of modern theologians – who may or may not believe in His divinity –  because He demonstrates God’s glory and displays God’s power of “again-rising and life.”

I also appreciate the notation here that to refer to Jesus as “a good moral teacher” is dangerous because of what it is not saying about him. When interacting with people in the broader culture about Jesus, those types of statements should set off all types of warning lights. He is not simply that. He is the resurrection and the life.

November 27, 2012

Why Couldn’t God Simply ‘Declare’ Our Sins Forgiven?

In the spirit of this blog’s official tag line — Digging a Little Deeper — we go to a question I hadn’t considered before. Why couldn’t God in his grace simply make a declaration of forgiveness without involving the cross? Will G. wrote the following nearly a year ago from Melbourne, Australia at Weblog of a Christian Philosophy Student under the title Why can’t God just forgive sin?

People sometimes ask: why can’t God just forgive sin? Why did Jesus have to die on the cross for us?

My answer to this would be that there are two kinds of forgiveness, one of which is a lot more ‘powerful’ than the other, and God needed to use this second, more powerful kind of forgiveness. Moreover, giving this kind of forgiveness required Jesus to die on the cross.

How so?

Imagine a thief who keeps stealing some guy’s stuff – let’s say John’s stuff. John is so nice that whenever the thief steals from him, he forgives the thief. But the thief never changes his behaviour. John can forgive the thief all he wants, but it doesn’t stop the thieve from stealing. Forgiving the thief doesn’t make the thief a better person.

John’s kind of forgiveness could be called the first kind.

The story shows that John’s kind of forgiveness doesn’t do that much. John’s forgiveness won’t make the thief stop stealing, it will only prevent John from seeking justice and might also relieve some emotional tension from his anger. John’s kind of forgiveness won’t change the thief’s behaviour.

If God’s forgiveness is like John’s forgiveness then God’s forgiveness won’t change people’s behaviour. If God’s forgiveness is like John’s forgiveness then we’ll act in heaven the way we do on earth. This could lead to heaven having such things as people really disliking one another, splits between different groups, cliques, and so on. Not really a great picture of heaven.

The Christian idea is that to solve humanity’s problems, God needed a more powerful ‘second’ kind of forgiveness – one that changes behaviour. That’s the kind of forgiveness you need to really deal with humanity’s issues.

See Col 2:13:

“You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.”

The Bible says that when God forgave us He managed to change our behaviour as part of the forgiveness. Our sinful nature was ‘cut away’ by God’s forgiveness, although we will still fight against it until Jesus comes (Gal 5:17).

Imagine John forgiving the thief with such ‘power’ (somehow) that the thief decided never to steal again! That would be similar to the second kind of forgiveness.

So how does it work?

The Bible says that the mechanism for God’s more powerful kind of forgiveness must involve Jesus dying for us (Matt 26:39). I’m not too clear on the details of how it works, but I suspect it involves some kind of exchange between sinners and Jesus. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed”, in Romans 6:6, “our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ”, and in Gal 2:20, “It is no longer [my old sinful self] that lives, but Christ lives in me”.

August 24, 2012

Essentials and Non-Essentials

NIV Eph. 4: 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called ; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all…

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Yesterday we looked at five areas of Christian doctrine that will always contain an element of mystery.  Today I want to look at five areas where we have potential for unity.  In March of 1998, Rev. Dr. Arnold Cook was the president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada and wrote this story:

It was 1990. The despotic dictator of Romania had been toppled late in 1989. In domino fashion other Eastern European countries overthrew Communism. Dr. Mariam Charter and I were part of two probe teams which the Alliance sent to check out possible ministries in four of these countries. Agenda? How do we introduce ourselves to leaders in these countries who have never heard of the Alliance? Amazingly within 45 minutes we agreed on the following points:

  1. The centrality of Christ
  2. A strong commitment to missions
  3. Focus on the work of the Spirit
  4. A commitment to church planting
  5. No position on Calvinism versus Arminianism

Christian leaders we met were incredulous that a denomination existed which took a middle stance on such issues as the security of the believer and the charismatic controversy.

The C&MA in Canada is known for what is called “middle ground theology.” People in Canada are often just as incredulous as the people in Eastern Europe when they learn that a growing Evangelical denomination permits some variance at the pastoral or congregational level on what others consider hot button issues.  Dr. Cook goes on to name a few:

Historical theological issues: e.g. Reformed theology versus the holiness tradition. Both streams have contributed to the formation of the Alliance.

Prophetic aspects of the end times: e.g. The chronological timetable of Christ’s return related to the Great Tribulation. We have focused on His coming, relating it to the completion of world evangelization. (Matt 24: 14; 28: 16-20)

Faith healing controversy: e.g. Is healing in the atonement? What about faith healers? We stand squarely on healing in the atonement and simply teach and practice divine healing for today.

Charismatic controversy: e.g. Are all the spiritual gifts for today or did some or all case with the Apostolic church? We are out in the middle, believing in all the gifts for today, but not considering ourselves charismatics.

Church governments: e.g. Are we Congregational, Presbyterian or Episcopalian? We are a hybrid; akin to Presbyterian with representative government, but having a healthy congregational dimension.

Women in ministry/leadership: Most evangelicals adhere to one of three positions: hierarchical (no public ministry); complementarian (many ministry roles excluding eldership); or egalitarian (no limitations to leadership roles). Historically, we have held to the complementarian position, where women have ministered with great blessing.  [Note: This year the C&MA in Canada moved to permit women as elders.]

Why this middle stance?

An outsider could perceive us as spineless. Proponents of the Canadian conservatism theory might label us “typical Canadians” who cross the road to get to the middle! Historically this stance has been rooted in strong Biblical convictions versus compromise. Our theology and ethos have been forged by the centrality of Christ. This passion for our all-sufficient Christ has relegated every other good cause to secondary status.

Forty-four autonomous national churches form the Alliance World Fellowship. What holds these culturally diverse churches together? It appears to be the Fourfold Gospel, i.e. Christ our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King. No one is sure where it originated. Some feel it is simplistic. But it does fulfill the criteria for an effective mission statement: i.e. It’s short, understandable by a sixth grader and repeatable at gun-point!

“Middle ground stance” — there must be a more dynamic term. Thanks to one of our pastors I have found it: The Radical Middle. Why “radical”? The tendency of Christian movements is to polarize. Few find the middle ground. Even the points of the Fourfold Gospel have never been fine-tuned theologically. Why? How could we justify energy spent fine-tuning details of Christ’s second coming when a third of the world has never heard of his first coming.

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