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.

January 11, 2018

Jesus. An Ordinary Person?

by Clarke Dixon

Who is Jesus? This question is the most important question we could ever face. It is a much more significant question than; “Do you like organized religion? Do you like Christianity? Do you like church and find it relevant?”

Many suggestions are put forward, but they fall into only three categories:

  1. Jesus is fictional. He is a figment of someone’s imagination.
  2. Jesus was an ordinary person. He became extraordinary in people’s minds sometime after his death.
  3. Jesus is no ordinary person. In Christian thinking, he was, is, and always will be extraordinary, being God incarnate.

Out of these three options, this question is really only a choice between two of them. If you think that Jesus is pure fiction, then most of history, and especially all of ancient history must be seen as pure fiction also. People who really want Jesus to go away may be comfortable with that, but most historians are not. If you are being consistent in matters of history, there is really only one question: Is Jesus an ordinary person, or an extraordinary person?

The first chapter of Mark will help us know how Mark, at least, would answer that. Consider:

  • In the very first verse Jesus is no ordinary person, but is the Messiah (Christ) plus the Son of God:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1

  • In verses 2 and 3, the prophecies quoted refer to the coming, not just of a prophet, or king, but of God Himself. These are understood to be pointing to Jesus:

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ” Mark 1:2-3

  • In verse 7, John the baptizer knows he is not worthy of Jesus, stating that he is not even worthy to do the task of a slave. Jesus is on another level entirely:

He proclaimed, The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” Mark 1:7

  • Continuing on with John the baptizer, in verse 8 we need to ask who can baptize with the Holy Spirit except God Himself?

I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:8

  • In verse 11 Jesus is referred to with a title that would only previously be applied to the king of Israel, or the nation as a whole. We are to understand that Jesus is king, and in some way representative of all Israel. Also, where the kings and and the nation were prone to failure, Jesus gets it right:

And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11

  • In verse 13 when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days we are to think of the 40 years God’s people spent in the wilderness before entering the promised Land. They spent that long in the wilderness because, unlike Jesus, they fell to temptation and sinned:

He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:13

  • In verse 18 Jesus is the one who is worth immediately leaving everything to follow:

17 And Jesus said to them,Follow me and I will make you fish for people.18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:17-18

  • In verses 21 and 22 the teaching of Jesus was extraordinary:

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Mark 1:21-22

  • In verse 24 Jesus is identified by an unclean spirit as “the Holy One of God”.  The spirit knows that Jesus is extraordinary and has power over evil:

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out,What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Mark 1:23-24

  • In verses 25 and 26 the spirit is under Jesus’ authority:

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, Be silent, and come out of him!26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. Mark 1:25-26

  • In verse 27 the people recognize that not only does Jesus teach with authority, his word has authority. This reminds us of Someone else Who spoke with authority and had extraordinary results (see Genesis 1):

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another,What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Mark 1:27

  • In verses 40 and following the compassion of Jesus is extraordinary. Notice how Jesus touches the leper before healing him. Something no ordinary person would do!

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him,If you choose, you can make me clean.41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him,I do choose. Be made clean!” Mark 1:40-41

Is Jesus an ordinary person or an extraordinary person? Mark certainly knows him to be extraordinary!

Mark was not one of the 12 disciples, so we might ask how would he know? As a Christian I can point to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but I wouldn’t expect a non-Christian to be convinced by that. However, we can appeal to history. Mark was known to be a close companion of Peter and to have written down the Gospel based on Peter’s testimony and preaching. Peter, of course, knew Jesus very well. Mark’s interest in Jesus may have been stirred prior to Jesus’ crucifixion as some scholars think that he may be the young man who fled naked at the arrest of Jesus in Mark chapter 14. Further, in the process of settling on which books were authoritative for the Church, the early Christians only considered writings that were known to be closely associated with eyewitnesses, the apostles. Mark wrote his Gospel account while eyewitnesses were still alive, so his facts could be checked. All the New Testament documents, dating from closer to the events than make grand fictions possible, say the same thing as Mark chapter 1. Jesus is no ordinary person.

The eyewitnesses to Jesus were all saying the same things: The teaching of Jesus was extraordinary, the miracles of Jesus were extraordinary, and the resurrection of Jesus was extraordinary. Also, the fulfillment of the promises, given to the people who have a long testimony of God’s involvement with them, is extraordinary. We have the advantage that 2,000 years later, we can say that the legacy of Jesus has been extraordinary. The positive impact of Jesus, on individuals and society alike, has been profound! To summarize, Jesus was no ordinary man, but is extraordinary. That God loves us enough to do what He has done for us in Jesus is extraordinary!

At the centre of Mark chapter one is this:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying,The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:14-15

Such an extraordinary person, such extraordinary love, demands a life that is anything but ordinary.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Visit Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

March 3, 2017

Devotional for 3/3: The Trinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

to the Son

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

and to the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

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

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

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

John 15: 26 ESV

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

Acts 2: 33 NIrV

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

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

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

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

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

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

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

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For that article… continue reading here.

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

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

and ever shall be, world without end.

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

For more of that article… continue reading here.

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.


November 8, 2014

Tozer: Trinity Job Descriptions; Who Does What?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

to the Son

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

and to the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The resurrection of Christ is likewise attributed variously to the Father

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

to the Son

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

and to the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Other Tozer readings here at Christianity 201:

 

 

 

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”?

[click here to add your voice to existing comments]

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.

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.

August 23, 2012

If There Isn’t Mystery, It Isn’t Really Faith

Some people want everything in Christian theology to be cut and dried; as neat as a pin. You have to wrap up all your loose ends in the final scene before the credits roll, or they get quite perplexed.

But the realm of faith is never quite so tidy. Some things have to be, as we say here, “consigned to the realm of mystery.” C. Michael Patton listed five key areas at Parchment and Pen recently. As usual you’re encouraged to read things at source — they have a graphic that suits this well — so click through to The Five Great Mysteries of the Christian Faith.

As I do the math, there are five great mysteries in theology:

1. Creation out of nothing (ex nihilo): How did God create being out of non-being? Being transcendent in relation to the universe (above all time, space, and matter), the reason for God’s being is necessary (hence why we often call him the “necessary being”), so his existence does not require a cause-and-effect answer. Yet where did he get the “stuff” to create all that there is? It could not have come from himself, as that would place him in our universe of time, space, and matter. Then we would just be looking for the really real God. The same is true if the “stuff” was outside himself. All that there is must have come from nothing as a rational and philosophical necessity. All other options are formally absurd. While creation out of nothing is not formally absurd, it is a great mystery or paradox.

2. Trinity: We believe in one God who eternally exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This would only be a formal contradiction if we said we believed that God was three Gods and one God or if we said we believed he was three persons and one person. But to say that the Trinity is one God in three persons is not a formal contradiction, but a mystery.

3. Hypostatic Union: We believe that the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, is fully God and fully man (at least since the time that he became man). We don’t believe that he is fifty percent God and fifty percent man, or even ninety/ten. Christ is everything that God is and has eternally, even in the incarnation, shared in the full divinity of the one God, yet he is everything that man is forevermore. Whereas the Trinity is one nature with three persons, Christ is one person with two natures. This is indeed a mystery, but has no earmarks of a formal contradiction.

4. Scripture: We believe the Bible is fully inspired of God, yet fully written by man. God did not put the writers of Scripture in a trance and direct their hand in the writing of Scripture (often referred to as “mechanical dictation”), but he fully utilized their personality, circumstances, writing style, and mood in producing the Scriptures. Another way to put it is that the Scriptures are the product of the will of God and the will of man. Mystery? Yes. Contradiction? No.

5. Human Responsibility and Divine Sovereignty: God is sovereign over the entire world, bringing about his will in everything. He does as he pleases in heaven and on earth. There is not a maverick molecule in all the universe. He even sovereignly predestined people to salvation before they were born, while passing over all others. Yet man is fully responsible for all his actions. There will be a judgment of the unrighteous one day in which God will hold people responsible for their rejection of Christ. How could there be a judgment if people were doing only what they were predestined to do? I don’t know. But I do know that they are truly responsible for their actions and rejection of God.  This is a mystery beyond any human ability to solve, yet not a contradiction.

Are there more than these? Most certainly. But in theology, these are the biggies. These are the big pieces of our puzzle that are missing. Why are they missing? I don’t know. I just know they are. God chose not to tell us. I will ask him when I get there. But I will try to trust him until then. After all, don’t I have to borrow from his morality in order to judge him for leaving the puzzle unsolved? I think I will pass on that.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with trying to solve these, and I think everyone needs to get into the ring and wrestle with these issues. But church history has seen that whenever these are “solved,” heresy or serious aberration is always the result. Unfortunately, many continue to opt not to let these mysteries remain. Often with good intentions, Christians have found “solutions.” But these “solutions” normally have to distort God’s revelation to do so. Preferring a settled logical system, many find pieces of another puzzle and force it to fit. The result is an obscured and inaccurate, sometimes even damnable, view of God.

Where God has left the puzzle pieces out, so should we. He knows what he is doing. Let’s just thank him for the pieces we do have and worship, for now, in the white mysterious area. Hand firmly over mouth is a good theological posture sometimes.

Let’s see if I can get you a verse here . . . Got it!

Deut. 29:29
“The secret things [missing puzzle pieces] belong to the Lord, but the things revealed [present puzzle pieces] belong to us and our children forever.”

Oh, and one more (my default NT go-to verse in these matters):

1 Cor. 13:12
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Keep the original design. It’s good stuff.

~ C. Michael Patton

Scripture portions quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green because the Scriptures have LIFE!

 

April 7, 2012

The Nuances of Grace and Resurrection

This story is widely blogged:

In What’s So Amazing about Grace?, Philip Yancey recounts this story about C. S. Lewis:

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.

They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death.

The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.

Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

After some discussion, the conferees had to agree.

The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.

While I like the story, had I been present, I would have challenged the notion that other religions have verified accounts of resurrection. One of the other things that sets Christianity apart is the evidence for the resurrection; evidence which forms the themes of countless books on Christian apologetics.

But where I want to go with this today is this: If you think about it, grace and resurrection are somewhat similar ideas. The DNA present in the concept of grace is embedded in the concept of resurrection, and the DNA of resurrection is embedded in the concept of grace.

Both represent a ‘pass’ if you will.

I sin, but forgiveness is made available by the grace of God.

I die, but in expectation of being raised to eternal life just as Christ conquered death.

I avoid having to perform acts of penance or go through acts of contrition in order to recover my spiritual dignity; I simply need to sincerely ask God’s forgiveness, it is a gift from God, not involving effort or earning.

I avoid having to wonder if my remorse was sufficient, I can receive assurance from God’s Word that my transgressions are forgiven, because he is ever-faithful and ever-just.

I avoid a meaningless death, but die knowing that this is not the end; that death itself is a gateway to something greater that God has in store; something my eyes have never seen, my ears have never heard, my imagination has never conjured up.

Now, some will argue that avoiding the consequences of sin and someday experiencing the reality of victory over death is really the same thing; and I would agree. The two are linked.

But imagine — and you don’t have to — a belief system that includes both grace and resurrection. Why would you look anywhere else?

December 7, 2011

Deconstructing Depravity, Totally

Oh Oh! We’ve used up our three wishes. Apparently Jim Greer’s writing has already graced the pages of Christianity 201 three times, including some rather recently.  But how could I let this one pass? It’s just too good not to have you all consider this topic. So you can do the polite thing and click over to Not For Itching Ears, or you can simply keep reading the post here which I have stolen borrowed. Jim, I promise, one more and we’ll put you on the payroll.  For the rest of us, I guess instead of reading at the newsstand, we should just buy a subscription…  (Click now!  This means you! Yes, you!)

Could the Doctrine of Total Depravity be Totally Depraved?

Over here at Not For Itching Ears we like to discuss issues that challenge our view of Christianity and the Church.   It is healthy to consider what one believes about the Christian faith and how we express that faith in our corporate church life.  If all we ever do is listen to ourselves, we can inadvertently become the kind of people Paul warned Timothy about:  People who surround themselves with “teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear.”  Today’s post is an attempt to counter that tendency among us as we discuss the Doctrine of  Total Depravity.  To do this, we turn to a passage from  “Reconsidering Tulip”by Alexander J. Renault.  It is written from an Orthodox perspective.

Like many of you, I have always assumed that Total Depravity was a doctrine universally accepted by the church of all ages.  But I was wrong.  It is a rather new concept.  In fact the early church fathers, categorically rejected the idea.  That troubles me a lot.  If Paul understood humanity to be totally depraved or to have a total inability, why did his disciples and the disciples after him flat-out deny it?  Calvinism doesn’t work without this idea, so I can see why we would hesitate to even discuss it.  It wasn’t until Calvin that this idea became the unquestionable doctrine it has become.

I don’t think this article settles the question, but the author does bring out some interesting things that most of probably have not considered.

So, let the Discussion begin…

“The immediate concomitant of the first sin was the total depravity of human nature. The contagion of his sin at once spread through the entire man, leaving no part of his nature untouched, but vitiating every power and faculty of body and soul.” Louis Berkhof

The ontological problem with Total depravity is with the word “nature.” According to Total depravity, our very nature has changed. But what is a nature? In technical terms, “nature” refers to the essence of something—that which makes a thing a thing at its deepest level.

The early church Fathers used the term ousia for nature or essence. God is one nature (ousia) and three persons. Christ and the Father are of the same ousia. The incarnate Christ has two natures—human and divine.

So, if humans are intrinsically sinful in their essence (i.e. “sinful nature”), then God created sin. The Reformed will of course argue, “No, man was created with a good nature, but that nature changed.” But how can a nature change? A nature is the definition of a thing, and can only be defined by the one who creates the thing. What is the nature of a brick, for example? It’s a small, rectangular, hand-held fire-baked building block. If a single brick is broken, it doesn’t change the definition of brick nature. even if someone destroys every brick in the world, that still doesn’t change the definition of what a brick is. It doesn’t change brick nature. A man cannot change his nature any more than a brick could change its nature. Only God can change the nature/definition/essence of a thing. But to do so would make God the author of sin. . . . . . .

To take it to a more personal level, did God make you personally? Did He knit you together in your mother’s womb? If not, then God is not your creator, and I suppose it doesn’t matter what He thinks. But if He did create you, then what kind of nature did He create you with? A good nature, or a sinful nature? The answer that the church has historically given is that you are created with a good nature. You are created in the image of God. You are created to be an icon of God—a picture of God, here on earth.

But like a gold ring in a pile of manure, we are glorious creatures bound by sin and corruption. The nature or value of the gold ring doesn’t change, even if the environment does. Likewise, it is difficult for our true nature to be seen when we’re buried in a stinking pile of death and rot.

. . . . . Again, if sin is intrinsic to humanity, then Adam wasn’t human before he fell, nor will we be human when we’re in heaven, where there will be no sin. But if sin is foreign to our true nature, foreign to the image of god, then it makes little sense to say that we have a “sinful nature” . . . .

. . . . Another major problem is encountered when we confuse person with nature. What is a person? We might say that it is a unique manifestation of a nature. The early greeks used the term hypostasis for person and ousia for nature. Christ is one person (hypostasis) with two natures (ousia). The Trinity is one in essence, but with three persons (hypostases). There is only one human nature (or “humanity”) expressed uniquely in six billion different human persons. . . .

. . . The doctrine of Total depravity states that we are “utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to turn to Christ in faith for salvation.” This is because, as Berkhof says, we have depraved natures, and we only choose what our nature dictates. In other words, we cannot help but to choose sin, because we have a sinful nature. But is choice a function of person or of nature?  Do people choose to do things or do natures choose to do things? I believe it’s a function of person, not nature.

Think about this idea of person vs. nature with the Trinity: God is one divine nature (ousia) and three persons (hypostases). can “holiness” be separated from God the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit? No, because holiness is an aspect of God’s nature. It is a natural attribute. Can “incarnation” be separated from God the Father? Yes. God the Father was not incarnate, but the Son was. Thus, incarnation is a personal attribute of the second person of the Trinity, not a natural attribute shared by all three persons of the godhead. . . .

. . . . Likewise, sin is a personal attribute and not a natural/essential one. If our choice to act sinfully was from our nature, then that would imply that all of our actions are simply the result of what our nature dictates. But the problem with that line of reasoning is that God Himself couldn’t help but to create, redeem, etc., because it’s His nature and not His personal free choice. This would mean that God created the world not because He chose to, but because He had to, according to His nature. He saved us not because He chose to, but because He had to, according to His nature. I’m inclined rather to agree with St. Patrick of Ireland, who said that the lord “gladly and of His own free will pardoned me.”

We can begin to see how a confusion of person and nature leads to a very limited God with no free choice. . . .

. . . . of vital importance to the discussion on Total depravity, and unfortunately all but neglected by most Reformed in my experience, is the doctrine of the incarnation. This brings the discussion of human nature out of the simply anthropological realm and into the christological realm.

The crux of the matter is this: if Christ did not have a human nature, then He cannot save us. If Christ was fully human, but not fully God, then He cannot bring us up to God. If He is fully God but not fully human, then He cannot come completely down to us and bridge the gap between us and God. The first several ecumenical councils of the church all dealt with this issue.

It is generally agreed among the Reformed that Christ was fully God and fully human. Unfortunately, the implications of this are not always understood by the Reformed. For if Christ is fully human, then He must have a human soul, a human will, a human mind—in short, a human nature. And yet He was without sin. This tells us that sin is not an integral part of human nature, and that one is still human apart from sin. Otherwise, either 1) christ was just as sinful as we are, or else 2) christ wasn’t fully human and can’t really save us.

John 1:14 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Heb 2:11, 17 – For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren … Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High priest in things pertaining to God, to make expiation for the sins of the people.

This Hebrews passage is especially significant regarding Christ’s  human nature. It says that “in all things” He had to be made human.   And yet He was without sin. This would suggest that “sin nature” is in  fact foreign to true “human nature.

For Another interesting discussion on a topic you may have always assumed could not be challenged, see our series of articles called “A Compelling Argument AGAINST Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) or our series called “A Strong Argument Against Calvinism?”

~Jim Greer

For today, I’m closing comments here in order to encourage you to generate discussion at the source blog, where Jim is, I’m sure, more prepared to deal with issues arising from today’s discussion than I would be !!  I’m sure that for some of you this strikes at the heart of all you hold dear, but remember that ‘holding dear’ shouldn’t be the basis of establishing a personal, systematic theology for any of us.

May 30, 2011

I Believe What I Believe is What Makes Me Who I Am

“It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man”
~Rich Mullins, Creed

I had a friend tell me once that his denomination’s members were “not creedal people.”  I realized later it was just his way of saying that he didn’t want to be nailed down on anything.  Some of doctrines should be written in pencil, not ink, because as we mature in Christ and grow in both grace and knowledge, we realize that the things we held as absolutes may not be exactly as we think.  However… no wait, let me put that in capitals… HOWEVER, there are some core beliefs which should be not subject to negotiation; the basics, the essence of the Christian faith summed up in a few short sentences that we should “always be ready to give account” concerning.

The lyrics to Creed appear on the screen in this version.

  • Here’s a bonus article from TOL, written in response to the ongoing controversy concerning the Trinity.
  • Here’s another TOL piece, for those of you who get tripped up in the “holy Catholic church” line from the Apostles’ Creed.