Christianity 201

October 12, 2021

The True Measurement of Holiness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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For the past month I’ve been revisiting the first year of C201. Eleven years ago we connected with Lori Ettel at the blog A Display of His Splendor. Her most recent post was last summer, but it was so good I wanted to share it with you.

Jesus Came to Her

 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” (Luke 13:12)

Here we are, in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus looks over the crowd and one person catches his eye. One woman, among all the others, moves him to act. So, he calls her over. And after 18 years of being hunched over, she is healed. Amazing! She wasn’t there to be healed yet Jesus came to her.

and she glorified God. (Luke 13:13b)

I’ve been reading this story for a few days. I’ve looked at commentaries because I think there’s something I’ve missed. The story continues with the synagogue ruler and his buddies condemning Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. They argue there are six days a week to heal but the seventh is for worship, not work.

And this is how Jesus replies,

You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? (vs. 15).

Look at what he says. On the Sabbath you untie, (loosen, set free) an ox or donkey. You not only untie it; you lead it to water. You take an animal and set it free so it can drink. And yet you condemn me for offering the same freedom to a person.

The ruler becomes indignant. How interesting. He was a ruler of the place people came to worship. And yet, he missed the very heart of God. To him, holiness was keeping the law. To Jesus, it was looking after the needs of the people. Jesus points out, the ruler has more care and concern for his animals than he does for the people surrounding him.

It’s easy to condemn the ruler in this story but I have to ask myself, have I done the same? Do I consider people holy based on their actions? Do I hold some people higher than others? Surely, I align myself with those who think like I do. But wouldn’t it be better if I stepped out of my comfort zone and listened to someone else’s point of view? Maybe I’m not right. And listening to a different point of view will expand my understanding of God.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. – Romans 12:10

Jesus didn’t see the woman as the others did. They saw her as a sinner. They believed her transgression had caused her ailment. It wasn’t hidden. Rather, it was like a flashing red light for all to see and judge. She had learned to live with the pain. Maybe, she didn’t believe she should be healed. Or perhaps, she had asked for healing and it didn’t happen for her. Yet, Jesus went to HER!

If Jesus looks at the heart, shouldn’t we? He shows us over and over how we should treat those around us. God is love. There are no exceptions.

all scriptures ESV

Bonus devotional from the same author

A Friend

Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:4-5 NIV)

There once was a man who couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t work. A life sentence for a man like him was simply to ask. Day in and day out he would ask for enough to get by. He wasn’t going to get wealthy from his begging. He simply needed to provide enough for himself. I imagine he didn’t have a family but this man had friends. He had people who cared for him and wanted the best for him. They stopped at nothing to get him where he needed to go.

This story is a beautiful depiction of true friendship. This man could not get himself the help he needed but his friends could. They brought him and were met with crowds of people. There were too many people and no room to get in. So his friends tore the roof apart so they could lower their lame friend down. They didn’t give up, they found a way. You see, their friend would only be cured if he saw Jesus.

Sometimes, we are met with circumstances that are beyond us. They seem unfair, even wrong. We wonder if God has forgotten about us. We feel abandoned. And we find ourselves unable to pray. But God is always at work. He understands we are struggling. He knows our hurt. He recognizes that we are simply overwhelmed. That’s when He calls on someone to pray for us.

When God sees us unable to help ourselves, He brings in others to help. He calls in someone who will pray. When we can’t get to Jesus alone because the obstacles are too numerous, He provides a friend who will offer support. God brings in those who are willing to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. They lay us at the feet of Jesus because they know this is where we need to be.

Be encouraged today. God has not forgotten about you. He remains faithful, working out every single detail. And when you cannot pray, He will provide someone to do that for you too. He loves you and He knows what you need. When He calls upon you to pray for someone else, be honored. He is at work in the life of someone else and allows you to be a part of it.

September 12, 2021

What Was “The Law” Prior to “The Ten Commandments?”

The forum site Reddit has a number of Christianity-related interest areas or what are called “sub-Reddits.” One of these is Ask a Christian. That’s where this question appeared.

Before Moses acquired the 10 commandments and the other specific laws from God, how did people know what God’s “laws and statutes” were?

The above is also a link to read the discussion for yourself. I thought we’d highlight the scripture passages here. Since I have no idea what translations were being quoted, I’m offering everything here in NIV.

The first quoted was Exodus 15:26:

He said, “If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

That was the basis for the original question:

I noticed Moses hasn’t even received the stone tablets or anything like that yet for the people to know gods laws to begin with.

Were there some pre-existing commands and decrees that I might have missed that the Israelites would have already known about? Were the commandments already existent in some form before this and the Moses tablets were simply a ceremonial “commemorative” edition of what already existed?

The first respondent quoted Genesis 26:5

because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”

noting that,

It seems that even before the laws and commandments were written down by Moses, God had given them to others (Abraham and Isaac, and therefore their posterity) orally (up to 700 years earlier), and they were known and kept until Moses wrote them down.

The original questioner (whose Reddit user name I won’t repeat here) said,

Thanks that makes more sense. It’s still strange to me if he expected all mankind to obey and worship him that he didn’t give these instructions and commands to all mankind and not just Abraham.

That brought another response from (…okay another stranger user name):

It’s potentially implied in Genesis that God did exactly that. The extent is uncertain because it’s not specifically recorded, but it’s at least clear that there was some kind of awareness of the God of the Bible outside of what’s recorded in scripture. The most significant example is Melchizedek, who is evidently a priest of the most high God operating in Salem, completely separate from and prior to Abraham.

Less concretely, if the Biblical narrative is broadly correct and all humanity came from Eden, then humanity would all have started from a point of awareness of God. The extent to which he laid out his commands following Eden is not clear, but the text seems to imply that at some point they were known before people fell away. For instance, Cain and Abel go to make sacrifices to the Lord – but the sacrificial law hasn’t been recorded at this point. So evidently it was already known in some capacity even before the sacrificial laws were given to the nation of Israel…

The original question (which I only quoted in part) had also mentioned Melchizedek. Is he key to this question? Maybe.

Another person commented,

The first law God ever gave was “Thou shall not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” All through Genesis He establishes laws and practices.

The original poster seemed to be looking for a more complete set of instructions, replying

Where in Genesis? Did I miss it? So far I’ve not seen anything indicative of god giving commandments and laws to mankind as a whole until Exodus (which even then it’s clear its laws are exclusive to Hebrews, no Canaanites. Ammonites, Jebusites etc etc allowed). Prior to that God simply directs individual Hebrew people in specific activities, like Noah building an ark. Or announcements regarding the future as in God telling Abraham he will be the forefather of a large nation which will experience slavery and eventual conquest etc. God telling Jacob not to be afraid to move his family into Egypt. And so on. Again if I missed something in Genesis akin to a Moses like declaration of the law for all people, please kindly direct me to the passage.

He/she seems to be looking for a specific example of a codified set of laws.

But if not, I guess my confusion is, how did god expect mankind to obey him before he provided a clear set of commands to be followed as he did with Moses? And further, how could he therefore see it fit to destroy people for disobeying laws they know nothing about? Instances like Sodom/Gomorrah, the tower of Babel, the “wickedness” prior to the flood. How did any of those people know anything about this god or his expectations if prior to Moses god didn’t yet make himself and his expectations clear?

So someone else provides an example:

Here is one — Genesis 17:10 — This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;

At that point the discussion got a bit unruly. Social media tends to that, doesn’t it? At no point was anyone suggesting that the circumcision commandment was the only commandment.

But then it got back on track:

Moses is also not the first fella to write stuff down. There’s Enoch way before him, pre-Flood, that was considered a ‘scribe’ of sort, and walked with God. I’m sure he wrote down interesting stuff too..

In the end some Laws are just simply hardwired in our being with conscience, thus written ‘inside’ of us.

That last sentence would foreshadow the answer that would follow:

Paul tells us the law of God is written on our hearts in Romans 2. [Ed. note: See below for full citation] While the Israelites didn’t have a formalized legal system, there was still a knowledge of right and wrong. That knowledge was something they failed to live up to, just as we did, and their faith was counted as righteousness just like our faith is. The formalized legal system was not meant to be the means by which they obeyed God. It was only meant to be the means by which God more directly exposed their failures.

At that point the debate continued mostly over the above comment’s suggestion that, “The formalized legal system was not meant to be the means by which they obeyed God;” a statement which, while I would agree with it, only becomes clear after New Testament revelation; in other words, after we transition from acceptance from God through obedience to acceptance from God through grace.


The context of Romans 2 concerns those [Gentiles] who did not have the law, but I can also see why it was quoted in the above discussion. Here is the full text of vs. 12-16:

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.


The original question (2nd paragraph of this article) is also the link to the discussion.

If you’re interested in the “Ask a Christian” sub-Reddit more generally, go to this link. If you’re using a PC or laptop, you don’t need to sign up or get the app to read, but you do need to join in order to leave comments. I observed for about a year before joining, but then one day, there was a question I simply had to jump in and ask. There are also other Christianity-related sub-Reddits.

One last verse from the discussion; Genesis 4:7:

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.

June 7, 2021

Jesus Reconfigured Law and Sin

As a child, I was taught that thunder and lightning happened when hot air met cold air. It was a simple explanation, but after spending ten minutes just now reading more detailed answers, it doesn’t describe what’s really happening.

Similarly, we can speak of what happens when the good news of Jesus, showing us the grace of God, meets a culture steeped in religious law. That produced the equivalent of thunder and lightning — the guardians of the law were livid — but also doesn’t give us the technical detail to describe what was taking place.

As arbiters of the law, the Pharisees meted out constant judgment to their people, so while Jesus appeared to be drawing a red line through parts of it and writing in other parts he was totally disrupting their reason for getting up in the morning. But there’s more, the words of Jesus were cutting through to their hearts, putting a lump in their throats, and leaving them wondering how much he really knew about their innermost thoughts.

Jesus simplified the law

When asked which of the (Exodus) commandments is the greatest, Jesus responded with an overarching summary as found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus:

CEB.Matt.22.37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

In a 2017 post here, I talked about the difference between principles and rules and mentioned Donald DeGraaf’s definition. “A rule applies to one group of people, or people in one particular place, or at one particular time. A principle applies to all people in all places at all times. Rules derive from principles.” (Having said that, I think there are foundational principles in the Exodus commandments.) Paul reaffirms the second overarching principle in Galatians 5:2, “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  (NLT)

From my perspective, one ought to look for the principle behind the rule. Ask yourself why God is making certain requirements of his people. One time when I read Leviticus through consecutively, I asked God to do just that; help me see the why behind the what. Jesus tries to get his followers to do the same.

Here’s the catch: Once you’ve reduced the law to its core principles, those principles can reverberate down the line of history in ways the early church could never have imagined. Should a Christian smoke cigarettes? Own a $200K car? Spend three hours a day playing video games? If you interpret these situations as having core principles at stake, then Jesus has added to the law, not subtracted from it. He is setting a standard of holiness that is more stringent:

ESV.Matt.5.17-20 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus extended the law

In his teaching, Jesus goes beyond the simple actions of a person to the motivations behind them, and further again, to the things we think about doing if we thought we would not get thought. So the male who looks at a female lustfully is as guilty as though he had done the deed.

(Tangent: This is usually understood with the presupposition that men are particularly visually driven in the area of sexual sin. Men are about sight, women are about touch. So goes the stereotype. But increasingly we’re hearing that women are equally visually driven. So the patriarchal language of the words of Jesus here does not exempt women from the principle.)

NIV.Matt.5.27-28 “You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

This is foreshadowed in Proverbs:

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. (NLT)

As we said in a 2019 post here, not only does motivation matter but can bring consequences. James

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – NLT

The 613 laws thereby multiply into a potential infinity, or at the very least, after Jesus appears, the possibilities for grieving the heart of God with our acts of commission or omission jumps from 613 to 6132.

Jesus calls out pretense

This is a big one. It’s not a question of performance; a wish that you were either hot nor cold. Love for God certainly matters. Turning in a lackluster performance, or settling for spiritual mediocrity isn’t good, but there’s a kind of performance which is clearly worse: Pretending, or to use another word hypocrisy.

Three words: Jesus hates it!

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” — Matthew 15: 7-9 ESV

Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. — 2 Timothy 3:5

They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. — Titus 1:6

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. — Galatians 6:3 –NIV

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’— Matthew 7: 21-23 ESV

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. — Luke 12:2 NIV

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. — Matthew 23:27 ESV

So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. — James 2:24 NLT

If you think the best acting anywhere is on Broadway in New York, forget it. Some of the best acting takes place in the church lobby after the Sunday morning service. People pretending to me more spiritually than they are.

Knowing the heart of a rich, young law-keeper, he says,

Matt.19.21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

He doesn’t require this of everyone, but in this case, the young man’s heart isn’t into it; he’s not all-in.

Thankfully, our relationship to God is not about trying to measure up.

It’s expressed in joyful devotion to him, his presence, and his word.

 

October 21, 2020

Before and After Times in Bible Narrative History

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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The title of today’s devotional suggests something quite profound, so off the top I have to say that I might disappoint some of you. Like everyone else who writes devotionally, I try to ensure that what is posted here – both by myself and others – is Biblically and doctrinally sound, but today’s is more of a concept I was playing with and I invite you to do the same.

John 1: 16-17:

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.
 (v.16 NIV)

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.
 (v 16 NLT)

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
 (v 17 NASB)

I was thinking about the idea that while the Israelites dramatically escaped Pharoah’s army in Exodus 14 and celebrated this victory in Exodus 15, they had not yet received the law until Exodus 19 with what we call The Ten Commandments — which can be read as up to 14 commandments (or this approach), 613 if you prefer — given in Exodus 20. They weren’t a “Ten Commandments” people because Moses had not been given the law.

Okay those first two links that weren’t to Exodus are too good to pass over (no pun intended).

David Lamb‘s article notes:

…Traditionally, the 14 commands are divided into 4 commandments that focus on “loving” God (Exo. 20:2-11) and 6 commandments that focus on “loving” humans (Exo. 20:12-17) for a total of 10.  In the first section focusing on God, the English phrase “You shall…” is repeated 6 times (all imperfects in Hebrew).  The command “Remember the Sabbath day” is unique (an infinitive absolute in Hebrew).  So there are 7 commands in Exo. 20:2-11 in a six and one pattern. (The two other verbs in 20:9, “you shall labor and do all your work” appear to be descriptive, not prescriptive, and therefore aren’t interpreted as commands.)…

while the website Knowledge Nuts has a different solution:

…Within these longer commandments lie other orders that could be sub-commandments or whole new laws. The section on not worshiping false idols, for example, contains four separate commands: not to worship other Gods, not to make images of them, not to bow down to them, and not to serve them. Same with the section on the Sabbath: We’re ordered to both keep the Sabbath holy and not to work on it.

To add to the confusion, Exodus 20:18 is traditionally seen as the end of the commandments. However, it’s really more of a break. After describing how the Israelites cowered with fear, the author starts commanding again in Exodus 20:22. Some of these new decrees are repetition, but some—such as a prohibition against having your genitals on display as you approach the altar—are a whole new ball game…

Okay, so now you’re wondering what’s in Exodus 20:22ff, right?

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

24 “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. 26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.’

(Wait, what?)

But that answer is too simplistic because — remember, the chapter divisions are arbitrary — Exodus 21 continues in a sense in which the list of laws starts to grow, approaching the 613 number, as do chapters 22 and 23…

…My original point however is that Israel enjoys all the blessings of liberation from Egypt long before they kept the law.  Of course this because they were under covenant. There was the Adamic covenant and the Noahic covenant and the Abrahamic covenant, etc. (Some lists omit Adamic — though some have it — but most add the post-law Mosaic and Davidic.) …

…I tried to find a parallel with this in the New Testament. The time period between the ascension of Jesus and the Apostles and disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit is a matter of mere weeks, but there is a parallel with the completion of the Biblical canon, though it doesn’t always sit well with some people.

In theological terms biblioatry is an extreme devotion to the printed scriptures. It is extremely difficult for some who fit into this mindset to comprehend that there was a time when the Bible was not in the form we now find it. How would people be saved?

For me this like believing that the Jewish people didn’t have a history pre-law; pre-Moses. They would be the first to tell you that’s not true.


Related: From a 2011 devotional here:

…If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God.  The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God.  While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc.  That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation.  So it looks like:

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God…

 

February 29, 2020

Moving to a 201-Level Christianity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Earlier today I did a Google search for “Christianity 201” and found an article of which a very small excerpt appears below. (I hope it’s enough of a teaser that you truly desire to read the whole piece.) Greg has been writing at Inappropriate Conversations for ten years now and more recently podcasting.

Again, I encourage you to click the link in the header which follows, and read this complete.

Christianity 201: Time for Solid Food

It’s embarrassing to consider this possibility, but one of the differences between a 101-level and 201-level understanding of scripture is the answer to a couple of simple questions.  Did Jesus accomplish his mission and fulfill the law?  And when?

Matthew 5:17 – “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

John 19:30 – Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

I call the questions I raised embarrassing because they should reflect an elementary level of comprehension.  Jesus finished his work on the cross.  As Christians, we’ve -heard and said that phrase countless times.  Or, do we somehow doubt that Jesus truly is “Abraham’s seed” as specifically described by Paul (and, if you are a Christian, by Moses)?

Galatians 3:15-26 – Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.  Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.  What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.  For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.  Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.  Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?  May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.  But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.  Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Jesus fulfilled all of The Law.  Period.  Christianity teaches that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, and not by obedience to laws.  One line between heroes of the faith and heretics was drawn on precisely this point.  As human leadership perverted this doctrine, reformers throughout history have laid down their lives to restate Biblical truth.  Some were hanged.  Others were burned at the stake.  Shame on us for forgetting or feigning confusion.

I understand.  This can seem like a challenging concept.  So many believers who have specialized in Christianity 101 – taking the beginner’s course over and over again – have learned to rely upon The Law.  We erect statues of the Ten Commandments on the public square like graven images, in fact.  We’re willing to accept that Jesus fulfilled some of the laws.  It’s no trouble to walk away from dietary restrictions or guidelines about menstruation and participation in worship.  We’re failing at theology if we claim that Jesus did not fulfill them all…

…again, click the link in the title to continue reading…

September 13, 2019

Water to Wine: Miracle, but also Symbol

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This is our tenth time with Ben Nelson at the site Another Red Letter Day. This is a much shorter devotional, but I really liked the insight. Click the title below to read at source.

Then I’ll be back after with an additional comment.

Water to Wine

In John 2, the writer tells us about a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Mary, Jesus’ mother attended and brought Jesus and the boys.

You know the story – if not check it out here.

One of the striking statements in this story comes from the head waiter.

… “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”John 2:10

I’ve heard this interpreted a bunch of different ways, but today the Lord put in my heart a simple idea.

From the beginning of creation, God wanted companionship from us.

Isaiah tells us

“For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth.Isaiah 54:5

So God gave the law to Moses and invited Israel to be His people, His bride. But the law was inferior wine. God invited folks to a wedding, but there was no joy. The bride couldn’t keep her garments clean and the whole thing went bust.

The law was inferior wine.

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,Romans 8:3

So God took water and turned it into the best wine.

God through His Spirit, put His seed into the womb of a woman and filled a human water pot with a new kind of wine. Wine filled with the Spirit of God. He put His own Son into flesh and blood man and brought joy unspeakable to the wedding feast of the ages.

Anyway–just a thought.


…As I read this I was reminded of an analogy that N.T. Wright introduced when we were taking a course with him in July at Regent College. The study was on the book of Galatians and how Paul was trying to teach the people at Galatia that the law was good for a time, but it was a precursor to something greater that was yet to come.

It was the week of the 50th anniversary of the American lunar landing, and he pointed out that the law was like the booster rocket needed to get the space capsule out from the pull of earth’s gravity, but once it escapes that, the booster rocket is jettisoned an no longer needed.

It’s interesting that the phrase we often use is “the law and the prophets.” Neither Ben nor myself mentioned prophets to this point, but I wanted to end with Hebrews 1:1-2a

In the past God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son. (GNT)

The coming of Christ brought an end to both law and prophets.

If you’re thinking that means that I mean the end of the gift of prophecy, I am not saying that, just as the coming of Christ didn’t mean an end to the prohibitions regarding lying, stealing, adultery, idol worship or taking God’s name in vain.

It was instead, as Ben said above, “a new wine.”


 

 

March 5, 2017

Jesus Came to Fulfill the Law

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

In speaking to those gathered at the Sermon on the Mount Jesus plainly stated, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come to fulfill them.” (Mt 5:17 NIV)

Thought needs to be given to this pronouncement since it is understood differently by different people. Some accept that Christ lived the law perfectly and having fulfilled it for himself he also fulfilled it for them. If this perception is true, confessors can rest secure that the matter of the law has been resolved. However, later in his dialogue he presented that the person who breaks the least of these laws will be least in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:19) There must remain opportunity for “believers” to break the law because no others will be in the kingdom of heaven–those who break it will suffer consequence. His teaching is that the law remains in force for people, including believers, to address. The prophet Isaiah revealed that at the end the world all humankind would be destroyed because [its people] have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. (Isa 24:5 NIV) The Lord has revealed that even at the end his commands and righteous requirements will not have ben relaxed.

Christ ‘s pronouncement was that he had come to fulfil the law. How is he to accomplish this? In the completion of the law rests God’s grace and the fulfilment of the New Covenant. The Lord was resurrected following his sacrificial offering and gave his Spirit –whom he “poured out on us generously” (Titus 3:6 NIV)–so that the law might be kept. Paul has confirmed that Christ is the Spirit. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17 NIV) The Lord is the Spirit and as Spirit he will fulfil the law and the prophets. It is not a fulfilment that that is achieved vicariously through the life that he lived while in the body that the Father had prepared in the womb of Mary; it is the fulfilment that comes through obedience to the Spirit as the Lord lives through the believer with that one’s consent. It is for this reason that Christ taught the necessity of obedience (Heb 5:9) and that to the end of the believer’s life. (Mt 10:22)

The freedom of which Paul spoke is from the jurisdiction of the Old Covenant (Heb 9:15) and from sins committed while under its domain. The believing one is now subject to “the law of the Spirit of life.” (Rom 8:2 NIV) The believer does not have to accomplish the law and the prophets by himself he has the enlightenment, leading, and empowerment of Christ, the Spirit, to accomplish them as he lives in the believer. Those who rebel against him, as Spirit, will be considered least in the kingdom of heaven, if indeed, they are allowed entry.

Paul taught that it is those who are led by the Spirit who are sons of God (Rom 8:14) and that those who are led by the Spirit are no longer under the law. (Gal 5:18) He also presented that “the righteous requirements of the law [are fully met] in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4) Christ came to defeat the works of Satan and is prepared to live individually and specifically for each person (believer) who will permit his life. The gospel is the provision of Christ so that humankind can “become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16 NIV)

There are implications for all of those who seek God’s eternal kingdom. They are to “[m]ake every effort to enter through the narrow door” (Lk 13:24 NIV) because many will not be able to find the kingdom of God. There is much rejoicing concerning the confessor’s redemption from the law and the eternal hope that is often presented as secured, however, redemption from the law does offer assurance of heaven but is limited to the gifting of the Spirit. (Gal 3:13─14) Redemption is release from the law and from a person’s past sins. Christ must not only indwell the believer but his life is to be lived in the one seeking to experience an eternal hope.

Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (Jn 14:6 NIV) His “life” is expressed through his sacrificial offering and through his Spirit. Sonship and freedom from the law are only the blessings of those who are prepared to allow his life. Caution has been given for the believer to commit to living death to self in order that Christ might have right to his life. That is, the worldly interests of the believer are to be cast aside and he is to cling to the Lord, to walk humbly in his sight, and to obey regardless of the demands the Lord–his sovereign-might make.

Much teaching concerning the gospel fails to honour the ministry of Christ through his Spirit; consequently, for many he will not be able to fulfill the law and their end will be destruction. Paul taught: “Do not be deceived: God will not be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8 NIV)

The fulfilment of the law and of God’s righteous requirements is to be completed through the Spirit’s ministry. “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 213 NIV) The truth of the gospel and of the fullness of the ministry of Christ needs to be proclaimed loudly in a day when the misrepresentation of God’s grace has allowed many to live as they wish, leading them into a false hope. “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 NIV; See also Rev 12:17)

Christ came to fulfill the law. His sacrificial offering, the Father’s gift of the Spirit of Christ along with his ministry, and his ministry as high priest are all expressions of God’s grace, but eternal life itself, is not. The believer’s hope rests in the ministry of Christ in him and the Lord’s fulfilment of the law for him.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young is a weekly contributor to Christianity 201 and the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

 

 

March 13, 2016

Another Look at Grace and Works

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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•••by Russell Young

Another Look at Grace and Works

The doctrines of “grace” and “works” need another look. One’s comprehension of these doctrines significantly influences his interpretation of the scriptures and their understandings should not be left up to one’s imagination. Some believers sum up “grace” and “works” with the idea that God has done it all; that is, God has gifted them with eternal salvation and they need not participate (understood as “work”) since it is a gift. God’s Word clearly presents the need for “obedience” in order for one to gain eternal salvation. (Hebrews 5:9, Matthew 7:21; Revelation 22:14 (KJV); 2 Thessalonians 1:8) There are other verses that require the believer be to be “led,” (Galatians 5:18; Romans 8:14; John 10:27) and others that required him to “please the Spirit” (Galatians 6:8) or to live in some appropriate manner. The Lord said that his angels “will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:41, NIV) These will be weeded out on the basis of their ‘doing.’

Accepting the common teaching of “grace” as meaning “God’s unmerited favor” being expressed in one’s life, does not necessarily mean that God will unilaterally bring about the “believer’s” eternal salvation. Neither does the phrase, “You are saved by grace,” necessarily infer the “gifting” of eternal salvation as some understand. The gift that God has given to the redeemed is the Holy Spirit who can bring about one’s eternal salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13, Titus 3:5-6) and that through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9)

To put the matter of “works” into meaningful context, the “works” being referred to is the “works of the law.” (Romans 9:32; Galatians 2:16, 3:2, 5, 10 KJV, YLT) Some translators have not included “of the law” in their rendition, confusing the issue.

The law cannot be accomplished by anyone using his own resources. The righteous requirements of the law must be accomplished but require the Holy Spirit’s ministry for that purpose. When the Word of God speaks of salvation as not being accomplished through “works,” it is referring to the “works of the law.” It does not mean that the believer need not be obedient or that he is not required to walk righteously or in the light of Christ. It means that the covenant of the law, “of works”, the Old Covenant cannot bring about one’s eternal salvation. The covenant of the law “kills.” (2 Corinthians 3:6) The work of the law (that which the law produces) cannot satisfy God’s righteous requirements because of man’s sinful nature. (Romans 8:3) That which can bring about one’s eternal salvation is the appropriation of the ministry of the Spirit in order to satisfy the righteous requirements of the law and the Prophets (Romans 8:4), but the Spirit must be obeyed.

The sacrifice of Christ which was an act of grace allowed the believer escape from the consequences of the sinful acts he had committed while under the jurisdiction of the law’s requirements for righteousness. The provision of the New Covenant was an act of grace by God. The provision of the Holy Spirit was a gift of grace by the Father making the believer “competent” to satisfy the New Covenant. (2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Peter 1:3) The ministry of Christ as High Priest is an act of grace. Complete provision was made by Christ for the one who would honour Him through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) Eternal salvation is NOT a gift of grace but must be worked out through the provision God has made in Christ.

The gift of grace is Christ’s presence in the believer. (Colossians 1:27) He has come to fulfil the law in the believer and for the believer. (Romans 8:4) He does not over-rule the will of man but will allow it to be exercised. Obedience is faith in practice and the faithful will obey their lord/Lord.

It is worth noting that God is going to destroy the world when the time comes because man will have “twisted his instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5 NLT) The NIV reads, “disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.” The accomplishment of instructions, laws, and the covenant is NOT a gift of grace as is often taught; their accomplishment is through the gift of grace (the Holy Spirit) and the believer’s commitment to obedience. There are many who have been led astray, and many who lead believers away from truth, by their misrepresentation of the doctrines of “works” and “grace.” Paul told his readers not to be deceived; they would reap what they sow…receiving either life or destruction. (Galatians 6:7)

The Lord said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Luke 16:1-17, NIV) God’s grace does notabolish” the law (Matthew 5:17) or preclude the need for its righteous requirements to be satisfied. Woe to those whose teaching allows such. His requirements can ONLY be met through obedience to the Spirit.

One’s need and hope for righteousness is being “awaited” (Galatians 5:5) and it comes through his allowance of the Spirit being lived through him. (Romans 8:4) Eternal salvation comes through God’s grace and not by the “works” of the law. However, the believer is to put every effort into obeying the Spirit. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Luke 13:24, NIV) When the Lord encouraged His listeners “to make every effort.” He was requiring just that. They are to hear His voice (the Spirit) and they are to follow. They are to do something. Later in the passage Christ made it clear that it is those who are “evildoers” (v. 27) who will be condemned and cast from Him even though they had walked in His presence…they had not been led or had not put forth the “effort” to walk righteously. The writer of Hebrews offered the same admonition. (Hebrews 4:11) Paul admonished the Philippians “to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12, NIV)

When Paul spoke of being saved by grace, he identified that grace as creating a product having been accomplished through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (God’s “workmanship”, Ephesians 2:10, NIV), the product of one’s transformation. The expression of God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit makes one a suitable offering for God. (Romans 15:16)

April 16, 2010

Gold!

If you want to mine the internet for nuggets of gold, find some people who have been committed, faithful bloggers and go back through the archives and learn what they were writing about when they first started.

I really enjoy the short quotations on Jim Upchurch’s blog, Christ, His Work and His Word.  Here are some classics from Jim’s early posts:

Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.

— Tim Keller, The Reason for God

Both Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards were known to arrive home with a couple dozen hand written notes pinned to their jackets. Yes, they looked like dorks, but we remember them hundreds of years after their deaths and don’t even know the names of the cool people anymore.

— JD Greear, pastor of The Summit Church on the value of writing stuff down.
The righteous have no claim on Christ; it was to save sinners that he came (Mt. 9:12-13). Seen from this angle, even the condemnatory function of the law is all of grace.
— R. Alan Cole, commenting on Galatians 3:21-22 and the purpose of the law in his commentary
  1. How often is Jesus mentioned?
  2. If Jesus is mentioned, is he the subject of the verbs? In the sermon is Jesus and his work proclaimed… or is someone else and their work proclaimed?
  3. What are those verbs? Are they that Jesus came, lived, died, rescued, saved, and the like? Are they biblical terms?

– Todd Wilkin of Issues Etc. uses a three-question test to determine whether or not a sermon is Christ-centered