Friday, April 18, 2014

My view of the Doctrines of Grace

I don't really like the term "Calvinism". To be quite honest, as far as dead theologians are concerned, I have read and learned more from Jonathan Edwards or Charles Spurgeon than John Calvin. George Whitfield, a great evangelist of the 18th Century said "I embrace the Calvinistic scheme, not because Calvin, but Jesus Christ has taught it to me" (Arnold Dalimore, GEORGE WHITEFIELD 1, p. 406).

I prefer to think of "Calvinism" as "Biblical Theology". Likewise, instead of the Five Points of Calvinism I prefer the Doctrines of Grace. Often those who are labeled as Calvinist have are stereotyped as being cold, heartless, against missions and evangelism, or that Calvinist feel they can do anything they want and still go to Heaven because they are part of the Elect...this is where Calvinism gets confused with Hyper-Calvinism.

The Doctrines of Grace make me stand in awe of God and they cause me to be amazed at my own salvation. Because of these doctrines, I know that God will finish what he has promised both in the world and in my life personally.

I feel very strongly that one must still reach out to people and share the Gospel, otherwise they will never be able to respond to God's call. Although part of the Elect we must still live a changed, moral life and strive to be as Christlike as possible. We must be reborn of the Holy Spirit.

You may know about the acrostic TULIP that represents the five points of Calvinism. As I mentioned before, I prefer to think of the five points as the Doctrines of Grace. In the following paragraphs, I will go over each of the five doctrines.

Total Depravity

This is the original sin. I think sometimes when folks hear the term total depravity they think of some evil person like a terrorist perhaps, who is totally depraved meaning that they are as bad as a person can possibly be -- truly evil. Actually, it just means that the entire body is sinful -- the fall affects the entire person. Sproul likes the term radical corruption as a replacement term. It means that our sin is from the very core of our existence.

Our rebellion against God is complete and everything we do in this rebellious state is sinful.
I see God as sovereign and I believe that we aren't able to overcome this sin on our own. On our own we are deserving of eternal punishment. It's up to God to save us from this.

The natural man does not seek God. As Sproul says, we aren't sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. As it's said in Psalm 51:5: Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me. and Romans 14:23 says: "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." which makes it clear that our depravity is our condition in relation to God. Our rebellion against God is complete.

Unconditional Election

The Calvinistic, or Reformed view of Election differs from Arminians in that we believe that God doesn't foresee some action on our part, by our own free will that causes Him to grant us salvation, but rather that our Election depends on God's sovereign grace to save those whom He pleases to save, although He does have foreknowledge of who among the Elect will hear, and therefore respond to the Gospel.

One of the most important text that teaches unconditional election is Romans 8:28-33:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. (Romans 8:28-33, NASB)
Verse 8:30 says: "and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." Here we see that whom God calls, He justifies. This isn't for all people, this call is given only to those whom God predestined to be conformed to the image of His son (v. 29) and it leads to justification "and these whom He called, He also justified". Now, we know that justification is by faith ("Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5:1, HCSB).

Romans 8 is full of promises. I often feel that Romans 8 is the greatest chapter in the Bible. I try to not have favorite scripture, but I'll be quite honest, as I was reading through the Bible this past summer, and was in the book of Romans, I might not have been a Calvinist when I got to Chapter 8, but by the time I got to Chapter 10, I was! Romans 9 comes after Romans 8 precisely so it can show that God's covenant with Israel will not fail. The promises in Romans 8 will stand because they were purchased by the blood of Christ.

Romans 9 is where Paul stresses that election is unconditional.
And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13, NASB).  
The fact that God's election is unconditional is mentioned again in Romans 9:15-16:
For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (Romans 9:15-16, NASB)
Paul uses the story of Jacob and Esau as an analogy to show that God's original purpose in choosing people wasn't based on any conditions that they had to meet -- there were no prerequisites. In the case of Jacob and Esau, God had decided that 'The older will serve the younger' and 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'  before the twins were even born. Our election doesn't depend on us, it's God's decision. As a result, I prefer Sproul's preferred term here again which is sovereign election.

My feeling is that if you are a true believer, He elected you before the creation of the world. He chose you. We can not boast in our election, however because we did nothing to earn it, just like it was with the election of Israel:
"The Lord was devoted to you and chose you, not because you were more numerous than all peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your fathers, He brought you out with a strong hand and redeemed you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 7:7-8, HCSB)
He loves you just because He loves you. That love has no beginning, and it has no end.

Limited Atonement 

Of all the five doctrines of grace, limited atonement is the hardest for some folks to swallow. It might also be the hardest to understand. Sometimes you'll hear of people saying they are "4-point Calvinist", and if they say that, you can likely assume that Limited Atonement is the point they have trouble with. I'll go ahead and start off with Sproul's preferred terms for Limited Atonement which are: definite redemption or definite atonement. Another popular term I've heard is Particular Redemption. Limited Atonement answers the question "For whom did Christ die?" However, we also have to consider what Christ actually achieved on the cross for whom He died.

I once heard the phrase "The ground is level at the foot of the Cross". I don't believe Jesus died for every human being in the same way. If He did, it would mean that He didn't purchase grace for those who are saved, meaning they must bring themselves to faith. 1 Timothy 4:10 says "In fact, we labor and strive for this, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe." I believe that God died for those whom He elected and predestined to salvation. If Christ died for every human being, that would be universalism, and that is just non Biblical in my view.

The foundation of the New Covenant is that Christ died not just to make salvation available for all who believe, but to actually purchase the faith of the elect with his blood, securing the blessings of the new covenant for His people. The faith of God's chosen and called was purchased by "the blood of the covenant" (Matthew 26:28)

The contrasting Arminian view is that although sinners need divine assistance in order to believe, they make the decision to believe on their own. This says that the blood of the covenant doesn't seal our faith; they say the decisive cause of faith is human self-determination. They say that the blood of Christ makes this possible but it doesn't secure the outcome.

The new covenant, which was bought by Christ's blood teaches something different. God even spoke of the new covenant through Jeremiah:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34, NASB)

So, one big difference between the new and the old covenant is that they broke the old one, but for the new one, God will "put in His law within them and on their heart I will write it" so that the conditions of the covenant are secured by God's sovereign initiative. The new covenant is designed so that it won't...can't be broken. It secures the participants. That's made even more clear later in Jeremiah:
I will give them one heart and one way so that for their good and for the good of their descendants after them, they will fear Me always.
“I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never turn away from doing good to them, and I will put fear of Me in their hearts so they will never again turn away from Me. I will take delight in them to do what is good for them, and with all My heart and mind I will faithfully plant them in this land.
 (Jeremiah 32:39-41, HCSB)

As John Piper points out in his book, Five Points Towards a Deeper Experience of God's Grace, God makes at least six promises in this text:

  1. I will make with them an everlasting covenant;
  2. I will give them the kind of heart that secures their fearing me forever;
  3. I will never turn away from doing good to them;
  4. I will put the fear of Me in their hears;
  5. I will not let them turn away from Me;
  6. I will rejoice in doing good to them;

So, here in Jeremiah 32 it becomes even more clear than it was in Jeremiah 31 that God is taking the initiative to make sure that the covenant isn't broken. He will not leave it to the power of the fallen human. He will change their heart, so that it fears Him.

Also, Ezekiel prophesies in the same way:
I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19, NASB)
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27, NASB)
This new covenant is God's promise that He will take the initiative, create a new heard, and make people members of this new covenant by His initiative and not leave it up to their own. If someone is a part of this new covenant, it is because God changed his heart, removed the heart of stone and gave him a heart of flesh that fears and loves God. It is a promise of regeneration.

In order to make this happen, the death of Christ was necessary to vindicate the righteousness of God. It would be unrighteous to forgive sinners as if their sin were insignificant. Because of this Jesus bears that curse, so that we can be justified, and God's righteousness can be vindicated. In Romans Paul says:
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26, NASB)

So, the way I see it, it's not the Calvinist who limits atonement, it's the Arminian because he denies that the atoning death of Christ accomplishes what we need, salvation. The Arminian limits the value and the effectiveness of the atonement saying that it was even accomplished for those who die in unbelief and are condemned. In order to say that Christ died for all men in the same way, the atonement is limited to a powerless opportunity for men to save themselves.

Irresistible Grace

In the Reformed tradition, it is believed that rebirth is the divine work of God alone. When God exercises His grace on you, He brings on the effect that he intends. When you were born physically, you didn't do anything to make that happen. You didn't help. It's the same with a spiritual birth -- just like your physical birth was a sovereign act of God, so is your spiritual birth. God's work...God's Spirit is what brings you into this state of rebirth and regeneration. It's grace that brings about what God wants.

The idea of grace being irresistible, evokes an idea that you can't possibly offer resistance to God's grace. That is not what irresistible grace means. It doesn't mean that God's grace can't be resisted. We are capable of, and do resist it.

The idea is that "God's grace is so powerful that it has the capacity to over come our natural resistance to it" (R.C. Sproul). The Holy Spirit doesn't go around dragging people kicking and screaming into Heaven, it changes the disposition of our wills so that while before we were unwilling to embrace Christ as our savior, we are now willing...and in fact eager to do just that. We aren't dragged; we run!

God melts our hard hearts and He makes us new creatures. John 6:44 says "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him". This is the sovereign work of grace. In 2 Timothy, Paul describes repentance as a gift of God:
The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24-25, HCSB)
Just as Jesus said in John 6:65 "that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father", Paul says here that repentance is "granted" by God. So, if God gives the gift of repentance, it cannot be resisted because God has changed our heart and made it willing to repent. The gift of repentance is the overcoming of the resistance to repent. This is why we call grace irresistible.

Perseverance of the Saints

In Philippians 1:6, Paul says: "I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." That verse contains the New Covenant -- the promise that God intends to finish what He starts in our souls. Simply put, Perseverance of the Saints is if you have genuine faith you will never lose it. If you lose it, you never had it. Often in Southern Baptist churches you hear it as "once saved always saved", and that is the same idea. If you are truly saved, you will never fall out of God's grace. 

Many people make professions of faith. John says in 1 John 2:19: "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." Jesus warns in the Sermon on the Mount: 
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB)
He won't say "Well, I knew you for a while, but you got betrayed me". No, the purpose of God's election is to bring His people to heaven -- what He starts He promises to finish. He initiates Christian life and the Holy Spirit is with us to help us ensure our perseverance. Another awesome quote from R.C. Sproul is "True Christians can have radical and serious falls, but never total and final falls from grace". I can't think of any sin, other than blasphemy that a truly converted Christian is not capable of committing. Believers can fall away, but if it persists, if they don't walk in a regenerate lifestyle, it shows that their faith was not genuine and that they weren't born of God.

Closing Thoughts

These are what the Doctrines of Grace, or the Five Points mean to me, based on what I have read, studied and learned from other theologians both living and dead. These doctrines allowed me to see and understand my own salvation in a new way, as well as understand the lack of faith, or refusal to believe the Gospel in others. Those who aren't true believers will resist sound doctrine. 

I am thankful every day that God loved us all in such a way that He would send His only Son to die the most painful, humiliating death possible just so that our sin could be forgiven. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why the NASB and HCSB just go together

I have written pretty extensively already on the subject of Bible translation, and if you are curious about my full thoughts on the matter, I suggest checking those posts out.

As mentioned in the last post I did on the matter, my final choice for my primary study and memorization translation was the NASB. I also mentioned how much I loved the HCSB and how I almost picked it.

The HCSB is still the second translation I always look at, I use it often for devotional reading and the HCSB is my favorite Study Bible out of all the Study Bibles that I own. I feel that the HCSB and the NASB complement each other perfectly in a three key ways, these are things that made me really like both of these translations and I wanted to highlight those in this post. Oddly enough, they aren't even really related to translation, but primarily the areas of text format, and I will also mention a fourth feature that is unique to the HCSB.

I'll start with the feature unique to the HCSB, the Bullet notes. This one feature is why I love recommending the HCSB to new believers. Sure, it's a reliable, accurate word for word translation in modern English, but these bullet notes are unique to the HCSB and they are marked with a bold "bullet" in the Biblical text. In the back of the Bible, there is a dictionary with all of these words that were marked with a bullet. This is awesome, especially for new believers who may not know what certain words mean while those who grew up in the Church may be familiar with them (propitiation is a prime example).

Now, that we have that out of the way, I want to mention a few things that the NASB and HCSB have in common that make me really love them both.
  • They both capitalize divine pronouns. Although many see it as a sign of respect (and I do too), I also think it helps in some complicated passages to keep track of which he is He or which him is Him.
  • They both place text from less reliable manuscripts, inline with the Biblical text, in square brackets rather than in footnotes. I may not always chase a footnote, and I like to know when I'm reading a passage to those who are following along in a KJV or NKJV that I won't skip verses or parts of verses. It's a small thing, but very important to me. The Lord's Prayer is a prime example of this for me. 
  • They both point out Old Testament quotes in the New Testament. They each do it, however in slightly different ways. The NASB uses All smallcaps and the HCSB uses Bold. Either way, I like the visual cue. A prime example: Any of Paul's letters.
As a bonus point a little praise for the HCSB Study Bible. I have to mention just how much I love the format and layout of the HCSB Study Bible. It's the most visually pleasing text block of any Bible I own. I especially love the blue verse numbers, which are handy for a Bible that is set in paragraph rather than verse format. I love the thorough and balanced notes, the word study blocks and I love the additional articles and essays. I'm very thankful for both translations, but I really REALLY wish that Holman would produce an NASB Study Bible in the same format as they have done with the KJV and NKJV  (not to mention, Holman binds a really nice quality Bible as well!).

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Discussing Suffering...

Below is a conversation I had with a former Music Professor of mine on Facebook. I was telling someone about it today, and decided I'd like to preserve it somehow. I've edited it to remove everyone's name but my own, and replaced theirs with initials.

I think it was a healthy discussion that helped me grow my skills in Apologetics.

I would love for any additional thoughts on this to be added to the comments!

Jayson Rowe:
March 3 at 10:52pm

One of the main reasons we are hurt by suffering is to make us stronger.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (James 1:2-3 NASB)

Faith is like a muscle. You have to push it harder for it to get stronger, just like you have to lift more weight for your muscles to get stronger. That's what James meant here. When your faith is tested, and pushed further than you think it can be pushed, that's when you develop a stronger faith.
God is going to constantly push your faith to the limits to keep it strong. He wants us to be able to say just like the psalmist here:

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26 NASB)

---------- Comments ----------

C.A.: I disagree with your first statement, Jayson. The truth is, suffering doesn’t always make people stronger. Sometimes it leaves people and their lives in ruins. Or dead. The notion that a loving god would deliberately torture people “for their own good” is incomprehensible to me. Bart Ehrman’s “God’s Problem” discusses the issue effectively.
March 4 at 12:11am

Jayson Rowe: That's a good point, and I didn't mean to say that suffering always makes people stronger -- I said one of the main reasons we are hurt by suffering is to make us stronger. If Earth was a place with no suffering, no trials, no tests, just lollipops and rainbows, we'd have nothing to look for in Heaven...right? What I am saying (and really what James is saying, I'm just passing it along) is that if we never experience any trials, any tests, any suffering our faith would go away -- we wouldn't need it -- just like if you never got out of bed, you wouldn't need your muscles to support your frame -- you'd waste away. I definitely do not think that God would ever single anyone out and torture them for sport, but since the fall, Earth has been a sinful place...a place where often we will run into trials and tribulations. It is how we deal with these situations, and persevere in our faith that makes us stronger.
March 4 at 6:33am

Jayson Rowe: Also, thanks for the book recommendation -- I'll check it out. If you are interested, a couple I recommend for similar subject matter are "The Holiness of God" by R.C. Sproul and "Future Grace" by John Piper
March 4 at 6:35am

C.A.: This boils down to a simple dilemma: How do you explain suffering in a world run by a loving, all-powerful god? Ehrman, Harold Kushner, Luther, and others really just resign themselves to “you can’t.” Those who start form the position that the Bible and Christianity have answers for everything come up with an explanation. Since you plan to pursue this professionally, at least recognize that those explanations won’t be convincing and might appear contrived to some. Prepare your answers – we’re out here and we push back
March 4 at 9:06am

Jayson Rowe: "C.A." I put some thought into how I would answer you. First, I do not believe that God specifically causes our suffering. I do think that God uses trials, tribulation and suffering to make us stronger. You asked how I could explain why there was suffering in the world, well God isn't the only force at work in the world. The world is a sinful place, and we are sinful beings, even those who have salvation. The only sinless person to walk the earth was Jesus Christ, and he was not only man but fully God as well. I know that we come from different Christian backgrounds, and I would love an open dialogue so that I could learn more about Lutheranism that I may not understand. Let me just start by saying that "C.A.", I love Jesus Christ. I also believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. God is the ultimate author and source, although he used human authors to write it down. Calvin, for example claimed a bias and prejudice built into man's heart that only the influence of God and the Holy Spirit can overcome. He further distinguished between what he called undicia (objective evidence that scripture was trustworthy) and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit which causes us to surrender to the evidence and acknowledge that the Bible IS in fact the Word of God. Again, that is one view, and I'm admittedly far more familiar with Calvin and his teachings than Luther. I do think that it is critical and that the Christian faith depends on the the inerrancy of the Bible, that it is the true Word of God and that it comes from Him. Yes, the Bible is a collection of historical documents. It is the best preserved collection of historical documents in the entire world. I mean, there are over 5,500 Greek NT manuscripts in existence today add to that another 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and 9,300 other early versions, giving us more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today! 2 Timothy 3:16 says "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness". One thing I DO know about Luther is that Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) was one of his main theological differences w/ the RCC. A quote I found from Luther said: "a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it". So, you ask me how I explain it? I don't. I don't have to. All of that being said, you are someone I respect, and I do appreciate you pushing me on this. This was a little devotional thought I had while reading a passage from James -- I never thought it would spark such discussion. You really made me think and meditate on this and I'm glad -- I feel it served me well. I would genuinely love to hear more about what you believe, and you are free to move this private if you'd like. I hope things are well in SD with you LA and the boys.
March 4 at 11:58pm

C.A.: WHEW!!! I appreciate the research and effort that went into your response! I enjoy these kinds of discussions even though written dialogue is cumbersome. I do want to continue the conversation; we come from different backgrounds, you’re reasonable, and you do your homework – so it should be fun. I suggest we keep responses to a 200 word limit to keep us on track. It will take me some time to formulate a response, but I’d like to start by looking at why suffering exists in a world run by a loving God. I also think we should recognize there is a difference between suffering and garden variety tribulation.
March 5 at 12:03am

Jayson Rowe: Do you remember the Holsinger piece "On a Hymnsong of Phillip Bliss" I'm not sure you'd know the original hymn, "It is Well With My Soul" (it's in the Baptist Hymnal -- not sure of others) but sometimes a hymnal is a great devotional book. Anyway this conversation made me think of the lyrics of that hymn.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.


It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.


My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.


But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!


And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
March 5 at 2:39pm

C.A.: God/suffering has 3 possible answers: 1. Suffering exists; we don’t know why and can’t always fix it. We deal with it as best we can which may include leaning on religious systems for support. 2. Suffering exists; God is unable to fix it – sometimes evil wins. Reasons include man’s fall or God designed the universe to be a hands-off operation. 3. Suffering exists; God can, but won’t do anything about it (Job). We need to learn a lesson (David), God is above human accountability (Job again), it builds character, or Heaven looks good by comparison.

Attempts to answer #2 and #3 typically include a plate full of quotes carefully chosen from the Bible Buffet or links to web articles by “experts” who have all been trained at academically isolated Bible colleges and run ministries specializing in the sale of books and DVDs. The answers are always long and quickly divert to a different, possibly related topic, to make it seem like the question is being addressed when it isn’t. You already know that my choice is #1. Have at it
March 5 at 2:54pm

Jayson Rowe: Here is how I look at it. No carefully selected Bible verses or links to articles, I promise.

Sometimes it seems like no matter how careful we are -- no matter how hard we work to live a good life, how hard we work to have a good career; how hard we strive to be "healthy, wealthy and wise" -- have good relationships with friends and family, it seems like something will always come along to mess SOMETHING up.

From a secular viewpoint, suffering is isn't really seen as a meaningful part of life, it's just an interruption. Here is what it means to ME be a Christian, who like everyone, has to deal with suffering sometimes.

First, you don't really know that Jesus is all that you need, until Jesus is all that you have. It is amazing how a relationship with Jesus Christ can change your life. There is a definite "B.C." and "A.D." portion to my life and I'm amazed...awestruck...I can NOT put into words how much BETTER the "A.D." portion is.

In some worldviews, we sit in the middle of the joys of life looking toward coming sorrows...because we know it's gonna happen. In Christianity, we are empowered to look at the world's sorrows, life through personal sorrows but we know that there is coming joy. I mean, suffering is unbearable if you aren't certain that God is there for you. In Christianity, you know that no matter what beautiful things you've seen, what wonderful joys you have had, nothing will compare with the glorious beauty we will see and flood of joy that we will experience when we finally see God face-to-face. And, according to the Bible, all of that beauty and joy has been enhanced by Christ's redemption of us from death.

Another difference in Christianity is that it doesn't just offer comfort, or consolation when dealing with life's suffering, but it offers restoration. It's not just a restoration of the life we had, but a life we always wanted...that we couldn't even imagine. The final defeat of all the forces of evil will allow us to live in glory with God forever. So, becoming a Christian has changed my life. It HAS to change your life. That is why I have chosen to pursue Seminary. I'm not sure what my calling in the ministry will be -- it could still be helping churches by creating software for them, but with a greater knowledge of the Bible and theology, but I don't know right now. I do know that I finally understand what it means to be a Christian, to be Born Again and to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and knowing that he suffered for me...he died on that cross for me. Knowing that one day I will be has all given me a new perspective on things, and one that I am happy...scratch that...excited to share with people.
March 7 at 7:04am

Jayson Rowe: ...and yes, I know that was more than 200 words...I can't help it. It's what happens when you turn an introvert loose with a keyboard
March 7 at 7:04am

R.W.: How about taking the perspective that suffering is relative to the person that is experiencing said suffering. Take into consideration the flooding we are experiencing here in Helena right now. Is this "suffering" truly or could you say it is an opportunity to help a neighbor. Damage is done to things that can be rebuilt. Damage is done to a bank account. Damage is done to a level of lifestyle for a moment. Is this suffering? Is a headache suffering? Is your child not getting into their first pick of colleges or not making the baseball team suffering or are they opportunities to learn and grow? To clearly discuss the above points, we first must define the heart of it, "Suffering" in todays standards versus when it was contextualized in Biblical times.
March 7 at 9:04am

C.A.: I do appreciate that you didn’t include verses or links, but the 200 word limit is one of the parameters we need to follow for me to stay in the discussion. This is one of those lengthy, divergent responses that I referenced. I don’t see that you’ve addressed the issue.

I understand that you are passionate about Christianity, think it has helped you through your difficult times, have hope because of your beliefs, and want to study in seminary. That’s all important to you and since you’re a friend I respect and support all of it. But the question we agreed to discuss is, “Why does a world created by a loving, all-powerful god include suffering?”
March 7 at 5:58pm

Jayson Rowe: I've thought and prayed, and "C.A." I'm not sure how to continue this discussion. I'm not sure you are going to like any of my answers at this point. Christianity doesn't answer the question of why God allows suffering. While God doesn't provide an answer to the intellectual discussion, he does provide a resolution; Christians look to Jesus on the Cross. You see, Jesus was God in human form. He understands our suffering because Jesus Christ suffered. We know that God is not absent from our suffering and pain -- just like we know we can experience forgiveness and peace with God...all because of the Cross. As we see pain and suffering in the world, we cry out to God, our Father and He doesn't give us an explanation -- He just gives us Himself. The Cross is God's answer. "C.A.", I hope you find your answers one day...I've found mine.
March 10 at 6:42am

C.A.: Jayson, you just pegged my respect meter. I’ve never heard “Christianity doesn’t answer the question…” from someone of your background – Christianity has an answer for EVERYTHING. I completely respect that you’ve found personal resolution through your faith. I respect more that you don’t force that on anyone/everyone else. We probably have taken this topic as far as we’re going to, but I’d enjoy the opportunity to have similar discussions with you in the future. Go Luther!
March 10 at 9:17am · Unlike · 1

Jayson Rowe: I'm very interested in Apologetics, and being able to intelligently discuss my faith with others. I'm also very interested in other viewpoints besides my own. Even within evangelicals we have quite a few different theological perspectives (different views on Soteriology or Eschatology). I'm also interested in other religions outside of Christianity even. I don't feel anyone can effectively spread the Gospel with a closed mind. I also don't feel that Christianity is a mindless religion that requires you to check your brain at the door. Those are things that really interest me.
March 10 at 10:09am · Like · 1

A.B.: Wow Mr. A, never would have pegged you for a person who questions faith. Hope you are well. I did find my Jazz Express shirt last weekend, lol.
March 11 at 12:36pm · Like · 1

C.A.: Not questioning anyone's faith, AB. An interpretation/application disagreement that we settled civilly. I think. Good to hear from you!
March 11 at 11:36pm · Like

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Justified by Faith

I am looking at Genesis 15:6
 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
 At the beginning of Chapter 15, Abram had just defeated the eastern kings, and it really hadn't left him any better off. Even though God had promised him a great nation, he still didn't have any land, nor any children. His nephew, Lot was who he hoped might succeed him was living outside of the land of promise in Sodom. At this point, his most likely heir is his servant Eliezer (it was common in Mesopotamia to adopt a servant as a male heir).

God then addresses Abram's disappointment: “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” At this, Abram decided to share with God HIS sense of disappointment. This didn't cause an angry response from God, instead God reaffirmed that he would father a son, and he would have descendants that were as countless as the stars in the sky.
This satisfied Abram: "Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." After this, he kept believing; he kept relying on God.

One thing that grabbed me when studying Genesis 15 was v.6. Three words stick out to me: Righteousness. Paul quotes these as an illustration of faith in contrast to works in Romans 4:3,9,20-22 and Galatians 3:6 -- James also in 2:23. Abraham was justified by faith. Genesis 15:6 is a crystal clear statement about justification. Abram was a man of faith -- works are never the grounds of justification. Good works are a byproduct of faithfulness.

The word "justify" is translated from the Greek verb δικαιόω or 'dikaioo' -- it can be a legal term used to indicate a favorable verdict in a trial. Picture a courtroom setting with God presiding as the Judge, judging everyone on the faithfulness of that person to the law. At the beginning of Romans, Paul makes it clear that nobody can withstand God's judgement (Romans 3:9-20). Think about it this way though -- the law wasn't created to justify sinners -- it was made to EXPOSE their sin. As a solution to this problem God sent his Son to die for US -- for our sins in our place. So, when we believe in Jesus, God attributes HIS righteousness to us. God is not only the righteous Judge, he is the one who declares us righteous as our justifier (Romans 3:26)

"We are not made righteous by doing righteous deeds; but when we have been made righteous, we do righteous deeds." -- Martin Luther

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Book Review: A Godward Heart: Treasuring the God Who Loves You by John Piper

John Piper is an amazing teacher and writer. I love hearing him preach because he is truly excited by his relationship with God, and I get excited just listening to him.

This book is a nice collection of meditations by John Piper. First, although this book isn't really a devotional book, each chapter is pretty short and they actually make for nice devotions. These are short, thought-provoking meditations which will help you see into Piper's mind, as well as perhaps look at the passages of Scripture with a new perspective.

In many ways, this book is  summary of the Christian Faith. Piper explores the faith, makes you think about tough life questions and demonstrates how to live a Godly life.  Piper has a heartfelt desire to follow God, and he will guide you in your walk with this book.

This book overall is a pretty quick read, but there is a lot of Faith packed into 205 pages of 50 meditations. These aren't fluffy devotionals -- there is a lot of meat in this book, and you will come back satiated by what you read. 

I came away with a new perspective on several passages. John Piper is a teacher I trust and admire, and I'm thankful for this book. I would highly recommend it if you are looking for something a little more thought provoking than your average daily devotional.

You can read a sample chapter here.

Please Note: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Who is Jesus Christ? An Exposition of Colossians 1:15-23

Approximately 370,000 babies are born into this world every single day. In 2011 the Earth reached a population of 7 Billion people; it is estimated that 107,602,707,791 is the number of people who have ever been born on Earth, and 6.5% of all people ever born were alive in 2011.

I love facts and numbers like that. But think about this. Out of all of those people, most live very obscure lives, a few make a small ripple and very very few are known in the annuls of human history. Of all of those people, only one was the greatest -- the God-Man Jesus Christ. He was born of relatively unknown parents, lived a pretty normal life until He started His ministry. He never wrote a book, yet more books have been written about Him than anyone in history. He never spoke to more than a few thousand people at a time, yet His words have been translated into over 1,000 languages. He had no formal education, yet thousands of schools, colleges and universities have been founded in His name. He is the subject of countless paintings, songs and poems, but just who is Jesus Christ?

It is impossible to over-emphasize the impact of this single, solitary life that was lived over 2000 years ago and ended on a little hill outside of Jerusalem.

Two questions: Who is Jesus Christ? Do you know Him?
Your eternal destiny hangs on these two questions. You can't be wrong about these two questions and be right with God. There is no middle ground. Either you know Jesus Christ, or you don't. Either you have a personal relationship with Him or you don't. Everything hangs on those two questions. Everything about forgiveness of sin, your salvation, everything about where you will spend eternity hangs on those two questions. The very heart of Christianity is Jesus Christ. We must know Him in order to be saved.

There are many answers to the question "Who is Jesus Christ?". Some people think of Jesus as the story book Jesus playing with all the little children of the world, or the Jesus in some sappy Christian song that is written to make us feel good...or there are some who look for the Jesus who wants you to have your best life now, here on Earth and to be successful and prosper at everything. Or perhaps, there is the Jesus who wants to become your life give you a pep-talk to help you get through the day. Then there are those who think of Jesus as a man who was good but not God. A good role model, perhaps -- or a great moral teacher, but not a redeemer. So, you see, there are all kinds of opinions floating around out there about who Jesus Christ is. But I will promise you one thing; you had better pick the right one. If you pick the wrong one to believe in, if you don't know who Jesus really is, you don't know Him.

In Colossians 1:15-20, we have what is known as the Colossian Hymn or "The Christ Hymn" of Colossians. This is perhaps the first recorded hymn from the early church that was more than just singing the Psalms. A Hymn by definition is a compact collection of deeply theological truths that are set in a poetic structure.

The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians was written to the Church in Colossae where there was bad teaching. Wherever there is light, there is gonna be bugs, in other words, wherever there is the Light of the Truth, there will be false teachers. Every New Testament Epistle was written to counter some form of false teachings.

The church at Colossae was actually not one of the churches that Paul founded; in fact, Paul probably never even visited Colossae. Also, the town of Colossae wasn't really all that important politically or geographically. Why then, was it so important to Paul to write this letter? Well, even though the church was not founded by Paul (Epaphras had actually been the one who first brought the gospel to that city), it is likely that Paul sent Epaphras to Colossae. Paul had heard some false teachings had been going on there, and he wanted to refute their errors, and let them know that they were being harmed.

The exact nature of the false teachings isn't fully known, but it is known that there was some false teachings that took away from a high Christology and they thought that Christ was no more than a beginning -- to go on to spiritual maturity, they had to follow legalistic rules and practices. They may have thought warmly of Christ, but what it boiled down to is they saw Christ as a created being, and therefore less than God.

When Paul hears of this teaching he is in Rome, in prison, but he dictates this letter, and front loaded it with who Jesus is -- basically saying we have to get this straight up front -- everything hinges on that. Every cult and false religion that has ever been misses it in regards to who Jesus Christ is...this is what separates us as Christians from every cult, and every false religion. If you miss who Jesus Christ is, your spiritual ship is lost at sea far away from the Port of Grace, however if you know who Christ is, you are firmly anchored at the most important place in the Port of Grace. In all of the Bible, Colossians 15-20 may be the most tightly woven, condensed statement that answers the question of "Who is Jesus Christ?".

Let's go ahead and look at those verses:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (Colossians 1:15-20 NASB)
Jesus Christ is God. He is the absolute deity. He is the image -- the Greek word here is eikōn. This word is carried over to English, although spelled differently (icon). In modern English, it's meaning is that it's a likeness, a copy or even an imprint, reflection or a symbol that represents something (like an application's icon on a computer). What we do know is that no one has ever seen God. To make that clear here are some passages: John 1:18a "No one has seen God at any time" John 6:46 "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father." or 1 John 4:12a "No one has seen God at any time". Often we ask "What does God look like", the simple answer is Jesus Christ. He came to be a revelation...a representation of God to us. Jesus Christ was God in human flesh. He was a God Man (John 1:14 "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory"). Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Look at Hebrews 1:3
And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3 NASB)
 We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness") but what we really are is a wreck of God's image -- sin corrupted the image of God within us. But here comes Jesus, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life -- He was completely without a sinful nature and He became the perfect image of God.

In verse 19, the word fullness is used. If we look ahead Colossians 2:9 makes that even more clear "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form" He came to Earth fully God and took on the limitations of the human body, he became a full member of this race, yet without sin.  Look at the cross -- what happened there was way more important than what any man could do. that WAS GOD on that cross, dying in our place, suffering for us, bearing our sins...making an atonement that only God could make!

Look at v.15b "the firstborn of all creation" that does not mean that Jesus was the first created being...this isn't speaking chronologically. For example, Israel is called the first born nation, but it was not the first nation to be founded on Earth -- there were many nations founded long before Israel. It meant that His covenants and promises...The Messiah would come through Israel.
The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 89:27:
I also shall make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth.
So, what this is saying is just that Jesus has the rights of a first-born child...he would receive and inherit from his father what would be deserving of a first-born son. Jesus is God. Look at John 20:28 Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" or Titus 2:13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.

Jesus Christ is the Creator. Paul establishes the creative power of Jesus Christ in v. 16: "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him." The entire universe is in verse 16. "For by Him" the literal translation here is "For in Him" (the Gk is 'en'). That's really a translators preference, but I like in, as it shows that he is all encompassing. He was the one in Genesis 1 -- by (in) Him all things were created, in the Heavens: planets, stars, galaxies and on Earth: the oceans, rivers, mountains, trees, flowers, plants, animal life, humans, the entire human race. He created all things. "Visible and invisible" visible is the physical world and invisible is the spiritual world. All things have been created by Him -- He is the creator, and for Him -- for His own glory, His own pleasure and His own purposes. He made everything.

Jesus Christ is the sustainer. In v. 17: "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." "All things hold together": All of the things he created, he sustains them an maintains them. He didn't just create the entire universe and walk away. "He is before all things": He existed before everything -- He is pre-existent. He is the eternal God; see Isaiah 9:6:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
He is the Eternal Father. Also Micah 5:2:
"But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity."
He stepped out of eternity and into time. He was before time began (John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.") In John 17:5 "the glory which I had with You before the world was". Jesus is not a created being; he existed before creation. He is the creator because he existed before all things. You can't have been created if you existed before all things, or else you would just be one of the things. Now, look at the end of verse 17: "and in Him all things hold together". It is just like the old song "He's got the whole world in his hands". He is holding everything right in the palm of his hand, and he holds everything together. He keeps everything in perfect balance.

Jesus in Lord. In verse 18 "He is also head of the body, the church". Christ is the head, and we are the body. We are all arms, and legs, and elbows and knees. We all have different gifts and purposes and roles to fill in the church, but Christ is the head -- the head contains the entirety of life and also, the head holds the brain. Christ makes all of the decisions. He is the Lord of the church, and of our lives. There is no part of our life that is not under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Now "and He is the beginning" this is saying that the head is the beginning of the body of the church, also this again goes back to the fact that Christ was before all things. We were all chosen through Christ, we were all predestined through Christ. Our names were written in the Lamb's book of life before the foundation of the world. The head of the body is the Lord Jesus Christ and he is the beginning of it all. The beginning; the Greek word is archē the primary senses are 'beginning' or 'origin', but it can also have extended meanings of 'power', 'sovereignty', 'dominion'. He has the highest rank. Jesus is Lord. Verse 18 also can't be saying that Jesus was the first one to be raised from the dead, because people were raised from the dead even in the Old Testament. Again, this has nothing to do with chronological sequence, it has everything to do with prominence and preeminence. What this is saying is that of all of the people who have been raised from the dead, Jesus was the most important one. And finally, verse 18 ends by saying that Jesus, "He Himself will come to have first place in everything." in verse 19, "it was the Father's good pleasure" who else could be the head of the Church? Nobody! Verse 20 is still elaborating on the Lordship "to reconcile all things to Himself". Reconcile means to change the status of something...or better yet, to bring to disagreeing parties to agreement.

What are "all things" here? In verses 16 and 17, we see the words "all things" four times, and then in verse 18 the complementary word "everything". All things, all things, all things, all things, EVERYTHING and then "all things" again in verse 20 "to reconcile all things to Himself". One thing I want to stress here is that this is not teaching Universalism (meaning that everyone will be saved).

We see in Philippians:
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NASB)
God has exalted Him to the heights of Heaven and given him a name above every other name. In the end, all things will be reconciled to Him in the sense that everything will be brought into submission of Christ and everyone and everything will rise up and say Jesus is Lord. Not just to salvation but to damnation, but every knee will bow. There will be no atheists or agnostics in that day. The only statement in that day will be Jesus Christ is Lord! Every one of us will confess that Jesus is Lord and bow our knee to Christ. The only question is when. Will it be in this life, where we will be granted salvation, or will it be on the day of final judgement when you would be thrown into eternal suffering, all the while saying "Jesus Christ is Lord". Verse 20 puts its arms around the entire universe...not just the elect (that is verse 22) but verse 20 is an enormous statement of the infinite borders of the sovereign Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is our savior. This gets unpacked in verses 21-23, but it builds upon the previous 4 points

  • Jesus Christ is God
  • Jesus Christ is the Creator
  • Jesus Christ is the Sustainer
  • Jesus Christ is Lord
Now the fifth point: 
  • Jesus Christ is Savior
Jesus Christ being savior is built upon the previous four designations. In verse 21 Paul speaks of a past alienation. Let's look at verses 21-23:
And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. (Colossians 1:21-23 NASB)
So what is meant by that past alienation. Well, every believer's life has two volumes. Much like the way we measure time, we have a 'before Christ time' and an 'after Christ time'. Alienation is really the antonym of reconciled. It means we were estranged from Christ...from God. Look at what Ephesians 2:12 says "remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." We were all born alienated from God...fallen...depraved. Even though we may sit in church every Sunday, even though we may have grown up in a Christian home, we are alienated from God as humans who know the difference between right and wrong unless we know Jesus Christ in our hearts. We were hostile in mind. Every unbeliever HATES God. Really? Hate is a very strong word, but it's true. Every unbeliever HATES God. Look at John 3:20: "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." Before knowing Christ we are engaged in evil deeds. We were born with a sinful nature. God is not a doting Grandfather sitting up in heaven passing out birthday presents to everybody. God hates sin, and God hates sinners who are outside of Christ. God even hates the elect before they come to Christ. Let's look at Psalm 5:5-6
The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.You destroy those who speak falsehood; The Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit.
And Psalm 11:5
The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Or Romans 1:18 "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness". God hates all sin and all sinners who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You may say that you can't understand how God can hate anyone, especially the elect, but look at Romans 9:13 Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What I don't understand is how God can love any of us, even the elect. We are all sinners undeserving of His love or His grace. God's love, however is found exclusively in Christ. There is no love outside of Christ, that is why we were chosen in Christ, predestined in Christ, that is the only way our election could ever come to pass. It was that we were chosen in Christ and even then, in order to get God's love and affection we must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Not only do we need to be reconciled with God, but in order to enter into a relationship with us, there has to be reconciliation on His side as well.

This leads to our present reconciliation. We see in verse 21 our past alienation, but in verse 22 we see our present reconciliation. We can break out verse 22 into the "Who, What, Where, How and Why" questions.

Who: yet He has now reconciled you -- we can't reconcile ourselves. We can't contribute anything. He is a Holy God, and we are a sinful man. The only way the sinful man can be reconciled is through Jesus Christ.

What: yet He has now reconciled you He brought about an enormous change in you. I drew a little diagram for right here, so I hope this comes across:

So, we have a triangle. At the top apex, we have God. At the lower left we have Christ and at the lower right we have Sinner. On the line between God and Christ, we have PROPITIATION -- Christ, through his blood satisfied God's anger with us. On the line between Christ and Sinner we have REDEMPTION -- Christ purchased us out of the slavery of sin at a great price, and finally on the line between God and Sinner we have RECONCILIATION -- The death of Christ has reconciled God to the Sinner and the Sinner to God.

Where: in His fleshly body -- the reconciliation took place in His fleshly body, not on the Cross per se. A good example of why is Docetic Gnosticism. It was the teaching that there was a dualism between matter and spiritual things. That physical things were evil and spiritual things were good. They believed that Christ could not be incarnate, that he only "appeared to be". They didn't accept that Christ was fully human and fully God. So, we must know Christ as being on Earth in the flesh -- that He took on human form only without a sinful nature to be the image of God in human form. As Jesus was lifted onto the cross, He was the reconciler. It was as if He took God in one hand and the fallen, sinful man in the other and reconciled them.

How: through death. It wasn't enough that Jesus came, lived, performed miracles -- it wasn't enough. For us to be reconciled to God HE HAD TO DIE. For Jesus to stand in my place HE HAD TO DIE on that cross. 1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit 1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Romans 5:6, 8 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Again and again we find emphasis on the death of Christ in our place.

Why: in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach. Why did Christ die? He died so that He could present you before Him (God the Father) an official presentation before the Father. Nobody can hide from God. Would you rather be presented to the Father by Christ, or would you rather stand alone? I would rather be presented by Christ! Here is the Good News of the Gospel right here. Because of Christ dying in our place, HE will present us to the Father, holy (cleansed), blameless (without moral blemish), and beyond reproach (nobody can bring a charge against us, Romans 8:33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies). Like another old song says:
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.
Finally, verse 23 gives us personal assurance. We all need to know that this is real. I need to know that this is real in my life. I need to know that I am really saved. How can I know that my faith is a saving faith? You will know this is real if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard. So what is the key component of saving faith? It is perseverance of faith...endurance in the Christian objective. If you lose the faith, you weren't saved in the first place. Like 1 John 2:19 says: They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. If you really have saving faith you won't stop won't lose that faith. It will persevere. You will be firmly established and steadfast. You will be grounded like a building. Faith is important. The true believer should never lose faith. It's so easy to give the impression of being a Christian and never having true faith. It's something you have in your heart. That is why the Gospel is so important...the Gospel is Good News meant for preaching -- you have to tell people about the Gospel. Remember, God even hates the elect before they become believers and have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Gospel needs to be preached...proclaimed. Paul says that you are saved if you have actually HEARD this message and that your faith is grounded.

I think that these nine verses sum up just who Jesus Christ is better than anywhere else in the Bible.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

We Are Abraham's Decendants

Who Are Abraham's descendants? We are -- as Christians, we are Abraham's Children.

Those of us who believe in Christ are Abraham's descendants, and we are the heirs of the covenant promises.

In Genesis 17, God said:
"As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations." (Genesis 17:4 NASB)

Genesis makes it clear that Abraham did NOT father a multitude of nations in a physical OR political sense.  The meaning of God's promise was probably that a multitude of nations would enjoy the blessings of sonship, even though they are not biologically related to Abraham.

There is no doubt of what God meant in Genesis 12:3 when he said:
"And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse.And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." (Genesis 12:3 NASB)
From the beginning, God has known that Jesus would be the descendant of Abraham and that everyone who trusted in Him would be come an heir to Abraham's promise.

So, look at Galatians 3:29:
"And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:29 NASB)
 When God said "Behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations." He opened the way so that any of us could become a child of Abraham, and an heir to the promises God made to Abraham.  All we have to do is share the faith that Abraham had -- beleive in God's promises so that we obey in such a way that we could do like Abraham when he was willing to give up Isaac. We aren't working for God, but we are confident that God works for us.  Look at Romans 4 (speaking of Abraham):
"Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God" (Romans 4:20 NASB)
THAT is why Abraham could obey God EVEN when obedience seemed crazy...he trusted in God to do what seemed impossible.

Faith in God's promises, faith in Jesus Christ (who is the confirmation of God's promises), is how we become a child of Abraham. Obeying God is the evidence that our faith is genuine. Let's look at another passage in Genesis:

He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”
Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.
(Genesis 22:12-19 NASB)
That is the ultimate in obedience!

In John:
They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. (John 8:39 NASB)
So, the children of Abraham are people of all nations, all over the world who put their faith in Jesus Christ and like Abraham did up on Mount Moriah don't let their most prized possessions get in the way of their obedience.  Those of us who have faith in Jesus, follow Him and have faith and obedience are the Children of Abraham.