Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Monday, August 14, 2017

pretty, but non-functional.

Last week, I re-tweeted the following advertisement from Royal Dutch Airlines, which they had posted with the caption, "It doesn't matter who you click with." When I originally saw the advertisement posted on a friend's Facebook page, I didn't believe it could be real, but when I checked the Royal Dutch Airlines Twitter account, it turned out to be genuine. Surprised, my initial reaction was to comment: "It actually does matter."



Why would an airline use such an advertisement?

Well, as a non-evangelical friend of mine commented:

"When companies advertise in this way, they are advertising embracing equality in how they communicate with and serve their INTERNATIONAL customers. They are inviting people who are often rejected, turned away, put down, demonized, harassed, or even harmed, and letting them know that they will be given the same attention and fairness as the airline's straight guests, and ensure them that negative behavior from people of different beliefs and opinions will not be tolerated. 

"Companies advertise this way to make people feel welcomed and loved. They are offering them a safe, hassle free journey."


This must certainly be the motive behind the advertisement. However, I believe that the advertisement itself, which attempts to use pretty, but non-functional [in 2 out of 3 cases] seatbelts in order to make a political point, is emblematic of the mode of thought expressed in many of our cultural/political conversations today.

We are not trained to consider the proper functions of our institutions nor the rational end of our assertions. The original designer of the seatbelt did not create it in order to make a political statement. This applies to other areas of reality as well.

I believe that, like trying to use a pretty, though clearly non-functional, seatbelt to make a political point, certain affirmations, while perhaps providing some sense of emotional relief for certain people in the short-term, are actually out-of-step with reality/rationality. Allowing emotion to trump reality (rather than submitting our emotions to reality) is ultimately destructive for society and individuals within it.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

The Book of Galatians Summaries and Outlines

[Beginning in March of 2008, my Sunday school class at Kosmosdale Baptist Church studied through the Book of Galatians. In teaching through this book, I created summaries and outlines for each chapter. The outlines were adapted from class notes given by Dr. Tom Schreiner. at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Currently, Pastor Mitch Chase is preaching through the Book of Galatians on the Lord's Day morning services at Kosmosdale Baptist Church. It is for this reason that I am now re-visiting and re-publishing these summaries and outlines.]

In Galatians 1, Paul begins the epistle by defending his call as an apostle: that this call came directly from Christ and was not dependent on human authority. He gives this defense in order to make the case for why he is qualified to preach the true gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, in contrast to the false gospel of justification by faith plus works of the law, as advocated by his opponents.

1:1-5 Grace and Peace
1:6-9 Astonishment at the Galatians Departure from the Gospel
1:10 Paul is not a people-pleaser.
1:11 The gospel message Paul preached was not from people.
1:12 The gospel message Paul preached was received from Jesus Christ.
1:13-14 Paul was previously zealous for Judaism.
1:15-17 Paul did not consult with the other apostles before he began preaching the gospel.
1:18-20 Paul had limited contact with the apostles after he began preaching the gospel.
1:21-24 Paul had limited contact with Judea.

In Galatians 2, Paul continues defending his independent ministry as an apostle: that he received his apostolic calling directly from Christ, and not from the other apostles. He mentions his Gentile friend Titus, who went with him to visit the other apostles (and was not compelled to be circumcised) as an example to prove that circumcision is not required for receiving the gospel. Thus, the other apostles approved Paul's gospel preaching. Later, however, Peter contradicted himself (and, more importantly, contradicted the gospel) by indicating with his actions that keeping Mosaic law is necessary for reception into the body of Christ. Therefore, Paul confronted Peter; this confrontation is a prime example that Peter held no authority over Paul's gospel preaching. Paul reminded Peter of the core gospel teaching, and Paul uses this account of his words to Peter as an opportunity to summarize the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone to his Galatian readers, before moving into a more detailed description of this doctrine in Galatians 3.

2:1-2 Paul and his associates went to Jerusalem due to a revelation (i.e., they were not summoned there by the apostles as if the other apostles had authority over them).
2:3-5 Titus was not compelled to be circumcised by the other apostles, proving that circumcision is not required for receiving the gospel.
2:6-10 The other apostles approved of Paul's gospel preaching.
2:11-14 Paul defended the gospel from the erroneous actions of Peter!
2:15-21 Paul reminded Peter of the core gospel teaching: justification by faith alone in Christ alone, apart from works of the Law

In Galatians 3, Paul gives the central soteriological argument of his letter to the Galatians: that we are justified by faith and not law. The chapter begins with an emotional exclamation from Paul, signaling a transition from teaching of doctrine as set within a historical narrative (i.e., the account of Paul's confrontation with Peter) to teaching of doctrine specifically directed to the Galatians. In arguing for the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Paul thus begins with the Galatians' own experience, for the Galatians had obviously received the Spirit, as evidenced by their conversion and the Spirit's miracle-working power among them. Next, he moves to an argument for justification by faith alone from particular texts of Scripture: texts such as Genesis 15:6, Genesis 12:3, Deuteronomy 27:26, Habakkuk 2:4, and Leviticus 18:5. Then, he argues for justification by faith alone based on the work of Christ: that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law and that the Abrahamic blessing has come to be focused on Christ. Paul argues for justification by faith alone based on the Covenant of Abraham as contrasted with the giving of the Law. Then, he argues for justification by faith alone through pointing out the purpose of the Law, which is not given to justify sinners, but to confine sinners under sin and to serve as a tutor until the coming of Christ. Based on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Paul argues for the unity of believers in Christ.

3:1 Paul cries out in distress over the condition of the Galatian churches.
3:2-5 Paul argues for justification by faith and not law based on the Galatians’ experience.
3:6-12 Paul argues for justification by faith and not law based on the text of Scripture.
3:13-14 Paul argues for justification by faith and not law based on the work of Christ.
3:15-20 Paul argues for justification by faith and not law from the covenant of Abraham, as contrasted with the giving of the Law.
3:21-25 The purpose of the Law: to confine people under sin and serve as a tutor until the coming of Christ.
3:26-29 The Galatians (both Jews and Gentiles) have become sons of God–identified with the seed of Abraham–through faith in Christ.

In Galatians 4, Paul continues with his argument for justification by faith alone in Christ alone–apart from a system of law-keeping–specifically basing his argument on the redemption accomplished by Christ, which purchased us from slavery to the Law in order that we would receive adoption as God's sons. This is a Trinitarian work, in that God is said to have "sent forth His Son" for our redemption, and is said to have "sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts" in our adoption.

Notice the proper emotional response articulated by Paul based upon his contemplating the truth of the gospel versus the danger of the Galatians in their being potentially led into apostasy. Paul is not ashamed to beg the Galatians to follow him in the gospel, nor is he ashamed to prevail upon them based upon their previously established relationship.

Finally, Paul gives a true 'liberation theology.' The liberation spoken of by Paul is illustrated from biblical history, it is accomplished by Christ, and it liberates us from slavery to a system of law-keeping into freedom as sons of God in Christ.

4:1-11 Paul argues for justification apart from the system of law-keeping based on our adoption as sons of God through the redemption accomplished by Christ.
4:12-20 Paul pleas with the Galatians to imitate him and to be warned against the false teachers, basing his plea on his previous relationship to the Galatians.
4:21-5:1 Paul gives an allegorical illustration of our freedom from the system of law-keeping through the liberation accomplished by Christ.

The final two chapters of Galatians are primarily devoted to application based upon the doctrine that has been presented in Chapters 3 and 4. Galatians 5 primarily serves to give warnings based upon the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Paul warns the Galatians against trying to add law-keeping to faith as a means of justification: justification comes by faith alone. Justification by faith alone is based upon the agency of the Holy Spirit and upon our union with Christ. Paul then warns the Galatians against false teachers and defends his own ministry against the charge that he is secretly teaching a system of law-keeping. Next, Paul warns the Galatians against viewing their freedom in Christ in a selfish way; Paul teaches service through love and warns against quarreling. Finally (for this chapter), Paul teaches on the works of the flesh (which works indicate that those doing them will not inherit the kingdom of God) versus the fruit of the Spirit (which fruit indicates that one belongs to Christ and that one is not bound under a system of law-keeping). Faith that comes by the agency of the Holy Spirit produces fruit of the Spirit; true faith produces good works toward others.

5:2-4 Law-keeping cannot be added to faith as a means of justification, for law-keeping demands our perfect obedience, which would nullify the benefits given by Christ, and would condemn us
5:5-6 By the Spirit we have the hope of justification; in Christ our justification is accomplished–so that faith (and not initiation into a system of law-keeping)–is what matters
5:7-12 Paul warns the Galatians against false teachers and false teaching, and he defends himself against the charge that he is secretly preaching a system of law-keeping as well.
5:13-15 Paul warns the Galatians against viewing their freedom in Christ in a selfish way; Paul teaches service through love and warns against quarreling.
5:16-26 Paul teaches on the works of the flesh (which works indicate that those doing them will not inherit the kingdom of God) versus the fruit of the Spirit (which fruit indicates that one belongs to Christ and that one is not bound under a system of law-keeping).

In the closing chapter of Galatians (Galatians 6), Paul continues his exhortations to the Galatian Christians based upon the previous instruction he had delivered to them. Rather than doing works of the law to find favor with God, Paul writes of fulfilling the law of Christ. This fulfillment, in terms of understanding Paul's argument in a non-contradictory fashion, must be seen as a working out of what Christ has already accomplished on our behalf. We can help carry each other's burdens because Christ has carried our ultimate burden–the curse due to sin–on His Cross. In carrying one another's burdens, Paul is quick to remind his readers that we still each have accountability before God.

In conclusion, Paul gives one final contrast between his own ministry and that of the false teachers: the false teachers seek to escape persecution and boast to others in what they can accomplish through persuading the Galatians to accept a system of law-keeping; Paul, however, will boast only in the Cross, and he has suffered great persecution for the message of the Cross. Paul reminds his readers of the theological truth that what really matters is not keeping to a legalistic system, but becoming a new creation in Christ.

6:1-10 Christians are not lawless, but fulfill the law of Christ through doing good works to others: especially other Christians.
6:11-18 Christians boast only in the Cross of Christ; what matters is not partaking in the system of law-keeping, but becoming a new creation in Christ through His work.

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Thursday, July 06, 2017

Galatians: Extended Synopsis

Explanation

In my Sunday school class at Kosmosdale Baptist Church in 2008, we studied the Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians. I wanted to help the class get an overview of the book of Galatians without reading the entire book of the Bible in class, so I came up with the following extended synopsis of Galatians. This synopsis is based on outlines I had to make of various sections of this book for my class on Galatians here at Southern Seminary. This synopsis contains all the major propositions of the book with enough additional information from other verses in order to make sense when read. Some of the more theologically significant verses are not found in this synopsis, but as we studied through Galatians, we went well beyond the synopsis to examine the book verse-by-verse. I'm bringing this back up now, because currently Pastor Mitch Chase is preaching through Galatians in the Lord's Day morning services at Kosmosdale.

Synopsis

Paul, an apostle. and all the brothers who are with me, to the churches of Galatia: grace to you and peace.

I am astonished that you have turned yourselves away. As for me: do I now seek the favor of men? Do I strive to please men? If I were still trying seeking the favor of men, then I would not be a servant of Christ. For I declare to you, brothers, the gospel I proclaimed. For you heard of my former way of life in Judaism. But when the one who selected me from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me, I didn’t immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up into Jerusalem to the apostles who came before me, but I went away into Arabia and afterward I returned to Damascus. Later, after three years, I went up into Jerusalem to meet Cephas, I didn’t see any other of the apostles. Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. But they kept on hearing, “The one who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith.” And they were glorifying God because of me.

Later, after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas along with Titus as well. And I reported to them the gospel I preach in the nations. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. But as for those appearing to be something: they added nothing to me. But on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, then James, Peter, and John knew the grace given to me.

But when Peter came into Antioch I opposed him to his face: “We, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners were ourselves justified by faith in Christ. But if I construct again those things I destroyed, I demonstrate myself to be a transgressor. For through law I died to law. I have been crucified with Christ. I live, but it is no longer I, but the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God. I don’t set aside the grace of God.”

O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?! I only want to learn this from you: are you so foolish? Have you endured so much in vain? Consider Abraham: he believed God and it was counted to him for justification. So that those believing are blessed with believing Abraham.

But that no one is justified with God by law is evident. Brothers, I speak in terms of human relations: no one annuls or adds to even a human covenant that has been established. Now I say this: the Law does not cancel a covenant. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise. What, then, is the Law? It was added on account of transgressions. It was ordained through angels by means of a mediator. Is the Law, therefore, against God’s promises? May it never be! But before faith came, we were being kept [as] those confined under law, so that the Law has become our tutor in order that we might be justified by faith. But since the coming of faith we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God. For as many of as have been immersed in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. But if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

But I say that as long as an heir is a minor, he is no different from a slave, but he is under guardians and trustees. So we too had been enslaved under the elements of creation. But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his son. And because you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.

Therefore, you are no longer a slave, but a son. And since a son, also an heir through God. But formerly, not having known God, you were enslaved to things that aren’t really gods. But now, knowing God– or, rather, being known by God– how can you turn again to the weak and bankrupt elements? Do you want to serve them all over again? You scrupulously observe days, months, seasons, and years; I fear for you.

Brothers, I beg of you: become like me, for I became like you. You didn’t wrong me, but you know that through an infirmity of the flesh I formerly proclaimed the good news to you. And you didn’t despise nor reject your temptation in my flesh; rather, you received me as an angel from God: as Christ Jesus.

Therefore, where is your blessedness? For I testify that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?! They [those adding to/opposing the gospel of grace] court you dishonorably, but good is always to be courted in a good way.

My children, I’d like to be with you now and change my tone. Tell me, you who want to be under law, don’t you hear the Law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, but the one by the slave woman had been born according to the flesh, while the one by the free woman was through a promise. These things are allegorical, for these women are two covenants; one, indeed, is from Mt. Sinai, giving birth into slavery: this is Hagar. Now Hagar (Mt. Sinai) is in Arabia; this corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is enslaved with her children. But the higher Jerusalem is free; she is our mother. For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren woman, not bearing children! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor pains! Because the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than those of the woman who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as it was then, when the one born according to the flesh persecuted the one born according to the Spirit, so it is even now. But what does the Scripture say? “Throw out the slave woman and her son.” Therefore, brothers, we aren’t children of a slave woman.

Christ has liberated us into freedom; therefore, stand firm and don’t be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Look! I, Paul, tell you that if you receive circumcision Christ will not benefit you at all. Again, I testify to every man who receives circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace! For we by the Spirit through faith eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything, but [what matters] is faith acting through love. You were running well, who cut in on you to prevent you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from the one calling you. I have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you will take no other view. But the one troubling you will bear the judgment: whoever that may be. But I, brothers, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case, the offense of the Cross has been abolished. For you were called to freedom, brothers.

But I say walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: fornication… and things like these, which I forewarn you. . that those doing such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love… . self control. Against such things there is no law. But those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

Brothers, if someone is overtaken by any transgression, you– the spiritual ones– must restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Carry one another’s burdens. For if anyone considers himself to be something even though he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work. But the one being taught the Word must share all good things with the teacher. Don’t be deceived! For what a man sows, that he also reaps. But we should not grow weary in doing good. So, then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone.

See what large letters I write to you with my own hand!

Those who want to make a good show in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised. For the circumcised ones themselves don’t keep law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. But may I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything.

Finally, let no one cause me trouble.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.
–Amen.

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Monday, July 03, 2017

My Translation of the Book of Galatians

Chapter 1

1 Paul, an apostle–not from men, nor through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead–2 and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ 4 who gave himself for our sins so that he might rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom is the glory forever and ever.
– Amen.

6 I am astonished that you have turned yourselves so quickly away from the one who called you by the grace of Christ unto a different gospel, 7 which is not another [gospel], although someone is unsettling you and desiring to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we–or even an angel from heaven–might preach to you in deviation from that which we preached, let him be damned! 9 As we have said before, now I say again, if someone preaches to you in deviation from what you have received, let him be damned!
10 Now, do I seek the favor of men or God? Do I strive to please men? If I were still seeking the favor of men, then I would not be a servant of Christ!
11 For I declare to you, brothers: the gospel I proclaimed is not according to Man. 12 For I didn’t receive it from a man, nor was it taught to me, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
13 For you heard of my former way of life in Judaism, that I persecuted the church of God to an extreme, and I ravaged her. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many peers in my class, being exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
15 But when the one who had selected me from my mother's womb and called me by his grace was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me, in order to proclaim him in the nations, I didn’t immediately consult flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up into Jerusalem to the apostles who came before me, but I went away into Arabia and afterward I returned to Damascus.
18 Later, after three years, I went up into Jerusalem to meet Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I didn’t see any other of the apostles except James, the brother of our Lord.
20 Look! Before God, that which I write to you is not a lie.
21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22 but I remained personally unknown to the congregations of Judea that are in Christ. 23 But they kept on hearing, “The one who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith he was formerly destroying.” 24 And they were glorifying God because of me.

Chapter 2

1 Later, after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas along with Titus as well. 2 But I went up according to a revelation. And I reported to them the gospel I preach in the nations (but privately, to those reputed to be important, lest somehow I might run, or have ran, in vain).
3 But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. Because false brothers who were smuggled in crept in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus. We didn’t yield to them for a moment in obedience, so that the truth of the gospel might remain unchanged with you.
6 But as for those appearing to be something–when, in fact, they are nothing to me (God does not consider a man’s appearance)–those appearing to be something added nothing to me. 7 But on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised 8 (for he who effectively worked in Peter’s apostleship to the circumcised also effectively worked in me among the nations), 9 then James, Cephas, and John–those appearing to be pillars–knew the grace given to me, and they gave Barnabas and me their right hands of fellowship that we might go into the nations, but they might go to the circumcised. 10 They only asked that we might remember the poor, which was the very thing I was intending to do.
11 But when Cephas came into Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he had been condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he would associate with the Gentiles. But when they came he began to withdraw and separate himself, fearing those from the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray in their hypocrisy.
14 But when I saw they weren’t straightforward in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of everyone, “If you, a Jew, are living like a Gentile and don’t live like a Jew, how do you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?
15 “We–who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16 after having known that a man isn’t justified by works of the law, but rather through faith in Jesus Christ (and we have believed in Christ Jesus)–since we were justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of law (because by works of law no flesh will be justified): 17 if, while we are seeking to be justified by Christ we ourselves were found to be sinners, then is Christ a minister of sin? May it never be!
18 “For if I construct again those things I destroyed, I demonstrate myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through law I died to law so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. 20 I live, but it is no longer I, but Christ lives in me. But the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I don’t set aside the grace of God, for if justification is through law, then Christ died in vain.”

Chapter 3

1 O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly set forth as crucified? I only want to learn this from you: did you receive the Spirit by works of law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, Are you now perfected by flesh? 4 Have you endured so much in vain? (If, indeed, it really was in vain…) 5 Did he then, supplying the Spirit to you and working miracles among you [do these] from works of law, or from hearing with faith?
6 Consider Abraham–he believed God and it was counted to him for justification. 7 You know, then, that those believing–these are the sons of Abraham. But the Scripture, having foreseen that God justifies the nations by faith, foretold the gospel to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So that those believing are blessed with believing Abraham.
10 For as many as are from works of law are under a curse. For it has been written, “All who don’t persevere in everything written in the book of the law, in order to do them, are cursed.”
11 But that no one is justified with God by law is evident because, “The just will live by faith.” 12 But the law is not from faith, rather, “The one doing them will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, becoming a curse for our sake (as it has been written, “Everyone hanging on a tree is cursed”), 14 so that the blessing of Abraham might come into the nations through Christ Jesus, so that the promise of the Holy Spirit might come through faith.
15 Brothers, I speak in terms of human relations. No one annuls or adds to even a human covenant that has been established. 16 But the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. It does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but rather, “And to your seed,” as of one, which is Christ. 17 Now I say this: the Law, coming four hundred thirty years after the covenant, which had been previously ratified by God, does not cancel a covenant, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham through a promise.
19 What, then, is the Law? It was added on account of transgressions until the seed, to whom the promise had been given, might come. It was ordained through angels by means of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator is not for one [party only], but God is one.
21 Is the Law, therefore, against God’s promises? May it never be! For if a law was given that was able to impart life, then justification really was on the basis of law. 22 But the Scripture confined all under sin, so that the promise based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were being kept [as] those confined under law, until the coming faith was revealed, 24 so that the Law has become our tutor until Christ, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But since the coming of faith we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been immersed in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 But if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

Chapter 4


1 But I say that as long as an heir is a minor, he is no different from a slave, though he is lord of all, 2 but he is under guardians and trustees until the time appointed by the father. So we too, when we were minors, had been enslaved under the elements of creation. But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 in order that he might redeem those under law, in order that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore, you are no longer a slave, but a son. And since a son, also an heir through God. 8 But formerly, not having known God, you were enslaved to things that aren’t really gods. 9 But now, knowing God–or, rather, being known by God–how can you turn again to the weak and bankrupt elements? Do you want to serve them all over again? 10 You scrupulously observe days, months, seasons, and years–11 I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored for you in vain.
12 Brothers, I beg of you: become like me, for I became like you. You didn’t wrong me, 13 but you know that through an infirmity of the flesh I formerly proclaimed the good news to you. 14 And you didn’t despise nor reject your testing in my flesh; rather, you received me as an angel from God–as Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore, where is your blessedness? For I testify that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. 16 So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?!
17 They court you dishonorably; rather, they desire to isolate you so that you court them. 18 But good is always to be courted in a good way, and not only when I am with you.
19 My children, for whom I am again in labor pains until Christ is formed in you, 20 I’d like to be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you.
21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, don’t you hear the Law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons–one by the slave woman, and the other by the free woman–23 but the one by the slave woman had been born according to the flesh, while the one by the free woman was through a promise. 24 These things are allegorical, for these women are two covenants. One, indeed, is from Mt. Sinai, giving birth into slavery: this is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar (Mt. Sinai) is in Arabia. This corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is enslaved with her children. 26 But the higher Jerusalem is free; she is our mother. 27 For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren woman, not bearing children! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor pains! Because the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than those of the woman who has a husband.” 28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as it was then, when the one born according to the flesh persecuted the one born according to the Spirit, so it is even now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Throw out the slave woman and her son. For the son of the slave woman will certainly not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 Therefore, brothers, we aren’t children of a slave woman, but of the free woman.

Chapter 5


1 Christ has liberated us into freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
2 Look! I, Paul, tell you that if you receive circumcision Christ will not benefit you at all. Again, I testify to every man who receives circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law are alienated from Christ: you have fallen from grace! 5 For we by the Spirit through faith eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything, but [what matters is] faith acting through love.
7 You were running well, who cut in on you to prevent you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from the one calling you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole batch.
10 I have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you will take no other view. But the one troubling you will bear the judgment,whoever that may be. 11 But I, brothers, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case, the offense of the Cross has been abolished. 12 I could wish that those troubling you would even emasculate themselves!
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only don’t turn freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, rather serve one another through love. 14 For all the law has been fulfilled in one statement–in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, lest you be consumed by one another.
16 But I say walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other so that you don’t do the things you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious–which are: fornication, impurity, debauchery, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, faction, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these, which I forewarn you (as I told you before) that those doing such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self control. Against such things there is no law.
24 But those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited– provoking one another, envying one another.

Chapter 6


1 Brothers, if someone is overtaken by any transgression, you–the spiritual ones–must restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, watching yourself lest you too are tempted. 2 Carry one another’s burdens, and thus you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone considers himself to be something even though he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have glorying in himself alone, and not in others. 5 For each one shall carry his own load. 6 But the one being taught the Word must share all good things with the teacher. 7 Don’t be deceived; God is not mocked! For what a man sows, that he also reaps. 8 Because the one who sows to his own flesh will reap ruin from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 But we should not grow weary in doing good. For in the proper time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up. 10 So, then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, especially to the household of the Faith. 

11 See what large letters I write to you with my own hand! 12 Those who want to make a good show in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised only so that they might not be persecuted for the Cross of Christ. 13 For the circumcised ones themselves don’t keep law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But may I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; all that matters is a new creation. 16 So peace and mercy on those who will keep this rule, even on the Israel of God. 

17 Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear in my body the brand-marks of Jesus.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.

–Amen.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

On the Proper Naming of Churches

This is something that I feel rather strongly about, but I've never blogged about it before. I fully recognize that there are some excellent, healthy churches that do not follow this model for their church name. However, I am in contact with some people who are involved in church planting, and so I hope to help persuade them of [what I believe should be] the preferred method for naming churches.

Creativity is NOT desirable in a church name. Look at how the churches are addressed in the New Testament. They are simply "the church in __________." Because we now have different denominations, I believe that it is useful (and a matter of honesty) to indicate the denominational/theological position in the name. Therefore, I would argue that "Location" "Denomination" Church is the most appropriate name.

As someone who is Reformed Baptist by conviction, and who finds that my fellow Reformed Baptists usually value precision in church belief and practice, I have been surprised at how many Reformed Baptist churches depart from the model I'm advocating (usually by placing a doctrine/commitment, rather than the location, at the beginning of the church name). It seems to me that other names (for example: "Grace Church" [NOTE: this generic example is NOT meant to pick on any specific Baptist church of anyone I know]) is, at best, a matter of human will and that highlighting a specific doctrine/commitment in the church name relatively minimizes other important beliefs. Having the church location in the church name: 1) honors the fact that God, in His providence, has established a body of believers at a specific location; 2) shows love for the surrounding community, which the congregation should be reaching with the gospel.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Israel

The following post is adapted from comments I made in a Facebook discussion a few years ago, wherein I was interacting with a number of Dispensationalists.

If God has a people during the Old Testament dispensation that He calls the Church (Acts 7:38), and if He calls the Church the Israel of God (Gal 6:16), then–though proper covenantal distinctions need to be made–there is a biblical basis for calling the church "Israel" in a meaningful sense (showing the unity of God's elect people, all partaking in salvation bought by the blood of Christ, as His chosen bride). This is not eisegesis.

The saints are the body of Christ. He does not have two bodies. The saints are the bride of Christ. He is not a bigamist.

The Reformed view is that God fulfills His covenant promises to Israel in Jesus–the One who is both physically and spiritually qualified to receive His promises–and that ongoing fulfillment of the New Covenant promises takes place within the Church. Dispensationalists will sometimes object that if we do not believe that God’s promises will be fulfilled in ethnic Israel en masse (on the basis of their ethnicity), then we are presenting God as a liar. God did not lie to Israel. This is what Romans 9 is explaining: "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." The Arminian who objects to Reformed Theology saying that it presents God as unjust toward the non-elect has his objection anticipated by Romans 9:14ff. The Dispensationalist who objects to Reformed Theology saying that it presents God's promise as broken has his objection anticipated by Romans 9:6ff. God is not unjust nor is He a liar. It is NOT by ethnicity that one lives and receives the promises of God, but in relation to faith we are united to Christ, in whom ALL of God's promises are "yes" and "Amen" (2 Cor 1:20).

In fulfilling His promises to Israel in Christ and in the body of Christ (united to Him by faith), God broke no covenant with Israel. "[I]t is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants" (Rom 9:8). The Pharisees thought that they had Abraham as their father: they thought to benefit from God's blessings due to their ethnicity. Christ corrected them, saying that they were of their father the devil (John 8). Those who are called the offspring of the devil can in no way presume upon the promises of God, whatever their biological pedigree.

From God’s dealings with Abraham onward, we see a focusing of His covenantal activity. It is not all of Abraham’s children who receive the promises concerning Abraham’s descendants; it is only Isaac’s line who are the chosen inheritors. Israel, as narrowed down from other descendants of Isaac (through Esau), are inheritors of the promise. But even within Israel there is a narrowing (through the line of Judah, to David and his descendants), which–under the New Covenant administration–finds tremendous expansion.

The New Covenant (a covenant made directly "with the house of Israel and the house of Judah") is applied directly to the Church, as seen in our use of the New Covenant [=New Testament, 1 Cor 11:25 KJV] Scriptures and in our partaking of the Lord's Supper, the wine of which represents the New Covenant in Christ's blood (Luke 22:20). All believers–not only ethnic Jews, nor any ethnic Jews apart from faith–benefit from the work of Christ on the basis of the divinely-established New Covenant. God ONLY grants the New Covenant blessings to those ethnic Israelites who trust in Christ, and He extends all of these blessings to believing Gentiles.

The New Covenant, secured in Christ, applies directly to both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. Some Dispensationalists claim that to see the New Covenant as fulfilled within the Church is to cancel out the original intent of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the New Covenant, which (they say) would have only been understood by the original readers as applying to ethnic Israelites. But non-dispensationalists are NOT canceling out the original intent. The original intent is to focus attention on the seed of the woman, who is further revealed to be the seed of Abraham, who is further revealed to be the descendant of David. The original intent is to show how all the nations in Him will be blessed. The original intent is to show that those who break God's covenant will receive the curses of the covenant, and that those who keep God's covenant will receive the blessings of the covenant. The original intent is to show how we have all violated God's Law, written on the conscience, and then on tablets of stone. The original intent is to show that we all–Jews and Gentiles–are in need of a Savior: that we all need a sacrifice, that we all need a high priest. The original intent is to show that the people of God are made His people in connection with FAITH.

The Old Testament is characterized by mystery, types, and shadows, which are more fully and more clearly understood after the redemptive work of Christ is accomplished in history. As Nehemiah Coxe noted, "the best interpreter of the Old Testament is the Holy Spirit speaking to us in the new." If the New Testament tells us that the rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:4), then it was Christ. If the New Testament tells us that the seed was Christ (Gal 3:16), then it was Christ. If the New Testament us that all those who belong to Christ are Abraham's offspring (Gal 3:29), then we do not get to define Abraham's offspring merely in reference to biology. (The New Testament also records Jesus telling some of Abraham's biological offspring, who had rejected Him, that they were NOT Abraham's children, but children of the devil, John 8:39-44.) If the New Testament applies the New Covenant blessings to all believers, then we do not get to define the recipients of the New Covenant merely in terms of biology. All those who trust in Christ are beneficiaries of the New Covenant blessings in Him. Those who do not trust in Christ–whatever their biological heritage–do not benefit from these New Covenant blessings. Those who reject the good news of the kingdom cannot presume upon their biological heritage, imagining that–on that basis–God is obligated to grant them His blessings (Matt 3:9). Both Jews who reject Christ and unbelieving Gentiles are condemned. Both believing Gentiles and Jews who accept Christ receive the blessings of the New Covenant. Neither of these realities makes God a liar. Neither of these realities–clearly proclaimed in Scripture–undermines the right exegesis of Scripture.

Scripture provides the context for a Christ-centered interpretation of Scripture, where the types, shadows, patterns, and prophecies made to Israel terminate in Him and are then expanded to all of those who have been united to Him by faith. This is why there is now "neither Jew nor Greek... if you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to the promise." We cannot, in light of that and similar passages, continue to think that inheritance of the promises is a matter of biology. The Bible says that every believer, whether Semite or non-Semite, is a descendant of Abraham.

Obviously, even under the New Covenant administration, some national distinctions remain (Paul can write intelligibly of "my kinsmen according to the flesh"), but these distinctions are superceded by the spiritual unity that we have in Christ, so that Paul writes of current spiritual privileges: "there is neither Jew nor Greek... if you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to the promise." On the other hand, John calls unbelievers in general "Gentiles" in a passage that does not have cultural distinctions in view (3 Jn 1:7).

There was one who was the true seed of Abraham, the true Branch from David. One who was fully qualified: physically and spiritually qualified–in ways that certainly should have been understandable to anyone receiving the Scriptures–to be the Messiah. Rightfully, His were the blessings of the covenant. He shed His blood–the blood of the covenant–for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28). United to Him, commemorating His sacrifice when we take the cup, which is the New Covenant in His blood (1 Cor 11:25), believers become recipients of the New Covenant made with Israel and Judah.

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Friday, June 09, 2017

One God: A Study of Isaiah 44:6-20

READ: Isaiah 44:6-20

Introduction to the book of Isaiah

The book of Isaiah is an account of great judgment and great hope. Isaiah acts as God' prosecutor bringing charges against His chosen nation because of their unfaithfulness to Him, but Isaiah also acts as God's evangelist, bringing the good news that God will make all things right, establishing a new heavens and a new earth: expanding His kingdom beyond ethnic Israel to all the nations.

Isaiah's status as prophet confirmed

Isaiah's call as a prophet is confirmed in several ways:

First, his call is confirmed by his vision of the LORD sitting on an exalted throne in His temple.

Later, Isaiah acted as God's messenger to King Hezekiah (who was on his death-bed) to tell the King that he had fifteen more years to live: a message confirmed by the sun briefly changing its course in the sky.

Perhaps the most remarkable way that God confirmed Isaiah as a prophet is at the end of our chapter [Isaiah 44], where Isaiah prophesies about King Cyrus by name over 100 years in advance.

Introduction to this text

Throughout the book of Isaiah, the prophet has been delivering a message of judgment against Israel for their hypocrisy in pretending to be concerned with God's law (through keeping His feasts, sacrificing, fasting) while rejecting justice and love for the poor. In this regard, Isaiah's ministry was much like that of the Lord Jesus, who came over 600 years later.

Like Jesus, Isaiah confronted a people who used religion as an excuse to continue a self-centered lifestyle at the expense of others. As Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, Isaiah foretold Judah's captivity in Babylon just a few chapters before our text. Leading up to (then especially during) their time in Babylon, the remnant of Israel would have been severely tempted to worship the idols of the Babylonians and the other nations around them. And that is why the text under consideration would have been so relevant to the people of Israel when it was first given.

This text begins with a proclamation from God concerning His (for lack of a better term) utter uniqueness.

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last;” (Isaiah 44:6a ESV)

Think of the arrogance of this statement if made by anyone other than the true God. Even today, outspoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins, who fail to see the difference between God and Man, point to such statements and say that if God does exist, then He is certainly a megalomaniac. But we know from this and other Scripture that God is before all things and that all things end in His glory.

besides me there is no god.” (Isaiah 44:6b ESV)

This would have been an incredible statement in the ears of Israel’s neighbors, who would have worshiped many gods. This statement is incredible in the ears of our neighbors as well, because though most people in our culture would not claim to worship multiple gods, many people will try to say that all beliefs are equally valid: and that we are wrong to say otherwise. For instance, when my wife (Abby) and I were expecting our first child, we went to a natural childbirth seminar, and the speaker at the seminar was counseling mothers on how to cope with the pain of childbirth. One suggestion that the speaker had was prayer. She said something to the effect of, ‘When laboring, I’ve found that many women take comfort in calling out to a higher power, so you may consider prayer–whether it be to Mother God, Jesus, Krishna, or whoever you may believe in–gives you comfort.’ Now, the forum did not permit this, but what if I had raised my hand and said, ‘Excuse me, but the God of the Bible declares, “Besides me there is no god”?’ What do you think the reaction to that statement would have been? Other participants would have called me narrow-minded at best. So in our culture it is easy for us to shrink away from such absolute statements made by God, but we must resist this temptation if we are to present His message of life to the dying.

Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people.” (Isaiah 44:7a ESV)

Think of how different our God is from the supposed gods of other religions. In pagan systems no one particular god cares for all the people. People may choose to follow a certain god, but then they must perform the right ceremonies to keep that god’s favor. If a stronger nation conquers a pagan nation, then the weaker nation would begin to follow the pagan nation’s gods. But the LORD creates one people to show His love. He calls to them again and again. Even when they reject Him, He sends prophets to urge them to faithfulness. Even when their rejection becomes so great that He allows them to be exiled, He still preserves a faithful remnant and uses that remnant to bless all nations.

Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.” (Isaiah 44:7b ESV)

In Isaiah, God declares that King Hezekiah will live fifteen more years, and he does. He declares Cyrus will subdue nations about one hundred years before Cyrus is even born. Later, Jesus declares that Jerusalem will fall about forty years before the Romans raze it to the ground. You can search the texts of other religions– the Koran of the Muslims, the Ramayana of the Hindus– and you will find no book with such verifiable, fulfilled prophecy.

"Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from the beginning and declared it? And you are my witnesses!" (Isaiah 44:8a ESV)

We can all say "amen" in regards to fulfilled prophecy, but there should be another response as well: that of fearless trust in God. We can all say "amen" when we hear that God added fifteen years to Hezekiah's life, but do we have peace and confidence that God has our lives and deaths in His hands? We say "amen" when we read that God spoke of Cyrus a hundred years before he was born, but do we trust that God knows and controls the events of tomorrow? We who are God's witnesses, saying we believe God's prophecies to be true: do we live with assurance in God's continued faithfulness, or do we live racked with anxiety, as if God does not know or is not in control of the future?

"Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock, I know not any." (Isaiah 44:8b ESV)

This is a passage I have mentioned when teaching on Mormon evangelism. Remember, when a Mormon missionary tries to convince you that there is more than one God, you can take him to this verse and point out, "That's interesting- if there are other Gods, then apparently God Himself doesn't know about them!" This gets back to the beginning of the passage, where God says, "besides me there is no god." We must be unashamed to proclaim the message of the one true God. Whether our neighbors believe in the Mormon god (who they think of as an exalted man) or whether they are like a co-worker I once had who said, "Work is my church," meaning, "Money is my god," we must, as followers of Christ, be willing to lovingly confront the false gods of others, realizing that Christ is the one true Rock and without Him everyone is headed for destruction.

The sheer foolishness of idolatry illustrated:

9 All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire! 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, Deliver me, for you are my god!
(Isaiah 44:9-17 ESV)


Here we see a picture of a society of idolaters. They begin by shaping iron into cutting tools (v. 12). Next, someone cuts down a tree (v. 14). Half of this tree is used for a fire: for necessary warmth, for food. But look what is done with the other half (v. 15-17)!

Instead of trusting in the Creator, the idolater trusts in the lifeless thing that he worked so hard to create. Verse 13 further illustrates the effort the idolater puts into making the idol. This is no accidental sin. It is not as if the idol-maker threw a bunch of gold into a fire and out came an idol. No, the idolater works hard at his idolatry. He makes it into a thing of physical beauty. He has a sense of accomplishment when the idol is finally made, so that he can worship it.

Now, it is easy for us to laugh at this poor, deceived idolater. But, dear reader, this may very well be a picture of your life. Because no one reading this post has likely set out to carve an idol in order to worship it, but everyone reading this has taken gifts that God has given and has begun trusting in those gifts rather than in God Himself. If we are not constantly checking our hearts, this is what we all do. We pray for a job so that we can support ourselves and our families, we search high and low for just the right job, exercising wisdom God has given us. Then, once we have a job, we begin trusting in that job for provision rather than in Jehovah Jireh (the LORD who provides). We trust in money so much that we are slow to give to the Church; we are so concerned about keeping our position that we neglect to bear witness to the gospel in our workplace.

Perhaps it's not a job that tempts you to idolatry, but your family, your health, your ability in some other area. Any good gift God gives you that you are tempted to trust more that your Creator can become an idol. What might be an idol in your life? Isaiah 44:17 tells us that the idolater prays to his idol, "Deliver me, for you are my god!" When you are in trouble, anxious, or depressed, what is the first thing that your mind turns to? If it is something other than God, then that something is certainly an idol to you.

God's judgment against idolatry:

18 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19 No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood? 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? (Isaiah 44:18-20 ESV)

Indulging idolatry dulls discernment, it hardens the heart, and leads to greater errors. But how do we overcome idolatry? Do we simply resolve to do better?

We see this throughout the Old Testament: Israel falls into idolatry despite warnings by the prophets, they are punished, and then they repent, making vows to keep all of God's laws. But just a few chapters later, they are right back into some form of idolatry.

This shows that will-power will not save you from idolatry. Resolutions will not save you from idolatry. The way to salvation is shown in the first verses we read from this passage, as we are called to remember who God is, what He has done, and to trust in Him. This way to salvation is made perfectly clear in the New Testament as we see God in Christ. We must remember who Christ is: God who became Man to save us from our sins, including the sin of idolatry. We must remember what He has done: dying on the Cross, becoming as an idolater for all the idol-worshipers who would ever believe in Him; He was raised from the dead victorious over idolatry, over all sin, and over death itself- and we must trust in Him, crying out to Jesus in our distress, "Deliver me, for You are my God!" Christ deserves this plea and has promised to hear and answer this plea from all who place their trust in Him. So I urge you, dear reader, cry out to Christ today and receive salvation.

[The above blogpost is lightly edited from posts that originally appeared on this blog from October through December, 2007.]

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Thursday, June 08, 2017

How NOT to Read Your Bible

Introduction

Consider the following from John Dominic Crossan. [This is best appreciated if you can read it with Crossan's supremely pleasant Irish accent in mind.]

"When Jesus wants to speak about the kingdom of God, he goes into fiction... In order to make a theological point, he makes up a story. Obviously, that's not a lie, of course, or a mistake, or anything else. He makes up a story. I also think- and it comes from reading the gospels in parallel texts...that they also make up parables about Jesus... Let me give you an example, then, of how I read something...

"The parable of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes- read the whole story- the entire story- first, you know the disciples and Jesus have been all day in a desert place, comes the evening, nobody's starving to death, but the question is going to be, 'what to do about this?' The disciples have their solution- 'send them away!' Its not unreasonable- 'send them away so they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.' That's their solution. Jesus answers them, 'You give them something to eat: well, now we have two possibilities- two solutions.' And they almost laugh at him, 'Here's two hundred denarii- you couldn't do it!' Now as I read this story, I watch Jesus pulling the disciples almost kicking and screaming into the middle of everything he does. And usually when Jesus performs a miracle, they are standing there rather like the Greek chorus in admiration. This time, they're in the middle. He says to them, 'How many loaves have you- go and see.' (I'm using Mark.) When they found out, (they had to go and see- he makes them find out- this worries John a little bit as he tells the story, 'cause Jesus should have known all that sort of stuff- Mark has them go and see) then- once again they're pulled into the next thing- he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups. They have to find out how much food is there, they have to set the people down. Then taking the loaves, looked up to heaven, blest, broke the loaves, gave them to the disciples to set before the people. Once again, finally, as you all know, of course, they are told, 'Take up what's left over.'

"Now, when I read that, when I read that, it screams at me, 'Parable!' It screams at me, 'I'm a parable, dummy!' I take it for granted that when Mark writes this story he thinks Jesus could do anything he wants. He could take the stones and turn them into bread, he could bring manna down from heaven, but he doesn't do it. What he does in the story is take the food that's there already and when it passes through the hands of Jesus, as divine justice incarnate, there's more than enough food for anyone. I think its a parable. But I think something else is even more important. If you want to take this story historically- 'it actually happened, if you were there in the desert, you would have seen it'- or you want to take it parabolically- that is, similar to the good Samaritan story, something that Mark, let us say, made up to express Jesus' mission identity- either way you take it, be it as history or parable, you're going to come out with the same conclusion, namely, that Jesus says, 'it is up to the leadership of the church (if you think of the Twelve as the leadership of the church) to take care of poverty in this world- to make certain that everyone has enough food. And they don't want that job. They love this teaching all day business- that was just fine, comes the evening, send them away. And Jesus insists, 'Its your job to feed them,' and he forces them step by step to participate. It is more important for me not to get into a debate on whether that really happened, or it is a parable, that to make certain that we do it. And I do not want to get into a debate (like the one after the good Samaritan) that gets us off the hook too easy. I don't use any other language than parable for it and I do that deliberately because parable, as we know, is one of the major teaching forms of Jesus and I suspect his disciples and the evangelists picked up the 'bad habit' of fiction from their Master.

"One other example- one other example: You all know the story of the road to Emmaus. Jesus, after the resurrection appears, but totally (how shall I put it?) in the guise of a stranger. There's no flashing lights, no- nothing like Paul on the Damascus road. Jesus is simply a stranger. As the story goes on, he gives them an almost graduate course in how to read the Scriptures. And they concede later that their heart was warmed as he was doing that. Let me hesitate for a second. I wonder if I'd asked you all before I began talking to imagine in your mind, if you could, run through real fast, the story of the Emmaus road incident in Luke 24. Just to kind of close your eyes and- yeah. Would you all have remembered that what I think is the most important line in there is that when they come, the two people (possibly a man and his wife- we don't know- the man is identified- male- the female is not identified, presumably his wife- in Mediterranean courtesy or chauvinism)- Jesus is going to pass by when they get to (presumably) their home. They have to invite him in. I think that's almost the most important line in there. They have to invite him in. And when they invite him in, of course, he takes the bread, and the classic lines, 'takes, bless, broke, give,' and they immediately recognize Jesus, and he is gone. They don't go looking under the table, behind the chairs, it's as if they know immediately that Jesus has come in the guise of a stranger and you have invited the stranger in to eat in your home and that is Jesus. Now, if I take that literally, if I were to take that literally, I think I would be well on my way to concluding that Jesus really- the resurrected body of Jesus can take off/on any form it wants. That he is rather like one of those gods in ancient Greek or Roman mythology who come down from heaven and could put on any guise or body that they want. Can Jesus really appear literally as a stranger? Do we have to go round watching just in case? If I were to invoke divine consistency, maybe Jesus is still doing it as a stranger. No, I think it is clear, once again, at least to me, that this screams out to me, 'Parable, dummy! I'm a parable!' And I don't mean to say, 'Well they really wanted it literally, but I'm going to take it metaphorically.' I think that's the way it was written. I think this was written to tell us that Jesus is present, Jesus is still present, among us, when we study the Scriptures about him and when we invite the stranger in to eat with us. And of course it is important that all you get, all you get, when you study the Scriptures alone is your heart warmed. Its not nothing. But you don't recognize Jesus until you bring the stranger in to eat. Now, I have no doubt whatsoever that I've all sorts of presuppositions and we could talk about presuppositions tonight, but what I have done in my opening statements is to focus on the gospel texts themselves...

"There's four differing versions of the gospel. And it is not true, I think it is simply not true, that it is, as it were, four people each trying to tell exactly what happened. That is not gospel. That might be history- it's not gospel. The gospel is good news. And, yes, it has to be updated- I'd use the term, it might be sound a little bit crude- Mark is talking to one community, and John is talking to another, and so is Luke, and so is Matthew... What I get from this is that it is never enough simply to tell the historical story. I am convinced that if Mark had in front of him everything Jesus ever said, everything Jesus ever did- DVDs and all the rest of it, of what he had done- Mark would still have said things like, 'Well, that might have been all right Jesus, to say to those fishers in Galilee, but that doesn't speak to my people now, and I will rephrase you, Jesus, or if you prefer, your spirit is with me, and I will trust that when I do rephrase you, or even when I invent a story about you, I have still got it right- still got it authentic- still got it authentic, even when it might not be historical. Thank you." (John Dominic Crossan, "Is the Bible True?" debate with James White, 08/27/2005.)

The above lengthy quote from John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar is given to demonstrate how an extremely intelligent Bible scholar can come to entirely bogus conclusions about God's Word by the application of the following errors to his reading of Scripture.

How NOT to Read your Bible:

1. Bring in philosophies from outside of God's Word that are not based on Scripture and change the meaning of whatever you read in the Bible to fit these philosophies. It is only by God's grace that we avoid any of the errors that I am mentioning now. This first one is especially hard to fight because it is so subtle. Naturally, due to sin, we are all hostile in mind toward God (cf. Col 1:21). Even after our minds have been changed by God through spiritual re-birth, we must be diligent in keeping the command to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (cf. Rom 12:2) and to test all things, holding on to what is good and abstaining from every form of evil (cf. 1 Thess 5:21-22). When we get lazy in exploring our beliefs and fail to pray for God's wisdom while weighing our thoughts by the whole counsel of God's Word, we quickly stray into the error of judging Scripture by our own sin-tainted philosophies rather than submitting to the doctrines clearly taught in the Bible. John Dominic Crossan, whose words nowhere reflect a belief-system that has been transformed by biblical faith, imposes the philosophy of "divine consistency" on the teaching of Scripture. “Divine consistency” (mentioned in the quote above) refers to Crossan’s belief that “what God does now is what God always did: God intervened no more and no less in the world of the early first century than that of the late twentieth century.” Crossan uses this philosophy to justify his rejection of the miracles recorded in the Bible. But it is obvious that Crossan did not come to his version of “divine consistency” through a straightforward reading of the Bible. Reading through the New Testament, though it is clear that God’s essential character never changes (cf. Jas 1:17), it is also clear that He worked in a unique way in the life of Christ and in the lives of the apostles and that His special work in the apostolic age was accompanied by miracles.

2. Be Man-centered rather than Christ-centered in your understanding of and explanation of Scripture. The Bible teaches that people are all sinners (Rom 3:23) in desperate need of salvation by Jesus. And in an earlier post, I have explored the concept that the subject of all of Scripture is the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt 5:17, Luke 24:27, John 5:39). Based on these truths, it becomes obvious that any system of Bible-reading that takes the focus off of Christ and places it on people is an erroneous system, leading to a bogus understanding of Scripture. In our example above, notice how Crossan consistently shifts the focus from Christ to people. In this case, Crossan takes our focus off of Jesus as the Son of God and the resurrected Savior by focusing on the activity of the disciples, repeating phrases like, "They have to find out how much food is there, they have to set the people down...They have to invite him in. I think that's almost the most important line in there." Crossan even goes so far as to give a hypothetical conversation between a disciple and Jesus in which the disciple asserts, "Well, that might have been all right Jesus, to say to those fishers in Galilee, but that doesn't speak to my people now, and I will rephrase you, Jesus." If we fall into the trap of becoming Man-centered rather than Christ-centered in our reading of Scripture, we exalt sinful people, belittle Christ, and utterly obscure the gospel message.

3. Ignore the type of literature to which a particular book of the Bible or passage from the Bible belongs. Discerning the type of literature or literary genre to which a particular Bible passage belongs is a vital part of rightly understanding God's Word. As the following quote from Thomas A. Howe illustrates:

Literary genre simply means different kinds of literature. Poetry, for example, is a different kind of literature than historical narrative, and there are different principles for understanding it. Since the Bible contains different kinds of literature, we must take into consideration how meaning is expressed differently in each kind.

In the quote from John Dominic Crossan that is currently under scrutiny, it is clear that Crossan is treating all passages in the Gospel accounts as if they are parables, interpreting all Gospel passages figuratively and failing to see where the writers transition from parable into historical narrative. Crossan takes this view despite the fact that the Gospel narratives themselves are clear about when parables are being given and when history is being recorded. In places, the Gospel writers transition into the use of parables so clearly as to write, "Then [Jesus] told them many things in parables" (Matt 13:3a), "Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables" (Matt 22:1, emphasis added), "Jesus summoned them and spoke to them in parables" (Mark 3:23), and, "Then [Jesus] began to speak to them in parables" (Mark 12:1, emphasis added). In other places, the transition into and out of the use of parables is understood from the context. Taking Crossan's position- that everything, from the Virgin birth to the Cross to the Resurrection, is all given in parable- makes the Gospel narratives to be nonsensical- for then even Jesus' recorded explanations of His parables must themselves somehow be understood as being parables. And this position makes the proclamation of Truth impossible, for anyone can apparently, like Crossan, give their personal interpretation as to what the gospel "parable" really means.

4. Ignore passages of Scripture that do not fit in with your already-held beliefs. This is an error that is frequently practiced in traditional churches that do not want to deal with topics that they consider difficult, such as predestination, and so many Bible passages such as Ephesians chapter 1, Romans chapter 9, and the last section of John chapter 6 are either entirely ignored or only touched very lightly. (For a specific example of this error, see the responsive reading selection # 603 of the 1975 edition of the Baptist Hymnal published by Convention Press in which Romans 8:29-30 is systematically skipped over.) In the quote currently under examination, Crossan speaks about a historical passage in Luke and then asserts, "This screams out to me, 'Parable, dummy! I'm a parable!' And I don't mean to say, 'Well they really wanted it literally, but I'm going to take it metaphorically.' I think that's the way it was written." By this statement and others like it, Crossan ignores passages in which the Gospel records claim to be based upon eyewitness historical accounts; passages such as the preamble to Luke's Gospel account:

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us, it also seemed good to me, having carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4 HCSB)

And John's Gospel account contains the following assertions:

He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. (John 19:35 ESV)

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24 ESV)

And so Crossan's position is simply not a viable option. Either he should come out and assert that he does not believe in the Bible or he should take all of the verses into account. When people pick and choose certain verses to read while willfully passing over other verses, when they ignore literary genres in the Bible, when they are Man-centered rather than Christ-centered in their understanding of the Bible, or when they impose their own philosophies on the text of the Bible, they proudly place themselves as judges over God's Word rather than humbly submitting to the Word of God. And this is a very dangerous position in which to find oneself for,

"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6b NIV 1984) 

[The above blogpost was originally published on 10/08/05.]

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