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Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
My complete profile...
Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich
His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole
[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos
Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead
There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
| John 3:16
ουτως γαρ ηγαπησεν ο θεος τον κοσμον ωστε τον υιον τον μονογενη εδωκεν ινα πας ο πιστευων εις αυτον μη απολλυηται αλλα εχη ζωην αιωνιον - John 3:16
My old mentor was leery of any pastor who would "go to the Greek" whenever something in the English didn't satisfy the particular nuance he felt was, or ought to be in a verse. Most people don't study biblical Greek, so the moment you "go to the Greek" to clarify a text, you are doing one of two things - you are expounding upon the full flavor of the word (in it's particular usage) to flesh out (for the English ear) what the Greek ear would have heard, but which may not be being represented fully by a single English word or phrase. Alternately, you're going to the Greek because a passage may be translated in more than one way - with more than one meaning - in English - and the decision of which translation to go with is informed by the context, and often by one's own theological (as opposed to hermeneutical) framework.
If you're my age, and spent any time in Sunday School as a youth - you've probably been asked to memorize either the New International or New King James translation of this passage. Today you might also be asked to memorize the verse, but a lot of churches are using the English Standard Version or the New American Standard Bible for memorizing verses. So I'll present those here to compare them with one another:
The biggest difference we see in these translations is how they translate the Greek adjective that modifies the word "Son". Jesus is alternately God's one and only Son as the NIV translates the word. He is God's only begotten Son in both the NKJV and the NASB, and he is simply God's only Son in the ESV.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. [NIV]
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. [NKJV]
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [ESV]
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. [NASB]
The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe an only child. The son of the widow at Nain (Luke 7:12) was the widow's only son. The daughter of Jarius (Luke 8:42) and the demon possessed boy in Luke 9:38 is likewise the man's only son.
But it is the use in Hebrews 11:17 that gives us, I think, the most insight into the way this adjective could be used. In this verse, Isaac is called the monogenes son of Abraham. But you will recall that Abraham had already fathered a son (Ishmael) through Hagar. Obviously Isaac is neither only son of Abraham, nor the "one and only" son of Abraham.
Monogenes was used in three ways to describe one's child, either from the unique perspective of the father, the unique perspective of the mother, or the unique combination of the mother and father:
- Abraham's perspective: He had two sons, Ishmael (from Hagar) and Isaac from Sarah.
- Hagar's perspective: She had one son, (Ishmael)
- Sarah's perspective: She had one son (Isaac)
- Abraham + Hagar: They had one son together (Ishmael)
- Abraham + Sarah: They had one son together (Isaac)
The text of Hebrews 11:17, describes Isaac as Abraham's monogenes son - but Isaac was by no means Abraham's only (physical) son. Even though it would be a lot easier to interpret the meaning of this verse by ignoring the fact that the writer is describing this relationship entirely from Abraham's perspective by assuming the author mentions Abraham but intends in doing so to suggest a more compatible relationships (i.e. from the perspective of, say Abraham and Sarah together); I'd rather not rest on an interpretation that requires me to "correct" an assumed imprecision in the original text.
The Greek word monogenes is a compound word that combines mono (only) and genos (birth/kind). We don't really have a lot of trouble with the concept of something being the only representative of its kind, but we might not understand the idea of how "birth" could fit into the semantic range of a word like genos. In the book of Genesis (Genesis itself means origin, creation, or generation - i.e. that which is generated or born), the word genos is used (c.f. Genesis 1:24-25 for example) to describe the things God had created as having the capacity in themselves to procreate after their own kind (genos) - giving birth to something that is uniquely like themselves. Cows beget baby cows, and sheep beget lambs. Each "begetting" new life according to its kind (genos).
Hence older lexicons define monogenes as "only begotten" rather than as "only kind", - this because compounds adverbs that use with genes as one of the words are used to describe the nature rather than the source of their derivation.
Following this understanding, monegenes ought to translated in a way that captures the nature (begetting) rather than the source (kind) of the relationship. We might translate it fully, though awkardly in English as the "only begotten kind" of something.
Going back to Hebrews 11:17 - Isaac isn't the only son of Abraham, but he -is- the only son of Abraham's who would be inherit God's promise to Abraham. That this very promise is mentioned in that verse suggests to me that the author intended to convey the message that Isaac was the only son born of Abraham's faith in the promise of God.
We know from Hebrews 11:19 that Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac because he was utterly convinced that in order for God to keep His to him (i.e. through Isaac Abraham's descendants would be named) God would have to raise up Isaac in order to keep His promise to Abraham. Abraham trusted God that much.
Well, we know the rest of the story - as Isaac was about to plunge the knife into his son, and angel stopped his hand, and lo - God provided a sacrifice in his son's stead. Abraham called that place Jehovah Jireh - God will provide - and that all happened on a particular mountain in the mountain range named Moriah (c.f. Genesis 22:2), which is probably the same Moriah mentioned in 2 Chronicles 3:1 - where Solomon built the first Temple at Jerusalem.
As an aside, no Christian should ignore the import of the imagery we are discussing here. Abraham was willing (on the strength of his trust in God's promise) - to offer up to God's the very son through whom God had promised to bless him. This is exactly what God would do with Christ - offer up His own Son (Jesus Christ) through whom God's promise to Abraham would ultimately be fulfilled. There on likely the very spot where the temple itself was built - was the Holy of Holies - were God's presence was understood by way of God's covenant with Israel - to remain - above the mercy seat which rested atop the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. Do not forget how that great curtain between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was torn in two in the moment of our Lord's greatest accomplishment (His death) - where before the actual throne of God in heaven the pouring out of Christ's life expiated God's wrath towards all those who are in Christ through faith. As the way was opened in heaven, so the symbols upon the earth reflected it - in the tearing asunder of that great curtain that separated men from God.
Not withstanding, when we look again at John 3:16, we must ask ourselves, what does John intend to convey in using the word monogenes to describe the son-ship of Christ?
Where normally I prefer the ESV translation, in this case I find it wanting - for if John had intended to say convey the meaning that God had had only one Son - Jesus - he needed bother using such a specialized compound word as monogenes to say such. Recall that John was a fisherman - his writing style and grammar are simple compared to other writers in the New Testament. New students of biblical Greek are often made to begin reading John's writings for this very fact - they are less complicated grammatically than more the more learned writings of men like Luke and Paul. I am compelled on this point to believe that John would not only have been aware of a more simple way to say that Jesus was God's only Son, if that is all he intended to convey here.
That being my understanding - it follows that he chose this word to convey something more than that - which is why I feel the ESV's translation here is the least nuanced of the ones quoted above - and as such it is also the least precise. Don't get me wrong - in recent years there seems to be something of a silent revision going on when it comes to the notion of Christ being the only begotten son of God. I can only postulate that new scholars have been ingesting the philosophies of relativism since the cradle. What scholar, having unconsciously imbibed such a bias for the whole of his or her life will not want to step back from the former generation who collectively spoke to these matters in a way so narrow and precise it leaves no room for anyone with a contrary "truth" to be considered right.
It is not stretch for me to say that when scholarship becomes more scholarly, it doesn't necessarily become more true. There is an army of biblical scholars coming out of a large network of liberal seminaries all convinced from their education - such as it is - that homosexuality is no longer a sin, and never really was, convinced that women can and should be pastors, convinced that God has evolved into a better God than the previous Old Testament God. These are not B-team scholars - these are the best of their best - the movers and shakers, the people selling books increasing their influence in the world.
Maybe the reason that those lexicons which today are backing away from their former handling of monogenes is because we've been getting it wrong for a couple of thousand years. But I am inclined to give the benefit of the doubt, not to those who are rewriting what the church has believed for millennia, but rather with those who instead are alarmed by this trend.
That brings us back to the text of John 3:16.
Dismissing the ESV's translation of monogenes, I move onto the NIV translation "one and only".
This meaning falls apart harder in Hebrews 11:17, than the ESV translation. From Abraham's perspective - which is the perspective in that context - there is no way that Isaac is his one and only son. He is the one and only son born as the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham - but that is not only not hinted at in this rendering - it is rather denied as the natural reader will associate the uniqueness implied by "one and only" with the son-ship itself rather than the nature of that son-ship.
That Jesus (in our text) is the one and only son of God is certainly true - but the question isn't whether the words that appear in this text are true in and of themselves. If our translation injected the adjective "male" the noun "Son" - it would certainly be true - but that doesn't mean it is what the text is saying.
That leaves us with the NASB and NKJV translations which tell us that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. This translation - which I think is the best of the ones supplied here - means that Jesus is the only son of God's kind.
I want that to sink in. God did not create or make Jesus.
So what do I mean when I say begotten?
Let's start with this: God is (and has always been) a spirit. When we think of Fathering someone, it involves a chronological order - because we are created beings who exist in God's creation. Part of that creation is "time" - and we move through in such a way that every child is preceded in time by their parent. So it is quite natural for us to think (from a chronological perspective) that if God is the Father of Jesus, that means That God came first, and Jesus came some time after that. That is how our concept of being a parent works.
But God is not bound by time in that way, because He exists apart from it. Time is part of creation, and neither God nor His Son are bound by those laws that they knit into creation. It other words, when Jesus tells us that God is heavenly Father, we shouldn't anthropomorphize that into something that requires God the father to exist in isolation at some point, and then produce Jesus at another point, after which they both exist eternally. That doesn't make sense because chronological concepts like before and after have no meaning in a reality wherein time itself does not exist.
So when we say that God is the Father and Jesus the Son, we are not suggesting that God brought Jesus into being, or that Jesus did not exist at some point with God. What we are doing is taking what the scriptures say, and trying to understand them properly, given that the bible tells us that we are created, and God is not.
When we say that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, we mean that God and Jesus are both of the same kind - both are not just equally divine, both rather the are each full partakers of the same divinity. God the Father is not "more" God than Jesus, nor is God the Father a different God than Jesus. God did not bring Jesus into being - but the relationship between these two persons (in the Triune Godhead) is that God the Father (eternally) begets Christ the Son.
In other words God has always been the Father, Christ has always been the Son. The relationship is an anthropomorphism, as God the Father is a Spirit, and Jesus the Son is both a Spirit in eternity, a man who lived and died within the envelope of this creation - and is now the resurrected God-Man who is presently sitting at God's right hand - making intercession for His saints until God the Father places all of Christ the Son's enemies beneath Christ's feet.
For our purposes in John 3:16 - the apostle sums up in this one adjective what he laid out at the very start of His gospel - that Jesus was with God the Father in the beginning, and that Jesus was and is the same God, though not the same person.
If you get nothing else from this post - remember cats beget cats, and cows beget cows - and God begets God. God did not beget Adam - he created Adam. The word son, to the writers of scriptures, did not almost mean of the same flesh - but often meant of the same substance or kind. We are sons of Abraham, not because we are physically descended, but because we have the same kind of faith. The Pharisees and scribes who rejected Christ were sons of the devil - not physical sons but like the devil they rejected God's plan to go with their own. Jesus explains in Matthew 12:50, For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
Such usage at the time ought to inform our understanding of what John meant by referring to Christ as the only begotten Son of God - whatever was meant in this term that describes kinship - the kinship certainly included a similitude in purpose and thought; a likeness that further respects the full partaking of the exact same divine nature - and that without division or diminishment.
There are two other words I wanted to address in the passage - the words, "so" and "world".
Oὕτως, (outos) the Greek adverb that is translated above in John 3:16 as "so" in "for God so loved the world" either expresses degree (soooo much) or manner ("just so", or "in this way") or both. Without going into how the word translated as love is in the indicative, and how that affects our understanding, it is enough to say that the third option - where both the manner and the degree are intended - is probably the best approach for translating this word.
Unfortunately, the English word, "so" doesn't show us that John is really telling us that this is how God loved the world - it rather just suggest that God really, really loved the world - which confuses the meaning the author likely intended.
The best renditions I've seen follow the most common usage, with the understanding that the other usage is implied.
"For God loved the world in this way: He gave... etc"
If a translation is going to state one of these two aspects more clearly than the other - all things being equal - the most common rendering (describing manner rather than degree) ought to be the one we use.
I am persuaded however by the context, given that Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about the manner in which we are saved - that this is the clear and obvious purpose of this discussion - it follows that when our Lord has an opportunity to explain that God saves "in this way" in a conversation that is about "how God saves" - we should probably assume that Jesus intends to say, "in this way" - rather than that painting this verse as though Jesus was spontaneously talking about how much God loves us ("thiiiiiis much!").
God does love us, and that love is most clearly put on display in laying down your life for your friends, as our Lord himself explained to his closest disciples in John 15:13 (c.f. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends). Paul likewise tells us the same in Romans 5:8, (c.f. but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.) - both verses leave the magnitude of God's as testified fully in the naked reality of just how far God has gone to demonstrate that love. Neither of these other passages require an adverb to inflate the "bigness" of that love - and I wonder that if Christ was ever of the persuasion to inflate that love - why he would fail to do so when speaking to his disciples in John 15 about... basically how much God loves them and will care for them - but would put that meaning into his discussion with Nicodemus - who came for the very instruction ("how") that Christ was giving to him.
For me, even though the adverb in John 3:16 can mean manner, degree, or both. I think our Lord intended in that verse to portray only the manner in which God saves us. That fits the context, and it fits the fact that our Lord doesn't inflate his language on this point anywhere else - especially where one would expect him to do so if this was something that His message needed.
Yes, that means that I don't believe the our Lord was saying that God loved the world soooo much that he gave his only begotten son.
That the word κοσμον (Kosmos) translates as "world". I don't read to much into that. God loves his enemies, so that whether you're an enemy of God or not - God loves you. Since I don't believe the text is saying "God loved the world so much that he have his only begotten son" but rather that our Lord was telling Nicodemus that his understanding of the way God loved the world (by blessing the those who keep the law with long life and wealth, for instance) was entirely wrong - that that was not the way God shows love. This is how God loves the world - he sent his only begotten son Jesus so that whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
posted by Daniel @
| He has given us His Spirit
1 John 4:13 - By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit [ESV]
Yesterday I explored 1 John 2:3-6, which speaks of one of the ways that we can know that we have come to know Christ: We are a witness to the obedience that Christ produces in us. If we do not have this witness, we do not know Christ.
Here John gives us another way of ascertaining whether or not we truly know Christ: the presence (or absence) of the Spirit of Christ within us.
John does not teach that we have come to know Christ because we can somehow "sense" the Spirit of Christ within us. His presence is not sensual (i.e. not something perceived by/through the senses). Our senses are natural and can only sense the natural, but His presence is spiritual. Our senses do not and cannot register the presence of the Spirit of Christ in a believer.
How then are we to know that we have the Spirit of Christ in us?
The answer is right in this chapter - and ends up being a very easy, and quite practical test of whether or not the Spirit of Christ is in you. Consider the truth of this statement, which precedes the quote above by a few verses:
1 John 4:7-8 - Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. [ESV]
In this text, we are told that the love that we are to have for one another is not something we generate, it is something that comes from God - such that John can say (and does say) that those who love one another know God, and those that do not, do not know God.
The word love is not describing the kind of affection our culture uses the (English) word love to describe. The text is not saying having an affection for other people comes from God. Love may be accompanied by affection, but it neither requires it nor depends upon it. The word for love does not describe an emotion - it describes a state of being. God is not "affection" but He is selflessly charitable - which is the better meaning behind the word.
The test here is not whether or not you feel affection one another - but whether or not you are selflessly charitable to one another - regardless of how you "feel". This kind of love comes only from God.
Consider the secular mindset when it comes to love. Love is the deepest, most sacred affection. You are willing to die for someone else because of it. The question is why? Well, because you really, really, want to. Why do you want to? Because you really, really like that person. You like them so much that it would hurt you to see them hurt - you'd rather hurt yourself than have them hurt.
Guess what? That is all (beginning to end) selfishness. Oh what great things we can coax ourselves to do because we selfishly are driven to avoid our own emotional pain. We want others to feel good because that makes us feel good - and we want to feel good, which is why we pursue it. If my motive (in whole or in part) is to avoid something personally unpleasant - or to experience some emotional satisfaction in seeing the results of my efforts - I am not acting selflessly - I am working to produce the effect I desire, by doing what it takes to produce that effect - and whatever benefit anyone else gets from the effort - I ultimately benefit too - and I am motivated to do it, at the root level, by the benefit I see in doing it.
The man who, planning a sweet surprise for his wife, arrives at home a few minutes before his wife is due, and rushes to place on the table, in view of the door, her favorite ice cream treat - that she is about to see when she comes home. That man may think he is serving his wife, but let her come home an hour late without a phone call - and we see what is really going on. As the minutes tick the husband begins to wonder where she is. Why isn't she home? He begins to get frustrated - even angry as the ice cream melts, and the minutes tick by. When she walks through the door an hour late, she doesn't find the man who was waiting to surprise her for the joy of her surprise - we find an angry man whose surprise was "ruined" by her tardiness, who wants to blame her for ruining "his" surprise.
Selfishness is often dressed up as selflessness if in serving ourselves we serve others. But love in the sense the Apostle is writing about is like that which Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a,
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." [ESV]
According to Paul (in the same passage) people could give away all their wealth and possessions - which would seem to be a selfless act of genuine love - but even such a thing as this could be done without love - that is, it could be done to serve yourself in some way. Even choosing to sacrifice your own life could be done without the love that Paul was writing about - and that John (in our text) is likewise describing.
Acts of selflessness spring from the Spirit of Christ within us, like "living" water from an artesian well. You don't draw water out of an artesian well - it is a spring that pours water out apart from any effort of your own. Since it does not originate in you, but in the Spirit of Christ, it is not something you muster up - it is something that you respond to. You're provoked by the Spirit of Christ within you to act - and the provocation is entirely alien to the "you" that you are at your core.
You're walking down the street and you see what looks to be a drunk sleeping face down in a pool of his own vomit. He is injured, and bloody, but you think - serves him right, he's a drunkard, and nothing I do for him now is going to change anything. He'll probably be violent if I wake him. I may get some of his blood or vomit on me if I wake him. There are other people around, one of them will check in on him - and you walk by - but somewhere inside you are provoked. Nothing about helping this person is inviting to your character, yet you feel a compulsion - which your character does its best to souse - to stop and see that all is well.
Helping when you are not going to get anything out of it - is what it means when Paul writes that love does not seek its own.
Our Lord used such an example in describing what it means to "love" your neighbor. There was no great affection for the man laying on the side of the road in either of those men who found themselves a witness to the man's needs that day. Not one of the three men in our Lord's parable was provoked by an affection for the man in need. But one man acted in love when he regarded the man as he would have regarded himself - and did for him what he would have done for himself had he found himself lying on the side of the road. That kind of love does not come from us - it comes from God.
That is what John tells us. If you find that kind of love in you, motivating you (however successful) to act, it is the love of God (i.e. God's love) in you through the Spirit of Christ - and it bears witness to the presence of Christ's Spirit in you.
If this isn't in you, then you don't know Christ, regardless of whatever you call yourself or whatever your faith means to you.
One word of caution: No one is perfectly consistent in loving others. We are still sinners, even though Christ is in us. That means that on one day the love of God in the Spirit of Christ within us may find some perfect expression in our willing obedience - but on other days, in our immaturity we may suppress our Lord's love within us as we capitulate to those sinful desires that remain within us.
Someone in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells ( i.e. a genuine Christian) is marked not by perfect success (but certainly by some success), in the same way that a good soldier is not marked by perfect success on the battlefield, but by holding their ground, and pressing onward no matter how poorly the battle is going. Christians do not abandon the war against sin in their life, because Christ in them does not - and cannot abandon that war. The person who abandons the war against sin, is not a Christian, and never was.
That is what it mean to have the Spirit of Christ - it means we have the Spirit of Him who over came both sin and death in this world. Just as the man dressed in a life preserver may be swamped by the waves of the tempest he endures - yet no matter how many times he is thrust beneath the surface, yet on account of that which is preserving his life - he surfaces again and again - not because of his own strength, but because He is clothed in someone who has overcome death, death no longer has dominion over him. Though he falls a dozen times, he rises again.
posted by Daniel @
| Obedience to the Lord
In 1 John 2:3-6 we read:
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. [ESV]
Not sure you're a Christian? Here is the acid test: Are you keeping what Christ has commanded?
It (morbidly) fascinates me how many readers consider themselves to be sufficiently keeping the commandments (plural) of Christ - who couldn't name even a half dozen of our Lord's commandments off the top of their head.
Make no mistake, John wants to assure his readers that they are Christian - but John doesn't lay as a foundation of their assurance such fluffy nothings as having earnestly prayed a prayer, or having assented to the truths of the gospel. Believing that the gospel is true doesn't save anyone - that just means they've been enlightened. Judas was certainly enlightened - but that enlightenment didn't mean he was saved. You also may be enlightened - that is, you may believe wholeheartedly that Jesus is the Messiah, and that salvation can only be found in Him. That is certainly the good news that leads to salvation - but salvation isn't had simply by acknowledging the news to be true.
The assurance John directs us to look for is practical - are we obeying Christ or not? If not, we aren't Christians.
Can you (off hand) name even a dozen things Christ commands in the New Testament? This isn't a school test - but good gravy - how can you know if you're obeying Christ's commands if you can't even name a few?
To help you out, let's go over a few.
Christ commands you to Repent:
Matthew 4:17: From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. [ESV]
The word translated from the Greek into English as repent literally means to change your thinking and/or behavior. The problem with that definition is that most people stop with that and think that all you need to do in order to repent is change your thinking and/or behavior.
Luke 13:3: No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. [ESV]
But the repentance our Lord calls us to, is not a change in thinking or behavior "in general"- it is a very specific call to repentance - the call is for sinners to repent (c.f. Luke 5:32).
If we were not so collectively sluggish in our understanding, I could probably leave it at that - but a great many people out there think of sin as "doing something bad" rather than, "rebelling against God's rule over them" - so that when they see that sinners are "called to repent" - they conclude that Jesus commands them to "change their thinking and behavior" about doing bad things, and thus start doing good things.
But because sin is rebellion against God - the repentance you and I are called to is one that involves changing our thinking and behavior as it pertains to God's rule over us. Said simply, the repentance that we are called to is a radical departure from our former way of life - where we did whatever seemed right to us - now we are called to not only know the will of God (c.f. Ephesians 5:18) but to do seek it out and to do it.
Any Christian who neglects this call to an ongoing life of repenting - that is a life of learning from the scriptures what God requires of us, and committing ourselves with our whole heart to doing his will over and against (i.e. instead of) our own will - is by no means keeping this (foundational!) command of Christ.
This next command is just another way of framing the command above: Seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
It helps to understand at least this much concerning the Kingdom of God:
Matthew 6:33: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.[ESV]
Luke 17:20-21: "Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” [ESV]
Which ever kingdom you were born into - that was your kingdom, and it's king was your king. The Kingdom of God is not an earthly Kingdom - it has no borders, and it's citizens are citizens because they have chosen to accept the Lordship of Christ - that is, they have chosen to obey Christ rather than to obey themselves in whatever they choose to do.
Thus to seek Christ's kingdom is to seek to Christ's rule in your life. Our Lord puts this plainly in Luke 6:46, "Why do you call me Lord and not do what I tell you?" [ESV] - you are not in the kingdom, nor are you seeking to be in the Kingdom, if you are not doing actively seeking to obey what Christ calls you to do.
Christianity isn't about making God happy with the things we do (like going to church, calling our selves Christians, and maybe even reading our bible and praying) - it is about willingly making ourselves subject to all that Christ commands of us. Those who are in the Kingdom of Christ willingly subject themselves to the rule of Christ - going so far as to seek out what Christ would have us do.
Next up is to: Deny Ourselves / Take Up Our Crosses/ and to Follow Christ.
Once again - this is practically the same as the command to repent or the command to seek first the kingdom of God.
Luke 9:23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. [ESV]
Matthew 10:38, And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.[ESV]
Mark 8:34, And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [ESV]
Denying yourself means you are no longer the ruler of yourself. You stop pursuing what you want as a requisite step in pursuing what Christ wants for you. You stop seeking for yourself the things you want to get from this world, and start seeking what Christ desires you to do. This is what Paul means by putting to death the deeds of the body (c.f. Romans 6) - it means you stop living for yourself and the things that you want - To deny yourself is to live selflessly (serving others) rather than selfishly (serving yourself).
If you're not seeking this - trying to do this in your life - you aren't obeying the commands of Christ.
Taking up your cross.
Jesus (like every other condemned prisoner) was forced to carry his own cross to the site of his execution (Our Lord was too weak to carry the cross at one point, and Simon of Cyrene carried it for him). The imagery of carrying your cross perfectly portrays doing something you certainly don't want to do - doing that work which assists your own demise. Not that Christ demands you to kill your own body (suicide is murder, and you are not commanded to murder yourself) - but rather in the qualifying sense supplied - to deny yourself the liberty to do as you please even as a condemned criminal is not doing his own will in carrying the very cross upon which his life is about to be spent to the place of execution.
Just as Jesus did not come to live his life according to his own desires, but lived in utter obedience to the will of God his Father - so we are called to follow Christ's example and live our lives in obedience to Christ, denying our own wills in order to obey the will of Christ.
That's just 3 commands. -- How're you doing so far?
Listen I am not inclined to coddle believers as some people are.
It is plain from the scriptures that some of us who think we are saved are not really saved. How do we know we're saved? By the evidence of our salvation - one such evidence John gives us in the passage quoted above in 1 John 2 - Simply answer the question put to us - are we keeping the commandments of Christ?
If we've truly repented, truly sought the rule of Christ in our life - truly war against our own desires, that we might not be slaves to our own will, but submitting ourselves to the will of Christ by denying our own will, taking up our cross, and following our Lord in the path of obedience He has walked before us -- I'd say we have good reason to be assured of our faith.
If on the other hand we don't see this pattern in our life - but tell ourselves in its absence that it is okay, because our sins are under the blood of Christ - because we said a prayer once, and having been enlightened by the truth we have begun attending a church and our lives are a little more moral now than they were before - we have no real ground for any confidence in our own salvation - and any coddling I might add for those saints who are merely struggling in this area - would be used by those tares who would grasp at my words only to fortify themselves all the more in their neglect of our great salvation.
I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded - not by the intensity of my surety, or the integrity of my most earnest opinion about how sincere I am in wanting to be a Christian - but rather by the such evidence as John tells me to look for - I say, I am persuaded that my Lord is able to keep to the end what I've committed unto Him. My persuasion rests not on what I have done, but on the evidence of what is being done in me.
I want you to be able to say that, because you also are keeping the commandments of Christ - not in order to prove to yourself that you are saved, or in order to get saved - but because you are enlightened, and have come to know that the response to enlightenment is obedience - and have found yourself desiring to - even always returning to - an obedience that you cannot long depart from.
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| Be Fruitful and Multiply - Part IV (How Many Children Should We Have?)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Consider these simple questions in the light of this passage:
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:25-ff [ESV]
• Who feeds the birds of the air every day?
• By extension, who feeds the bird's children?
• In the same way, who feeds you every day?
• And who feeds your children each day?
A lot of you reading will have heard that "Jehovah Jireh" is a name that means, the Lord will provide. It isn't a proper name of God - but is often quoted as though it was. It is actually the name given by Abraham to the place where God called Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering (c.f. Genesis 22).
When Isaac, carrying the bundle of wood for the burnt offering asked his father where the sacrifice was, Abraham answered, that the Lord would provide a sacrifice. In Hebrews 11:17-19, we get some idea of what was going through Abraham's mind at the time. God had promised Abraham that through his son Isaac Abraham's offspring would be named. Abraham stood convinced that God was going to keep that promise, and that meant even if Isaac died, God would certainly restore him life in order to keep His promise with Abraham.
The imagery there cannot be lost on a Christian. The very place where this happened was named by Abraham, "The Lord will provide!" (Jehovah Jireh). In 2 Chronicles 3, we learn that this very place where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, but where the Lord intervened and provided a sacrifice - was where King Solomon eventually built the temple. All of which foreshadows the sacrifice of Christ whom the Lord provided as our sacrifice.
Christians, we are told are children of Abraham because they share the of faith of Abraham who believed God and trusted God to provide.
It is ... unthinkably sad, that we find so many today, willing to call themselves Christians, who nevertheless have such weak, pathetic faith. I don't stand above such people. I am the poster child for weakness and pathetic faith. But I do believe that what my Lord has said, is true. I am not being fed daily, except by the providence of God. Whatever I have, I have for His glory, and not for my own comforts or pleasure.
Would that I were perfect in all that I said and did, I could regale you with a wonderful history of my deep faith and the mighty deeds wrought therein. But I nothing. Every victory my Lord has managed to bring into my life, I have obstructed and hindered to the best of my ability - to my eternal shame, but to His self-same eternal glory.
I didn't want to have children because I was afraid I would be abusive to them in the manner in which I was raised. I believed that such cycles were inescapably repeatable, and when my wife announced our first pregnancy, I discovered I was too weak a man to divorce her as I felt I ought - that a better man might raise my son to be a better man than I could ever raise him to be. I say I was too weak. That was the romantic sacrifice I thought I should do - to save my son from the legacy of my own abuse.
But I couldn't bear the thought of leaving my wife, and so I stayed in the marriage, certain that I would "ruin" my son's life, and all for entirely selfish reasons of not wanting to be apart from my wife. I was a Christian in as much as I believed the gospel - but I had such a beggarly faith, I wasn't able to move a molehill, much less the mountain of the entirely secular life I had chosen to backslide into.
I didn't know that the Lord would use my son to draw me to himself. I didn't know that my son would again and again be the catalyst that cast me upon the Lord in all my wretched need. I could never have imagined how the Lord would use my children as they came, to humble me again and again. I learned to own my mistakes, and ask forgiveness. I am a thousand times better a husband and father than I would ever have been - though I tell you honestly, I am not half the man I ought to be by now. But for God's grace; but for God's grace.
I have proven God in my life, or rather God has proven Himself to me in my life. I am not like some of you reading, wondering if God is real, or if God ever answers prayers. God has so thunderously changed me, and shown me the beauty of His truth, that I cannot play games with myself about whether or not He is real or whether He is there. One look at me followed by a glance at my children will tell you all you need to know about the profound grace and work of God. I often think that my greatest contribution to God's glory will be that God could use someone like me to produce someone like my kids - whom I adore all the more for their genuine faith, and the sweetness I find in them.
That God could squeeze such as these from such a prince of wickedness as I have been, and would otherwise be - is all the testimony I need to remind myself of God' very real presence and provision. I've felt a mountain of hatred lifted from my shoulders with such clarity that I couldn't believe it had ever been there without my noticing it before. To be set free from such life long bonds - well. I could go on and on. But I want you to know that I trust God.
That is the foundation upon which my family came to be. A lot of Christians today would deny themselves children thinking that in doing so they are securing a better, more prosperous life for themselves, but I will tell you that a sad thing. My children have been God's blessing in my life so thoroughly and profoundly, I can't explain it to anyone who doesn't already know exactly what I mean. I am not describing a father's love for his children - every father can describe that - I am describing God's love for me in giving me the gift of being the father of my children. In using my children to drive me to my knees before him in humility and my need. To bring me to the certainty that I have nothing and can offer nothing to my children but what I receive from God.
Oh what a loss, what a sad and horrible loss it is to watch the children in this generation opt out of parenting, so that they can "live in the now" - they don't know what they are doing, because the blessing they are avoiding is so inconceivable, they cannot imagine it, and so they don't want it.
The bottom line for how many kid should a Christian have? As many as God will bless them with.
Is it sinful to refuse the blessing of the Lord by practicing birth control? Almost certainly!
If the reason for them not wanting to have kids is so that they can pursue something selfish, or because they don't trust God to provide for them, or don't want their standard of living to go down, or whatever. That's not a biblical reason - that's just selfishness.
There aren't many "selfless" ways to deny God in what He would like to do for you. My wife doesn't want to have any more children. We have five children, aged 6 to 19, but during my wife's last pregnancy her congenital heart condition acted up in a frightening way, and we decided that it was time to stop having children.
We weren't on the same page however. I wasn't sure what the Lord would have us do. Was I over reacting? She'd had this condition all her life, why now? It had acted up, but never like this. I was torn - I wanted more children, and in my selfishness, I felt that my wife would surely be able to produce a few more kids before this *really* became an issue. I wish I could say that this was some fleeting thought - some madness that slipped into my head, and was dismissed immediately, but no. I downplayed the whole thing to myself in order to hold onto my perfect picture of what our family ought to eventually look like.
When it became clear to me that my wife was not being evil in wanting to be there the mothering of all our children as they grew up; and again, that her unwillingness to risk her life on the altar of my familial expectations wasn't some secret way of trying to control my life, and dash my dreams - that is, when I finally came to see that my expectations were entirely selfish, and unloving, I realized that my trust that God would surely bless us if my wife became pregnant again - but like person who sees trouble coming and willfully ignores it. I was not super faithful or wise, I was selfish, and worse, I was convincing myself that it was a bigger, better faith on my part to trust the Lord with my wife's life in our next pregnancy. Surely he wouldn't take my wife if we were obedient in having as many children as humanly possible, right?
I've learned since then that I was not being a prudent man in that I was ignoring a real and present danger such that rather than hide my wife and I from it I was all for going further down an obviously dangerous road - and was bound to suffer for it (c.f. Proverbs 22:3).
It is enough to say that sometimes, having babies is dangerous, and you have to make a choice to be prudent and avoid the danger - even if that means forgoing a blessing, or going on like a simple minded person and perhaps suffering later for it. On Judgment day we'll learn about all our errors and wrong motives. Until then we should walk in the light we have.
My point is it would next to impossible to give a hard list of when it is "not sinful" and when it is "sinful" to practice birth control, but whatever list we could come up with - it will all roll back to a question of motive. Few people are honest enough with themselves to quickly discern their own motives in a matter. We always think we're doing what we do for the right reasons, until we're shown the truth.
What about when a husband and wife disagree on when to stop having kids?
Well, that can't happen when both husband and wife are seeking the Lord. Like instruments that are tuned to the same fork will be in tune with one another - a husband and wife who disagree on when it is time to stop are a husband and wife that are not seeking the Lord together for the answer.
Don't mistake me. I don't mean to suggest that they aren't praying about the same things etc. I am saying that one or both of them is not really seeking the Lord's will (more often than not it is both) You can be sure that you're the one in the wrong if you feel the Lord has given you peace about your decision, because that just dumb. the Lord hasn't given peace to you if you're married and at odds with your spouse on such an important decision. No, the Lord has given you strife. If you feel you're at peace in your strife you're a fool, and if you feel that the matter is settled because it is settled for you - your a fool also. As long as there is disagreement, then there is no peace, and whatever peace you feel is a very false peace.
Decisions like this will often divide us before they draw us together - that's because we often need to see how broken we are before we're willing to be fixed.
But My spouse and I cannot agree on this!
Don't worry about it. You don't need to agree with one another, you just need to agree with God. If you do that you'll do well, and if one or both of you can't do that, the problem is bigger/deeper than a question of how many children you ought to have.
That's my serious answer.
Listen: I tremble before the authority of God's word. I am so hesitant to offer advice on such matters, lest in offering advice, I give an impression that runs contrary to the word of God. God's word does not explicitly state that birth control is a sin, but it also doesn't say anything that makes it sound Okay either.
That tells me that God has given enough information elsewhere in the scriptures that an honest seeker of his will ought to be able to infer what God would want them to do in such and such a situation. We have, for example a great deal that is said about living for one's self - which is always sinful, and putting the needs of others above yourself - which is selfless and what we're all called to do. Even with only that much I find myself flailing to come up with any possible argument that would make it okay to set your life and what you want out of it, above the lives of the children the Lord intends to give you, but you refuse to let live. How can anyone justify denying the children that God would give to them, the life that he would have otherwise given them?
That's why I hold to the thought that it is the Lords will for you to have as many children as He would have given you. If having children puts one of you at risk - then you need to be honest with that. But if you're just thinking you want to get more money (leisure, life experiences, ) in life than kids - you're not thinking like a Christian at all, and this quick series isn't going to do much for you.
What I want you to get out of this is the fact that you need to seek the will of the Lord as is found in His word. Seek the counsel of godly, bible-believing and honoring saints, convince yourself from the scriptures of what God would have you do and do it.
Perhaps our Lord can summarize my thoughts, which all water down to His words from 1 John 2:15,
"Do not love the world, or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the father is not in him." [ESV]
Part I |
Part II |
posted by Daniel @
| Be Fruitful and Multiply - Part III (Is Birth Control A Sin?)
|Let's begin the discussion where a lot of people do - with the sad history of Onan.
Onan's brother Er was a wicked fellow - so wicked in fact that God Himself put Er to death. Er was married to Tamar at the time, and under the Mosaic Law, Onan was expected to marry Er's widow Tamar, and raise up children for Onan's brother's inheritance.
The point of this "Levirate" marriage, was for Onan to give children to Tamar, whom she could raise up on and in her husband's (i.e. Er's, not Onan's) inheritance.
Normally, Onan would not have allowed to marry his brother's widow. Had Tamar been pregnant with with Er's child, Onan would not have been required or even permitted to marry her. This was a special provision that God made to allow a childless widow to conceive children in her husband's house through the seed of his near relative.
So Onan took Tamar as a man takes a woman - but instead of impregnating her as was his duty (and as was the only reason he was allowed to take her into his bed), he spilled his seed on the ground. God didn't like that - since it was a perversion of what he had commanded. This wasn't about Onan providing Tamar with the conjugal rights of a husband - it was about Onan providing Tamar with children - and in sidestepping that obligation while partaking of his brother's wife - Onan sinned, and God put him to death even as he had put Er to death. It's all there in Genesis 38.
Some conclude from this, that Onan was put to death because God hates birth control in general. If that is true, this text would agree with it - but it certainly wouldn't prove it. Onan was put to death for denying his brother the very offspring this Levirate marriage obligated him to produce.
I don't (or I shouldn't) need to explain how and why Onan earned the death he received. The question before us is whether he would have received the same penalty had he and his wife been practicing withdrawal as a form of birth control (by agreement) in their marriage.
That is really the question: Is it "okay" with God for Christians to thumb their noses at God's blessing (children are an inheritance and blessing from the Lord)?
Some would say that we are commanded in Genesis 1:28 to be fruitful and multiply and say that therefore we ought to answer every opportunity (in marriage) to produce children, until such time that we are no longer able to do so. But as I believe I have shown in the first post int his series - that passage isn't quite the command it is propped up to be, but is rather a blessing upon mankind spoken by the Lord.
Lacking a definitive go-to verse that compels us to have as many children as possible, one might turn to passages in scripture that imply the will of God in this situation. I am thinking of Romans 1, where Paul writes about how creation itself teaches us what the will of God is. In this case we might say that everything about having sex suggests the purpose of sex is two fold: pleasure and procreation. Paul instructs those who would otherwise burn with passion to marry, in order that they may avoid sinfully quenching their passions outside of marriage. Obviously marriage is the place where our God intends for us to quench these passions - but what about when we don't want our passions to produce children?
This is the rubber meets the road part of the discussion. It's a trivially easy matter to condemn Abortion (from a biblical world view) because the scriptures are crystal clear about who is and who is not an image bearer of God - and whether or not it is okay to murder one. In the same way it is just as clear and straightforward to condemn any abortifacient forms of birth control such as the pill, the patch, injections, day after pills or IUDs.
I believe the use of any abortifacient form of birth control is sinful. Let me qualify that. A young, chaste woman who experiences hormone related depression, etc. may well benefit from taking the pill - not as a form of birth control, but as a way of regulating/stabilizing her hormone levels. Taking the pill to regulate hormone levels is not the same as taking the pill in order to have sex and avoid pregnancy. I don't believe it is sinful to regulate hormone levels if your levels are out of whack and making you depressed/suicidal. If you're using the pill to regulate hormone levels you should abstain from sex altogether because even if you use another form of birth control (condoms, withdrawal, etc.), they could fail, and you could possibly become pregnant, and abort the baby.
You might scoff at the notion of abstinence while on the pill as "overkill" - but only if you think that its okay to play the odds with someone else's life. Sober Christians - honest ones who love God's word - will avoid these kinds of risks like the sin they are.
I think that anyone who is using an abortifacient method of birth control is sinning, whether they end up murdering their children or not. The fact that they are willing to take that chance speaks volumes about where they are truly at.
But when we get away from those methods, and look into methods that, when they fail, do not destroy what is conceived - what about those methods? Is it sinful to get your tubes tied, or to get a vasectomy. What about withdrawal?, the rhythm method? Condoms? etc.
I hope to answer these questions in the final post, Part IV (How many children should we have?)
Part I |
Part II |
posted by Daniel @
| Be Fruitful and Multiply - Part II (The Consequences of Conception)
|In the majority of US states, a stillborn child is issued a birth certificate and a death certificate. This postmortem recognition of their having been a human child flies in the face of the legal definition of a human being as it pertains to abortion laws. In order to destroy a human in the womb, we must dehumanize that human - regard them as "not yet" a person. Even as it was in Nazi Germany - it is okay to kill someone whom the law doesn't recognized as a human being.
I think that life beings at conception. I think that way because it is both obvious, and because the bible makes it clear that the life of an unborn human is nevertheless a human life. Under the Mosaic Law, the penalty for harming or killing an unborn child was the same as it was for anyone else - a life for a life, an eye for an eye etc. For the Christian who believes the bible to be true - an unborn child is a human being who enjoys all the rights afforded to everyone else - including the right to life.
When does that life begin? It begins when that life was conceived. No one denies that life begins at conception - what people debate is when the life that is there qualifies as "human".
For the Christian - the kind of Christian who believes the bible to be entirely true and authoritative - abortion is murder. To that kind of Christian, an unborn person is someone who has been created in God's image. God gave man dominion over all other creatures, such that we can kill and eat some, and even destroy those whom we regard as dangerous or simply pests. But we aren't allowed to kill one another because other people - like ourselves - are made in God's image. We don't have the right to kill another human being - even our own children. We find out why in Genesis 9:6, where we read, "Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man." [ESV]
Everyone who purposely takes a human life is guilty of murder, because we - even our unborn children - are created in God's image. When God commanded the Israelites not to commit murder, it was a command to not end the life of anyone bearing the image of God.
All of this is to say that if you believe the scriptures are true, and submit yourself to what is taught therein (rather than try and find a way to make it "mean" something other than what it clearly says), you cannot intentionally murder your children in utero or otherwise.
So when we talk about contraceptives no intellectually honest Christian who believes that life begins at the moment of conception can utilize any form of birth control that could potentially destroy a human zygote (a fertilized egg).
That rules out such contraceptives as:
Oral/hormonal based contraceptives such as "the pill", "the patch" or injections such as "Depo-provera": The pill prevents pregnancies in three ways:
• It prevents ovulation,
• It thickens the mucus lining so as to prevent fertilization, and
• it thins the lining of the uterus, which makes implantation less likely if fertilization does occur
These contraceptives are sold on the promise that they prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation. While that is true in the sense that the hormone treatment does disrupt the ovulation cycle (no egg means no pregnancy), but women are often unaware that ovulation still happens it just doesn't happen as often as it would have. Depending on the individual ovulation may occur anywhere between 2%-65% of the time. If an egg is produced, and fertilized, the human life that is created - may not be able to implant in the uterus because the pill thins out the uterus lining - effectively preventing the pregnancy by denying the fertilized egg purchase in the womb.
Intrauterine Device (IUD) - An IUD is a small specially shaped foreign object that is placed inside the uterus by a medical professional. It works in two ways:
• It prevents fertilization by keeping sperm from entering the Fallopian tubes, and
• It thins the lining of the uterus, which may prevent implantation if fertilization does occur.
Similar to the hormone based contraceptives: fertilized eggs may be hindered from implanting in the uterus causing these to be expelled with the next period, instead of implanted.
The Day after Pill - given that it takes 5-6 days for a zygote to implant in the uterus - this pill is not so much about preventing fertilization as it is about preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg. It works similarly to the other hormone based contraceptives.
Conception ≠ Pregnancy?
Some argue that until the fertilized egg is implanted in the mother, the mother isn't pregnant. I think that is very true, in a narrow technical sense. The mother is still a "mother" but her child hasn't yet been implanted in the lining of her uterus - so she isn't technically pregnant until or unless the egg is implanted in her womb.
That thought emboldens some to argue that the mother isn't yet the mother until the fertilized egg is implanted in her uterus. If it isn't implanted in her uterus, she isn't pregnant, and if she isn't pregnant - taking a hormone or using a device changes the lining of her uterus in a way that makes implantation of a fertilized egg unlikely - then this does not (technically) represent an abortion - since the fertilized egg is expelled in the nex cycle, having been unable to implant in the uterus.
The question for any Christian who regards the word of God as having authority in their life is not when does killing your child become abortion, before or after implantation. That is a pointless argument. It doesn't matter to the Christian whether the term "abortifacient" can be applied or not, the question isn't about what the proper term for killing your baby is at that point - it is about whether or not you're causing the death of the child that has been conceived in your womb, by taking hormones that kill the child before you even know when or if you became pregnant.
The question about whether or not Christians can get abortions is not really one that any Christian who holds the bible as authoritative would seriously consider. Even in the Didache - that first century summary of the apostolic teachings - abortion is called out by name as something God forbids. The word translated in Galatians 5 as "sorcery" - was used in secular writings of the time to describe the use of drugs in producing abortions etc. - it is the same word as is used in the Didache - strongly suggesting what ought to be obvious to everyone who names the name of Christ - killing your unborn child is a sin.
The question of whether or not a Christian is allowed to practice a form of birth control that can cause the life that is formed in the womb to be extinguished is likewise not a very serious question for serious Christians. Anything that could possibly cause the death of anyone else is not something we can condone - especially if the only reason we would condone it is to enjoy the pleasures of sex while avoiding the consequences of conception.
The question then is whether or not a Christian is allowed to practice birth control at all? I'll hopefully answer that in the Part III - is Birth Control a sin?
Part I |
Part III |
posted by Daniel @
| Be Fruitful and Multiply - Part I
|On the fifth day (c.f. Genesis 1:22) of creation God said to the newly created birds of the air and all that newly swarmed in the seas, to be fruitful and multiply. There was at least a male and female of every type and species of flying creature, and this text tells us that it was God's intention for all of these to produce offspring of their own kind and fill their respective places upon the earth.
We don't look back at Genesis 1:22 very often, because no one cares that God blessed the birds and fish in saying, "Be fruitful and multiply". I use the word bless there because that is the word the scriptures use ("God blessed them [i.e. birds/fish], saying, 'be fruitful and multiply...'").
This was a blessing, and not a command in that sense. God established that natural law by and through which these these creatures were blessed - they would be fruitful and they would multiply. In being fruitful and multiplying, they were not trying be fruitful or multiply in obedience to a command - they were behaving according to the nature they had been blessed to receive from God.
I mention that because a mere 6 verses (and one day) later, comes the verse that is typically pulled up whenever birth control or family planning is discussed amongst Christians. In that verse, God likewise blesses Adam and Eve with the same blessing, "Be fruitful and multiply..."
I am led by the text to conclude that whatever we should expect from the birds and fish with regards to this blessing, we should likewise expect from mankind - no less, and certainly no more. Putting it another way, I do not think this blessing is so like a command that it requires our volitional acquiescence - I think of it as the created order. We are able to beget children after our own kind and all things being equal, we end up doing that quite naturally, and so we have filled the earth - those who have heard of this blessing, and again those who have not.
If this is a command to be obeyed by all, then it is the duty of every person (and especially of Christians) to do whatever it takes to have as many children as humanly possible. Since it is sinful to have any kind of sex outside of marriage, and God would never command us to do anything that requires sinful behavior - that becomes a command for every one of us to marry, and produce children - as many children as we are able - in our marriage.
That's what you do with one of God's commands - you follow it fully, with your whole heart, and you don't give up on doing what God has commanded you because it is tiring or difficult for you. You don't do it only if circumstances seem favorable for it - you do it even if you are convinced that all your children than you have will die in childbirth - because God commanded you to do that, and didn't give you a pass because it seems difficult to you or pointless.
But if this passage means that, then someone like the Apostle Paul - or even Jesus, would be a sinner, since neither of these felt compelled by this "command" to pursue the life necessary to keep it. People who treat Jesus special when it comes to commands, might excuse our Lord because His peculiar status as the Son of God must somehow excuse Him from such expectations - but surely Paul should have been working overtime to get himself a wife, so he could start being fruitful and multiplying as the command stood.
But that isn't what Paul did - in fact he counseled people that it was better to serve the Lord as a single person (rather than a married one) because in remaining free from the responsibilities of marriage, you were more available for the work of ministry. Paul would have been encouraging people to sin.
I conclude therefore that the text of Genesis 1:28 is not a command in that sense, but the blessing it is laid out as. It is a blessing that we are able by God's decree to be fruitful and multiply. "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth, blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them..." - Psalm 127:4-5a [ESV]. Children are indeed a blessing, and the man who fills his house with children is surely blessed above the man who selfishly (or otherwise) fills his house with treasures that will perish when this life ends.
My next post (Part II) is going to address the consequences of conception.
Part II |
Part III |
posted by Daniel @
| The Imminent Bondage Awaiting America
|There was a time when America was regarded by all as a Christian nation. That didn't mean that everyone in America was a Christian, nor did it mean that Christianity was the state religion. What it meant was that American Principles and Morals reflected and were uniquely inspired by the Christian morals of that majority who at that time founded the nation.
Christians are called to be charitably serve others even has God, in saving them, has done a great charitable service that they were undeserving of. We are called to serve others in the same way that we would serve ourselves. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus something profound about the human nature, "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church," - Ephesians 5:29 [ESV] - this is what is meant by loving others as you love yourself. It isn't talking about emotions or affection - it is talking about serving others charitably (i.e. selflessly).
Love in this sense is the very opposite of selfishness. The greatest expression of this love is found in the character of God, in the work of redemption. God supplies and sustains the life of everything that lives. Think this through: He isn't obligated to do. If God determined to return that life to Himself, it would flee from all that live, and they would be dead in the moment that God ceased to sustain them. That would be true even if no living thing had ever offended God. But our rebellion against God's rule (i.e. our sin) is an inexcusable offense to God. So how much more grace do we receive daily as God supplies us, who deserve His wrath already - with the breath we need to blaspheme His holy name?
When we say that God is love, we mean what the bible means when the bible says it - not that God is emotional and has a great paternal affection for us. What we means is that God is perfectly selfless. He serves us, even though we are His enemies because God is "like that" - that is who He is.
You might wonder why anyone goes to hell if God loves us so much, and serves us selflessly. To many a mind this seems an inconsistent notion - how can God who is good, who serves us daily, and supplies sinners today with the life they need to go on sinning -- how can that God punish sin? It seems out of character.
That God supplies us with a life that we not only do not deserve (because we all are chasing after our own purposes and desires rather than obey the purpose for which God created us). This is what we call "grace". God is gracious to all of us sinners.
Again, this seems inconsistent with the notion that God is going to punish sin at some point. How can God be gracious to everyone, if he is going to punish them after being gracious to them for their whole (earthly) life?
You can thank God's mercy for this common grace given to all - but the mercy that provoked this grace is not directed at everyone - it is directed only at those whom God as chosen to be merciful to. At the time when Adam sinned, none of those whom God had chosen to show mercy to had been born. In order to show mercy to those, they would need to be born - meaning that God could not execute judgment on Adam immediately, but allowed Adam to procreate in order that through procreation those whom God elected to show mercy to (in saving them from His wrath).
God's "common" grace, enjoyed by sinners and saints alike is necessary for the sake of those whom God will show mercy to. In other words, sinner, It is not out of God's character to show mercy to the unrepentant sinner who daily earns for himself an even greater eternity in hell for using the life he has received to reject God Himself and rebel against His purposes, God serves such sinners for the sake of those whom He has has determined to save (to show mercy to).
God is not acting out of character. He is selfless, and can serve a sinner selflessly because that is He who is. He is not acting gracious, He is gracious - but not every recipient of grace receives mercy. God feeds everyone who eats, but not everyone who eats will be saved from God's wrath.
Those whom God has chosen (and only those whom God has chosen) to show mercy will be redeemed. God will redeem them at a great personal cost to Himself - He will, in the person of Christ, take those whom He has chosen to show mercy to, through the death of that life which they inherited from Adam's and into a new unquenchable life which they inherit from Christ. Those who are in Christ on Calvary, die with Christ on Calvary - their punishment is received in Christ. Those who are not in Christ, receive the same punishment - but do not receive the life of Christ, on the other side of that punishment because they are not in Christ.
That's what love looks like. It isn't an emotion it is selfless and even costly service that we do for someone else - not because they deserve it, or because we owe it to them in some way, or that we are in some way obliged to provide it - but because we don't live for ourselves but we live instead to serve others. God lives like that, and calls us to live like that also.
Those who come to Christ for salvation, and humble themselves before God, recognizing themselves as living entirely for themselves and crying out to God to be saved from this rebellion against Him - this "sin" - these who cry out to God reckoning that God will save them if they do so because that is His character - so they are not simply "hoping" to pray the right pray to obligate God to save them, but rather have seen that God is trustworthy, and will do what He promises - trust that God who has made such a promise will keep it - since they qualify, as sinners, to be inheritors of that promise -- these will be in Christ, for as many as come to Christ in this way, have received the mercy of God.
What does Christianity have to do with the America of old?
Well friend, America use to be a nation built upon the notion that helping one another, living for others and not for ourselves only (Christian ideals) went so far that we would suffer personally in order to bless someone else. Such noble character was admired and celebrated - and as a nation we were blessed.
But now we borrow from our children and our children's children to furnish the kind of selfish narcissistic celebrated by movies and television. We want every pleasure and every treasure, and enough leisure to enjoy it all, and no responsibilities to encumber us as we glut ourselves on every conceivable indulgence. We war against anyone or anything that would impede us as we explore every conceivable way to serve ourselves more fully.
Guess what? We're bankrupting the future to live like kings in the present - and friend, that isn't going to lead anyone into prosperity. In the bible, when a person borrows money and can't pay it back - they were made into slaves, and had to work their debt off in and through indentured service.
A hundred and fifty four years ago Lincolns signature on the Emancipation Proclamation set free three million slaves. This wicked and selfish generation is enslaving and has already enslaved it's children (and grandchildren) by borrowing more money today than they will be able to pay back. They will not live as affluently as we who burned their future on the altar of pursuing every passing pleasure.
America, you were great as a Christian nation - unique in your strength and prosperity. It wasn't America that conquered and rose above the world - it was a Christian nation, built on Christian principles, living for the world, and not for itself that rose up to such great heights, but having reached the top, you've grown narcissistic and have returned again to your pagan vomit, pursuing the same selfish pleasures the world has always pursued, and so you will crumble as every pagan culture does.
I would write you off entirely, if I didn't have hope that from this spiritually dry place that you've wandered into - you might not still find your way out. There is still time to learn that what made America great in the first place was not America - but those Christian principles and morals that influenced and formed the greatest democratic republic in history. Abandon the foundation, good people, and what you've build will crumble with time - leaving you destitute, and at the mercy of your debtors.
Now, if you're an atheist, or just don't know what to believe - or maybe you just are ignorant of your own history, or you just hate everything Christian because you think Christians are all stupid simpletons who are so afraid of death that they invent a God to give them an afterlife that they can hope for and thus cope with their existential cowardice - whatever. It doesn't matter. History is teaching us that without Christian faith, Christian ideals don't last long. We can't rebuild America to be great if we oust Christianity, while trying to not only hold onto, but improve upon Christian ideals.
Even something like Gender identity is considered by the vocal minority as a moral improvement on what has been previously believed in the past. Anyone who won't get on board with that, is necessarily a hate filled bigot worthy of all contempt - and should be shamed into silence. The Gender identity war uses all the successful tactics of the jihadist - make it scary for anyone to express an opposing opinion, and you've done your job. I don't want to be characterized as a hate filled bigot, tossed to the lions on twitter where people who've never sat down to chat with me over tea, rape me publicly for expressing an opinion that they hate, and for which they must assume I am motivated by some deep seated prejudice, etc. Who wants that? Better to keep our opinions to our selves, and watch our freedom of speech disappear with a whisper and a sigh.
Already in Canada, the latest bill that passed may well be used by someone to bring charges of hate crime against any person who refuses to use another persons chosen pronoun to describe them. Some of those who celebrate the passing of this new bill don't believe this will happen, but all agree that the letter of the law as it is written, leaves enough room for this kind of abuse.
I find that to be just incredible. I don't want bills passed that "if used properly" won't oppress me, but if used according to the letter - just might.
Let's be clear, if I am forced to use pronouns that reflect something I don't agree with, that isn't just me losing my freedom of expression - that is me being forced to express the expressions of those I disagree with --under penalty of fine and/or imprisonment. Listen: when someone else has to give up their freedom in order for me to have my freedom, my freedom isn't freedom anymore. It is oppression. That is something that concerns me, and ought to concern you.
I personally hope that it doesn't come to this, but I am certainly irked that the law makes provision for it to do just that.
Maybe it is just my age? Maybe everyone who turns fifty suddenly thinks the world has gone to hell in a hand basket in the five years? It could be that - but it seems like we suddenly went into a moral free fall. I don't hate anyone who experiences same sex attraction. I don't really hate anyone else either. Hate isn't something I pursue, and when I find it in me, I refuse to let it rule me. I am more likely to "hate" (for a few minutes at least) a person who cuts me off in traffic, than someone who experiences same sex attraction.
The bible is pretty clear: If you engage in sexual activity outside of marriage, you're sinning. When the bible talks about marriage, it isn't talking about the laws of our lands, whatever they may be - it is talking about the marriage that God ordained between a man and a woman. The bible isn't telling people how to run their nations and how to make their laws - it is describing what marriage is to God, and those who would follow God. To the Christian - at least to the Christian who accepts the teachings of the bible at face value - marriage is not defined by the culture but by the scriptures - and it is between a male and a female. Period.
Any sexual experience that takes place outside of that marriage is sin. The bible is clear on that. Yes, there are all kinds of people who will tell you that the bible doesn't say this or that - but most of them either haven't read the bible or don't believe it means what it says. If you haven't read the bible cover to cover - don't take my word for what I say - read it yourself - you'll be amazed at how many things you find in it that the world has misrepresented. Then you'll be angry because knowing what it really says, you will realize just how clueless most of the people who tell you what it says, really are.
Living as a husband and wife without getting married is not acceptable to God. God does not count that as a marriage just because you might think of it as more or less the same thing. Marriage is a life-long commitment entered into through a sacred vow you make before God between a man and his wife. It is a covenant that pictures, we are told - the new covenant between us and Christ. It is no more meant to be broken than Christ's covenant (which cannot be broken).
Living together, or having a justice of the peace "declare" you to be married, is not the same thing as entering into the marriage covenant that God not only ordains, but takes part in. A man cannot "marry" another man in the biblical sense, nor a woman marry a woman. Likewise a man cannot marry a woman whom God forbids him to marry. King Herod married a woman, but John the Baptist declared the marriage to be a farce because King Herod had taken his brother's Philip's wife. John the Baptist rightly identifies what Herod was really doing - committing adultery with Philip's wife. They were not married in God's eyes - even though Herod allowed himself as King to do that. The laws of the land - even if you're the one making them - do not bind God.
When I speak of having sex out of marriage therefore, I am talking about having sex outside of that marriage union that God acknowledges as such. Herod was married to Philip's wife, by law, but not according to God - and what they engaged in was the sin of adultery, and not what God allows in the marriage bed (because they weren't married in God's eyes).
So when I say that any sort of sexual activity outside of marriage is sin, I am not suggesting that God is okay with adultery if the adulterers are legally married - or that homosexual activity is okay if both parties are consenting adults, and consider themselves to be as good as married, or even married legally in their culture, but the same God who rejected the "biologically compatible" marriage of Herod to Philip's wife Herodias, even though that was a perfectly "legal" marriage at the time - rejects on the same grounds any marriage of semblance of marriage that does not line up with what God has explicitly ordained as a marriage.
Not sure what the bible says marriage is supposed to look like? Don't take my word for it, listen to Jesus, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” - Matthew 19:4-6 [ESV]
Unless you have a very low view of scripture (which is certainly common enough today), you will not deny that Jesus believed that the Marriage God ordained from the beginning was a marriage between someone God made as male and another whom God made as female. You will note that Jesus tells us not to separate these two - whether they be individuals in real life, or describe the intended template - we do not have the authority to interfere in either.
That means that the only people who are not sinning when they engage in sexual activity those genetic males who are married to their genetic female wives in a marriage that God has not forbidden.
That makes all sex outside of marriage sinful whether it be heterosexual or homosexual - but because God defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, that means homosexual sex is always sinful.
I don't experience same sex attraction, and I hope I never do. But if I did, it would be no different than feeling an attraction for a member of the opposite sex. Finding someone attractive isn't a sin - it's a feeling, or better yet, it is a carnal desire that can either be indulged or resisted. If I find myself attracted to a woman other than my wife, and I do not pursue that avenue in my private thoughts, but resist the temptation to indulge in lustful thinking - I haven't sinned. I 'have only been tempted to sin. It is the same for someone who experiences same sex attraction. If such a one is indwelt by the same spirit that convicts me of my sin, they too will not need anyone to teach them that there is something in pursuing this attraction to the point of lust that is an act of rebellion against what God wants for them, and they will resist the temptation to lust.
It is theological nonsense to reason that God tempts us to sin. James tells us that it isn't God tempting us to sin, but our own desires that are tempting us. So we cannot argue, as some do in their folly, that because I am attracted to women and not men, God wants me to have sex with every woman I find attractive. Heads up: that isn't God's desire - that's my desire.
Listen: the man who lusts after another man's wife is not getting his "heterosexual" lust from God, he is getting it from himself. In the same way the man who lusts for another man is not getting this sinful lust from God - it originates in himself.
God does not give people sinful desires, and since the bible forbids all homosexual activity, which God Himself describes as an abomination, it seems fair to conclude that it isn't God making people with sinful "same sex desires" - but rather it is our own sinfulness that tempts us in this direction.
Genuine Christians can and do experience same sex attraction - in the same way that they experience (as we all do) other sinful temptations. We respond to all sinful temptation in the same way - we recognize that to pursue them would be an act of rebellion against God's rule in our life, and instead humble ourselves before God's word, surrendering ourselves to pursue God's desires while setting our own sinful desires aside - and this we do prayerfully looking for the grace from God to empower us in doing so sincerely. We are not simply suppressing what we want to do - we are reasoning from Romans 6 - that it is not the life of Christ in us that provokes us to sin - not the life that saves us, but rather the old life in Adam - the life that Christ took to Calvary, and judged there by putting it to death - that is the same life that provokes us to sin - and we reject the rule of that life as it attempts (through our carnal desires) to rule over us in the moment, as it has in past times. But here is where we learn what repentance truly is - turning away from that former life which ends in it's death in Christ, and turning to the new life in Christ - which rose victorious over sin and the grave - and this we by trusting (i.e. by "faith") that the life of Christ which conquered both sin and the grave, is sufficient to overcome this temptation in our present walk. We call that walking in the light, or walking in the Spirit - or in obedience. It just means we live as slaves, not to our own desires, which condemned the life of Adam, but as slaves to the will of Christ - whose will for us is that we live lives that will benefit us, and those around us - and not live lives of empty selfish pursuits that contribute only more to that condemnation that we escaped in Christ.
I used to think that the Israelites must all be very nearsighted or something. How could any Jew living in the days of the Judean kings not look back on, and clearly see how every. single. time. Israel strayed from the Lord, they suffered for it. Surely they had enough information to know that it was no coincidence? Who can read these accounts and not draw the same conclusion - how could they have been so blind? How could they go after other Gods, when it was so plain and obvious that God was the only God, and that He was the only God of consequence, and consequences?
Well, I don't think that any more. We can look back on the America that was, and compare it to the America that is, and look at it's current (gulp) trajectory, and think, surely there is some correlation here between the rejection (and vilification?) of Christianity in the west, and it's consequent moral and fiscal nose dive?
That as it may be - one thing I think we can all see is that in order to sustain our profoundly affluent lives, we must get the money from somewhere. Today, through deficit financing, we are robbing our children to live on money they will have to pay back. Our children will be slaves, so that we can enjoy a better life. Shame on us.
posted by Daniel @
| Thoughts on Hebrews 6 as I prepare to preach on verses 4-8
|The author of Hebrews tells us that the things God commanded Israel on Mt. Sinai were ,"only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things." (Hebrews 10:1b).
In other words the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices symbolized the good things to come. Whatever else may be included in the good things to come, we can be sure that the arrival of the Messiah, and the New Covenant are chief amongst them.
Looking back, we can see how the Mosaic Covenant prepared Israel (and the rest of the world for that matter) for both the New Covenant and the coming Messiah. The Law revealed to Israel who was a sinner, and also who was not. All of Israel sinned, but Jesus did not. By the Law we can disqualify every false Messiah, and identify the true Messiah, for only He was (or could be) without sin.
We don't often think of the Mosaic Covenant in terms of that which would eventually identify the Messiah - yet, that is one of the things that the Law did - it revealed Jesus as the only one able to keep the law, and thus qualified Him as the Messiah. The imagery of the Messiah's work in the reconciliation of God's people to God was displayed in the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices. These pictured what the Messiah would eventually do to reconcile God's people to Himself.
In the opening verses of Romans 8 we read:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. [NASB]
The law identified you as a sinner, and condemned you to death. It did not make anyone righteous, because no one could keep it. Drill this thought into your understanding - even if you could keep the Law, doing so would not make you righteous. The Law cannot do that. You had to already be righteous in order to keep the law. Jesus kept the law because He was righteous.
The Law identified Jesus as the Messiah, and as the Messiah Jesus fulfilled all the things in the Law (including all that the Law pictured). The Law was waiting to be fulfilled by the Messiah, and once the Law was kept, God became obligated to keep His covenant with the one who kept the law: Jesus.
In that sense, once Christ kept the Law, God's covenant with Israel was "spent" - it had done all that it was meant to do, and could do: It identified the Messiah, foreshadowed His ministry, paved the way for the new/final/eternal covenant, and obligated God to bless Jesus with all the promised blessings of all previous covenants between man and God.
It is important to note that at the time this epistle was written many Jews and Gentiles understood Christianity to be another form of Judaism. You were a Pharisee was a Jew as was a Sadducee. In the same way the sect of the Nazarenes was considered just another Jewish sect.
In Acts 24, where the lawyer Tertullus is making a case before the Roman Governor Felix against the Apostle Paul, he refers to Paul as a ringleader of the sect of Nazarenes. In Acts 28, Paul arrives in Rome to discover that the Jews there have heard nothing bad about him, but wanted to hear what he had to say, "concerning this sect..."
Make no mistake, the Jews in Rome were not idly curious to hear to hear about the latest Jewish sect that was being spoken against everywhere. What they would have understood was that Paul, a Jew, was being put on trial in Rome - for being a Jew - who happened to be a leader in this new sect. Remember that these Jews in Rome were living in a pagan culture where political whim could and sometimes did lead to sudden ethnic cleansings. These Jews would have felt a very vested interest in everything Paul, as a "ringleader" of this new sect, had to say.
What I want us to understand here is how Christianity was being seen at the time that the epistle to the Hebrews was written. Christianity was seen the latest patch being sewn into the fabric of the Mosaic Covenant. It was new wine being poured into the worn out wine skin of the old covenant. Those outside the church did not understand that Christianity was never an amendment to the Mosaic Covenant, but rather the promised New Covenant for which the previous covenant had only been a placeholder. When the New Covenant came into being, the Mosaic Covenant ended - because it had served it's purpose. When what was perfect came (the New Covenant), what was in part (the Mosaic Covenant) was done away with.
It shouldn't surprise us to learn that Christianity was being misunderstood and misrepresented at the time. That still happens today. Most people are ignorant of what the bible actually says, but they have heard from various sources what the bible has to say - and a great deal of what they've heard is either not in the bible, or is nothing like what they have heard.
The Judaizers insisted that Gentile believers be circumcised. They rightly understood that no male proselyte could enter into the Mosaic covenant apart from the Covenant God made with Abraham. The Mosaic covenant was for Jews only. To enter that covenant, you had to become a Jew - that is, you had to be circumcised in accord with God's covenant with Abraham. The Judaizers main error was not that they believed Gentiles should be circumcised, it was -why- they believed Gentiles should be circumcised. The erred in thinking that Christianity was a form of Judaism.
In general, we understand that the Judaizers considered themselves to be Christians, but their theology was messed up. They apparently got the gospel right, but otherwise, were content to remain Jews.
Remember how the Apostle Peter - the very man God chose to bring the Gentiles into the New Covenant - behaved at Antioch when certain Jews came there? How Peter used to freely eat with the Gentiles, but when the Jews came, he separated himself from the gentiles? Paul had to rebuke Peter to his face in front of all of them, because there is no mixing of the Old and New Covenants, the old is obsolete, and the New is in effect. To set aside what is true, to embrace again what has already passed away was a great sin. Thank God that Peter repented of that.
I mention Peter's folly because it shows how difficult it was for a Jew to fully embrace the New Covenant. How much more so would it be for the Jewish believer to sort out how the Messiah put an end to the Mosaic Covenant, and replaced it with a new and better one?
I want to understand what the author of Hebrews is up against as he writes his letter to them. I want to understand what his specific concerns are as he pens verses 4-8 of chapter six.
Many who read verse 4-6 see in these dire warnings, the suggestion that they could possibly lose their salvation. But that isn't what the author is suggesting or concerned about. I think his concern is that unless the Jewish followers of Christ embrace the entire New Covenant, they will eventually revert back to a kind of Judaism - continuing to regard Jesus as their Messiah - but looking to the blood of bulls and goats to deal with their sins, because they don't understand how Jesus replaces all that.
His readers have already been taught (and likely convinced) that Jesus is the Christ. They have been instructed to repent of vain/dead works as a means of justification, and shown from the scriptures how justification is by faith through God's grace. They've been made aware that certain Jewish traditions are bogus (hand washings) and that commonly held Jewish notions about the resurrection and eternal judgment are false (The Sadducees, who were the most common, believed there was not judgment or resurrection). But some of His readers (at least) didn't seem to know how the Messiah fit into the New Covenant, or put an end to the Old Covenant.
No one enters into the New Covenant through the Mosaic Covenant. That is not, and has never been how it works. The Old Covenant not only prepared Israel for her Messiah, but, along with the prophets, it identified the Messiah when He appeared - while disqualifying every false Messiah at the same time. When the Messiah came, the Old Covenant had done what it was created to do. Point people to the One who actually would take away their sins.
Jesus was an Israelite who lived every day in perfect obedience to what God had commanded in the Mosaic Covenant. He was misunderstood by the religionists of his day, because unlike them, He fully understood what the Law of God called him to do. They interpreted the law in ways that allowed them to sidestep what the law expected of them - having convinced themselves not only that a sinner could keep the Law of God, but that they were in fact keeping it. In essence they interpreted the law in a way that allowed them to believe they were keeping it, but Jesus followed both the letter (which He rightly understood) and the spirit of the Law.
In living perfectly, Jesus earned everything promised in all of God's covenants.
Do you understand what that truly means? It means that Jesus secured God's promised blessings for Himself.
No other person has ever earned God's blessings - no one has ever, by their obedience to God's covenant, obligated God to keep His word and bless them - until Christ.
But the blessings and promises were only promised to the one who kept the covenant. So even though Jesus perfectly did all that God required of mankind - doing so only obligated God to bless Jesus - it did nothing for anyone else. That was why a new covenant was needed, because the Mosaic Covenant could only benefit those who kept it - and only the Christ could keep it.
Said another way: The Mosaic Covenant had no power bless anyone who failed to keep it. That was why a New Covenant was needed. That was also why in keeping the Old Covenant Christ made the Old Covenant obsolete. Seriously: no one else would ever keep it. It had fulfilled the purpose for which it had long waited.
So God was obligated to bless Jesus, but only Jesus. The New Covenant was made to allow a righteous God to bless guilty sinners.
Remember that God is obligated (by His own word) to punish every sinner who has ever sinned. We obligate God to damn us the moment we first sin. Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death (c.f. Romans 6:23). So God is obligated to damn sinners like Abraham, and David, Isaac and Israel, Moses, and you and me. How then can the blessings God is obligated to pour out on Christ, come to any of these?
That is where the new Covenant comes in. It obligates God to bless those sinners who are in Christ. To understand who is (and who is not) in Christ, we look to the New Covenant.
Our Lord Himself links His sacrificial death to the New Covenant in Luke 22:20 we read, "And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood."
The Apostle Paul refers to this same cup as the cup of blessing in 1 Corinthians 10:16 (c.f. Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?). Consider also how the cup mentioned by the psalmist in Psalm 116:12-13, "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I shall lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord."
It is safe to say that the New Covenant - God's way of justly justifying a condemned sinner - i.e. God's way of salvation - involved the death of Christ.
Those who believe the bible is true and without error, recognize that the death of Christ was necessary for our salvation - but some (if not many) Christians are unclear about how that really works. They know that Jesus died "in our place" but they don't really understand (or care to understand) how his death makes us righteous or why it obligates God to bless us.
In Romans 6, Paul describes the believer's union with Christ as having been baptized into Christ Himself. This is what our water baptism pictures: our union with Christ. We are put into Him in the same sense as we are "united together with Him" - our condemned and sinful life becomes His life, and His perfect life - the life that God is obligated to bless becomes our life.
Recall how God is obligated to pay out the wages of sin (death) to all sinners. Everyone who has ever, or will ever call upon the name of God is immediately united with Christ. This union is the basis of our justification. Through this union we die with Christ (suffering as it were the wages of our sins). Through this union we are then raised with Christ. Not that our old life is raised - our old life (the life that currently animates our flesh) dies there on Calvary with Christ. What is raised is not our old lives, but the life of Christ - which we are joined to. It is this life that God is obligated to bless, not our sinful lives which died in Christ on Calvary - but the life of Christ that we have been united to through being baptized (not water baptism, but a spiritual baptism - being born from above) into Christ.
All of that old Covenant symbolism tells this story. The old covenant held the story of the New Covenant beforehand in its symbolism, such that Christ was able, on the road to Emmaus (c.f. Luke 24:13-32) Jesus explained to those walking with him the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures - starting with Moses and all the prophets.
These are the things the author of Hebrews is talking about when he mentions pressing onto maturity. The author regards this knowledge - the knowledge of Christ as a High Priest according to the Order of Melchizedek, the knowledge of how the New Covenant replaces the old covenant, etc. as a necessary foundation for our growth in the faith. The author believes that in order to persevere in what God calls us to do, we need to understand these things.
The word we use to describe a Christian who fails to persevere is apostasy. We are told to persevere in “subjecting ourselves to the Father of Spirits” (Hebrews 12:9b), and the author believes that growing deeper in our knowledge of what Christ has done for us - will helps us get to where we need to be.
But practical sanctification does not fall out of the sky -- it is a work that God does in us - that He works into us. We hear His word (or recall it) and are provoked by it, because the life of Christ acts upon our conscience through the Holy Spirit. We either resist/grieve the Holy Spirit, or submit ourselves to doing what we know we ought to do - setting aside our own desires, and subjecting ourselves instead to doing what we know to be God’s will. As we do this more and more, we draw nearer to God. In fact that is our motive - not to please an angry God, but to draw near to the living God.
At first we're all over the map. We are provoked to obedience, and our response is fear. What if I don't do this? Am I still saved? So we obey as much as we can, and we dread every act of disobedience because we believe that our obedience was something we were doing to satisfy God instead of something God was doing in us to make us desire to please Him. We have no fellowship with God in this sanctifying work until we understand that God is the one supplying us with the desire to please Him. We have no joy in obedience when we foolishly imagine that our obedience is what makes God favorable towards us.
But little by little, as we come to know God's word, and find our place with God in prayer - we grow. Somewhere along the way we stop thinking that God is trying (and failing) to make us stop desiring sin - and realize that the desire to sin is resident in the flesh, and that God is not trying to make our flesh any better - but working in us a desire to please him rather than to please ourselves (i.e. our flesh).
Once we realize that we're never going to live a day without having a desire to sin - we stop trying to change what can't be changed, and instead begin what Paul tells us is the meat and potatoes of our sanctification - putting to death the deeds of the body rather than trying to make the body not desire wickedness. We learn that we are not slaves of our own desires, but that alongside our sinful desires, we also have godly desires - and that we are called to obey those above our own. We learn that it is the Holy Spirit that gives us these new desires, and we learn not to grieve the Holy Spirit by giving into the flesh.
It is a struggle, but we must persevere. The knowledge that God's love towards us is not diminished by the fact that we continue to have sinful desires, strengthens us in that we come to understand that we do not stand before God in our own (failed attempts at) righteousness - but rather are the recipients of all of God's blessings because we are in Christ whom God is obligated to bless with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
Immature Christians do not live there.
They do not count on God's love and sure blessings, because they either aren't aware of all God has done for them and is doing for them, or they simply can't believe it. They can't see past their own unworthiness - and the idea that God is obligated to bless them is something that sounds arrogant or crazy. They don't understand what Christ's keeping of the Mosaic Covenant did for them - they only know that they are saved - and even this is something they often doubt.
Here is where the author of Hebrews begins to address those people who have come to Christ, but are burdened by their own ignorance into trying to be Christians in their own strength. There is a danger however, because some of them might not yet be Christians - they believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but they are still Jews who haven't entered into the New Covenant.
This (in part) is who the author of Hebrews is addressing in Hebrews 6:4-8. These Jews would have been convinced on some level that Jesus was the Messiah, and even this much they could never have achieved apart from the Holy Spirit revealing that truth to them; but it is possible that some of these were not yet saved. They had been enlightened and had tasted of the heavenly gift and had been made partakers of the Holy Spirit. They had been exposed to the good word of God and experienced (through the church itself) the powers of the age to come - but while these things always accompany salvation, they can be experienced apart from salvation. Judas is a prime example of someone who experienced all these things - and more, yet Jesus says plainly (c.f. John 6:64), "'But there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him." Only six verses after our Lord makes is clear that Judas did not believe, and had never believed, but, goes on to day, "Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?" (c.f. John 6:70). Judas did not lose his salvation - he never believed in the first place, according to our Lord. He was in fact an adversary (devil) to the gospel from the very beginning - even though he had experienced all of Hebrews 6:4-6 and more.
The warning the author gives in verse 6 is illustrated in verse 7 and 8:
For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. [NASB]
The soil pictures the heart, and the rain and the tilling picture the enlightening/enabling work of the Holy Spirit. But if instead of producing vegetation (i.e. salvation) that work produces thistles (a false faith that ends in apostasy), the soil (the heart, or more accurately the person with that heart) is cursed and ends up being burned (that is they condemn themselves to hell).
Salvation is not yet apprehended when you assent to the facts necessary for your salvation. You certainly must assent to the facts in order to be saved - but assenting to the facts is not enough. You must also stop rebelling against God's right and expectation to rule over you - that is you must repent of your formerly settled rebellion against God's rule, and begin to subject yourself to God willingly.
We are saved when we believe (assent to the facts) and repent (turn away from doing our own thing, and instead willingly subject ourselves to doing what God commands us to do in the scriptures). You won't be saved just by assenting to the facts, nor will you be saved by doing the good works God expects of His children, if you reject the facts while doing them. You need both. Repent and believe - salvation requires both.
So we see in this little passage the author's consideration of those Jews who may have still been thinking of Christianity as a Jewish sect which recognized Christ as the Messiah, but continued to look to the trappings of the Mosaic Covenant for their deliverance from sin - either out of ignorance or unbelief. The author gives the warning in case the problem is unbelief, and he gives instruction in the chapters to follow in case of ignorance.
One of the reasons people flub up on Hebrews 6:6 is because they have a wonky understanding of sin. Sin, in a nutshell, is pursuing your own will instead of pursuing God's will. God as your Creator has the right to command your obedience, and you sin when you ignore God's rule, and pursue your own desires. That is what sin is - a rejection of God's rule. Repentance means that you turn away from this rebellion against God, and accept His right to rule over you by obeying His commands. His will is not something we intuit - His will is revealed in the scriptures. There is no mystery or secret to doing God's will - for the scriptures describe clearly enough how we ought to live, and what we should and should not do.
Consider the Jew who has been exposed to Christian doctrine, and has been made aware of who Christ is, what He has done, and what He expects from each of His followers. Consider that Jew rejecting this teaching and returning to Judaism. It is impossible for the Jew who knows of Christ to obey God (i.e. repent) by clinging to the Old Covenant. To reject the blood of Christ, and embrace the blood of bulls and goats, is to put Christ to an open shame.
I think this is (in part) what is being described in Hebrews 6:6 - the impossibility of "choosing to do God's will" (i.e. repenting) in returning to Judaism once you've come to believe that Christ is the Messiah.
In general, this verse tells us that once a person knows and understands who Jesus is, if he or she thereafter develops a settled opinion that these truths are not true - that person effectively makes it impossible for himself or herself to thereafter repent.
We could say this another way: as long as you deny the Christ, you can never repent.
I think the author was concerned about Jews who knew enough to commit to Christ, but were remaining on the fence, as it were, with regards to committing themselves fully to Christianity. They didn't want to join themselves to something that would cost them dearly in this world - and so they hedged their bets, just to be safe. But in fact they were becoming thistles and thorns as their indifference was hardening them just as surely as outright denial would.
So if you're one of those people who doesn't go to church, doesn't read your bible, but you (more or less) believe yourself to be a Christian - even though you sin daily (giving into lust, greed, and slaking every desire you can get away with), but have been putting off "getting right with God" - let me pass along some wisdom - if you can begin to deny your own will today, and start obeying God's will (i.e. repent) - then do it. The longer you're indifferent, the more likely you will find it impossible to repent in the future. Here's a hint too. If you read this, and thought I should do that, then immediately found an excuse to put it off until another day? Then you're probably not going to ever repent if you don't repent today.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
posted by Daniel @