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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
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.
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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.
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Tuesday, July 03, 2018
God expressed through the obedient Christian
When I talk to other believers about their walk with God, I ask them a few simple (but related) diagnostic questions.  I start with something like this, "What was the first and greatest commandment God gave to Israel?"  The answer is found in Matthew 22:36-40
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He [i.e. Jesus] said to him [i.e. the lawyer/Pharisee who asked the question to test Jesus], “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” [NASB]
The "Law" that is spoken of in this passage is often called the Law of Moses because it was given to Israel through Moses who was chosen to be (and acted as) the mediator of a covenant between Israel and God.  God promised to bless Israel if they kept his commands.  It was that simple.

Even though the Law of Moses is no longer in effect (having been invalidated and replaced by a New Covenant), those who come to God through Christ under this same New Covenant, are still required to love one another:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.- John 13:34 [NASB]
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. - John 15:12 [NASB]
This I command you, that you love one another. - John 15:17 [NASB]
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. - Romans 13:8 [NASB]
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. - Galatians 5:13 [NASB]
Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; - 1 Thessalonians 4:9 [NASB]
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, - 1 Peter 1:22 [NASB]
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. - 1 Peter 4:8 [NASB]
For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; - 1 John 3:11 [NASB]
This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. - 1 John 3:23 [NASB]
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. - 1 John 4:7 [NASB]
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. - 1 John 4:11 [NASB]
Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. - 2 John 1:5 [NASB]
Jesus not only lived as a Jew under the Mosaic Covenant Laws - He kept them perfectly, which means that He loved the Lord His God with all His heart, soul, mind and strength - continuously.  He also loved others in the same way. 

No Jew ever loved God with all of his or her mind, soul, heart and strength.  No Jew - and let's expand that - no person (since the fall) has ever loved God the way we are called to, except Christ. 

Becoming a Christian doesn't change you into a sinless being.  Christians still have sinful desires, and fall into sin when they aren't actively standing against it.  Our default condition remains selfish and self-serving - which is why we are taught by the scriptures not to let these desires rule us, but instead to understand that it is the very source of this proclivity that damned us before God.  That proclivity continues to rule over the life we inherited from Adam (what the Apostle Paul describes as our "old man" or "old self" in Romans 6) but that same proclivity cannot reign over the life of Christ we inherited when we were baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

We don't typically view ourselves as a person who is simultaneously connected to two lives - the first is the one we have always known - from which all sinful desires are provoked; that sinful life we have inherited from Adam.  The second we have received through the Holy spirit - the life of Christ.  We experience the life of Christ almost as a second set of desires - but desires which are holy, good, and selfless rather than self-serving, selfish, and sinful.  The Apostle Paul makes it clear in Romans 7 that the Christian experiences both sets of desires in the same body, and must choose to obey those desires whose origin lies in our new life in Christ, rather than those which come from our old life - which was put to death in Christ.

How do we overcome those sinful desires which remain?

Every new believer typically starts the same way - they find themselves suddenly sensitive to sin before God, and desire to avoid God's displeasure at their ongoing disobedience, so they begin to cut as much sin out of their life as they can.  The rest of their sin, they hide from everyone else, until they can get it under control.  But they never get it under control, or if they do, it never remains under their control.  In this struggle they wonder what is wrong with them.  Maybe their salvation didn't work, or maybe Christianity is all bunk.  They feel like they missed something - some piece of the puzzle which when found will unlock their hobbled Christianity, but the months and years go by, and they either give up, or they simply make peace with the sin that remains in their life.  They can't seem to get rid of it, so they continue to experience guilt and remorse as a necessary consequence of their unwillingness to repent.  Of course they wouldn't describe their unwillingness to repent as unwillingness - they would describe it as an inability...

I recall ministering to a fellow who was fully and thoroughly convinced that he was unable to resist the temptation to view porn on the internet.  We were walking, and I remember stopping in mid stride and turning to him and saying, "Do you mean to tell me that if I offered you one million dollars to go a day without viewing porn, you would throw away that million dollars if the temptation hit you before the day was out?  Or would you not rather just fight that temptation till the day was up, and get the million dollars?"  As you'd expect, he agreed with me that he could find the strength to resist the urge if doing so meant a million dollars in the bank at the end of the day.  Obviously he had the strength and power to resist this temptation - he just didn't want to.  In this case, another sinful desire (greed) was able to trump the other desire (lust) because it promised him a bigger return.

The reason a lot of Christians struggle against sin, is because they love their sin, and aren't willing to give it up - even for all the riches that fellowship with God in this life here and now promises.  They know they ought to love God, but they love their sin more than they love God.

The question is why?  How can a Christian love their own self above everything and anyone else?  The answer is because that Christian isn't being a Christian, they are continuing in their sin and rebellion against God.  Such a Christian is not repenting.

No one can become a Christian apart from repentance.   You must repent of your unwillingness to obey God.  That means that at some point you surrender your will and life to God, for His command - this you do trusting that God will save you through Christ as the New Covenant promises.  Anyone who does that sincerely will be saved in the moment of their sincerity - they will inherit the life of Christ and receive the Holy Spirit who has already been at worth in them making them able (spiritually speaking) to comprehend these truths which provoked the same required repentance that was granted to them by God.  No sinner is able to repent of their rebellion against God's rule, because that would be righteous, and there are none who are righteous, as the bible teaches.  God as an act of divine grace, grants the believer the ability to trust in the promises of God, and grants the believer the ability to repent of their rebellion against God's rule, and fully surrender themselves to God's rule.

Yet once that happens, the old sinful desires are not eradicated - they persist.  This has confused many a new convert - if I am saved, why do I still desire to rebel against God's rule (or said another way, why do I still want to  sin)?  Now begins the work of sanctification.  It works exactly the same way our justification (i.e. our salvation) worked: we are enlightened and empowered (by the life of Christ within us through the Holy Spirit who provokes us) to obey those desires which arise from the life of Christ, and to deny those desires which rise up from our old life/self.

Insofar as we humble ourselves before God, we obey - and that includes our obedience to the greatest command:  the command to love one another - even as Christ loved us.

If my understanding of "love" is cultural rather than biblical - I'm going to take that command and think, I love everyone in my church - meaning I feel some sort of bond of affection with everyone there.  I like being with them, some more than others, but by and large I "love" them - I even say so now and again, "I love you guys".

But that kind of love, doesn't serve anyone like Christ served the church - giving himself entirely over in service to others.  How many of us put the needs of others ahead of our own needs?  How many of us are are willing to love others as long as there is no perceived cost to doing so (whether in resources like money or items, or investing ourselves in the life and support of others - i.e. in physically being there for others)?

You see the love that we show for one another puts us daily in the lives of one another.  Is there someone in the body who is weak, those acting in true, biblical love won't wait for a posse to form before acting being there to strengthen them.  They won't put their weekend plans above the needs of the church - and let me say this, every church is needy, even the healthy ones.

God expresses Himself in the church most visually, and with the greatest conviction - when the church members live their lives in the service of others in the church.  Our gifts - our spiritual gifts - are given that we might function within the church in God's strength rather than our own.  But we won't do that if we continue to live for ourselves.

I don't see many healthy churches today - instead I see a lot of churches meeting on Sundays, and ignoring each other the rest of the week.  In many churches the only people routinely exercising their gifts are the pastors.  Listen, the unwashed masses should see God in the church on Sunday - not just in the preaching, but (and perhaps more especially) in the lives of the believers invested fully in the lives of other believers.  They should see the church every time they come to visit a Christian, or speak with one. 

How are you serving your brothers and sisters in Christ believer?  List for yourself what you plan to do this week, and ask yourself who you're serving - your congregation or yourself? 

If the greatest commandment given to the believers is to love one another (meaning to serve one another in love - to strengthen each other, to look out for each other, to physically be there in the lives of other believers) how are you doing? 

We have this mindset in the flesh, not to give anyone more than they deserve.  We walk past the drunkard lying passed out in a pool of his own filth on the sidewalk because we've judged that it was his sin that got him there, and stopping to check on his welfare will be fruitless and best and possibly dangerous.  Plus, who wants to make friends with a drunkard?  If they want our help, let them meet us half way. 

But that isn't how God helped us is it?

Did I deserve that grace that found me in my sin, revealed the truth to me, and enlightened my life that I could repent and believe?  All I had to commend me to Christ was a life given entirely over to sin - nothing I did brought me half way, or part way, or in any way closer to God.  He met me in my sin, and pulled me out of it.  I didn't deserve that.  That is what love looks like - someone serving someone else who doesn't deserve to be served at all, and certainly doesn't deserve to be served with the kind of earnest full-hearted service (i.e. love) we are called to serve one another with.

Recognize therefore that to wait until someone deserve your help (love), wouldn't be love by the time you gave it.  Love - the love we are called to - doesn't seek it's own, it gets no payback whatsoever.  It is not an affection that we foster for the needy - it is not restricted just to people with gregarious hearts and extroverted personalities.  Love is for every Christian - love is that selfless service that we give undeserving others because we received the same from Christ when he saved us.  It is the living testimony of the live of God in a person - apple trees produce apples.  The life of Christ in you produces a life like Christ in you - a life that serves others.

Maybe you didn't count the cost when you came to Christ, because the person or situation that brought you to Christ didn't make the cost clear.  But the Christian life is a life of service.  Don't let a bad start turn into a bad race, followed by a dismal finish.  Take up your cross, believer, and follow Christ today.

If you don't know how to start, talk to God.  Share your heart with Him - warts and all.  Don't let the sun go down on you today until you've spoken to God about you lack of genuine repentance, and your predisposition to ignoring this greatest of Christian commands.

If you don't know any obedient Christians, then be the first one in your group.  Your changed life will affect others positively.  God made the church in such a way that we all need other Christians to bring  us to our greatest potential. None of us is able to walk the path of sanctification alone - because there will be times when we will need the strength, prayers, and living example of others to testify to us in our moments of weakness and failure.  Lacking that, we can only rise to the level of our own strength - and we're all pretty lazy and weak when it comes down to it.

Our obedience to the command to love one another, will result in obedience elsewhere in our walk - for how can we serve the body of Christ effectively, when we're busy serving ourselves? 

Think about it.
posted by Daniel @ 9:59 AM   0 comment(s)
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
A Conscience Cleansed From Dead Works.
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? - Hebrews 9:13-14 [NASB]

I was reading 1 John 1 the other day, and followed a cross reference at verse 7 (but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. - [NASB]) - the reference had to do with the blood of Jesus His son cleansing us from all sin. The reference directed me to the passage in Hebrews 9 that I quoted above.

I was feeling awkward in my affections towards the Lord at a time when I needed to draw near in prayer.  There was creeping in again, an old sense of unworthiness that unless addressed with the truth of God's word, promised to be a hindrance not only to my worship and devotion, but to my joy and service.

As my thoughts lingered over 1 John 1:7, and then subsequently Hebrews 9:13-14, I found myself wondering what exactly the author of Hebrews meant by having a conscience cleansed from dead works to serve the living God.  I wanted to serve the living God, and was finding myself hindered by my own being.  Here seemed to be something with teeth in it, if I would only take the time to search it out.

The mention of the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of a red heifer in the previous context in Hebrews 9, points us back to the Levitical laws concerning ritual uncleanness.  Any Israelite who came into contact with a corpse (intentionally or unintentionally) became ritually unclean for seven days - during which they were to live separately from all of Israel, and were barred from attending the Temple.  On the third day and seventh day of their uncleanness they were to present themselves before a priest who would sprinkle "water of impurity" on them.  Those who faithfully followed the requirements were restored to Israel, and any who did not were cut off from Israel.

That's where the ashes of the red heifer come in. To make water of impurity Eleazer the priest had to sacrifice a red heifer away from the tabernacle in the wilderness, and sprinkle some of it's blood in the direction of God's throne on earth (the tabernacle) seven times before burning the remains of the red heifer to ash.  As the fire was burning Eleazer was instructed to add cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet materials to the fire so that the ashes of each would be mixed with the ashes of the red heifer.  He had to go wash his clothes and body having himself become unclean until that evening.  Another "ritually clean" person would gather the ashes the next day and bring them to a place outside the camp in a clean place, where the ashes would be mixed with water to create the "water of impurity" needed to cleanse a person from the guilt of having come into contact with a corpse.

The (converted) Israelites to whom the epistle to the Hebrews was addressed, didn't need anyone to explain the law concerning that uncleanness which could only be lifted by way of the ashes of a red heifer (c.f. Number 19).  They understood something that we might easily miss today.

You see, the person who was unclean, having become contaminated by contact with a dead body,  was simply presented to the priest according to the prescription of the Law, and upon receiving the full "water of impurity" treatment by the priest - was declared to be free of the uncleanness.

When the priest declared you clean - you were clean.  Until then you were essentially cut off from both Israel and (more significantly) God.  You couldn't worship in the temple, you couldn't have out with anyone who wasn't already unclean.  The moment the priest declared you clean - you were back in - all was right in the world.

Every time a believer simply ignores God's will - by either not seeking it, or by setting it aside to pursue their own course - they "sin".  Their sin is a work that they do, which is not done in the strength and power of the life of Christ, but rather in their own sinful strength - in the power of the "old man" whom Paul writes about in Romans 6.  Pursuing your own way is a dead work, because it flows from the life that was crucified with Christ on Calvary.  That's Paul's point in Romans 6 - that life is dead, so don't obey it.  When you obey the desires of that life, you are obeying the commands of a condemned corpse.  That is a dead work

To understand what the author of Hebrews intends in Hebrews 9, you must understand the juxtaposition he is using to explain himself.

No unclean Israelite could serve God if did not deal directly with their (intentional or unintentional) transgression of the Law.  If they ignored the Law, they were cut off from Israel.  In order for an Israelite to once again become clean after coming in contact with a corpse a cleansing had to take place, and a priest had to declare you clean afterwards.  Once they had done that, they were free once again to worship and serve God according to the Law.

Once the priest declared them clean - they didn't doubt their own cleanliness, nor did they hold themselves aloof from the congregation waiting for some greater indication that they were really and truly made clean.  They likely headed immediately to the Temple, where they had been forbidden to tread for seven days.  They likely immersed themselves back into the throngs of Israel, where formerly they were forbidden.  The guilt of their transgression, being paid, was no longer a hindrance to their fellowship with God.

The author of Hebrews is rightly pointing out that any of his (Jewish) readers would not hesitate by way of some sense of guilt over having been unclean - from immediately partaking of all they had been denied during their uncleanness.  This they would readily do in the strength of some ashes from a red heifer.

How much more so, the author asks, if your cleanness - your acceptance with God - is not brokered by the ashes of a red heifer - who neither offered himself up to be the sacrifice, nor was capable of understanding his role as a sacrifice (under the old Covenant) - is your acceptance with God by and through the finished work of Christ who understood his role as a sacrifice, and willingly entered into the bearing of the fullness of that penalty - all for the sake of those whom He was cleansing - how much more will what Christ has willingly and knowingly done to secure your acceptable with God, make you acceptable to God?

It is good, and even proper to continue to have a realistic appreciation of your own lack of personal merit before God.  But you must never, if you are a Christian, allow that right understanding of your own pathos cripple you.  You haven't been cleansed by your own efforts, any more than a Jews was cleansed by his or her own efforts.   You merely present yourself to Christ and know that you are accepted in Him - and you conscience, resting upon the finished work of Christ - will not hinder your progress, but encourage it.

Do not let yourself become so certain of God's disfavor towards you over your sin that you hide from him like Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden of Eden.  You cannot serve the living God if you live as one cut off from God - in your own sinful pity party.  Do not let your conscience remains so poorly informed that you keep yourself from serving the living God.  But trust that all that Christ has done on your behalf has been effective and more than sufficient.

To put it another way, and I hope you can see it: walk in the Light as Christ Himself is in the Light.  Do that and you will have fellowship with one other believers having rested fully in the knowledge that the blood of Jesus has cleansed you from the guilt of your sin, and made you fit to do the work you are called to do.

Having said that, I fear that some who read this will miss the mark a little.  So let me say this clear:  There is a person who sins all they want, and in no way pursues repentance.  Such a one will hear a word like this and say, "ah, I can sin without fear because of God's grace" - and so they may continue in their sin, using grace as the enabler and excuse for their licentious living.  These neither understand grace, nor give any evidence of a genuine salvation. 

I am not saying these things to coddle any deceived fool on their way to hell, dressed up as, and imagining themselves to be, a saint.

No, I write this to the one who labors to draw near to God, but finds themselves weak for all the effort.  I put this hear as an oasis for such as these - that they may be deceived by their own misinformed conscience into giving up.
posted by Daniel @ 11:55 AM   0 comment(s)
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
John 8:24 Unless you believe that I am you will die in your sins.
"εἶπον οὖν ὑμῖν ὅτι ἀποθανεῖσθε ἐν ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ὑμῶν· ἐὰν γὰρ μὴ πιστεύσητε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι, ἀποθανεῖσθε ἐν ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ὑμῶν."
Not many of you reading will be familiar with Biblical Greek, but I quoted the passage in the original language to highlight something, and to make it easier to find I have changed the text face of the significant part to a bold faced red font in the quote.

The ESV translation of this text reads thus:
"I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins."
In the ESV translation, I have highlighted the word "he" because that world doesn't exist in the original Greek. The reason this word is added to the text is because in the original language this sort of construct could represent an implied predicate nominative.

In a sentence, the predicate is that part of the sentence (including the verb) that describes what the subject of the sentence does or (in the case of a predicate nominative) is.  The nominative in a sentence is the subject noun - the noun that is doing or (in the case of a predicate nominative) is being something.

"I am Batman" is a predicate nominative because what the pronoun "I" refers to is the same thing the noun "Batman" is referring to.  It describes an "is" relationship that exists between two nouns/pronouns where one is defining itself as the other. We use predicate nominatives all the time, (e.g. "I am the author" and "You're the reader" etc.) without really needing to name it for what it is, or understand that such a language construct actually has a name to describe it.

Why the ESV (and many other translations) translate the text of John 8:24, as "I am he" instead of  "I AM", is probably due to the fact that none of his hearers were yet scrambling to put Him to death.  I say, "yet" because using the same logic and language something else happens in verse 58 of the same chapter.

I don't think they missed the language, because they asked Jesus in the very next verse, "who are you?" - to which Jesus answers, "Just what I have been telling you from the beginning".  Perhaps it is coincidental that John began this gospel with "In the beginning was God and the word was with God and the word was God" - but our Lord's answer certainly suits that theme. In verse 27 we see that, "They [i.e. the Jews] didn't understand that he had been speaking to them about God the Father."

Jesus could have been referring back his reference to himself in verse 12 as the "light of the world" - which sort of makes sense in an after-the-fact kind of way.  I mean anyone who dies denying that Jesus is the light of the world will certainly be dying in his or her sin.  But he could have been referring back to verse 23 which is closer in the context and more likely ("You are from below, I am from above").  In either case, you have Jesus either saying that unless you believe that I am "from above" or alternately "the light of the world" you will die in your sins.  The only other alternative is Jesus claiming to be God, "unless you say that I AM you will die in your sins" - which would be a blasphemous pronouncement for anyone but God Himself to make.  It must have been confusing to them also since they asked him to clarify his meaning in the next verse (as mentioned above), "who are  you?"

By the time we get to verse 58, Christ is spelling it out for them - using the same language here as He used in verse 24 - but here Jesus leaves them no room to hang the meaning of His words on anything else:
"εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς· Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί."  (ESV) Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
I can understand why most translations don't translate John 8:58 the same way they translate John 8:24.  Here it is clear that Jesus was referring to Himself as "I AM" - there, His hearers were uncertain - they heard, "I am he" and were confused as to the antecedent.  But here, where Christ openly claims to be God. I think they understood that this was what he had been saying from the beginning.

Practically speaking, to unapologetically claim to be not of this world, and to have come from above - is to claim something (at the very least), supernatural.   But later in the epistle John walks us down the same road (with our Lord) again.  In John 10:30 Jesus describes Himself and the Father as being one - a claim that His hearers immediately understand as making Himself out to be God (cf. John 10:33).

I believe the hearers in John 8:24 may not have immediately comprehended the weight of our Lord words, but they likely heard the possibility of something so profound it could only be blasphemy - they had no other category for a man claiming to be God.

Looking back on John 8:24 from John 8:58 I personally believe that Jesus was speaking truth - anyone who goes down to their grave denying the divinity of Christ, has died in their sin.

Of course I don't need John 8:24 to prove that - this point is made abundantly throughout the New Testament.  But I think it is plainly stated in John 8:28 if we translate it the way it was likely intended rather than likely misunderstood at the time.
posted by Daniel @ 1:46 PM   0 comment(s)
Monday, June 11, 2018
Seated at the right hand of the Throne of the Majesty in the Heavens
You may recall from the first couple of sentences in Hebrews 8 that our Lord has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the Heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.

When I'm reading through this section of the epistle, I'm often inclined to be looking past these "introductory" verses which sort of separate the "this is who Jesus really is" part of this author's teaching from the, "here is why that is so significant" part of his teaching.  I become like the man who  has seen a free parking spot on the other side of a crowded lot, and training my eye on it, I make for it with all reasonable haste.

I am inclined to rush past the author's intention in these verses simply because the knowledge of Jesus being seated at the right hand of God isn't new for me.  If you're a Christian, it probably isn't new for you either. It's easy to gloss over these verses on our way to (what we expect to be) the meatier verses to come.  So to avoid missing something, I force myself to slow down and carefully examine the intent of the author in order to avoid missing something edifying as I hurry by.

Recall that the author has already shown how God appointed Jesus to a far higher, and superior priesthood than even the Levitical High Priest.  He has painstakingly carried the reader with him to this demonstrated conclusion, and now explains that the purpose for bringing the reader to this understanding is to allow the reader to appreciate the significance of the heavenly tabernacle, where this superior Priest is presently ministering.

The author has labored to seat Christ at the right hand of God in the heavenly tabernacle in order to open the reader's appreciation of just how much greater this new situation is for the believer.

No High Priest on earth ever lingered long in the Holy of Holies.  That is where the presence of the God of Israel was understood to be enthroned.  Only the High Priest of Israel ever entered into the Holy of Holies, and then only once each year:  on the Day of Atonement -Yom Kippur.  No High Priest would dare to enter into the presence of Israel's enthroned and Holy God on any other day, or for any other purpose.

Recall that even on this day, the High Priest couldn't simply enter into the Holy of Holies carrying the blood of the atoning sacrifice for Israel unless he had first made atonement for himself.  We all remember what happened to men like Nabad, Uzzah, and Abihu, or the nation of Philistine when the Ark of the Covenant was captured.  No right-minded sinner would ever dare to enter into the presence of the Holy God of Israel without something covering his or her sin.

Recalling again the outcome when Nadab and Abihu's came into God's presence and attempted to honor and worship God in a way that God did not ordain.  God personally and instantly executed on the spot for their irreverence and indifference to His commands.  Can you imagine just how suicidal it would it have been for a High Priest in Israel to presumptuously seat himself down in the Holy of Holies on the day of Atonement?  How much more if he sat at the right of the mercy seat where the majesty of God was understood to be enthroned on earth?  No Levitical High Priest would ever dare to tarry in the Holy of Holies, much less to sit down at the right hand of the Mercy Seat - the mere copy of God's throne in heaven.

Imagine therefore the impact of this notion (sitting down at God's right hand in the heavenly places) to the early readers of this epistle?

For any High Priest to have lingered longer in the Holy of Holies than was absolutely necessary would have been dangerous and probably unthinkable.  You've probably heard myths about High Priests having ropes tied to them so that they could be pulled out if they died in the Holy of Holies.  But that's all bunk.  On every other day the High Priest was dressed up in ceremonial robes - but on that day he wore only the linens.  That and the sacrifice were all that he was permitted to take into the Holy of Holies.  A rope would have been just as much an innovation as strange fire.  It makes for an interesting story, but we have no record of anything like that ever happening.

Nevertheless, we understand from the accounts where men treated God as common, just how suicidal that kind of irreverence can be. When the author describes Jesus as being seated (!) at the right hand of the actual Throne of God -- not the copy in the Jewish temple that served only as an illustration of the actual throne of God in heaven, but being seated in the actual presence of the living God as He Himself is present and enthroned there in His majesty would be, to the Jewish reader - a mind blowing picture.

The author paints this picture - the picture of our reality - for the edification of the reader.  Let us not idly scoot past this gift given to us for our joy, but take a moment to appreciate what our Lord seated in the heavens means for us.  Let us take a moment and see if we are not built up in the faith for doing so.

We have a few things to consider:

  1. Christ's ministry here is not part of the Mosaic Covenant
  2. Christ's ministry here was promised from the beginning
  3. The significance of Christ being seated
  4. The significance of Christ being in the presence of God
  5. The fact that this ministry is temporary

In Hebrews 8:6 the author tells us that Christ's "more excellent ministry" fulfills better promises pertaining to a better covenant.

Christ is not a Levitical Priest, but a priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Recall from Hebrews 7:12, that a change in priesthood necessarily means a change in law:
For when the priesthood is changed of necessity there takes place a change of law also.[NASB]
As I show elsewhere,  our Lord demonstrated that the Law of Moses was never going to be changed (to accommodate the Messiah, for example):
"For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished" - Matthew 5:18 [NASB].
But we pay close attention to the wording here too.  From the vantage of the New Covenant we conclude that our Lord was saying the the Law of Moses was never going to change or pass away until all (that the Law was intended to do) was accomplished.  When Jesus came and did what no other had done (he kept the Law of Moses perfectly) the (redemptive) purpose of the law (to act as a illustrative placeholder) was "accomplished".  When Christ cried out on the cross, "it is accomplished/finished", Christ was referring to all that God had sent him to accomplish during His incarnation. That included keeping the Law of Moses. 

Once the Law was fulfilled by Christ, it became obsolete - having succeeded in doing all that God had sent it out to do.  Paul writes in Romans 8 that the Law (that Christ kept) could not do away with sin in the flesh - meaning the Law had no power to make any sinner righteous.  God did not send the Law out to do that.  He sent it out to demonstrate our need for salvation (by having the law condemn us) and to point to the source of our salvation - Jesus, since he was the only person able to keep the law.  It identified us as in need of salvation, and it identified our savior. 

Let me put it this way.  The Law of Moses is part of a Covenant that has now been kept.  Like the law of an inheritance or the law of marriage - the law is only in effect as long as the inheritor hasn't taken up his inheritance, or only binding upon a married person if their spouse is alive.  When Christ, through His obedience kept all that was required of Israel, it obligated God to fulfill His covenant promise to Jesus and only to Jesus, since only Jesus kept the covenant. 

The Mosaic covenant needed to be kept in order obligate God to keep His promises to whomever kept the covenant.  Only one person (Jesus) was able to keep (and did keep) the Mosaic covenant.  That obligated God to bless Jesus with all the blessings associated with the covenant.  But only Jesus.

By keeping the Old Covenant, Jesus was able to inaugurate a new one.  A covenant that would not depend upon having perfectly kept the old covenant (in order to receive the promises of that covenant), but rather which depended upon a living union with the one person (Jesus) who did receive the right to be blessed under the old covenant.

There was no way for the New Covenant to come into being until the Old Covenant had been fulfilled.  Once the old covenant was fulfilled, it had served it's purpose: to make Christ a suitable vessel as God's redemptive agent - He alone merited the right to all that God had promised Israel, and so all that God had promised Israel could only be given to anyone else through Christ.

This is a foundational truth underpinning the New Covenant.  It is the reason the Old Covenant ended, and the New Covenant could come into being.  God hung the New Covenant on two requirements repentance towards God and faith in God's deliverance (affected through Jesus Christ).

Christ's ministry required Him to fulfill for Israel all that was required of Israel under the Old Covenant in that having inherited the promises associated with the Old Covenant Christ to make those promises available to all who came to God through a New Covenant.

Christ's ministry changed the moment the Old Covenant was fulfilled by His obedience and subsequent death.  From that moment onward Christ went from keeping the old covenant (and proclaiming the New Covenant to come) to fulfilling his role as a High Priest under a new and better covenant.

The Old Covenant had to be fulfilled in order to bring in the New Covenant into being - but once it arrived, it because obvious that everyone who was saved under the Old Covenant, was really being saved under the New Covenant through the Old Covenant - saved by the same grace through faith as saved under the New Covenant.  It was never the blood of bulls and goats that propitiated God, but always the blood of Christ. The Old Covenant pictured God's redemptive plan in Christ - it had no power to save in an of itself, but only insofar as it pointed (however veiled) to the coming ministry of Christ.

In this way, it can be said that all of God's promises are fulfilled in Christ - both in the Old and New Covenants. 

But let us return to our Lord seated at the right hand of God in the heavens where He rules over the church - our King - and where He mediates between us and God, above all power and authority within creation which God has placed beneath His feet.

Christ is seated, not because his ministry has ended - but rather because He isn't going anywhere.  He resides in God's presence so that He is able to mediate between God and all those who through faith are in Christ.

But this is a ministry that will one day come to and end.  Jesus is going to come back in the same manner in which he left - and the only reason he will be able to do that is because the last person whom Christ will have waited to save, will have been saved.

This all becomes evident and even obvious as you begin to understand the New Covenant.  I think a great many Christians give very little attention to the New Covenant - they are content to be "saved" and find that life gets in the way of any sort of deeper thought than that.  C'est la vie.  As it is today, so it was in the day this epistle was penned.

Back then many Jews who came to Christ through the apostolic teachings believed that faith in Christ was a new but necessary component of their Jewish faith under the Mosaic covenant.  They were saved, but didn't feel any deep need to understand anything more than what was absolutely necessary to be saved.  We have Jesus, we don't need theology anymore. 

We see this most clearly in groups such as the Judaizers who after commending their lives to Christ, misconstrued Christianity as a kind of Judaism, such that they imagined that in order for a Gentile to become a Christian, he or she had to first become a Jew under the Mosaic covenant (hence circumcision for men) etc..

We want to so understand what is being taught in this epistle that we can avoid falling into (or remaining in) similar avenues of confusion.

Christianity was not, and could never be [1] an addendum to the Mosaic system.  Likewise it was not [2] an alternative to the Mosaic system.  Said another way, it was [3] not just another form of Judaism.  The Judaizers, for example, wanted Gentile converts to Christ to be circumcised because they (wrongly) regarded Christianity as a Messianic form of Judaism.  To be a Christian, a Gentile had to first become a Jew.

The author here begins at this point in the epistle to address this common error among the Jewish converts - they didn't understand that Christ was not there as a new minister in an old covenant - but that his ministry represented a new and better covenant - one that made the old covenant obsolete.

posted by Daniel @ 9:10 AM   0 comment(s)
Thursday, June 07, 2018
Cogito ergo sum
Don't let the Post title throw you off, it's just a Latin translation of philosopher Rene Descartes', "je pense donc je suis" (c.f. "Discours De La Méthode", published by Rene Descartes in 1637).  You're likely more familiar with the phrase when it is translated into English, "I think therefore I am".

Descartes came up with this axiom to prove (by way of argumentation) to himself (in an age of rampant skepticism) that he truly existed.  His logic depends upon the proposition that in order to doubt his own existence, he must exit.  It follows that only someone who exists can question his or her own existence.

I mean to highlight (by this example) the conceptual link between living and being.

As a Christian I do not believe that death annihilates my life or my being.  Death just toasts the vessel that my life is presently tethered.  But let's say I didn't have any certainty about these things, and was pondering these things with a secular mindset.  It would seem to me in that case that whatever I am, the I that is me, would no longer exist the moment I died.  Thus life and existence are functionally describing the same reality.

In John1:4 we read, "In Him [i.e. Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men".  Later John expands this thought (c.f. John 5:26) in this way, "For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself."

If you're biblically aware, you probably remember that the name God ascribed to Himself in Exodus 3:14 (when He appeared before Moses) was, "I AM WHO I AM".  The first time I read it, it seemed alien and awkward. But as I have come to know the scriptures, and revere the God I have met in them, I find the name more than appropriate to describe that God in whom we live and move and have our being (as Luke writes concerning  Paul's words in Acts 17:27-28, "...Yet he [i.e. God] is actually not far from each one of us, for 'In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are indeed His offspring.'").

Have you ever thought about what it means to have your being in God?

In the quoted text the Apostle Paul beings to witness to pagan polytheists by reminding them that monotheism is neither controversial nor outrageous.  Their most famous poets themselves were bearing witness to the notion, and weren't they at the time in the vicinity of a well known altar to an unknown God?  Clearly Paul was using their poets and local superstitions to his advantage - making, by way of these things, an opening to preach to them the truth about God, and the gospel of Jesus Christ to the saving of their souls.  But was Paul merely leveraging these things to make an opening, or was their some truth in what the poets had said?

I think the latter.

Caiaphas didn't intend (in John 11:49-50) to speak a redemptive prophesy concerning Jesus when he said, "You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish." Caiaphas was concerned that Jesus was just another messiah (small 'm') who would eventually provoke a rebellion that was doomed to end not only in failure and bloodshed - but likely with the dissolving of the Sanhedrin and any glimmer of Jewish governance.  He wasn't thinking about God's redemptive plan - but the words He spoke concerning Jesus certainly gave prophetic expression to what was truly going on.

In the same way Paul doesn't ascribe to the poets from whom he quotes any special or prophetic knowledge, but rather remarks that even in their ignorance they spoke some truth - we have our being in God.

All of us live and move and have our being in God.  We are all equally dependent on God for our being.  He sustains all of us. By an ongoing act of His will - our lives continue.  God didn't create the universe then stand to one side and watch it run by itself.  From our perspective God is creating each new moment as it comes - while upholding the entirely universe in every place and every moment by an ongoing act of His continuing will.  In Him, in a very literal sense - we live and move and have our being.

Would your estimation of the Christian God change any if you understood God as not only having set in place all physical laws - but as sustaining them throughout all creation moment by moment by the ongoing exertion of His will?  What I am asking is if your estimation of God would change if you understood that all the physical laws of the universe continue to function because God is and has always been actively and continuously empowering their function moment by moment?

We've all had our day dreams about what it might be like if gravity suddenly stopped working, but what if the atomic force that hold atoms together suddenly stopped holding them together?  What if all the matter in the entire universe simultaneously reverted back to the energy that God poured into the universe when He created it?  Where would you be if all that energy simply and immediately returned to God?

To say that, "In God we live, move and have our being," is to recognize that God sustains (moment by moment) the existence of all things that continue to exist.  It is God's innate "being" that sustains everything that exists.  You may want to call it God's power, or God's will - but whatever the label may be, this essential attribute of God - His eternal "being" is unique to God.  Neither the universe nor anything in it, can exist apart from God who sustains it by the unique essence of His being.

"I AM WHO I AM"

The God we worship is unique in an infinite number of ways - but consider this one facet: He alone has life and being, and He alone can and does sustains all life and being. 

There is no life apart from Him and there can be no life apart from Him.  There isn't really any distinction between His life and His being - both are just words used to describe His nature.  God is that which is, and everything that is, comes from, and is sustained by, God.

It follows that anyone who has ever come to exists, does so by the life and being of God.  God is life.  To be alive at all (physically) is to be sustained by Him, and partaking of the life that He sustains - whether you're a Christian or not.

If these things are true, to reject God is to reject is life itself. 

Rejecting God isn't merely the rejection of some proposition.  To reject Him who is the source, substance, and sustaining agent of that which animates us day by day.

God is not an impersonal power or force.  When the bible says that God is love, it isn't suggesting that God is an impersonal concept void of personality and all that goes with that.  It is rather saying that God does not seek his own gain, but immutably seeks the gain of others.  Once could describe it in this way: God serves Himself to creation, Himself being good, righteous, and Holy.  The best thing God can give us is Himself.

God serves all of creation - causing the sun to shine on the just as well as the unjust, but this is just one aspect of God's being.  He isn't merely love - He is life itself.  we live and move and have our being within His life.  Job 34:14-15 says it this way, "If he [i.e. God] should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust."

I want you to understand that as fully as you are able. 

This isn't describing a life that can be lived independent of God

It is describing a life that itself is derived from and utterly dependent upon God's life - regardless of whether one believes in God, or honors God as God.

The person who denies God, is a fool, as the psalmist writes, because to deny God is to deny life itself...

Let me change the tone for a second.

The fact that we're here tells us that the origin of the universe defies the very laws that operate within the known universe.  Either:
  1. The universe is eternal and has always existed in one form or another, or 
  2. The universe is temporal and came into being when an outside (eternal) force caused it to come into being.
Some would argue for a third option (the universe spontaneously came into being without a cause) but that is an illogical and therefore an intellectually unsustainable opinion. 

Whatever clever theories we may develop, they will all fit neatly into either the first (always existed) or the second (was started by some eternal, but external cause).

Christianity holds to the second view - that the universe began as God created time and space.  It's weird to think in these terms, but God was not "in" time or space "when" He created time and space.  We don't really any language tenses that work to describe events that took place "outside" of time and space - let alone to describe the existence of a being who exists apart from time and space. 

God's name perhaps says more about his being that we can every put into words - He simply is.  He is existence.  He is being.  He is life.

Nothing can exist apart from His life, and we who exist do so in dependence upon His life.  Should God cease to be, all things would cease to be, including time and space.

I didn't come to Jesus because someone convinced me that God had done so much for me that I ought to worship Him.  I came to Jesus because I became aware, not so much that I was condemned already before God, but that I couldn't reverse the condemnation through subsequent acts of righteousness. 

The knowledge that latter day obedience does not, and cannot cancel out previous sin - such that my condemnation stood no matter how "good" I became;  that is what drew me to Christ, I realized that I needed a Savior, since none of the good works I could ever hope to do would so much as cancel out a single sin amidst the millions I had already committed.

Like every other honest Christian - I found it difficult to worship God after I came to Christ.  I was afraid that God hated me because I continued to desire sinful things and my obedience was sorely imperfect.  I felt like a fraudulent Christian, and many times I begged God to save me *for real* this time - thinking and hoping that when I was really saved, I would know it because I would no longer desire to sin, and would suddenly love God so profoundly that my every breath and thought would give him the glory He deserved.

As I read the word, I became more aware of the gulf between the way I perceived God, and the way God presents Himself to the reader in the scriptures.  He is righteous, and holy.  He is awful in power and majesty - but He is the one working in me to will and do His good pleasure.  I began to see how God has been drawing me to Himself, not with honey, or with warm thoughts - but with the revelation of Himself in and through His word.

I began to have a keen sense of my own legalism, and how it robbed me of true fellowship with God.  I began to see God not so much as an angry father waiting to punish me when I sinned, but a father whose patience and tireless service towards me began to soften my heart towards him.  Fear gave way a kind of shame. Shame to a kind of begrudging respect.  Respect to appreciation.  Appreciation to adulation.  Adulation to Sorrow for this world, and to sharing in the work of my God and Savior.

I say all that, and even as I write it, I have to say, that I am not parked at the top there, but seem far too often to find myself on various road trips (some longer than others) through the valley that I have not fully come out of.  But I do know this much - I live and move and have my being inside the being of God.  I know from God's word that as my life conforms to His, I will know joy and peace - not dished out to me as "rewards" for my obedience, but rather as the true flavor and character of the life (His life) that I am finding myself drawn into.  

I started out as a sinner who came to understand his own damnation, and having received grace to flee from the wrath (of God) to come, I called on the name of the Lord and was fearfully saved.  Fear, in my case, was the beginning of wisdom, and while that fear was sufficient to keep me drawing near to Him - it melted into awe of, and a profound desire to serve, the true, living God - the Author of life.  After all this time, I can say with Paul that I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Adding only this much - that nothing can separate me from the life of God either.  
posted by Daniel @ 1:43 PM   0 comment(s)
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
If God is good, why does he allow evil?
Some argue that the following four statements cannot all be true at the same time:
  1. God is omnipotent (that is, all-powerful).
  2. God is omniscient (that is, all-knowing).
  3. God is perfectly good.
  4. Evil exists.
This is typically framed as a "logical" problem intended to demonstrate the irrationality of believing that all four statements are true.  The problem is framed by three propositions assumed to be true:
  • If God is all knowing it follows that he is aware of all evil.  
  • If God is unwilling to stop the evil that he is aware of, it follows that God is not good
  • If God is unable to stop the evil that he is aware of, it follows that God is not omnipotent.
Applying this logic, a syllogism is achieved: Since evil self-evidently exists in the world, it follows that God can only be either:
  • omnipotent and good (but not omniscient): God would eradicate evil, but he can only eradicate evil that he is personally aware of - hence the evil we see in the world is just that evil that managed to sneak in while God wasn't looking.
  • omniscient and good (but not omnipotent): God wants to overcome evil, and is working to do just that - but he is unable to cause all evil to stop, because he doesn't have that kind of power.
  • omnipotent and omniscient (but not perfectly good): God knows all about evil, and he has the power to stop it, but he doesn't because God isn't perfectly good.
According to this line of argumentation the God of the bible cannot be good, omniscient and omnipotent at the same time - and since the bible describes God in these terms, this proves that the God of the Bible cannot exist (as least He cannot exist as He is described in the scriptures), which suggests strongly that the entire Christian faith is at best a foolish notion, and at worst an intentional lie intended to deceive and perhaps exploit the weak minded.

No one who has read and believed the bible is going to be derailed by a faulty syllogism such as this one.  The bible doesn't define "good" and "evil" as subjective norms dictated by the current culture.  An hundred years ago necrophilia, pedophilia and homophilia (as it was defined originally) were all considered equally perverse and evil.  Today homophilia, while considered an abomination by the scriptures, is nevertheless considered normative and morally neutral by all first world cultural standards.

The propositions used to form the syllogism fail to discriminate between objective biblical claims and subjective cultural standards for such terms as good and evil.  What was evil an hundred years ago, is now (culturally speaking) no longer evil - and never really was evil - we were just confused by the now fading moral moorings of our former Judeo-Christian heritage.  Of course that could all change in another fifty or an hundred years.

The point is that what the culture calls "good" and what the Bible calls "good" are two different things.  The Bible does not claim that God is "good" in the cultural sense of the word.  It claims that God is good in the sense that God is righteous.  Yet even His righteousness is at odds with what the world regards as righteous.  So the syllogism fails because God doesn't claim to be good by cultural standards, but rather by biblical standards.

God sets the biblical standard for good at Himself.

His commands bear a moral imperative. The person who indifferently neglects what God commands sins as surely as the person who openly and willfully transgresses against them: both behaviors are considered damnable evil  (i.e. both behaviors produce the same results: eternal damnation).

A thing is "good" (according to biblical standards) if God ordains it. God gave Israel a comprehensive description of how they were to worship Him.  When two of the very first priests decided to "worship" God by offering up to God an offering that God did not prescribe - God killed them on the spot (with fire) for their indifference to His commands.

These priests didn't understand that the entire sacrificial system that God presented to them was itself a picture intended to foreshadow the redemption that God would work through Jesus Christ.  Their "innovation" would have polluted the image that needed to be preserved in order for the redemption that God had planned to be understood properly by the generations to come.  The severity of the punishment demonstrates the severity of the offence - compromising the fore-image of the coming Christ could potentially have derailed God's plan of redemption - if not through this act of innovation - certainly by subsequent acts of innovation - the necessary imagery that was to be preserved would have been eroded.

We, as creatures, see history unfolding as it happens, but God created the beginning and the end, and all that is in between in the same act of creation.  He created time and space, and exists apart from both.  He does not "look ahead" to see the future, nor look back to see the past.  He is not a creature, and not bound in creation to time and space.  He sees the beginning and end in the same glance, and is present in every moment and every place with the same fullness of His being.  Every sin we commit is committed in the full presence of God who cannot forget the sin, nor have it fade with time.  Our every sin is every fresh and before the face of our living God.

We are told that God is too holy and pure to tolerate sin in His presence.  Likewise, that God is righteous and cannot allow any sin to go unpunished.  God set the punishment for every sin (large or small) as death. Sin, by the way, simply describes the act of disregarding God's will.  If God says to do something, and you ignore it - that's sin.  If God says not to do something, and you go ahead and do it that's sin.  Sin is an act of open rebellion against God who (as both your Creator and the One who sustains your life minute by minute upon this earth) has the right to command and expect your unquestioned and immediate obedience.

Our culture doesn't understand that to ignore the God of the Bible is an act of damnable treason.  No amount of subsequent obedience can erase or undo the condemnation earned by even the smallest act of indifference to any of God's commands.  We are all guilty and condemned already, no matter how "good" we try and make ourselves.  God cannot (if He is truly righteous) ignore even the slightest act of rebellion against His rule.

As the source and sustainer of all life God isn't being evil in determining what kind of life He is willing to sustain.  A potter who makes a pot to hold water isn't being evil when he discards a pot that won't hold water.  How much more if the pot could hold water, but simply refused to?

The bible tells us plainly what most of us have already reasoned out - no one obeys God perfectly (c.f. Romans 3:10-11).  There was only one exception to this rule, and that exception was Jesus. Every other human being in the history of the world has lived a life that has not be perfectly good.

To phrase that in biblical terms, every other human has lived an evil life.

Before we move ahead, let's finish with the flawed syllogism that was used to introduce this discussion.

The bible contends that God is righteous, omniscient and omnipotent, and that evil exists.  Likewise the bible teaches that everything that is in harmony with God's will is good, and anything (everything) else, is evil.

Let's examine the first proposition again:
  • If God is all knowing it follows that he is aware of all evil.
God is aware of all evil, that is, He is aware of the fact that every last one of us is evil - including the Pope, Mother Theresa, and that kind elderly lady from the grocery store.  God is aware of all of us who fail to do His commands, and either ignore Him, invent our own ways to worship Him, or reject Him entirely.  All of us are evil, including those whom we would otherwise regard as doing or having done much good.  God is certainly aware of us, and angry with our rebellion against His rightful rule.

Let's look at the second proposition again:
  • If God is unwilling to stop the evil that he is aware of, it follows that God is not good
What this means (if we allow the Bible to define God, goodness, and evil) is that unless God strikes every man woman and child dead the very instant they fail to keep a single command (such as, failing to love the Lord our God with all our mind, soul, heart and strength) He isn't good.

Think hard on that one.  It isn't that God is unwilling to stop evil.  God's plan is to eradicate all evil for all time.  It's call the Day of Judgment and it is certainly approaching.  It is as it was in the days of Noah.  God ordained a flood, but He held off on the rain until Noah had built the ark that would preserve the chosen animals and people God had determined before hand to save.  The very day that the ark was completed God sent the animals into it, and Noah and his family stepped into it, as the rain began to fall.  In the decades it took to build the ark, God's wrath waited.  People continued to live sinful lives that denied their Creator right up until all was ready - and then the wrath came in a single day.

In the same way God has chosen to save some guilty sinners from the wrath that they have earned.  Rather than placing them in a wooden boat that can survive a flood - he places their life in Christ, who, rather than suffering a flood of rain, suffered on Calvary the flood of God's wrath.  Those whose lives are hid in Christ on Calvary pass through the judgment for sin, in that they were found guilty, and put to death in Christ - having died with Christ, their debt is paid in full.  That's the debt that every sinner pays - but not every sinner will be found in Christ.  Those whose lives were not hid in Christ when He died on the cross - will face God's wrath by themselves, and their death will not be in Christ it will be apart from Christ.

But make no mistake - every sinner - you and me included - will have earned in full the death that is appointed us - and not one of us - not me, and not you, will or can escape that death.

However, those who are in Christ - whose lives are united to the life of Christ, have already been raised from the dead in Christ, when Christ was raised from the dead.  They, having become partakers of Christ's life, will not have suffered the loss of their being when the life they formerly lived - that life that was inherited from Adam - was put to death in Christ, because their being will have been united to the life of Christ - which alone shall be raised from the dead.

The life of Christ, being the true ark pictured by Noah's ark - which carries the being of every genuine believer through God's wrath (the second death) to be raised along with their new life - the life of Christ, which they have inherited the moment they repented of their rebellion, and put their trust in God to save them in spite of their sin.

So God not only is willing to stop evil - he has planned to stop evil.  The only reason the world continues today, is because God, in His mercy, hasn't yet saved everyone he plans to save.

Let that sink in.  God allows evil, because He hasn't yet saved all the people He plans to save.  This creation continues to exist entirely for one reason: God isn't finished being gracious and merciful to those whom He has chosen to be gracious and merciful to.

It is no different now than it was in the days of Noah.  There also God allowed the world (as it was) to continue being and doing evil - not because God was ignoring evil - but because his plan to save those few whom he had chosen, waited on Noah to build the ark.  The moment the ark was done, the wrath came.

That answers the question, by the way, of "Why, if God is so good, does He allow evil?"  God allows evil to continue, and will allow evil to continue, until that last person God has determined to save from His wrath is baptized into Christ.  On that very day - and I expect in that very moment - Judgment day will arrive, and God will deal with evil once and for all.

That bring us to our third proposition again:
  • If God is unable to stop the evil that he is aware of, it follows that God is not omnipotent.
God is certainly able to bring judgment upon every evil doer on earth.  Since we are all evil doers, that includes you and me.  But because I am in Christ, God has already poured out His wrath on my life - that is, He has already poured out His wrath on the life that I inherited from  -- the life that my being/awareness/soul is presently affixed to in this current world.  That life died with (and in) Christ on Calvary - But as Noah passed through the flood unscathed in the ark, so I too pass through the wrath of God on Judgment day having been affixed (by faith and repentance) to the life of Christ.

God will bring the same judgment that slew Christ upon every sinner that every has lived.  If you're not in Christ - that includes you.  God is able to do that, and God has promised to do that.  The day that God is going to do that continues to draw nearer with each sunrise.  God not only can stop evil - He has appointed a day when all evil will be condemned eternally.  That day could be tomorrow, or it could be today.

It follows then that evil is endured for the sake of those whom God has chosen to save throughout time, and how have yet to be saved.  Every last one of us is a sinner deserving the punishment God has assigned for sin: our death.

A right understanding of sin, evil, and good, only teaches us that God is profoundly merciful towards all the sinners on earth - from the worst of us to the best of us, not because He owes us this opportunity to abandon the path we are on - living on and on as though there was no God in heaven, and as though we haven't already earned His condemnation.  He allows the world to keep on going because He hasn't saved everyone He plans to save...yet.  But the day is coming.

Who knows when the last soul chosen by God will turn away from his or her rebellion against God's rule, and humble themselves before God - accepting the yoke of obedience, and turning decisively away from the pursuit of their own interests to pursue instead the will of God - crying out to be saved by and through Jesus whom God has provided for our salvation - trusting that there is no other way in which a guilty sinner can be saved - casting their only hope upon Christ, crying out in faith to be saved by and through Christ from the wrath to come.  You who are reading this, if you don't know Christ, if you've never really understood repentance, or what it means to trust God for your salvation - you could well be the last soul to be saved before the judgment - if you surrender control of your life in faith to God, and trust Him to save you - not because you're good, or deserve it - but because He is merciful and has promised to save everyone who comes to Him in faith.

God is good. He allows evil because He is saving evil people.

posted by Daniel @ 11:17 AM   0 comment(s)
Tuesday, June 05, 2018
Love and service.
"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:35 [NASB]
Most English readers understand the word "love" as describing a deep - in fact - the deepest kind of affection.  Even in English we are prone to focus on the emotions that love produces rather than focusing on love itself.  We see love in the expression of our emotions, even as we hear the wind in the rustling of the leaves, and "see" the wind as it winds through tall grass.

What if love was more than this?  What if love was not just the outward expression of an inward affection?  What if what we commonly think of as love, is just a shadow of what love truly is?  What if even our most poetic and pure portrayals of love reflect only the highest ideal a fallen creature can aspire to?  What if what most of us think of as love, is really just the fallen version of love?  What if it is just a broken shadow - the best we can muster having been separated from the very source and life of love?

A lot of us couldn't get behind a concept of love that was obligatory.  In order for love to be love, it has to be our choice to love.  To oblige ourselves to love someone we do not love - that would be ... it would be disingenuous.  No one would want to be loved with a "fake" love.  Clearly, we are being honest when we conclude that in order for love to be real, it has to be heart-felt, and it cannot be obligatory.

Right?  Let's change gears for a sec, before we come back to this thought.

 A lot of the  errors the Pharisees made in Christ's day had grown out of [1] the misguided belief that it was humanly possible to perfectly obey all of God's commands, and [2] a system of interpretation that made it possible to sidestep the intention of the law, by keeping a (strained) literal interpretation of the law.  If a law could not be kept, or was too difficult to keep (as written), then it could be, and even should be interpreted in a way that made it either possible or much easier to keep.

Under the old covenant God spoke to Israel saying, "You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord." - Leviticus 18:4-5 [NASB].  Note the prescription God gave to Israel - if you keep my statutes, you will live.  Recall how a lawyer in Luke 10, puts Jesus to the test by asking, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" - Jesus answered by asking the lawyer, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?"  The lawyer paraphrases Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18,34 in reply (c.f. Luke 10:27), "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself" which Jesus affirmed as the correct answer, paraphrasing back to the lawyer from Leviticus 18 (above), "do this an you will live".

The lawyer, wanting to further justify himself, asked Jesus to identify who the neighbor was in the context of Leviticus 19.  Consider this: if the lawyer loved everyone equally, he wouldn't have needed any further clarification regarding who his neighbor was.  This wasn't a question about whom he ought to love, but rather it was about whom he was not obligated to love.  Who deserved his love, and who did not.  When the parable was told, Christ asked the lawyer again - which of the men who met that wounded man on the road turned out to be a "neighbor".  Again the lawyer chose rightly, the the man from Samaria, i.e. the one who showed mercy to the wounded man was the neighbor.

Note that it wasn't just the selfless compassion and mercy of the Samaritan that Christ regarded as fulfilling the law's requirement - it was the indiscriminate nature of that selfless mercy and compassion.  The lawyer's question was premised upon the presumption that one was only obligated to love those who were deserving of that love.  Recall previously in the context (from Christ's own words) that the lawyers and Pharisees who rejected him were regarding him as a "gluttonous man and a drunkard" and "a friend of tax collectors and sinners!" (c.f. Luke 7:31-35).

It isn't a stretch to conclude that one of the ways - if not the primary way - in which the that lawyer sought to "justify himself further", was to show that as a righteous man he was justified in not hanging out with tax collectors and sinners, while at the same time exposing Christ as an unrighteous person because He associated with these unrighteous people.

I think we all, from time to time, stand in danger of coming to the scriptures with a like mindset as this lawyer - we are seeking to be justified in what we are already doing, rather than humbling ourselves before what the scripture is actually saying. The person who reads, "love they neighbor" and concludes that this command limits one's obligation to loving "only" one's neighbor - as though God commands us to love some, but not all - we err.

Which brings us back to the main point - if we're obligated to love everyone, how do we generate a universal affection? How can I love someone I don't know?

The first think you need to know is the love you're called to express, isn't an emotion or an affection.  It is described as a compassion and mercy that is not founded upon interpersonal relationship or rights to such relationships.  It is obligatory.

Objection: Does God expect us to "act" like we truly love people that we don't actually love?

The only person who would ask a question like that is someone who thinks of love as being dependent upon some underlying affection.  As a father I love my children.  I know them, I enjoy them, I want to be with them, I want to protect what I love, I am willing to sacrifice myself for what I love - I'd rather the world continue with my children in it, than I continue in a world without them.  That's the nigh universal experience of every parent I think.  It can be described as something virtuous, but really it's pathetic.

What I might sacrifice to save my children, or my wife, or perhaps an innocent child, I certainly wouldn't do for the person next door. My love is brokered through, and perhaps founded on, my affections for others.  The greater the affection, the more the impetus to act "in love" towards that person.

Christ's love wasn't like that.

A lot of people are theologically naive when it comes to a right understanding of the divinity of Christ.  They rightly understand that Jesus is divine - the second person of the Triune Godhead, and as such had inherent in Him all the authority of God to do miracles, to heal, to cast out demons etc.  But they fail to understand that Jesus having all that power, did not use any of it, but instead humbled himself and lived as a man, relying, as all men must, on God for all the things pertaining to His own life and ministry - including miracles and works of divine power.  Christ, as God the Son, could at any moment have used his own divinity to do any or all of what He did on earth - but doing so would have disqualified him as our Savior - for no unless Christ relied entirely on God, He could by no means fulfill on Israel's behalf, all that the Old Covenant required of Israel.  He needed to live by faith in God - just as we all must.  He did not walk around doing His own will - but the will of God the Father who sent Him.  He did not use His own power to cast out demons, or to do the miraculous, He received from God the Father the power to perform the ministry God had given Him.

It may challenge you theologically to understand this, but the bible does not portray Jesus as omniscient (all knowing).  You may interpret John 2:23-25 as a refutation of this thought, (c.f. "Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man." - [NASB]), but I would remind you that prophets in the Old Testament exhibited this same kind of knowledge - without exercising any personal divinity to get it.

Before I go on to show examples from the New Testament that demonstrate the point (that even though Christ was God He did not exercise any divine attribute on his own behalf during the incarnation), I want you to ask yourself why you believe that Jesus used his own divine power to do miracles etc.  He did not come to earth on His own authority, but was acting under God the Father's authority.  He was not living subject to the will of His own person, but subject to the will of God the Father - as demonstrated most plainly in the garden of Gethsemane - "not my will, but yours be done".  

If you have always believed that Jesus could walk on water, cast out demons, still the seas, raise the dead, and heal the sick "because He was God" - you're missing something very significant, and potentially (profoundly) edifying.  The person who understands that Jesus did all that He did - including living a life that pleased God perfectly - in the strength and power that God had made available to Him (and makes available to every genuine believer - through the indwelling Holy Spirit), then you are living in the kind of ignorance that diminishes the work of Christ/glory of God/plan or redemption - and - cripples an understanding of how God works through the Holy Spirit in Christians today.  In short, you're living a hobbled, failure ridden kind of Christianity.

I am not suggesting that possessing a right understanding of these things will auto-magically produce right and proper Christian living - but it certainly will give you an understanding of why your sanctification is the beggarly self-obsessed mess that it is.

No omniscient person can grow in wisdom (Luke 2:40,52) or learn obedience (Hebrews 5:8), nor could an omniscient person fail to know who touched Him in a crowd (Mark 5:31, Luke 8:45).  Nor could an omnipotent person have that power pulled from him apart from His willing it, as we see the power to heal leaving the Lord in the same context (Mark 5:30, Luke 8:46).  No man relying upon his own power to heal would have it said of him that the power to heal was present with him (Luke 5:17), unless there were times when such miraculous power was not present (Mark 6:5).  Such a man would certainly not rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit to cast out demons (Matthew 12:28), when He Himself had both authority and power vested in Himself to do so.

This is not to suggest that the divinity of Christ wasn't present in Christ during the incarnation - it is to say that Christ did not exercise His divinity (nor did He need to) during the incarnation, but humbled Himself in this way - that although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard being the second person of the Triune Godhead something to bring within him into the incarnation - in becoming a man he instead emptied Himself of all divine prerogative and set aside the form of God to wear instead the form most appropriate for a man - that of a servant.  Allowing Himself to be truly made in the likeness of men.  Having found himself thus, He humbly become obedient to God the Father as is fitting for a man - becoming entirely dependent on God rather than upon His own divinity - and to remain such even to the point of death on a cross.  That is what the Apostle Paul is teaching in Philippians 2:5-8.

Think that through soberly.  If Christ lived as a man -- living entirely dependent upon God for every aspect of His life and His ministry - it all makes sense.  Christ didn't want to die on the cross - because no man wants to die a painful, vulgar, humiliating death.  But Christ wasn't living this life according to His own will. No. He was living this life in the way God prescribed all of us to live - in utter and absolute dependence on, and obedience to, God. When they accused Christ of using demonic power to cast out demons, They weren't blaspheming Him or His power, because He was not casting out demons by his own choice, or by His own power - but was doing so in obedience to the ministry God had given Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit into Whom He was baptized in the Jordan.  No - they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit Who was working in and through Christ.

Jesus rising up out of the Jordan - baptized into the Holy Spirit immediately was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to fast for forty days and forty nights.  He didn't arbitrarily decide to go fast - He was driven to do so, by the Holy Spirit.  He lived in obedience to God, doing only what the Father told Him to do.  No innovation, no solo ventures.  Christ obeyed, and God provided.

When I first became a believer I wondered why I could not perform miracles like they did in the New Testament.  I thought it was because I didn't believe "enough" - that if I had enough faith, I could call down fire from heaven or raise the dead.  I didn't understand that God's word is a fire that comes down from heaven, and that everyone who believes the gospel has been raised from death into life.  I was looking to recreate the signs that Christ and the apostles performed, rather than to perform the realities they foretold.  I felt like a false convert because miracles did not happen at my bidding.

If Christ was living in obedience to God, it follows that the miracles He performed were performed in obedience to God.  God, in the person of the Holy Spirit was present with Christ to perform those miracles which God was leading Christ to perform.  The reason the Holy Spirit empowered these miracles was not because Jesus was the Son of God - nor even because Jesus wanted to perform these miracles and was using the Holy Spirit to do them.  Rather it was because the Holy Spirit had been sent to do these miracles, and God was using the man Jesus - His Christ - to do them.  He was using Christ to do them because Christ was living in unbroken obedience to God -- having never been separated from God by personal sin.

Christ wasn't freewheelin' it around Israel - healing here, raising the dead there doing whatever He imagined the situation called for.  He was instead going where God told Him to go, and doing only what God told Him to do.

Consider all that, then consider that Jesus, in His humanity - did in fact love the Lord His God with all of His mind, heart, soul, and strength.  Don't shy away from the fact that God the Father was the God of Jesus Christ.  During the incarnation Christ lived as a real man - and worshiped God even as God calls all men to do.  Christ loved God and Christ loved His neighbor - not 'because he was God' - but because the love we are called to love one another and to love God with - is not rooted in our affection, it is grounded in God.

That's a pretty pithy way of saying it - and a little too ambiguous to be very useful for people.  It's difficult to lay out the kind of truth that can only be apprehended spiritually by those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and for whom understanding has been granted.

Even as I typed that it sounded hokey.  Not unlike the trite old line about unicorns - some things have to be believed to be seen.  I am not saying that I've laid out some truth as a riddle that only the Holy Spirit can unravel for you.  What I am saying is that like the gospel itself - spiritual truth is plain and obvious the moment your eyes are opened, but until they are, whatever you think you know about it, you don't really know.

Some of you reading will have had the same experience as myself.  I heard the gospel clearly preached many times, but I never understood it until the day I was saved.  I thought I had understood it every time I heard it.  I was no more, nor no less fervent and earnest on the day it saved me, than on the countless other days it hadn't.  All that changed was that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, revealed the gospel to me that day, and hadn't done the dozens of times I had before heard, and even thought myself to have "believed" it.

If you've had that experience - you know what I mean when I paraphrase Paul's assertion that the natural man does not and cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God (c.f. 1 Corinthians 2:14-15).  What I am saying is that there is a truth about love that I can tell you as plainly and clearly as words can convey - but you will not see it unless the Holy Spirit reveals it to you.

To that end I will repeat - love is incompatible with selfishness.  You cannot love God or anything else, as long as your heart is selfish - as long as you continue to regard yourself as the sustainer and provider for the life you are living.  Unless you cast that crown at Christ's feet, You cannot love anyone else - because your own self love is in the way.

This isn't a learn it once, and forever it makes all things easy for the Christian kind of truth - it is a truth - but it is apprehended by faith, and lived out in obedience - the kind of obedience that cannot co-exist with a life lived for self in any portion.  You are either entirely for God, or you are entirely for yourself, even if you've convinced yourself you are "mostly" for God.  If you in for yourself at all - your in for your self in all.

Thank God for Christ, and that life that was lived in obedience - through which alone we are made acceptable to God.  I do not look to my obedience for my justification - I look to my justification for obedience.

Love and service are indivisible.  Those who truly love, serve, and those who truly serve, love.  It isn't about provoking the "right" affections.  Likewise it isn't about suppressing the wrong ones either.  It is about whether or not you're living for your self or not.  Are you driven by self or by God?

The love that Christians are called to is obligatory in the sense that the only way you can truly live for others is if you aren't in some way living for yourself.  The moment you're living (even a tiny bit) for yourself - the love you are called to love with becomes compromised by your selfishness.  It may look like love, but it's nothing like the love of Christ.  You don't get that love when you mix it with any other.

We are obliged to love, but the love we are obliged to is not an affection - it is utter and selfless service - the kind that can only come when we are no longer living for ourselves.

Oh that your children would have ears to hear, and hearts cleansed from compromise - this servant included.
posted by Daniel @ 12:19 PM   0 comment(s)
 
 
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