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Theological, Doctrinal, and Spiritual Musing - and whatever other else is on my mind when I notice that I haven't posted in a while.
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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.
- 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.
- C-Train

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
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Monday, November 30, 2009
I haven't signed the Manhattan Document, and won't.

The Lord saved me on a day of His choosing, on a day when He opened my heart just as He opened the heart of Lydia. I had heard the gospel many times as a Catholic, but never understood it. Then one day, as I was trying to convince an evangelical pastor that his church ought to pay for me to go be a missionary in Africa, I learned that I was a sinner in need of Christ, and in the miracle of the new birth, I suddenly wanted to be saved from my sin and reconciled to God in Christ. Suddenly I was able to not only comprehend the gospel for the first time, but having been given a new heart, I was drawn to Christ where previously I was repulsed by Him. In as few words as possible, I was saved - born again - by the will of God, according to the preaching of the gospel.

As can be expected, I was, more than a little, perturbed at the way my Catholic heritage paved the road to hell in my life, and as such I am likely inclined, more than most, to be critical in my thinking when a matter comes before me that involves Catholicism in any capacity.

I mention this up front because I am about as far from ecumenical in my thinking as one can be, and, because I have been saved out of that sort of darkness, I am especially critical of anything that embraces, or enables it.

It is true, as others have noted, that the Manhattan Document uses the same brush to paint as "Christianity" not only all of Evangelicalism, but also the Orthodox faith, and Catholicism to boot; that is, the document refers to all of these as though they were all genuinely Christian.

I would argue that such inclusive language is misleading at best, and purposely deceptive at worst, and my own suspicions lean towards the latter and not the former - in spite of what I like to call, "Christian charity" - but what others might describe as giving the drafters of the document the benefit of the doubt.

Yet, having said all that, I also recognize a few things that others, in their zeal for the purity, not only of the gospel, but also for the correct and judicial application of the term "Christian", seem to be glossing over (or missing altogether): This document is written to proclaim to non-believers, what believers believe about the issues discussed - that is, it is written not to define Christianity or the gospel, but rather to declare what people who call themselves "Christians" believe the bible teaches about these issues.

Now, in making that observation, I do not imply that because they are writing to non-believers, it is okay for genuine believers to ignore the subtle ecumenical Trojan horse, and the slurring/blurring of the gospel; In fact, because this is being written to inform non-believers, I think it is even more important to make hard distinctions between nominal (in name only) Christianity and genuine "we got the gospel right" Christianity.

I will not be signing the document, but not for the standard reasons others have already given. I see clearly that the distinctions that separate those "faiths" that preach a saving gospel, and those "faiths" which preach a non-saving gospel can never be presented both as "Christian" and at the same time fail to confuse the non-believer. That is, I understand that when some Christians say that the gospel is at stake, I agree, it is - and this document, as well-intentioned as it purports to be, does more than just speak out against the moral decay of our nation - it blurs the line on the gospel as it does so. When a thing loudly and passionately draws attention to the obvious and in doing so plays fast and loose with the less obvious - it smacks of a shell and pea game, or as Shakespeare might have said, something smells fishy in Denmark.

I say, I agree with that, but this isn't the main reason I don't plan to sign it.

The main reason I am not signing it is that I feel no inclination to do so.

I don't fret about whether or not the document is especially satisfying under my highest, critical scrutiny; nor do I care whom has signed it, and whom refuses to sign it, at least not when it comes to deciding whether or not to sign it. Two things (primarily) determine by indifference: [1] indifference itself, and [2] a certainty that even if the document were a masterpiece of clarity, precision, and definition - it still wouldn't be articulating anything that isn't already abundantly clear.

Don't get me wrong, I like to state the obvious as much as the next guy - but I think this sort of moral grandstanding smacks of that sort of sensational pragmatism than doesn't "taste" like something the Lord is doing, but rather it has the feel about it of a work that is being done in the flesh, and it is only my flesh that would move me to sign it;

That's what I think at least.


posted by Daniel @ 1:12 PM   2 comment(s)
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Why The Humanity of Christ Matters To Me...
You have probably heard the term Docetism, and maybe you knew what it meant once upon a time, but unless you are an apologist, or have an exceptionally sharp memory, you probably remember only this much: Docetism is/was one of the many heresies that the early church had to deal with.

Let me begin therefore by refreshing your memory, should you require it. Docetism is what happens when you try and inject gnostic teaching into Christianity.

The Docetist believes that all matter is temporal/evil/corrupt, and that all that is spirit is eternal/pure/incorrupt. Thus the gnostic who hears that Jesus is God, concludes, according to his Gnostic presupposition, that Jesus only seemed to be a man, but was in fact a Spirit all along. His flesh only appeared to be flesh like everyone else's, but was only an impenetrable divine illusion. The Docetist's understanding of Christ's humanity was that the incarnation was an illusion - Christ was not really a human, He did not really come in the flesh, but came only in Spirit dressed up as flesh.

Now, those who are lazy (or perhaps arrogant?) amongst us, or even just exceptionally dull witted, might say to this sort of thing, "Big deal! Docetism isn't very popular today, and we don't think anyone really buys into that kind of junk anymore. We have already solved that problem, so why would any right thinking person waste their time knowing or studying such a thing; Such a study can't possibly benefit us and so we see no value in it." - or something similar. But, as I say, that would be foolish, because in order to understand the doctrine that corrected this notion (the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union), we need to understand what the doctrine was that was being corrected. And in order to understand why the humanity of Christ matters to me, you need to understand as much as you can about the humanity of Christ.

Let us consider therefore, the doctrine of the hypostatic union. Yeah, I know...it is yet another one of those theological labels, but we use it because labels make it easier to refer back to something when we are discussing something else later on.

The term "hypostatic union" is used to describe the orthodox understanding of how God (in the person of Jesus Christ) became a Man. We didn't come up with this doctrine by sitting around with nothing better to do than try and think up new doctrines. Theologians weren't lounging about idly one day casually wondering to one another what that "whole incarnation thing" as all about.  The doctrine of the Hypostatic Union did not spring out of a long forgotten and pointless discussion about in consequential matters.

Hardly! The doctrine was hammered out because in order to show what was wrong with Docetism (and other applicable heresies), one had to reveal where the heresy went awry, and had to show that this was not just "my opinion vs. your opinion" but rather that this is what the scriptures actually teach.

The reason I think it's rather important to mull over this particular doctrine is because many people don't.  They don't know where it came from or why it is there, and conclude something like, "this is orthodox because some people hundreds of years ago decided it was, and now lots of other people do to, and I better be on board with that so that no one can accuse me of not being orthodox."  I don't want any reader to accept any doctrine just because other people accept it.  I don't admire someone who is towing the line if the only reason they tow the line is because they don't care enough to see if they should be towing it or not.

Doctrines that are held without an understanding of what they were meant to guard against leave the person who holds those doctrines at risk of embracing the error the doctrine exists to guard against.  Most of us, at some point or another have driven a nail with something other than a hammer. In the same way when doctrine isn't fully grasped, it can never the less be used here and there in ways it was never intended.

The doctrine of the Hypostatic Union is a well thought out apology that reveals the errors of such heresies as Docetism - but make no mistake: If you don't understand the apology, you're probably not going to rely upon the doctrine.  It'll be a tool you don't know how to use.

Okay, I have talked about this doctrine a bit, but I haven't really expressed it, so here goes, and I will try and keep it simple. The doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, in a nutshell, states that Jesus took on a genuine human nature during the incarnation. Or said another way, Jesus became 100% human, while at the same time remaining 100% God. This union preserved the two natures, the human and the divine, in such a way as to not mix them together.

That is an important note - a lot of people have a picture of Jesus as being a mixture of man and God. People like that reason that Jesus was a man, so He would bleed if you cut Him, but He was God so He could do miracles.

What a lot of people don't realize is that an understanding like that actually blends the humanity of Christ with the divinity of God.  That presumes that Jesus the man, could (and did) make use of His own divinity during the incarnation, when scripture teaches that Jesus did not.

I want to stop there and talk about the difference between the Humanity of Christ, and the humanity that you and I live with.

Jesus wasn't the only human to live without sin.


Oh, come on now. You know Adam lived without sin for a time. That is who I am referring to. Prior to the fall, Adam was in a state of sinlessness, and as such enjoyed privileges that were lost after the fall. The most important privilege was not that Adam could live in the garden, or that the land wasn't cursed, etc. No, the greatest privilege is that Adam and Eve also, could see God. Now, God is a Spirit, and so when I say "see" - I do not insist that they were seeing God with their eyes, though God may well have walked through the Garden as a manifestation of Himself in the Shekinah of glory. The point isn't to try and hash out what God looked like to them - but to note that prior to the fall Adam had free and open fellowship with God the Father, and this fellowship was an experiential thing. Adam and Eve, prior to the fall, knew where God was when His presence was with them, they could talk to Him, relate to Him person to person, etc. After the fall, this was lost.

I mention this because when Christ was formed in the womb of Mary, it is quite accurate to say that He, that is, as a human, enjoyed the same "pre-fall" prerogatives that Adam had once enjoyed. Christ was very much like a second (pre-fall) Adam.

I hate having to stifle the many detours this post could take, but I do so out of love for what I write, so bear with me. I know a lot of you who are reading have already formed your own understanding of how Jesus could be born of Mary. Some will say that the "seed" that was implanted was a fully fertilized egg, containing none of Mary's DNA, so that Mary's role in the incarnation was that of a human incubator and an eventual caregiver - a surrogate mother who was privileged to raise the Christ child as her own.

 Likewise, some imagine that the Holy Spirit inseminated Mary with special "God" DNA - so that Jesus, while human, was fundamentally different than us being made of better materials. I expect that fewer people actually believe that Mary was simply the biological mother of Jesus, even though scripture makes that point clear and plain.

 Christ was the descendant of David, a descendant of Abraham. He didn't just appear to be the descendant of David. He was David's descendant - a physical ancestor of David. There is no room for debate on the matter, at least not sober debate. For the sake of this discussion, it really doesn't matter how Mary was impregnated, all that is pertinent is that she was really Christ's biological mother. That Mary certainly was a virgin when she bore Him won't play into this discussion, but I affirm it in case anyone was worried or concerned on that matter.

On thing differentiated Christ from other men - that I think a lot of people overlook.

It wasn't the fact that His mother was a virgin when she bore Him - though that in itself is so profound we could talk about it at length. It was that Jesus remained fully deity during in the incarnation, even though He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Said another way, it wasn't that Jesus lived entirely as a man even though He could have (at any time) chosen to exercise His divinity and lived in a way that no man (who wasn't divine) could have lived.  Jesus did not live as a demigod (half man/half God). He did not live as more than a man. 

Let's be clear, the humanity that Jesus took on, was not the post-fall version.  Jesus was certainly born into a sinful world that itself was cursed on account of Adam's sin.  But Jesus was the second Adam.  He was not under the Adamic curse.  Jesus was born into the world just as the first Adam, but what differentiated Jesus (for the purpose of this article) was not that He was God, or that He was born of a virgin - but rather that He was born into a world where every other person was separated from God being under the curse by God.  Every other person had been born into this world (you and me included) were born into a world where we are experientially unaware of God's presence.  When we pray to God, we don't hear his voice answering us back.  Our senses are not aware of God's presence. 

There is no reason why Jesus, who was not under the curse of Adam, would have been separated from God in the same way sinner are. Jesus would have been was fully aware of God's presence - not "because He was God", but because He was like Adam was before the fall.

Let's called that an important even foundational point.

Recall that after Adam sinned In the Garden of Eden, God cursed Adam, and through Adam, all of creation, and all subsequent procreation. Where previously Adam and Eve were experientially aware of God, now they were driven from God's presence, as it were. Not that God could no longer see them, but rather that they could no longer see God. They knew God was there of course, creation itself testified to the fact, even as it continues to testify today - but the children of Adam did not have first hand experiential knowledge of God, they could not experience His presence directly - for that is one thing that was taken away from Adam and his race in Eden when mankind fell.

Christ did not inherit Adam's curse, even though He lived in a world that was suffering from that curse. What we need to understand if we are to proceed here, is that Christ, in His humanity, as the second Adam did not need to "be" God in order to see God and talk to God, anymore than Adam needed to be God (prior to the fall) to see and talk to God.

 Everyone else upon the earth was living under the curse, but Christ was living as one who had never been cast out of God's presence. We, so far from the Garden, do not imagine it to be a "normal" human experience to see God - this is so cut into us, that we automatically presume that the only reason Jesus could see and talk to God was because Jesus was God, who among us stops to consider that Jesus could commune with God the way He did because He was human (i.e. He was not a fallen human)?

Being experientially aware of God, being able to converse with Him directly and to hear Him speak with our ears - these were all normal experiences prior to the fall. 

When scripture describes our Lord as the second Adam, I suck in my breath in awe - for that is an apt and glorious description. He truly was a second Adam, but unlike the first who brought sin and death through one act of rebellion, this "Adam" would bring reconciliation and life through one act of righteousness. Don't get all caught up in the "one act of righteousness" thing there either. I know, as well as you, that Christ lived His whole life righteously - that every act He ever did was righteous, and that had He failed to do everything righteously, His final act would have been moot and void. When I say "through one act of righteousness" I trust that the reader understands that this by no means suggests it was the only righteous act He ever did - but rather that it was this particular righteous act that brought redemption to God's chosen people.

I make this point because when I say that Jesus was 100% human, I don't mean to imply that He lived this life in a relationship with God identical to a sinner's relationship to God.  I mean that Christ lived this life like Adam lived prior to the fall.  Christ was made from the same DNA that the rest of us are made from.  There was no special "God" DNA.  His ability to sense God, to speak with God directly, etc. was not the product of His divinity - it was "normal" for a sinless human.

Now, that is not to diminish Jesus' participation in the Triune Godhead, or to suggest that Jesus was in some way diminished in His divinity.  He came to understand Himself to be whom He was through both the scriptures, and through His earthly relationship with God the Father - even as Adam had before the fall.

I know that some (Most? All?) would say that Jesus knew that He was God because He was God, and as God He would have been omniscient, and therefore God the Father, and/or God the Holy Spirit didn't have to tell Him that He was God because as God the Son He would have already known these things (in His divinity). But I think that is as unnecessary as it is wrong. I don't believed Jesus exercised His divinity even once while on the earth, and I think that because nothing that Jesus did in this life required him to exercise his own divinity - and we see in several places where the miraculous is ascribed not to the person of Jesus but to the Holy Spirit.

Consider this: scripture says that Jesus cast out demons by the Holy Spirit; and again that He healed when the Spirit was present to heal, etc. Consider I say, the incongruence of the picture of Jesus, sometimes doing something in His own divinity, and at other times doing something in the power of the Holy Spirit's divinity.  if we insist that Jesus did anything divine in the power of His own divinity, then we ought to agree that Jesus only did some things in the power of His own divinity.  Scripture does not explicitly say that Jesus did anything by His own divinity - but it does explicitly say that Jesus did things through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 Thus we are left with a riddle. Why would Jesus, if He were exercising His own divinity to perform some miracles, etc. not do so exclusively? Why burden the Holy Spirit but only sometimes? And why not exercise His own (lazy?) divinity when the Holy Spirit wasn't present to heal?

One might ignore or dismiss this line of thinking because they've read passages about how Jesus knew something that a normal man couldn't possibly know - and that Adam (prior to the fall) would not have known either.   I mean, Jesus knew what was in the hearts of men, right?  He knew who would betray Him, etc.  Doesn't that prove that Jesus was (at times) omniscient?

I say at times, because Jesus spoke plainly about how only the Father knew the day and the hour of the end.  This is a point of contention for some deny the divinity of Christ - if He was God, they reason - He would have known that.  Like many Christians, these atheists have no category for a Christ who was 100% man.

Of course, Christ wasn't living as a sinner separated from God.  Can we imagine Jesus going through life being the only person aware of God, and not having once asked God, or had it explained to Him that all men were sinners in need of the salvation that Christ was sent to bring them?

Do not the scriptures tell us that Elisha didn't physically travel down the road with his servant Gehazi when Gehazi ran after Naaman, nor was Elisha physically following Gehazi as the same returned with bags of silver and new clothes?  Did not Elisha says to the Gehazi on his return, "Did not my heart go with you, when the man turned from his chariot to meet you..." (c.f. 1 Kings 5:26).

Was Elisha God?  How could he have known those things?   Said another way, was this kind of knowledge something that was only available through one's own personal divinity.

If fallen, Old Testament prophets could be made aware of such things, Christ - who was in perfect fellowship with God - could know such things without depending upon or drawing upon His own divinity to furnish them. 

Which again is not to deny Christ's deity, but rather to point out that nothing Christ did, assuming He acted in the strength of the Holy Spirit (as scripture records Him doing) throughout his earthly ministry, would require Him to exercise His own divinity.  Didn't the Holy Spirit drive Christ into the wilderness after Christ received the Holy Spirit in the Jordan river?  Did not Christ's earthly ministry begin immediately at that time, and not before?  Why didn't Jesus do any miracles for the first 30 years or so of His life? etc.

There has never been a single reason for Jesus to exercise His own deity in performing any of the extraordinary things He did while upon the earth. People simply conclude that because Jesus was God, He could do miracles.  His sinless life, and the miracles He did certainly testify that Christ was the Messiah.  The only reason anyone thinks that Jesus performed miracles in the power of His own deity is because they know that He was and is God the Son.

If you've been thinking that Jesus did His miracles "because He was God" - you need to rethink your theology.  Answer for yourself why Jesus didn't know somethings, and why He was unable (as opposed to unwilling) to do miracles at times.  The doctrine of the Hypostatic union is not half man and half God - a blended mix of each - it is 100% man and 100% God, with no mixing of either in the single person of Christ.

Just because you know already that Jesus is God is NOT a good enough reason to assume that He did miracles "because" he was God.

Consider the temptation that the devil plied Christ with in the wilderness - if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread - The temptation is what exactly?  The temptation is (don't miss this) to prove that He really is the son of God.  How?  By exercising His divine power and turning stones into bread for himself.  Yes he was hungry.  Yes to make himself loaves out of stones would have been to depend upon himself and his own ability to supply for himself rather than to trust in God's provision, and continue to obey the Holy Spirit who had led Him out into the wilderness on this fast - but if that were all there was to the temptation, there would be no reason to premise it with, "If you are the Son of God..."

Surely if Jesus was wandering around making use of His omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc. He would have been perfectly aware of, and experientially certain of His own divinity.  The devil wasn't tempting Jesus to prove to him that Christ really was the Son of God - what kind of temptation would that be?  The temptation was to prove it to Himself, rather than to trust the God whom Christ was aware of.  What a great victory that would have been for Satan!  He used the desire to eat to tempt Eve to distrust God, and hoped to do the same to Christ.

I don't hear a lot of teaching on this.

When most people think about the Hypostatic Union they think that 100% man means that Jesus was "really" a "real" human - but he was "also" 100% God, which is why he could do miracles.  But think that through. Was Elijah personal divined power to raise the widow's son from the dead (c.f. 1 Kings 17:17-24)?  Of course not.  Elijah was 100% man.  He didn't have the power to do that, but relied upon God to do it.  I suggest to you that this is exactly how Jesus lived His life here upon the earth.

I don't think Jesus exercised his own divinity during the incarnation even once.  He went to the cross by faith - trusting God that He truly was the Son of God.  Trusting God to truly raise Him from the dead. 

Tell me, if Jesus truly lived as a man, utterly dependent upon God during the incarnation - how does that inform and affect your walk with God?

When I speak of the Hypostatic union, I probably mean more by that than many who parrot the "Christ is 100% human and 100% God" party line.

I believe that when Christ became incarnate, He utterly emptied Himself of every divine prerogative, He remained God, but He did not take up and exercise His divine mantle during the incarnation.  He could have, but instead he trusted God even as we are to trust God.

Had Christ exercised His divinity during the incarnation it would have meant that His flesh was merely a ruse - a sheath for His divinity. He would have had the appearance of a man, but would have been -only- God. That is difficult to see if one has been programmed since Sunday School to think that Jesus did everything in His own divinity. But when you see it, you see it.

Why do I bother making such a fuss about the humanity of Christ?

Am I overstating Christ's humanity?

I don't think I am, in fact I think most people are trained to understate Christ's humanity. On the other side of the horse, because I am talking about Christ's humanity, some might expect me to balance that out by giving the same attention to Christ's divinity - lest I present too much humanity, and not enough God. But I am not writing today to present the picture of Christ's deity - I can do that another time, even if I risk presenting what some might imagine to be a lop sided picture of our Lord. I have explained that I am speaking of the incarnation, and because I have framed my discussion thus, I beg some leniency from my readers in the matter.

The picture I want to paint of our Lord is that He lived His earthly life as the second (pre-fall) Adam - living in perfect harmony with God, unhindered by sin, but not without temptation. He lived by faith and even performed miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit just as other earthly prophets have done, but His ministry was not like theirs, for He was the sinless Messiah whom was sent by God to redeem God's people.

Good doctrine answers difficult questions.  Here is one application of this doctrine that strengthens me in my weaknesses.

The Jesus portrayed in the scriptures lived each moment in harmony and fellowship with God, yet we are told that He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

How could an omniscient Jesus have ever been tempted not to trust God?

My walk of faith runs up against temptations that I need Jesus to have faced if I am going to continue to be a Christian - if I am going to continue to believe the bible.

How can an omniscient Jesus truly understand the very common and natural - even foundational - temptation we all experience to doubt God?

Only if Jesus was 100% human could He experience that kind of temptation.  If my "version" of the Hypostatic Union merely pays lip-service to Christ's humanity, then where do I draw my strength from in a temptation to doubt God - certainly not from an omniscient Christ by virtue of his deity was incapable of doubting God's provision.

The purpose of this post isn't to address this singular temptation that we all - I hold that up as one application of a sound and solid teaching.  How many of us excuse our own sin on the grounds that "no one is perfect" - Christ was perfect, though He truly experienced every kind of temptation we could ever receive.  This is the man who sits at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in the true and heavenly Holy of Holies - it is He is is our High Priest - the one who mediates on our behalf - the more Human he is to us, the more we can trust him to sympathize with us.

Oh for the love of God - how many of you reading worship the whole Christ, and how many of you only worshiping His divinity?  How many of you have so focused on the deified Jesus that you cannot and will not appeal to His humanity when you're before the throne of grace in prayer?

Those of us who call on the name of the Lord will be tempted even as Jesus was tempted - to believe that God isn't really for us - to believe that in spite of His promises God may not save us.  How many of you are crippled spiritually by the shame of your sin, and stay there because you're too ashamed to come to God for cleansing?

How did this post get to the place where I find myself able to encourage you dear reader, to draw near to Christ? We got here by examining the reality of Christ's humanity.  The reality of Christ's humanity should emboldens us trust in his sympathetic compassion for us at the throne of grace - but more than this - it should inform us of what can be done by a faithful follower of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  More on that in a bit...

You see, when Christ was united on the cross to every sinner who turned to God in faith - when Christ's sinless life was knit to our sinful lives in a union stronger than death - in that moment Christ entered, for the first time, experientially, into the curse that we live under. In that moment Jesus experienced - as a man - first hand the separation from God that all of us were born into.  In that moment - the moment when Christ most "needed" intimate fellowship with God - in that moment as He hung there humiliated, and dying - in that moment Christ knew the same struggle we struggle with - is God there? Has He abandoned me? Am I truly His Child? Have I messed up? Have I failed? Is this happening to me because I failed?  Will God really save me?

When we use the phrase: being baptized by fire - we mean that we come into some understanding through an all out, and typically jarring, immersion into a thing.

I think that it is colloquially viable to say that Christ was baptized by fire that day. He was suddenly, after a life of perfect fellowship with God - cast (by our sins) into the vacuum in which we live - cast out of God's presence.  As a man, Jesus found Himself alone for the first time, in a situation that can only be described as profoundly horrible - would there ever have been a moment in Christ's life where the certainty of God the Father's presence would have been more welcome?

Yet there Christ suffered, suddenly cut off from that fellowship He had always enjoyed.

 Prior to this moment, we might have been able to weakly argue that Jesus didn't really suffer the same temptations as we do - we might be able to say that Jesus, knowing He was God, and living in constant fellowship with God, didn't know what it was like to face fear and doubt, but in that moment when we were united together with Him in the way Paul makes clear in Romans 6 - in that moment when Jesus hung on the cross and God began to pour out His wrath us our sin - in that moment of complete and utter separation from God, Christ stepped out of the humanity that knew God's presence, and into the humanity that each of us lives under.  A place where faith isn't answered by seeing God in person, but by trusting Him on His word.  A place Christ had never been to until that moment and a place where Christ suffered more than any of us can possibly imagine. 

I say, the reason Christ's humanity matters to me, is because I know that Christ identifies with my suffering. I know that there is no fear, no doubt, no amount of suffering I can muster that can compare to what He suffered on Calvary (I am not thinking about the physical suffering or the humiliation either). I am thinking only about the compounded, jarring struggle of faith that took place on the cross -IF- Christ was truly human.

In that moment, Christ either suffered what I suffer, or He did not. Either my hope rests in the clinical knowledge that I suffer, or in the first hand sharing of my suffering - either Christ has compassion because He has experienced my suffering, or He has compassion because He can intellectually appreciate my suffering.

The bottom line, and the point of this post, is that theology makes Christ real to me; theology magnifies Christ in my life - theology - knowing the truths of scripture, knowing the truths of God - theology edifies me. The humanity of Jesus is life to me - it feeds my soul when I am weak, it keeps me humble when I imagine I am something - it is more than just a lesson, more than an intellectual footnote - it is life itself, as all good doctrine ought to be.

My encouragement to you, whether you follow my opinion or not, is to make sure that you relate to Christ personally - on a person to person level. Jesus is not a faceless force, but a person: God - a person we can relate to if we stop praying to a vague idea, and start speaking to a real person. Make certain that you are pursuing Christ in your religion, and not pursuing religion in your Christianity.

As a final note - the moment you understand that Jesus was as human as you or I, and that He did what He did, not in the power of His own divinity but rather in the power of the Holy Spirit - you should gain strong assurance that you will succeed in whatever the Holy Spirit leads you to accomplish for Christ's glory.

I doubt the Holy Spirit is going to empower you to do any of the signs and wonders that Christ did.  I say that because that's been my experience, and it's been your experience too.  But that doesn't mean an obedient Christian won't see miracles.  Christ fed sinners with food from God.  He healed and restored the health of sick or crippled sinners.  He raised dead sinners back to life.  We who have the Holy Spirit through Christ today routinely do greater miracles than these daily.  Which is greater?  The people that Christ raised from the dead, died again.  The people whom you've led to the Lord, though the die, they will be raised again never to die thereafter.  Which is greater?  To open the eyes of a person so that he or she can see the things in this world, or to open the spiritual understanding of a sinner so that they can comprehend the gospel and be saved?  To feed a man with bread that perishes or to give a man truth that feeds his soul for all eternity? 

If you're the kind of Christian who says, well.  Jesus did that because he is God, and since I'm not God, I can't do that and I never will be able to do that - you are living a life of justified failure and defeat - you can't do it, so there is no point in bothering.  I will tell you right now it is your unfortunate theology that is sapping the life out of your faith, and keeping you comfortable in your inactivity.

But if you understand that Jesus did everything that He did here upon the earth entirely as a man, and that you're able, as a man to do the same - maybe, just maybe, you'll do something with the talents that Christ gave you.


posted by Daniel @ 6:42 AM   18 comment(s)
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
What if someone in the second century decided that orthodox Christianity had been sufficiently defined. That is, what if the whole church got together and agreed that our understanding of all that is Christianity was complete - that all things were perfectly understood and could no longer be improved upon.

Well for one thing, we probably wouldn't have infant baptism in any church, since we have no record of infant baptism until later on in church history. But before all us credo-baptists rejoice and say, amen, let it come - we would also not believe that the Holy Spirit is God, nor would we believe that God exists in three persons as One God. That is, we would not be trinitarian.

My point is not that Christianity "grew" over time inventing new things as it went. Hardly. Christian theology, when attacked, responded to attacks by articulating more precisely what the scriptures revealed. If the Holy Spirit opens our understanding that we may see the truth of scripture and comprehend it - He doesn't do so universally. Detractors suggest that Christianity is irrational, illogical, and flawed. They say, "Here is a contradiction in your scripture, how can you believe it?" and the church answers that accusation by explaining that this is only a contradiction if one interprets the passage poorly, or worse, reads the passage out of its context. The work of the apologist, in the early church, formed much of the basis for our modern day theology.

It isn't that Christianity changed, it is that Christianity became more precise. What was vague, became, over time, more clear. They didn't see the Trinity clearly at the first, but in time it became more and more obvious that the Holy Spirit was not some impersonal force, but a person, and not merely an angel or principality, but as much God as our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit as God was not a new Christian innovation, nor was the illumination that brought about our understanding brighter or more clear - rather this truth became evident the longer enlightened Christians were exposed to it. To be sure, people weren't all that interested or concerned about whether or not the Holy Spirit was God in the first couple of centuries after Christ. No one was asking those kinds of questions, and so not many gave the matter their full attention, if they gave the matter any attention at all. But when it became an issue, the church stood up, took notice, and answered the question.

Nothing new, not more light - just a more precise understanding.

Now, I asked at the first, what if we had stopped in the second century and imagined ourselves to have full and complete knowledge, to imagine that Christianity had now been fully defined, given that we had a completed bible, and that Christianity had been unloosed in the world. If we had done that, we would have been as arrogant as we were ignorant.

I am convinced that even today our faith, our doctrines, and our understanding - while orthodox and substantial are by no means complete or perfect. It isn't that orthodoxy is wrong, rather it is wrong to imagine that because we have orthodoxy we necessarily have defined forever what orthodoxy is. Just as it would have been arrogant at any other time in Christian history to hold to the idea that we had finally fully defined everything Christian - so too we are arrogant today, and perhaps more so, if we think that orthodoxy is as polished as it can or needs to get.

I cringe when I hear zealous defenders of the faith arbitrarily dismiss doctrine that isn't perfectly "orthodox". I believe, as other sober men do, that orthodoxy is more correct than unorthodoxy - but I don't go so far as to dismiss anything because it doesn't perfectly line up with the present orthodox understanding. Instead I examine a thing and see if it contradicts the truths the orthodox understanding labours to articulate and preserve. If it doesn't, then I don't dismiss it, but I examine it to see if it is compatible - that is, I consider the implications of the thing, I consider whether it leans to this side or that, and only after careful consideration to I amend my own theology by it, or reject it as flawed.

I will give an example that all of us can relate to: The atonement. Do you think the second century Christians were seriously debating which model we should use to understand the atonement? No doubt there was some discussion on the matter, but by and large people understood on some base level, given the whole levitical sacrificial system, how the atonement worked. It was imprecise however. They didn't really grasp the depth of it all - their understanding remained shallow until it was challenged, then it grew more precise. When that new definition was challenged, it was answered with an even more precise definition. But then people stopped asking "what?" and started asking, "why?", and "how does that work?" and suddenly new models came into being to answer these new questions. Some of these models attempted to maintain what was orthodox, but others abandoned what was understood to be orthodox, and "re-thunk" the whole orthodox notion.

Think of that whole new perspective on Paul fiasco that was so big a few years back - that is, some bright star says, Hey, I don't think we ever understood this stuff, so I am going to go back to some previous point, and starting from there I am going to build upon different presumptions and see what I end up with, and if I like it better than what I got, I will stick with that. Things like this are commonly done when we hold some "moral by worldly standards" position that chafes against, orthodoxy, so that we reinterpret scripture until it can be made to harmonize with our worldly presupposition. It happens all the time, and we need to be on guard against those wolves who come in the guise of sheep, who would prefer a pack of wolves to a flock of sheep, and set about devouring whom they may with their worldly theology dressed up as "new" Christian doctrine.

The point is there are two sides of this horse we can fall off on: We can imagine that we have finally arrived, and close the book on orthodoxy imagining that what we have can no longer be improved upon - let's call that falling off the horse on the left side. The other error is to abandon orthodoxy altogether, and reinvent Christianity in the image of our culture and its decaying moral standards. Both are wrong.

I was reading something this morning that sparked this post. In it a respected apologist was giving his opinions about one thing or another, and in doing so criticized another believer because that believer regarded some orthodox point as inadequate, in that holding to it, as is, produced a dilemma that is patently contrary to what scripture teaches. Rather than acknowledge the dilemma, the apologist was inclined to dismiss the source on account of this, and even go so far as to call that believer's faith into question.

God help us - those of us who love to study God's word, and who are teachers, and especially those of us whom others look up to - let us be careful with our words; full of grace. Let us be on guard against bad theology, certainly, even zealously so, but let us be careful not to allow zeal to so blind us that we start to call out the tares as though we had better insight than even the angels of God.

I don't say that we must embrace as a brother those who are obviously deceived in their claims to be a Christian, nor do I say we should embrace every doctrine as being "possibly" true - some are self evidently false. What I am saying is that we should let scripture alone determine whether we give a strange doctrine a hearing. Much of our theology is derived from previous theology rather than from scripture directly. Just as the highest row in a house of cards rests on the rows beneath it, much of our theology is based on precepts we presume to be as true as scripture - as we build our theological house higher and higher, we are doing the very thing that the prophet said was the source of error in Israel - that is, we build precept upon precept, and that is why by Christ's day, they had so corrupted the scriptures, that children could dishonour their parents in the name of righteousness. We must be on guard, I say, especially those of us who teach - not to rest our theology on presumption, but rather on scripture directly - and to be on guard against any theology that cannot be shown from scripture directly, and again to be open to any theology that can - even if in doing so it challenges some orthodox point. I truly believe that some of what we hold as orthodox today can be improved upon - explained more precisely. When in time we see the earth is not the hub around which our solar system orbits, we must adjust our model, not defend it.

Anyway, I gotta get to work.


posted by Daniel @ 6:39 AM   4 comment(s)
Monday, November 23, 2009
The main prerequisite to revival...
Revival, as described in scripture, doesn't resemble what most people think of when they hear the word revival.

In the modern church the term revival is almost synonymous with week-long evangelical meetings. When some think of revival they think of a great "movement of God" and by "movement of God" they can mean anything from an uncommon number of souls being saved all the way down to people falling on the ground and acting like barnyard animals. That is, the term itself, whether it has a proper meaning or not, is by no means use according to such limits - about the only thing universal about the term revival is that it is supposed to describe something out of the ordinary.

When I talk about revival, I therefore need to be specific, lest I speak about one thing, and the reader imagine I am describing some other thing that shares the label. When I say revival, I am talking about an orderly thing, not the slayings in the spirit, not the dog barking, and snake slithering, not the week-long focused evangelical meetings in another church, or in my own - I am talking about a work that takes place in the heart - a circumcision, if you will, whereby a soul whose affection has been divided between God and the world, finally let's go of the world and is able to grasp with both hands the Lord Jesus Christ (figuratively of course).

The work of revival is really a work of "true" repentance; which itself differs from what we typically call "repentance" in that it is a work that takes place in the heart, rather than in the hands. It isn't stopping what we do with our hands, but it is a surgical work that takes place in our heart; where we determine to have Christ above everything else.

I want to be clear on that, so follow me as I expound the thought. Most "serious" Christians - the ones who attend church, read their bible, attend prayer meetings, and have a real (though not necessarily "church-sponsored") ministry - most of those who typically make up the core group - the twenty percent who do eighty percent of the work - these believers typically love the Lord Jesus; and hate sin - but they are not sold out. That is, they love Jesus, alongside their love of many other things. Jesus might be the biggest love of their life - or maybe the second or third biggest, as some love family above their Lord, or even friends - but most of this group can say that Jesus is in one of the top three "slots" for the things they place their affection on.

Now, this might sound strident, but bear with me: it doesn't matter if Jesus is their number one affection or not; it doesn't matter because all this says is that Jesus is pretty high in a list of many affections.

Scripture says that we are not to love the world, or the things in the world. Meditate on that for a second... I'll wait.

Okay - consider this now. If we are not to love the world or the things in the world, then even if Christ is our first place affection, He is still just one affection amongst many - and the rest of our affection is put into things that are in, or of, this world.

When Christ calls the church to repent (no less than six times in the book of Revelation alone), He is not calling us to simply "stop sinning so much" - but rather to repent of the love of this world in order that He becomes our sole and only affection. Repentance - true repentance - happens when Christ becomes our only affection.

You cannot love the Lord with your whole heart if your heart continues to love other things. It is this love for other things, whether it be people, things in the world - or even spiritual "seeming" endeavors such as "ministry" - if we love a thing that isn't Christ, we are divided in our affection, and so long as we are in that state, we are not "revived" - but in need of the kind of repentance that is all consuming. When we turn our hearts to God in full - that is "revival" - that is "normal" Christianity.

We know that Christianity is almost universally "abnormal" and that knowledge can only serve to strengthen our acceptance of that which is abnormal - or maybe "sub"-normal.

I am fairly convinced that the moment Christ has all our affection, only then are we able to have a right affection for anything else.

Revival comes then, when we surrender every other affection. I think this is what Jesus was talking about when He taught that we are to count the cost. If we want to follow Him, we can't stay pacified and slumbering in the dormancy of half-hearted Christianity; either be hot or cold, but being lukewarm... yuck!

Here is the thing - we don't really want to put on the Lord Jesus Christ as our sole and only garment - what we really want is to wear Jesus as the primary accessory in our life - a masterful centerpeice on a table full of other things too. We want the Lord, and we have been trained to think that He must be first in our affection, when what we should have been trained to think is that He must be our only affection.

Having said that, let me mitigate against those who have eyes and are blind, and ears and are deaf - that is, let me quickly quantify my remarks here, so as to avoid having to explain myself later.

The one who loves Christ, and only Christ - this one (by definition) will loves all that Christ loves; he or she will still love his or her children, but not with something so base as that carnal affection that even pagans muster for their children, rather he or she will love his or her spouse and children, friends and family with the love that is superior to every other love - for they will love these as Christ loves these, and more - they will love those whom Christ loves to their own hurt - that is, they will love even those who will not reciprocate their love.

It's big and heady stuff, and many and most of you aren't really into that, I know. We have our organized religion, and that's hard enough to manage sometimes. What kind of burden am I suggesting?

Well, I am suggesting a yoke that is light and a burden that is easy, it only seems heavy and impossible because the thought of setting aside all the things in the world in favor of Christ will never, ever satisfy the flesh, and the flesh will by no means desire such a thing. But if Christ's Spirit is in you, I know that you will desire this, for deep calls unto deep.

Now, how do you go about repenting? You just do it. Period. You -can- do it if Christ is in you, the reason you don't is because you don't want to. It really is that simple. Rather than encourage you with "try this" and "try that" sort of advice, I will just say, God help you if you don't repent fully. The throne of grace is waiting, but it's a limited time offer.

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posted by Daniel @ 8:22 AM   0 comment(s)
Friday, November 13, 2009
Is A Jew Justified By Being A Jew?
The Christian Perspective.
I want you to imagine a Jewish person who is as sincere in his religion as is humanly possible, full of zeal for God, and as faithful to his religious duty as is humanly possible. Even as I set up our hypothetical Jewish person, I can't help but think how that describes the Apostle Paul prior to his conversion to Christianity, but while I might hit on that in a bit, let's just ignore it for now.

What I want to establish is that our hypothetical Jew is by no means a hypocrite - he is not adding to the scriptures any modern practice, or skimping on anything, or living like the world - but is constant in prayer, in meditation on the OT, and again, in practicing biblical righteousness. He is no slough - but about as real a deal as you can get.

Such a man would be an admirable thing indeed, for a faithful Jew lives to serve the one and only God.

Now, let us also say that our hypothetical Jew lived in a bubble somehow, with other hypothetical Jews, who had never in his life ever been exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, nor even heard that someone had come to earth 2000 years ago, claiming to be the Messiah, and proving that claim not only by signs and wonders, but by a righteous life, by fulfilling every Messianic prophesy that relates to the incarnation, and finally by being raised from the dead by God the Father; let's say that our Jew has never even heard of such a thing, nor has any in his community.

The question is, can this Jew be justified by being a Jew.

We set up the question in this way, because we do not want to say this Jew is rejecting Jesus Christ, for in order to reject the Christ, he would have to have heard about Jesus. So I want to underscore the fact that this hypothetical Jew has never heard about Jesus.

Suppose our hypothetical Jew lives his entire life in profound devotion, and dies calling on the name of the Lord even as the Patriarchs did. Will this Jew be justified at the judgment?

Having set up the scenario as I have, I suspect that some readers might be inclined to say, "Yes" - that this Jew, having never heard the gospel, and therefore having never rejected the Messiah, would likely be justified by his faithfulness as a Jew. The same would argue that his religion was the best it could be and was limited only to the light he was given, and therefore having lived as well as could be expected given the available revelation, that God would be unjust to expect more from on judgment day.

I set up the elaborate scenario to answer the question, is there more than one way to be justified, or put another way, can you be justified in the OT way now that the NT has been established, and the orthodox answer is "No" you cannot.

In truth, if such a hypothetical Jew did exist, and lived his life according to the OT standard, and died ignorant of Jesus, having never rejected him - this would not justify him on the day of judgment. On the day of judgment, God would examine this Jews sins, and all his religion will not suffice to cancel out even the smallest of sins. The hypothetical Jew cannot be saved under the old covenant scheme because that scheme was invalidated by the Messiah. Men were never justified by keeping the law, but by grace through faith - as Paul argues in the NT, showing how scripture says Abraham was justified - not by being righteous, but by trusting God - that is, Abraham was justified by faith, not by works of the law. So too our hypothetical Jew, having kept the law as perfectly as humanly possible (which means imperfectly), cannot be justified by it any more than Abraham himself could have been justified by righteous deeds.

The objection that arises in some camps is that this isn't "fair". This hypothetical Jew was sincere, and did all that he knew to do - how can a just God condemn a man who lived a better life than most Christians live today? An objection that betrays a gross misunderstanding of how we are justified.

We are not justified because we are good people or righteous, we are justified because Jesus was good and righteous, and in trusting Christ, we were baptized by Him into the body of Christ (the church) - united with Christ in such a way that when Christ was crucified, we too were crucified (in Him), so that our sins were carried by Christ to Calvary where God carried out a Judgment against them. God poured His wrath on Christ, and He, along with all who were united together with Him, died. Death had no claim on Christ however; Christ gave up his life and died the death that He died because He was willing to be united to those sinners whom God had elected to save from His wrath through Christ. It was the lives of these sinners that death had legitimate claim to, and when Christ received this wrath it was not for His own sin, for He was without sin, but was for the sin of those who were united together (by faith) with Him. Death took Christ, along with all who were in Him, but death had no claim on Christ.

It was for that reason that God, in order to remain righteous, had to raise Christ again from the dead - and it was for this reason that we who were united together with Christ, were raised from the dead in Christ - that is, just as Christ received death through our sins, so too we receive life through Christ's righteousness, for when God raised up Christ, He raised up all who were in Christ - this was the purpose of our union with Christ. Just as this union took Christ's life on Calvary, so it gave life to us on the third day - resurrection day.

The Jew who is not joined to Christ through faith, is not, nor cannot be saved, from God's wrath through his law keeping, sincerity, or own righteousness - it just isn't sufficient. The Jew is still a sinner, and his own righteousness, no matter how profound it is compared to others on the planet, does not attain to the level of righteousness required - which is a perfect righteousness.

One might object at this point also, saying, well then, how were the Jews ever justified? If they were justified by the law prior to Christ, why can't a hypothetical Jew who has never heard about Jesus be similarly justified?

Again - no person, Jew or otherwise, was ever justified by keeping the law, or prior to the advent of the law, by being personally righteous. The only means of justification has always been as an act of God's grace through faith. Before a law was ever given men were justified this way - by faith, that is, by seeing themselves as sinners, and therefore utterly and absolutely unworthy. In seeing themselves as sinners, they acknowledge that they cannot undo their sin - they cannot simply do enough good to cancel out those acts of rebellion (disobedience) that they have committed in the past - they see their own righteousness for what it is - vacuous, impotent, and as the prophet says - a filthy thing; and they look to God to save them from this - that is, they call on God to save them, and do not look to their righteousness as qualifying them for it. They call on God not to assist them in their righteousness so that they can earn heaven, but rather to have mercy on them, since they realize they can never earn heaven by their own acts of righteousness.

The objection at this point would probably focus on the fact that the Jew didn't "reject Jesus" - as though the reason God pours out his wrath on sinners were something other than their sin - that is, as though the reason hell is populated is because people "reject Jesus". This sort of objection springs from a corrupted teaching - the idea that sin doesn't condemn sinners, but rather failing to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and turn to Him in faith condemns sinners.

Here is how this works. Everyone who has sinned will be condemned by God for their sin on Judgment day. Big, small, young, old, domestic and foreign -we will all face the judgment, and everyone who has sinned will receive the same guilty judgment, and all who have sinned will receive God's wrath for their sin.

Hold on you say, what about those who are saved?

Those who are saved will be judged like everyone else on Judgment day, but the sentence for their sins has already been carried out - God has poured His wrath out on them already in Christ. God does not "enter into" judgment (i.e. carry out the judgment) when they are judged, because He has already done so in Christ.

Those who are condemned and are not in Christ, will certainly receive God's wrath. Here is a subtlety, so listen up. All of these will have lived a life that rejected God as their ruler, whether that their understanding of God as revealed in the Old Testament, or whether that be a greater rejection, having rejected the revealed Christ. But it will not be their rejection of God that condemns them - it will be their sin. To be sure, the very nature of sin - the very heart of it - is to reject God; that is where sin comes from - a heart that rejects God's rule, and in rejecting God's rule, rejects God.

God will not be moved by those who performed outward signs of righteousness, if inwardly they rejected Him. No one will go to hell "because they rejected God" they will reject God because that is what sin is, and they will go to hell because they did not repent of this rebellion in their life. Some will have spent their life pursuing sin with wanton abandon, and others will have spent their life in religious duty trying to earn a better afterlife by their righteous deeds - without ever acknowledging that they are and have always been, rebels who resent God's dominion. Whatever seeming obedience sprouted from ones such as these was always and ever intended to pacify God, to jump through the hoops God put before them, in order that they would reward them with a better afterlife. All their righteousnesses were performed to purchase something for themselves - that is, every seeming good deed was in fact an act of self preservation - an act of selfishness - an act of sin and rebellion.

The subtlety here is that some truly believe that you are condemned for failing to acknowledge the Messiah, when it works the other way - it is sin that causes every last person on earth to "fail to acknowledge" the Messiah. It doesn't matter whether we hear about the Messiah or not - from the cradle we reject God's rule, and we go right on rejecting God's rule throughout our life whether we are religious or not. We do this BECAUSE we are in bondage to it; that is, to sin. That is what sin looks like.

How then can anyone be saved? I mean, if we all start off as rebels because of our bondage to sin - why is it that some people turn to Christ and others do not?

The scriptures tell us. No man can come to Christ unless God the Father draws that person to Christ.

What was Paul doing when Christ met him on the road to Damascus? Who was Paul? Paul was Saul of Tarsus - a zealous Jew, and by zealous, I mean a keeper of the law, a student of the best schools in Jewish law, a man driven to do for God all that can be done for God. Saul was, according to his own understanding, acting in accord with all of Judaism when he took letters in his hand with him to Damascus - to bring the Christians he found there to "justice" - Paul had been engaged in rooting out the Christians so that they might be stoned to death. He was about as far away from being a Christian as one could possibly be - and yet he was full of zeal for God.

How, we say, did Paul meet Christ then - was he looking for Him? Was he trying to become a Christian? Did some coincidence happen by which he decided to become a Christian after changing his mind about things? NO! Jesus Christ came to Paul on the Damascus road, and intervened in Paul's life directly - having chosen Saul as one of His ministers before Saul was ever born - and having chosen this moment to reveal Himself to Saul, for this purpose - to call Saul to Himself on the day of His own choosing. Saul was struck blind and led to Damascus, and there he fasted, neither eating nor drinking for three days, and spent his time praying - and it was in this attitude of humility before God that Saul became a believer. Did Saul just arbitrarily choose one day to become a Christian? No, God drew Saul to Christ - just as God draws all who come to Him to Himself.

Anyone who is saved, is saved from sin - that is, they are saved from rebellion against God's rule in their heart, by and through God calling them to Himself. As many as God calls in this way, will come.

Some might balk at that because they have a corrupted understanding of righteousness. They believe that if God calls one person, it is only right for Him to call all people, lest some lack the opportunity to be saved. But such a presupposition imagines that there is something wrong or unrighteous about letting a guilty person receive the wages of their sin - that is, that God, in order to be "good" has to try and save people from His wrath, as though being merciful to one sinner suddenly made it unjust to allow any sinner to face God's wrath unless they too were given the same opportunity. I say, they have a corrupted understanding because they fail to understand that God's mercy here doesn't provide a mere opportunity to escape - but causes everyone who receives that mercy to turn away from their rebellion, and turn towards God in faith - that is, this act of mercy is the granting of repentance - the granting of the ability to overcome rebellion by turning to God in faith.

You see, if a Jew today were to live in accord with orthodox Judaism, keeping the law as best he can - even if he never hears about Jesus in his whole life - he will by no means be justified by being a good Jew - for no Jew was ever justified by being a good Jew. Justification happens by faith, and not by works.

Now, in order to make the example for "realistic" - let's describe two hypothetical Jews, one who is justified, and one who is not justified, and we will do this in both the OT and again in the NT.

JEW #1 in the OT (Not Justified): Keeps the law, prays, goes to temple, tithes, etc. Trusts that doing these things will satisfy God's shopping list of requirements, and looks to these acts of righteousness, coupled with his own ancestry, to qualify Him as a member of Abraham's covenant, and therefore justify him in the judgment. He will not be justified.

JEW #2 in the OT (Justified): Keeps the law, prays, goes to temple, tithes etc. Puts no trust in keeping the law as a means of justification but trusts God, even as Abraham trusted God, and as a son of Abraham's faith - that is, as one who did as Abraham did - believed God and it was accounted to Him as righteousness - is justified by faith.

Jew #1 in the NT (not Justified): Keeps the law, prays, goes to the synagogue, tithes, etc. Trusts that doing these things will satisfy God's shopping list of requirements, and looks to these acts of righteousness, coupled with his own ancestry, to qualify Him as a member of Abraham's covenant, and therefore justify him in the judgment. Whether he has heard about Jesus and rejected him or hasn't heard about Jesus at all - he will not be justified.

JEW #2 in the NT (Justified): Keeps the law, prays, goes to the Synagogue, tithes etc. Puts no trust in keeping the law as a means of justification but, trusts God, even as Abraham trusted God, and because of this trust is able to see that Christ is the Messiah - thus he too is a son of Abraham's faith - that is, he did as Abraham did - he believed God and it was accounted to Him as righteousness - and is justified by faith, but his faith is in God's Messiah, Jesus whom he is able to recognize because of his genuine faith.

The orthodox position, while I may not have articulated it perfectly above, is plain and clear - no one, whether of Jewish or Gentile birth, can be justified by adhering to a form of Judaism that fails to recognize the Christ that Judaism announced would come.

Do I believe that the Jewish people are going to be justified? Yes and no. I believe that those Jews who are of the same faith as Abraham will recognize their Messiah in Christ, and be justified, and those Jews who are of the same cut as the Pharisees who rejected Christ will not be justified, and will reject the Christ even as their forefathers did.

When Judaism was still the womb of God's Messiah, there were Jews who were of the faith, and Jews who were not. Only those who were of the faith were justified. But when Judaism gave birth to God's promised Messiah, those who were of Abraham's faith believed in God's Messiah. So it is today. Christianity is what Judaism has always promised, and anyone who claims to believe the promises of God, and the God of those promises, but rejects Him whom God had always promised - is deceived, thinking themselves to be of the faith, but lacking the very thing they imagine themselves to have.

So, no. A Jew, however kind, sincere, and magnanimous, is not, and cannot be justified by practicing a form of Judaism which denies the whole purpose of Judaism - God's Christ. Adhering to Judaism doesn't save anyone, and it has never has saved anyone, yet in the revelation that God delivered to the Jews, we find the faith of Abraham which justifies, and the promise of God's Messiah which all of Judaism was intended to bring into being.

If you are a Jew and are reading this, that is what most evangelical Christians believe. We believe that the Messiah would come from the Jews, as the Scriptures teach, and that He has come in the person of Jesus Christ. We believe that God is one God, and that there is no other, but that this one God exists as three persons, God the Father who decrees and directs His will, God the Son Jesus Christ, who though perfectly sharing the will of God the Father, acts in creation to carry out His will, and God the Holy Spirit who while perfectly sharing the will of God, acts as the power by which the Father's decree is carried out by the Son. We do not believe these are three God's but one God, unified in will and purpose, but revealed to us as three personalities, one of whom took on human flesh in order to redeem mankind from sin as part of God's eternal purpose which was determined before mankind, and this universe ever came into being.

My intention is not to offend, but to instruct. This is what most evangelicals believe. There are some evangelicals who would deny bits and pieces of this, some more, some less - as consensus is based on study and discernment, and we are not all equal in these things. But I think I have given a fairly accurate portrayal of the general understanding.

If you are an evangelical who has pondered these things, I hope that you see, or are beginning to see, that we are justified by faith and not by works of the law, which is what this post underscores. Saved by God, not by religions, not by works, not by doing the right things, jumping through the right hoops, etc.

Grace and peace.

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posted by Daniel @ 8:22 AM   5 comment(s)
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Not So Well Seasoned
I was going to use the metaphor of rose coloured glasses, but in truth, rose coloured glass acts as a filter so that you are not seeing the whole picture, but only the part of the picture that is allowed through the filter - such that everything seems rosy because you are filtering out the light that isn't rosy.

But that didn't capture the flavour I was going for. In fact, flavour itself makes a better metaphor because, while seasoning can enhance flavour, seasoning can also mask flavour, even so far as to (effectively) change it.

God gives clear testimony to His character in His word. The bible doesn't provide us with as exhaustive a description of God as most of us would like - but the description the bible gives is consistent and clear. We do not have to wonder what God's character is like, for we know enough of God from His word to understand how God relates to His children. That God describes our relationship to Him as paternal is itself descriptive of God's character.

But, I find that even after years of study, and what I hope has been a very sincere walk with the Lord - yet I still anticipate that God will deal with me not according to the personality I find in scripture, but rather in accord with that personality as flavoured by my own fears and failures.

I think being a father is a profound responsibility. I think that because my understanding of God's love, mercy, and grace looks to earthly examples of the same for some foundation. That is, until someone points to a colour and says, "this one is orange" we don't really know what "orange" is. Likewise, if your childhood lacked perfect love, mercy, and grace, you will find yourself having no tangible point of reference for God's love, mercy and grace. That means that on some level each one of us will have some gaps to fill between what we have experienced in this life of love, mercy and grace, and the perfect image of these as found in the character of God.

For myself, I find that unless I make a careful choice to do otherwise, I tend to fill in these gaps with the sort of stuff that fear and ignorance can generate. That is, though I know the character of God in scripture, yet in practice I often season the character of God with the spice of my most frightened expectations.

It is this sort of "carnal seasoning" that keeps us from fully trusting God.

It isn't that God is untrustworthy, it is that we presume that God is going to abandon or fail us because we so often fail Him. The image we have of God has been seasoned by our carnal experiences. We cannot fathom His faithfulness because we have no experience with that kind of steadfastness.

I know this will describe some of us quite well, and others only marginally so, but it is something that I believe we are all in danger of falling into. I catch myself from time to time being afraid that God is going to not answer some prayer, or not be there for me because I fail Him daily - and I must catch myself because I know that is not only a horrible slander against God Almighty, but on a more personal level, it is the very opposite of faith - it is unbelief. It is me saying believing that God is different than He describes Himself as being, and I do that because I refuse to believe that God can remain charitable to such a sinning failure as myself.

But God is not as my fears paint Him to be. He is not a treacherous reed that if you lean on Him He splinters in your hands, rather He is a Strong Tower, and the righteous run into Him. How weak I am in faith and prayer when I take my eyes of the true character of God.

My encouragement then, to you dear reader, is to remember that no matter where you find yourself as you read this, know that God has set in place a throne of grace by which you may come to Him for help in time of need. He will not leave you, nor forsake you, but answers all who call on His name. His response is not based on your character, or your faithfulness, but upon His own. He is not like a man who withholds Himself or His blessing until He is certain that He will receive something good in return - but instead He is perfect in humility, in selflessness, in love.

Lean on God today, and not on your own understanding.


posted by Daniel @ 7:07 AM   4 comment(s)
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Ten Minute Thought...
I have set aside fifteen minutes this morning to blog. Not much, but I am a fairly fast typist.

Christian, have you ever consider God's faithfulness in the light of Jacob's faithlessness? Because this is a brief post, I will leave you to scour Genesis for the exact references yourselves, but consider that God chose to bless Jacob before Jacob was born. The covenant of Abraham and Isaac would pass to Jacob, the younger twin, and not to Esau. It was decided before Jacob and Esau had ever done anything, whether good or evil.

We know that scripture says, at a time before these twins were born, "Jacob I have loved, and Esau I have hated." and much is made of this in circles that discuss election and predestination, because clearly, Jacob was chosen by God long before Jacob determined to "choose God"; and it is clear that Jacob's eventual choice was something that God had predestined to happen. But this post isn't about the obvious, though there are some who would contend that this is obvious; no, this post is about the life of Jacob as it pertains to the relationship between God choosing him, and his choosing God.

Recall that Jacob was not exactly a righteous man. He took advantage of his brother Esau to gain his brother's birthright, then later, he deceived his father to gain Esau's patriarchal blessing, you know, where Isaac intended to name Esau as the family heir, and declare that after Isaac's demise, Jacob should serve and respect Esau as he had previously served and respected his father? But Jacob stole that from Esau through deceit.

Later, when Esau comforted himself with the thought that he would murder Jacob as soon as Isaac died, Jacob decided that his only recourse was to flee.

Was this (Jacob) a man of faith at this point? Was God pursuing Jacob because Jacob was so stalwart and faithful? Jacob well well aware of the promises God had made to his fathers; that is, Jacob would have known already what God had ordained for him, but did Jacob allow God to bring these things to pass, or did he work to bring these things to pass in his own power? In his own power, surely. A man who trusts that God is working doesn't lie and cheat to get what God has promised him. When his deceits finally stirred Esau's murderous wrath, it wasn't to God that Jacob ran. He ran to his relatives, putting his hope in a clever escape rather than in God's promises.

Yet even as Jacob fled, God came to him in a vision, and renewed the promise made to Abraham, but Jacob's response was even then less than faithful - that is, it wasn't Jacob's faith motivating and moving him when he said, "--IF-- you do this, --THEN-- I will follow you.

It is pretty hard to miss who is pursuing whom. The question we ask is whether God was pursuing Jacob because of Jacob's great faith/faithfulness, and the answer is also obvious - No.

Why do we ask these things? We ask them because I know that some who read this will know this much, that Jacob became a man of great faith in spite of his faithless beginnings. It took decades to bring this about, just as it take years for water to erode stone - but water does eventually erode stone, and here (in the case of Jacob) that is just what it did. Understand this - If God can change a man like Jacob who at first trusted only in himself, and whose "walk" was, at the first, filled with deceit and self effort - will God not do the same for all whom He has chosen? That is, did Jacob turn into a faithful man because he was pursuing God, or did Jacob turn into a faithful man because God was pursuing him. It is obviously the latter.

Some of you reading already believe yourselves to be children of God, but you struggle under Jacob's burden (as it were) - that is, you know yourselves to be children of God through the promise of the new covenant, and yet even knowing this you look to your own faithfulness rather than God's faithfulness as the evidence of your sonship. This happens (in part) because deep down somewhere, you still believe that it is your own effort that keeps you on the path. For this reason you find Christianity difficult: if your sonship rests in your ability to stay faithful, then every failure of (and in) your faith testifies to you that you are not a child of God. You are not looking to Him to keep you, but are looking to your own effort to secure His promise of sonship.

Look to Jacob therefore, and remember, oh troubled one, that it is not by your own might that you were chosen, nor by your great obedience that you were and are kept and loved - but that God has set His heart on you in spite of your failures, and is working in you, drawing you to Himself through every life experience even those which take years and decades to play out. God is in it for the long haul, having known all that would pass before He chose you. Your failure does not "surprise" God - He knew you would fail, and when, and how - and chose you anyway.

Do not rest/trust, therefore, in your own faithfulness, for you will fail, and each time you do your rest will be disturbed, your faith will be shaken, and your hope will dwindle. If you follow that path it will lead you to a cold, dead, faith. Instead look to Christ who has died for you when you were yet a sinner, and to God who called you to Himself through Christ long before you were ever inclined towards Him.

God is at work in you Christian, and though every believer pines for the day when we will be fully formed, yet if today we lack the maturity that we so hunger for, let us not be discouraged or think God is absent. Let us see the record that God has given in scripture - let us rehearse the history of men such as Jacob, men whom God formed into pillars of faith over the course of their entire lifetime. God can do a great work in a day, and He has given exceptional men to the church here and there - but I think there are far more Jacobs than John the baptists in the world.

So be encouraged you who look to yourself and wonder why it is taking so long. Start looking to God.
posted by Daniel @ 7:14 AM   3 comment(s)
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