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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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Tuesday, June 25, 2013
1 Timothy 2:1-4 Part II
In the first chapter of Paul's first letter to Timothy, Paul talks about false teachers in a way that suggests they are one of the reasons that Paul is writing the letter.  In particular they don't understand the purpose of the Law [of Moses] and they indulge in the sort of empty religious speculation that doesn't help either themselves, or those they engage thus, draw nearer to Christ in their faith.

Paul reminds Timothy that his own understanding of the law came to him, not because he was a model Christian, for he was, by his own account, the worst sinner around.  Demonstrating, with himself as the model, that a sinner's sinfulness does not dictate whether or not a person can be saved.

So when Paul tells Timothy that he should pray for all people, including kings and rulers because God desires the salvation of all people, we understand that someone, somewhere (likely these false teachers, but not necessarily) was suggesting that these rulers were not worthy of salvation, and certainly not worthy of our prayers.  Paul's testimony is that as wicked as he was, God's grace found him, and if that was possible for Paul, it was possible for any sinner - even kings and rulers. 

In other words, what Paul intends to show is not that God wants everyone to be saved, but rather that God is no more against the salvation of wicked rulers and kings than God was against Saul of Tarsus - a wicked and arrogant wretch of a blasphemer, who was in fact persecuting Christ Himself when he persecuted Christ's church.

Since Paul says plainly that God desires all persons to be saved, many readers are inclined to look no further into the matter.  they conclude that God wants to see every single person that was ever, or will ever, be born, saved.  But others (myself included) conclude that Paul is consistently using the term (in the immediate context) to refer to groups of persons rather than individuals.  When he calls Timothy to pray for all persons, he means to include these two groups of persons: kings and rulers, why?  The reason is because God desires the salvation of even persons from within those groups.  He desire to save people from within any and every group.

Yet that may sound in some ears to be a little contrived.  I mean, yes, Paul is speaking specifically about the inclusion of two groups of people (kings and rulers), but that doesn't mean that Paul is necessarily using the phrase "all persons" in a way that means all kinds of people.  His point is just as valid if by "all persons" he means "every single person".

While it is true that the context allows us to interpret the thought as God desiring to save all kinds of people, and while similar usages of the word "all" readily permit this, I expect that most people are going to cling to one interpretation over the other because of what each interpretation implies.

If our all knowing, all powerful God wants to save every person, he not only has the power to do so, he knows how to do so in such a way as to overcome any possible objection to him doing so.  Do you understand what I mean when I say that?  Some people imagine that the only way God can cause a sinner to repent and come to faith is if God compromises the will of that person in some way.   In other words, some people do not believe that an all knowing and all powerful God is able to bring a person to repentance and faith apart from making that person into some kind of puppet.

The words "all knowing" and "all powerful", suggest to me that God is able to do all things, including causing people to repent and come to faith in such a way that their own wills are by no means compromised.  If God cannot do that, He isn't all knowing (He couldn't think of a way to do it), or He isn't all powerful (He isn't able to make it happen).  It seems to me that unless God is able to make one of His creatures come to repentance and faith without compromising that creature's "free" will, then God isn't God.

Anyone who defines God as being incapable of unerringly and irresistibly causing a sinner to turn away from his or her rebellion against God and to exercise saving faith in Christ in such a way so as not to compromise in any way the will of the individual, does not worship an all powerful, all knowing God - they do not worship the God of the scriptures. 

The truth is that the omnipotent, omniscient God of the the scriptures is able - more than able - to save every single person who was ever, or will ever, be born.  He could do so in such a way as to make every last one of us repent and believe, without any coercion, without offending the freedom of our will, etc. etc.  He is God - He can do that.

Before we go on, we should note that salvation isn't passive.  When we say that God desire for people to be saved, what we are saying is that God personally wants to save them.  It isn't that God desires people to "somehow get saved" it is that God wants to personally bring about their salvation, since He (in and through Christ) is the One who saves.   The notion that this desire can be disconnected from God "wanting to make it happen" is untenable.

So we are left with two choices in our interpretation:

[1] God wants to justify every single person, can justify every single person, but only justifies some people, contrary to both His will, and His ability.

[2] God wants to justify all kinds of people, can justify all kinds of people, and does justify all kinds of people.

Clearly the latter is the only rational choice.  God does not, and cannot fail in accomplishing everything He intends to do.  We might entertain the picture of God all weepy-eyed and broken hearted because He wants to save all of us, but is only saving some of us - but that picture is as ridiculous as it is blasphemous.  God is not a creature whose dreams and aspirations are dependent upon outside forces that work against and limit the opportunity of the creature, such that the creature fails to accomplish its own desires.  There is no power greater than God, nothing to thwart or hinder His desires - what God desires, God gets.  Period.  To believe otherwise, is to believe that there is something greater and more powerful than God.

There is plenty of room to show from the remainder of the scriptures that God is by no means trying to save every last person.  That God ordained the condemnation of Judas is proof enough of that.  I could well write a Part III on this topic that goes into that, but ultimately the reason opinions differ on this point is not because of what the scriptures say elsewhere, but rather because of what we presume about God. 

If God is omnipotent and omniscient, we cannot interpret Paul's writing here to mean that God desires the salvation of every single person, because that would mean that God wants to make something happen, has the power to make it happen, but is being thwarted by something that God's power and knowledge cannot overcome.

So while the text itself may be a little ambiguous, we know that it cannot mean that God wants to personally save every single person, and we know this because if God wanted to save every single person, He would.  People who think otherwise do so not because they haven't been exposed to the rest of the scriptures, but rather because they have an image of God that isn't all it should be.
posted by Daniel @ 8:54 AM   4 comment(s)
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
1 Tim 2:1-4 Part I

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." - 1 Timothy 2:1-4 [ESV]

I want you to notice that Paul uses the phrase "all people" twice in this passage, and in particular I want you to consider that in using the same phrase twice in the same breath, he means to convey the same group of people in each use.

I read that passage like this: Don't exclude kings and persons in high places from your prayers because God desires to save kings and persons in high places just as much as he desires to save people who are not kings and persons in high places.

If you get something else out of that text, you're reading it wrong.

Yet some may object to this understanding because when they read verse four out of context, they can come away thinking that God desires to save every last person on earth. Yet if that is what the text means, then Paul is also saying that we should pray for every last person on earth.

Some see nothing wrong with that - and say, "Yes, it is the duty of every believer to so soften their heart that they dutifully pray for every last person on earth!"

I wonder what these make of our Lord's prayer in John 17:9, where He pointedly makes a distinction - while praying Himself - between those whom he is praying for, and those whom he is not (c.f. verse 9, "I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.").

Make no mistake, if you believe that Paul is commanding you to do something the Lord Jesus makes a point of -NOT- doing, then I don't think you are reading/understanding the scriptures properly, certainly not on this point, and likely not on a bunch of other points also.

The meaning should be clear: it isn't that God desires for every last person to be saved - it is that our Creator does not make distinctions along the lines of social standing or (perceived) authority, and neither should we as believers. God desires the salvation of His people, no matter their class or rank, and can I add, no matter their ethnicity, their age, their health, their gender, etc.
posted by Daniel @ 2:58 PM   0 comment(s)
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Wuv. Twew Wuv.

Having children, I recall vividly a funny scene from an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. The plot for this episode is driven by the fact that SpongeBob has misplaced his name tag. In an effort to remember where he lost it, he tried reenacting his day, but is foiled again and again by his friend Patrick's inability to reenact the moment when he returned SpongeBob's morning salutation.

What makes the scene is that SpongeBob had fallen down the stairs that morning, and had nearly wretched in tasting his snail's (Gary) food. With each iteration he forces himself to fall down the stairs anew, and try again the disgusting snail food, only to say hi to Patrick, who, like an actor who can't remember his lines, continues to mess up the scene.

At one point in the cycle, Patrick, in failing to hit his line asks himself, as though this were the actual problem, that old acting cliché, "What's my motivation?"

Every believer struggles and has struggled with obedience to their Lord, just as every believer has wondered in the depths of their soul if this disobedience isn't "proof" that there is something disingenuous about their profession of faith. Every honest believer, I say, has questioned the validity of their faith for this very reason - they see the flesh ruling in themselves, where they know the Spirit ought to be ruling.

Here (sadly) is an area where those who are blind often look for help and just as often are offered help by others who (while sincere and full of good intentions) are just as blind as they are. Thus both of these forge on along the same ditchward path, full of an ignorance and misplaced hope.

Once such ditchward path is the search for the proper motivation.

The honest Christian reasons that the problem can be boiled down to a lack of (consistent) desire. Sometimes the desire to obey God is greater than the desire to obey self, and sometimes the reverse is true. The heart reasons that the problem is therefore motivational. Sometimes it is motivated to obey, sometimes it isn't.

So the question shifts to, "what's my motivation?" and is followed up with the prescriptive, "what should my motivation be?". For most of us, our initial motivation is difficult to put our finger on. We want to live our life in a way that is pleasing to God. That is the common desire of every believer, but it is seldom the sole or motivator.

Sometimes new believers obey because they are afraid of what it would mean if they did not obey. They know that Christians ought to obey the Lord, and so they reason that if they disobey, it means they may not be genuinely saved. So they labor to obey in their own strength, in order to convince themselves, or remain convinced, that they are genuine saints.

Sometimes believers obey because they feel pressure to conform their behavior to what is acceptable in the church, or to protect their reputation. These typically are those believers who involve themselves in as many church activities as possible - because what would people think (gasp) if they didn't show up for such and such?

I could go on, I suppose, listing the myriad ways in which believers (carnally) provoke themselves to obedience. I could go on and survey for the reader, how such efforts are as futile and fruitless as they are exhausting, but if the reader is a person of a like faith to my own, they have their own experience which will testify to them that such avenues are like a roundabout that goes nowhere.

My concern, I say, is for that immature believer who (unfortunately) imagines or (worse) is taught by another, that the problem is that they have been employing the wrong motivation. They recognize (perhaps) that they have previously been attaching the wagon of their efforts to the horses of fear, or carnality, and now they see that such beasts as these cannot pull them where they need to be. So they look for a better beast, and eventually they come across the words of Christ: If you love Me, you will obey My commandments.

"Ah!" They say. "Here is the secret of obedience: Love!".

They are right. Love and obedience do go hand in hand, but unfortunately many believers today have a definition of love that is entirely different than that which the scriptures paint.

I have written on this before, so I won't delve into it as deeply here as I have dealt with it in previous days, but I will say this much - love is not to be confused with affection.

Ask yourself this, was it a great affection for God that drove you to repent and believe? Did you become a Christian because you were motivated by an affection for Christ? Did the single most poignant moment in your spiritual life - the greatest spiritual work that was ever done in you (God raising you from death to life) come about because of some profound feeling of affection you had for Jesus?

The answer is (of course) no. You did not repent of your rebellion against God, and accept His rule because you had a warm fuzzy feeling associated with God. If anything, you suddenly, and jarringly saw yourself as you truly are: a person whose self interest was so singular and definitive, that given a choice of eternal damnation or surrendering your will to God, you were inclined, for all your life up until the moment you surrendered to God, to choose your own rule over and above the rule of God. When you saw yourself as you truly are - enslaved to your own desires, and realized to your utter horror that you would always be thus enslaved, and that you would never, ever desire God's rule - you suddenly understood what it meant to be damned already. You suddenly realized that God was -right- to damn you, because you were utterly unfit for heaven.

You didn't have a nice warm feeling about God back then. You saw, for the first time perhaps, that God was your judge, and if you can be honest with yourself, you loathed Him, because it didn't seem right to you that He should give you life, only to serve Him with it. That He should condemn you simply because you wouldn't bend your will to His. He was, in your estimation, a great villain, and you were without hope on this account.

In that moment it wasn't some feeling of affection turned your heart away from yourself, and towards God. It was a sudden certainty - a clarity that came to you in the hollow of your despair, reaching down into the depths of your being, and setting Christ before you as the ready Hope of your salvation. Suddenly you -knew- that your only hope was Christ, and you knew that as unworthy as you were, the promise to justify you in Christ was given to unworthy people, and this hope, took hold in your being, and you cried out to God "for real" - and you knew that He heard your prayer because the love of God suddenly was poured into you through the Holy Spirit - you were born again, and suddenly all things were new.

The only reason I ask you, dear reader, whether it was affection that led you to Christ, is because I want you to remember that it wasn't your feelings that led you to Christ, it was the Holy Spirit. There is no way you could receive as true the truth of your own damnation apart from the revelation of the Holy Spirit. You could be intellectually convinced, but that is not the same as "receiving" the truth. The natural man has no problem conceiving and assenting to the truthfulness of spiritual truths - but he cannot receive them, because they are foolishness to him. When you received the truth of your own damnation, it was not because you were smart, or because you had the right feelings - it was because God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, opened your spiritual eyes to see it. God didn't have to do this for you, it was a work of grace. You didn't earn the right to have your eyes opened so that you could receive this truth - God granted it to you.

We can call this work of opening your understanding (so that you can receive what no man could otherwise receive) the "quickening" of the Holy Spirit, or more plainly, the work of regeneration. To use an inadequate illustration, you were an unplugged lamp that God suddenly plugged in. Where formerly there was only a disconnection with God - now there was a connection with God - this same connection that made you suddenly aware of the utter reality of both your rebellion and your certain damnation on that account, subsequently made you aware of, and desirous of, being reconciled to God in Christ.

What you got was a connection to God in the Spirit, and that connection, as surely as it caused you to receive the truth of your own salvation, causes you to receive the truth of Christ. Meaning that as many as receive the reality of their damnation, go on to receive the reality of Christ their Savior.

Nowhere in this narrative do you find feelings motivating you. The scriptures say that as you received the Lord Jesus, so you should walk in Him. Did you receive Him because you managed to have the right feelings at the right time? I tell you that I don't believe you received Him at all, if that is your testimony. If you received Christ as a sinner who sudden received such spiritual truth as is impossible for the natural man to receive - the certainty of your damnation, coupled to the a sudden, otherwise foreign willingness to submit yourself (body and soul for all eternity) to the perfect rule of God - then you will remember that feelings didn't bring you there, God did.

I write all that to remind those who know, and to provoke those who only are guessing and grasping at straws today, that the love the bible speaks of is not an affection that eventually motivates our obedience. Our first act of spiritual obedience took place in the moment we were born again - and it began even before we were justified - it began with the grace of God reconnecting us to His presence in a sense, so that we in a moment and all in the same glance, as it were, His holiness, our just damnation, and the certain Hope of Christ whom we suddenly found ourselves crying out to in earnest. In other words our first obedience was to the dual command to [1] repent of our rebellion and self rule and [2] to believe the promise that as many as call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Our first obedience was not motivated by feelings of love - it was provoked by the Holy Spirit, coaxed, out of us. We may have been willing to pray some prayer for eternal life, or to call ourselves Christians - but on that day, all that empty religion became rubbish to us - even as the Lord opened our eyes, and we believed.

It wasn't a feeling, it was the Lord. He did this work in us when we were yet rebellious in our heart towards Him, that is, when we were yet sinners. He served us.

That is what the love we are called to love God with, looks like. It isn't an affection (a feeling), it is a forsaking of self in order to serve others, even as God selflessly does day in and day out. Love is the opposite of selfishness in that it goes beyond simply not serving self, and on to serving others. This service can be, and eventually will be, accompanied by affections, but it isn't (and ought never to be) defined by them.

The command to love God is -not- a command to manifest and grow an affection towards God. It is a command to serve God with all your being, to abandon yourself to Him in every aspect of your person - your heart, your mind, your soul - your strength.

Knowing this, can you imagine what a profound error it is to tell someone that the reason they don't obey God is because they don't have warm enough feelings towards God? That the secret to obedience is nurturing a deeper affection for God?

The reason you aren't obeying God is not because you haven't found the right feeling, it is because you're backsliding. The message to backsliders is not - find a better feeling to motivate yourself; it is repent.

One might argue that if one could simply "repent" they would, and the fact that they aren't repenting is the very reason they are looking for a better motivation.

Okay, that's certainly true. We don't want to just thump our bibles, and leave the ignorant in their ignorance. We want to let them know what the problem is. In this case the problem is not with their emotions, it is that they have become calloused in their rebellion against God. Said another way, they have lost their first love - that is, they have set aside serving God in favor of once again serving themselves.

It isn't that they are no longer justified, and need to therefore be "saved" again. it is that they have tried, and failed, to make sanctification happen through various empty means. Sanctification, like justification, is a work of faith that finds its origin in God and not in man. Joseph and Mary were told to name our Lord Jesus because He was going to save His people from their rebellion against God (sin).

If you aren't calling out to Christ regularly to deliver you out of your temptations, you're probably just getting by on old habits, and slipping little by little into worse ones. What happened to the man of prayer? Now you pray only or when some tragedy or sudden need arises. You have a great affection for truth, and for the God thereof, maybe for your church body, and your good Christian home, but you know that something is lacking, and you're looking for a way to fix it.

Well stop looking to your emotions for the answers to spiritual problems. The only person who can solve your spiritual problem is Christ. Anyone whose advice does not bring you to the place where you are seeking Christ personally in prayer, is not helping you much. The bare truth is that no one can fix you, nor offer you any advice except to seek the Lord.

The truth can be set before you, but it serves only to point your heart to Christ. If it points anywhere else, it is an empty work (at best).

So I counsel you, dear reader, if you have ever looked for the magic key that makes your obedience easy and light, to consider that there is no magic key, and no easy way to obey. Obedience is the work of a faith that comes (and grows) by hearing the words of Christ. It is this same faith that is supposed to direct our conduct (we "walk" by faith, not by sight). When our faith wanes, our obedience quickly follows.

What then do we do when we find disobedience in ourselves? Do we just accept it? God forbid - how shall we who have been set free from sin, continue in it? No, we don't just ignore sin, we wage war against it - against our own inclination to disobedience which is just as often fanned into flame by our enemy the devil.

How do we wage this war? Well we clothe our self in Christ: the armor of God. He is our salvation, our righteousness, our gospel, our truth, the Author (Initiator) and Finisher (He who completes it) of our faith. We trust that He was with us in our struggle, and we trust that He is our Lord.

That last little bit gets so little play these days. It is one thing to admit that Jesus is my Lord, and quite another to believe it in the sense of receiving it as the sort of truth that changes you from the inside out.

The man who says, Jesus is my Lord, but who doesn't actually do what Jesus command Him has shown that Jesus actually is not that man's Lord. Have you ever stopped in the course of some rebellion because you suddenly realized that Jesus Christ is your Lord in more than just name? Has it ever happened to you that your desire to see the Lord glorified stopped you dead in the tracks of some disobedience? Have you never had that experience where the conviction of sin that you have been ignoring and suppressing suddenly and inexplicably breaks your heart to tears? When what you ignored and set aside, suddenly overtakes you?

I trust that you have.

Remember these things if you ever start to ask yourself, "what's my motivation?" This is true of you if you are a genuine saint: You have a desire within you to live a life that is pleasing to God. Alongside that desire is a desire to please yourself in all you do. You are called to regard the one desire as that which flows from the life of God, and the other as that which flows from that which died in Christ on Calvary - you old man. You are to surrender yourself to that which brings life, and not to enlarge the borders of that which brings death. You are God's servant. When you believe that, you will obey Him, and when you doubt that you will not.

It is that simple. Obedience comes from faith, not from feelings. It comes when you know that you belong to the Lord, and when you walk in -that- truth. It isn't provoked by emotions, for one simple reason - emotions are not spiritual. Pagans have the same emotions as anyone else, but these do not provoke them to obey God any more than a Christian's emotions provoke him to obey God. That which is flesh is flesh, and that which is Spirit is Spirit. The things of the flesh cannot provoke or affect a change in anything spiritual.

That being the case, get honest with yourself if you find yourself increasingly inclined to ignoring God and running on old, deteriorating habits. I say get honest with yourself because if this describes you, you are living as one who has forgotten (or perhaps has never known, as is the case in many churches these days) the things that are true of you.

It isn't positive thinking, it is agreeing that what God says is true of you is actually true. No, let me rephrase that a bit to weed out the ambiguity in that statement - it is receiving what is true of you in such a way that it affects a change, anything less is lip service.
posted by Daniel @ 11:53 AM   4 comment(s)
Friday, June 07, 2013
The Foundation And What Is Built Upon It
The Apostle Paul was, in my opinion, very precise and gifted in expressing the truths of the Christian faith.  I am especially impressed by the way he used and reused a few key illustrations to unlock certain truths that would have been otherwise difficult to explain properly.  Towards the end of Ephesians chapter one, Paul describes his (presumably Christian) readers as the body of Christ. That shouldn't strike any reader famliar with Paul's epistles as unfamiliar since this isn't the only time Paul uses that particular image to paint the church.

I highlight that this illustration is used elsewhere by Paul, because I want the honest reader to consider whether Paul is inventing a new meaning each time he uses the same metaphor, or whether he is just drawing upon an illustration that has served him time and again in the past.

If Paul is introducing something new, we should expect the content to be new, and if he is simply turning to a metaphor that has proven effective in the past, we should see the content here, mirroring the content wherein this same metaphor is applied elsewhere.  Which is to say that if Paul describes the church as the body of Christ elsewhere, he is either driving at the same point here, or saying something new.  If he is driving at the same point here as elsewhere, we can gain a greater insight into what he was getting at by regarding the various usages as various witnesses of the same concept or truth.

As Paul speaks of the church as a body in (for example) both Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12.it is worth our effort to examine what Paul is saying in both contexts and see if he is making a similar point here.

In the twelfth chapter of Romans, Paul compares individual believers in a church to individual limbs and appendages (i.e. members) of the same body, namely the body of Christ.  In Romans twelve Paul is being very practical with this teaching.  He is explaining that the Church is not made up of uniform, cookie-cut individuals, each resembling perfectly the other, but that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ is in fact quite varied.  The comparisons being made in Romans 12 immediately follow an exposition of how the church is made up of both Jewish and Gentile converts, and how utterly inappropriate it is to boast in having come from one group or the other.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul likewise describes the church as the body of Christ, stressing in particular that the same Spirit (the Holy Spirit) indwells all the members of the body, regardless of whether that limb was at one time an unbelieving Jew or an unbelieving Gentile.

I think it is safe to say that the meaning intended in Paul's letter to the Ephesians is pretty much the exact same meaning he uses wherever and whenever he pulls this illustration out.

Returning again to Paul's letter to the Ephesians, this time in chapter 2, Paul is now explaining that all his (Christian) readers stand on the same footing: they are equally in Christ.  When Paul uses this illustration of the church as one body - he intends to stress the unity in the Spirit between converted Jews and converted Gentiles.  That should be evident to anyone following along.  Are we surprised therefore when Paul's train of thought hovers over those points where Jews and Gentiles would find disagreement?

I don't think so.  Paul's use of this metaphor (the church as the body of Christ) mirrors closely the emphasis that Paul employs every time he uses this particular illustration: the point of unity between Jews and Gentiles (and by extension between all believers) is the fact that they are all members of the same body; that is they are all being led by the same Lord through the same Holy Spirit.  I don't believe that Paul is re-purposing a old illustration into something new, and neither should you.

Looking for the moment at those often quoted verses from chapter two (I am looking at you versee 8, 9, and 10!), do you see how Paul mentions boasting about works? Doesn't that remind of Romans 4:1-2 where Paul asks the reader what it was that Abraham had found?  Did Abraham find justification by works or by faith?  Certainly he found that he was justified by faith.  Had Abraham found himself justified by works, Paul says, then Abraham would have had something to boast about...  What was Paul hoping to achieve by asking and answering such questions in Romans 4?

Obviously Paul was concerned (as becomes obvious in the course of Paul's letter to the Romans), that believers should not turn the Christian faith into an extension of the Jewish corruption of Abraham's faith.  Christ had come to make straight (again) what had become crooked.  Though the scriptures clearly teach that Abraham was justified by faith, yet the Jews lost this truth pursuing as it were, a justification by works. The Lord used Paul to ensure that what had corrupted the Jewish faith under the old covenant, would not overtake the church under the new covenant. 

The argument Paul is making at this point in Ephesians is a point that is being made primarily to Jews or those who were being influenced by Jewish teaching. I am talking about those who were rejecting justification by faith because they were looking to be justfied according to the (errant) Jewish teaching of justification by works.  Paul understood that the heir of Abraham's promise, was an heir because he shared the same justifying faith as Abraham, rather than simply being one of his (physical) offspring.

When Paul says, in verses 8 and 9 that faith is "...the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."  I am inclined to see this as Paul contending against that errant mindset that had long ago supplanted in Judaism genuine, saving (i.e. justifying) faith. 

Note how Paul immediately speak about circumcision following this thought about boasting in works with a discussion on circumcision?  Even if you haven't really been following the discussion up to this point, it ought to be clear that at the very least, one of the "works" Paul is concerned with - that is, one of the works that Paul wanted his readers to understand was by no means necesarry to salvation, was the work of circumcision.  Recall at this time that some Jews were teaching that the only way for a Gentile to become a Christian, was by way of becoming a Jew.  But that was notion was tied to the old covenant, and had no part in the new covenant.  The old covenant was no longer in effect. 

If keeping the law under the Old Covenant did nothing to justify the believers under that covenant, how much less would keeping the Old Covenant commandments justify those believer who were out from under that old covenant and rather under a New Covenant in Christ's blood? 

There were some Jews who simply didn't "get" the New Covenant.  They regarded Christ as an "add on" to the Old Covenant.  Christ was, to them, a new wine, poured into old wineskins; a new patch sewn into the fabric of the Old Covenant.  If you wanted to enter the New Covenant, you had to come into it by way of the Old Covenant.  Since this way of thinking was entirely wrong, and again, since it was an all too common error that we being made in Paul's day, I am not surprised that Paul was concerned with the unity of the church.  His focus on these things points to it, suggesting that this sort of mistake was one of the greatest hindrances to unity in the church at Ephesus, and by extension, in the church universal.  To think that it was better to be a converted Jew than a converted Gentile betrayed a dangerous ignorance of the true gospel.  Our unity is a unity in the same Spirit - a Spirit we receive not through the keeping of the Old Covenant, but through the grace of the New Covenant.

Yet there is much to be learned in examining how Paul approaches the problem at hand. 

He first describes the church as the body of Christ, and then goes on to paint individuals as members (appendages) of that body.  Just as your body has a single spirit, and not separate spirits for your nose, your ears, your arms and what have you.  So also the body of Christ has a single Spirit - the Holy Spirit, and that believers are members of the same body, not because they are physically joined, but because they share the same Spirit.

Do you notice that Paul's illustrations on this point describe a living, moving, growing body?  He could have chosen from all sorts of  metaphors wherein some collection can be thought of as a whole (all the parts of the chariot work together to make one chariot!).  But such dead examples cannot frame the living entity that is the church.  The body of Christ is alive, and not a collection of gathered and lifeless limbs - it is a single living entity, an entity that works together as one even as our parts work together in a single body at the direction and command of a single will. 

Note however how that Paul seems to suddenly shift the illustration from a body to a building.  Building are built uopon foundations.  Ask yourself this: Do you believe that this is the first time Paul ever explained these things?  Was this the first time Paul ever taught these truths?  Is Paul's shift from the church as a body to the church as a building built upon a foundation something that just came to him as the letter was being written?

Good gravy! No!

By the time Paul was writing this letter, these his arguments were honed and polished.  In every place that Paul preached, he defended the gospel of Christ, defended justification by faith, defended the faith against these corruptions which he now writes against.  I say, long before the ink was put upon the parchment, Paul had argued this particular argument dozen or even hundreds of times.  He is not bouncing arbitrarily from body to building - he is executing (with the precision and foresight of a planned military maneuver) a change in his approach which has obviously served him well in the past.  It is not arbitrary thought that he embarks upon when he jumps from body to building - it is intentional.

Paul isn't straying off into some new or different thought.  He turns to this new metaphor because he intends to drill down into the point he has been making from the start.  This new metaphor hones what was started in the previous one, and we see examples of it in several other places where the same ideas are being taught.

Consider 1 Corinthians 3.  There Paul describes the church in terms of stones being built upon a foundation.  You see the similarities, but before I pursue them with you, I should pause to remind the reader that there is a substantial difference between building a house out of stones, and building a house out of bricks.  Bear with me as I explain the difference a little before I go further...

The modern thinker is a little handicapped here because most of us are inclined to think of these stones as though they were bricks - that is, as though each stone was more or less the same size and shape as the rest.  We all know how a brick wall is made, and so the image we have is something similar to that.  The person building has a pile of functionally identical blocks, and he places them one on top of another like giant, staggered Lego™ peices until the house is built.  Or we might imagine a more "tool in hand" kind of building, where rough stones are brought to the builder, and using a hammer and a chisel, he shapes the bricks one at a time into the regular rectangular shape we associate with building houses.

But that image is not the image a first century person would ever have had.

When you built a house (or walls) out of stones, you didn't have a pile of perfectly equal bricks, nor did you hammer and chisel stones into such bricks.  Take a look at any of the stone walls in England or Ireland, or any such place where stone walls still stand, and you will see that the wall is made up of stones that haven't been chiseled into place - but were in fact selected one by one and placed into whatever spot in the wall they ended up in, because that is the size of stone needed for the wall at that point.  A builder would hand pick each stone, and if he couldn't find a stone that fit, he either went out and found one from some other place, or he reworked that part of the wall entirely.  In such a structure putting the right stone in the right place made all the difference.  Too small or too large, too few or to many, and your wall wouldn't stand up once weight was put on it.  Selecting the right stone for the right spot was as much an art as it was a skill.

The word that is sometimes translated (in Ephesians) as "fit together" is actually a compound word prefixed by a preposition.  It isn't clear to me if this word was invented by Paul, but as far as I know he seems to be the only person who ever used it, and both uses are found in Ephesians.  The word more or less means (when applied to stones) that the stones are singled out to be joined together with one another.  It makes perfect sense of course, if you're picturing a first century mason fitting various unequal stones together to make a strong house out of those stones.  Each stone is sought out and hand picked for the place into which the builder intends to set it.  It is an image that would have been common enough, I say, to the first century reader, but I think requires a bit of an explanation for the modern ear.  When Paul describes the church as a building being fiitted together, the image you should is not that believers are being conformed into bricks and laid one upon another, but rather as believers beingpictured as unique and irregular stones being hand picked by the builder because their unique shape fits perfectly the need of the builder in forming the wall.  The image is one of careful, intentional selection.

Paul holds up that image to explain that the difference between Jewish and Gentile converts does not make one better or worse in the body - that individuals are chosen by the builder on the grounds that there is something unique about them that fits the intention of the builder.  That is, the point of unity in church is not the "shape" of the stone (whether it is a Jewish or a Gentile convert, a woman or man, a slave or a free man, etc. etc.) the point of unity isn't everyone is a stone, it is that everyone is hand picked by the builder, and everyone is handpicked intentionally because they "fit" the intention of the builder's plan.

I am going to repeat that in a few paragraphs because it is worth repeating, but for now I will show that this is not some arbitrary thing that Paul is saying, as though it was an illustration that just came to him.  He has used this illustration before in connection with the same thoughts.

In the third chapter of Paul's first epistle to the believers at Corinth, he describes the work of himself and others as sowing a field.  If the preaching of the gospel can be likened to sowing seed in a field, the same field, once it is sown, can be likened to the foundation of a building.  That is the logic behind the shift from the one metaphor to the other in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 3.   The foundation is likened then to the work that causes an unbeliever to repent and exercise faith in Christ.  It is the work that puts the former unbeliever into the body of Christ. That work is foundational

Note the progression from one illustration to the next that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3:  He starts with workers in a field, representing the preaching of the gospel that establishes the church.  He then shifts to the illustration of a building's foundation - the gospel preaching produces believers.  Just as a building cannot be built without first laying down a foundation, so also the church cannot be built except that the gospel is being preached to the lost.  Every legitimate believer shares the same foundation - the have repented of their rebellion against God's rule, and exercised faith in Christ to the justifying of their soul. 

Paul extends the metaphor of the foundation - it can be built upon!  What does that mean?  It means that those whom Paul identifies elsewhere as being appointed to the edification of the church, are doing that work which is supposed to edify the body of Christ.  Work which edifies is precious and will endure, work which does not edify is wortless and will not endure.  It is natural for Paul, in describing the work of the faithful, to shift from that first work which is foundational to faith (the preaching of the gospel truths), into that following work which thereafter edifies a legitimate faith (the building up of the body in the knowledge of Christ).

Yet Paul progresses again here, if you have eyes to see it, from speaking of the work in terms of edifying believers, to the believers themselves who are being edified.

Paul isn't free-associating at this point - he is making an intentional shift, because the point he has set himself to make requires that shift.  Paul is speaking of unity in the Spirit.  To get there, Paul first uses the previous illustrations to show that the work of getting people in the church, and growing them in their faith is the work of faithful men appointed to the task by God - but when Paul then describes the believers in Corinth who have received the first epistle as the temple of God, he has in a moment shifted from speaking of that which builds, to that which has been built:  The temple of God (the church) which is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Peter, in his first epistle uses the same metaphor that Paul uses here.  In the second chapter of that epistle, Peter identifying Christ as the stone which the builders rejected, expands the metaphor -not just the stone, but the cornerstone upon which the whole church is built, believers being the metaphorical living stones, that make up this "spiritual house".

Returning then to our staring place in the second chapter of Ephesians, we look again at what is being said - that Christ is the cornerstone, and that believers are stones in that same building, being "fit together" into a holy temple - a dwelling place for the Spirit of God.  The picture there is quite rich - the image of a builder, building a temple, not with stones cut into place, but rather with stones selected by the builder, and brought to the building, and placed in just the spot that the builder has determined the stone ought to be.  That each stone thus chosen, and thus place, has been chosen and placed for a purpose, and that the purpose is to build a temple for the Spirit of God to dwell in...

Do you see that there is a nuance here that is entirely lost if the image you have is that of a brick layer building a house?  Paul is saying here that the care that the Lord takes in building this temple for the Holy Spirit is purposeful, significant, and a diligent, and mindful work.  That the fact that the church is thus built by design, and that those who have been chosen to be stones in that temple are chosen by the builder because they, and they alone, fit the purpose of the builder - that the church is not being built by human hands, but by the hand of God, and this reason by itself (though it is by no means the only reason the Apostle gives) ought to vividly demonstrate that valuing one gift or position in the church over and above another (or vice versa) betrays a profound ignorance of the nature of the church.

posted by Daniel @ 3:06 PM   0 comment(s)
Tuesday, June 04, 2013
You don't sell news.
I remember listening in silent horror to another believer lamenting to someone else that the couldn't find an "in" to share the gospel with such and such an unbeliever because that particular sinner had a wonderful, fully supplied life.  There were no problems, that he could see, for which he could offer Jesus as the solution.  No sufferings for which Jesus could be presented as the balm.

I have a real concern, and I think it is a healthy concern for believers who sully the work of evangelism with that sort of pragmatic balderdash.

My concern is not only for the purity of evangelism, and the gospel itself, but perhaps equally or even primarily for the believer who has somehow been hoodwinked into this sort of confusion.  I wonder if generational Christians (those who are from Christian homes and are saved in their youth) are more apt to fall into this sort of buffoonery than those who were saved as adults by the preaching of the truth?  I wonder because the latter seem less inclined to pursue this sort of flimshaw than the former - at least in my experience.

I am concerned because anyone who imagines that the gospel can be aided by such impotent nonsense betrays in themselves an underlying denial of the sufficiency of the gospel to save.  God hasn't asked us to pitch the gospel as though we were selling it - he told us to declare it, as though it were good news.  News being the key point.  You don't convince people of news, you don't sell it to them, you don't try and frame it in such a way as to make it more attractive to various target groups.  It is news.  Good news.  The job of evangelism is not to sell the news, but to tell the news.

I say, I am concerned because anyone building upon such a fractured foundation, will necessarily have to make innovative accommodations to the house they build upon it.   If one has to persuade people through sales to become believers, good gravy - what must we do to get them to act like believers once they are saved?

It seems to me that if we begin to rely upon our own ingenuity, we will rely upon from that point on.  Paul refused to give into this sort of human wisdom, not because he was particularly wise, though I suspect he was, but because he was obedient to the Spirit of God.  I believe that the Spirit leads us today to follow Paul's example - that is, to disdain our own ways, wisdom, and whatnot; to count as rubbish our own powers of persuasion, and to instead, trust that God is at work in the telling of the good news, and leave the work to Him.

If we are faithful in telling it, we don't need to sell it.
posted by Daniel @ 9:57 AM   0 comment(s)
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