Wednesday, September 29, 2010


 1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

18 Τεκνία, μὴ ἀγαπῶμεν λόγῳ μηδὲ τῇ γλώσσῃ ἀλλὰ ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ.

As I go through the system of ten chapters a day I am fascinated by the contrast in the style of writing throughout Scripture.  John's writing is notoriously simple.  But simplicity does indicate a lack of profundity.  There are several penetrating truths in 1 John if we pay attention.  This is a fairly obvious one.

John spends a lot of time talking about love.  This is particularly true in chapters 3 and 4.  Here he tells us what real love looks like.  We are not simply to love in word or talk but ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ.  He uses the strong adversative ἀλλὰ here too.  There is a stark contrast between simply talking about love and actually showing love.

This is an area where I think that many conservative folks like me really come up short.  At least I know that I do.  I'm pretty good at getting my theology straight, but does that spill over into action?  How often do I help someone who has less than I do?  More importantly, how often do I share the gospel with someone who needs to hear it?  Not very often.

I see the book of 1 John as a reality check.  We can talk about what we believe, but how we live is a much stronger indicator.  This relatively simple book is beating me up yet again.  But I still have to ask myself what I'm going to do about it.  

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Abide in Him

1 John 2:28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

28 Καὶ νῦν, τεκνία, μένετε ἐν αὐτῷ, ἵνα ἐὰν φανερωθῇ σχῶμεν παρρησίαν καὶ μὴ αἰσχυνθῶμεν ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ αὐτοῦ. 29  ἐὰν εἰδῆτε ὅτι δίκαιός ἐστιν, γινώσκετε ὅτι καὶ πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην ἐξ αὐτοῦ γεγέννηται.

This concludes an incredible chapter where John lays out what I would consider to be a strong argument for what is sometimes called "Lordship Salvation."  Basically, John is saying that those who know Jesus will obey Him.  Those who don't obey Him don't know Him.  Just like in yesterday's passage John uses a third-class condition to sum up his point.  It hinges on the question of ἐὰν εἰδῆτε.

Of course, we know that Jesus is righteous.  Therefore, we know that  ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην or the ones doing righteousness are from Him.  Keep in mind that this is addressed to saints.  Therefore, he is referring to those in the Church (note the big C).  I don't mean that body which has its head in Rome, but those who are part of the body of Christ.  We know that those who make professions of faith are truly saved based on their lives.

It is important to keep this straight.  We do not practice righteousness to merit favor.  Rather, we practice righteousness because we are born again.  In other words, we can look at our lives to get an indicator of our spiritual states.  If we don't bear any fruit then we should question whether or not we really know Him.

We also have to balance this with other statements made by John.  We all still sin.  But what is the direction of our lives?  What are the deepest desires of our hearts?  We all fight the "old man" as Paul called his sin nature, but do we operate out of a mindset of loving and serving the Lord?  What motivates your heart?

Monday, September 27, 2010


1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

9 ἐὰν ὁμολογῶμεν τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν, πιστός ἐστιν καὶ δίκαιος, ἵνα ἀφῇ ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας καὶ καθαρίσῃ ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ πάσης ἀδικίας.

This is one of those verses that just about every Christian either has memorized or is very familiar with.  If he isn't, he should be.  I remember that this is one of the first verses I ever memorized.  It's one of those great verses which summarizes the gospel beautifully.

What is John telling us here?  It seems absurdly simple, doesn't it?  We confess our sins and He forgives us.  I don't think that he has the sacrament of penance in mind here either.  I don't think that this is an ongoing process either.  When God saves us He cleans us from all unrighteousness.  We become white as snow as we are washed in the blood of the Lamb.  It all starts with admitting our guilt before God.

Note that all the verbs are in the subjunctive.  The construct with ἐὰν ὁμολογῶμεν is a third-class condition.  This means that the fulfillment is uncertain, but likely.  John is saying that he doesn't know if the reader is necessarily going to confess his sins, but he does know that if we confess our sins we can be sure that God will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  This is because He is both faithful to His promise and He is just in not putting us under double jeopardy for the crimes for which Jesus was already convicted.

Where are you?  Are you trying to live life as a good person?  Do you hope that someday your good works will outweigh your bad on some divine scales of justice?  If so, admit that you are a sinner before God because all it takes is one bad work to tip the scale.  Once you've sinned you can never make up the lost ground.  But Jesus came to offer Himself as a ransom for the penalty we deserve.  Confess to God that you need His salvation.  He is faithful and just and will forgive you.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rescuing the Righteous

2 Peter 2:7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked

7 καὶ δίκαιον Λὼτ καταπονούμενον ὑπὸ τῆς τῶν ἀθέσμων ἐν ἀσελγείᾳ ἀναστροφῆς ἐρρύσατο·

This is near the end of a passage where Peter talks about the consequences of sin.  He cites the examples of angels who were condemned for their rebellion, the Flood, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The point is to explain how God's justice works.  There were many who were rightly destroyed, but the righteous will be saved.  He gives the example of how Lot was spared the destruction.

Lot is probably not the first example you think of when you consider what a δίκαιον man looks like.  This is a guy who chose to live in Sodom, though verse 8 explains that it pained him.  He was willing to offer his daughters  to the lustful crowd in Sodom.  Later, he had incestuous relations with his daughters on two consecutive nights after drinking too much.  Yet here Peter calls him righteous.

This tells me that God does not necessarily define righteousness the way we do.  We are good at using measuring sticks and deciding who is righteous and who is wicked.  What we forget is that we are all fundamentally wicked.  Yet through the blood of Christ we are declared righteous.  If someone were telling my story someday and they wrote, "and if he rescued righteous Jason," anyone who knew me might wonder at that. They would ask if that was the same Jason who was so prone to laziness and gossip at work?  Is it the same guy who white-knuckles his way through sexual temptation?  Is it the same guy who claims to love the Lord and yet has so little emotional connection with his family?  I could go on and on.  I suspect you could too.

Yet because of the blood of Christ this terrible sinner is declared righteous before the judgment of God.  What a blessed exchange!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Value of Knowledge

2 Peter 1:2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

2 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη πληθυνθείη ἐν ἐπιγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν.

Normally when I think about this chapter I think of the latter verses that affirm the authority and inspiration of Scripture.  However, I want to focus on this verse in the greeting for two reasons.  One is that when I do my weekly review of 2 Peter I have a hard time remembering this verse in order because its structure is different than most of the other greeting verses in the New Testament.  Second is that this verse is different than most other greeting verses in the New Testament.

Paul typically incorporates χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη into his greetings.  This literally means "grace and peace."  It's a very nice greeting, isn't it?  Who wouldn't want to have grace and peace multiplied to them?  But what I find fascinating here is the means Peter prescribes for it.  How are they to receive this grace and peace?  It is ἐν ἐπιγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν.  There is nothing fancy about this Greek.  It is as the ESV translates it.

What's the big deal?  It seems that there are plenty of folks who are all about experience.  They want to have a rocking "worship time" (read: music).  They want the pastor to touch their hearts so that they "feel blessed."  They want to have emotional times of deep fellowship with the Lord.  Frankly, I think that these are noble goals.

However, they become ignoble when we forget one of the means God gives us to experience His grace and peace.  He gave us His Word.  That is an incredible gift to us.  As we become more familiar with it we grow in grace and peace.  We can certainly pursue the purely experiential too, but we need everything to be grounded in His Word.

What are you doing with respect to this?  Are you spending regular time in it?  Have you read the whole Bible at least once?  If not, why not?  At the risk of sounding snarky, if you aren't reading the Bible then you are implicitly saying that you don't want to know God better.  You don't want to enjoy greater grace and peace.  You think that there is some other way to go and you aren't enjoying the gift that He gave us through Scripture.  You probably wouldn't say these things in so many words, but that is what your attitude demonstrates.

Let's turn to His Word and get to know it.  There we will find grace and peace.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Humble Peace

1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

6 Ταπεινώθητε οὖν ὑπὸ τὴν κραταιὰν χεῖρα τοῦ θεοῦ, ἵνα ὑμᾶς ὑψώσῃ ἐν καιρῷ, 7  πᾶσαν τὴν μέριμναν ὑμῶν ἐπιρίψαντες ἐπ᾽ αὐτόν, ὅτι αὐτῷ μέλει περὶ ὑμῶν.

The end of this book contains some quick proverbial commands and sayings that we would do well to hold on to.  This is one of the big ones.  Peter has just finished giving commands both to elders and younger people.  Basically, younger people are to submit to their elders.  However, elders are not to rule like despots either.  All of this is bathed in the grace of God.

Here Peter puts together two really powerful verses.  First, he tells his readers that they are to Ταπεινώθητε.  This is an aorist imperative passive.  It means that they are to humble themselves, or be humbled.  Of course, it's pretty easy to be humbled when you consider τὴν κραταιὰν χεῖρα τοῦ θεοῦ.  What other reaction is there to God's powerful and mighty hand?  As I've written many times before, I don't understand how you can truly have an encounter with the living God and not be humbled.

Verse 7 is where I really want to focus though.  Continuing the imperative command starting this sentence, we see that we are to πᾶσαν τὴν μέριμναν ὑμῶν ἐπιρίψαντες ἐπ᾽ αὐτόν.  This is also in the aorist, but it is an active participle.  Basically, I see this as giving further explanation of what we are to as we humble ourselves.  How does this fit together?

As soon as we realize that God is in charge and we are not then we have no cause to be anxious.  I get anxious when I feel like there is something I need to do, but I can't do it.  Or maybe there is a situation that I want to control, but can't.  For example, relational pressures can make me quite anxious.  But the anxiety wanes as soon as I realize that I am not in control.  I can't change anyone.  Only God can.  And in fact, it reminds me that I need to pray for my own attitude and behavior since I can't control anyone else's.

The bigger we think we are then the more anxious we will feel.  We think that we need to do so much, but God is in charge.  Christ is on His throne and He has things under control.  They may not go the way we think that they should, but if we really apply this passage we will realize that God has a better plan than we do, whether we believe it or not.  This was a huge comfort to me when we went through the disappointment of the molar pregnancy between Lily and Noah.

As the song says, God is God and I am not.  The more deeply I realize that the more easily I can cast my anxieties on Him.  What a blessed peace that brings!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bringing Us to God

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

18 ὅτι καὶ Χριστὸς ἅπαξ περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἔπαθεν, δίκαιος ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων, ἵνα ὑμᾶς προσαγάγῃ τῷ θεῷ θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκὶ ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ πνεύματι·

It is tempting to try to deal with the next verse, but I think that leads to a rather esoteric discussion that brings little value.  Instead, I would like to focus on this one.  Peter is telling us about how it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.  After all, if we suffer for doing evil we simply get what we have coming to us.  But if we suffer for doing good then we have problems with injustice in this world.  Peter gives us the example of Christ.

Christ suffered in His flesh.  He died an excruciating and humiliating death on a cross.  This was the ultimate human injustice because the man who never sinned died like a sinner.  Why would He do such a thing?

Ask an American Christian why Christ died and you are likely to hear something about hell.  Their concept of the cross is that Christ bought our pardon from God's wrath.  That is certainly true, but it leaves out the whole picture.  Christ died  ἵνα ὑμᾶς προσαγάγῃ τῷ θεῷ.  In other words, Christ died for the purpose that He might take us to God.  In other words, we get to avoid hell, but more importantly, we get God.

God must be the ultimate goal.  It is so easy to lose sight of this truth.  This is why I am blessed by the ministry of John Piper.  He bangs this drum over and over again.  The goal of life is not to avoid being bad.  It's not even to be good.  Salvation is not about avoiding hell.  It is about receiving the most incredible gift imaginable -- God Himself.

Is that enough for you?  Are you satisfied in Him?  If not, what else is there to satisfy you?

Monday, September 20, 2010

By His Wounds

1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

24 ὃς τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν αὐτὸς ἀνήνεγκεν ἐν τῷ σώματι αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὸ ξύλον, ἵνα ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ἀπογενόμενοι τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ ζήσωμεν, οὗ τῷ μώλωπι ἰάθητε.

Sorry for the delay in posting, but it's been a busy week or so.  I couldn't very well post whilst camping, so now that we're back in the groove I hope to be back to regular posting.

This is one of those verses that I love to repeat when I do my weekly review of 1 Peter.  I just can't get enough of this one.  There are a lot of rich verses in this chapter, but this one seems to stand above the rest.  What more is there to say?

There are those who think of the idea of penal substitutionary atonement as barbaric.  They see it as a form of "cosmic child abuse."  But what those folks fail to realize is that God does not grade on a curve.  God is love, but God is also just.  Since He is just there needs to be a payment for the sin in the world.  Jesus was that perfect sacrifice.

Note to whom this is written. The book is written to saints.  Whose sins did Jesus bear on the cross (tree)?  It was τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν.  Not the sins of everyone who has ever lived, but the sins of the saints.  This is yet another argument for the idea of particular redemption.  Why does this matter?  It gets into the nature of God.  Did Jesus die for the sins of every person and then not save all of those people?  That's a pretty impotent view of God if that is true.  I think it is much more biblically (and philosophically) accurate to take a low view of man and a higher view of God.

Either way, I know that οὗ τῷ μώλωπι ἰάθητε.  It is difficult to succinctly unpack this Greek, but basically it is saying what is translated in the ESV.  I certainly enjoy knowing that I was healed, amen?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sovereign Will

James 4:15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."

15 ἀντὶ τοῦ λέγειν ὑμᾶς· ἐὰν ὁ κύριος θελήσῃ καὶ ζήσομεν καὶ ποιήσομεν τοῦτο ἢ ἐκεῖνο.

Here James is explaining how we should view the future.  He rebukes those who plan for the future with certainty by giving the example of folks who plan on going to a town and spending some time there engaged in some business enterprise.  It is not that the act is sinful, but their attitude is.  They just assume that everything will be fine.  But James tells them that they ought to say ἐὰν ὁ κύριος θελήσῃ, which is a third-class condition.  That means that the future is not certain, but likely.

This use of the third-class condition saves us from all kinds of craziness.  Clearly we need to plan our lives.  We need to have stewardship of our time, talent, and treasure.  But what this passage does is to remind us that God is sovereign over everything.  I plan on seeing my kids graduate from high school.  I plan on seeing them get married.  I plan on serving the Lord for at least another 40 or 50 years.  But I also know that I could go through a green light today and a semi could be out of control and just obliterate my little car and me inside it.  Someone could blow a tire on the highway and smash into me.  I could have a seizure and discover that I have a brain tumor.  There are all sorts of grisly scenarios that could play out down to more mundane things like losing my job.

I don't expect them to happen, but if they do I will not be shocked.  God has a plan for my life and I will live as long as He wants for me to live.  My life will be prosperous as He wants for it to be prosperous.  It is perhaps a bit trite the way so many Christians say, "Lord willing" when they speak of the future, but I believe that to be biblical.  God is in control of everything.  Acknowledging that gives Him the credit He deserves.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reaping Righteousness

James 3:18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

18 καρπὸς δὲ δικαιοσύνης ἐν εἰρήνῃ σπείρεται τοῖς ποιοῦσιν εἰρήνην.

James 3 contains the famous passage on the tongue.  I think this is one of those passages that we read and feel like God was looking at our lives when this was written.  If someone ever says that he thinks the Bible has no practical advice for today you should send him to James 3.  It's also quite convicting as someone who is in school to learn how to preach and teach.  James admonishes us to take the calling quite seriously as it has high standards.  Lots of great stuff in here.

But what I want to focus on is this verse at the end of the passage.  James talks about having sincere hearts.  If we don't have sincere hearts we should not "boast and be false to the truth."  Then he contrasts the wisdom of the world with godly wisdom.  This verse comes right after his description of godly wisdom.

I'm not sure exactly what to think of when I read καρπὸς δὲ δικαιοσύνης.  Does that refer to salvation?  Does it refer to good works?  Does it refer to harmony with others?  I'm not sure.  But what I do know, is that this verse makes it clear that it is beneficial for us to ποιοῦσιν εἰρήνην.  The word ποιοῦσιν is a present active participle, which implies that it is an ongoing action.  We are to be people who make peace.

Obviously as we know from Ecclesiastes, there is a time for war and a time for peace.  There are times when we need to be contentious against heresy, for example.  However, as a rule we are to be peacemakers.  Jesus said this in the Sermon on the Mount as well.  It is a blessing to be a peacemaker.

Where are you with this?  Are you making peace or strife?  When people see you coming do they steel themselves up ready for a fight?  Or are they looking forward to a time of peace?  Does your presence settle arguments or add fuel to the fire?  I want to be a peacemaker, amen?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Justification by Faith

James 2:24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

24 ὁρᾶτε ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος καὶ οὐκ ἐκ πίστεως μόνον.

The title of this post and this verse seem to be at odds with each other, don't they?  This is a verse that the Roman Catholic Church uses to defend their view of the gospel.  In fact, the Council of Trent declared an anathema on anyone who believes in justification by faith alone.  Their view of how one is justified before God is rather complex and I suggest you look it up for yourself to understand just how it is different from that which came out of the Reformation and, if I may say so, that which comes from a plain reading of Scripture.

Yet we have James 2 in our Bibles.  Although Luther did take issue with this book, he did consider it to be canonical.  What do we do with James 2:14-26, and particularly 2:24?  The Greek doesn't help us here.  I suppose you could try to do something fancy with the ὅτι and somehow try to suggest some kind of causation with a translation of "because" instead of "that," but I think that the ESV gets it right.  What to do?

To me, this passage stands as a defense of what is sometimes called "Lordship Salvation," or as John MacArthur puts it, the gospel according to Jesus.  It is clear from reading the Gospels that faith in Christ means action.  How can anyone come to know the living God of the universe and not have his life changed?  Everything about a person changes when they know the Lord.  It has to.  Look at what happened to Moses.  Look at the apostles after the resurrection.  They didn't really "get" what was going on until after Jesus was raised and they received the Holy Spirit.  Look at how bold they became afterwards.

I also think that Ephesians 2:10 helps us.  That verse tells us that we were made for good works.  God didn't save us just to stare at our navels and talk theology, despite what some folks may think.  He saved us to action.

To be clear, this does not mean that we suddenly stop sinning.  What it means is that our hearts change.  We go from being bent toward sin to being bent toward the Lord.  There are times (perhaps extensive times) when we go our own ways, but ultimately our hearts are bent toward the Lord.  That's what having the Holy Spirit is all about.  If we accept the gospel merely as fire insurance we have missed it.  The gospel is about God, not about us.

Also, to be clear, we do not do works to earn merit before God, despite what a Roman Catholic might tell you.  We work because we are saved.  We are not paying off a debt (we cannot), but we are acting out of sheer gratitude.  God is glorious and as I've tried to show through this blog, He is worthy of honor and praise.  If we aren't inclined to that then we must question the state of our hearts.

To me, it comes down to a simple question.  If God is indeed God, how can we encounter Him and not be transformed?  Unlike the apostles we have a completed canon.  Let's read it and be changed by this awesome transcendent God that we serve.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Every Good Gift

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

17 πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ καὶ πᾶν δώρημα τέλειον ἄνωθέν ἐστιν καταβαῖνον ἀπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς τῶν φώτων, παρ᾽ ᾧ οὐκ ἔνι παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα.

James is an easy book to blog because it is really a bunch of long proverbs.  James may very well be the most practical book of the New Testament in the sense that it is centered primarily on right living.  It contains a bunch of imperatives telling us how we should live.  Facing trials?  Count it all joy.  Reading Scripture?  Do what it tells you to.  And so on.

Here we get a brief theological interlude.  This verse tells us much about the nature of God.  First, we see that He is good.  How do we know that?  We see that if a gift is ἀγαθὴ or if it is τέλειον then it is from above.  I don't think that it describes gifts that are "good and perfect" because there are two different words for "gift" used here.  I think what James is going after is that if we enjoy something good it must be from God.  We also see that He is good in being described as οῦ πατρὸς τῶν φώτων.  It's pretty safe to say that "light" is a metaphor for "good" when we read Scripture.

Second, we see that He is immutable, which is the theological term for the idea that He never changes.  The phrase παρ᾽ ᾧ οὐκ ἔνι παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα. is difficult in English, but I would go with something like, "for him whom there is not changing or shadow of changing."  Obviously the ESV is a lot crisper from a literary sense and that is required in translating a text, but my translation gets the wooden sense of it.

But you may wonder, "so what?"  What difference does it make that He never changes?  One thing is that this informs our Christology.  We know from Hebrews that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Here we see God the Father described that way.  This is not a proof, but it sure leads one to see a commonality between God the Father and God the Son.  It also tells us that the idea of an "Old Testament God" vs. "New Testament God" is a false dichotomy.  There is God.  He does not change.  The just and wrathful God of Joshua and Judges is also the God of John 3:16.  Jesus Christ had to die to satisfy His righteous wrath.

This is a God I want to worship.  This is the God that saved me to do just that.  My prayer is that I would not stop short with distractions like sports, video games, school, and sex.  Those are all fine things enjoyed in their place, but let me worship God alone, amen?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Offering Worship

Hebrews 12:28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

28 Διὸ βασιλείαν ἀσάλευτον παραλαμβάνοντες ἔχωμεν χάριν, δι᾽ ἧς λατρεύωμεν εὐαρέστως τῷ θεῷ μετὰ εὐλαβείας καὶ δέους· 29  καὶ γὰρ ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν πῦρ καταναλίσκον.

This concludes an incredible chapter.  The author of Hebrews contrasts the experience that the Jews had on Sinai with our experience in Christ.  Sinai was so holy that anyone or anything that touched it had to be stoned.  Yet we can now come to Christ.  We have access to the living God.

Do you realize how incredible this is?  Are you moved in awesome wonder at this truth?  The God of the universe who made everything has given us access to Him through the shed blood of Christ.  This is the God who is sovereign.  All of nature bends to His will.  Have you ever experienced a hurricane?  It only goes where it does because of His will.  Ever been in an earthquake?  Those do not happen apart from His will.  I'm not going into the theology of the effects of natural disasters, but the point is that if you've ever experienced the awesome power of a hurricane or earthquake you have just a tiny sense of how powerful God is.

This is the same God that gives us access to Him through the shed blood of Christ.  And yet we waste our time with trifles like video games, sports, sex, and the pursuit of money (just thinking of my life).  There can certainly be a godliness in recreation time and in fact God mandates it.  However, where are our idols?  Why bother with any of that other junk?

This passage in particular speaks to how we should approach God.  Yes, we have access, but it is not a flippant thing to approach God.  He is a πῦρ καταναλίσκον.  The word καταναλίσκον is a present active participle.  I don't think that we are to literally think of God as a ball of fire like in "The Ten Commandments," but there is a metaphor for how God operates.  Have you ever watched how a fire consumes fuel?  It is unceasing as long as it has fuel.  It just keeps on consuming.

As we approach God we need to be prepared to be like fuel on the fire.  He takes over.  He is a present reality that overwhelms us.  That is who God is, yet I fear that too many American evangelicals try to keep God at arm's length.  I don't think it works that way.  If you are worshiping you will be consumed.

I feel like I could keep writing and thinking about this all morning, but I have to get moving.  What are your thoughts on this?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Hall of Faith

Hebrews 11:39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

39 Καὶ οὗτοι πάντες μαρτυρηθέντες διὰ τῆς πίστεως οὐκ ἐκομίσαντο τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν, 40  τοῦ θεοῦ περὶ ἡμῶν κρεῖττόν τι προβλεψαμένου, ἵνα μὴ χωρὶς ἡμῶν τελειωθῶσιν.

This ends Hebrews 11, which is sometimes called the "Hall of Faith," kind of like Cooperstown, NY houses the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Here we read about the great saints of the Old Testament who were faithful.  You don't have to read much of Genesis to see some striking stories of faith.  These folks serve to inspire us.  They inspire me because as I look at their whole lives as portrayed in Scripture I see that they struggle with sin like I do.  Yet here we see them commended for their faith.

But what I want to focus on is the ἡμῶν κρεῖττόν τι  that God provided.  What is better for us?  Christ.  He is better than any of the sacrifices in the Old Testament.  He is the perfect sacrifice for sin.  He is the perfect man.  He is the perfect example for us. It is only by His blood that we can be free.

Keep this in mind as you go about your day.  Our natural inclination is toward the Law.  We want to curry favor with God through our lives.  At least I know that I do.  However, Christ already came as the perfect sacrifice for sins.  We can find true freedom and hope through Him.

Do you know Him?  Have you accepted this precious gift of "something better?"

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Living God

Hebrews 10:31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

31 φοβερὸν τὸ ἐμπεσεῖν εἰς χεῖρας θεοῦ ζῶντος.

This was a tough chapter for a few reasons.  One is that I had a tough time keeping up with the Greek.  Another is that there is so much wonderful stuff in here that it was very difficult to pick out a verse to write about.  I thought about writing on the verses previous to this as they seem to speak very clearly regarding the lordship of Christ in salvation.  However, I think that this one verse is worth focusing on by itself.

The first thing I note is that God is ζῶντος.  That is a present active participle.  It is in the genitive because it describes the hands into which it is fearful to fall.  Whose hands?  The hands of the living God.  But what does this mean?

It means that God is real.  He is alive.  He is a present reality.  Most folks live as if this were not the case.  Most of us (and even we Christians from time to time) act as if God is not real and that He is not ultimately going to judge.  We choose sin over obedience which is implicitly saying that we don't believe God will truly satisfy and that He will meet our deepest needs.  We turn to functional saviors rather than the living God.

But at an even deeper level, this verse should spur us to evangelism.  There are a lot of folks out there who are going to fall into the hands of the living God.  Hands are a metaphor for power.  In short, this verse tells us that there are a lot of people who are going to have to deal with the judgment of the living God.  This is not the living God of Oprah or even Joel Osteen.  This is the true God, and we are to fear Him.

Do you have a reverent awe of the living God?  Do you live as if He is real or do you pretend that He is not there?  The weight with which we read this verse changes quite a bit.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Most Holy Place

Hebrews 9:11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

11 Χριστὸς δὲ παραγενόμενος ἀρχιερεὺς τῶν γενομένων ἀγαθῶν διὰ τῆς μείζονος καὶ τελειοτέρας σκηνῆς οὐ χειροποιήτου, τοῦτ᾽ ἔστιν οὐ ταύτης τῆς κτίσεως, 12  οὐδὲ δι᾽ αἵματος τράγων καὶ μόσχων διὰ δὲ τοῦ ἰδίου αἵματος εἰσῆλθεν ἐφάπαξ εἰς τὰ ἅγια αἰωνίαν λύτρωσιν εὑράμενος.

This is one of those passages that it is difficult to wrap our Gentile minds around.  This chapter contrasts the old sacrificial system with Jesus' perfect sacrifice for sins.  The Jews spent centuries with the ritual of a day of atonement where the high priest gave a sacrifice for his own sins and the sins of the people.  Then he could enter the Most Holy Place where they kept the Ark of the Covenant.  This was also the same day when the scapegoat was sent out into the wilderness for the shame of the people.

But when Jesus died on the cross the curtain in the temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom.  God gave a clear sign to the people that everything had changed.  Now it was no longer to keep up the sacrificial system.  Through Christ's shed blood we have access to the Most Holy Place.  We can meet with God.

Lately I have been moved by how little I consider this privilege.  It's amazing how as people we tend to ignore really great gifts for a while.  I take time to periodically thank God for the fact that I live in a country where I can live pretty much however I want, that my family and I enjoy good health, that I have a good job, food on the table, etc.  But how often do I thank God for God?  Not nearly often enough.  This struck me yesterday morning as I was walking and praying.  Then again, I've been chatting with a friend who claims to be an atheist, so contrasting our worlds brought this to mind.

If you are in Christ this passage is an incredible promise of blessing.  Not in the sense of cars with rims falling from the sky, but in the sense that we get to come near to God.  Think on that for a while.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The New Covenant

Hebrews 8:6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

6 νυν[ὶ] δὲ διαφορωτέρας τέτυχεν λειτουργίας, ὅσῳ καὶ κρείττονός ἐστιν διαθήκης μεσίτης, ἥτις ἐπὶ κρείττοσιν ἐπαγγελίαις νενομοθέτηται. 7  Εἰ γὰρ ἡ πρώτη ἐκείνη ἦν ἄμεμπτος, οὐκ ἂν δευτέρας ἐζητεῖτο τόπος.

As we go back to the Old Testament we see the old covenant that God had with His people.  He made it through Moses and it was a tough one to keep from the people's side.  They had to go through all kinds of machinations to atone for their guilt and their shame.  It was an extremely bloody system, but one consistent thread in Scripture is that there must be blood as a payment for sin.

The good news is that Christ came to usher in a new covenant with His blood.  The author of Hebrews uses a first-class conditional statement in verse 7 with the construct of Εἰ γὰρ ἡ πρώτη ἐκείνη ἦν.  This is the use of ει followed by the indicative mood.  What this means is that for the sake of argument, we need to assume that what he states is true.  It has to get unsorted a bit because the word ἄμεμπτος has a negative sense to it and then the second half of the condition starts with οὐκ, which is also an indicator of a first-class condition.

The point is that the first covenant was not faultless.  Jesus had to come to provide a better covenant and He did that.  If you know Jesus this should fill you with tremendous hope and gratitude.  We do not have to go through sacrificing bulls and goats for our sin.  Jesus already paid it all with His blood.  We have a peace and security that could never be obtained by the Jew who followed the old covenant.

Let's fix our eyes on the new covenant in Jesus' blood.  There we find peace.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Losing It?

Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

4 Ἀδύνατον γὰρ τοὺς ἅπαξ φωτισθέντας, γευσαμένους τε τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς ἐπουρανίου καὶ μετόχους γενηθέντας πνεύματος ἁγίου 5  καὶ καλὸν γευσαμένους θεοῦ ῥῆμα δυνάμεις τε μέλλοντος αἰῶνος 6  καὶ παραπεσόντας, πάλιν ἀνακαινίζειν εἰς μετάνοιαν, ἀνασταυροῦντας ἑαυτοῖς τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ παραδειγματίζοντας.

I understand that this is one of the favorite anti-Calvinistic proof-texts.  It seems to clearly show that someone can lose their salvation.  They choose to accept Christ, fall away, and then it is impossible for them to come back to repentance.  Or so it seems to say, right?

Of course, we want to let Scripture interpret Scripture and we particularly want to let the clear passages interpret those that are maybe a little less clear.  I'd put this one in the latter category.  It certainly stands in tension with a promise like Ephesians 1:13-14 where we see that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit.  It also seems to stand in contrast with 1 John 1:9 which tells us about how God forgives us when we confess our sins (see also James 5:16).  Since we know that Scripture cannot contradict itself there must be another explanation for this passage.

Calvin has some wonderful thoughts on this passage:

The knot of the question is in the word, fall away. Whosoever then understands its meaning, can easily extricate himself from every difficulty. But it must be noticed, that there is a twofold falling away, one particular, and the other general. He who has in anything, or in any ways offended, has fallen away from his state as a Christian; therefore all sins are so many fallings. But the Apostle speaks not here of theft, or perjury, or murder, or drunkenness, or adultery; but he refers to a total defection or falling away from the Gospel, when a sinner offends not God in some one thing, but entirely renounces his grace.

And that this may be better understood, let us suppose a contrast between the gifts of God, which he has mentioned, and this falling away. For he falls away who forsakes the word of God, who extinguishes its light, who deprives himself of the taste of the heavens or gift, who relinquishes the participation of the Spirit. Now this is wholly to renounce God. We now see whom he excluded from the hope of pardon, even the apostates who alienated themselves from the Gospel of Christ, which they had previously embraced, and from the grace of God; and this happens to no one but to him who sins against the Holy Spirit. For he who violates the second table of the Law, or transgresses the first through ignorance, is not guilty of this defection; nor does God surely deprive any of his grace in such a way as to leave them none remaining except the reprobate.

If any one asks why the Apostle makes mention here of such apostasy while he is addressing believers, who were far off from a perfidy so heinous; to this I answer, that the danger was pointed out by him in time, that they might be on their guard. And this ought to be observed; for when we turn aside from the right way, we not only excuse to others our vices, but we also impose on ourselves. Satan stealthily creeps on us, and by degrees allures us by clandestine arts, so that when we go astray we know not that we are going astray. Thus gradually we slide, until at length we rush headlong into ruin. We may observe this daily in many. Therefore the Apostle does not without reason forewarn all the disciples of Christ to beware in time; for a continued torpor commonly ends in lethargy, which is followed by alienation of mind.

So what does this mean?  I take this passage as a good defense of the idea of what is known as "Lordship Salvation," which is to say that the truly converted will demonstrate a changed lifestyle.  It is possible to have a taste of the heavenly things without being truly converted.  Our churches in America are full of such people.  But the truly converted will have changed lives.  They will still fall, as Calvin points out in the first paragraph.  But there will not be a total apostasy.

This is a difficult passage, to be sure.  My point is simply that it is not a slam dunk against the idea of the preservation of the saints.  It is hard to imagine how God would use something as difficult as this passage to contradict the many passages that talk about how God will save those who are His.  Personally, I do not worry about committing the sin described here, though of course it is possible that I am just living a lie.  I don't think so though.

What do you do with this passage?  I can tell you one thing you must do -- read it in context of the rest of the chapter!  It seems clear to me that this is not a warning to all of the believers in the congregation to whom this is addressed.  It also looks like it refers to those who have participated in covenant community and yet are not truly converted.  That's my take anyway.

Note: I've been really busy in the morning the past two days.  I apologize for the lack of updates, but hope to get us back on track tomorrow with Hebrews 8

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Humanity of Christ

Hebrews 5:8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

8 καίπερ ὢν υἱός, ἔμαθεν ἀφ᾽ ὧν ἔπαθεν τὴν ὑπακοήν, 9  καὶ τελειωθεὶς ἐγένετο πᾶσιν τοῖς ὑπακούουσιν αὐτῷ αἴτιος σωτηρίας αἰωνίου, 10  προσαγορευθεὶς ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀρχιερεὺς κατὰ τὴν τάξιν Μελχισέδεκ.

This is an interesting passage to wrap the old noodle around, isn't it?  Here is looks like Jesus had a time when He was not obedient, but had to learn it throughout the course of His life.  Did He start out imperfect and then become perfect over time?

The grammar doesn't necessarily help us here.  The word τελειωθεὶς  is an aorist passive particple.  Being in the aorist means that it is simply undefined.  It could mean that His life was a time of sanctification in which He was slowly perfected until the cross.  All we know from this snapshot is that He was made perfect.  What's interesting is that ἐγένετο is also in the aorist.  It means that from the perspective of the author of Hebews there was a time when Jesus was made perfect.

But when?  This doesn't tell us for sure either way, but I would maintain that Jesus became perfect when He was born.  In other words, when the man Jesus was conceived He was conceived as a perfect man.  This makes this passage consistent with the rest of Christology that we get from clearer passages of Scripture.  This shows us that we cannot rely too heavily on rules of Greek grammar to tell us everything.  Sometimes it is just ambiguous.  Other times it is crystal-clear.

One thing the book of Hebrews does is that it shows me that Jesus is someone who can relate to me at some level.  He experienced humanity and knows what it was like. This is something that is a great comfort to me as I continually try to learn more obedience.