Archive for the 'Reformed Theology' Category

06
Feb
10

God’s Chosen Exiles

1 Peter 1:1-2

God’s Chosen Exiles: The Calling of a Christian

Truth Taught– God, in His Trinitarian nature and Sovereignty, has chosen those who would become His exiles in a world not their own.

     In order to understand what the phrase “God’s chosen exiles” means for the Christian life, there must be a comprehension of to whom and for what reasons Peter wrote this letter. We can gather from the opening verse of chapter one that Peter introduces himself as an apostle of the Lord Jesus, establishing his authority to be writing, but then proceeds into saying something very unique and central to his overall reason for writing. Peter addresses the recipients of his letter as “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1). What could this mean?

     By calling his recipients “elect exiles”, Peter can only have one audience in mind. To put it simply, the church! While this letter may be addressed to the church, Peter has good reason for doing so. His aim is to teach the church about how to prosper in the faith, trust in God, remember the works and teachings of Christ, and all while enduring suffering in this world as God’s elect exiles. This letter is filled with reminders of encouragement of how to suffer for the glory of God, a timely teaching for the world then and the world now.

     It can be seen from the writing of Peter that the church was made up of a mixture of people, both Jew and Gentile. It has widely been accepted that Peter’s letter was writing primarily for a Jewish audience, but Scripture within the letter itself may not indicate that to be necessarily true. Consider 1 Peter 1:18, “Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers”, and 1 Peter 2:10, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’ people”. Both verses would indicate something not normally attributed to Jewish Christians.

     However, this is not to say that there were not Jewish believers in the church congregations either. It is historical fact that many types of diverse people were mixed during this time. We get a picture of this from Acts 2:9. However, this does not mean that we cannot gather an even more beautiful picture of Christ from this mixture, because the mixture of Jew and Gentile in the churches goes to show that in Christ the wall between Jew and Gentile has been broken down making the two people one in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2: 11-22).

     With this information in mind, it leads us to our full discussion of the text itself. Within these opening two verses of 1 Peter, there are three major themes that jump out. 1.) God electing individuals to become the church which in turn are the “elect exiles” spoken of. 2.) There is a Trinitarian understanding of election in which the reader sees the origin, the experience, and the goal of election. 3.) There is also a reminder from Peter that though believers are still sinners and sin willingly sometimes, there is continual restoration in our relationship to God through the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood. It is a very humbling reminder indeed.

     Right from the start, Peter wants his readers to understand something of monumental importance. He wants them to grasp the fact that they, who are true believers in Christ, are in fact elect. The doctrine of election is such a controversial theme in today’s society that it can cause serious divisions in the church body. However devastating this may be, and it is very unfortunate, Peter is opening his letter with a greeting about the doctrine of election. If doctrine of election is so notorious for being held in low regards, why in the world would Peter open his letter talking about it? Peter understands what many of us today may not ever come to terms with, and that is the fact that God is completely sovereign and holy, even in the calling to salvation Christians.

     What is even more striking about these “elect” that Peter mentions is an understanding of their true identity as those who are elect. They are exiles; they are aliens; they are sojourners as some other translations put it. When you seriously think about what it means to be an alien, exile, or sojourner, the first thing that comes to mind is a sense of not belonging. When we hear about immigrants entering into the country illegally, we think of them as not belonging. They are refugees to our country and their home is of another place. A negative example would be to consider what a foreign bacterium is to the human body. When the human body senses a strange life form, it tries to do away with it; the body does not like the intruder. In much the same way, only in a positive sense, Christians are these aliens or exiles chosen by God to this way of life. Our home is not here in this world, but with Jesus in heaven.

     Consider these passages, John 16: 32-33,

“Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world”.

John 17: 14-19,

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth”.

     As is evident from these two passages, our place is not of this world, but our mission is to be here as those elect exiles of the faith and endure for the sake of Christ. Our true identity as believers in Jesus is to be those aliens. However, Peter does not stop there, but goes directly into a Trinitarian explanation of how it is and for what reasons God has chosen to elect His exiles.

1.) According to the foreknowledge of God the Father.

     Peter first gives his readers the origin of election, it is found in the foreknowledge of God the Father. It is not uncommon that the phrase “foreknowledge of God” can be taken in completely the wrong way. Most of the time, readers will interpret the foreknowledge of God as something like God just knowing a fact in advance. So the end result is that God chose those to be elect based on the fact that he saw that they would chose Him, but this is a false understanding of the text.

     To correctly understand the foreknowledge of God in this text, the reader must understand that this foreknowledge is a fore-knowing of a person in a personal context. Very much like a father knows his child, or Adam knew Eve. There is an intimate understanding to the word foreknowledge in this text. Very much like Ephesians 1:3-14, God chose us (believers) in Him (Christ) before the ages began to be as adopted sons. God intimately knew His exiles.

2.) In the sanctification of the Spirit.

     Next, Peter gives his readers the experience of election that is found in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. The term sanctification literally means to be “set apart”. As believers, God has set us apart to become more like His son Jesus and to be holy as He Himself is holy. Consider these two verses,

Hebrews 12:7-11,

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of Spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it”.

James 1:2-4,

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”.

     When Peter speaks of “sanctification of the Spirit” he means to portray the idea that we as believers in Christ are surrounded by the atmosphere of the Holy Spirit being sanctified through various trials as discipline. So as God’s chosen exiles of the dispersion, we are being trained and disciplined by God to produce a greater yield for His kingdom. Remember that we are chosen exiles in a foreign place that is hostile towards us because of our Lord Jesus Christ.

3.) For obedience to Jesus Christ.

     We have seen that due to God’s foreknowing of His elect, it is by the Holy Spirit that we are involved in daily sanctification to make us holy as He is holy. But what does it mean to be holy as He is holy? There is a greater purpose and that is for us to have complete obedience to Jesus our Lord. But what does this obedience look like? Consider these two passages of Scripture,

Ephesians 2:8-10,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”.

1 John 5:2,

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments”.

     As God’s chosen exiles, He has pre-ordained that we should walk in good works because of what Christ has done. It is when we as believers are active in these good works that we are showing our love for God because we are keeping His commandments. What should some of these good works look like? We are to love the lost and share the gospel just as Jesus says in Matthew 28 before He ascends into heaven, we are to abstain from any sinful actions against God or our brothers and sisters as is seen in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7. There are pages full of commands from God in Scripture and all are what would constitute obedience to Christ Jesus.

     Finally, we come to our last point in the passage. It is not only by the foreknowledge of God, the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, or for obedience to Christ, but also for the sprinkling of Christ’s blood as well. So far we have seen the origin, experience, and goal of election, but it is here that we see the how being put into action. We all know the Romans 3:23 passage about all being sinners and falling short of God’s glory, so how are we to keep moving toward obedience in Christ if we continue to sin?

     The question addresses the heart of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. It seems as if Peter has taken truth of the latter part of verse two and compared it with what we find in the book of Leviticus about those who suffered from leprosy. Not only was this physical disease deadly in a biological way, it was also unhealthy in a communal way. Consider this passage,

Leviticus 13:45-46,

“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, unclean, unclean. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp”.

     Peter too recognized that because of our sinful human condition, our spiritual status was also in the same kind of trouble. This time, we were not outside of a physical camp, but the spiritual camp of God. As a result, there needs to be reconciliation happening. A cure needs to be administered, because without one, all sinners are as good as dead! Again consider this passage of Scripture,

Leviticus 14:6-7,

“He shall take the live bird with the cedar-wood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field”.

     It is from this passage that we see the connection with Jesus’ blood. Just as it took the sprinkling of blood from an animal to cleanse the leper, it takes the blood of an innocent lamb to cleanse the sinner. Now the unrighteous sinner can be seen as clean by a holy and wonderful God. It is through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood that we are able to have restoration with God even if we succumb to sin in this life. It is truly an amazing concept!

     Now we as Peter’s readers are able to step back and see the majestic work of our Trinitarian God in the opening verses of 1 Peter. We should now have a fuller understanding of what it means to be God’s chosen exiles. We know that we do not belong in this world, but God has us here to do good works, even if it costs everything. Thankfully however, we can have restoration in our relationship to God through the blood of our Lord Jesus. To Him be the glory forever!

19
Jan
10

Respond to top 10 Reasons why Jesus is not God…Reason #9

 #9 Reason why Jesus is not God

     According to those on the Deen Show, another reason why Jesus cannot be God is that there are no explicit claims to Jesus’ divinity, even in the Bible. The guest on the show quotes passages like Isaiah 46:9 which say, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me”. They would also have us believe that if Jesus did claim to be God that He would have done so and “not beat around the bush”. If Jesus thought He was God, He would have been clear. Jesus never stated, anywhere, that He was God.

Objection to Reason #9

     To start with, I am honestly not sure why anyone would argue this way. If you do not think that Jesus is God or ever claimed to be God, I personally would not use the Bible for grounds to make this argument, especially the New Testament. It is abundantly clear that the New Testament, and I would argue the Old Testament as well, teaches Jesus’ divinity with an overwhelming number of passages that would advocate such a belief.

 However, I do need to make a distinction on what I mean. Those who are on the Deen Show are quoting passages that come from the Christian Bible and my arguments are coming from a Christian perspective. I would handle this argument differently if I were responding to a Jehovah’s Witness or someone who has altered the text of the Bible claiming that their version is correct. I would like to remind everyone reading that I am not attacking persons, but a worldview that I believe is incorrect. Once again, I have a tremendous respect for those on the Deen Show who were very humble and careful not to offend anyone. I would like to show the same humility in my responses but be fierce in defending Jesus who is indeed God.

     Again, quoting a passage like Isaiah 46:9 is not going to defeat the Christian worldview. Simply because we would also affirm that God is one and there is no other gods but Him. However, once again, there has been a misunderstanding of the Christian doctrine of the trinity. Christianity teaches that God is one, but in three persons. There are not three gods, but only one in three persons. You can read the previous blog post for more on this issue.

     The guest on the Deen Show also stated that there are passages in the Bible that could be read and interpreted wrongly that suggests that Jesus is God. The gentleman gave John 1:1 as an example of this. “In the beginning was the word, the word was with God, and the word was God” (John 1:1). As we progress in the first chapter of the gospel of John, we find that the word talked about in verse 1 is none other than Jesus Himself. What is interesting however is that those on the Deen Show misquoted John 1:1 and substituted the phrase “was God” with “became God”.

     The problem with this substitution is that is falsely states what the Bible says. The passage in John 1:1 does not say that the word became God, but rather that the word was God. Whatever or whoever this word is, was already God and has always existed. In fact, if you read on for the next few verses you will see that everything in creation was made through Him. This absolutely corresponds with other passages found in the New Testament that say Jesus is in fact the creator (Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-5).

     Where I think the confusion comes in is where John 1:1 does say that the word became flesh. This however does not provide a problem because all it states is that the word, who is Jesus, becomes man. Now we are back to reason #10 from before. Scripture advocates that Jesus, who is God, was born. I believe it is absolutely clear that Scripture affirms the divinity of Jesus.

     Now, I would like to state several other passages in the Bible that would affirm Jesus being God:

John 8:58-59: “Jesus said to them (the Jewish leaders who doubted His divinity) Truly, truly I say unto you, Before Abraham was born, I AM! They took up stones therefore to cast at Him: but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple”.

     This passage is huge because Jesus referred to Himself as “I AM”. This is the name that God gave Himself and told Moses to tell to pharaoh just before the Exodus. Jesus identified Himself as the God who appeared to Moses in Exodus 3:14. The Jewish leaders knew exactly what He was saying because they picked up stones to kill Jesus. They thought Jesus was blaspheming because He claimed to be God.

Mark 2:1-12. This is the story about the paralytic who was dropped in through the roof by his friends because there was such a large crowed that they could not get their friend in to see Jesus. However, when Jesus saw this, he decided to heal this paralytic, but the interesting thing to consider is that Jesus claimed to forgive this man’s sins. When Jesus did this, it made the Jewish leaders angry because once again they thought He was blaspheming, claiming to be God. “Who can forgive sins, but God along” they uttered? No one has the ability to forgive sins but God! This is the point. So in order to show the truthfulness of Jesus’ claims, he asks if it is easier to say that someone sins are forgiven or to tell the paralytic to get up and walk? So in order to prove that He is God, Jesus tells the paralytic to walk, and to everyone’s surprise, he walks! So once again, Jesus proves that He is God.

Mark 14:53-65. This is the passage where Jesus is questioned before the Jewish council. They ask Him to prove if He is the one who was to come. Jesus gave an interesting answer, “And Jesus said to them, I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven”. As a result, and should be no surprise, the Jewish leaders once more thought Jesus was blaspheming so they condemned Him.

 The reason why this answer was so important to the Jewish leaders is that Jesus was making reference back to Daniel chapter 7 where Daniel sees a figure that is given all authority and dominion. Jesus was claiming to be that figure that Daniel saw. This is why Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man. This reference comes from Daniel 7. Again, this is a third example of Jesus claiming to be God.

     Overall there are many more passage in which Jesus is portrayed to be God, but this post could continue forever. The point here is that the Bible does in fact claim that Jesus is God. God did not beat around the bush as some might suspect, but clearly presented this in His word. In the end, I am not so sure why people like to argue that Jesus never claimed to be God, because He in fact did do so. I would urge all those who doubt Jesus’ divinity to reconsider their thoughts on the matter because it is over abundantly clear that Scripture affirms this truth. In the end, every knee will bow before Jesus and recognize Him as God, even if you believe in His divinity or not. Now this is an interesting thought to consider. Click here to view the Deen Show video.

24
Aug
09

God and the Promised Land: A War to remember

     In my last two posts, we have looked at two major topics that I have done research on for my senior research paper in college. In the first post, the idea of divine command ethics was discussed and then in the second, the problem of evil. I would now like to move on to my third and final part of the research, and that deals with the issue of the Canaanite extermination in the Old Testament. Many modern scholars such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others attack Christianity in this way and argue that the God of the Old Testament cannot be the God of the New Testament. In what follows is my brief and introductory attempt at answering this question. After reading, if anyone would like to discuss further, please email or message me because this issue can go so much deeper.

     I would like to remind everyone that in this section specifically, I have quoted some work by Dr. Paul Copan and an Old Testament scholar by the name of Richard Hess. They make some interesting claims about the Canaanite issue, but in the end I am not sure I totally agree with them. It will take more study on the matter.

     The attack on God’s morality does not stop with the problem of evil however, but continues with the question of how a loving God can permit a moral atrocity such as genocide? In the Old Testament book of Joshua, readers can find God commanding the Israelite army to basically exterminate a group of tribes collectively known as the Canaanites. “Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword” (Joshua 6. 21). How could an all-loving God that Christians so often talk about be so harsh and destructive in the Old Testament?

     Just like the problem of evil, the issue of the Canaanite annihilation is not easy to deal with, even for a strong Christian believer. Since this is such an extreme situation in the biblical narrative, it has been ammunition for some of the world’s leading opponents of the Christian faith. Take Richard Dawkins for example, an Oxford University distinguished professor, he states, “The ethnic cleansing begun in the time of Moses is brought to bloody fruition in the book of Joshua, a text remarkable for the bloodthirsty massacres it records and the xenophobic relish with which it does so” (247).

     This quote from Dawkins is not even the most aggressive when it comes to display of emotions from people towards this situation. Consider what Dr. Mirabello has to say about this issue, “Joshua, the legendary warlord who led the armed forces of the “children of Israel” into Palestine, committed war crimes and genocide and destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded” (1). Consider also, another quote from Christopher Hitchens, a journalist who wrote a book titled, God is not Great, “However, one mutters a few sympathetic words for the forgotten and obliterated Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites, also presumably part of the Lord’s original creation, who are to be pitilessly driven out of their homes to make room for the ungrateful and mutinous children of Israel” (101).

     Every one of these quotes convey detailed emotion and dedication to the position they hold. These quotes, however, do not fully communicate the raw passion as well as Richard Dawkins himself does. Again, consider Dawkins on this issue, “The point is that, whether true or not, the Bible is held up to us as the source of our morality. And the Bible story of Joshua’s destruction of Jericho, and the invasion of the Promised Land in general, is morally indistinguishable from Hitler’s invasion of Poland, or Saddam Hussein’s massacres of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs” (247).

     With unsympathetic acquisitions such as these, how can the Christian worldview possibly give an acceptable answer to a situation of this magnitude? There have been a great number of writings dedicated to answering this topic from a Christian perspective. There are several ways in which an answer can be given, but there are two that prove to be beneficial in trying to give an answer.

     In the book of Deuteronomy, the writer engages the reader with information as to how the Canaanites were dealt with, “And we devoted them to destruction, as we did to Sihon the king Hesbon, devoting to destruction every city, men, women, and children” (Deut. 3. 6). This passage seems to clearly communicate that every person associated with the Canaanite tribes was executed and that there were none left alive.

     In an article by Dr. Paul Copan, a philosopher of ethics from Florida, he suggests that maybe when the Bible speaks of the annihilation of every person, it could be nothing more than just a type of war hype. Consider what Copan says, “I observed in my previous essay that the language of total obliteration is an Ancient Near East rhetorical device, an exaggeration commonly associated with warfare”. If what Copan is saying is true, his analysis proves to be pivotal in answering this objection.

     Copan goes on in his article to back up what he is saying by using the Bible itself, “After all, the books of Joshua and Judges themselves make clear that many inhabitants remained in the land”. What Copan is saying becomes evident from a biblical passage found in the book of Judges, “But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day” (Judges 1. 21).

     Copan’s argument, though persuasive, does not fully do the trick. So what if everyone was not killed, what about the ones who were? Were small children and women included in the killings? Copan, in the same article, quotes and Old Testament scholar named Richard Hess. Copan suggests, “Hess’s research has led him to conclude that the ban (war commands from God) refers to the ‘total destruction of all warriors in the battle not noncombatants”.

     It seems now that Copan’s argument comes full circle. Copan suggests that the command to “kill all” in the Old Testament does not literally refer to all, but is a “rhetorical device”. If Copan’s biblical interpretation holds together then it becomes difficult to label what happened to the Canaanites a true genocide as critics suggest. However, though Copan’s argument is good, it only holds up on one front. There is still the question of why God would command the Israelites to go to war with the Canaanites and cause intense fighting in the first place. How does a Christian answer this question?

     There are many Christian scholars who say that in order to answer an objection of this magnitude; it is wise to call upon a method of theological study known as “Biblical Theology”. C. Stephen Evans, a professor of philosophy at Baylor University defines Biblical Theology as, “An attempt to develop theology out of the study of biblical texts” (114). When applying his definition to the Canaanite issue, it would be wise to see what the biblical narrative as a whole has to say about the problem. Once the broader picture of the Bible is seen, then it will clear up any misconceptions that people may have of the issue.

     Dr. Iain Duguid, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, states, “the Israelites acted as the agents of God’s righteous judgment against sinners” (107). Taken at face value, this statement seems a bit judgmental on the part of Duguid, but this is an example of how the practice of good biblical theology will help. Just as it is explained in the beginning of this essay that human nature, according to the Christian perspective, is naturally prone to evil, this same concept is also applied to the Canaanite tribes. Just every person born throughout all of history is born at enmity with God; there is no difference for the Canaanite people.

     When considering possible reasons for why God would command such an order for the Israelites to do, the primary question that comes to mind is why God would do this to innocent people. Though this is a great question, it assumes that the Canaanites were in fact, innocent people. Just by nature the Canaanites were evil and in active rebellion against God. Furthermore, the Canaanites we involved in some nasty practices that anyone would see as evil. Dr. Walter Kaiser, academic dean, professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, suggests,

     “Why then were the Canaanites singled out for such severe treatment? They were cut off to prevent Israel and the rest of the world from being corrupted (Deut. 20. 16-18). When a people starts to burn their children in honor of their gods (Lev. 18.21), practice sodomy, bestiality, and all sorts of loathsome vices (Lev. 18.23, 24, 20.3), the land itself begins to “vomit” them out as the body heaves under the load of internal poisons (Lev. 18.25, 27-30)” (268).

     As a holy God, just as the Bible suggests God is, it is by His holy nature that God is in total opposition to evil and rebellion. This is why the Bible makes the claim that God is a just and righteous God. By the very fact that the Canaanites were evil, makes it perfectly clear as to why God would pronounce judgment on them. The Canaanites were deserving of a just judgment.

     This brings this third objection to its final question. Why did God use Israel to execute judgment? Was it because there were better than everyone else? The answer to that is no, and the bible actually makes it clear as to why God used Israel. This passage comes from the book of Deuteronomy,

     “Not because of your righteousness of the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deut. 9.5).

     The answer becomes apparent now, it is not that the Israelites are better, but that God is actively and rightfully judging the nations as they deserve. The same goes for the nation of Israel to at the time. They too, for practicing evil deeds, are judged by God. Just as Dr. Tremper Longman, a professor of Old Testament, suggests, “It would be wrong to say that God was on Israel’s side pure and simple” (175). Israel was in covenant with God and if Israel somehow “broke” covenant with God, they too would be judged for their wicked ways. Consider what would happen to Israel in the event of breaking covenant with God,

     “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (Deut. 28. 25).

     In review of this last section, many concepts have been learned. It is very difficult for any reader of the Old Testament to breeze by stories of war and extermination without questioning, but a deeper look into the matter reveals true facts of the matter. It is quite possible that not every person from the Canaanite tribes were wiped out, but only the combatants fighting the war. It has also been made clear that not one person is innocent to begin with and that God is a righteous judge who judges truthfully. With these ideas in mind, a light in the distance can be seen to make way out of this problem.

19
May
09

Habakkuk and the Character of God in the Bible

   gow         One of the most interesting books of the Bible would have to be Habakkuk. This tiny writing sits at the end of the Old Testament containing much detailed information about who the God of the Bible is and what He looks like in relation to the entire created universe. Discussing the character of God seems to be a major point of dialogue in most theological and philosophical circles today. There are many opinions about who the God of the Bible really is, and many differing views are being taught within the Christian church itself. The point of discussion in this article is to focus on the true nature of God based on Biblical evidence, but first it would be wise to consider other views that are being held in the church today.

     Consider this quote from a “Christian” theologian,

     “The future is determined not by God alone, but in partner with human agents. God gives us a role in shaping what the future will be. He is flexible and does not insist on doing things His way. God will adjust His own plans because He is sensitive to what humans think and do.”

     What is particularly interesting about this quote is that it quickly diminishes the completely sovereign aspect of God’s character. This is not too far off from what is known as Open Theism, the view held by people like Gregory Boyd and John Sanders. Basically, this position holds that God does not know the future exhaustively and that He can only know what is knowable. This seems to be taking a step away from the historical view of who God is in the Bible.

     Considering the book of Habakkuk would, in my outlook, absolutely decimate this view of God, and Habakkuk does it biblically. The whole point of the book of Habakkuk is that God is completely sovereign in every aspect of life. One quick read through of Habakkuk would quickly put to rest the notion that “God is flexible and does not insist of doing things His way and that God will adjust His own plans because He is sensitive to what humans think and do”.

     In fact, the opposite is true. In the narrative of Habakkuk, the prophet Habakkuk goes before God questioning why God has not done anything to stop the wickedness that the people are committing. God answers Habakkuk and says that He is doing something, “A work in your days that you would not believe if told” (Hab. 1:5). God was referring to the raising up of the Babylonians to judge and destroy the wickedness of Judah, the very place where Habakkuk was at this time. Habakkuk then questions God as to why He would do something like this, but God answers with a rather astounding remark.

     “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not right within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4).

     As Habakkuk is in immense fear of the Babylonian threat coming, but God answers by saying that the Babylonians will get their just punishment for destroying Judah, but the ones from Judah who have faith in the Lord of heaven will live. To me, this raises some considerable doubt about the nature of God as presented in the quote above. Will God really adjust His plans even if we humans do not think it is a good idea what God is doing? I think not, and Habakkuk clearly shows this.

     The ending of Habakkuk is what is truly amazing about this whole study. By the third chapter, Habakkuk is now singing a song of praise to God remembering all that God has saved His people from mainly focusing on the Exodus out of Egypt. Habakkuk concludes that though the army of the Babylonians is coming, he will rejoice in the God of his salvation because God still saves people. Clearly, Habakkuk did not want to endure hardship of war, but joyfully does because the true God, the Lord in heaven will deliver him.

     As for the character of God, we see that He works out all of history to His liking. Of course this does not mean that humans don’t have a free will, but rather that God’s sovereignty is compatible with the free will of humans. I think it would be wise to say that the God of the Bible is not the God of the quote from above. God does not dwell in systems of theology such as the Openness of God, but rather sits comfortably in the realm of biblical truth taught in Scripture. God is not a sucker sitting around for when we humans conveniently need Him, but rather God is actively working out all of history for His glory and liking. Truly we worship and amazing God that is still in the business of saving sinners from the just punishment we deserve.

02
Feb
09

What they wont preach…Who are the children of wrath? Pt. 1

    

    p      “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest”. The Apostle Paul- Ephesians 2: 1-3 (NASB).

     When it comes to the relationship between the church and the culture of our present day, so many times they tend to clash on many levels. The passage quoted above from Paul in the New Testament is an example of one of those situations in which the culture of today is in conflict with the truths taught in Biblical Scripture itself. This post is the first in a series of three articles where our focus will be on the topic of the wrath of God and those who are recipients of God’s wrath; Paul calls them, the “Children of wrath”.

     In this passage Paul is talking to the Christians at the church in Ephesus, whom he recognizes as true believers in Christ. Paul mentions first how they were once dead in their sin and they walked according to the course of this world and even according to “the prince of the power of air, and this is the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience”. When Paul says they were dead in their sin, he is meaning spiritually they were dead. While physically alive, God’s judgment was upon them (John 3: 36) rendering them spiritually dead in sin.

     So what? What could this possibly mean for anyone else since Paul was only talking to the Ephesians? It would do well for everyone to note that Paul is addressing them in the past tense in this situation. He says, “of which you formerly walked”. The Ephesians were once dead, but now are not. By stating this Paul is showing the state of all human beings before coming to salvation in Jesus. Consider Romans 5: 12 (NASB),

     “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned”.

     According to Paul in Romans chapter 5, all have sinned in Adam and therefore just as Ephesians chapter 2 says, before salvation in Christ, we are all dead spiritually. Not only dead spiritually, but a slave to sinfulness and cannot be free of that until God intervenes (John 8: 34). On this topic pastor John Piper says, “There are three S’s to remember when dealing with this passage”,

1. We are sick unto death with sin.

2. We are sabotaged by Satan.

3. We are sentenced to an eternal hell apart from the grace of Jesus Christ.

     So as one can easily see, Paul provides no easy position for us to be in who are not true believers in Jesus. It is no wonder why the Bible clashes with our humanistic culture in so many ways. Just as everything in our culture is relative and we make it what we want, the Bible teaches otherwise and that there is something more than us out there. According to the Bible, you have it only two ways, either to be slave to sin or to be in submission to the God of the universe, Jesus Christ.

     Friends, this is no easy topic to talk about and that is why it is ignored frequently in most churches (including evangelical churches as well) around America today. Though this is just an introduction to the topic that will be discussed more in detail in future posts to come, please consider my challenge to you. If you are not a believer in Jesus, this has eternal consequences for you. If you are already a believer in Jesus, take this time to reconsider the grace of God and join in with other believers in worshiping Him because He is worthy and has saved you. Remember just as John Piper says, “You will not find out about your true nature in the newspaper or TIME or NEWSWEEK”. You need to turn to God’s word to find out. Until next time…Grace and Peace in Christ Jesus!

09
Jan
09

Is Denying Jesus…Christian?

    

   jc  “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’ Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple”- John 8: 58-59

     This is a quote from chapter 8 of the gospel of John and seemingly attests to what all orthodox Christianity believes; that Jesus is truly God! However, not all who call themselves “Christians” are in agreement over this belief. Does the Bible teach that Jesus is really God? Do both the Old and the New Testaments confirm this? Ultimately, can one be a “Christian” and deny the divinity of Jesus? My answer of course is that the Bible does teach the divinity of Jesus and that in order to be a Christian, based on Biblical evidence, ones needs to believe that Jesus is truly God, the second person of the Trinity along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

     The whole reason for this discussion is based off of a conversation that I am currently having with an internet friend who does not agree with the notion that Jesus is God. This post is not in any way designed to attack this friend personally, but to merely discuss this issue and prove from the Biblical narrative that Jesus views Himself as God. But why the split among people who call themselves Christians? They both cannot be right, can they?

     No! Both sides cannot be right, Jesus cannot be both God and not God at the same time, so what are we to do with this issue? It would be wise to look at the split and to know where everyone falls on this issue. Of course, there are the Catholics and the Evangelical Protestant churches that hold to the divinity of Jesus, then you have the liberal protestants who are just confused about everything in Christianity and do not know where they stand half the time, but that is for another discussion altogether, finally you have the groups who claim to be true Christianity but do not hold to Jesus being God. These groups include the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christadelphians, the Christian Science movement, and many more of the alike who all deny Jesus’ divinity. Why do they diverge away from traditional Christianity then? I think in all of these cases, the answer is simple; all have in some way been started by a person or people who, for personal reasons, whatever they may be, have not agreed with the traditional view of Christianity and turned true Biblical Scripture into what they want it to say. In fact, most of these groups have had so many problems with traditional Christianity that their own “Bible” has come from their thinking. That is why it is hard to talk with a person from one of these groups, because they argue from their Bible that is supposed to be the only correct version, but are not without many inconsistencies in the text. It seems that from each of these groups comes the claim that they are the true church (check out CARM for more information on this). Of course, this could be argued against evangelical Protestantism, but what has the church agreed upon over the course of its history? All of the essential Christian doctrines, the virgin birth, the Trinitarian view of God, Jesus being fully God and fully man, Jesus’ physical bodily resurrection from the dead, the ascension of Christ into heaven after being resurrected, and that Jesus will return at the end of time. These are all orthodox beliefs that are being challenged by many of these new groups, but what does the Bible actually say about Jesus being God?

     The Biblical passage that opened this post can be found in the gospel of John, and is one of many places in the Bible that Jesus’ divinity can be found. I would like to take a few minutes and discuss some passages from the New and Old Testament to establish my case for Jesus’ divinity. Consider these as Biblical evidence,

John 8: 58– Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am”. Jesus here in this verse is clearly claiming divinity by calling Himself the name that God in the Old Testament told Moses (Exodus 3: 14). Jesus is undoubtedly saying to the Jewish leaders that He is the one who was talking to Moses from the burning bush. The Jewish leaders respond by wanting to kill Jesus because they knew what He was claiming.

John 1: 1-14– This is another passage from the gospel of John in which Jesus is viewed as God. John here tells the reader that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word that John keeps referring to is Jesus. So in essence, in the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. John then goes on to tell us that the Word came into the world. Does this sound like Jesus? I think this is very clear, don’t you?

Hebrews 1– This whole chapter is designed to portray Jesus as God. In the opening of Hebrews, the writer says this, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom He also made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact imprint of His nature, and upholds all things by the power of His word. When He made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High”. This person that the writer of Hebrews is talking about is non other than Jesus Himself. Jesus is the exact imprint of the Father’s nature.

Psalm 110– This whole psalm is amazing to read! In the beginning of this psalm, David opens with this phrase, “The LORD says to my Lord: sit at My right hand”. This is a picture of Jesus interacting with the Father on the throne.

Daniel 7: 13-14– Here Daniel refers to some one “like s Son of Man coming”. Jesus often refers to Himself as the Son of Man, and this passage in Daniel shows the Old Testament existence of the Son of Man interacting in creation and the Son of Man is Jesus.

     In conclusion of this discussion, I would just like to say as a closing argument, to undermine the belief of Jesus being God, is to essentially destroy the gospel message. How can the message of the gospel be truly preached if Jesus is not God? It cannot be! As a reminder to those who do not understand what I mean when I say gospel, the gospel message is that God, being perfect and good in every way created the world and all that you see (Genesis 1). God then created man in His image, designing them to worship and love Him while loving them all the more (Genesis 1 & 2). Man in our folly rebelled against God’s decree and that threw all of creation into sin and sin explains all evil that we see (Genesis 3). Man being radically depraved and spiritually dead like spiritual corpses are deserving of Hell of our actions (Ephesians 2). God sent His perfect Son, Jesus the second person of the trinity who is fully God to become fully man and be offered as a sacrifice for the sins of His people (John 3: 16). Jesus was crucified and the sins of God’s people were placed on Jesus and Jesus bore the wrath of God to Himself to save His people (2 Corinthians 5: 21). By doing this, God has now worked through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit to save sinners like you and I (Ephesians 1). Jesus having been physically resurrected is now with the Father on the throne ruling and judging the nations (Colossians 1) and will return soon for His people (Revelation 3: 11). It would do well to consider the message of the Bible and believe Jesus is Lord. Friends, to deny Jesus’ divinity is to deny the gospel message in full. I challenge those of you who consider themselves Christian but do not believe Jesus is God to reconsider your claim. Anything that is not preaching Jesus as God is not the true gospel. Grace and Peace.

25
Dec
08

The Word Becomes Flesh.

    

     cj     Well it looks like we all have made it to yet one more Christmas day and all the thanks and glory be to Jesus who is on the throne now. I pray that all of you are having a wonderful day with family and friends. Knowing that it is Christmas, it would be wise to talk a little about the one who Christmas is supposed to be about, the Lord Jesus Christ who is fully God and fully man. I am speaking of a very important view in the Christian faith known as the doctrine of the incarnation, but what does that mean?

     “The Incarnation of the Son of God is the terminology used to describe what happened when the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, “became flesh” as he was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary according to the Bible. In the incarnation, the divine nature of the Son was perfectly united with human nature in one divine Person. This person, Jesus Christ, was both “truly God and truly man.” (Theopedia).

     As one can clearly imagine, the doctrine of the incarnation of Jesus is severely important to the Christian faith and a doctrine that cannot be compromised. I am willing to go as far as to say that as a Christian, the doctrine of the incarnation is so important that to stray away from this doctrine is to leave the lines of orthodoxy and not be within the boundaries of the Christian faith. With that in mind, the doctrine of the incarnation is exactly what Christmas is all about and why Christmas is considered a Christian holiday. Consider with me John 1: 1-18,

     “1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (ESV Bible online).

     This rather lengthy passage is very important and plays a large role in understanding the doctrine of the incarnation. In fact, my study Bible, and I would assume most study Bibles, label this section “The Word made flesh”. While this entire passage is important, the focus will be primarily spent on the first part of the passages, namely verses 1-5, but the rest of the passage will be discussed in some detail as well.

     In the opening verses of the gospel of John, the writer keeps referring to this idea of the “Word”. John starts from the beginning and says that “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God”. This clearly echoes the opening phrase of Genesis chapter 1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, but John shows that the Word was with God in the beginning. Not only that, John says that the Word “was God”. This is extremely important to understand!

     As John goes proceeds in his writing, the reader finds that the “Word” being discussed in the opening verses is none other than Jesus of Nazareth Himself. John is showing that Jesus was with God in eternity past and that Jesus is God. Hmmm, this is intriguing! Could it be that this is good grounds for holding to the view of a Trinitarian nature of God? I think so!

     The Greek word that is used for “Word” in this passage is Logos which “conveys the notion of divine self-expression or speech and has a rich Old Testament background” (ESV Study Bible). God’s Word is effective because God speaks and matter comes into existence, and also by speech, God relates personally to His people. By using the Greek word Logos in this passage, John is also showing that this concept of the Logos is even more superior to the way in which the Greeks would use the word Logos. In Greek culture, Logos is seen as an impersonal principle of reason that gave order to the universe. However, in the case of John’s writing, John shows that the Word was with God indicating a personal relationship with God. John also shows that the Word was God affirming that this Word is also the same God who created the universe. (Refer to Colossians chapter 1 for a cross reference). What an interesting concept!

     The next part of the passage (vv. 6-8) is important as well in understanding some Old Testament prophecy concerning the coming of Jesus. John goes on to write about John the Baptist who was prophesied about in Isaiah 40: 3 and sent from God to be a witness about the “light”, who is actually Jesus; so that many may be saved by the message of the gospel preached by John the Baptist. Remember however, John the Baptist is not the “light” but a forerunner of the light to come.

     As for the rest of the passage (vv. 9-18), this concludes the opening of John’s gospel with talking about the actual incarnation itself. We find that in this passage, the light comes into the world that He has made and yet those whom He has created did not receive Him. John, then goes to on to make a very important statement concerning the point of His coming into the world. He would give the right to become children of the Most High God to anyone who would believe, but not according to the person’s will, the person’s flesh, or blood, but according to the will of God (vv.12-13). Jesus came to save sinners!

     My friends, the point of Christmas is this; that God would send His son, the second person of the Trinity, a Savior, Jesus Christ to save a people for Himself. As we consider this day, December 25, 2008, please remember that this is more than just a baby being born in a manger, but that baby was and is the God of the universe who sits on the throne ruling the universe. Please also remember, that Christmas should not be the only day that we celebrate the events of the incarnation, but everyday should be considered a celebration for God because He would send His Son to die for sinners who do not deserve His grace and peace. It is through Jesus that we have true grace and peace for this season. God bless all!




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