Posts from the ‘Christianity’ Category

The View From High Altitude

I love the view from the top of a mountain. It seems the higher one gets on altitude, the more grand the vision becomes. You can even see amazing things when flying at 30,000 feet that you could never see otherwise. But there is also a need for the close up view. There is beauty in the details as well.

Many of us look at the five or six foot view, because that is the view we are used to. As creatures of habit, we can easily forget that there is value in seeing the high altitude, or bigger picture in order to provide context for what we see up close. A classic example of this is to look at one puzzle piece of a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. It makes no sense to us unless we have the picture from the box top to provide the context.

There are many applications of this truth. For instance there is value in looking at the overall theme and circumstances of writing of an entire book of the Bible before embarking on a verse by verse, or even a word, study. It helps us keep those details on the context of the entire picture.

One thing that I was raised to do was to view the church in the same way. We get focused on our specific congregation, and sometimes forget about other congregations in our state, our country, or across the globe. We get wrapped up in the “local church” and fail to see “the universal church”. Or we look at Christians who agree with us and fail to consider those in the larger Body of Christ who may look or sound different than we do.

Here is a passage in 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul talks about the Body of Christ as different parts of a body. And believe me, we don’t want every organ and tissue doing the exact same thing in our natural bodies. So why do we expect that from other believers?

1 Corinthians 12:12-22 (NET)

For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body – though many – are one body, so too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell? But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. If they were all the same member, where would the body be? So now there are many members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential,

Often we read this passage and think about the local congregation, and that is a good thing. But think for a moment about the universal church. By that I mean everybody who is truly in Christ, that Christ calls His own, no matter what kind of congregation they belong to. Think of everyone who has faith and believes Jesus is the son of God and that He was raised from the dead to pay the penalty justice demanded for their sin.

When we say other believers are not real Christians because they read the Bible and come to a different conclusion than we do, are we not in effect saying “I do not need you”? Is it pride that says anyone coming to a different conclusion is following the doctrines of men?

There are core essentials that we would find most Bible believing Christians would agree on. Things like the Trinity, Jesus being the Messiah and dying for our sins, and literally being raised from the dead are beyond dispute. But as we move out from those central teachings, our willingness to be dogmatic should gradually fade. We can agree on the essentials and show charity on the nonessentials. Do do otherwise is to practice sectarianism, which is much more destructive than denominationalism.

This is much to think about and meditate on, but it is a subject we must come to grips with, lest we reject those who are part of the Body of Christ.

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Imputed Righteousness

Much discussion takes place between Christians regarding the doctrine of imputation. After salvation, does God look at us and only see Jesus? Is imputation just a legal fiction that doesn’t have any effect on our growth in sanctification? These are a few things I would like to explore.

First of all, we cannot get to heaven and be in God’s presence with our own righteousness. Our “filthy rags” (Isaiah 54:6) don’t even come close to getting us into heaven, where no unrighteous thing can dwell. It takes the blood of Jesus, who imputed to us His righteousness when He took upon Himself our sins (without committing them) on the cross to accomplish that.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB)

But does that mean, as some teach, that when God sees us He only sees Jesus and none of our sins? If that were the case, entire sections of the New Testament would be unnecessary and meaningless! Why would Jesus have given John the letters to the Seven churches of Asia if God didn’t see their sin, or if their sin didn’t matter? Why have Paul rebuke the man in Corinth who was living with his father’s wife if God just sees Jesus when He looks at us? Why even set up church discipline if God doesn’t see a believer’s sin?

No, God still sees our sin, and if we are children of God He disciplines us for them as His children (Hebrews 12:10-11). The righteousness that is imputed to us does not just sit there on paper as a legal decree by a judge, but has a desired effect in our lives! These effects are not the basis of our salvation or the method of keeping us saved, but are the fruit of imputation. Indeed they are one of the purposes of our salvation!

“and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” 1 Peter 2:24 (NASB)

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (NASB)

What would make no sense would be for the righteousness of Christ to be imputed to us and have no effect on our sanctification. This imputed righteousness is the very power of God that enables us to obey His commands. Rather than saying “my sin doesn’t matter because God doesn’t see my sin”, we should examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith and truly children of a Father who disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12:8; 2 Corinthians 13:5)!

So are believers “the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus”? Yes! Does that mean God doesn’t see our sin? No! It means we are family members who have been empowered by the grace of the imputed righteousness of Christ to grow in holiness and sanctification and persevere until the end.

Imputed righteousness was the basis of our justification. Justification is where the righteousness of Christ is imputed, or credited, to us.

“Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Romans 4:22-25 (NASB)

But growth in sanctification is what happens as we live out that imputed righteousness in our daily lives. We must not conflate the two into one reality. Justification is the point in time of our salvation, which is the basis of imputation which empowers sanctification that will result in glorification. They are all terms that can be defined separately, but are realities that are always found together in the lives of the children of God.

What About Gambling?

What About Gambling?

Although the Bible does not discuss gambling in detail, we can discern from Bible principles that God views gambling as a sin. With so much at stake, we need to look and see what Bible principles would apply to this practice. (Ephesians 5:17 – “So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”)

The primary reason Christians should reconsider gambling is that its underlying motivation is greed, which is a sin God hates.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NASB, emphasis mine)

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints… For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:3, 5 NASB)

Gamblers hope to gain money through the losses of others, which is coveting that which belongs to another person.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17 NASB)

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans 7:7 NASB)

For this, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans13:9-10 NASB)

Another aspect of gambling that should not be overlooked is that it can arouse a destructive love of money. Many lives, including entire households, have been scarred by gambling addiction. Money that one cannot afford is thrown away in a vain hope for that big win!

“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10 NASB)

Gambling also plays into a form of idolatry because it encourages reliance on luck and superstitions.  Such idolatry is incompatible with exclusive devotion to the One True God.

“But as for you who abandon the Lord and forget about worshiping at my holy mountain, who prepare a feast for the god called ‘Fortune,’ and fill up wine jugs for the god called ‘Destiny’ (Isaiah 65:11 NET)

Finally, gambling teaches the opposite of what the Bible teaches us. The Word tells us the engage in hard work in order to obtain what we need.

“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, (Ecclesiastes 2:24 NIV)

“Let the thief no longer steal. Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:28).

Gambling holds out the promise of “something for nothing” and is a lie and a trap for many. Those who follow after God will follow the biblical admonition to “eat what we earn” instead of taking money lost by others for our own use.

 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we do for you. (1 Thessalonians 3:11 CSB)

Remember, the mouse gets caught in the trap because it doesn’t realize why the cheese is free! Let us use biblical wisdom to walk in a manner worthy of our Lord!

Do We Need the Holy Spirit in Order to Understand the Bible?

Who can understand the Bible in any real depth? According to Paul, who was writing under inspiration, only a Christian can. Look at what he wrote in his letter to the church at Corinth:

1 Corinthians 2:10-15 (NASB)

“For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.”

First off, just to be clear, when Paul says “we” here, he means himself and those he is addressing, not just the apostles. Later in the passage he contrasts the “we” with “natural men”, not with everyday Christians.

The natural man here is the lost sinner, left to rely on his physical senses alone. To a lost person, the Bible often makes no sense. Paul doesn’t say it is hard or difficult for someone to understand the Bible without the Spirit. He says it is impossible! They cannot! But the spiritual man, who according to the Greek means a regenerate man who has the indwelling Holy Spirit promised in Acts 2:38 and elsewhere does have the ability to understand the Bible, which was inspired/spoken by the Spirit of God. He doesn’t need some supernatural event to happen anew each time he reads the Bible. The Spirit has been in him or her since salvation.

Romans 8: 7 says,”For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Not might not, or usually won’t, but it cannot!

And earlier in this letter Paul has written that “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The reason a lost person cannot understand the Bible is because they have been blinded by the Devil.

2 Corinthians 4:3-4

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

So do we need the Holy Spirit in order to understand the Bible? The New Testament says an emphatic “yes”. Without the Spirit we cannot understand the deep things of God, our minds are hostile to God, and we are blind. Only the Spirit can set humans free and allow the to see the message God is communicating in the Word, and that Spirit continually indwells believers. So if we have been born again, our lack of biblical understanding is our own fault.

Free Will? Part 2

So we have seen from the Word that dead people can do nothing to help themselves and need to be brought back to life first. So what does God use to accomplish this task in a person? The Word!

The one essential everyone agrees on is faith. No one can be saved without it. But how does the Lord give that to someone?

Romans 10:17

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

What is is about the Word that can ignite a spiritual flame in someone? One principle in the physical world is the same in the spiritual world – life begets life!

Hebrews 4:12

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Peter says it even more plainly:

1 Peter 1:22-23

‘Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;”

The Word, in particular the Gospel, has within itself the power to accomplish that for which God sent it. Just like the physical world was created by the Word of God (Hebrews 11:3), spiritual creation is generated by reception of the Word. That is why is is critical to preach the Word, rather than self help psychology or worldly philosophy. Only the Word of God has the power to transmit life like a seed does into dead soil (Luke 8:11). That’s why Paul admonished Timothy to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Without it, you will only produce intellectual assent, and not saving faith. For only the Word of God, once planted in a heart, can change someone;s nature and bring them to life in Christ!

Free Will? Part 1

What is free will? Before determining if we have truly free will, we must define our terms. I asked a lawyer once if he had a free will, and he said “no, but I do charge a flat fee for one!” So we aren’t talking about that kind of a free will.

If you are talking about the ability of absolute self determination, then we also don’t have free will. God will determine that at the judgment, no matter what we say we want. He alone gives eternal life to whom He pleases.

How about not being a robot? Well we do have the ability to choose many things. People have always been willful. So yes, to that extent, we have a free will. But the qualifier is that we are still slaves. At best, we are willful slaves. Here’s what I mean.

John 8:34 says, “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”

So in this slavery, we can be willful, but not exercise fully free will. According to Ephesians 2:3, we are by nature children of wrath. As we grow up we add our actions to that nature and deepen our slavery. In Romans, Paul Romans 3:10-12 wrote:

as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

What is needed is for a change in our nature, so that we desire to seek after God and be saved. When that happens, we freely choose to follow after God. According to Ephesians 2:1 we were dead in trespasses and sins. There is nothing a dead person can do to respond to anything spiritual. That’s why it’s called “dead”. We were not sick. We were not deaf. We were dead. So how are we made alive so that we can hear and comprehend the Word of God and have a changed nature?

Ephesians 2:4-5

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”

God makes us alive. That’s the only cure for dead people! Once we are live, we use our free will to choose God. Not because we are robots, but because we are now spiritually alive and have the desire to seek after God!

Stepping on T.O.E.S.

Sometimes, either intentionally or unintentionally, people can say or do things that “step on toes” with people. The phrase “stepping on toes” has been defined as “To insult, offend, or upset someone, especially by getting involved in something that is their responsibility.” Due to its divine nature, the Word of God sometimes steps on our toes as well.

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12 (NET Bible)

I want to look at the good ways that God’s Word steps on toes by using an acrostic:

T– Traditions

O – Opinions

E – Emotions

S – Sentimentality

Traditions – Many times during Christ’s earthly ministry, He rebuked the religious leaders for usint their traditions to nullify the commands of the Law.  He made it clear that their traditions were not equivalent to the Word of God, and that they had no authority to enforce them as such.

“Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this.” – Mark 7:13 (NET)

This is a tendency all people can easily fall into. In an effort to prevent violating the law of God, we put up our own list of rules to keep us from crossing that line. While this may seem helpful at first, it slowly becomes an assumption that our rules = the Word of God.  We cannot allow this to happen!  Sticking with the Word of God alone can help to prevent this.  There will be times when we read the Word and it will contradict traditions handing down through church history. In such cases, the Word takes precedence, and our tradition must be tossed aside. This can be uncomfortable, especially if one has lived their life thinking that something is a command of God, only to find out it was unbiblical. But we must allow the Word to do its surgical work and cut the traditions out of our religious practices.

Opinions – This is common in our day, when a person or a religious body “updates” the commands of Scripture in order to be more relevant or to conform to modern thinking. This is spiritual pride at its worst, as men and women believe their own opinions to be superior to those of the Lord.  It is the exaltation of human opinion that has facilitated the introduction of unbiblical practices such as female pastors, acceptance of homosexuality, and using the world’s music, among other things. But if we are to be obedient to the Word of God, our personal opinions must take a back seat to the Word. In fact, it is a sign that we have not been “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Instead, we need to follow the admonition of 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,”

Emotions – There are times that the Word of God will provoke an emotional response in us. Sometimes this is a good thing, such as when “godly sorrow” leads us to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). At other times, it will lead us to a deeper love of God and of the other members of the Body of Christ. But what we need to guard against is an emotional response to the clear commands of Scripture that would cause us to be disobedient, or to misinterpret the Word. While we were created with emotions, they are not a safe method of biblical interpretation. If we follow the Word only when it fits our emotions, we are making our emotions superior in authority to the Scriptures. That is an unsafe and unreliable was to handle the Word.  It was an emotional response to the truth that caused the Jewish leaders to plot to kill Jesus!

Sentimentality – “Sentimentality” is defined as an emotional attachment to practices based on nostalgia.  In the Church, it manifests as an attachment to doing things “because that’s the way we used to do it” instead of by the Word. Many people have rejected the truth of the New Testament because of an attachment to the way they did worship as a child in a denomination that was using tradition as a source of truth. They miss the organ preludes, or the choir, or the christening of babies and are unwilling to give those up to embrace New Testament Christianity. While the message of the Gospel does not change, it can be communicated by different means in different cultures. Missionaries can fall prey to this by trying to create American Christians instead of simply Christians. Our nostalgia for the past should never hold us back from following the teaching of Scripture or of communicating the Gospel in meaningful, yet biblical, ways to other cultures!

So when we are reading the Word, take it into your heart and incorporate it into your life, even when it steps on your T.O.E.S.! For in the end, your TOES may need to be set aside if they prevent you from being a true disciple of Jesus!

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