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Posts Tagged ‘New Testament’

Richard B. Hays and the fire of texts

… Despite all the careful hedges that we plant around texts, meaning has a way of leaping over, like sparks. Texts are not inert; they burn and throw fragments of flame on their rising heat. Often we succeed in containing the energy, but sometimes the sparks escape and kindle new blazes, reprises of the original fire.

That is a way of saying that texts can generate readings that transcend both the conscious intention of the author and all the hermeneutical strictures that we promulgate. Poets and preachers know this secret; biblical critics have sought to suppress it for heuristic purposes. At times, the texts speak through us in ways that could not have been predicted, ways that can be comprehended only by others who hear the voice of the text through us—or, if by ourselves, only retrospectively.

Such phenomena occur repeatedly in all significant discourse: “The word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts.” The texts that envelope us speak through us; resonant speech discovers typologies that interpret present experience through the language of predecessors. But these typologies come to us unbidden, impose themselves upon us in ways that we understand through a glass darkly. Anyone who has ever acted in a play knows the experience of discovering that lines from the play come unexpectedly to mind in real-life situations different from the original dramatic context. The aptness of the quoted line does not depend on exact literal correspondence between the original meaning and the new application. Indeed, the wit and pleasure of such quotations lie partly in the turning of the words to a new sense. In such cases, the act of quotation becomes an act of figuration, establishing a metaphorical resonance between drama and life. Paul’s uses of Scripture often have a similar character: Scripture is for him the text of the word-play in which he performs and from which familiar lines repeatedly spring to life in new situations.

To limit our interpretation of Paul’s scriptural echoes to what he intended by them is to impose a severe and arbitrary hermeneutical restriction. In the first place, what he intended is a matter of historical speculation; in the second place, his intertextual echoes are acts of figuration. Consequently, later readers will rightly grasp meanings of the figures that may have been veiled from Paul himself. Scripture generates through Paul new figurations; The Righteousness from Faith finds in Paul a new voice.

Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, Richard B. Hays. Yale University Press: London, 1989. Print. 33.

The Riches of Christ: the Church

Let us draw near to the fire of martyred Lawrence, that our cold hearts may be warmed thereby. The merciless tyrant, understanding him to be not only a minister of the sacraments, but a distributor also of the Church riches, promised to himself a double prey, by the apprehension of one soul. First, with the rake of avarice to scrape to himself the treasure of poor Christians; then with the fiery fork of tyranny, so to toss and turmoil them, that they should wax weary of their profession. With furious face and cruel countenance, the greedy wolf demanded where this Lawrence had bestowed the substance of the Church: who, craving three days’ respite, promised to declare where the treasure might be had. In the meantime, he caused a good number of poor Christians to be congregated. So, when the day of his answer was come, the persecutor strictly charged him to stand to his promise. Then valiant Lawrence, stretching out his arms over the poor, said: “These are the precious treasure of the Church; these are the treasure indeed, in whom the faith of Christ reigneth, in whom Jesus Christ hath His mansion-place. What more precious jewels can Christ have, than those in whom He hath promised to dwell? For so it is written, ‘I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.’ And again, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ What greater riches can Christ our Master possess, than the poor people in whom He loveth to be seen?” 

John Fox, Fox’s Book of Martyrs

The important of context in interpreting the Bible

April 15, 2012 1 comment

Location, location, location. The same principle that echoes throughout the real estate agent profession must be echoed in the halls of churches today. Location, location, location; or, in other words, context, context, context. Without context, the Scriptures mean whatever you want them to mean. I can take a verse out of any part of Scripture to justify nearly any action. Wanton, unrepentant sin? “Free in Christ” (Galatians 5:1). Moralistic living? “God gave those commandments for a positive reason!” (Exodus 20). And so on.

Context determines what a verse means, how a verse is limited in scope, to whom the verse is intended, etc. All the time, I see people who say that 2 Peter 3:9 applies to every single person, “…not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” As beautiful as a statement that this would be, it does not align with the rest of the Scriptures when it is ripped out of its context. And it’s immediate context is this:  “Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ…” When we see the verse in context, we clearly see that this letter was written to believers. But these misinterpretations happen throughout the Scripture; I’m sure most people have a coffee cup with Jeremiah 29:11 on it, although that was a passage of Scripture directed towards the Israelites who had been enslaved by the Babylonians.

Now, what sort of context is important? Here’s a list:

  • Immediate surrounding verses. Many verses of Scripture, especially in the New Testament letters, are only parts of a sentence. Paul would go for (what are now) verses at a time to finish a sentence. It is important to see the whole sentence, break it down, examine it, and then determine what it is saying as a whole before ripping one section out of it.
  • The audience and purpose of the book. To whom was the letter or prophecy written? Is this a historical piece? Is it poetry? The audience limits who are the beneficiaries of the contents.
  • The author. How does the author in his works use the terms in the verses you are examining? How does he define them elsewhere?
  • The covenant. The New Testament is written under a different covenant than is the old, namely the Covenant of Grace. So the commands found through Leviticus and Deuteronomy do not have the same positive weight as they did for the Israelites. Grace reigns for the believers now; not works.
  • Relatedly, historical position. When was the book written? At what point in time? This determines the unique cultural things found in Scripture. Although our cultural norms should never elevate beyond Scripture’s commands, there are some gray areas that seem strange to our American culture, e.g. sheep-herding.
  • The whole counsel of God. This is the end-all of context. How does this verse mesh with the rest of Scripture. Scripture cannot contradict, so how do the various verses interact? How is atonement defined throughout Scripture? How is holiness defined? How is chosenness defined? “God is love” is true, but that does not mean that God is only love, for the rest of Scripture declares him to be a Consuming Fire, a hater of evildoers, and a merciful God to his people. All of Scripture defines itself.
I do not believe this is complete, but it is a starting point.

A maxim:  Do not use one verse to support your theology.

A video:  Never Read a Bible Verse

A carrot in Front of Your Face

April 13, 2012 3 comments

The devil can dangle a carrot in front of your face, but there is something inside you that actually wants that carrot. You aren’t lustful because some demon comes on you. You are lustful because you have within you a desire for what isn’t right.

Steve Gallagher, At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry

I tired of hearing the same mantra from people:  “Oh, the devil made me do it. Oh, this world is such bad it is so difficult to stay away from temptation.” We shift blame best in all of creation. How often do we hear of corruption being found out among community or world leaders and that a number of people knew but keep quiet? It happens often enough that it doesn’t exactly raise the alarms in our minds.

It’s been happening since the beginning. We were born into that sort of nature. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). So, not only does Adam not own up for speaking truth into Eve’s ears when the snake tempted her; he also blamed God for putting her there to begin with. Adam was quite the snake himself. But that is our forefather; that is everybody’s nature outside of Christ (Romans 5:12-14). In fact, outside of Christ, our nature closely resembles the devil’s:  intentional deception, murderers in our heart. You will recall Christ’s discussion with the Jewish leaders in John 8:37-47. He concedes that they are Abraham’s descendants. But Abraham’s children? By no means. If they were Abraham’s children, they would do what he did, among which things would not include trying to kill Christ. No, they have another father, whom Christ describes, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources (i.e., from his own character), for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).

In the beginning, Satan tempted Eve with an (admittedly) tantalizing prospect, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). He clearly wasn’t talking to a brick wall without desire. Something in Eve was intrigued. What exactly that was I am not prepared to give an answer, although I have some thoughts. Nevertheless, the potential for sin–the imperfect, or incomplete (by which I simply mean the potential to fall was present, whereas in God that is an impossibility because of his perfectly complete nature)–was realized and made an actuality. Satan could have merely served as an expedient; the potential may have been realized at a later date.

Regardless, we live in the full condition of sinful people without hope outside of Christ. Meaning, we are so entrenched in that condition that we need no external tempter to overtake us. We are sinful enough on our own to accomplish that desire. The carrots around us are enticing enough that the devil does not even need to dangle it there. It could sit in the trash heap covered in mud and blood, and we would still pursue it for the addictive pleasure, as seen in those with addictions around the world who sacrifice everything, including dignity, to fulfill the desire and in the Prodigal Son, who ate from the pods (Luke 15:16).

The blame-shifting must cease, but that is impossible outside of Christ, wherein the Father redeem his children from their death and grants them new desires and new affections for things that satisfy wholly and perfectly, namely himself. Peter points to the root of this change, “…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18, 19). That’s the root of new life:  the precious blood of Christ. He has bought his children with that blood from trying to strive to be holy and from living in willful rebellion like Satan. The Christian may lean on the cross of Calvary with full assurance, knowing that it is sufficient for everything that he has ever, is now, or will ever do. Period. End of story. “It is finished,” in Christ’s words (John 19:30).

I intended to continue with this post, speaking ill of our tendency to blame the circumstances or even the principalities of this world for our poor choices. But we know that in Christ we are laid bare before him, we are naked and without cover. He strips us of all our self-imposed righteousness and self-exaltation. And then he clothes us with the precious nature and blood of our Blessed Redeemer. Hosannah, hosannah!

What great hope we have. Lean on Christ and on Christ alone.

Paul Washer on the truncated Gospel

March 14, 2012 5 comments

The reason there were and still are just as many people going out of the Church as coming into the Church is because the gospel we are preaching is not the Gospel–it’s a truncated version of the Gospel–and the invitation we give cannot even be found in the New Testament. Now, does anybody have a problem with that? The reason why they are leaving, well, they went out from us because they were not of us. They were not truly converted.

Paul Washer, “The Gift Nobody Wants”

St. Paul on the necessity of the resurrection to the Christian faith

March 12, 2012 1 comment

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you were saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.  Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

Paul of Tarsus, in his first letter to the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 15:1-19. Emphasis added.

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. We are also found to be false witnesses of God. And if the dead do not rise, Christ is not risen. If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men to be pitied the most. I cannot stress to you the necessity of an actual, literal, bodily resurrection of Christ for the dead. If this did not occur, we are without hope.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Christian living contra the worldly system

When the Bible speaks of following Jesus, it is proclaiming a discipleship which will liberate mankind from all man-made dogmas, from every burden and oppression, from every anxiety and torture which afflicts the conscience.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Position in the Kingdom before the Presence of the King

March 9, 2012 1 comment

Earlier today, March 9, I posted a series of tweets as I drove from my house to my girlfriend’s to spend some time with her family, as her mother had just broken both her tibia and her fibula (Hint, hint; nudge, nudge. Prayers, please.). While I made my way over there, I began to think about the nature of our position within the Church before we meet Christ either after death or in the air. Over and over again, I hear many people expound and proclaim that they are a “child of God,” “a bride of Christ,” a great minister, just a servant, and so on. Which of these characteristics is correct? Are they all? How should we understand these terms?

I have touched briefly before on the subject of identity in Christ. I spent pages upon pages going through Scripture and connecting dots for you on some of the implications of Ephesians 5:1, 2. In particular, how it is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that our identities in Christ our secured and that (at least) two of our identities, and what seem to be the two major ones, are being a child and a priest of the Lord. You can read that post here. A friend of mine, after reading through the post, offered up some suggestions, which include the nature of adoption as sons into the kingdom, into which suggestions I will have to do a large amount of research because he is far more brilliant than I am. Anyway, that is neither here nor there.

What I want to address is the attitudes and the positions that we ought to take as children and priests of God, specifically prior to our meeting with the Lord in eternity. My brief thesis is that we, as bondservants of Jesus Christ, are merely tools, cogs in the machine, or instruments for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Through the epistles, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, in their openings, make mention of two things quite often:

  1. They are apostles, and they are bondservants.
  2. They are (1) by the will of God.

These things are important. Each of these men claim that they are given the authority of one entrusted with a mission, i.e. an apostle, by the will of God and that they are willful slaves, i.e. bondservants, of the Most High by the will of God. How can somebody claim to be a willful slave by the will of God except through a dear knowledge of God’s sovereignty and pleasure with his children, thereby mixing the predestination of God and free choice of men within the span of less than ten words? But again, neither here nor there.

Now, a bondservant characterization is the one that I want to key on. A bondservant is a former slave that, after having been granted or having earned his freedom, forsakes it and submits himself willingly, freely to his master for life. This, especially within the Christian paradigm, is such a beautiful picture of the submission to the sovereignty and glory of God that it brings joy to my heart. It must also bring to mind Christ’s call to forsake all things and follow him (Luke 9:57-62). Nevertheless, the picture here is one of ultimate submission to the glory of Jesus Christ. We are called to forsake all things for the sake of the glory of God and for the sake of the Kingdom of God, which are nearly, if not wholly, synonymous (Matthew 18, 19).

Track with me here:  if God, who is far more concerned with the state of our souls and our hearts and our spirits than he is with our material possessions and standings in the world, calls us to forsake all of our material possessions, does it not stand to reason that he will call does call everybody to forsake our possessions that concern ourselves? This is a clunky rendering, but let me unpack it really quickly. He calls us to forsake the worldly conceptions that we have concerning ourselves:  our self-sufficiency, our self-preservation, our self-entitlement, our self-centeredness; our neediness; our pride. We are called to forsake those things, which are a product of the Fall, and to lose ourselves, all of us, in the Dance of the Son, in the joyous glory of the Lord on High.

Brothers and sisters, I love you dearly. But read me very carefully:  this life is not about you. The Bible is not about you. A relationship with God is not about you. If you think any of those things, you are misguided and must repent.

This life is all about making known the glory of the Lord and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Bible exists to proclaim the manifestation of the glory of God, of the glory of Christ, of the gospel.

And, perhaps most importantly, as it relates most inter-connectedly with our salvation, our relationship with Jesus Christ does not revolve around us. God does not need us. God is, by definition, self-sustaining, and therefore he does not need anything, much less a bunch of hard-hearted, incompetent, adulterous children who blaspheme the name of their Great Redeemer. If you continue in the false thinking that our salvation is for our sake ultimately, you are an idolater and do not understand the gospel. Repent from the false thinking. I will only need to point you to Ephesians 1:3-14, wherein Paul explains on multiple points that we are saved “because of the good pleasure of the Lord” and “to the praise of his glory,” to Ephesians 2:1-10, wherein Paul explains that we are saved that, basically, God can show off the riches of his grace upon his vessels of grace for all eternity, to 1 Peter 2:4-10, wherein Peter explains that we are saved in order to proclaim the praises of God and offer up spiritual sacrifices to God, and to Ezekiel 36:16-38, wherein the prophet Ezekiel proclaims that the Lord says that it is for His sake that he will act, raise up his people from their graves, and turn their heart of stone into a heart of flesh (And does this not sound awfully a lot like the Gospel?), among countless other passages in Scripture.

I may or may not have turned you on your head. If I did not, great, you could have skipped all that unless it is a blessing to read over for you (It always is to remind me). If that truth did knock you over, take heart:  it is the most freeing news. The Truth will set you free, and the Truth in Christ that the Lord saves for His name’s sake and for His glory is so freeing to the instruments that he pleasingly uses that those instruments can joyfully go and face persecution and suffering, knowing that they are bringing joyful glory and praise to the Sustainer of the universe, and joyfully go and plead with men, knowing and experiencing what Paul proclaimed, “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We can rest in our failures, knowing that even there Christ is glorying and expressing his ultimate power.

But why is that the case? Why is Christ most glorified when we are weak? It is because we are no longer standing in the way.

Our pride is gone. Or do we not realize how much of an affront pride is to the glory and character of God? When the Lord responds to Job, after telling Job to prepare himself like a man the Lord asks him if he has the same power as himself or if he has a voice that thunders like the Lord’s. To gauge Job’s power, the Lord tells him to do the following,

Disperse the rage of your wrath; look on everyone who is proud, and humble him. Look on everyone who is proud, and bring him low; tread down the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together, bind their faces in hidden darkness. (Job 40:11-13)

Did you catch it? As one of the defining characteristics that God makes about himself here, he includes to “look on everyone who is proud, and [to] bring him low.” This seems significant, to put it lightly. Now, this is an aside to the presumptuousness of Job’s complaints against the Lord. Nevertheless, it is not insignificant that he includes this particular characteristic in a moment of self-definition.

But why? Why is pride such an affront? The Lord, who existed before anything began and who is wholly self-sustaining, willfully created all that exists. In fact, he made the stars and told them to go in this way or that and to make this route across the sky, and they complied. He told the planets to take this route around the sun and to not transgress this path, and they complied. He told the sea the raise this high, to come this far onto the shore, and to come no further, and it complied. He told the mountains to be raised up, the valleys to brought low, and they both complied. But when he looks man, insignificant in size–in fact, he looked at the man, Adam, and Eve, and told them to not do one thing:  to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and they said no. Pride, I know better than He who sustains all things. I can do better than what He who sustains all things has promised. I am better than He is worth far more than everything that ever was, is, or will ever be created. Do we see how disgusting it is?

There are a countless number of passages that deal with pride in the Scriptures. James sums it up sufficiently,

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

But he gives more grace. Therefore He says:  “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:1-10)

The last paragraph is huge. Because God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble, we submit to God. And, in drawing near to God, he draws near to us–what a blessing. But, within the drawing near to him, we must cleanse our hands and purify our hearts. In doing this, we lament, mourn, weep, allow our laughter to be turned into mourning and our joy to gloom. How are those connected? Coming to God means to forsake what we have and what we are–but we cannot forsake what we are not aware of, to do so is simply to lose it. So, we come to God and acknowledge our sin, our pride, our horrific affront to his glory, knowing what the cost of such a blasphemous lifestyle and subversive action was:  the crucifixion of Christ. We know how low we are, and therefore we humble ourselves. And in humility, we are lifted up; and, simply conjecture here, but doesn’t being in the presence of the Lord joyfully constitute being lifted up?

I hinted above at how we seek the humility in Christ that is absolutely necessary to walking as a believer. Succinctly, the larger and greater and more perfect view we have of the holiness of God, the justice of God, and the perfection of Christ, in addition to the larger and greater and more perfect view we have of the nature of sin, the utter depravity of humanity, the hopeless state we had, as well as the relationship between the two perspectives, the more humility will be produced. That will necessarily happen as our view of God and his attributes increases and our view of humanity and its fallenness increases. (Cf. Colossians 3)

However, before one can seek that humility, one must know Christ and him crucified. Just to be absolutely clear, seeking humility does one no good unless one knows Christ as he is, which is as the Son of God crucified and resurrected and returning. As a result of–rather, in conjunction with–this understanding, the Lord declares an individual to be righteous, to be as he ought to be (Romans 3). The righteousness of Christ, upon the saving faith in Christ as Lord, is imputed to the sinful individual, who now wears this righteousness as a cloak, so to speak. A better picture would be if the sinful individual were to remove his skin and slip into the skin of Christ. That is the process that happens when a believer first comes to a saving faith in Christ; God no longer sees the individual as he is but rather as Christ is. For this to have occurred, the following needed to have taken place:  when Christ underwent the crucifixion, he bore the full wrath of God while wearing the sins of God’s elect, who is the collection of every believer in God’s promised Sacrifice. So, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner and the sinner’s nature is imputed to Christ. And we take heart from this:  we know that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for our salvation because he was raised from the grave and is waiting to return and finally and wholly redeem the children of God.

Therefore, because Christ’s righteousness was imputed to us, his mission was also imputed to us. And so what Christ said makes sense, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (John 14:12). We don’t just do what Christ did. We are now what Christ was, and therefore doing what Christ did becomes a part of us–at battle with our sinful nature, but nevertheless it is a part of us that gains more and more preeminence as we repent and understand the Lord more fully.

Nevertheless, and this will directly address our position in the Kingdom–I promise–, Christ is the firstborn. Among many brethren, but still the Firstborn. Christ was the firstborn from the dead so that in all things he may have preeminence (Colossians 1:15-18). So what are we? We are children and priests of God, yes (Ephesians 5:1, 2). We have been adopted as sons into the family of God (Romans 8). We are ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are bondservants (Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1:1; cf. Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 18, 19).

That position of bondservants provides the color to those relationships, at least for this present life. Yes, we are absolutely children of God. We are literal, begotten children of God (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-5). Nevertheless, we are in a state of submission to the Lord, as a bondservant, in the same way that Christ was for his earthly ministry, as revealed in the High Priestly Prayer (cf. John 17). Jesus joyfully submitted himself to the will of the Lord for his whole ministry, not counting his life as more than others (cf. Philippians 2). In the same way as Christ, we joyfully submit ourselves to the Lord, knowing that we are being used as instruments for his glory.

We are instruments for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Let’s flesh this out, though. Does a sparrow die outside of the sovereign will of the Lord? No, Jesus tells us not. And we are worth far more than sparrows; so nothing befalls us outside of the sovereign will of God. So, if all things are working to promote the glory of God, with which he is most concerned, aren’t all people instruments of the advancement of the Kingdom? Yes. However, we are joyful instruments. Joyful submission. It is such a blessing to joyfully submit to the will of the Lord, not to be like Jonah who begrudgingly brought a message of repentance to Nineveh knowing the mercy of God but to be like Christ who joyfully undertook the ministry of the Kingdom of God and the advancement of the glory and the salvation of men, at the cost of his life.

So, how do we become better instruments for the advancement? Or, how do we become more joyful instruments? Simply put, all we do is yield. Does a hammer decide that it will suddenly be harder or larger or more efficient? Does a crowbar suddenly decide to give more force or be stronger? No. It just “lets” the tool-maker change its nature. So, we, who have free will to a degree, choose to yield to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit; a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. Our flesh can only produce self-centered notions about how to become a better instruments. It will create a leadership complex, taking the glory; it will take the glory from the Father without exception. The only good tree is that which abides in the vine, Christ. And so, the only way to become a better instrument is to allow the Spirit, which resides in us, to promote and cause sin to be repented of and to increase holiness in thought, action, and general living. In such a sanctification, God gets all the glory. He will only get all the glory. There is no exception:  either we submit to the Lord for our sanctification, which accompanies every believer, and thereby joyfully glorify God in all that we do (Colossians 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:31), or we try and strive to promote more efficient spirituality in our flesh, which, if we are in Christ, is something for which Christ paid on the cross because we are pridefully seeking to promote our own holiness and not trusting–being faithless–with the God who promised to finish the work he started in us.

There is one last point that I want to go over with you. Whence is our worth? Is our worth in how efficiently we promote the Gospel? Is our worth in how grand of a believer we are during our life? Well, let’s look at this quantitatively. The time that we spend on earth is incomparably smaller than eternity. So, what seems to matter more would be knowing God and enjoying his fellowship and trying to bring people into his kingdom because that is where we will spend the most of our time, anyway. Now, I agree with the conclusion but not the justification there. Our justification for our worth or our value comes from our identity in Christ. If we find our identity in what we do or how well we do, e.g. ministry, then we are an idolater in great need of repentance, for then we are creating our virtue by how well we keep the mission of Christ, in other words doing exactly what the Old Covenant Jewish people did concerning the Law. That is not the Gospel, and you will lose sleep and assurance because you will continually fail and therefore doubt your salvation.

Our identity is found in the fact that Christ has bought us at a great price, himself, imputed his whole righteousness to us including his mission. From that point, God has declared us to be as we ought to be, and therefore there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1). In fact, for all of you teachers (like myself), pastors, preachers, interns, etc., keep in mind Ephesians 4, which pretty explicitly says that our specific mission will have no more use when we are dead, because our understanding of Christ and our unity in the faith will both be perfected. And for those of you who are stuck in a pattern of comparing yourself to others who are “more spiritual than me,” take your eyes off of them. Look to Christ (Colossians 3:1-8), and use the gifts that the Lord has given you according to the grace that he has given you (Romans 12:3-8).

We have a great freedom in Christ. It is a freedom to joyfully glorify the Lord and a freedom to joyfully flee from the bondage that our depraved and rotten nature has wrought in us from the Fall. Rest in that freedom.

Be blessed, my brothers and sisters.

Are there things that Christians shouldn’t joke about?

February 3, 2012 Leave a comment

A question was asked me by an anonymous questioner. The question he (or she) proposed was whether or not there are things about which Christians ought not joke. The following is my answer.

There are things that Christians ought not joke about. Because we have been called into a holy life by the very death and resurrection of Christ, we are to live a holy and sanctified life, by which I mean a life that is different and separated from the world for and to the glory of God in heaven. Now, that life is lived through, in, and by the Spirit, and not our own power, but the purpose of the sanctified life is what is briefly outlined above. (Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Peter 2:9, 10)

Now, specifically in regard to your question, because we have been called to be separated from darkness and to live in light, we are given a different standard than the world and therefore ought not to walk in the ways of our former lives nor in the ways of the world.

There are a fair number of exhortations throughout the New Testament to guard what comes out of our mouths and to walk as children of light.

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children… . But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:1, 3, 4)

And this is why I included the 1st Peter passage earlier: Paul makes a clear connection between being an imitator of God, avoiding foolish talking and coarse jesting, and giving thanks. In 1st Peter, the apostle Peter tells the disciples that they have been chosen by God to proclaim His praises, and thanksgiving is, in a more specific variety, proclaiming the faithfulness of God in regard to things which he provides for us. And Paul contrasts giving thanks, which we ought to do, with foolish talk and coarse jesting, which we ought to avoid. And the reason that we ought to avoid them is simple: they “are not fitting” for saints. Further in the chapter Paul tells the Church at Ephesus that we are not to be partners with the unfruitful works of darkness, of which coarse jesting is a part, because we are now light in the world.

In James 3, James explains to us the necessity of counting the further cost of being a teacher of the faith, “knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (3:1). The teacher must be one who is able to keep his mouth in check. There cannot be a word out of place, a word missed, or a word added. He explains further along the evil nature of the tongue, which “is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (3:6). There is no reason for a believer to engage in coarse joking, gossip, or any other sort of speech that can divide the body or lead others away from Christ, whether or not they are held to the even stricter standard of a teacher. Regardless of that standing, our standing as children of God and believers in Christ mean that we are not take part in the patterns of this world but to live a life separated from it.

What constitutes the list of things Christians shouldn’t joke about? I’ll provide you a list, but please do not use the list as a means to seek out what is acceptable. If you have to ask, it’s probably not okay.

Ought Not or Never

  • God, whether in the Father, Son, or Spirit
  • The Nature of God
  • The Scriptures
  • The Body of Christ, that is the Church
  • Individual members of the Body
  • Sin — we never make light of sin; it leads to death, and from it we have been set free by the power and precious blood of Christ

Permissible or Not Expressly Wrong

  • Politics
  • Human institutions
  • Yourself?

Honestly, I have some issues with providing a list of permissible joking options. Hopefully I have provided you with a rough framework through which you can approach your question. As always, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the direction of the Word of God.

Be blessed.

New Series: 1st Peter.

January 2, 2012 2 comments

Over the next three months, I will be reading and studying the letter from the apostle Peter to the disciples spread throughout the Dispersion. Pray for me for discernment and wisdom, as well as motivation to actually do the work. As I progress through 1st Peter, I will complete and submit posts on each chapter, and at the end of March I will publish an extensive, encompassing post on the book, including themes, implications, commands, etc.

Be blessed.

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