Reflections From 1 Corinthians Chapter 4:6-21__ “WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF OUR PRIDE AND HOW DO WE REMEDY IT?”

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Paul continues his thought from verses 1-5 and explains the previous clause in verse 6:

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.

To what is Paul figuratively applying to himself and Apollos?  Not to make any judgements?  I think not since he’s calling out their arrogance and thus making a judgment.  Is it that Paul is ignorant of his own sin and doesn’t judge himself?  Again, I think not since partaking of the Lord’s Table requires self-examination and he exhorts believers to judge themselves in 1 Corinthians 11.

Could it be that the Corinthians judgment of Paul is insignificant to him or that of any human court concerning the value of his apostleship?  Perhaps but, why figuratively, why not speak plainly?  Could it be to confound their alleged “wisdom”?  More likely it’s that he’s a steward and servant of Christ.  But how can one possibly be the servant and steward of Christ and God’s mysteries since the deity is the source of all life and is self-existent?  He clues us in and says, “…stewards must be found trustworthy”.

I take that to mean that that if one is trustworthy, it’s based on Christ’s work on their behalf in election or being chosen by Him (see chapters 1:30-31; 3:6-10), rather than by any human autonomous ultimate choice.  I think that’s what Paul is driving home, the purpose here is to take the Corinthians back to God’s word which is foolishness to the world of men, but is actually God’s power and wisdom.

Paul is exhorting these believers to be God-centered in their thoughts by being Word-centered, the fruit of which is humility, not arrogance.  That is, when our standard of wisdom and knowledge is based on the creature, not the Creator’s revelation to us, arrogance will follow.  This arrogance is plain when we compare ourselves among ourselves and Paul says that that’s foolish, unbiblical and results from this fallen evil age.  It’s stupid thinking!

That was a problem then, and remains until today.  Which “superstar” pastor do you enjoy hearing friend?  And who do you disparage even if they are faithful to Christ’s word?  We have a human weakness that is ever present and raises it’s despicable head when we make much of the creature and little of the Creator because His word is not the ultimate source we turn to for wisdom and knowledge.

Paul is now going to first ask the Corinthians a question that concerns the source of their thought life and points out first that their gifts were not earned, but given, thus boasting here is immoral.  And secondly, Paul seems to ridicule their refrain and opinion of him:

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

 You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. 11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.”   

Again here we essentially see the marks of true discipleship in Paul where according to this world’s wisdom the apostle’s life is ultimately unattractive, unsophisticated, and unbearable (v.9) “men condemned to death”, (v.10) “fools for Christ’s sake…we are weak…we are without honor”, (v.11) “we are both hungry and thirsty…poorly clothed…roughly treated…homeless;”, (v.13) “…we are slandered…the scum of the world…dregs of all things,

These descriptions of Paul the world loathes in its wisdom and the Corinthians have drunk deep from its’ well.  Thus, not only does Paul explain from where their gifts come, and ridicules their view of him, but thirdly he explains his motive for said descriptions and his argument from verse 1:

14 I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.”   

Paul does not want to shame but rather exhort them to follow his example as a father would to his children.  He can say this because he’s following Christ and by doing so, unlike the Corinthians, he’s living in light of the Gospel which is producing hardships that from a worldly perspective looks to be a wasted life.

So Paul not only wants them to imitate his faithfulness to Christ, but fourthly he goes on to explain that his motive in sending Timothy was for them to see what a real disciple looks like:

17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. 18 Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. 21 What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?

Note how Paul compares Timothy’s faithfulness to the Corinthians unfaithfulness by his disclosure of Timothy as “my beloved and faithful child in the Lord”.  Here we see Paul’s prior rebuke and necessary exhortation (vv. 17-18) to children in the Lord who are filled with pride and are losing their way because they heed worldly wisdom.

Timothy is a faithful man of God because he’s grounded in the apostolic teaching which issues from the Lord Himself (Mt.7:28-29).  Thus, a pattern of teaching obtains from Paul which Timothy replicates in every place he teaches.  He’s telling the Corinthians to heed Timothy’s teaching because it’s like Paul’s.

Finally, Paul addresses those who are arrogant and calls them out: “You can talk for sure, but can you walk it out?”  That’s what I see Paul doing by asking them to see their, “power” and not their “words” (vv.19-20).  What we know is that this power is from the Spirit which produces new birth in dead souls (1 Cor.2), not mere words, but as it were, “God breathed life giving powerful words”.

Paul is calling the Corinthians out on their ignorance to which their arrogance so swiftly blinds them.  We must remember that this pride still blinds people today from seeing and delighting in the Gospel of Christ, and is thus ready to damn the prideful into a Christ-less eternity where God’s just wrath awaits the ungodly.  That’s pride’s danger, but it’s remedy is a God-centered, Word-centered, Gospel oriented life.

(SDG)

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Summary of “The God Who is There” FRANCIS SCHAEFFER

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One of the most influential Christian thinkers of the latter 20th century is Francis Schaeffer.  His works I’ve found to be thought provoking, uncomfortably challenging, and deeply personal.  The wisdom with which he writes on ultimate issues and cultural contexts is refreshing.

So for the next few months I’ll be posting summaries of his writings that I trust will strengthen, challenge and transform the way you think and live.

In his first book The God Who is There, Schaeffer starts with the issue of absolute truth.  He argues that absolute truth is grounded in the “God Who is There.”  Thus to deny His existence has resulted in a despair that has decimated the West for the last 120 years or so.  This despair is visible in the areas of philosophy, art, music, general culture, and even in theology.

Shaeffer says that this line of despair  arises when absolute truth is jettisoned.  According to him, this truth is grounded in God, and when he is denied, there’s an “upper and lower story” that unfolds.  First, there’s the Upper Story or Above the Line where faith that is not open to verification resides and this “faith” gives meaning to ones life.   Second, there’s the  Lower Story or Below the Line where rationality resides.  Here the world of facts exists where reason and knowledge are attained through science by man’s ability to reason.  Thus, man as the measure of all things, is reduced to being a chance machine without purpose or meaning in life.  This view of knowledge and human nature results in despair.

Shaeffer notes that the Christian Worldview radically differs from the mechanistic worldview that brings despair.  For it answers man’s deepest longings and needs consistently with how his “mannishness” expresses itself.  This is not a world of wishful thinking, but one of reality for God exists!  This means that mankind is not here by chance, but by design for they bear the image of God.

Shaeffer goes on to explain, that because of man’s alienation from God, self, others, and nature, humanity has true guilt.  God’s solution to man’s plight is Christ Jesus who rescues from God’s wrath.  This work of Christ purchased our redemption in real space, time history and is not a a myth, but a reality.  Depending on man’s response to Christ Jesus, either joy or despair is increasingly deepened in the human experience.

Therefore, the Christian’s approach in life when relating to others must be one of understanding the human plight and compassionately championing absolute truth which is grounded in God.   There must be the awareness that to “take the roof off” or demonstrate the irrationality and contradictions lived by a modern person is very painful.  And yet, the believer is to compassionately allow the existential impossibility of living out the modern person’s worldview be felt.

Shaeffer moreover holds that true biblical Evangelism must start in Genesis 1-3 which is the basis for understanding the Gospel of Christ.  For it is here that the Bible says, “In the beginning God…”.  That is, we must start with God to understand all of reality for He, not humanity, is the measure of all things.  From here, the believer must then be prepared to clarify what true-truth is; what real guilt is; that Christ must be truly treasured and that disciples must be truly made. 

Shaeffer, thus encourages believers to be in word and prayer, to be in community with outsiders and insiders—God’s people.  And to remember the indispensability of being in a community where the Bible is being faithfully taught as objective truth rather than some twisted theology foreign to the text of scripture.     

WHAT’S SO “GOOD” ABOUT GOOD FRIDAY? Perspectives on the Work of Christ

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What’s so good about Good Friday?  This question deals with what Jesus of Nazareth accomplished over 2000 thousand years ago on Calvary’s bloody cross.  On that hill far away, the Son of righteousness fully satisfied God’s justice and love.  Since its inception, the Church has celebrated the grueling, horrific death of an innocent man who by virtue of his ontological status (His nature as the God/Man) secured rescue from God’s just white hot wrath toward rebels born of Adam.

But how can this be good?  One could argue, and many have, that this act was unjust, cruel, and an act of child abuse (i.e., the heavenly Father sent his one unique Son to die for those who hate God).  Who would ever treat their own sons and daughters in such a way by ordaining them to be brutally murdered by the Jews and the Romans on Calvary’s cross?

God did.  He’s the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who makes covenant with His chosen ones and does nothing wrong.  He’s the God who sets the standards of what is true, beautiful and good.  He’s the God of creation who spoke the worlds into existence out of nothing, sustains its order, and is taking history into a glorious reality never before known or imagined.  To read the full article, click on What’s so good about Good Friday?

Reflections From ROMANS 13:3-14 “BEFORE RULERS, WHAT ARE BELIEVERS CALLED TO DEMONSTRATE?”

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In verses 1-2 Paul commands believers to submit to the governing authorities, not because they are ultimate but because God who is ultimate has placed them in said positions according to His all-wise counsel and purposes.

In the following verses Paul further explains this command of why we are to submit, who these in authority actually are, and as a result the way we are to live our lives in light of the consummation.  Paul starts by explaining the reason believers are to submit to rulers tying it to verse 1:

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”    

Paul here implores believers to do the good (C.f., Rom.12:1-2) so that they need not fear rulers.  A great remedy for not fearing man, and especially those who are in authority, is to walk in God’s precepts.  Paul calls rulers, “a minister of God for your good” and they are “a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath” on evil doers.  Thus rulers bring a “”double-edged sword” ordained by God to keep order and peace through fear of lethal force.  He continues and says:

Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

Paul here appeals to wrath (we should fear) and to conscience (I take to mean: we should care about our witness) for why we are to be law-abiding citizens.  But is there ever a time when rebellion is warranted?  What do we do if a ruler calls what is good, evil, or conversely calls what is evil, good?  Throughout Christian history believers have differed on this issue.  We have Old Testament examples lauded by the Hebrews writer who actually disobeyed those in authority:

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict… 31 By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.”    

             The king’s edict was disobeyed; Rahab lied to save these spies (she turned on her leaders).  How about Daniel’s three friends who defied the kings command to bow before the golden statue?  How about the apostles in the book of Acts who disobeyed the rulers command to stop preaching in the name of Jesus?  What of Corrie Ten Boom who hid Jews and lied about it, in order to save Jews from Nazi sure destruction?  How about the “Machine Gun Preacher” fighting off ruthless murderers in Africa in order to rescue and save orphans?

Some things are clearer than others granted, but all of us will give an account to God of how we lived in our time with the light given to us.  Nevertheless, what makes Paul’s command so weighty is that he will be eventually executed by the Roman Emperor of his day.  He continues in verses 6-10 calling believers to walk in love and thus fulfill the law:

For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 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.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

                        To love God and neighbor is what stirs the heart to obey Christ’s great commission to disciple the nations—nations which along with their rulers are even hostile to the message.  We are being commanded to do what Christ did—go to those who hate you and love them through sacrifice.  That’s powerful!  Paul not only considers this present time, but also appeals to the consummation as a motivator, or carrot of how we are to live and why:

11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.  

Here the apostle calls all believers to vigilance during their journey on earth.  He calls for strategies to be put in place so that our sinful inclinations don’t get the opportunity to manifest.  Opportunities to sin that numb the senses so that we don’t have to think about life’s perils under rulers like: carousing and drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and sensuality, strife and jealousy.

It’s because of God’s mercies that Paul is calling believers to show this sin-riddled, broken and confused world the way of real love which comes from the Master alone.  It’s a call to be and do exactly the opposite of what the world commands.  It’s a call to love which will often require our lives in the process.  God, may Your people submit to the grace and power of the gospel that alone can propel us to action of this sort.

(SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 12:1-2 “GOD’S MERCIES GROUNDS HOLY LIVING & HOLY THINKING”

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In this chapter Paul makes an inference to the previous chapter specifically (“therefore”) and I think generally to the entirety of the book going back to Romans 1:1 where God chose Paul to be an apostle of the Gospel of Christ.  Paul starts with:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Many years ago I practiced praying these texts over myself and others.  They were and still are “go-to-prayers” for power to walk with God.  Paul now makes a break in this letter that can be missed but hurts the readers understanding when it occurs.

In his letters, Paul has a habit of going from the indicative to the imperative which means that he explains the revelation of the gospel first (indicative=facts) and secondly he gives the implications of the gospel (imperative=command) where believers are to live in accordance to that message.

A quick recap of Romans up to this point will be helpful.  Chapter 1&2 shows Paul being eager to preach the Gospel of Christ (God’s Son) because both Jew and Gentile are under God’s just wrath (1:1-2:29).  In chapter’s 3&4 Paul argues that the true Jew is not the one circumcised in the flesh but the one who has Abraham’s faith.  In chapter 5 the two Adam’s are compared where the 1st one brought death resulting from his rebellion, and the 2nd Adam (Christ) through his obedience and death brought life.

Then in chapter 6 we see that believers are dead to sin but alive to God because of Christ’s resurrection, yet in chapter 7 Paul considers the battle of sin within believers still fight, a battle that Christ alone can/does help us win.  In chapter 8 Paul then assures believers that in spite of this battle with sin, God’s condemnation passes over them—working in them to be more like Christ.

Finally, in chapters 9-11 Paul argues for the election of both Jew and Gentile alike (9), that this salvation and election is accomplished through the preached word of God (10), and finally that God has not rejected Israel, but has a plan for them to also be rescued (11).  The bow around these three chapters is the grandeur of God’s being which includes His wisdom and knowledge which are unsearchable.  The proper response to all of this is doxology—praise, worship and adoration.

It’s these gospel truths to which Paul is inferring when he now commands believers to live a certain way.  Here’s a powerful lesson in the proper use of authority to bless people rather than manipulating and controlling them for selfish means.  Paul grounds his “urging” or “appeal” on God’s mercies to vessels of mercy, which formerly were objects of wrath, to live and to think in a certain way.

Both living and thinking are to be impacted by Christ’s Gospel already revealed in this letter.  This mystery revealed must now be evidenced in how believers relate to each other and to the observant world (both enemies and the state.)  Unlike Monists who deny the reality of the physical realm by denying real distinctions and claiming they are mere illusion, or those who claim that the body is bad and the spirit is good (thus what one does in the body is inconsequential), the Gospel of Christ says no!  God says that, “My people are to be holy as I Am holy”:

 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”       

The sacrifices offered on the altar in the Old Testament, for example, were dead so they could not feel any pain of being burnt.  But here “somewhat like the Master” on Calvary’s cross, his followers are expected to in one degree or another suffer.  Minimally, when we are tempted to misuse our bodies (as in chapter 1:18-32 with illicit sexual acts) and we don’t succumb to it, we truly suffer hardship because of our love for God.  This is evidenced not only through a chaste life, but also by denying homosexual tendencies overall.

But our bodies also are involved with other degrading passions such as gossip with the tongue, murder with our hands, etc.  Our bodies house our soul and while they are decaying these bodies will one day be resurrected to immortality.   For Paul, the body is the tool believers are to use to honor God, but it’s just not our bodies, it’s also our minds which engage this worship:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”   

             Here, Paul not only affirms our bodies but also our minds (i.e., not the brain which is physical, but the mind which is an immaterial substance) as the means to worship God.  These two are gifts from God and should be used in accordance to their design.  An atheistic worldview denies any such notion of immateriality or spirit, this is called physicalism.  But according to God’s revelation such a view is an example of “suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness”.  The point here is that our thinking in light of the gospel must be disciplined so that foreign ideas to it are not adopted and thus dishonor God.  Instead, our thought life is to align with God’s thoughts as revealed in this letter of Romans.

One thing is certain in light of election (Chapters 9-11) all human pride is crushed, boasting before God is eliminated because only sovereign grace can rescue anyone from God’s wrath.  This means that any “works of the Law” righteousness people rely on in order to be acceptable before God will utterly disappoint because that foundation of “sand” can’t save from Holy wrath, but actually assures it on the participant.

Note that to prove or to know God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will our thinking must change, it must be transformed from the way this present evil age thinks.  The application here is massive.  The point is that our bodies and minds, what makes us image bearers, are included in the true worship of God (see Mt.22:34-40).  Thus, how we think and how we live demonstrates our understanding of reality in light of the gospel of Christ.  LORD, have mercy on us!  (SDG)          

Reflections From ROMANS 10: “THE WORD OF FAITH IS NECESSARY FOR SALVATION—CONTRA INCLUSIVISM’S CLAIM”

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            Paul picks up where he left off in the previous chapter referring to Israel and their present standing before God.  He prays for Israel’s salvation but knows that their ignorance of the gospel is the reason they’re not yet redeemed.  Their zeal for God has blinded them (zeal without knowledge Scripture condemns) to God’s righteousness while trying to establish their own through law-keeping (Vv.1-3):

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.

Paul continues to pound the anvil with the hammer of Christ’s work and says that, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes, for Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness” (Vv.4-5).  Paul here is quoting Leviticus 18:5 which is the giving of God’s moral commands and says:

You shall keep my statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD

It seems that the life of the individual is to rely solely on his ability to do the requirements of the law.  It seems that Paul is accentuating the motif again between Christ’s righteousness which is given not merited (thus crushing human boasting), it’s imputed not earned.  Recall that the Law’s purpose was never to be a means of “I do and God rewards”, but instead to shine the light on the sin within, never was it to liberate us from its jaws.  If one trusts in law-keeping to become righteous before God it will only result in death.

Having said that, a believer must not conclude all is well even if he lives an immoral life.  This is a gross misunderstanding of the gospel, for to be in Christ produces the fruit of obedience to God (never without the struggle of Rom.7).  Here, the believer has been freed from slavery to sin in order to live for God.  And by living for God we are thus freed to live for one another (Rom.5:17-6:23; 8:1-14).   By Israel trying to establish their own righteousness apart from Christ, they have rejected God and have been cut off from life indeed.

So the righteousness based on law can’t save, but the righteousness based on faith (i.e., Christ’s work) does save (Vv.6-7):

But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

I’m however a bit puzzled here about the meaning of verses 6-7.  First, verse 6 is a quote from Deuteronomy 30:12 where God is laying out before Israel the blessings and cursing if they choose to obey or disobey.  Now much attention in Deuteronomy 30 is given to what God did and will do for Israel: namely restoring them from captivity which we know occurred because of their idolatry.  God is said to:

…restore you from captivity…have compassion on you…etc”.  (Deut.30:3-8) “circumcise your heart (v.6) to love the Lord which is to obey the Lord (v.8)

This word of salvation is not far, seems to be the point or would eventually manifest (which it did in Christ the Logos), but is now here.  Still a bit hazy on verses 6-7.  Nevertheless, the word is being preached and its content is faith (trust) in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah who conquered the grave and offers the righteousness of God as a gift to all peoples and this word will not disappoint because God always keeps His promises.  Let God be true and every man a liar (Vv.8-13):

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;13 for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”                  

This word of faith however comes in a specific way which if not given dooms sinners with no hope of rescue.  Paul now asks four rhetorical questions which an inclusivist view of salvation seems to contradict.  I’m going to point these out in reverse order because the apostle Paul begins with the end and ends with the beginning of the logical order (Vv.14-15):

“14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

First, there’s the bearer of good news whose beauty is too often hidden from those presented with the Gospel (v.15).  Second, there’s the need to send vessels willing to impart this good news which means they must be supported with finances and prayer.  Third, the sent must be preachers who proclaim the news of the Kings arrival in a way that’s understandable so that people may have the opportunity to both hear and respond to the message.  Fourth, hearing is essential for belief to arise, otherwise they will not trust in Christ which is the word of faith that requires preaching.  Fifth, after the message is preached and the preacher heard, people then have an opportunity to believe and when belief arises, then one is ready to call on the Name of the LORD and be saved.

Now Paul says that that word is preached in both creation (v.18 cf., Ps.19:4) and through the prophets (Isa.53:1; Dt.32:21; Isa.65:1-2).  And so in response to Israel’s hard heart, God will stir them to jealousy by revealing to the pagan world Christ’s righteousness of which the apostle has been writing.  Thus, Israel has no excuse for their unbelief and God is not unjust having mercy on whomever He wills.

But when the word goes forth and people respond we must understand that God has ordained conversions to happen through the word of Christ—God’s word of promise fulfilled in the Messiah by the lips of a preacher proclaiming it.  This is foolishness to the Greeks, and a stumbling block to the Jews, but to the called, Christ is both the wisdom of God and the power of God to us who believe.  (SDG)            

Summary of CHAPTER EIGHT: THE GOD WHO GRANTS NEW BIRTH [Pages 121-134]

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In this chapter Carson addresses the issue of new birth in light of the Bible’s story-line.  He first considers our human dilemma and the three things we people need.  They are; to be reconciled to God, to be morally transformed or else our rebellion will continue to perpetuate itself, and we also need the effects of sin somehow to be reversed.  These include not only our interrelationships but also death itself.  Otherwise, death just keeps on winning as the universe keeps on decaying, creatures continue to go through pain, sorrow and disappointment.

Carson notes that justification by faith alone remedies these three problems, but it’s by no means alone.  For, Jesus is the revelation of God himself—incarnate deity is He.  Thus, he can authoritatively speak to our plight—we are God’s enemies.  But on Calvary’s cross, Jesus rectifies the enmity for it was there that God’s justice and mercy kissed the earth and brought hope to our doom.

            This hope comes through new birth which produces inner transformation.  This is not complete until Christ finishes the work of sanctification in our lives through glorification.  Thus, we are continuously to be in the process of becoming increasingly more like the Son of God.  Here, our motives are of the utmost importance for outer transformation varies from person to person be it the rescued drug-addict or the straight-laced person seeming to be “squeaky clean.”

             Secondly, Carson explains what “new birth” or what “born-again” means in Jesus’ mind.   In our world, the term’s “new birth” or “born-again conjures up a car changing its name (e.g., from Datsun to Nissan) or a delegate changing from one political party to another (e.g., a Democrat becomes a Republican).

            But for Jesus these terms point to the impossibility of man to do a single thing to attain salvation which utterly crushes human pride.  And if this language of “new birth” is based on the decision of the one being born, it’s frankly bizarre.  It’s weird because in our usage when a person is “born” their volition is never in the equation.  Some other agent is always responsible for their existence. Moreover, to be born-again in Jesus’ view guarantees that one will see the kingdom of God.

Carson reminds us that what we really need are not new institutions but new men and women; what we need is not new laws but new lives; what we need is not new creeds but new creatures; what we need is not new power plays but new people.

Thirdly, Carson compares the difference in the flow of logic between Barna’s view and the Bible’s concerning new birth.  Concerning Barna’s position (this is a group dedicated to gathering statistical information about the role of Faith in America, known to possess the nations’ most comprehensive databases of spiritual indicators) Carson sees a radically man-centered approach, not a Biblical one.  For being born-again depends solely on ones profession of faith, saying a prayer or going to church.  But a mere profession or decision by an individual is not what’s required.  Instead, what’s required is a radically transformed life.

The Bible’s view however is radically God-centered and humbles our pride, for its’ the impossible which is required to be born again.  We must start over, we must become something we can’t do ourselves, because in ourselves it’s impossible and we know it or do we?  Regardless, nothing less than transformation must occur for assurance to be Biblically grounded.

             Fourthly, Carson peers into what the meaning of “born of water and the Spirit” according to (Jn. 3:5) is.  He affirms that it means to be born-again; it’s a parallel meaning, not two births, but one.  In fact the reason in John 3, Jesus could speak with such knowledge and authority about new birth is because the revelation was divine; that is, it was God the Son speaking of what only God knows.  God the son is the revelation and this is stunning.  He comes from heaven and hence he speaks of what he knows.  His identity grounds his authority to speak and to know.

Fifthly, Carson rightly challenges us that to eventually understand Christianity we are going to have to come to terms with the claims it makes.  This starts what we will do with Jesus.  If you accept what he says then you must bow to him, but if we dismiss his claims we deny his very identity which is not good.  One correlation to Christ’s identity is the connection between the account of new birth in John 3 and the Old Testament account of the bronze serpent in (Numbers 21:6-9)

The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

The problem of the serpents was death at the door and the remedy was looking at what was killing them—snakes—which were on the pole (this prefigured the cross) and by doing so would save the people.  Bizarre as it may seem, looking at the bronze serpent on the pole was God’s way of rescue, and that was a type of the cross of Christ.  That is, in order for people to be delivered from death they must put their trust in the provision of Christ’s cross. But if that provision is rejected, only death awaits.  Carson asks, “Have you been born-again?” At times I’ve doubted my conversion based on struggles with sin, actually feeling as if God did not care for me.  But then again, I’ve seen my affections turn God-ward increasingly as the years of struggle and sin persist.  My struggle sounds like the one described by the apostle Paul in Romans 7.

On Death and Dying

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Death is not ultimate!  God is!  I used these words to open my eulogy to honor the life and mourn the death of Specialist Koran Pulido Contreras, born on December 15, 1989, in Redondo Beach California and died on September 8, 2011 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.  This man’s grief stricken family sadly experienced what awaits everyone one of us and belted out wails I had never before heard.  This last week, both the Lamay Family and Sovereign Grace Fellowship Church suffered the death of our Matriarch Pat Lamay, or Grandma Pat as many of us called her.

Too often the fact of death and the loss of loved ones are unbearable, even for Christians.  The loss of a father, a mother, a spouse, a child, even our pets can be utterly debilitating. Click here ON DEATH AND DYING_1 for pdf file.

 

Reflection From ROMANS 5:6-21: “JUSTIFICATION IS ASSURRED THROUGH CHRIST—EVEN AS ADAM’S REBELLION WROUGHT DEATH”

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            Paul seems to want to assure the Roman believers that their justification is certain because God’s work of redemption occurred at the right time:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.

Hardships might cause believers to doubt God’s goodness toward them (Vv.1-5), even their actual standing with God as judge.  But Paul argues that if while we were God’s enemies He showed His loved to us through Christ’s death, now, much more as His friends we must be confident that being justified now by Christ’s blood, God’s wrath is not ever again to be on us.

We are a lot of redeemed, reconciled sinners by the Savior (Vv.10-11).  Our state because of Adam’s rebellion assuredly resulted in death (Vv.12-14), but the free gift of God is not like the transgression.  This is because the transgression resulted in death and wrath, whereas God’s free gift brought life and mercy.

11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.  12 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—13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

The two Adams acted, the first disobeyed and thus death reigned, the second obeyed and thus life in Christ reigns.  The former brought condemnation to all men, the latter wrought justification for many (Vv.15-19)

15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.  18  So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Finally, the Law came to increase transgression, but in this increase, grace all the more abounded the purpose of which is that even as death reigned because of transgression, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Christ (Vv.20-21).  Here Paul brings attention to the power of grace and righteousness over sin and death.  He uses the phrase, “much more” to contrast and heighten God’s favor and instill confidence in the work of Christ over against Adam’s rebellion.

Justification can be banked on more than death which came through the creature Adam because God’s grace and gift of righteousness came through God the Son, whose life would be brought to bear on those who love Him, who love God the Father.  That’s amazing grace!  (SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 4:9-25“ABRAHAM CREDITED AS RIGHTEOUS APART FROM CIRCUMCISION”

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            The word credit/credited in this chapter is used eleven times (if my count is correct) and along with righteousness seems to be the focal point.  Now how often is righteousness used, what is this quality, and how is this righteousness reached?  The term righteousness is used eight times and it is the quality of the kingdom where one is in right standing before the judge of heaven that is credited to Abraham because he believes.

Paul now asks about the time in which this righteousness was credited to Abraham: before or after circumcision?   Moreover, he asks if this blessing of righteousness is exclusively for circumcised Jews or can uncircumcised Gentiles also partake?  Righteousness is for both Jew and Gentile alike.  And since Abraham was credited this righteousness before his circumcision (not after) Paul then concludes that righteousness comes from works of faith, rather than works of law:

Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised;”    

Then of what significance is circumcision?  It’s a sign, a seal of the righteousness of faith, not faith itself:

11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.”   

Circumcision given after Abraham’s faith was seen as a seal pointing to that faith and also pointing to God’s promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations (made of Jew and Gentile) who would birth the faith of father Abraham.  This promise came before the Law not after it; it came through the “righteousness of faith”.  Paul continues:

13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified;

The apostle presents an “if…(elliptical) then” clause which accentuates that either righteousness comes through faith or by Law, not both.  If, as many Jews argued, law keeping made one righteous, then Abraham could not be their father because this ex-pagan’s faith was credited to him as righteousness before any law was given from Sinai.  This is a “titanic” declaration that goes contra Jewish understanding of the purpose of the Law.  This next verse is puzzling to me:

15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

Is Paul saying that Law produces in us sin and thus results in the meting out of wrath, but when there’s no law there’s no rule to break?  Or is Paul saying that the Law never was designed as a means to achieving righteousness, but to show just how deep the pit of sin in us really goes, and when it comes to being credited as righteous through faith, Law is totally out of the equation?  Maybe both, but Paul explicates this:

16 For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,”    

Righteousness through faith is what was promised, not through Law, so that Abraham who trusted God’s word of making him a father of many nations is the example to both Jew and Gentile alike.  The text says that Abraham’s attitude was a God-centered reality where he knew God had the ability to fulfill what He said, even if with man it was impossible:

17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. 18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” 

 Abraham was an absolute realist.  He knew his body and Sarah’s could not produce a child because of their age and body, but he also trusted that God, the Creator, could do what He promised, because He is God!

Abraham’s faith was consistent with his worldview—if God could create heaven and earth and all it contains, then it’s no big deal for Him to give a barren woman and seedless man a child.  That’s the nature of saving faith!  It trusts the word of the Creator, not blindly, but logically.  Yes, logically!  Paul ensues:

22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 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, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

Abraham’s actions revealed the genuineness of his faith.  Note that this account occurred before Sinai and was written down for our sakes.  It’s as if attention is being brought to the Bible above any other books which contradict it.  We have no excuse of being ignorant because it’s written.

This promise (of the Abrahamic faith credited as righteousness) was fulfilled in Christ when he was delivered over by the Father to execution because of our transgressions and He raised Jesus from the grave for our justification (V.25).  Thus, the righteousness which comes through faith is that which justifies Jew and Gentile alike.  It neither comes through the Law nor circumcision because that was not their purpose.  Instead, the righteousness which comes through faith alone is based on God’s grace alone evidenced in the fulfilled promise of Christ Jesus the Lord.