He Who Does the Work

     “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
     To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
     I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  ~1 Corinthians 1:1-9

By who’s will is Paul called?

God’s

To who’s church does Paul write?

God’s.

Who sanctifies them (and makes them His church)?

God

Who’s catholic church (to which they now belong)?

God’s

Who gave them grace?

God

Who enriched them?

God

Who will sustain them?

God.

Who makes them guiltless?

God

Who called them?

God

Why?

Because He is faithful.

There is no hint from Paul that the work of God; calling, sanctifying, enriching, sustaining, pardoning, calling; will not be accomplished. There is no condition placed upon it. His work is accomplished because He is faithful.

Cook Book Recipes and Proverbs

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In reading Proverbs 1-4, I found it fascinating that the Bible plainly tells us how to acquire wisdom, knowledge, and understanding-like-just sitting right there, black and white. Assuming we would all like to be wiser, more knowledgeable, and to understand what we know and how to apply it, I present the following:

Proverbs 1:20 states blatantly that “Wisdom cries aloud in the street”, that is to say that it is easily accessible. It is our own immaturity, selfishness, and laziness that keeps us from grasping what is right in front of us (struggle with daily Bible reading much?). Proverbs 2 then gives step by step instruction as to how to obtain knowledge and wisdom. You could not write a recipe in a cook book clearer then how Solomon spelled it out (he knew his audience well). It can be bulleted from Proverbs  2:1-5 as such:

“My son…”

  1. Receive my words
  2. Treasure up (meditate/remember/dwell on) my commandments
  3. Make your ear attentive to wisdom
  4. Incline your heart (desire) understanding
  5. Call out for insight and understanding
  6. Seek it like a something incredibly valuable

“Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God”.

Another essential factor is that we not forget from whom the source of all knowledge and wisdom come: “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding…” (Prov 2:6). 

Now, re-read that because it is probably a thought that we most often take for granted and do not really conceptualize the power of the truth of that verse.

Another interesting thought:

Prov 1:5 says:  “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.”

There is a kind of circular, closed loop, system being described here. It is the person who is already wise being admonished to hear and increase in learning. The fact that they are wise implies that they do, and will do, this very thing; listen and increase in learning.  Also, the one who understands is told to obtain guidance. Again, this is a direct result of the fact that this person has obtained guidance previously, gives guidance, and will continue to do the very thing that gave him the understanding in the first place.

These counsels are also the character traits of the person being counseled. The wise is wise because he listens, and the understanding give guidance because they know to obtain guidance.

Beginning in Galatians 

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Along side my regular Bible reading I am hoping to also do more in-depth studies of several books of the Bible. Writing about it will help me meditate on the passages and get my thoughts down. I will admit to this being a selfish tool of accountability that, as an added benefit of being a public forum, might also bless someone else.

I decided start in Galatians and move on to Hebrews (probably). I did a little with Hebrews last year but definitely not enough.

It seemed appropriate to starts in Galatians too because it is, arguably, Paul’s earliest letter that we have. What did he teach those early church plants?

I have already read through Galatians in the ESV, ASV, KJV, and the HCSB; maybe I’ll try to brush up on my Greek too…maybe. The hope in reading it through so many times to start off with, is to have the entirety of the context in the back of my mind as I now digg deeper into specific, smaller portions of Paul’s letter.

Also, I am trying to work on memorizing the letter (check out the all called “Verses”. Very useful memorizing tool). But I may modify this plan to end up being that I just memorize the highlights-we shall see.

Today I was looking at the first 5 verses and stopped to the think about vs 4 in particular:

“Paul, an apostle-not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead-and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches at Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.” Galatians 1:1-5

What does it mean “the present evil age” ? Once I accepted Christ as my savior I was not instantly raptured into His presences. I also am greatly affected by the evil in the world around me-to which I, as a sinner, sometimes contribute.

My mind was taken to the gospels and how the Jews thought that Jesus was going to deliver them in a very literal way on earth by overthrowing Rome and establishing a physical Kingdom on earth. Yet this is not what He did, and they missed what He was doing. The Jews had no concept of a dying Messiah, and Jesus definitely was not what they pictured their conquering Messiah to be like. However, Jesus did exactly what He promised He would do in the Scriptures. He overthrew the kingdom of Satan and established-and is establishing, His Kingdom.

Did sorrow cease? Not yet. Did evil desist? Not yet. Not Yet. But God did deliver us from the present evil age.

If you are a child of God, you are His. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35). We may still be affected by sin but we are not defeated by it, nor a part of that community. If someone has accepted Christ as their Savior, they are part of  God’s covenant people, ultimately delivered from this present evil age and currently having a citizenship not of the evil age around them.

Let this also be a lesson in hermeneutics-not everything is literal. Christ did not establish a literal kingdom in Jerusalem at His first advent, and this was one reason the Jews rejected Him. The Bible often talks in spiritual terms and it takes being saturated with the Scriptures to learn and discern when.

If you don’t believe me, check out Galatians 4:21-31. Paul specifically tells us how Old Testament Scriptures where allegorical in the case of Hagar and Sarah (this does not mean the account was not also true). If Paul had not pointed this out, would any of us have seen it? Maybe, but not without having read our Bibles-a lot.

If you are God’s child you are delivered. Live in that truth as you deal with this present evil age.

Hebrews 3

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” Hebrews 3:12

This is a tough verse to deal with for many Christians because many of us would believe in what is called Perseverance of the Saints or Eternal Security (there is a difference, but the end point being that those who are saved cannot lose their salvation). The writer is talking to those whom he calls brothers, yet warns them not to fall away. What is more, he is very clear in his instruction on how to help keep people from falling away.

v. 13 “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

He then states the proof of our perseverance.

v. 14 “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”

This sounds like works salvation and like the exact opposite of not being able to lose your salvation but-that is most certainly not the case.

The example the writer gives is that of the covenant community of Israel in the Old Testament. They were in the covenant because of their circumcision but that did not mean that they were saved. They rebelled, they disobeyed, they were then forbidden to enter the rest. They had heard the truth, they had partaken of the covenant benefits yet, because of their unbelief, they showed that they were not part of those who were saved.

Only those who are saved will persevere.

Is this works salvation? No, for you did nothing and could do nothing to regenerate your heart.

Are you still responsible for something in your salvation? Yes. Scripture is clear that we must confess and believe.

Are we to work? Yes. James very clearly states that salvation without works is dead.

How does this work? “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” Phil 2:13.  God will keep those whom He called.

There is this beautiful picture of God working in us, and enabling us to persevere. We are working, yet it is the Spirit working in us and part of how He does this is through our Christian community. He uses us to exhort each other and keep each other.

Much more can be said, much more to hash out. More to come.

Hebrews 2

One of the main adjectives that describes Christianity best is-paradox.

Hebrews 2:14 “Since therefore the children share in the flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death…”

Christ came and was born in the flesh so that He might die. The divine nature of Jesus could not be killed. God required a sacrifice for sin. Only God was Holy enough to provide a “once for all” sacrifice, fulfilling what was foreshadowed primarily in the Mosaic covenant but also in the Abrahamic with circumcision.

Christ came and was born in the flesh so that He might defeat death. In rising from the dead, Jesus utterly shattered the hold that sin had, not only over our mortal bodies, but especially our spiritual lives. Our bodies will be resurrected, we will be untied with Christ.

The verse above was prophesied all the way back in Gensis 3:15

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

This was God prophesying that He would destroy Satan. Make no mistake; this is not a battle of equals. This is an Elephant to an ant. Satan thought by stirring up the people, causing Judas to betray Jesus, and working to have Jesus crucified, that this would be the ultimate victory. The look on his face, and the absolute dread he must have felt when Jesus shouted “It is finished”, and the devil realized what he had done, would have been a sight to behold because this is exactly what God has planned. When the human nature died, the divine nature triumphed and then raised the human nature.

Christ came to die to defeat death. Satan’s biggest victory was Satan’s biggest defeat.

Hence-paradox. And a beautiful thing it is.

Walking Though Hebrews

Hebrews has always been a fascinating book to me. I have read it numerous times, studied it in college, and still feel like I know nothing about it.

I am now venturing again into this letter/sermon and maybe I can share some things along the way. It’s loaded so bear with me.

Hebrews 1

Recently I have done numerous posts on the deity of Christ but this is one good thing you cannot have too much of. It is undeniable taught within the first 3 verses and is kind of a main emphasis of the entire first chapter. What is fantastic about how the author proves it? He primarily quotes the OLD TESTAMENT. Yes, the deity of Christ was declared in the Old Testament.

Here is an interesting verse:

“Are they not all ministering spirits (referring back to the angels mentioned a verse before) sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” Hebrews 1:14

I had no intention of going this direction but hey, who doesn’t like some good angelology? I actually have spent very little time study demonology and angelology but what I do see here is that those who are to inherit salvation, i.e. the elect, have ministering spirits.

Is this before the elect are saved? Is this after? Is this a full time job? Probably for some more than others (sorry-obligated joke). What do these ministering spirits do?

These are interesting questions and since we are naturally drawn to the extra-ordinary we tend to focus here.  However, thanks to wiser men than I, I know that it is not the authors primary intent to teach about the habits of angels. Instead he is comparing the position of angels to the position of Christ. They ares simply ministers, Christ is Master. Christ is Lord over all. Christ is Supreme.

This reminds me of one of my favorite John Piper sermon excerpts. The video is not too long but it will have a profound impact upon your day. This is not a “share and you will be blessed” meme but I will shamelessly admit that I have yet to make it through without tearing up. Very powerful and many of these truths are derived straight from Hebrews.

 

An Imprint of Substance

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“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power…” Hebrews 1:3

When you think of an image or reflection of something, perhaps you envision a reflection in the water. The picture is there but blurred like an Impressionist’s painting. Or maybe you think of a mirror- a clear, sharp reflection. But no matter the perfection of the reflection, neither of those are actually you. They are you of a short, but hollow-completely devoid of substance.

What about a coin? It bears the image of the person or government it belongs to, giving it some sort of substance and it is given some value because of the image-but it is not the value of the image, but the image giving it value.

So when Hebrews says Jesus is the exact imprint of the nature of God what is being communicated? Is it that of a reflection in the water? A mirror? Or an imprint on a coin?

Calvin says this:

“When, therefore, thou hear that the Son is the brightness of the Father’s glory, think this with thyself, that the glory of the Father is invisible until is shines forth in Christ, and that he is called the impress of his substance…Even the Substance of the Father is in a manner engraved on the Son” (Commentary on Hebrews)

John 1:1, Colossians 1:16-17, and the passage above tell us that is was God who created the universe through the person of the Son. I think Genesis also gives us a trinitarian creation but the person of the Son-Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of His power”. 

Aside from this passage implicitly claiming the eternality of Christ, it is expressing that the Son is the exact imprint of the substance of God. Without conflating the persons, Christ has all the attributes of deity that the Father does-as does the Spirit; but different from the Spirit, Christ actually is an image for He became flesh.

Just a few years before Jerry Bridges died, I was at a conference he was speaking at, and the only thing I really remember from his message was this:

“Preach the gospel to yourself-everyday.”

The creator of the universe condescending to our level, to die for the sins of those who believe and enable them to believe to adopt them as children of the Father and co-heirs with the Son.

Amazing.

 

 

Free Will

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What does it mean to have free will? Commonly, persons who hold to the Doctrines of Grace (also known as Calvinism/Calvinists for theological shorthand) are accused of believing that people are robots doing only what they have been programmed to do.  Calvinist are accused of saying that human beings do not have “free will”.

So again I ask, what is free will?  By this, is it meant that humans have autonomous decision making ability? That is to say, a will totally free from outside influences? This is logically untenable and experientially an impossible position for which to advocate. We are so  incredibly fickle as creatures that we make decisions based off of what we ate for breakfast, and how it made us feel physically or emotionally.

The counter to that is to say, “Yes, but what I ate for breakfast doesn’t determine what I do, it just influences it.” Ok, maybe I can grant that, as long as there is the understanding that autonomous decision making does not exist because, by definition, autonomous free will means making decisions without external influence, determinant or not.

So, let me now make the argument that we never do anything that we do not desire to do. “Sure I do,” you may say “I get up and go to work all the time and I hate it, but I do it anyway.” This does not disprove my statement. “When I am dieting, I choose not to eat ice cream even though I desire it.” Again, this does not disprove my point. You are choosing to do the things you desire the most. You desire they paycheck and means to live in the first example, and you desire the benefits of the diet more than the ice-cream in the second example. Take any decision that you make and you will realize you will ALWAYS chose the course of action that you desire the most.

However, to risk sounding contradictory, a persons holding to reformed theology, or at the very least Calvinism, will affirm that human beings are free beings, but limited in our freedom due to our natures. We can only choose the things we desire and simply put, our sin nature does not allow us to chose God, who is the only autonomously free being. He must take out our hearts of stone and give us a heart of flesh that desires Him.

This truth is commonly mischaracterized by making this merciful action by God analogous to God dragging people into heaven kicking and screaming like He is violating their free will. Ok. If you want to be technical, God is changing your heart “forcefully” but let us be clear, this is an act of LOVE, not violation.

If your friend is unaware that they are headed toward a cliff, it is not a violating act to grab them and change their direction. This saving act would be met with life-owing gratitude. Our response should be the same to God as the friend’s, who was just saved from the cliff, would be…humbled, heartfelt gratitude and thankfulness.

It is also common to accuse those who believe in election of having an arrogant theology. “You think you are so special because God has chosen you. How arrogant!” (in fact, see this article from the satire site Babylon Bee…which I find humorous). While I grant that there are arrogant people who believe in the doctrine of election, it is most certainly not exclusive to reformed theology. If you start reading comment sections on the inter-web you will see the arrogance radiating brightly from both camps…welcome to human sin nature.

If someone is calming to be something other than a wretched sinner in need of God’s saving grace, then they have completed missed the point of God’s electing mercy. We are so worthless and dead in sin that we NEEDED a savior because we could not chose God on our own. This is what is meant when a Calvinist says that human beings do not have a free will: Our will is enslaved to sin.

And where is this doctrine derived? For if it is not in the Bible I want no part. Here are some good references:

“As it is written‘None is righteous, no, not one.'” Romans 3:10

“All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:12

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

“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.” Romand 8:7-8

“No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up in the last day.” John 6:44

 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears  much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Eph 2:5

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…” Col 2:13

For other fantastic resource on this topic, (for by-no-means simply take my word on the matter) see Johnathan Edwards essay “The Freedom of the Will”, Martin Luther’s “The Bondage of the Will”, and this sermon by John Piper.

Christian, rejoice in the fact that you are loved and chosen for adoption by God. Understand that faith comes by hearing the Word of God; so go and fulfill the great commission. We are the instruments to whom He has graciously gifted the privilege of spreading His kingdom for the hope of the lost, and the spreading of His glory.

Take ye, all of it.

I sometimes think chapter and verse divisions where the worst thing that ever happened to the Bible because it is so easy to pick and choose what we want to read in a way that ignores context. For example, I cannot count the amount of times I have heard someone claim passages from John 15 but ignore verses a few lines before or after.

Looking at John 15:12-17 and let’s see if this sounds familiar:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”

Good so far…

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”

Good, good…

“You are my friends if you do what I command you.

Not as commonly quoted but still good for a poster…

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends,  for all that I have heard from the my Father I have made known to you.” 

I think most preachers would acknowledge that Jesus is talking to the disciples but that these statements still apply to all believers…

“You did not chose me, but I chose you and appointed you …”

Uh Oh…

“…that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.”

Whew…back to safety…

“These things I commanded you, so that you will love one another.”

Great! Everyone love one another!

So why is it that many churches would attempt exegetical acrobatics to explain why the first part of v.16 does not apply to all believers, but EVERYTHING else in this passage does?

We cannot pick and chose what passages we like based on if they fit into our theology or not. We need to let the Bible determine our theology. This should go without saying but, we cannot pre-determine what our source material should say if we are studying to know what our sources material does says.

And why would you want to skip over this glorious truth? God has chosen us, through no merit of our own, and loved us. He has promised that, though there will be persecution, He will not orphan us (14:18) because He has chosen whom He will adopt (Eph 1:4-5). This is not unfair or unjust. God is under no obligation to extend mercy to anyone, but because He loves He has decided to adopt children, justly deserving punishment, into His kingdom.

So why witness you ask? Well let me ask you the same question-Why do you witness? I would venture to say it is for the same reason. Because “faith come by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” We do not save anyone ourselves, it is purely of work of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift and privilege to be part of the miracle of salvation. This is the method God has chosen to spread His kingdom and His glory.

In parting, here are a few guidelines to follow for proper exegesis: Read each passage carefully. If there is something that gives you pause, ask questions, look at the context and do research; but-most importantly-when you are reading, do not pick and chose what works for your preconceived theology. Scripture is not to be taken piecemeal,  you must “take ye, all of it.”