Big Words of the Christian Life: Omnipresence (Part 1)

April 27, 2018 at 10:55 am | Posted in big words of the Christian life | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,

God is present everywhere all the time. This is a simple thing to say, but a difficult thing to meaningfully grasp. We are finite creatures, and so are all the things we can see and touch and explain with our finite human minds. However, God is infinite and is not limited in the ways that we are.

1. God’s presence is inescapable. 

There is not a place in this universe where we could hide from God. He sees us at all times, and is actually present whenever we say anything, do anything, achieve anything, commit a sin, or find ourselves trapped by circumstances that are beyond our control or are of our own making.

O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

Psalm 139:1-12

This could be a comfort or a dread (or at times a bit of both) depending upon our mindset. The fact that God is immanent should serve as an exhortation to holy living, a threat against disobedience, and comforting proof of His love and desire to be intimately present in our lives.

2. God’s presence is invisible.

God, Who is spiritual in nature but also capable of manifesting His presence in glorious brilliance, fills every bit of His creation. He is in the farthest reaches of space and in the most minuscule particle of matter. While He has at times chosen to “reveal” evidence of His presence to biological eyes, for the most part we are called to experience His presence with eyes of faith.

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

Colossians 1:16-17

God is immanent and transcendent at the same time. He exists both within and without His creation, and, apart from Him, it could not exist, much less feature organization, complexity, and consistency.

Next time we will see that God’s presence is infinite and invigorating.

Is God Your Fill-in-the-Blank?

April 19, 2018 at 4:55 pm | Posted in Q&A | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Question: In Exodus 3:13-14 Moses asked God to tell him the name that he should tell the people when they asked Moses who sent him. God told Moses that He was “I AM THAT I AM,” and that he should tell them “I AM” sent him. Did God leave a blank at the end of His revealed name so that people could fill in the blank with whatever they needed Him to be? In other words, the people in Egypt needed to be delivered from bondage, so they could finish God’s statement by imputing to Him the name, “I AM… your Deliverer.” When they got hungry or thirsty later on, they could think of Him as “I AM… your Provider.” When they got sick, they could could call Him “I AM… your Healer.” If they were attacked, they could pray to “I AM… your Shield.” And so forth. Does that make sense – the idea that God would be whatever you need Him to be?

Answer: God used the name “I AM” which sounds abbreviated to us, but which actually points to His supreme holiness. In other words, Moses was looking for a way to describe what manner of God this was Who had spoken to Him, and God could not point to anything outside of Himself for comparison. He had to stop at simply “I AM” because there is no thing and no one in this universe to which He can be properly compared, since everything is “creaTION” except for God Himself, Who is “CreaTOR.” He used the name “I AM” in the singular sense of “I AM it, I’m all there is when it comes to ‘gods.’ I’m the only one that’s real.” (This was a real deal-breaker for Pharaoh and the Egyptians who had gods for everything from frogs to houseflies.) I think this interpretation is reinforced by the First Commandment, where God declared that He is one God (I AM the LORD your GOD), and that no one is allowed to make up any other little g gods “before Him.”

Perhaps people will think of the name “I AM THAT I AM” in whichever sense they find more comforting. I know that people like to think of God as being whatever they need Him to be during difficult times. Personally, I take greater comfort in knowing that whatever He reveals Himself to be in the Bible is ultimately what is best. When I swing out into eternity and leave this world behind I’m depending on the God that is “real” to hold me in His everlasting arms, regardless of whatever personal ideas I might have ascribed to Him.

Practical Holiness

April 17, 2018 at 8:45 am | Posted in I Peter | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

In the midst of a discussion about glory, we find serious exhortations in the second half of I Peter Chapter 1 concerning living a holy life. Sometimes we think rejoicing and holiness are totally unrelated, but in Scripture doctrine is never divorced from duty. One of the worst things we can do to hinder God’s purposes in our sufferings (our preparation for glory), and to rob God of His glory by giving people a bad opinion of our God, is to fail to live a holy life.

When we remember that hopelessness is the result of an unhinged mind, it helps us to understand the emphasis on girding up the loins of our minds – of being sober. A girded-up mind is a mind where all thoughts are pulled together.

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;

I Peter 1:13-15

Our “manner of conversation” is far more than just our verbal conversation. It means our complete lifestyle, the way we live on a daily basis.

As Christians we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of compartmentalization. Do not separate your life into “secular” and “sacred” activities. We ought to be striving for holiness as much in our recreational time and work time as in our “devotional” time.

And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:

I Peter 1:17

When we are saved by Christ we become sojourners in this world, and sojourning is a lifestyle – and a lifelong activity.

Getting away from the Word of God will cause you to lose the fear of God. A certain amount of trembling before God is a good thing. It keeps you sober. It keeps the loins of your mind girded up. It keeps the eyes of your mind focused and fixated on the Hope of Heaven.

Obstacles, Others, and Ourselves

April 12, 2018 at 11:16 am | Posted in Luke | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Jesus gave a revelation of the “new” Sabbath, then He went on to reveal the institution of a “new nation.” He fulfilled the real meaning of the Sabbath and the real meaning of what the nation of Israel and the 12 tribes of Israel were supposed to represent.

And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.

Luke 6:12

Jesus prayed all night because He had some tough decisions to make. Are you this committed to prayer and its importance?

And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles;

Luke 6:13

Jesus had many students (“disciples”) during His earthly ministry, but He chose only 12 “Apostles,” corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel. These Apostles would be His official messengers and missionaries after His Resurrection and Ascension.

Today, as Christians, we need to be both: disciples who are learning and “apostles” who are going, witnessing, and ministering.

The section of Scripture starting in Luke 6:20 may be a truncated version of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Chapters 5-7), or a different, but similar, sermon, since Jesus sometimes repeated His teaching for different audiences at different times and locations.

This sermon focuses on having a right attitude toward obstacles, including poverty, physical pain, emotional pain, and three forms of persecution (scornful, secret, and slanderous).

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you,, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.

Luke 6:20-22

Our attitude toward these circumstances must be not that the circumstances themselves are blessings, but that we are blessed to be counted worthy by God to undergo these circumstances.

Jesus also focused on our attitude and actions toward our enemies, including how to speak TO them and FOR them.

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

Luke 6:27

Finally, Jesus focused on our attitude toward ourselves, warning of the dangers of pride and perception, and the importance of our production.

And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.

Luke 6:39-40

If I am “leading,” then I had better be a follower of the true leader, Jesus Christ.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.

Luke 6:41-42

These verses do not say that I should not be helping my brother or sister to see clearly, but they do say that I am to make sure that I am seeing clearly first.

For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Luke 6:43

These negative implications of regeneration tend to be more popular sermon topics, but are only half of the truth – which is dangerous. We don’t mind hearing that bad trees bring forth corrupt fruit, because we like to think of ourselves as good trees, but it is just as important to acknowledge that the proof that we ARE in fact good trees would be the production of good fruit.

For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

Luke 6:44-46

We tend to use “Lord” as a verbal pause button when we pray, but, by definition, your “Lord” is the one you serve. Are you serving yourself? Are you serving the world? Are you unwittingly serving Satan? Or are you truly serving the Lord Jesus Christ?

Big Words of the Christian Life: Omnipotence (Part 2)

April 9, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Posted in big words of the Christian life | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Previously, I showed that God’s power is limitless and logical. Now we will see that:

3. God’s power is laudable.

It is right and good to praise God for His power. God’s demonstration of His own attributes is always for the greatest good of His people. As He demonstrates His power, we find the assurance that our God can overcome any enemy and provide absolute protection for us. We were created to praise Him and find our ultimate joy in knowing Him.

Be thou exalted, LORD, in thine own strength: so will we sing and praise thy power.

Psalm 21:13

The presence of His power is a key element and motivation in corporate worship, and it is easily observable in His universal creation. Such power fills those who are thinking correctly with sublime joy as they contemplate it and know that they are loved by the wielder of this magnificent power.

Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

Psalm 150:1-2

4. God’s power is looming.

God’s power is a great comfort to His own children, but it also serves as a great threat looming over the heads of the defiant.

But the LORD, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and a stretched out arm, him shall ye fear, and him shall ye worship, and to him shall ye do sacrifice.

II Kings 17:36

God is not prone to uncontrollable fits of rage whereby He unleashes His fury without regard to His own will. No, a significant aspect of His power is the power to CONTROL that very power. However, once His power is directed by His wrath toward one of His creatures, any reasonable person would tremble in abject terror.

Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.

Psalm 90:11

We are accustomed to the feeling of fear in this lifetime. However, there is a limit to the power of human beings that places a limit, too, on their ability to terrify us. No such limit exists in God. When we balance the fear of human beings or earthly institutions that might threaten to punish us for obeying God, it really should be no contest as to Whom we should really fear.

And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.

Luke 12:4-5

Perhaps the greatest power we hold in our finite human minds and hearts is the power of self-deception, so we should be constantly exposing our feelings and thoughts to the superior power of the Word of God.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

 

Can I be Born Again and Still Commit Sins?

April 4, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Posted in Q&A | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Question: I John 3:9-10 seems to be saying that true Christians never sin. How can I make sense of this?

Answer: By examining the verses carefully, in their context, and in light of the dominant doctrines of the Bible which address the same issues.

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

I John 3:9-10

Who is “born of God?” True Christians, according to John 3:3-7, are people who have been “born again” (reborn spiritually) by the Spirit of God. Therefore, the “whosoever” which begins I John 3:9 is anyone who is really a Christian. Taken in isolation, the statement,”True Christians do not ‘commit’ sin,” could easily be taken to mean that if you are truly a Christian, then you will never commit any sins. And, logically, the inverse would be true: If you sin, then you must not be a true Christian.

However, true Christians know from experience that they do still sin. It would be difficult to find a true Christian that denies sinning every week, every day, even every hour. We don’t use our experiences, though, to interpret Scripture, so let’s keep reading.

Why don’t those who are born again commit sin, according to I John 3:9? It is because “His [God’s] seed” REMAINS (stays permanently) in those who are born of Him. What does that mean?

Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

I Peter 1:23

If you are truly a Christian, God, by His Word, at the moment of salvation, gave you His “seed” – something of His nature. This does not mean that true Christians become “gods” (a false belief of Mormonism), but we do get a new “heart” – new essence or nature – which is “of God.” This is not a physical impartation, like when our children inherit our DNA, but there is a similarity, even though it is spiritual, not physical. So, we could reason that, the occurrence of sin after a “salvation” experience means that we did not really receive God’s gift of salvation, because sin is not of God. It’s “of” us. (Note the impossibility of the seed of God leaving His spiritual offspring, which emphasizes the truth that real salvation, once granted, can not be “lost.”)

Another interesting thing to note is that I John 3:9 is a chiasmus:
A. Whoever is born of God
B. Does not commit sin
C. Because God’s seed remains in him
B. He cannot sin
A. Because he is born of God

It seems very black and white, but, without regard to its proper context, it could be used to teach the false doctrine of “perfectionism:” the idea that any sin in the life of a person excludes the possibility that he is a true Christian, so it must be possible for human beings to reach a state of sinless perfection in this lifetime.

On the flip side, it would also be an error to use the verse to support the Gnostic idea of antinomian dualistic perfectionism: the “antichrist” doctrine that the physical body doesn’t matter, so a spiritually transformed Christian can sin all he wants in his body, and it doesn’t “count” because the spiritual self is no longer even capable of sinning.

The better view is to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, and to analyze I John 3:9-10 in light of other verses in I John such as:

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

I John 2:1

And:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

I John 1:8-10

Additionally, passages like Romans 3:10-23 and Romans 7:14-25, and pretty much all the New Testament epistles that deal with Christians getting the victory over sin and fighting against it all the way to our ultimate sanctification and glorification, make it clear that no Christian ever reaches a state in this lifetime where he is completely free from the commission of sins.

So, when we come to a somewhat jarring verse like I John 3:9, we interpret the dominant pervasively-Biblical precept over the more obscure in-context precept. And the next verse, I John 3:10, actually helps us get a better sense of the context. It says that the children of God are “manifest,” which is a key word in the Book of I John. It means “to make apparent; to reveal openly.” It is what we look to when determining the status of something’s invisible essence by what Thomas Aquinas called its outward “accidents.”

How can we make the best human judgment in distinguishing the children of God from the children of Satan? By their manifest righteousness, or lack of righteousness. We would expect the children of God and the children of Satan to be polar opposites when it comes to the patterns of their lifestyles, and their responses to sin, in the sense of repentance or unrepentance. Of course, we also identify the children of God by their love for other Christians.

This helps us to get a deeper sense of the use of the word “commit” in I John 3:9, so that we understand it as describing an ongoing, habitual life of sin, rather than the commission of any one individual sin. When we are looking at other people, trying our best to determine the genuineness of their profession of faith, we can not judge their hearts, but we can make a practical determination of how much trust to place in their profession based on what we observe. Furthermore, when we examine our own hearts in light of the outward fruit produced in our lives, we will lack assurance if we act and talk more like the devil than like Jesus.

The Holy Spirit Who indwells true Christians CAN NOT initiate sin or practice sin. Our “flesh” – our old nature that is still subject to worldly and Satanic influence – CAN NOT produce God-pleasing righteousness.

So, in response to the question, “How can I make sense of I John 3:9-10?” let me summarize with six points:

1. Sin the life of a Christian does NOT automatically mean the person is not really a Christian. (As Martin Luther said, the Christian life can be described as simul iustus et peccator: simultaneously justified yet sinning.)

2. Unrepentant persistent sin in the life of a professing Christian may be seen as the manifestation of a false profession of faith in Christ.

3. God’s nature in believers is not the source of their sin; it IS the source of any outward righteousness produced in their lives. (Justification is settled in Heaven; regeneration should be evident on earth.)

4. Our assurance of salvation should be challenged, and we must examine our profession of faith if we are manifestly non-Christian in our love of sin and lack of love for Christians.

5. Our obedience to the law of God is important for Christians, although it is not the basis of our status as children of God. (We must avoid both extremes: legalism and antinomianism.)

6. Gnosticism is a heresy. Our bodies are important to God, just as our spirits are important to God. Christ died and rose again to redeem them both.

Law Keepers or Lawbreakers?

April 2, 2018 at 1:59 pm | Posted in Luke | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

And it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands.

Luke 6:1

The act of plucking wheat and separating the chaff from the kernels of grain was viewed by some of the Pharisees as harvesting and preparing food, which they claimed violated the fourth Word of the Decalogue, prohibiting working on the Sabbath day.

And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days?

Luke 6:2

Assuming that the Pharisees were actually concerned about seeing a violation of God’s law (usually not a valid assumption where Jesus and His disciples were concerned), were they right to take this view?

When thou comest into thy neighbour’s vineyard, then thou mayest eat grapes thy fill at thine own pleasure*; but thou shalt not put any in thy vessel. When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbour’s standing corn.

Deuteronomy 23:24-25

It appears that even a strict interpretation the Old Testament law as it applied to the case at hand would have made it permissible for Jesus’s disciples to do what they were doing, as long as they didn’t use a farming implement or a container.

And Jesus answering them said, Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungred, and they which were with him;

Luke 6:3

“Have ye not read so much as this” indicated that Jesus was pointing out that His disciples had at least one case-law precedent on their side.

How he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the shewbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone?

Luke 6:4

We can read about this in more detail in I Samuel 21:1-6.

And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

Luke 6:5

It’s as if Jesus was sayin, “And, besides, the Sabbath is all about Me, anyway, if you really want to get technical. It’s Mine and I’ll do what I want.”

And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him.

Luke 6:6-7

The more organized Jesus and His followers became, the more systematic and scheming the Pharisees became about shutting Him down.

But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth. Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?

Luke 6:8-9

The Sabbath was set aside by God as at time of “rest” – meaning rest in reference to God’s cessation of the work of ex nihilo creation – but also as a means of separating the Jewish people from the pagans among whom they lived, and as a way to demonstrate the right kind of difference between the ways of the world and the ways of God’s Kingdom. The Sabbath was made “for man” in that sense, rather than man being made for the Sabbath.

And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

Luke 6:10

What was the reaction of the religious leaders to this miraculous act of kindness, generosity, and healing? “Good job on the healing?” Sadly, no, not even close.

And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus.

Luke 6:11

The Greek word translated as “madness” is anoia. They were so frustrated and confused about Jesus’s teaching, compassion, and power that they became enraged. And not only were they overcome with “madness;” they were FILLED with madness! Behaving crazily was bad enough, getting angry was even worse, but they were crazy and full of rage at the same time! Sure, the Pharisees were supposed to be experts in the Mosaic law, but who was more in violation of God’s law here? Jesus’s disciples, who “might” be seen to have technically violated a tradition attached to the Law? Or the Pharisees themselves who were filled with rage because God miraculously healed a man with a useless hand?

*My wife and I shared a good laugh over this verse, because this was similar to the advice given to us by my grandmother-in-law when we first got married. She told us that, if times were tough in the early years of our marriage, we could always take a little shopping trip to the local grocery store and pluck a few “free” grapes from the produce section as we walked by! Thankfully, by God’s grace, even during our leanest financial periods, we’ve always been able to pay for our grapes.


Entries and comments feeds.