Is God Your Fill-in-the-Blank?

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

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Can I be Born Again and Still Commit Sins?

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

Who Carried the Cross?

March 6, 2018 at 3:16 pm | Posted in Q&A | Leave a comment
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Question: John 19:16-17 says that Jesus carried His cross. HOWEVER, Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, and Luke 23:26 say that soldiers carried cross. Which one is true?

Answer: First of all, Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, and Luke 23:26 do not say that soldiers carried the Cross. They say that a man named Simon carried it. Jesus carried the Cross AND Simon carried it. They both did. Jesus first, and then Simon the rest of the way. Jesus in His humanity knew what it meant to be so tired and injured that He could not carry a burden that others were demanding of Him. In this respect, although He is God, He can still sympathize with us when we are forced to carry some spiritual or emotional or other burden that is too much for us. We can pass our burden to Him in faith, believing in Him, and He will take it for us without despising us for it.

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

I Peter 5:7

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

Matthew 11:28-29.

Did Moses Die?

February 12, 2018 at 3:16 pm | Posted in Q&A | Leave a comment
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Question: Why do some people say that Moses didn’t die?

Answer: I think it has to do with his appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-31). Peter, James, and John went up a mountain with Jesus and saw Him talking with Moses and the prophet Elijah. Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (II Kings 2:11) were the only people to be taken up to Heaven without dying a physical death here on earth. So, some people assume that, since Elijah appeared with Moses in the New Testament, that Moses must not have died, either. However, this flies directly in the face of Scripture because Deuteronomy Chapter 34, Verses 5-7 specifically say that Moses died.

An interesting side note is that Moses died while he was still very strong and in good health (at the age of 120!) He was alone with the Lord when he died, and the Lord personally buried him. Later on, in Jude v.9, we find out that Satan wanted to take possession of Moses’s body, but Michael the archangel fought him off.

The Foolishness of God?

January 29, 2018 at 10:41 am | Posted in I Corinthians, Q&A | 1 Comment
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Question: If the Bible is true, how can it mention the terms “foolishness of God” and “weakness of God” in I Corinthians 1:25? God is not foolish or weak.

Answer: I Corinthians 1:25 is part of a type of argument called a rhetorical argument. The Holy Spirit was using the Apostle Paul to point out, from the point of view of the worldly philosophy used by the Greeks of that day, that to preach that Jesus died on the Cross for our salvation would seem “foolish.” The Greeks and the Jews both thought the Christians were “foolish,” and they that they themselves were “wise.” But, if you follow the argument on through Verse 29, you can see that God specifically chose things that seem foolish to people who are proud in their “wisdom” to demonstrate His greatness. Preaching the crucified and resurrected Lord seems silly to people who are proud of their own “wisdom” and works, so God uses this to humble them, so that they will bow down and worship Him alone, admitting that He is wiser than them. That’s one of the failings of the false “works-based” religions, such as Islam, Mormonism, and Roman Catholicism. They do exactly what verse 29 says we must never do: try to “glory” or show off our goodness or our good deeds before God. Any “god” who would accept daily prayers and pilgrimages and fasting and dietary restrictions and so forth as bribes or payments to be placed on the cosmic scales of justice is a false god. Men have invented these false deities, claiming that their gods would accept the “glorying of the flesh (human beings)” in their presence. The real God will not.

Old Testament Prayer

January 5, 2018 at 10:59 am | Posted in Q&A | Leave a comment
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Question: In Exodus Moses talks to God and relays messages back and forth between God and the people. Did people in the Old Testament pray in the way that we do?

Answer: That’s a really good question that forces us to think about the nature of prayer. We know that people prayed in the Old Testament, even before Exodus. Two notable examples are Abraham in Genesis 20:17 and Abraham’s servant in Genesis 24:12-14. After Exodus the Old Testament is replete with all kinds of prayers in all kinds of situations. Many of the Psalms are in the form of prayers, although sin could always serve as a hindrance to prayer (Psalm 66:18).

It is possible that in Exodus 2:24-25 when God heard the “groaning” of the Israelites in their bondage in Egypt that this groaning was a type of call to God for help, but it is also possible that, after hundreds of years in Egypt, the people had forgotten about Abraham’s God and did not practice prayer. It may be that through the ministry of Moses and the priesthood the practice of praying to the one true God was reinstated.

Your reference to Moses, though, is especially astute, because it reminds us that, while Moses interceded with God on behalf of the people, under the New Testament we have a better Intercessor (Romans 8:34) and Mediator (I Timothy 2:5) that allows us to call upon the Lord in His Name freely whenever we want (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Purple or Scarlet?

November 27, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Posted in Q&A | Leave a comment
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Question: John 19:2 and Mark 15:17 say that the robe which the soldiers put on Jesus shortly before His Crucifixion was purple. However, Matthew 27:28 says that the robe was scarlet. Which one is true?

Answer: “Purple” and “scarlet” and sometimes “crimson” are variations of the same color when used to describe fabrics in antiquity. Back then, garments were hand-dyed and hand-washed, often exposed to harsh scrubbing and extreme weather, so they faded much more easily than our garments today. The Holy Spirit caused different Gospel writers to describe the robe that the soldiers put on Jesus as both purple and scarlet, because, from Pilate’s and the Romans’ point of view, it was just a faded old garment used to mock Him, but, from our point of view, the royalty symbolized by the color purple was suitable to the King of the Universe, God Almighty, which is Who Jesus was.

Biased Marriage Counseling

November 10, 2017 at 11:31 am | Posted in Q&A | 1 Comment
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Question: I have Christian friends who are thinking about ending their marriage. Someone told me to give them this advice: “Before making your decision about divorce or reconciliation, seek balanced counsel rather than biased counsel.” What do you think of that advice?

Answer: Sorry to be blunt, but that advice is garbage. I’m sure whoever came up with that had good intentions, and there is a line of thinking out there that says, talk to some people who think you should reconcile, and talk to some people who think you shouldn’t, and weigh the pros and cons. But think about it! Stop and really think. Does the Bible say anything like that about marriage? Tell your friends to talk to people who are EXTREMELY biased – biased in favor of Jesus Christ. He let vile wicked sinners nail Him to a Cross so that we would have the power and the freedom to forgive, to reconcile, to restore, to promote righteousness – not to drag through the mud a relationship that He created to glorify Himself. (See Genesis 2:21-24; Malachi 2:16; Mark 10:6-9; Ephesians 5:23-33; Hebrews 13:4.)

Why Get More Involved?

October 30, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Posted in Q&A | 1 Comment
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Question: I’m not sure if I want to get more involved with Sunday School and church because I’m not totally comfortable with it. Before I moved here, I had a church I really liked. For my sake and my wife and kids’ sakes, I’m not going to commit myself until I find a place that makes me feel the way church should make me feel.

Answer: That’s a tough one. The important thing is, if you are a Christian, you need to be serving somewhere. That’s not really an optional thing in the Christian life. See I Peter 4:8-10. Ideally, you would be able to serve at a place exactly like the place where you were the happiest, but finding two identical churches is probably not a real possibility.

Maybe you can try to think of it like this: Some days you come home from work and the house is spotless. The kids are delighted to see you. They run up laughing, and hug and kiss you. Your wife is cooking your favorite meal. Her hair is perfect and she’s wearing your favorite outfit. You are ushered to your easy chair, and handed the TV clicker and a cold drink, and told to relax. But other days, you come home and the place is a wreck. Kids are crying and fighting. Your wife has a headache and she’s surly. There’s no food in sight. And somebody forgot to buy the poster board for a big school project that’s due TOMORROW. Guess who they’re expecting to do that?

In the first example, it’s a no-brainer, right? You’re glad to be home, and all is well with the world. But the second scenario is tougher. You feel like turning around and going back to the car and leaving, right? Wrong! They’re both no-brainers. Why? Because you are a dad and a husband and you are there to love and serve your family, not to be served! That’s the Bible’s opinion, not mine (Ephesians 5:25; 6:4).

See, you go to a restaurant, you get lousy service, the food stinks, it’s too expensive, you don’t feel valued as a customer, whatever, fine, you leave and don’t go back. But your home is not a restaurant. It’s where your family is. So you sacrifice and you serve and you commit yourself to be faithful, no matter what. Same with church. That’s where your spiritual family is – the family of God in Christ. Now, if you’re not saved, then you can’t be expected to serve. But if you’re saved, you’re in the family of God, and you need to be serving, not demanding (or even expecting) to BE served.

I know that there are certain perceived “perks” (if you can call them that) to hovering around the edge of a local church family – showing up just often enough not be forgotten – but not often enough or on time enough to really be depended upon to do anything difficult or sacrificial. But those perks aren’t really benefits. They are really missed opportunities to glorify and thank the Savior who poured out His blood for your soul while they cursed and mocked Him. I would encourage you to jump in with both feet when it comes to Sunday School and church involvement. Nobody will go see Jesus at the end of this life and say, “Man, I can’t believe I spent that time serving Him!” I promise, you will want to go see the King saying, “I’m glad I did” a lot more than “I wish I had.”

The Statute and the Ordinance at Marah

October 12, 2017 at 9:56 am | Posted in Q&A | 1 Comment
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Question: In Exodus 15:25, after the Lord made the bitter water at Marah drinkable, it says that “there he made for them a statute and an ordinance.” What was the statute and the ordinance?

Answer: Moses probably wrote this section of Exodus many years after the events took place, so the Holy Spirit is referencing the giving of statutes and ordinances by God as a foreshadowing of the formal “giving of the Law” which will come at Mount Sinai a few chapters later. The expression, “a statute and an ordinance,” is an example of a hendiadys, meaning that an idea is used and then repeated after the conjunction “and” for emphasis and for clarification. For example, sometimes I refer to “a basic and fundamental” fact. Basic and fundamental are nearly synonymous in that context, but I want to make the point strongly and use two similar words in case one or the other might not be as familiar to everyone who hears or reads it. Lawyers do this when they draw up a “last will and testament.” The “statute and the ordinance” referenced in Exodus 15:25 is described in the next verse:

If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes…

Exodus 15:26

God had Moses tell the people that one of His general laws, even before the Covenant at Sinai, is that His people are required to be attentive and loyal to Him. It will be a really good day for you and me when we understand this and accept it.

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