Lifting up the Son of Man

April 4, 2019 at 12:54 pm | Posted in John | Leave a comment
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Despite Nicodemus’s failure to grasp the concept of the water-spirit birth, Jesus, in His patience, gave him insight into another well-known Old Testament passage of Scripture: the account of the fiery serpents in Numbers 21.

God had sent a plague of venomous and deadly serpents to bite His people in the wilderness. This was because they had been rebelling against Him and complaining about the manna He had provided for them to eat and about the length of time they had been in the wilderness. Every serpent bite was a death sentence, but God, in His mercy, also provided a cure. He had Moses make a snake, of all things, out of brass. Just as the death rate for those bitten was 100%, so the cure rate for those who would raise their eyes in faith and behold the brass serpent was 100%. Many looked and lived, but many also stubbornly refused to look and died.

The brass serpent had been lifted up, just as Jesus would be “lifted up,” an ambiguous term, which at various times could mean physically held aloft, honored, exalted, or even (as in the case of Naboth, who was “set on high”) condemned by the people.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

John 3:14

Nicodemus no doubt knew something of the significance of the title “Son of Man” from the Book of Daniel. It was the title of the then-future heir of David’s throne, the Messiah, so he may have understood Jesus to be saying that the Son of Man would be “lifted up” in the sense of being exalted. However, Jesus was actually revealing a greater truth: that He would be lifted up as the Sin-Bearer, the way the brass serpent in the wilderness was lifted up, to be a symbol of death, but also to be looked to for salvation – the ONLY means of salvation.

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

John 3:18

Just as those snake-bitten Israelites were already as good as dead – whether they took any further action or not – so those who do believe on Jesus are the ONLY ones who escape that condemnation.

The Water-Spirit Birth

April 2, 2019 at 1:48 pm | Posted in John | 4 Comments
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Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

John 3:5

Not all theologians, Bible commentators, or scholars agree on what Jesus meant by “born of water and of the Spirit.” Some theories include:

1. A contrast between the physical birth, with “water” meaning the “breaking of water” (amniotic fluid) from the mother’s womb. The problem with this interpretation is that “her water broke,” as far as we can tell, wasn’t an expression that was used back then. However, it is possible that Jesus could have meant that this second birth – this RE-generation – was being contrasted with the first, physical birth. Lending weight to this application is the obvious fact that Jesus called it being born “again.”

2. So-called baptismal regeneration. This theory, although perhaps the majority view historically speaking, is wrong. A belief that physical baptism through the immersion in, or sprinkling of, literal water is necessary for regeneration and eternal salvation goes against the vast majority of Scripture in describing salvation as being by grace through faith alone. It is not dependent upon any “work,” rite, ritual, or observable or administered (sacerdotal) initiation. When considering whether Jesus was communicating anything having to do with literal baptism when he mentioned being born of water, it is important to recognize that this concept would have been totally foreign to Nicodemus, the Jewish religious leader to whom he was speaking, and to the Jewish theologians who he represented.

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, WE know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

John 3:1-2 (emphasis added)

Nicodemus may have come to Jesus alone, by night, but he was clearly a representative of a contingent of Pharisees (possibly the Sanhedrin itself) who thought themselves to be the ultimate authority on salvation – on seeing and entering the Kingdom of God. Despite this standing, Jesus, in the following verses, chastised him for not knowing things which he should have known, because they were indicated in the (Old Testament) Scriptures.

Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

John 3:7 (emphasis added)

Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?

John 3:10 (emphasis added)

This lets us know that the key to the phrase “born of water and of the Spirit” is found in the Old Testament, and not in some obscure text hidden or tucked away in some genealogy somewhere, but in a major prophecy.

And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.

Ezekiel 36:23-25

There’s the mention of water, and, according to Psalm 24, who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord and who will stand in His holy place? Only those who have clean (washed by some supernatural metaphorical water) AND pure hearts. Ezekiel 36:25 promises that God will cleanse His people from the filthiness of their sin, not by baptism, but by His own divine hand sprinkling/splashing them with His power.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

Ezekiel 36:26-27

This was a prophecy about the New Covenant, and would have been very familiar to the typical Jewish scribe or rabbi, and certainly to a chief theologian of the Pharisees. It appears right before Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the valley of the DRY bones – bones which needed to be revived – brought back to life – regenerated by some type of supernatural “water.”

And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.

Ezekiel 37:3-4 (emphasis added)

Son of Man” was the prophetic title which Jesus used to refer to Himself in John 3:14. Clearly regeneration by water and by the Spirit had been indicated and explicitly referenced in Old Testament prophecies.

And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.

Ezekiel 37:13-14

The water and the Spirit are not two separate stages of the new birth. Jesus was talking about a water-Spirit birth – at once cleansing and giving new life – a true heart transplant surgery with antiseptic poured in – eternal antiseptic which eternally prevents infection/corruption.

Reintroducing John 3:16

February 13, 2019 at 5:02 pm | Posted in John, Salvation | 1 Comment
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For many years the Bible verse that has been generally considered the most popular, or at least most well-known, verse in the Bible is John 3:16. The danger for some of us when studying a very familiar verse is that we become inoculated through over-exposure and make the mistake of thinking we know everything we need to know about it already. Let me encourage you not to make that mistake with John 3:16. Sit down (with your spouse if you are married) and go through it word by word, slowly, considering the import of each word, and looking at the verses before and after it to better illuminate the context.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

I didn’t really need to print it here, did I? Most faithful Christians probably have it memorized. But let’s examine it closely. The first word, “for,” refers back to:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:14-15

Lest Verse 15 lead anyone to think that God the Father needed to be changed in His dispositional impassibility by God the Son from not loving us to loving us, the Holy Spirit had John make it clear that the Father’s love was the motivating cause of the plan of salvation.

“For God SO…” If you’ve been attending a Baptist or evangelical church for very long, you’ve probably seen the pantomime of a preacher stretching his arms wide to demonstrate a child’s expression of what it means to love someone SOOOOO much, but John 3:16 does not leave the question of “how much is so much?” open-ended. The word “that” is used to introduce the concept of: “THIS is how much the Father loved us.”

He loved us so much that He “GAVE.” This word, too, is worth closer inspection. God “gave” His Son in at least two respects: (1) In the Incarnation, the Father sent the Son from His Heavenly home to live in a world of sin, the effects of sin, and sinful rebels, and to experience, in His humanity, all the difficulties, pain, rejection, scorn, betrayal, sorrow, and human shortcomings and temptations known to mankind (but in response to which, He, unlike us, never sinned); (2) During His arrest and the events leading up to His death, the Father “gave” the Son into the hands of sinful men to be tortured and crucified, and to experience death as the substitutionary sacrifice for us.

This Son who came to live and die for His people was the Father’s “only begotten Son,” the Monogenes, His special and unique Son. He was the eternal Son of God, not “begotten” in the sense of having been born as touching His divinity, nor in the sense of His having been created (for He was not), but in an echo of the Old Testament type that we see in the episode of Abraham and Isaac.

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

Genesis 22:1-13 (emphasis added)

Isaac was not, strictly speaking, Abraham’s “only” son, yet He was the son of promise – the special and unique son promised to Abraham by God. Yet he was designated as a sacrifice to be offered to God, not because Isaac’s loss was something to be lightly borne by Abraham, but rather because he was so precious to Abraham. In John 3:16 we see the ultimate fulfillment of what had been played out and interrupted in Genesis 22, and we learn that God loved us wicked rebellious sinners SO much that He gave His absolute best, His most cherished, His most valuable, His eternally perfect Son for us.

Would you give up your life to save the life of a loved one? Perhaps you would. But would you give up the life of one of your beloved children to save the life of another loved one? I doubt it. What about to save a stranger? Even less likely. Now, what about sacrificing the life of your only, beloved child to save the life of your worst enemy? Unthinkable. The love of the Father for us is too great for us to fathom. It is in a whole different realm of love from anything we can comprehend.

“God so loved THE WORLD… that WHOSOEVER…”

Does this mean that Jesus’s death on the Cross – the gift of the Father – secures the salvation of every single person? A consistent universalist would answer “yes.” He would say that Hitler and Osama Bin Laden, along with everyone else who has ever lived, will one day be in Heaven holding your hands and singing “Kumbaya.” However, this is incorrect, because the “whosoever” in John 3:16 is inextricably linked to the next word: “believeth,” and likewise to “in Him,” meaning Jesus, the Savior. The “world” that is so loved by God includes both Jews and gentiles, which would have been a radically different concept for the vast majority of those who heard Jesus’s teaching for the first time. The “world” in John 3:16 also means that all people are in fact “loved” by God in a general way, but not that God loves the world’s fallen, sin-controlled “system” that the words “the world” often describe in the Epistles. Not everyone in “the world” experiences the same benefits of God’s love that those who believe on Jesus Christ unto eternal salvation experience. The bronze serpent referenced in John 3:14 was lovingly lifted up by Moses for all to see, but only those to whom God granted faith looked and lived.

As you read this you might be wondering, “Am I a John 3:16 ‘whosoever’ or not? How can I tell?” You can settle this by looking to Jesus in faith right now, believing His Gospel. LOOK and SEE. If you will not look, see, and believe, you cannot be a John 3:16 “whosoever.” And there is only one other default position. If you will not be a John 3:16 “whosoever,” you must be a Revelation 20:15 “whosoever.”

And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:15

“Perish” is what it’s called in John 3:16, but do not imagine it as some peaceful extinguishment. It is not a blinking-out into oblivion. It is eternal death and destruction, never-ending, conscious, excruciating pain, darkness, and torment, as opposed to present tense eternal “have everlasting life.” Everlasting life is the opposite of perishing: light instead of darkness, joy instead of pain, peace instead of torment. I beg you to trust Jesus this very moment.

Here’s Your Sign

January 30, 2019 at 4:25 pm | Posted in John | 1 Comment
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Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?

John 2:18

The temple leaders almost sound reasonable (rather than the responsive anger we might expect from them) as they ask Jesus, in effect, “What gives you the right to regulate Temple practices?” Their criteria for someone who exercised authority without a history of being a priest or even a known and respected rabbi was that He would perform a “sign” – give them a display of miraculous power that would demonstrate He had Heavenly authority. Of course, He had recently given such a “sign” at the wedding in Cana, so we (the readers of John Chapter 2) know He has the ability, and the apparent willingness to demonstrate it, but Jesus would not be provoked into showing off when such signs, though miraculous, would not engender true saving faith in Him, nor serve to heal or help someone who was in distress.

Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?

John 2:19-20

This is a somewhat common occurrence in the Gospel of John, where Jesus reveals a spiritual truth, and the listeners misunderstand and think He is talking crazy or at least expressing earthly and material, rather than spiritual, ideas. Plus, we have, in this instance, the benefit of an editorial comment from the Holy Spirit through John:

But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.

John 2:21-22

This makes for a good segue into how Jesus thought about those who believed in Him merely because He could do miracles, rather than because of His teaching and divine revelation.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.

John 2:23-25

These verses look forward to issues that are about to be addressed in John Chapter 3. First, Jesus had divine omniscient knowledge of what other people thought and what was in their hearts. He could read minds, and He knew people better than they knew themselves. He did not “entrust” Himself or “commit Himself” to superficial “believers” the way He did to His true disciples. This helps to understand a little more about Jesus’s famous encounter with Nicodemus which begins Chapter 3.

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

John 3:1

The idea is that Nicodemus was a chief teacher.

The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

John 3:2

There are various theories as to why Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, other than the possibility that it might just be noted for us as an instance of accurate reporting. Perhaps he was embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid to be seen consorting with this non-Pharasaical rabbi – or with the dangerous loose cannon who caused a scene in the Temple. On the other hand, perhaps Nicodemus merely wanted to speak to Jesus without the interruption that was more likely to occur during a daytime visit. In either case, the darkness of night is most likely a metaphor for Nicodemus’s spiritual darkness, located here in close proximity to passages of Scripture which highlight Jesus as the Light of the World. Nicodemus can probably be classified (because of his statement about teachers who are truly from God being able to do miracles) as one of those who “believed” only because of those miracles.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

John 3:3

Why does Jesus basically ignore Nicodemus’s initial statement? Because He “knew what was in” Nicodemus. Nicodemus’s real need wasn’t to find out whether Jesus was a true prophet, or truly sent by God to do miracles, or even to learn from His teaching. His real need was a new hearta new birth – some basis on which He could enter – or even see! – the God of the Kingdom of Whom the Pharisees and their chief leaders thought they were the closest and the best representatives!

Or in Which a Christian May S.W.I.M.

January 25, 2019 at 11:04 am | Posted in Quotes | Leave a comment
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Scripture is a brook from which a lamb may drink and an ocean in which an elephant can drown.

Wilhelmus á Brakel

But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

John 4:14

Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?

Jeremiah 23:29

The Father of Lights

October 9, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Posted in John, Q&A | 4 Comments
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Question: I can understand why God would be called the “Father of Light,” but why is He called the Father of lights (plural) in James 1:17?

Answer: That’s one of my favorite verses.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

James 1:17 (emphasis added)

Although the word “light” is found frequently in the New Testament, the plural “lights” is used only four times.

The first time, it is a translation of the Greek word lychnos, which was the generic word for mobile lights. Back in Bible times it would have been used to describe candles or lamps, which could be carried around to light up dark areas or rooms. I imagine it would be the ancient equivalent of our modern flashlights.

Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning;

Luke 12:35 (emphasis added)

The second time, “lights” is from lampas, meaning torches. These could have been for outdoor or indoor use, including traveling at night, or to illuminate meetings where people gathered after dark. Think of the angry villagers who came after Frankenstein’s monster to terrorize him with fire.

torches

And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.

Acts 20:8 (emphasis added)

The third time plural “lights” is used, it is a translation of the word phoster, which has a connotation of objects that burn with their own, self-generated light.

That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;

Philippians 2:15 (emphasis added)

The word you are asking about – “lights” in James 1:17 – is a translation of the Greek word phos, a shorter form of phoster, and which emphasizes lights that are used for the express purpose of revelation – revealing through illumination that which was previously hidden by darkness.

In its context, James 1:17 supports the truth that, although Christians will be tempted severely by the lusts of our own flesh, we may not blame God for these temptations. He – and every gift He sends down to us from on high – is perfectly good, and His immutability makes it impossible that He could fail to do what is right.

Therefore, although I can’t say for certain exactly why the Holy Spirit inspired James to use the plural “lights” when describing our Heavenly Father’s perfection, benevolence, and blessed immutability, I suspect it has to do with all the different types of light – both literal/physical and spiritual/metaphorical – we see in Scripture as coming from, or representative of, Him.

For instance, God is the Creator-Father of all the celestial bodies, including the Sun and the stars which light up the sky both at night, and in the day.

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

Genesis 1:14 (emphasis added)

God is the Father of all wisdom, which is symbolized by light, even to the extent that we refer to an exceptionally intelligent person as “brilliant.”

I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.

Daniel 5:14 (emphasis added)

God is the Father of Truth itself (Himself).

But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

John 3:21 (emphasis added)

God is the Father of the Light of the World.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

John 1:4-9 (emphasis added)

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

John 8:12 (emphasis added)

God is the Father of our inheritance, as His children, of light.

Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

Colossians 1:12 (emphasis added)

God is certainly the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and His chosen, redeemed, and sanctified people, and in that sense, among many others, can it be said with joy, reverence, awe, and praise that He is the Father of Lights.

Reunion, Restoration, Regeneration, Reconciliation, and Rejoicing

August 29, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Posted in Jeremiah | 4 Comments
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In Jeremiah Chapter 31 there is a promise of reunion – of God reuniting His people. Judah (the southern kingdom – consisting of only two of the twelve tribes) would be restored after 70 years, but Israel (the northern kingdom, consisting of the other ten tribes) would one day (a day which is still in the future even for us) be reunited with Judah and also restored.

At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. Thus saith the LORD, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest.

Jeremiah 31:1-2 (emphasis added)

You will note that division and separation and factions do not generally make God happy. The casting out of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden had an element of protecting grace in it, but it was not a blessing. The dispersal at the Tower of Babel was deemed necessary by God, but it was also a judgment against the people’s sin. Unity must be unified around Truth, but God does desire a true unity among His people. I hope you are more of a uniter than a divider.

The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.

Jeremiah 31:3

God’s love is revealed to be the motivating attribute behind His “call.” To “draw” is a more forceful term than it sounds like in modern English. It has the connotation of dragging something along by force, or pulling back the string on a bow-and-arrow. However, it is tempered with lovingkindness. How can someone be forcefully dragged into a covenant or relationship with God and experience it as not only “kindness” but “lovingkindness?” The answer lies here:

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jeremiah 31:31-33 (emphasis added)

The creation of a new heart makes God’s irresistible drawing into an act of lovingkindess, and He loves with an everlasting love (v. 3) because His attributes include immutability, and He is making an everlasting covenant.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 (emphasis added)

What sort of emotions and attitudes will this New Covenant usher in?

Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: thou shalt again be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry.

Jeremiah 31:4

There will be dancing.

Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the LORD, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.

Jeremiah 31:12-13

There will be singing (the kind without sorrow).

This sounds like real joy. We who are blessed to know the reality of the fulfillment of the New Covenant probably don’t express our joy in the Lord as often as we should.

“Saved” as a Term of Art

August 1, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Posted in Salvation | 2 Comments
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“Saved” has, for the last several decades, been the common Baptist and evangelical term for someone who has believed the Gospel and trusted Christ to forgive his/her sins, and called upon Him to give him/her eternal life. Because it has the “ed” on the end, it sounds better grammatically as a past-tense word: “Have you BEEN saved?” But it is has become so common that we see it frequently used to describe a present-tense condition: “ARE you saved?” It can be synonymous with the terms: “born again;” “redeemed;” “converted;” “Christian;” “regenerated;” and “believer.” And, while one of its faults may lie in the fact that Christians who use it commonly can forget that non-Christians don’t really know what we mean when we use it, it IS a Bible term:

And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?

Mark 10:26

Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,

Luke 13:23

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

John 3:17

And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Acts 2:21

Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Acts 2:47

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Acts 4:12

And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Acts 16:31

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Romans 10:9

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Romans 10:13

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it unto us which is the power of God.

I Corinthians 1:18

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

Ephesians 2:8

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Titus 3:5

…. and many, many other verses. It is not very likely that someone these days will come up to you out of the blue and ask if you are saved, but, if someone does, AND IF YOU IN FACT ARE, then you should treasure that opportunity to affirm the great undeserved gift that Christ has given you in rescuing you from paying the price for your sins for all eternity.

Can I be Born Again and Still Commit Sins?

April 4, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Posted in Q&A | 2 Comments
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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.

Do Some Christians Irritate You or Make You Feel Uncomfortable?

May 31, 2017 at 3:30 pm | Posted in John, Social Media Shares and Mass Emails | 5 Comments
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If you are truly a Christian, and if you, by God’s grace and with His help, try to live in accordance with what the Bible says, there is a high probability that you will be getting (at some time, for some reason) on someone’s nerves. That’s just the way it is in a fallen world. People who are immersed in the system of this world, because of its love of sin and its opposition to Christ Himself, and because of the influence of our arch-nemesis Satan, will not be comfortable in the presence of those who try to live righteously.

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

John 3:19-20

Christians should expect this type of annoyance from pagans and heathens and professing atheists. But what about those who claim to be Christians, but don’t do the things you would expect to see Christians doing on a regular basis? Do you know some “Christians” who don’t attend church? Who don’t read the Bible? Who don’t participate in public prayer? Who think that adultery and fornication and divorce are just fine? Who support gay mirage and abortion and cross-dressing and transexual “rights?” Who love to hear and tell crude sexual jokes and like to lace their language with profanity? What do these “Christians” have against those of us who recognize the sinfulness of those things, and who are at least trying to stop doing them, and who have the gall to state in public that Christians OUGHT NOT to be doing them?

It’s hard to know for sure, but the one common theme I’ve heard in response to this inquiry is, “I don’t like feeling judged.” As you read this, does that statement describe you? Does the person minding his own business reading his Bible in public bother you just a little? Are you irked when someone suggests giving thanks for the meal just as you’re digging in with an eager fork? Are you SO “put off” by people who post Bible verses and links to “preachy” articles on their social media? When that one co-worker or family member who doesn’t curse enters the room, does it put a slight damper on the conversation for you? Or that family whose kids attend Christian school, even though they’ve never criticized you for sending your kids to public school – do they just sort of make you sick with their holier-than-thou attitude? Would you just rather not be around people who insist on talking about how Jesus died for our sins?

If you are one of those who just don’t care all that much for religious people or for people who put their Chrsitian beliefs out there for everyone to see, let me politely encourage you to reconsider what it is that might be bothering you. It could very well be the conviction of the Holy Spirit, or it might be your not-quite-completely-calloused conscience. In other words, your attitude about Christians who live consistently with what they claim they believe might say more about you than it does about them.

If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

John 15:18-19

An unjust man is an abomination to the just: and he that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked.

Proverbs 29:27

After all, if your eternal destination hinges on actually and truly believing that the Son of God came down from Heaven to be tortured and crucified so that you could be set free from sin, then where will you be going when you die, knowing that you didn’t even have enough gratitude to change the way you lived for Him?

For those of us who sometimes feel left out because we are not invited to the party where the drinks will be flowing freely, or because our families will get together for weddings, funerals, anniversaries, reunions, and birthday parties, but not for worship services, let’s not be discouraged, and, at the same time, let’s not be offended by those who are (even subtly) offended by us.

That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;

Philippians 2:15

Let not then your good be evil spoken of:

Romans 14:16

Let’s watch our attitudes, words, and actions in such a way that, at least, they will not be able to call us hypocrites. The Lord may be using us to bring the Truth to those who are nominal, but not actual, “Christians.” As Matthew Henry wrote, “… take heed of doing any thing which may give occasion to others to speak evil, either of the Christian religion in general, or of your Christian liberty in particular. The Gospel is your good; the liberties and franchises, the privileges and immunities, granted by it, are your good; your knowledge and strength of grace to discern and use your liberty in things disputed are your good, a good which the weak brother hath not. Now let not this be evil spoken of. It is true we cannot hinder loose and ungoverned tongues from speaking evil of us, and of the best things we have; but we must not (if we can help it) give them any occasion to do it.”

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