Posts Tagged ‘Faith

31
May
12

preaching about suicide

First of all, a further apology for such a time between posts.  Productivity is likely to remain low over the next couple of months so apologies again in advance.

On a recent Sunday past, a group of students from a nearby Bible College were responsible for our Morning Bible Hour.  Their preacher was a young Dutchman who  spoke ably.  His topic was interesting, indeed arresting.  He spoke in a general and pastoral way on Psalm 23 and made a number of pertinent comments.  He related the Psalm to a very personal and moving account of his young, pregnant sister-in-law’s tragic suicide some three years previously.

The juxtaposing of Psalm 23 and the suicide of a confessing believer in Christ was startling and provocative.

Psalm 23 extols God’s providential care of his people.  David, a literal shepherd in his youth and in his adult life, as King of Israel, a shepherd of a different sort (for kings in Israel were regularly described as shepherds of God’s people), confesses rightly and humbly, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd’.  The Psalm extols the shepherding care of God in David’s life.  Whether in pleasant times (when led by still waters) or difficult dark times (in the valley of the shadow of death) the Lord is his protector and keeper.  David need fear no evil.  Indeed in the very midst of his enemies, when threatened on every side, David’s faith depicts the Lord seating him at a banquet; the Lord’s provision makes a mockery of his enemies and every fearful situation.  David is safe in the epicentre of the storm because the Lord provides abundantly.

The question hangs begging in the air.  Why then did the young Dutchman’s sister-in-law commit suicide?  If God protects his people then why did he not prevent this young mother (and mother-to-be) from self harm?  Where is the God who gives banquets to his troubled and beleaguered people?

It would be a foolish person who did not see that here we are in deep waters.  Deep waters for faith that is.  This kind of topic is neither easy (or safe) to preach or post on for not only is suicide a subject that sends a chill down the spine of most but, more pertinently, who knows whether those who hear or read are themselves contemplating suicide or have a relative who has taken this tragic course. Discoursing on suicide means we must be particularly conscious of our audience.

So what points ought preachers to make when grappling with the subject of suicide of a believer?  Let me suggest a few.

1.  Preachers should stress the need for those who feel suicidal to see their doctor, and soon.  Many suicides arise from clinical depression.  Clinical depression is an illness that drastically skews our thinking.  It is not merely the normal experience of being down in the dumps.    People who are clinically depressed are unable to raise their mood however hard they try.   For whatever reason something has ceased functioning as it ought in their brain or nervous system that results in a mind flooded with dark thoughts and a mood that is deeply depressed and perhaps anxious.  They have a sustained disturbance of mood that is tangible, abnormal, and profoundly affecting their sense of well-being.  Medical attention can help dramatically.  The depression and symptoms can be treated (and significantly alleviated) and the underlying cause diagnosed and tackled.  Clinical depression is pathological; it is an illness and should be recognised as such.

Preachers should stress that just as a heart condition or blood pressure or a broken leg requires medical treatment (and perhaps lifestyle change) so too does clinical depression.  The depressed person is as clinically ill as is the person with say angina.  And while there may be spiritual issues that the illness reveals or creates (as there may be in any illness) the whole story is not likely to be spiritual.  The advice to see their GP soon and speak openly must be clear and unambiguous.  Where symptoms of depression or anxiety are persisting and are moderate to severe in intensity a visit to the doctor is a must and preachers must avoid suggesting the whole matter is spiritual and must be handled at that level.

Let me say it once again, preachers who preach about suicide and depression and other depression related topics must impress, as part of their message, the value of visiting the doctor, to fail to do so is irresponsible.  Medical attention can help dramatically.

2.  Preachers should not pronounce whether the person who has committed suicide is presently in heaven or hell.  They should avoid this for reasons both theological and pastoral.  They should avoid pronouncements for the simple reason that they do not know.  Preachers simply do not have the authority to pontificate for the Bible gives no sure word on this. Preachers have no theological mandate.

At one time the almost uniform view was that no suicide has eternal life.  Nowadays the opposite view prevails.  Preachers tend to fall over themselves to assure those who grieve that their loved one is in heaven. Such diametrically opposing views exist because pastors go beyond what Scripture reveals. On the one hand those in Scripture who commit suicide (like Saul and Judas Iscariot) are hardly comforting company.  It is those faithful unto death who are promised the crown of life (Rev 2:10).  Scripture affirms that it is those who stand firm to the end who are saved (Matt 24:13).  Endurance in faith is a hallmark of the redeemed (Hebs 6:11; Cf Rev 13:10). At the same time, God is not unrighteous and will not forget their work and love (Hebs 6:10).  More could be said here but for brevity’s sake I shall say no more.

Save this…

Pastorally it is disastrous to affirm those who commit suicide will be in heaven.  For the believer in the audience with suicidal thoughts such cavalier assurances act like green lights.  For some, the only brake on suicide is the worry that they may end up somewhere worse.  This is a healthy fear and is no bad deterrent and preachers should not undermine it by pronouncing where they have no word from the Lord.

Where the Bible remains silent we should remain silent.  In this way we avoid encouraging possible suicides or devastating grieving relatives and we stay within the bounds of ‘it is written’.

3.  Preachers should make clear that suicide is always an expression of a collapse of faith.  I imagine I hear shocked protest.  However, we must be blunt and unambiguous.  It is never faith that leads to suicide.  Faith trusts God.  It never gives up.  It never despairs.  It never loses hope.  Faith endures.  Suicide results from a loss of hope.  It flows from despair.  It happens when the pain (emotional or physical) is so great that the person no longer believes the resources are available to cope with it. When pain exceeds pain-coping resources, suicidal feelings are the result.  To believe we have no resources is the essence of unbelief.

Now it may be that the mind which commits suicide is so overwhelmed and distorted that all personal responsibility is gone.  None of us knows – only God knows.

I speak about this subject with some personal insight.  I have known deep depression that created suicidal thoughts.  I know others who have similarly suffered from depression and experienced suicidal thoughts.  In my case, profound and deep though the depression was, insistently mind-altering though it was, I did not lose completely the sense of personal responsibility and accountability. Indeed it was faith asserted when I did not understand and when my mind was screaming otherwise that preserved me.   To have succumbed to suicidal thoughts would only have been possible had I finally (however briefly) abandoned faith.

Perhaps there are depths of depression where such abandonment is inevitable and leave the person without any responsibility for their actions.  I do not know… and neither do you.  What we can say, is whether faith is abandoned knowingly (and so culpably) or otherwise, it is nevertheless abandoned and it is this that frees the person to commit suicide.  Where there is clinging faith there is hope and no suicide.

Of course, the person who commits suicide may have such distorted thinking that he believes he is doing the best/right/believing thing.  He is convinced he is a burden on others etc.  We should be clear (and preachers should make clear)that such ‘convictions’ are not true faith but a deception of Satan.  Again, true faith clings to God and what Scripture has revealed even when the mind and spirit are being swamped by all kinds of deceptive lies.

Again, I ask, is there a point at which the lies become so overwhelming, so compelling, that all personal responsibility is gone?  Only God knows.  But one way or another, either culpably or otherwise, faith has collapsed and the preacher, let me repeat, should make clear that this is the case.  We do none any favours by shielding them from this harsh reality.

This collapse of personal faith by the suicide is what helps us make sense – at least to some extent – of the tension that seems to exist between the announcement of Psalm 23 that God is the shepherd who protects his people and the suicide of a believer.  Why does David feel secure when threatened on every side?  Is it because he is super-brave?  No.  It is because of his faith.  It is because David believes that the Lord is his Shepherd that he is strong in spirit and stands firm.  It his resolve to believe and trust that gives him strength and resilience.  If his faith were to collapse then David would be overwhelmed and crushed.

Yes the Lord keeps his people but he keeps them through faith (Roms 11:30).  It is faith that gives us victory (1 Jn 5:4).  It is the shield of faith that defends us against the fiery destructive darts of Satan (Eph 6).  It is faith that enables us to endure (Hebs 11:27, 12:3; Rev 13:10).  Where there is faith there is endurance and divine keeping and protection.  It is those who trust the Lord promises to keep.  Not those who trusted in the past but those who trust now.  While we trust we are invincible.  When we trust we shall never be put to shame.  It is when we cease to trust we fall and sometimes catastrophically.

Of course, this does not answer all questions.  We are still left asking why the Lord allows faith to collapse.  Why did he allow the Dutch preachers sister-in-law to commit suicide or for that matter the preacher who married my wife and I?  But that question is but one of a whole parcel of such questions.  Why did he allow the young child prayed for and loved to die?  Why did he allow the cancer that took away a loving and needed father?  Why did he allow the pastor to commit adultery?  Why the genocide in Rwanda, the killing fields of Cambodia, the WW2 concentration camps?  Why did he permit Job to lose all that he had?  Indeed the most basic question of all – why did he permit Adam to sin?

To these questions no answer is given.  Such questions are too wonderful for us.  We are but creatures and God alone is the Creator.   In him alone are found the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Like Job we may in our confusion and pain question God and even, fools that we are, impugn his righteousness.  But like Job we will finally need to learn that God is God and we are but men.  We will need to hear the Lord say to us tenderly but firmly,

Job 40:1-8 (ESV)
And the Lord said to Job:  “Shall a fault-finder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” … “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?

Like Job we will need to humble ourselves and discover that what faith really requires is not answers but a fresh vision of God himself, a fresh realization that God is trustworthy even when we are in the dark, that God is righteous and every man a liar and unrighteous.  Then like Job we will confess,

Job 42:3-6 (ESV)
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

In Christ, we have a far greater grasp of the ‘godness’ of God than Job had.  We have far more reason to trust unconditionally. And faith does this; it trusts Christ because of all he is and is content to forego understanding in a host of other areas.

The preacher who discusses suicide will want to make this point, and the previous ones, and perhaps others that I have not considered.  Are there any you feel ought to be included?

03
Mar
12

lent…or the ashes of judaism that deface christianity

intro

Lent is the forty days before Easter in the Christian liturgical Calendar.  It starts with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday.  It is traditionally celebrated in the West by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans.  Until fairly recently, for most evangelicals, the very hint of liturgical calendars and days like ‘Ash Wednesday’ and ‘Holy Thursday’ would have been enough for them to run a million miles.  No longer.  Liturgical calendars are de rigueur.  Evangelicals are outing as ‘liturgy-men’ and proud of it.  Celebrating Lent is where it is at in modern spirituality.  A cursory glance at many evangelical websites will make this plain.   Goodness, even Michael Horton has jumped on the bandwagon.  Everyone’s loving lent.

Have conservative evangelicals got it wrong all these years?  Have they been too strict, too stuffy, and too legalistic (an ironic claim in this context if ever there was one)?  Do we need to invest in the ‘Big Tradition’ and rediscover these disciplines?  I guess, my tone in writing so far will reveal where I stand on this issue.  I am appalled at how casually evangelicals are buying into traditions that are essentially Judaistic and sub-Christian.  At best these are a pointless distraction but the reality is much worse; they are actually an indulgence of ‘fleshly’ religion which draws away from Christ.  Strong words, I know.  Not likely to please many.  Such sentiments will be castigated as intolerant and narrow-minded for sure.

Let me say, at the outset, I don’t mean to be unkind or harsh.  As Brian McLaren would protest, how can a mild-mannered guy like me ever be misunderstood in this kind of way?  In fact, if Lenten-men were simply those who have observed it for centuries then I probably would have said nothing.  However, when those who were traditionally free from this kind of childishness (a word I shall later justify), even slavery (another word I shall endeavour to defend), begin to lapse into religious shadows that in Christ are fulfilled and abandoned, I feel compelled to protest.  I am jealous that Christ is being lost in the paraphernalia of human religiosity.  Indeed, all who grasp what it is to be a believer who has died and risen with Christ ought to be jealous for Christ’s glory and care deeply when they see believers submitting to what Scripture calls ‘weak and worthless elements‘  and being enslaved by them (Gals 4:8).

Paul writes, in a context closely allied to the matter in question (rites, rituals and regulations),

Gal 3:1-5 (ESV)
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain-if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith.

The Galatian Judaizers were advocating Christ plus the Mosaic Law, and especially its emphasis on rites (Gals 5:2, 6:12), purity laws (Gal 2: 11), and liturgical calendars (Gal 4:10).  For Paul, the whole methodology and minutiae of the Law, symbolised in circumcision, was addressed to man in the flesh and not the Spirit; it is a methodology (a religion) for flesh (Gals 3:3, 4:21-31; 6:12) that is fulfilled and finished in Christ.  It is my conviction that adopting liturgical calendars, special festivals, dietary laws, symbols of penance and self-humiliation, and bodily self-denial rites as an end in themselves or as part of a religious calendar is to embrace the old covenant of law as a means of relationship with God and is seriously regressive in our walk with God (whatever protests are made to the contrary).  When the Christians of Galatia are tempted to do this, Paul says, ‘I am afraid I have laboured over you in vain‘ (Gals 4:11).  In accepting these principles of law ‘Christ will be no advantage to them‘ (Gals 5:2).  Thus the Galatians are urged,

Gal 5:1 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery

Of course, those evangelicals who advocate Christian Calendars are at pains to point out that liturgical observances do not save.  They do not affect our justification or standing before God.  Nor are they to be imposed as a rule upon the church, but are a matter of Christian freedom.  Indeed, the legalist, it seems, is someone like me who opposes rites and rituals, certainly any promotion of them. I am apparently denying freedom in Christ to those who wish to worship and serve as they wish.  The irony is rich.  For, of course, it is precisely those who promote such practices that Paul regards as legalists.  Indeed it must be so, for they are promoting OT law not NT gospel; if you promote law you are ipso facto a legalist.

no nt mandate

Show me one text from the NT epistles teaching that Christians should live by religious calendars, or dietary laws, or observe special feasts, or abstain from foods, and so on.  It cannot be done.  Such rules and regulations in the NT are conspicuous by their absence, which is singularly odd because one would expect that if such disciplines are so helpful  the NT would be replete with exhortations to pursue them.  But it is not, for they are not (helpful).  The silence of Scripture here is deafening.

They do not ‘save’, their evangelical protagonists agree.  Yet, if this is so, and it is, why commend them?  If I can grow in my Christian life fully without religious rules and rituals, and I clearly can since the NT never advocates them, then what is their purpose?  Moreover, we should not be so confident that these ‘disciplines’ will remain a matter of ‘freedom’ in the consciences of those who embrace them.  The witness of history and Scripture is against this.  What begins as voluntary soon becomes established tradition and finally binding truth.  Whatever we give ourselves to we become slaves to (Roms 6:16).

It is little wonder Paul is so opposed.  He has great patience and sympathy with people who have been converted from legalistic religion.  He bears with weak consciences in Jewish converts who cannot feel free to eat certain meats etc.  He knows it can take time for these consciences to find their full freedom in the gospel (Roms 14,15).  Yet he is in no doubt that these consciences are ‘weak’.  They are not gospel-trained consciences fully aware of their freedom (from religious legalistic observances) in Christ.  However, while he bears with weak consciences, he has no patience for those who promote and teach the value of ritualism to others.  He is opposed to this root and branch and challenges any teaching that suggests or imposes such practices.  There is simply no freedom given in the NT to promote and champion Judaistic practices however ‘Christianized’.  The reality is, that there is no such thing as ‘Christianized’ Judaism (or at least the only version is its fulfilment and finish in Christ) only ‘Judaized’ Christianity.

Some of the above is contention I have not yet proved.  Let me regroup before engaging.

I am opposing religious calendars, man-made rules, and religious rites for holiness for two reasons:

  • because the NT nowhere recommends or suggests them for the life of godliness.
  • because the NT actually opposes them and suggests they deflect us from Christ.

I have made the case for my first contention, follow me as I now make the case more fully for my second contention: the NT actually opposes them and suggests they deflect from Christ.

colossians 2:1-3:4

The key NT text refuting calendars and man-made religious disciplines for holiness is Colossians 2/3.  I urge you to read this text carefully and prayerfully.  It is a clear and powerful criticism of all attempts to introduce religious ritualism into Christianity.  Below, I want to outline its main thrust and thesis.

christianity is christ

Paul’s central and vital point in this chapter  (and in Colossians as a whole) is that Christianity is essentially a relationship with Christ by faith.  Everything that matters is found in Christ alone.  Christ is supreme (Col 1:15-21).  God’s great revealed secret, hidden in the past (in OT events, figures etc) is Christ (2:2).  In Him, lie all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3).  Further this revealed secret is that Christ lives in God’s people (1:27).  This union between Christ and his people is the sum of what the gospel and Christianity is all about.  As Paul writes,

Col 2:6-7 (ESV)
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught…

Living in our union with Christ is the be-all-and-end-all of Christianity.  We are ‘filled’  or ‘complete’ in Him, the one in whom God’s fullness dwells (2:9,10).  We have no more than Christ and need no more than Christ.  Indeed there is no more than Christ (Col 1:15-19).  Paul reminds us too that this union is a union of death and resurrection.  That is, to be united to Christ is to participate (by faith and through the Spirit) in the death and resurrection of Christ (2:8-11).  Like Christ we have died to this world (and so, as we shall see, to all its religious observances) and live in resurrection life to God.  Our ‘life is hid with Christ in God’ (Cols 3:3).  This means that Christ in heaven is the source, story and raison d’etre of our life.  We find and enjoy life as we set our affections on Christ in heaven.  As we put to death what is earthly (living for the things of this world as well as the sins of this world) and set our minds and hearts on the invisible world perceived only by faith we triumph in faith.  This, and this alone, enables us to grow in grace.  In this way alone ( looking to Christ in heaven and putting to death what is earthly) are we, ‘filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.’ (Col 1:9,10).

This is what it means to be ‘connected to the head’ (Cf 2:19).  To live other than by the faith union that puts to death what is earthy and lives by a heart absorbed with Christ in heaven is to fail to ‘hold fast to the head’ (2:19) and results in being ‘disqualified’ (2:8); or, in Galatian language,in being ‘severed from Christ’ (Gals 5:4).  It should be obvious that if we look elsewhere other than to Christ as the source of our life and power we are cutting the link of faith.   Only by a conscious living in, looking at, and living for Christ can we become ‘mature in Christ’ (Col 1:28).

false routes

Paul does not urge that the Colossians live in Christ in a vacuüm.  He writes because some were teaching otherwise.

Col 2:4 (ESV)
I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments...

syncretism

What precisely the Colossian heresy was need not concern us here.  Scholars delight in discussing such matters but rarely reach final conclusions.  In any case, the main components are clear and it is these that interest us.  It was a mixture of philosophy (2:8), mysticism (2:18) and Judaism (2:8, 11, 14, 16,17).  Singly, and as a whole Paul is opposed to these influences on Christian life and practice.  He says they ‘delude’ (2:4) for they are based on ‘plausible arguments’ (2:4).  They appear to promote sanctity (2:23) yet are merely ‘empty deceit… human tradition… elemental spirits of the world… having an appearance of wisdom… self-made religion… things on earth… not according to Christ’ and more  (Col 2:8, 20-23, 3:2).  Paul will have no syncretism of Christ and anything else.

Now, we should underline that what Paul is dismissing is not merely philosophy (what has Athens to do with Jerusalem) and mysticism (what has Eleusis to do with Jerusalem) but also Judaism or the Law (what has Sinai to do with Jerusalem, or better, the New Jerusalem ).  For many this dismissal of Law in Christianity is a bridge too far.  I confess, I do not really understand why.  Paul is consistent and clear in his proclamation that Christians are not ‘under law’ (Roms 6:15; 7:1-6; Gals 4:21; 5:18; 1 Cor 9:20).  While Christians can learn from the Old Covenant as we see how it points to Christ, we are in no way obligated to it.  It has no rights over us or claims upon us.  We are not called to obey it, nor to adopt it in any way.  In fact, we are told that there is a basic incompatibility between the forms of Judaistic Law and Gospel Christianity.  Jesus makes it clear that the gospel cannot be contained in the old forms of religion that belonged to law.

Mark 2:21-22 (ESV)
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins-and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” 

passé

This is vital to grasp.  Paul tells us the difference is profound; the law belongs to the old age and old world while the church belongs to the new age and new world.  It is those ‘alive in this world’ to whom the rules and regulations of law (moral, religious or otherwise) are of any relevance (Col 2:20). But Christians are not ‘alive’ in this world they have ‘died’ (2:11, 3:3) and they live in an age beyond this age and a world beyond this world.  They ought not to ‘submit’ (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) to regulations that belong to human religion (2:20) for they belong to an age which is passé.

earthly

This temporal distinction between the present and the future is tied into a spacial distinction between what is ‘earthly’ and what is ‘heavenly’ in Scripture.  This latter distinction is one that many modern evangelicals are reluctant to admit.  Yet it is clear and vital.  It is part of the distinction between the old and the new, the law and the gospel.  Jesus is ‘from above‘ and brings in a reality that is ‘from above’ (Jn 3:31; 8:23).  ‘Earthly’ things were revealed in the OT but as the one from heaven he reveals ‘heavenly things‘ (Jn 3:12).  Because he is from heaven he returns to heaven and on his return unites his people to him there.  We find our identity not in the earthly Adam but the heavenly Christ, not in the natural but the spiritual (1 Cor 15:45-49).  As a result we are a ‘heavenly people’ (Eph 1:20; 2:6) and our interests are to do with the realm where Christ our life is found (Gals 4:26; Col 3:1,2; Hebs 3:1; 11:6; 12:2).  The Law and its forms are ‘earthly’ and part of the elementary principles of ‘this world’.  They are merely an earthly copy or shadow of heavenly things (Hebs 8:5; 9:23). Thus they have nothing to do with the believer who is not ‘alive in this world’ but shares the resurrection life of Christ, a spiritual and heavenly life (Col 2:8-11).  This distinction is wrongly dismissed as dualistic and gnostic by some who should know better.  It is not.  It is the plain teaching of Scripture.  Ritual and rite are not merely passé but also unable to lift the soul above this world.  They cannot remove us from the realm of ‘flesh’.

fleshly, childish, enslaving, and inadequate

The law is Judaism. It belongs to the first creation, the earthly, the natural, this world.  It is called by Paul ‘the elemental spirits of the world’ (2:8).  Paul similarly describes the law in Galatians. He writes,

Gal 4:1-5 (ESV)

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

His point is that Law, as a religion, functions much like a ‘disciplinarian’ or ‘nanny’.  These are hired to oversee children and in the past were expected to do so with firm discipline; they did not so much teach as control.  Law as the above text points out treated those under it as infants, as childish.

Although God-given, it was given to man in the ‘flesh’ (Roms 7:1-6; Gals 3:3; Cf Hebs 7:16; 9:13,14).  It was a ‘religion’ that attempted to curtail and curb human behaviour by external rules and religious regulations but it could dig no deeper.  It could not change hearts.  It could not give life (though it promised it for obedience) and it could not produce holiness.  When Israel was exiled the failure of law to influence flesh was proved.  This is why Paul says of law and all religion that is about undertaking rules, regulations, ritualistic restrictions that it are ‘of no value in preventing the indulgence of the flesh‘.  Mark these words well for they are very important.  However, holy and virtuously self-denying many rites and rituals seem to be THEY ARE OF NO VALUE IN PREVENTING THE INDULGENCE OF THE FLESH.   They may deny the body but they could not curb ‘the flesh’, that Adamic nature we have so opposed to God.  This is true of the rites not only of the law or Judaism but of every other religion.  In fact, from this perspective, Paul puts the Law or Judaism on the same level playing field as all other religions.  They all are elementary or rudimentary.  Paul tells the gentile Galatian believers who are being encouraged by Judaizers to embrace the Jewish Law that they would be as well going back to their old pagan religions for the law was no more effectual than they.

Gal 4:8-11 (ESV)
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. 

Let the force of this sink in.  In Galatians, Paul uses two plural pronoun groups, ‘we’ and ‘you’.  ‘We’ applies to Jewish believers and ‘you’ to gentile believers.  In Ch 4:1-5 he speaks of ‘we’.  We Jews, he observes, were enslaved to the law (the elemental principles of the world). In 4-8-11 the gentiles were enslaved to their false religions; however, if having being freed from these they now embrace the Law then this is tantamount to a return to their old religions; they are turning back to ‘weak and worthless elementary principles of the world’ and to slavery once again.  Paul’s comparison shocks and is intended so to do.

It is impossible to read Gals 3:21 – 4-11 and avoid the conclusion that those who submit (freely or otherwise) to the law and its ordinances are regressing to what is childish and enslaving.  They believe they are embracing something new and exciting, something progressive and fresh, something that may help them to be holy and godly, but actually they are embracing what is weak, worthless and inferior.  Satan’s sardonic irony as he deludes is keen.

Neither human philosophy nor religious mysticism, nor rites, nor ascetic practices enable us to grow in grace.  None enables us to know God.  It’s no good claiming that these regulations were Jewish rather than Christian rules and regulations.  Jewish regulations and rites were God-ordained religious observances (indeed the only God-ordained ones) and pointed to Christ but they were merely shadows not the substance (2:17).  The substance was Christ.  If we want shadows of the gospel rather than the substance then Jewish ceremonies is the way to go.  None we invent improves on those God gave.  But Paul’s criticism is not of this or that particular liturgical calendar.  It is not specific Jewish days, months and sabbaths to which he objects (though sabbaths clearly shows these were law-based since none but Jews had sabbaths).  It is not certain diets and ascetic techniques he objected to.  He objects to the whole methodology per se.  The methodology was passé, earth-bound, childish,enslaving and inadequate.  Methodologically these rituals were of no value in preventing the indulgence of the flesh.  Indeed, they did the very thing that was the problem – they focussed on the flesh.  Law in any shape or form does not deny flesh, it excites it and promotes it (Roms 7).

Law and all human religion focus on the flesh and have confidence in it (Phil 3:3,4)  This is Paul’s constant criticism of the Judaizers.  They focussed on flesh, whether its status (Phil 3:2-5) or its performance (Phil 3:6).  Circumcision (the symbol of the Judaizers) was all about the flesh (Phil 3:2; Gals 6:12).  For Paul, circumcision epitomised the flesh because it was circumcision of the body and not the heart.  It is what a man did to himself and for himself.  In this circumcision was an appropriate symbol of law which was essentially a covenant of works, of human achieving.  The gospel, by contrast, is ‘circumcision without hands‘ that is, it is by and of God not man (Col 2:11).  The circumcision of the gospel happens at the cross when we die with Christ to the law and its ordinances (Col 2:14).   It is an act of God that removes all human involvement and so all human boasting.

We need to see that self-denial programmes of ‘touch not, taste not and handle not’ are fusty and futile.  The Law and Judaism was full of such prohibitions at certain times in the religious calendar yet they did no good whatever; the nation that had the law crucified its Messiah.  Indeed, Messiah himself teaches that it is not what goes into a man (the food he chooses to eat or not to eat) that defiles but what comes out of his heart (Matt 15:1-20).

Artificially imposed times and programmes of repentance and ascetic self-denial and the like all focus on self.   If we succeed they puff us up with pride and if we fail we feel defeated.   Nowadays they tend to be about giving up chocolates or alcohol or some other luxury related to the body.  For those more serious about their faith they may mean self-imposed severe bodily deprivation.  But whether the dilettante denials of the modern evangelical or the more serious denials of the older ascetics the result is the same – no effect in restraining the indulgence of the flesh, merely a means of focus on it (Cols 2:23).  Flesh (fallen human nature) loves to act piously (and to be seen to do so either by others or self).  It loves to appear humble and focus on its achievements, religious or otherwise. So rather than subduing the flesh these ‘ordinances’ satisfy the flesh. Thus they are not merely passé, earth-bound, infantile and futile, but counter-productive.  In addition,and perhaps most damning of all, they utterly fail to come to terms with the position of a believer in Christ.   Those who promote them have not grasped that growth in holiness is not by looking at self and undertaking various ascetic disciplines but by looking away from self and focussing on an exalted reigning Christ.

christianity is christ

What draws me away from the world and focus on self is not my body on earth but Christ in heaven.  As I love him, look at him, live in him (and he in me) then I have the power to put to death what is earthly.  It is the expulsive power of a new affection.  Christ, and only Christ, is our wisdom, justification, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor 1:29).  Holding fast to the head is the only means of grace (Col 2:19).  The moment I put something else between, whatever shape this may assume, I am not holding fast to the head.  The hallmark of the ‘true circumcision’ is simply this- ‘it rejoices in Jesus Christ and makes no provision for the flesh‘ (Phil 3:3).  The question for all of us is simply, is Christ all?.  If Christ is not all then there is no maturity, only flesh.  Fathers in the faith (the spiritually mature) are recognised by this – they ‘know him who is from the beginning’ (1 John 2:14).  Paul’s cry of spiritual maturity is for Christ and yet more of Christ (Phil 3:8-16).  He did not want types and shadows, rules and religious observances; he wanted Christ.  He recognised in Christ he had everything and without him he had nothing.  The heart of a believer is satisfied and enraptured only by Christ.  In him, we have, ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness‘ (2 Pet 1:3).  Toplady is one among many who has expressed this in hymn.

Compared with CHRIST, in all beside
No comeliness I see;
The one thing needful, dearest LORD,
Is to be one with Thee.
Whatever else Thy will withholds,
Here grant me to succeed!
O let Thyself my portion be,
And I am blest indeed!
 
Loved of my GOD, for Him again
With love intense I burn;
Chosen of Thee ere time began,
I choose Thee in return!
Less than Thyself will not suffice
My comfort to restore;
More than Thyself I cannot have;
And Thou canst give no more.

to summarise

Allow me to once again briefly regroup.

Liturgical calendars with their special seasons and ceremonies are not progress but regress.  They represent a spiritual nose-dive.  Far from maturing, they are a regression to the childish and enslaving.  They do not lead to Christ but detract from Christ.  They are for those in the flesh and not life in the Spirit.  They limit our horizon to earth and do not raise our gaze to heaven.  I have every sympathy for believers raised in churches where Judaistic rites and rituals are taught.  Their consciences should be sensitively considered.  However, I have little sympathy with those who should know better.  I have little patience for evangelicals who have been free of such bondage yet now in the conceit of what they fondly call Christian freedom wish to promote and encourage what is weak and enslaving.  Such teaching receives stiff opposition from Paul (Col 2) and ought to be opposed by all who love freedom in Christ.

Let me say again that freedom in Christ does not mean freedom to worship as we please. Freedom in Christ is freedom to worship in spirit and truth.  It is freedom to live in Christ not shadows. There are forms of worship that are neither helpful nor appropriate for they lead us away from Christ; they disconnect us with the head.  They do not lead us into freedom in Christ but into slavery.  Such forms are neither commanded, commended nor condoned by the NT (Col 2).  That some who profess to be teachers of God’s people do not see this is culpably irresponsible.  We may rightly ask them as Jesus did Nicodemus: are you a teacher in Israel and do not know this?

My heart-felt appeal to my brothers and sisters in Christ is – do not be ‘bewitched’ by them.

a final comment

What then are we to make of fasting?  Doesn’t the NT promote fasting?  And for that matter, what about baptism and the Lord’s Supper?  Are not these ordinances?  These are good questions and I hope to address them.  But not in this post.  This post is already far too long.  I will try to address these questions in the next post.  For the moment, let me say simply this: whatever our questions, don’t allow these to undermine or relativize the plain NT teaching we have explored so far.  To exhort in a specific context: do not choke the living flame of the gospel with the Lenten ashes of Judaism.

25
Jan
12

faith works

09
May
11

questions we must shelve

It has become quite trendy to assume asking questions in the Christian faith is a good thing. And of course by and large it is.  However, not all questions are good.  We saw in the last post that questions ostensibly asked to inquire can really be intended to subvert.  Satan is a master at this type of question.  His, ‘Has God said’, in the garden has been asked a million times since.  The motivation behind a question must be discerned.

Some questions are asked merely to trip up.  Jesus was asked questions he refused to answer because he recognized the motivation was insincere and ulterior.

Luke 20:1-8 (ESV)
One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” 

Some questions are simply not ours as creatures to ask.  The big question we hear people ask is, ‘How can a God of love send billions of people to endless punishment in hell’.  It is essentially the question Jesus was asked by someone as he travelled through Judea and he refused to answer it.

Luke 13:22-24 (ESV)
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

Jesus didn’t answer it because the question was merely philosophical and not related to the inquirers own eternal well-being.  What real business was it of his whether few or many were saved?  What good would it do him to know the answer?  There are issues that belong to the Creator that not ours as creatures to judge or know.  Jesus tells the inquirer the real matter that should concern him is ensuring he is one of the number who are saved – be they many or few.

There is an arrogance and impropriety about the question that asks ‘Can we really believe in a God who consigns billions to hell’.  It is hardly surprising that an improper question pursued leads to conclusions that are as inappropriate and as audacious as the question; irreverent questions lead to irreverent conclusions.  We are told that since many are not converted in this life in the life to come (in hell) they must have further opportunity to repent and believe.  This assumption flies in the face of what Jesus goes on to say.  Having said, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door.’ he proceeds to say, ‘For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.’

But that is another issue for the next post.

21
Feb
11

learning to lean

Not I, but a friend of 'greater faith'.

An illustration

About 30 years ago (can’t believe it is so long ago) I decided to learn to windsurf (or boardsail).  I needed to do something physical for the good of my health and windsurfing seemed sufficiently edgy and ‘cool’ (though I don’t think the word existed then) for a dude like me.  Anyway so much for the rationale.

I am not a natural when it comes to sport (or unfortunately anything else) so learning to windsurf was quite a steep learning curve.  At first it was about matters of basic technique: learning to stand on the board and stay standing; learning to pull up the mast (with sail) and keep it up; learning to know where the wind was coming from; learning not to panic when I fell into the water and a sail landed on top of my head  suffocating me, and so on.

In windsurfing, the first really sweet moment is when everything comes together (more by accident than skill) and you are standing upright, holding the boom, the sail fills with air, and you move forward in a straight line.  I guess when I first managed that I was a windsurfer.

From there many further skills need to develop but the most basic of them is this – learning to trust the sail with your weight.  In windsurfing the sail when full of wind is impossible to hold (through the boom) unless you lean back and act as a counter-weight.  This is the really, really hard thing to do.  It’s not hard physically, but psychologically.

When first learning.  it’s pretty easy (after you’ve mastered a few basics) to stand upright in a light wind and keep the sail upright by simply holding the boom.  In a sense, at this point, you are windsurfing.  You know it is the sail and the wind that matter and you are holding firmly on to both.  You are moving forward travelling through the water more or less going where you intended.   But at the same time you have both feet firmly anchored to the board.  Your trust is divided.   It’s how many of us are in early days of learning to trust God isn’t it?  We know we ought to trust him and to an extent we do, but we are  cautious.  We are timid.  We rely a lot on ourselves for security too.   We are tentatively trusting the sail but should anything seem at all shaky we will quickly fall back on our own resources.

In boardsailing, such a ‘double-minded’ position is unstable in all its ways.  Progress is only possible when weight is transferred from the legs to the sail.  The novice windsurfer has to learn to lean back and trust his weight to the sail.  It’s scary and against every natural instinct but if he doesn’t do so he’ll (she’ll) never survive in anything but the lightest winds and even then everything will be precarious.   Any pressure on the sail, any rise in the wind and a ‘wipeout’ is certain.  Well, the parallel is obvious in’t it.  We make progress in the Christian life as more and more we entrust ourselves to God.  Our confidence must be in God and not ourselves.  We must learn to have ‘no confidence’ in ourselves and every confidence in God.  For it is only as we lean on him and not our own understanding we begin to move forward in the Christian life.   Only then do we find stability and security.  Only then do we begin to ride the waves.

Of course, as we progress, we are able to face more extreme and demanding conditions.  We are able to face mounting waves and winds without ‘wipeout’.  A storm may whip up and the skies become ominous but we are safe and secure in hostile seas because we have learned how to lean.  We have learned to let the sail deal with the difficulties.

Yes, of course the analogy is imperfect, every analogy is.  But it has validity.  As we move from baby steps in Christian living to become more confident Christians God will develop our skills (maturity) in Christian living by placing our lives in more and more exacting conditions.  We will face winds and waves and hostile conditions.  In this way our heavenly Father will deepen our ability to lean by placing us in contexts where more leaning is ever more vital.

The life of faith is a life of leaning.  Faith looks to God in Christ for every resource to enable surfing the sea of life.  The windsurfer could get nowhere without his resources.  The board, the sail, the mast, the boom and lots of other things are the vital factors in sailing.  Without them he cannot even begin.  In the life of faith the story is the same.  All our resources lie outside of ourselves and we are called to trust them and employ them appropriately in the life of faith.  If we do so we will be safe and we will know the deep exhilarating joy  – the abundant life – that is only for those who dare to move out beyond the shallows and learn to lean.

Prov 3:5 (ESV)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, ​​​​​​​and do not lean on your own understanding.

storm leaning

storm leaning... same guy

13
Dec
10

do this and live

The Law, that is, the Sinai Covenant,  in the words of the NT, is ‘not of faith’ (Gals 3:11).  God’s covenant with Abraham relied on God’s promise for its fulfilment received simply by faith (Gals 3:17-19, 22).  Law, by contrast, depends on human ‘works’.  It is a covenant of works and so Paul  speaks regularly of ‘the works of the law’ (Gals 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10; Roms 3:20).  Law and promise are not merely two different covenants they are covenants based on two different principles (Gals 3:18).  Promise rests entirely on righteousness  and life gifted from God while Law depends on righteousness and life gained by man.  Promise requires only faith in the Promise-Maker; Law demands faith in self.    And so Paul juxtaposes ‘the works of the Law and the hearing of faith’ (Gals 3:2)

Despite the NT consistently and clearly presenting the Sinai Covenant as a works covenant many doubt that it is.  It is hard to understand why.  The evidence seems overwhelming.  For instance at the inception of the covenant we read,

Exod 19:1-8 (ESV)
On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”  So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.

The Lord makes clear that the covenant with all its promised blessing (you shall be my treasured possession…) depends on their obedience and faithfulness to the covenant laws.  Israel understood this, for the people rather too self-confidently affirm, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do’.  The covenant depended on works; it was a covenant of ‘he who does shall live’.  That is precisely the point made in Lev 18.

Lev 18:1-5 (ESV)
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

The covenant did not assume obedience as the consequence or effect of life rather it promised it as the cause or means of life.  This law-works perspective of the covenant is repeated regularly through the OT.  When Moses repeats the covenant to the generation of Israel about to enter the Land we read,

Deut 4:1 (ESV)
“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

and again,

Deut 8:1 (ESV)
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.

Life, and life in the Promised Land depended on ‘doing’ the covenant commands.  Moreover, it depended, not in keeping them approximately, but completely.  They must be careful to do, ‘the whole commandment’. The curses of a broken covenant fall on those who fail to do ‘all‘ the commandments of the Lord (Ex 15:26; Lev 26:14,15; Deut 5:29; 6:2; 13:18; 27:26; Gals 3:10).

Ezekiel reiterates the covenant conditions to those of his day.  That life depends on obedience could scarcely be clearer.

Ezek 18:5-9 (ESV)
“If a man is righteous and does what is just and right- if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully-he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.

Indeed, Ezekiel states a principle that Paul reiterates in the NT – that judgement (life or death) is according to works (Roms 2:6-10).

Ezek 18:21-24 (ESV)
“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.

In Ezekiel 20, the Lord tells how Israel had been warned in her infancy that God’s blessing depended on obedience – ‘if a person does them he shall live’ – yet Israel had disobeyed and God’s judgements had fallen on them in the wilderness – that generation did not enter the Land.  In Ezekiel’s day similar failure meant exile from the land; life in the land was contingent on obedience… this do and live.

Ezek 20:10-13 (ESV)
So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned. “Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. (Cf Ezek 20:21)

So unable are Israel to keep the covenant and thus gain life that Ezekiel foresees (as did Moses in Deut 30) a new covenant.  In this New Covenant God would allot by grace what Israel could not achieve by works.

Ezek 37:14 (ESV)
And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

The key point of the New Covenant is that any ‘doing’ that is required, God does it.

Sometimes it is suggested that the life promised in the OT is simply temporal life in the land and not eternal life.  In one sense, this mistake is understandable for the OT perspective on life and death is in the main physical and this-worldly.  However, by the NT, the understanding of life and death has considerably enlarged.  Life in its fulness is ‘eternal life‘ and likewise death, is ‘eternal death‘.  Jesus’ discussion with the lawyer who hoped to trip him makes this plain.

Luke 10:25-28 (ESV)
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.

Notice the context.  It is clear the discussion is framed within the terms of the OT Sinian Covenant.  The lawyer is thinking of life earned through law-keeping.  He speaks in the language of the Law – ‘what must I do’. That he means ‘do‘ in the sense of law-keeping is clear, for Jesus asks what the Law requires and cites the Lev 18 text ‘do this and live’ (Cf. Matt 19:18).  Yet, the lawyer conceives this law-life not merely as temporal but as ‘eternal life’ (cf. Matt 19:16-25).

Furthermore, in the NT letters, when law-life and faith-life are contrasted, the contrast is not that one is temporal and the other eternal but that one is possible and the other impossible.  Righteousness and the ensuing life cannot be attained by Law for law-keeping is impossible.  The Law does not effect righteousness rather it  exposes and excites sin (Roms 3:20; 7:5).  Righteousness and life are always gifts from God (Roms 3:21-26; 5:17) and come only through faith.  And so Paul writes,

Gal 3:11-12 (ESV)
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

and,

Rom 10:5-13 (ESV)
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This last text is an important one.  For here, in NT language, we have the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant to which Ezekiel alluded (Ezek 37) and of which Jeremiah spoke.

Jer 31:31-33 (ESV)
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Obedience is no longer an impossibility (who shall ascend…descend) but entirely possible (the word is near and in your mouth and heart).  In the Roms 10 text, Paul takes a text from the OT (Deut 30) that refers to the Law (old covenant) and speaks of it as gospel (new covenant). How he can do this must wait a future blog.  The purpose of this post is simply to establish, by glancing at the OT, the truth of Paul’s contention that

Gal 3:12 (ESV)
… the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”


23
Oct
10

eschatology precedes everything

In theology eschatology comes first. That is, in God’s plan, the End precedes the Beginning. Or, if you like, the End shapes the Means.  God’s eternal plan to head up all things in Christ frames everything that goes before.

Thus new creation precedes and explains creation; the New Jerusalem precedes and explains the Garden; Christ precedes and explains Adam.  Adam is ‘the type’ of ‘the One who is to come’ not vice versa.

Some novelists write unsure where their narrative will take them.  They become authors at the mercy of their characters and plot.  Not so God.  He planned the final chapter before the first and it drove the whole plot.  Before the Beginning, the End existed.

1Pet 1:19-20 (ESV)
… a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you

Rev 13:8 (ESV)
… everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

Everything is explained from the vantage point of the End. Christians truly live by faith  and with God’s perspective when they see things eschatologically, that is, from the perspective of the End.  Faith is future hope.

Heb 11:1 ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’

Our faith collapses into confusion and compromise when the End is not our controlling cypher.   It is the dénouement that frames and forges faith.   Thus Noah built an ark, Abraham looked for a city, Sarah waited for a son, Joseph gave instructions about his bones, Moses chose affliction with the people of God…

All these endured because they saw the End.  In the words of Hebrews,

Heb 11:13 (ESV)
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

Look frequently at the End for it is it that steels us in the present; it makes sense of history and shapes our resolve.




the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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