Sunday, July 31, 2011

Getting to know Jesus Christ - An Overview

Hebrews 12:2-3 states - " 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

As we look at the above passage, we are struck by the fact that the only way to anchor one's Christian walk is to intentionally focus upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. In this next series of blogs, my aim is to do that very thing - getting to know Jesus Christ.

UNDERSTANDING WHAT IS MEANT BY THE STUDY OF CHRISTAnytime we aim to know the Person and Work of Jesus Christ we refer to the term "Christology".  Christology is simply the study of Jesus Christ.  Throughout Church history two approaches have been done when beginning to think on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The approaches stem from the two central truths of the Study of Christ - that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. 

TWO SUGGESTIONS OF WHERE TO BEGIN - CHRIST'S HUMANITY OR DEITYThe approaches go something like this: We must begin with Jesus the man and work our way through his virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary death on the cross, burial, resurrection and ascension to final consideration of His full Deity.  The second approach is to begin with His exalted Deity as One with the Father, Creator, Redeemer and then end with consideration of His humanity.  The first approach is called "Christology from below", since it begins with Christ's humanity and ends with His Deity.  The second approach is called "Christology from above" due to the fact it begins with Christ's Deity and ends with His humanity.

THE BIBLE FOCUSES ON BOTH HIS DEITY AND HUMANITYWhen we look at the New Testament records, we frankly find support for either approach.  Matthew, Mark and Luke begin with Christ's humanity and gradually bring into view His undiminished Deity.  John's Gospel begins with Christ's Deity, as the Word who was with God in Eternity, and gradually brings into view his full humanity.  The Bible does not present Jesus Christ as half man, half God - rather He is presented as 100% man and 100% God. 

Passages such as Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Timothy 3:15-16 both begin with Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God, who came into this world and became man.  The wonderful book of Hebrews in Hebrews 1:1-7 and 10:4-5 also takes the same approach.  However in Hebrews 2 we see the focus shift to considering Jesus the man sharing in humanity and living a sinless life. 
Revelation advocates both approaches.  In Revelation 1 we see a magnificent "Christology from above", with reference to  40 Divine names for the Savior.  However when we come to Revelation 5 we clearly see Jesus Christ's full humanity as the "Lamb who was slain".  Tomorrow we will continue exploring further the magnificent person and work of Jesus Christ.  May God richly bless you dear reader as you fix your eyes upon Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Knowing God's Will for Your Life - P3

How You Can Know God's Will for Your Life
Two helpful concepts: Logos and RhemaWe now come to the point where we ask about God's will for your life?  How does one know it?  Proverbs 22:17-18 states: "17Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge. 18For it is a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee; they shall withal be fitted in thy lips."  In these two verses we see two aspects of God's voice speaking to us from the scriptures: God's word in general, or logos (written word applicable to all people, at all places at all times) and God's specific word, or rhema (a specific insight from scripture that is applicable to a specific person, at a particular place at a particular time). 
Even when God gives you an insight (a rhema) throughout the day, that undoubtedly came as a result of your prior meditation and reading of the scripture (that is, the logos).  Remember, a true rhema never conflicts nor replaces the objective logos of the scriptures.  When Jesus was speaking for to the disciples in Luke 24, He was giving them the Logos or general word of the law and prophets of things concerning Himself.  By God's grace their eyes were opened, they heard what Jesus was saying and they were given a specific word (a rhema) that the one speaking to them was Christ.  They saw that those words had immediate application to them. 
With these thoughts in mind, I want to lay out principles that I have found helpful in discerning God's will for my own life.  The first principle acts as the reference point for the other three.  My prayer is that you will find these principles to be helpful as well.
1. God's Will is Discovered from the scriptures. 
-Psalm 119:105 "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."
-2 Timothy 3:16-17 "16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  17That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
2. God's Will is Clarified through Godly Counsel
-Proverbs 15:22 "Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established."
-Proverbs 24:6 "6For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellors there is safety."
3. God's Will is confirmed with peace by the Holy Spirit
-The Holy Spirit may say "no" as in Acts 16:6
-The Holy Spirit may say "yes" and give you confident assurance about a particular direction as in Acts 16:10
4. God's Will uses circumstances to steer in a certain direction
-Acts 17:16 16Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
May God bless you dear reader, as you aim to not only know, but do His will. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Knowing God's Will for you life - P2

How God's Will helps you understand the purpose and meaning of life
In my last blog I wrote on Operating within God's will, with particular focus on His Revealed and Unrevealed Will. We were concerned with the areas of responsibility we have in doing those things that He has revealed to us. In today's blog we're going to briefly trace out the various distinctions that exist within God's will as God excercises His Sovereign will in the lives of people in general and Christians in particular.

When we refer to God's Sovereignty, we are referring to - "His Comprehensive Reign over all people, places and events". Ephesians 1:11 gives us a very clear understanding of God's Sovereign Will: " 11In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will". It is by this Sovereign Will that God excercises His rule and reign in history and salvation. God's will is mentioned some 40 times in the scriptures, and it is a theme that is helpful in understanding life's purpose and meaning.

With this big picture idea, how then does God work forth His will in your life? The Apostle Paul gives us the story of how God worked His will in his own life in Galatians 1:13-16. As you look at his statements, note the distinctions he brings out concerning God's will operating in His own life. My prayer is that this will help you to understand how God's Sovereign Will typically will function in your own life. So how does the Rule of God's will work in your life? Please note the following distinctions:

1. God's Permissive Will, Galatians 1:13-14 "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: 14And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers."

Why was Paul, who was called before his conversion "Saul", able to persecute the church? Furthermore, how could he perpetrate such evil without being immediately destroyed? Was it God's will for him to do this? Clearly God's permitted Paul to do this, for in Acts 8 we read that such persecutions caused the church to scatter throughout the world and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God permits what he hates in order to accomplish His own good purposes. Romans 8:28 tells us this: "28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Truly what Paul (Saul) meant for evil, God was using for his ultimate good.

2. God's Will of Decree, Galatians 1:15 "But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace"

Did Paul choose Christ, or did God have His purposes set on calling Paul? Paul reveals here that God had decreed to call Paul to His service. In fact, God had Paul picked out before He was born. God desired for the Gospel to be spread among the Gentiles, and Paul was to be his chief instrument. We know from passages such as Jeremiah 1:5, 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2 that God's will of decree extends all the way back before creation. Despite Paul's sinfulness, God had chosen to set His affection and purpose on calling this persecutor of the church to be the church's great apostle.

3. God's Intentional Will, Galatians 1:16a "To reveal his Son in me..."

That word "to" speaks of intention on God's part. God had intended a particular purpose, namely to reveal Christ in Paul's life. The chief aim of God's intentional will is to reveal something about His heart and character. Whenever we speak of God's intentional will, we must make sure we include the other aspects of His will. God had intended to reveal Christ in Paul, but He also permitted Paul to first persecute the church, and He had decreed to call Paul prior to his birth. These first three aspects interrelate with one another. Many times in your own life, you'll will not always see how they relate. Think of an expensive Persian rug. If you flip it over on its back, the threads appear to be woven together in a hap-hazard manner. However, when you flip it over on its front, the rug has a beautiful and orderly design. God's permissive will, will of decree and intentional will function in much the same way. Whenever we flip the rug of His Sovereign will to the front, we discover a fourth aspect of His will.

4. God's Ultimate Will, Galatians 1:16b .."that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:"

Did God have an ultimate purpose in putting Paul through the trials and triumphs that accompany Christian life and ministry? Notice the underlined word "that". "That" is a word which speaks of purpose. God indeed has an ultimate will. At times we may see what His ultimate will is for a given situation in this life. Then there are those situations where the purpose is not realized until after we have passed off the scene. Joseph was able to testify of god's ultimate will in His life in Genesis 50:20 - "20But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." However, God's ultimate will for Abraham was not realized until after his death, as we see in Hebrews 11:13 "13These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."

Dear friend, whatever your situation is in life, remember, God's rule is at work. Let me close with these words from Jeremiah 29:11 "11For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." That is the joy of God's rule in your life.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Knowing God's Will for your Life - P1

God's will is not a game of "hot and cold"Do you remember the game you used to play as a kid called: "Hot and Cold"? It was a game where you would have to find a person or an object in a room. Depending upon your proximity to that hidden person or object, another individual would cry out the words "hot" or "cold" or the in-between phrases: "you're getting hotter" or "you're getting warmer".

Unfortunately many Christians conceive of God's will in this fashion. Many operate under the assumption that God is playing a cruel game of "hot and cold" with Christians, and that the will of God is a lost item, needing to be found. In today's blog, and over the course of the next few blogs, we will be aiming to encourage you as a Christian that it is not only possible, but certain that you can operate knowing what God's will is for your life.

Why Christians are so concerned about "God's will for their lives"Whenever we engage in discussions about the will of God, people immediately sense that there are areas of responsibility. At what points am I responsible to God for certain areas and what areas does God not hold me responsible? So many Christians approach the will of God with more fear than faith. God is the only One whom I'm to fear. Whenever we are operating with God's will, we are to fear Him, that is, we are to live our lives in such a way as to not have broken fellowship and intimacy with Him. It is in the midst of our circumstances that we are to proceed in faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).

God's Unrevealed and Revealed WillIf I were to point a believer to one passage in God's word which speaks to guiding them in the area of God's will, and their level of responsibility, I would refer them to Deuteronomy 29:29. Moses writes there: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."

Two of the most fundamental aspects of God's will are described here: namely His Unrevealed and Revealed will. Clearly His revealed will entails areas that only man can know form the Bible. His unrevealed will cannot be ever discovered by human beings. The revealed will of God is that which is meant to be known, discovered and lived. Notice where the revealed will of God is discovered here in this passage: "that we may do all the words of this law."

So then whatever God has revealed to me in His word, that is what I am responsible to do. Proverbs 25:2 states: "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter." According to Ephesians 2:6, the Christian is seated positionally with Christ in the heavenly realms, thus making him or her a person that operates with delegated authority from Jesus Christ. It is within the realm of God's revealed will that I operate and proceed.

This we know - there is no conflict within God's willEven though there are aspects of God will that may be unrevealed, we do know this: that if God can be trusted in the areas He has revealed (the scriptures, illumination from the scriptures), then He can also be trusted in the areas He has not revealed (details about the future for example). The Bible tells us in passages such as Psalm 136:1- "O Give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever." Because God is a Good God, I can trust Him, in both the areas I know, as well as the unknown.

Therefore this gives us an absolute foundation for the Christian's journey of operating in God's will. More lessons will follow as we begin to understand the distinctions that exist within His will that will aid us in attaining greater confidence towards knowing and doing His will.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Bird's Eye View of the Bible - P4 - Exile and Anticipation

As we round out our survey of the Old Testament today, my prayer is that not only have you gained new information, but that you'll see how this porition of God's word can bring about transformation.  The Old Testament comrpises some 77% of the Bible.  Imagine going on a long trip, and getting emails or letters from your family - but only reading 23% of them!  As Christians, we have words written to us from our Heavenly Father, pointing us to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  I would encourage the reader to look over the previous blogs, and to use these to share what you learned with others.  God's word is too valuable to be kept bottled up!
Theme Nine: Exile
We touched a little upon this theme yesterday when discussing the theme of Divided Kingdom.  God's people, having chosen to reject God and His word and His prophets, were sent into Exile.  The Kingdom of Israel to the North came to an end in 722 b.c when the Assyrian Empire conquered Israel and carried her people away.  As a people the ten tribes of the North remained scattered.  For those who did return years later, they had intermarried with the Assyrians and thus became what is known in the New Testament as the Samaritans.
The Kingdom to the South, Judah, went into exile for 70 years in Babylon. Through the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, the people of God were sustained.  God purged them of their idolatry and in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi we see the return from Babylon.  God chose to use this portion of God's people to bring about the humanity of Jesus Christ and demonstrated His faithfulness to them. 
As God's people today, we have to remember that God is fair in all His dealings with His people.  He had warned Israel centuries before in Deuteronomy 28-29 of exile if they did not heed His word.  Despite repeated warnings in her history, God's people grieved God enough to where His Holy character could no longer stand their repeated testings of His patience.  Even then, God gave the most glorious promises of restoration in the prophets, reminding us that He who begins a good work in His people will bring it unto completion to the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Theme Ten: Anticipation
For years preachers have made this observation: “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, with the New Testament being the Old Testament revealed”.  How much of what is revealed in the New Testament anticipated in the Old Testament?  With this theme, issues such as Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, the Second coming, the New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit and other key doctrine were predicted and portrayed in the Old Testament. In the 400 years between the close of the Old Testament and beginning of the New, the Jews wrote scores of writings that looked forward to the fulfillment of God's promises.  It is fascinating and necessary to see how much this theme of anticipation helps us to comprehend the Old Testament’s relevance to 21st century life.   
May God bless you dear reader today as you walk with Him

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bird's Eye View of the Bible p3 - The United and Divided Kingdoms

We continue today with our journey through the Bible's major themes.  In this "bird's-eye" overview we come to that period of time wherein Israel the nation went from being administrated by Judges to that of Kings.  It is also during this time that God raises up prophets, beginning with Samuel and increasingly brings His prophetic word to bear upon the nation.  Historically, this period of time in the Bible begins in 1 Samuel and ends with Nehemiah.  This time-frame includes all of the poetical books (written mostly by Kings David and Solomon) and also all 17 prophetic books (Isaiah through Malachi). 
For the Christian believer, observing the period of the Kings teaches us valuable lessons on how God deals with us, matters of the heart, the need for Godly character and the triumph and tragedies involved in our responses to God's word. 
More importantly, we see the establishment of the offices of prophet and king, both of which foreshadow the person and work of Jesus Christ.  He as our Prophet is God in human flesh revealing God at work on humanity's behalf.  As The King, Christ rules over His church and will be returning soon in bodily form to set up His Kingdom.  Below are summaries of the two themes comprising this crucial period of the biblical record - The United and Divided Kingdoms.

Theme Seven: United Kingdom
After refusing to acknowledge God as their true king, God in His permissive will grants the people’s request for a human king.  In the books of Samuel and the first part of 1 Kings God focuses our attention upon 3 kings: Saul, David and Solomon.  Among them David ranks as the first in importance.  Whenever you see this theme, you know that we will be focusing upon one or all three of these Kings.
Theme Eight: Divided Kingdom
Following the death of Solomon, Israel become divided into two kingdoms: Israel to the North and Judah to the South.  The Northern Kingdom has 19 kings, spanning a period of 208 years.  Sadly, not one example of a godly king is found in the Northern Kingdom of Samaria (sometimes also called Ephraim or Israel).  The Northern Kingdom became a rival center of worship and spirituality, picturing for us example after example of the battle that the Christian wages against the self and the world.
The Southern Kingdom (sometimes called Judah) ends up having 20 kings, 8 of which were godly and 3 of those being of exceptional godly character.  It would be through this kingline that God would eventually bring about Christ.  The kingdom of Judah spanned from 930 b.c to 722 b.c, ending in it's captivity into Babylon.  Even though it looked like God was done with that people, He kept sending prophets like Daniel and within 70 years brought the nation back to Jerusalem.  Men such as Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi were raised up to ministry to these people.  God shows once again that His faithfulness to His promises exceeds the sin and faithlessness of his people.  No other period of time in the Old Testament marks such extremes of spiritual revival and marked rebellion as this period of the Divided Kingdom. 
Tomorrow we will look at two final themes of the Old Testament - Exile and Anticipation.  Understand, dear reader, that God's plan for history provides a pattern for His particular plan for you.  Romans 15:4 gives you the value for studying scriptures such as the ones we just surveyed:  "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bird's Eye View of the Bible P2 - Moses, Conquest and Judges

Yesterday we began exploring a bird's eye overview of the Bible by noting its major themes.  We looked at three of them: Creation, Catastrophe and Patriarchs - themes which summarize the first 2200 years or so of biblical history in the book of Genesis.  Today we want to continue, noting three other themes that will cover the time from Moses and the Exodus right up to the time before the reign of the Kings in Israel.  Observe how often books and sections of the Old Testament can give helpful illustrations of truths pertaining to your Christian walk.
Theme Four: Moses
Moses stands at the gateway of what will become the nation of Israel. Truly God’s calling and molding of Moses into a prophet, a statesman, a leader and as a broken man speaks volumes to what it means to walk with God.  Exodus through Deuteronomy, as well a Psalm 90 (and possibly the book of Job) represents the key writings of this remarkable man.  Chief of the events in Moses’ life was how God used him to lead 2 million Israelites across the Red Sea.  This event is mentioned over 25 times in the Old Testament, certifying God’s use of this man in the life and theology of the Old Testament.  The Exodus event, as you will see below, pictures salvation.
Theme Five: Conquest
Following the heels of Moses’ death, Joshua, his faithful aid, becomes the new leader of the mighty nation.  Joshua and the people of God are called to take possession of the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Utter conquest of 7 Canaanite nations and over 100 cities describe the call of Joshua and the Israelites.  Conquest is a vital theme, since in the Book of Joshua we can learn vital truths pertaining to the overcoming Christian life (please compare the theme of "more than conquerors" in Romans 8:32-39).  If you were to take the Red Sea Crossing in Exodus and the Conquest of Canaan in Joshua, they both represent two essential truths of the Christian life. 
The Exodus pictures for us salvation, conversion, being brought forth from the bondage to sin into the freedom of salvation in Jesus Christ (Paul draws this connection in 1 Corinthians 10 and 2 Corinthians 5:7).  Joshua and the Conquest picture for us the Christian's growth in Christ following salvation - i.e sancitfication.  It is in this book we learn the vital lesson of fighting the good fight of faith and overcoming the enemy through the word of God, the cross and the Spirit's leading.  The writer in Hebrews 3 mentions this connection between Joshua and the Christian life by describing growth in Christ as entering into the "rest of God". 
Theme Six: Judges
What happens when there is no order, no God-ward focus among the people of God?  Judges helps us to understand the results of such a sad and oft repeat reality.  Though the generation under Joshua had for the most part conquered Canaan land, the areas that they refused to conquer came back to bite the next generation.  It would not take long before a cycle of sin and bondage would come to dominate Israel.  Judges and Ruth both give the shocking picture of what takes place when one generation fails to pass on the truth of God’s glory to the next generation. 
These two books also picture for us what occurs when the believer refuses to take "possession of the land of their soul", and allow compromise and self to lead them.  This state, called "carnality" (or worldliness, "getting in the flesh") is something of which the scripture commands us to wage war against.  Passages such as 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 describes such a battle, faught in the area of our thoughtlife, bringing every thought and attitude under the obedience of Jesus Christ. 
Thankfully, despite the people's pattern of "getting stuck in the rut", the God of glory did not give up on them.  As is always the case, 2 Timothy 2:13 gives us the reason why God will not let the Christian remain for long in a such a state:  "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself."   
Tomorrows Blog will explore more themes as we aim to gain a bird's eye view of the Bible.  May the Lord richly bless you this day, dear reader.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bird's Eye View of the Bible: Creation, Catastrophe and Patriarchs

The aim of this next blog series is to orientate you to an overview of the major themes and message of the Bible.  We will begin by noting the Old Testament’s value and contents, as well as its relationship to the New Testament.  It has been well said that the New testament in the Old is concealed, and the Old Testament in the New is revealed.  Both parts of the Bible find their focal point in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Before we can get into all those things, we first of all need to get into our minds, and hearts the 10 themes of the Old Testament.  These themes will help us to get our bearings as we approach the major sections of this vital part of the Bible.  Today's blog will focus upon the first three of those themes. 
Theme One: Beginnings
So where do we begin?  Thankfully, the Lord has given to us the book of Genesis.  In the Hebrew language the book of Genesis is called by the name “beroshith”, which simply means “beginning”.  One pastor friend of mine has noted that Genesis contains in seed form the beginning of every major doctrine and teaching that we will encounter in the scripture.  Genesis covers the beginning of the universe, our solar system, our planet, life, humanity, worship, sin, blood sacrifice, salvation, government, science, art, language, culture – all within the first 11 chapters!  This is but a sample of this first but critically important theme – Beginnings.
Theme Two: Catastrophe
More than one Bible scholar has noted that Scripture records three historical, global curses: The Fall, the Flood and Babel.  For the second theme then we will assign the name “catastrophe”.  The Fall of man into sin represents the greatest catastrophe, with the cross as the remedy.  The Fall had a particular fallout: Cain murdering Abel, and a Universal Fallout: death through all generations.
The second catastrophe, the Flood, represents the most global event recorded in the history of planet earth.  Over 500 cultures across the globe have a version of the flood epic that agrees, more or less, with the inspired and inerrant record of Genesis 6-9.  No other event, save the cross, had altered history like the flood.  As we will see, the flood as an event and as a theme is used to explain the flow of history in the Old Testament and to shed light upon major events in the New Testament.  The flood marks the major transitioning point between the pre-flood (antediluvian) world of Adam to Noah to the patriarchal period of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph in Genesis 12-50.
Then finally we see the third catastrophe, the Tower of Babel.  This event of rebellion and mankind’s unified attempt to live without God is responsible for the variety of cultures, languages and thousands of world religions in the world today.  Since Babel the battle has waged between Revealed Truth from God verses Religious Error inspired by the enemy.  In fact, all the so-called gods of Old Testament History and today are referred to in the Bible as demonic in origin (Deuteronomy 32:17; 1 Corinthians 10:20)
Theme Three: Patriarchs
On at least 9 occasions in the Old Testament we find God referring to Himself as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”.  As we come into the New Testament, we find the phrase mentioned 5 additional times.  Why is it that God identified Himself with these men?  In the Ancient world, when any two people made a binding agreement (a covenant), they would take part of one another’s name and insert it in their own, signifying the permanence of their relationship.  Clearly God set His affection on these three men and Joseph.  Understanding the theme of patriarchs aids in our understanding of the remainder of the Old Testament from Exodus to Malachi.
Tomorrow we will explore more themes in our aim to get a bird's eye view of the Bible. 


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Answering Questions about Childhood and Salvation - p3

Note to reader: This is part three of a three part blog series on children and salvation.  If the reader would like to read the previous two blogs on this subject, they are invited to click on those blogs in this site.

The fall into sin by our original parents, Adam and Eve, came from the soul.  Concerning God’s plan of salvation to save sinners, the pattern for innocent substitutes dying in the place of guilty people was set in Genesis 3:21, when God provided coats of skin for Adam and Eve.  The blood itself is the physical emblem of the soul.  In Leviticus 17:11 we read: The life of the flesh is in the blood…”  In the Hebrew text this can literally be rendered: “The soul of the flesh is in the blood”, indicating the physical connection between blood and the human soul.  When Christ came to die on the cross, He fulfilled his picture by shedding His own blood, which alone is the source of salvation and must be applied by faith in the lives of those so affected by the Grace of God (Ephesians 1:7). 
Children, like adults, need salvation.  Their souls have been drastically affected by the sin they have inherited from their parents.  In an interesting observation of Ephesians 2:1-3, Commentator Warren Wiersby notes that before the age of accountability, the child is characterized as a child of wrath.  Due to the fact they are descended from Adam, they are guilty by virtue of the fact they inherited and had imputed to them his sinful nature as a result of God’s curse on humanity (Romans 5:1-11).   Each child will differ in terms of what age and what stage of moral development they attain in their young lives.  However after the child comes to a self awareness of the difference between righteousness and unrighteousness, the child now is also a child of rebellion, making him susceptible to the penalties of judgment. 

5. Why the “Age of Accountability” teaching is crucial to Christianity
          As I close out this paper, my prayer is that this will aid the body of Christ in thinking through the issues surrounding children and the gospel.  Making the distinctions as outlined in this paper represents how the church has historically handled questions surrounding the Gospel and childhood evangelism.  Key doctrines of Christianity are impacted by what we believe about this area.  Below are some final thoughts as to why we uphold the biblical distinction on this matter:

a. God’s Goodness/Justice.  If God were to enact the penalty of suffering in hell on infants and young children, the justice and goodness of God would be seriously in question. 

b. The law and gospel.  If anything, teaching young children the law of God (the Ten Commandments) is foundational in their moral development.  The Law of God is designed to act as a school master, pointing them to Christ (Psalm 19:7; Galatians 4:1-4).  This is why the church for centuries always began teaching children about their accountability before God and His law, followed by a presentation of the Gospel. 

c. Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Somewhere along the way, when a child exhibits alarm over the fact that they are not right before God, or that they can’t be made right by being a good boy or girl, this could indicate they are being dealt with by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11).

d. Children need to hear the Gospel. Children still represent the largest segment of people who have responded by faith to Jesus Christ.  Moses (Deuteronomy 6); Solomon (Proverbs 1-7); Jesus (Matthew 18; Mark 10); Peter (Acts 2) and Paul (Ephesians 6) all make statements pertaining to the message of salvation needing to be communicated to children. 

There are other thoughts that we could mention, but the above should suffice to show that how we approach children in matters of salvation matters greatly in how we understand God the Father’s dealings with His people.  May we exercise discernment and biblical love as we consider those little ones God has placed in our lives. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Answering Questions About Childhood and Salvation - p2

This Blog is a continuation from yesterday's, where we began to explore the nature of salvation and children.  The reader is encouraged to read yesterday's to pick-up the context of this current discussion.

3. The nature of the Human Soul – The center of Self Awareness
Man was created a living soul
          We know from Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 2:7 that God had breathed into the nostrils of man and “he became a living soul”.  The word for soul in the Old Testament, nephesh, refers to a living being.   In the New Testament we see the word “psyche” used, from whence we derive our word “psychology”, literally meaning a study of the soul.  The soul in mankind has five areas, functions or faculties.  As we look at the account of mankind’s fall into sin in Genesis 3, we can discern all five faculties or functions of the soul in man.  These functions that we are about to consider were given to man at his creation, and each of them were affected in the fall. 

How the Mind functions in the life of a child
The first function we can note is the area of the mind.  This is the thinking faculty of the soul and is the first area Satan tempted Eve by when he said: “Yea, hath God said” (Genesis 3:1).   It is no wonder that the mind is of premier concern in discipleship, since it is the first area of the soul that was addressed by the enemy (compare Hebrews 12:2).   Children’s minds gravitate toward openness to all kinds of thoughts and curiosities, requiring supervision and authority to give boundaries for discerning good from evil.  Concerning the mind of a child Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  When it comes to instructing children in the word of God, the mind is of utmost consideration, since only the right actions and moral decisions can derive from right thinking (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, 11:19, 31:13). 

The mind is the place where certain illuminations can occur in a child
It is in this area of a child’s soul that illumination can and does take place.  Scripture is clear that it is possible for heavenly illumination to touch the soul, but not the spirit (Hebrew 6:4).  The spirit is the area in man where God the Holy Spirit comes to reside in salvation (John 14:23; Romans 5:1-5; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Hebrews 4:12).  Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:10 “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in Heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.”  Though this passage is difficult to understand, we can say at bare minimum that there is some type of ministry of the angelic host going on in the lives of young little children.

Having four children of my own, I can testify how my own children have been able to know when they are in the presence of evil, have reacted to a sudden move of God in a church service, and have said profound statements beyond their capacity to understand.  Though they mentally cannot process all that God is working in their young lives, yet they do function in it in ways that we cannot even begin to comprehend.

The emotions are the wardrobe for the mind – especially in children
The second function of the soul is the emotional realm.  In Genesis 3:6, following Satan’s twisting of scripture and Eve’s giving into his temptation mentally, the Bible tells us how Eve then gave more ground emotionally: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise…”.   The emotions are the wardrobe for the mind.  Children are especially sensitive in the realm of their emotions.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:20: “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.”  In using this illustration to positively reinforce strong fellowship among the Corinthians, Paul is reminding us of how children are still developing emotionally.  Children, more than adults, will be won emotionally to a particular pattern of behavior.   In the first 7 chapters of Proverbs Solomon instructs his son to be led by the wisdom of God’s word, and not his emotions.  Emotions are reactionary, and must be led by the will informed by the mind.

The function of the will in the life of the child
The will then comprises the third function or faculty of the soul.  Again in turning to Genesis 3:6 we find Eve’s ongoing descent into temptation: “…she took of the fruit thereof, and gave also unto her husband with her…”  At this point Adam willfully rebels and does eat of the fruit.  The scripture is clear that Eve was deceived, but that Adam willfully rebelled.  He not only willfully chose his wife over God, but he consented to her listening to the serpent.  He failed to protect her and was complicit in his wife’s deception, thus making him the primary responsible party for the entry of sin into the world (Romans 5:1-11).  Children are commanded to obey their parents due to the fact that they inherited sin from their parents and ultimately from Adam (1 Peter 1:17-18).  It is the will that at birth is bound and bent to please the self rather than God (Psalm 51; Ephesians 2:1-2). 

How the conscience works in the life of a child
With the mind, emotions and will we come to the fourth area of the soul, the conscience.  The conscience acts as the “dashboard lights” for the soul, warning and reminding all people of God’s righteous standards (Romans 2:15).  It is in this area of the soul that issues surrounding the so-called “age of accountability” come into view.  I heard one pastor describe it this way: “Before the age of accountability, the child has knowledge of right and wrong.  It is when they willfully rebel against God that their responsibility before God’s law changes, for now they can discern between righteousness and unrighteousness.”  Many preachers have referred to the condition of young children before God as being “safe”, due to the fact that though they are guilty in terms of right and wrong, yet they are not subject to due penalty as it pertains to righteousness and unrighteousness.
The “affections” govern the motives and behavior of a child
American Theologian Jonathan Edwards, in his book “Concerning  The Religious Affections” also speaks of affections, which are another name for the motives and intents of the heart.  The affections act as the governors of the soul, providing the boundary lines by which people operate.  In Genesis 3:7 we could say that Adam and Eve had affections that led them to hide from God, rather than commune with God.  As Edwards points out, a person will never choose against their strongest affection or inclination.  Whatever their “bent” or “leaning” is, that is what they will choose.  Children by nature will choose what brings them the most comfort and protection.  As they develop, self preservation will come to dominate their primary motives for what they do.  James 4:1 describes the affections in sinful man: “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?”
           These affections operate out of what the Bible calls “The Heart”.  Jesus notes in Mark 7:20-23 “And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.  21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,  22Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:  23All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” Proverbs 4:23 also reminds us: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.  In communicating the gospel to children, we should always address the heart first before the behavior, since the gospel addresses the change of heart, not just behavior modification.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Answering questions about childhood and salvation - Part One

Main Point of This Blog: To give an overview of what the scriptures have to say concerning the nature of children as it pertains to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The following concepts will aid us in this study: The Age of Accountability, How sin operates in the life of a child, The nature of the human soul, What the Bible teaches about children in salvation and why the teaching of “the age of accountability” is crucial to Christianity.

1. Understanding the Age of Accountability
Foundational Texts for Understanding the Age of Accountability
Being that a child is spiritually dead at birth, it is clear that the reason they sin is because they are sinners (Ephesians 2:1-5; Romans 3:10-21).  However, the Bible is also clear that for the first several years of life, until a child reaches the point where they can discern the consequences of their rebellion, they will not be subject to the penalties of the law, even though they are declared guilty by the law (Ten Commandments).  David in the Old Testament comments following the death of his infant son in 2 Samuel 12:23: “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but He shall not return to me.”  Jesus comments in Mark 10:14 “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”

2. How sin operates in the life of a child
Pastor and Bible Teacher John MacArthur remarks in a sermon on Mark 10: “Children in the age of innocence function in a special dimension of God’s grace.”  In other words, though children are guilty sinners before Holy God at birth, young children are not able to see their activities as somehow offending Holy God.   Young children, like adults, have the law of God written on their hearts (Romans 2:15).  However they are not developmentally or emotionally able to “connect-the-dots” between the commands of that law and the offense against God for its disregard. 
 God withholds the penalty of the Divine law (punishment in hell) from young children.  Romans 1:20 tells us that: “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”  Being that a child cannot fully link together the implications of rebellion against such understanding, nor can the young even exercise such understanding, we can only conclude that young children are exonerated from the due penalty of their inherited sin.

Why it is children can exhibit remarkable insights
Though a child is spiritually dead, we do know that children still possess the remarkable ability to produce spiritual insights.  Psalm 8:2 states: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies that though mightiest still the enemy and avenger”.   How do young children accomplish this?  It is in their unique function before the age of accountability that God illuminates them in the realm of their soul.  To better understand what the soul is and how a child’s spiritual condition operates in their soul will be the focus of the next blog. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Poem - The Trinity, the River of God

The Trinity, the River of God
What a sight for eyes to see
To behold God in Trinity
He is the River of Glory, infinite in length
Whose source is unending, whose mouth is infinite strength
The Father, unending, the First of the Three
Is the Hidden Springs of Deity
The Son, equal, visible and unending
Is the course of this River, infinite and unbending
He is Divine, but also man
He purchased the salvation of the Father's plan
When I behold the river, I see the Son
Equal to the Father, second to none
The blessed Holy Spirit, the third of the Three
Equally glorious in One God the Trinity
He is the mighty mouth which roars in a voice
Calling forth sinners to make a choice
Turn unto this River, have your sins washed in blood
Behold the Trinity, The River of God

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Defeating Doubt, Worry and Fear when things appear Hopeless - Part Three

So when you woke up this morning, did life seem hopeless to you?  There is a great difference between something being hopeless and something “appearing” to be hopeless.  For the true believer in Jesus Christ, there will never be such a thing as a hopeless situation.  However, you and I often experience what are many times situations that “appear to be hopeless”. 

In Psalm 42 and 43 David is talking to himself, within his soul, to pull up out of its despair, and hope in God.  Both Psalms in the original Hebrew were most likely one Psalm, which is why their themes mesh so well.  The refrain “put your hope in God” further supports this observation.  In fact, in the original Hebrew text, Psalm 43 does not have a title, further indicating its connection with Psalm 42.

Psalm 42 begins with these words: “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you.”  You get the sense of dryness, heaviness and weariness in the Psalmist’s words.  I can remember as a boy growing up in Western Pennsylvania how the herds of deer would come off of the rugged Pennsylvania mountains, searching for water.  I would literally watch in the dead of winter as the condensation from their breaths billowed as white fluffy clouds from their parched mouths.  Those deer were literally “panting for water”, like a dog in the middle of summer. 

Clearly the Psalmist’s faith had grown dry, desperate and dark.  However in the midst he cried out the refrain that runs through the length of these two Psalms, recorded for us in 42:5, 11 and 43:5 – “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?  And why art thou disquieted in me?  Hope thou in God: For I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.”

Why was this psalmist able to write such words?  Because testing and trial had galvanized Him in His relationship with God.  True saving faith always perseveres.  Why is it that He found such hope in God?  What did He discover regarding the benefits of hoping in God in defeating the doubt, worry and fear in His life?

1. The God of Hope can revive a dry faith 42:1-5
2. The God of Hope restores joy to a despairing faith 42:6-11
3. The God of hope can return light to a darkened faith 43:1-5

Each time the Psalmist would descend in the depths of dryness, in Psalm 42:1-5 He would look to the God of hope, the help of His countenance.  The phrase “cast down” found in 42:5, 11 and 43:5, comes from a Hebrew word that can be translated – “to dwindle, to sink down”.  Are you experiencing sinking, downward spirals in your Christian life?  Remember, only when you look to the God of Hope can you then be lifted out of your pit. 

The Psalmist in Psalm 42:6-11 had lost his joy.  Yet deep within the depths of his human spirit he could hear the voice of God, rumbling as a mighty waterfall, calling Him to be restored, revived, renewed.  Only the God of Hope would restore such joy. 

Then in Psalm 43:1-5 the Psalmist was facing many enemies who were oppressing him.  He cries out in 43:3 for God to “send his light and truth”.  Clearly no deliverance can take place apart from spending time in the scriptures.  Each time the Psalmist was threatened by darkness, He would turn to the God of Hope, who dispelled it all with His Light. 

As we close, let me encourage you with this thought from Romans 15:13 – “Now the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Defeating the Doubt, worry and fear in your heart - Part Two

In this series of blogs that we began yesterday, we defined the triple weaponry of the enemy as doubt, worry and fear - and how we can defeat them with the Bible.  We also noted that all three are attitudes of unbelief towards who God is and what he has said.  Doubt is when I have belief about what God has said to me in the past, worry is unbelief about who He is to me in the present and fear is unbelief about what He will do or say in the future.  Will God come through?  That’s the question of fear.  Is God still with me?  That’s the question of worry.  Did God really say that? That’s the question of doubt. 

In today's blog we will be concerned about the place where these three issues arise - the heart.  David wrote Psalm 39, explaining all of the doubt, worries and fears he was grappling with in his situation.  You and I can’t tell what he is dealing with in this Psalm, however all of the emotions and stresses He is articulating are well known.  For instance He states in Psalm 39:3 – “My heart was hot within me; while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue.”  This certainly describes how I have felt lately.  How about you?  Do you ever feel like you’re going to explode?  The Hebrew phrase for “the fire burned” carries with it the meaning of feeling like we’re going to explode. 

What do you do when doubt about what God said, worry about the present or fear of whether or not He’ll come through threatens the very fabric of your faith?  In other words – How do you deal with doubt, worry and fear in your heart?  Let’s follow the Psalmist’s thoughts in this Psalm and into the next Psalm.  If you are going to defeat doubt, worry and fear in your heart, you need to….

1. Hand your self-sufficiency to God 39:1-6
At first David thought it would be best to keep his mouth shut.  In 39:1-2 he attempted to “bridle his tongue” and “be dumb with silence”.  Very often the reason why you and I choose not to tell those close to us our deepest struggles is because of our self-sufficiency.  We believe it is best to deal with it on our own.  However, God has a way of breaking that down.  Our own self-perceived strength is our greatest enemy.  God is trying to remind you as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “His strength is made perfect in weakness”. 

David could no longer hold it in.  He cried out to God, asking God to give him an eternal perspective on his own frailty.  As painful as it was, he asked God to show him in verse 4: “make me know my end.”  As a desperate patient pleading with the surgeon: “Doc, do whatever you need to do to rid me of this disease”, so David appealed to the Great Physician.  David realized that his life truly is but the width of a man’s hand (verse 5) and that men at their very best are but vanity (also verse 5).  Self had to die.  Self-sufficiency is but a mirage in the life of the creature.  Only when we stop clinching our fists, hanging onto what is most dear – ourselves, and only when we open our hands towards heaven to that which is most precious – God alone – will we find true sufficiency. 

2. Hasten to see God as your sole desire 39:7-11
Psalm 39:7 indicates a major shift in this Psalm, note what it says: “And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee.”  David shifts from reflecting on how bad things were to how hopeful He is now.  Did his circumstance change?  Not yet.  However his perspective did change.  How?  Having lost all hope in himself, He found all his hope in God.  I so identify with what he is writing here.  In the verse following the struggle is still taking place.  Clearly his inability to explain what He is going through is God’s doing (37:9).

 In fact, God illuminates to David that it is He who is testing David.  David actually refers to God as a moth who consumes whatever is beautiful in his life in 39:11.  It sounds so cruel at first- why would God take away what is “beautiful and desirable” in my life?”  The only answer is that God must be the object of my affections and desire above all things.  He alone endures.  All other goods and beauties deteriorate and fail after the passage of time, however, God is the fixed constant, the true Good, never changing nor varying (Malachi 3:6). All goods and beautiful things are given so that through them we can see God who is Good and beautiful.  It is all a matter of keeping everything in its proper order.  Only when God becomes the sole focus can we see the ability to overcome the doubt, worry and fear.  Thus…

3. Have confidence that God is hearing you 39:12-40:5
As we close this blog today, let’s see whether or not God came through for David.   In reading Psalm 39 and 40, it is my conviction that both Psalms are being written about the same event.  After all the struggle and tears of Psalm 39, we need to know: Did God show up for David?  Psalm 40:1 answers – “I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry.”  In fact the remaining verses detail David’s testimony of how God had indeed came through for Him. 

As an added bonus, David will write a prophecy Psalm 40 about the coming of Christ into this world, as spoken by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 10:4-5.  It truly was worth it.  Christ was seen more clearly in the end than at the beginning.  So what about you?  Are you and I going to make it?  Is God going to come through?  Have confidence, dear friend.  If you truly know Christ as Savior, Lord and Treasure, place you hand in His, for His other hand is connected to God the Father (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:20).  Know this:  God hears the cries of his saints.   He is greater than your doubt, worry and fear.