Friday, March 2, 2012

Why loving right should include believing right

Acts 19:24-26 24Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; 26and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

A man who had a right heart but not right (yet) doctrine
In the passage above, a 1st century Bible teacher by the name of Apollos was communicating God's word based off of a "Pre-cross" understanding of the scriptures.  Apollos' heart was pure, sincere and devout.  He loved the Lord.  When the Apostle Paul's friends Priscilla and Aquilla came and "upgraded" Apollos's doctrinal understanding, he came to it. 

People who have a right heart with God but do not (yet) have right doctrine
In our previous blog we contrasted heresy and orthodoxy, noting their features and character.  However what do we do whenever we come across people who though differing in their theological convictions are nonetheless genuinely in right relationship with God through Jesus Christ?  Below are some thoughts that have stemmed from pastoral experience and theological reflection when it comes to dealing with people who have a right heart and yet may not possess (yet) right doctrine.

Some folks may have had incomplete teaching, and yet want to know more
There are those folks who have become involved in churches or groups that teach a portion of the scriptures or a portion of the gospel, but yet do not present the full truth.  Apollos was a genuine believer in the Lord, however He was not yet made aware of the New Covenant arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  His error was not intentional, rather it was "incomplete".  The fact that he came "immediately" to the full teaching of God's word indicates He had a work of grace in His heart. 

Some folks may have had exposure to inconsistent teaching, and yet want consistency
There are people involved in groups that teach inconsistent concepts like having eternal life and yet having the possibility of losing one's salvation.  Another example of inconsistent teaching would be that the Bible is God's Word and yet requires church tradition or human experience to be an equal authority.  I have known people whom I would say genuinely love Jesus and are troubled by the inconsistencies.  They know deep down that true biblical Christianity possesses the coherent and sufficient understanding of man, God, salvation and the future. 

Some folks have had exposure to inadequate teaching, and yet have no intention of embracing it
There are other people who become involved in groups that intentionally add to the scriptures.  They will teach that Mary is some type of co-redeemer with Jesus Christ (Roman Catholicism) or that in order to become a Christian, faith plus something else (baptism, speaking in tongues) is required for salvation.  These are people are true believers who embraced the Gospel elements of a particular movement which does not adequately teach the true gospel. 

When we talk to people like these, what should we think?  Thankfully scripture gives us some guidelines for dealing with other people (and sometimes ourselves) in making sure that we not only have sincerity, but also right doctrine.

1. A person who is truly converted will come to the full measure of the truth
When Priscilla and Aquilla took Apollos aside and expalined to him "the more excellent way", he immediately embraced it.  Truly converted people will acknowledge when they have been involved in unintentional yet nonetheless wrong teaching.  Humility aimed at pleasing Christ is a true mark of a converted heart. (Galatians 5:18-22; Philippians 2:1-5)

2. A Person who is truly converted will renounce the exposed error
If somebody is holding to a doctrine that cannot be supported by scripture, and yet does not realize its full implications, once they have been shown the truth, they will take the necessary measures to correct it.  It is one thing to hold error in ignorance, and quite another to hold error intentionally.  By the truth of God's word is the ignorance of the mind made to see the fullness of God's truth. (Psalm 19:7-13) 

3. Patience is required by those who perceive a desire to be right in the truth
When I have talked to those who are genuinely right with God through Jesus Christ, they will be marked as also wanting to be right in the truth. (2 Timothy 3:15-17)  However if the person has held to the particular error for a period of time, often that error may had been picked up from a teacher who had helped them through a crisis. 

4. Sincere faith must have a right heart and right doctrine
On the one hand the truth must be ever contended for and communicated without apology. (Jude 3-4)  On the other hand the truth must be communicated in firm gentleness, discerning when listeners are humble and broken, ready and eager to come to a full-orbed understanding. (1 Corinthians 7:40; Hebrews 6:1-3; Jude 20-23)  In today's culture, people value "sincerity" as being more important than "right belief".  The scriptures tie together both "heart" and "head" when it comes to the Christian walk. (Romans 12:1-2)  We are to love the Lord will all of our heart and mind. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Matthew 22:37-39) 

Often the convert will begin with a right heart, with a most basic understanding of the Gospel (Jesus as Savior, Lord and grace through faith alone).  However from that "child-like" faith should issue forth the desire to "mature" in one's understanding of what they believe.  Sincereity of the heart towards loving right should grow into every increasing sincerity for believing right. (Hebrews 5:12-14)

Understanding Translations and Versions

Choosing the Right Bible is important for your Christian growth

       Today I want to begin a short blog series for the Christian who is desiring a guide for choosing a Bible.  Years ago I had worked for a short time in a Bible Bookstore and was amazed at the wide variety of Study Bible's and Bible translations that were available.  Choosing a Bible is a major part of growing in the Christian faith, since Christian growth and stability cannot be done without the scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15).  With over 100 different English translations and dozens of Study Bible's available, how does one know which one is the best one?  In today's blog, we will begin looking at the major Bible translations, giving you some tips to go by when choosing which one is best for you.

Quick History on how the Bible eventually got to be translated to English
       The Bible in the Old Testament, with its 39 books, was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, while the New Testament was written in Greek.  Obviously as the Gospel spread into different cultures and languages, the Bible needed to be translated into those languages.  As English came into existence as a spoken language by the 10th century, it would not be until the middle 1300's that a scholar named John Wycliffe would be the first to translate the Bible from the then available version - The Latin Vulgate - into English.  From Wycliffe's Bible would come forth historic English translations.  In the mid 1400's a man by the name of William Tyndale produced the first translation from the Greek and Hebrew texts.  Though men like Tyndale would die for their work, translating the Bible into the language of the people has and still is the backbone of Christianity's advancement today.

Difference between "translations" and "versions"
        For the most part English Bibles since the days of Wycliffe and Tyndale have either been classified as "translations" or "versions".  A translation is a Bible that is directly translated from the Original Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew into whatever language that will be read by those receiving it.  Today we have Bibles like the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and New Living Translation (NLT) that are directly translated from the original languages into the recipient language (like English for example).  
       A Version is a Bible that is either based on an existing translation or was translated first but then heavily relied upon existing translations for its final form.  The wording of The New King James for example was based upon the King James Version, along with consultation of the Greek and Hebrew.  Other Bibles such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and English Standard Version (ESV) base how they word their texts upon the older Revised Standard Version (RSV) while consulting the Greek and Hebrew. 

        As much as the King James did rely quite heavily on the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, those who worked on the project in 1611 consulted an existing English Version called the "Bishop's Bible" (which itself was a version based upon other English translations at the time).  Truly the KJV, having been used for over 400 years, is still a very good English Bible, and quite reliable. 

Why does it matter in the difference between "versions" or "translations"
        As a general rule (general, not always), versions of the Bible aim more towards readability, whereas translations try to lean more toward representing the Greek and Hebrew in the given language.  Thus Bibles such as the NASB or Amplified Bible aim to get you closer to the style and flow of the Hebrew or Greek Texts.  Other Bibles, such as the NIV, ESV and NRSV aim to be readable and pay more attention to the reader's language.  Many other different Bibles will attempt to do both readability and accuracy to the original language.  The KJV, which though being a version that flows quite beautifully, also aims to be a close to the original texts as possible.  The New Living Translation, translated directly from the original languages, aims to be highly readable. 

The choice of "which is better" depends upon what your aiming to do with your Bible
         If you are looking to teach the Bible or do Bible study, picking a translation or a Bible that aims to be as close to the original languages as possible is your best choice.  Bible translations and versions such as NASB, KJV, NKJV and ESV are examples that aim to bring the reader as close to the orignal languages as possible.  If you want a Bible that is more readable, say for quiet times, devotions, prayer times or regular Bible reading, then the NIV or NLT might be the choice for you.  Or perhaps your just wanting to get an interpretation of a passage, and need a summarized version of the text, then Bibles like the Today's English Version (TEV) or The Living Bible (TLB) might be preferred. 

Ideally having all three categories is helpful
Sometimes when studying a passage, a literal translation or version, a readable one and a paraphrase together will help you hit the areas of readability, accuracy and summary. 

Saving Faith in Slow Motion

Romans 10:6-7 "But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”

The Moment of saving faith in slow motion
Yesterday we noted the three elements that compose saving faith: the contents or essential doctrines (notitia), mental agreement or ascent to those truths (ascensus) and then the gifting of faith whereby one believes on the basis of the first two (fiducia).  Today we want to take saving faith and look at the otherwise instantaneous moment of saving faith in slow motion. 

What must a person be convinced of in order to become a Christian?
So what fundamental contents are essential to ascend to as I by grace through faith believe on the Lord in salvation?  Romans 10:6-7 gives us the first essential truth that I must be persuaded of in order to become a Christian: The inability to provide there own salvation. 

1. One's Own Sinfulness before a Holy God
The Bible is pretty clear that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God".  (Romans 3:23).  The Bible also says that it is not from performance of good deeds that we earn favor with God, but rather by grace through faith in the deeds of another - Jesus Christ.

When saving faith is occuring in one's heart, the testimony of the Spirit Himself is brought to the person regarding their own sinful condition.  A person who is being convicted by the Holy Spirit will be persuaded that even if they could "go up into Heaven itself" and attempt achievement of salvation, it would be futile, since Christ has already done it for them.  Likewise, the sinner at the moment of saving faith is convinced that even if they were to "descend to the abyss" and attempt all sorts of suffering for their own sin, it would be a waste of time, for Christ has done that for them.

To refuse the work of Christ spelled out in the Gospel is favor of one's own perceived ability to save themselves is evidence of unbelief.  Sin at its root derives from the pride exhibited by Adam and Eve in the Garden, wherein they chose to hide and "figure it out" rather than run into the arms of God who alone can save them.

2. The words that God says in the Bible about you are true
When a sinner hears the Gospel from the scriptures, is there a genuine agreement and persuasion that what is said is true - even if it hurts?  A true believer in Jesus Christ will readily say that everything the Bible says is true, because the words of that book are God's words.  The Holy Spirit says in Romans 10:8 - "But what does it say? 'THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART'—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching."  Saving faith readily agrees with the fundamental truth that the words of the Bible are God's words (i.e God's Word).  Thus, when a sinner hears the gospel, and faith is present in their heart, they can say that God is literally speaking to them to believe on Him. 

Distinguishing between "knowing" and "comprehending"
For now we will note that in order to become a Christian, a person must "know" that: they are a sinner and that what God says in the Bible about them is true.  It is often the case that people of varying ages and ability will "comprehend" these essential "notitia" or contents at varying levels.  Thus a child may simply say that they know that their sins are bad because of their offending God, whereas an adult may articulate that truth in more specific detail.

Knowing something means I understand, I recognize the essential properties of the truth.  To comprehend means that I have a full understanding and recognize the full properties of the truth.  Knowing the essentials of the gospel is something that the Spirit brings at salvation.  Comprehension is an ongoing process that continues on after salvation.  We will look at other essential truths that one must agree with and be persuade of in saving faith in order to become a Christian.