Friday, September 30, 2016

A quick summary of the Book of Genesis

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Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

How does the Bible begin? Interestingly enough the first book of the Bible has for its title a word that means "beginning": namely, "Genesis". The name "Genesis" derives from the Greek translation of the book, wherein it was given this title. The original language of the Old Testament was mainly Hebrew. So, when Genesis was composed in Hebrew, it was given the title "Beroshith", which, when translated, means "In the beginning" and which also corresponds to the first word of the book in the Hebrew text. Either way, we are dealing with the introduction to the greatest book in the world: the Bible. 

In all, the 39 books of the Old Testament consist of 419,687 words in the Hebrew and Aramaic texts behind our English translations and 138,162 words in the Greek text of of the New Testament. Such an enormous set of books comprise the "Book of Books" - the Bible. The very first book, Genesis, heads what will follow. In Genesis we find the seed bed of God's revelation which will yield full-grown truths, row by row, through God's progressive and unfolding revelation. Since Genesis is by its very own name about "beginnings", it is important to note briefly its contents:

Genesis 1-11 is about the beginning of history, or, historical narratives

a. Beginning of creation. Genesis 1-2

b. Beginning of the fall & redemption.         Genesis 3

c. Beginning of death.    Genesis 4-5

d. The flood.                 Genesis 6-9

e. Beginnings of civilization  Gen. 10-11

These various episodes in the opening chapters detail the failure of man, the judgment of God and the redemptive purposes wrought by God through His promises. God had given a covenant to Adam and Eve, a covenant of works, wherein they had a probationary period given to them that would result in perpetual bliss if they followed through the handful of commands God gave them. They failed and sinned. God then chose to give them a second covenant, a gracious covenant, that would be enacted by the shedding of innocent blood and be received by faith - all evidenced in His clothing of them with the skins of innocent animals at the end of Genesis 3. 

It is remarkable how throughout Genesis we see this contrast between man's failure to appropriate God's overtures of grace and trying to substitute iss own plan, with God ever extending His covenant of salvation through shed blood and reception of faith. Cain and Abel demonstrate this pattern, as well as Noah and the people of his day and the bloodline that would follow from his son Shem and the remainder of humanity. The drama of man's failure versus the top-down reach of God to man in extending grace that saves through faith grounded in the shedding of innocent blood replays repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. Such a pattern served to point the way to what would be the work of Christ on the cross, shedding His blood, and thus grounding salvation that is received by grace through faith.These types of patterns set the stage for what God aimed to do in the choosing of one man and one nation in the second part of the book of Genesis. In short, all of the events of Genesis 1-2 and 3-11 lead up to one family and one man - Abraham.

Genesis 12-50 is about the beginning of heavenly promises, or, the patriarchal narratives consisting of God's dealings with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. 

Now these two general divisions of the Book of Genesis are both historical and deal with God's heavenly promises and dealings with His people. The former division of course weighs more heavily on the side of historical summary and the latter more on the side of heavenly promise. As we mentioned a moment ago, Genesis 1-11 funnels to one man, Abraham. The narratives that follow in Genesis 12-50 telescope back out from Abraham down through his descendants.

a. Narratives about Abraham. 
    Gen. 12-23

b. Narratives about Isaac. Gen. 24-26

c. Narratives about Jacob. Gen. 27-36

d. Narratives about Joseph. Gen. 37-50

In these four narratives we find focus upon four key men: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Abraham is the one given the promise of God with regards to His redemptive purposes He will achieve through Abraham's seed or bloodline. This "seed" promise is a repetition of what God had spoken to Eve in Genesis 3:15 and Noah in Genesis 9. In addition to promising to use Abraham's bloodline to bring about His redemptive purposes, we find additional promises concerning a land, a special relationship and untold blessing upon Abraham and his descendants. 

Ultimately, the covenant God made with Abraham would find its ultimate expression and fulfillment in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3-4) and will be finally completed by Him when He returns to restore Israel as a nation at His second coming (Romans 11:25). 

Isaac and Jacob stood as the heirs of this promise and Joseph typifies in his life and trials what would be a son, rejected by his brothers for the sake of being a savior of his people. Joseph, interestingly enough, foreshadows Jesus with respect to how Christ would be rejected by His people to be the Savior of His people. The book of Genesis is a marvelous book of the Bible and an awesome beginning to grasping all that God planned to do in unfolding His purposes of creation and redemption through the rest of scripture. Such a volume informs us as to what God wants to do in our lives and what He has achieved through Jesus Christ. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Book Review of Erwin R. Lutzer's Book: Rescuing the Gospel

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Galatians 1:11-12 "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."

Today's post is a brief review of a new book authored by the Pastor Emeritus of Moody Church in Chicago, Ill, Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer entitled: "Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation" (Baker Books, 2016). 

Dr. Lutzer's book comes at a very timely season, since October 17th, 2016 will mark the 499th anniversary of the watershed event sparking the Protestant Reformation (Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Door, stating his opposition to the Roman Catholic Church's selling of indulgences). I will first summarize the contents of the book and then conclude with some personal takeaways in the overall value of the book. 

Summarizing "Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation", by Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer

1. Laying the playing field for the book in the introduction and chapter one

In the introduction on page xv. of Dr. Lutzer's book: "Rescuing the Gospel", we find the following statement:

"Nearly all the conflicts of the Reformation are still ongoing today, albeit with different players and in a different context." 

By presenting his case as to why he wrote the book, he then begins chapter one by noting the "Power, Scandals and Corruption". Dr. Lutzer states on page one: 

"It's our nature to reject the gospel's verdict on us and resist the profound simplicity of it's transforming message of grace. The gospel must always be defended, and sometimes it must be rescued."

What Dr. Lutzer then does throughout the rest of chapter one is to lay the groundwork with his refreshing summary of the historic Protestant Reformation that shook the 16th century and which still has ripple effects today. 

2. What paved the way for the Protestant Reformation: chapters two and three

As the reader proceeds into chapters two and three of the book, one finds that there were two men who were used by God to call for reform in the Medieval Roman Catholic Church prior to the 16th century: John Huss and John Wycliffe. Both men lost their lives for their efforts in proclaiming the Gospel. Huss and Wycliffe's efforts provided a preview and foreshadowing of what would be a call for reform by Martin Luther. As Dr. Lutzer notes on page 7:

These prereformers tried to reform the church before the period we commonly refer to as the Reformation, but their success was limited and generally confined to local areas or a few specific issues. And yet their attempts weakened the stranglehold that the church had on the masses and paved the way for Luther.

3. The identity and significance of Martin Luther and his amazing life in chapters 4-12

As Dr. Lutzer introduces the reader to Martin Luther, the bulk of his book (chapters 4-12) presents a balance of Luther's beginnings; actions that triggered the reformation in Germany (such as his nailing of the 95 theses on the Door of the church at Wittenberg); his private life and struggles; his public debates with Catholic leaders and authorities; and then a final section on his family life. 

As a monk of the Augustinian Order of the Roman Catholic church, Luther began studying closely the New testament books of Romans and Galatians. Luther concluded that the church's view on how people were to be reconciled with God was at odds with the scriptures. Martin Luther's main contention with the Medieval Roman Catholic Church began with the issue of its sale of supposed extra-merits of grace to the masses which were termed "indulgences". 

The efforts of the Roman Catholic church to sell people on having less time in purgatory were aimed at funding the completion of St. Peter's Basilica Church in Rome. Luther found this practice to be offensive and posted 95 reasons why he opposed it and other practices of the church. This matter led to even bigger differences with which Luther had issue with the Pope and the church: namely how a person is made right before God (i.e justification by faith plus the Church's rituals or justification by faith alone) and the authority from whence we understand salvation, God and life in this world (The church or scripture alone).

The autobiographical style with which Dr. Lutzer presents Martin Luther in each of these chapters provides both spiritual lessons for believers today and valuable information concerning Luther and the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation. So much could be noted about the various trials, debates and adventures Luther ended up having as a result of his reform efforts. However, for sake of brevity, we will consider the following from page 141 of his book regarding Luther and his wife:

"Martin and Katie taught us not only how to live and love but also how to die. In the end, both humbly bowed to accept God's will in all things, including the inevitability of death. Even today their example of love and hard-won partnership is an inspiration to us all."

4. Three other major reformed movements that were contemporary with Luther's reforms - chapters 13-16

Dr. Lutzer then takes the reader to three other major movements which comprise the Reformation throughout Europe. Undoubtedly, Luther's reformed efforts in Germany lit a fuse that spread throughout Europe. 

In chapter 13, Dr. Lutzer summarizes the Swiss Reformation led by Huldrych Zwingli. Zwingli was a contemporary of Luther who at points took his efforts one step further. Luther attempted to reform the Roman Catholic church by never intending to break away from it (even though he eventually did). Zwingli on the other hand saw that if he were going to begin his reform efforts, a total break would be required. Both men would end up disagreeing with one another over the exact interpretation of the Lord's supper and how far to take the reforms. Zwingli's influence and reformation efforts would have its affects on another movement detailed by Dr. Lutzer called "The Anabaptists". 

In chapter 14, the reader is introduced to Anabaptists. This group of people represent what Lutzer calls "the radical reformation". The Anabaptists saw the need to not only break-away from the Roman Catholic Church, but even from the other Reformers' (i.e Luther, Zwingli and Calvin) view on the church as being more regional and the practice of infant baptism. Since the Anabaptists could not find infant baptism in the New Testament, Dr. Lutzer notes on page 154: 

"The men had been baptized as infants, but now they were baptized as adults on the profession of their faith in Christ." 

Since this group baptized anyone coming from the Roman Catholic Church into their fellowship, their enemies deemed them "ana-baptists", since they were accused of "baptizing again". As Dr. Lutzer details the life of this reformed movement, the reader finds how persecuted they were for their beliefs by both Roman Catholics and other Protestant groups. From the anabaptists would spawn such groups as the Mennonites, the Hutterites and the Amish. 

In chapter 15, the third movement we find in Dr. Lutzer's book is that led by John Calvin in the city of Geneva. Dr. Lutzer details Calvin's reforming of Geneva and lasting influence into today in chapter 16. Calvin's theology and view on church government influenced Christian leaders in places such as Scotland (led by John Knox), England (embodied by the efforts of the Puritans) and the Dutch Reformed church in Holland.  

5. The final chapter: Is the Reformation Over? 

The final chapter of Dr. Lutzer's book is perhaps the most significant chapter in the book, since he attempts to answer whether or not the reformation is still relevant for today. So the question is: "is the Reformation Over?" As mentioned earlier, 2016 stands as the 499th anniversary of the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation.  People may wonder whether Protestants ought to make peace with the Roman Catholic Church and vice-versa, since the lines drawn between them in the 16th century are surely no longer relevant for today. 

Per Dr. Lutzer's overall presentation, the call reformation must continue, since the Roman Catholic Church has retained tenets that are incompatible with the Evangelical Gospel of justification by faith alone. He lists reasons why the Reformation must continue and why the contemporary Romans Catholic Church will not and indeed cannot endorse an evangelical view of salvation on pages:

A. There can be no unity on the gospel of salvation without discussing indulgences, prayers to Mary, purgatory and the like.

B. Contemporary teachings which include Mary as being Queen of heaven and co-redeemer with Jesus.

C. The Roman Catholic teaching on transubstantiation 

D. The fact that the Roman Catholic Church still advocates indulgences or extra amounts of grace available through extra good works.

E. Other teachings that promote superstitions like weeping statues and its process of declaring departed Catholics to be "saints". 

Dr. Lutzer notes on page 199:

"The fact that there are some born-again believers in the Catholic churches is good news, but it doesn't affect the character of the church as a whole. No doubt there are many unnecessary divisions with the church today, but some are necessary when the doctrine of salvation is at issue. Yes, we must strive toward unity, but unity should not cause us to compromise the central doctrine of the scriptures. As the old saying goes, 'It is more important to be divided by truth than it is to be united by error."

As Dr. Lutzer closes out his book, he quotes Acts 20:28-32. In that Biblical passage, one finds Paul's final words to the church at Ephesus regarding warnings of false teachers infiltrating their ranks. The elders to whom Paul spoke to were ensure that the truth of the Gospel be preserved and protected - since the salvation of the souls of the congregation depended on it. The need for the Reformation and the thoughts of Acts 20:28-32 leads Dr. Lutzer to pen the following closing sentence: "This is our task in every age."

Final takeaways and Personal Assessment of the book 

This blogger found Dr. Lutzer's book to be accessible, informative, spiritually uplifting and compelling. If one possible criticism (and I use that term very lightly) could be raised, it would be that more material could had been devoted to the Anabaptists, Zwingli and Calvin to equal out the amount of material devoted to Martin Luther. Still, the conclusions Dr. Lutzer drew regarding the relevance and importance of the Reformation for today requires one to understand why Luther began the movement in the first place. If for anything else, the main value of "Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation" is this: the battle for clarifying, communicating and applying the gospel is never done. Each generation has the responsibility to attend to the task of proclaim this message until Jesus returns (Matthew 24:14).

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The fruit of goodness: what good is goodness in Christian salvation?

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Galatians 5:22-23 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."

Today's post considers the Holy Spirit-wrought virtue of goodness. The word translated "goodness" speaks of bearing the property or quality of goodness throughout one's actions. As I was thinking on this particular fruit of the Spirit, I pondered on what exactly the relationship is between our Christian faith and good works. 

Much discussion has ensued for centuries among Christians on the relationship between faith and works. Some suggest that one needs not to have any good works following their salvation for them to know the assurance of their salvation. Other groups have made works such a necessity as to make it a matter of priority prior to salvation. Since so much confusion persists even to our day as to whether we ought to practice liberty or legalism (which was part of the big issues dealt with by Paul at Galatia), I thought about what scripture and Christians of the past have said on this subject. Below are three headings which I hope will aid us in thinking about the priority God places on good works in salvation, and why this fruit of goodness is so important.

1. Good works cannot save the soul
Since Paul is speaking of the status of Christians post-salvation with respect to the fruits of the Spirit, we will return to the place of works post-conversion in a bit. The above first-heading is perhaps the least controversial point in these thoughts. Ephesians 2:8-9 for example notes: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." Other New Testament texts such as Romans 3:20 and Titus 3:4-5 uniformly declare that there are no amount of good works that we can do to contribute to our salvation. The Baptist Confession of 1689, Chapter 16, in its discussion on good works states:

"We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins."

All who hold to the Biblical Gospel would find no conflict nor controversy here. 

2. A specific good work saves the soul
This second heading may, on the surface, raise an eyebrow, since it sounds in conflict with the first heading. I had just labored to articulate how no one can be saved by good works, and yet now, it seems, I'm saying the opposite. However, notice the language of this second heading: "a specific good work". The specific good work is none other than that accomplished by Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:5-9 highlights how we are saved by grace through faith in what Christ has accomplished on the cross, from His resurrection and as a result of His ascension. Moreover, not only are we saved by the work Christ did on the cross, but also by the "works" He accomplished in His human life from birth up until that point (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:21). Theologians will sometimes refer to Christ's life and ministry as His "active obedience" and His work on the cross as His "passive obedience". Both categories of Jesus' activities comprise the perfect righteousness He worked on behalf of believers.  The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes:

"He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin." 

The Baptist Confession of 1689 is very instructive on this point regarding how Christians' good works are rooted in Christ's works:

"Yet notwithstanding the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as thought they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight, but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfection."

So when it comes to the fruit of goodness worked forth by the Holy Spirit, we understand Paul to be referring to those post-conversion good works that proceed forth from saving faith. Moreover, we understand such good works to only be valuable in so far as they are related to what Jesus achieved. We've seen thus far that good works cannot save the soul and that only a specific good work (namely Jesus' achievement) can redeem those who respond in saving faith. Now lets consider one last heading....

3. Souls are saved to do good works. 
Galatians 5:22 spells out the particular virtues worked forth by the Holy Spirit that evidence His empowerment in the Christian life. The fruit of goodness is so important, since it expresses the life-practical purpose for which sinners are saved in the first place. Ephesians 2:10 is often unquoted when compared to its far more famous forgoing passages of Ephesians 2:8-9. Notice what we read in Ephesians 2:10 - "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

When I think of the relationship between faith and good works I often think of the relationship between a mother and her small children. Watch What happens when a mother is walking with small children. Wherever she goes the little children will follow fast on her heels. Good works in the Christian Life follow true saving faith. The purpose of the Holy Spirit's working forth goodness is to enable us to achieve the practical end of our salvation. James in James 2 reminds us that just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead (James 2:16-17). As the Baptist Confession of 1689 notes: 

"Yet notwithstanding the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him."

Closing thoughts:
We looked today at how the fruit of goodness enables us to think of the relationship between faith and good works. We saw that no one is saved by good works. We then saw that only one specific set of works can save, namely the works of Christ. Then finally, we saw that we are saved to do good works.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What are the distinctions between creeds, confessions and doctrinal statements?

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1 Corinthians 8:6-7 "yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. 7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled."

Introduction: Creeds, Confessions and Doctrinal Statements
Today's post aims to offer an introductory discussion on the distinctions between creeds, confessions and doctrinal statements. The point: to better understand why some Christian church bodies use these similarly related terms. Undoubtedly, there may be some who would desire further improvement upon whatever explanation is offered below. With that said, the following thoughts aim to convey a possible starting point for considerations of how Christians through the millennia has expressed the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (see Jude 1:3).

To begin, when Christian refer to "creeds", "confessions" and "doctrinal statements", what exactly is being discussed? Although all three terms sound similar, there are distinctions. For sure, all three terms have great overlap and are often interchanged with one another. Still, there can be some distinctions drawn that can be instructive in understanding what Christians believe and how they communicate such. 

Creeds The term "creed" comes from the Latin credo meaning one's statement about what they believe. When we refer to "the creeds", most mean the three main historic creeds of the 4th, 5th and into the 6th centuries (Apostles' creed, Nicene creed and Chaledonian creed). In many churches throughout the world today, such creeds are recited by Christian to convey what they "believe" upon the basis of scripture. Such creeds providing a historical framework by which Christian confess the faith "once for all delivered to the saints". Below is what is called "The Apostles' Creed": 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
    the Maker of heaven and earth,
    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
    born of the virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell. 

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
    and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
    from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
    the holy catholic (or universal) church;
    the communion of saints;
    the forgiveness of sins;
    the resurrection of the body;
    and the life everlasting.


The second term, "confession", is like a creed, only with additional explanatory material including proof texts. Confessions are used more in teaching or doctrinal instruction settings to bolster the faith of new converts and the faith of congregants so as to supplement Biblical instruction that derives primarily from the exposition of God's Word. 

Sometimes, possible questions and answers (also called "catechisms") may be connected to such confessions. Catechisms serve to instruct new converts (called in the ancient church "catechumens"). Churches such as various Reformed churches (deriving their history from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century), some earlier Baptist bodies and Lutheran churches (historically traceable to Martin Luther, the great protestant reformer and claiming of course earlier roots back to the early church fathers) have confessions. Examples of confessions would include the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Lutheran Formula of Concord and the Baptist Confession of 1689.

Doctrinal Statements With creeds used by some congregations to recite what they believe in worship services and confessions of faith functioning to impart doctrinal instruction in one form or another, what about that third category: doctrinal statements? Doctrinal statements aim to not only instruct people who are already Christians, but serve as written summaries of what Christian bodies teach for all to read. Doctrinal statements, like creeds and confessions, derive their material from the Bible, but their particular subjects or headings are attempting to communication Christian doctrine to the culture. 

Hence, in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, we find articles such as Article 18 entitled "The Family" to summarize the Biblical teaching on marriage and the family in light of what has been the seismic shift in culture concerning the family. Typically, doctrinal statements (or what are sometimes called 'statements of faith') will not be as exhaustive as confessions, since doctrinal statements tend to be somewhat evangelistic as well as summaries of Christian teaching for instruction in churches. 

Closing thoughts
It is important to understand Church history and how Christian people of every generation have developed their understanding of God's Word in interactions with one another and culture. Discerning the distinctions between creeds, confessions and doctrinal statements can aid Christians in perhaps understanding other believers that derive from various denominations and which use slightly different terms. This post aimed to hopefully shed some light, recognizing that what was written only provides a very general thumbnail sketch. May God be glorified as Christians everywhere continue to confess the living Faith handed down by the Prophets, Christ and the Apostles through the inerrant Old and New Testaments. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Truths that save the soul - One Lord Jesus Christ, Equal with the Father

John 5:18  "For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God."

We noted in yesterday's post Jesus' unfolding of His true identity in John 5:21-26. His astonishing statements regarding His own deity served to present eternal truths that save the soul - the first of which being: "One Sovereign God, Who is Father". This first major truth provides the bedrock for what will be Jesus' revelation concerning His own equality with the Father and thus - His claim to Deity. Such truths are vital for Christians to understand. There are those truths that constitute "truths that save the soul" - with the truth about God being "One Sovereign God, Who is Father" fitting in such a category. Today's post turns to Jesus' words in John 5:16-46 once again to consider a second truth that saves the soul: namely, "One Lord Jesus, Equal to the Father."

Second Truth that saves the soul: "One Lord Jesus, Equal to the Father"
When we consider the characteristics of God the Father enumerated by Jesus in John 5:21-26, we find the following five main descriptions by which Jesus' teaching aligns with the revelation fo the Old Testament:

a. John 5:21a The Father raises the dead.  
-Dt 6:4-5 We are reminded here that God is One God
-Deut 32:6 “Do you thus repay the Lord, O foolish and unwise people? Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you.  
-Dt 32:39 See now that I, I am He,
And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal,
And there is no one who can deliver from My hand. 
b. John 5:22 The Father is the Final Judge. 
-Genesis 18:25b “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” 
-Daniel 12:2 “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”

c. John 5:23 The Father is Worthy of worship.  
-1 Chronicles 16:29 "Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come before Him. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!"

d. John 5:24 The Father is Savior Alone. 
-Isaiah 43:11 “I, even I, am the Lord, And there is no savior besides Me.”

e. John 5:26 The Father is Self-sufficient. 
-Psalm 90:2 “Before the mountains were born Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

These five main qualities are important in how the New Testament develops in its understanding of the identity of Jesus Christ. The assertion of God being One God Who is Father was not disputed among the Jews. Theologians across the years have sometimes used a convenient way of describing God and everything else by way of categorizing God in one category and creation in another category. We call such a summary "Creator vs Creation dividing line", as seen in the visual chart below:

God, the Creator      The Creation
One God, Who is        Angels
The Father                 Humans

Certainly, one could put other things in the second column: your dog, cat, car or whatever. God alone is in His own category. The Person of the Father bears the properties of Deity enumerated above in Jesus' description of Him. 

So is Jesus equal to the Father?
As Jesus carries on his response to the Jewish officials, He then intersperses His description of the Father with a description of His relationship to the Father. Prior to Jesus' ministry, no Jew conceived of the Father on personal terms. As we noted yesterday, Jesus' reference to Yahweh of Israel as His own Father was shocking to Jewish sentiment. So with respect to both the five main qualities of Deity outlined by Jesus about the Father, what did He say about Himself. Again, we turn to John 5 for the answers:

a. John 5:21b, 5:25 Jesus, the Son, raises the dead.

b. John 5:22, 30 Jesus, the Son, is the final Judge.

c. John 5:23 Jesus, the Son, is Worthy of worship.

d. John 5:26b Jesus, the Son, is       Self-sufficient

e. John John 5:39-40 Jesus, the Son, is Savior Alone.

This presents an amazing truth concerning the Person of Jesus Christ. The first eternal truth regarding God being One God Who is Father is not denied. Nonetheless, the equality of the Son with the Father is affirmed. So, how is it that both are true. From Jesus' teaching elsewhere (example: John 17:22-23), we find that He as the Son, and the Father as the Father, are two Persons sharing in the One nature of Deity. Concerning the little chart we noted earlier, where would this place Jesus in the Creator/Creation divide?

God, the Creator      The Creation
One God, Who is        Angels
The Father and          Humans
Who is the Son          Universe

With respect to Jesus' Divine nature, He is equal with the Father. But now, what about the fact that He is also man? Does this mean He ceased being equal with the Father? Remember, since Jesus' incarnation, He as One Person forever will expresses His existence in two ways: as truly God and truly man. If we were to appeal once more to our chart, it would fill out in the following way:

God, the Creator      The Creation
One God, Who is        Angels
The Father and          Humans
Who is the Son--------Jesus the man

Touching His human nature, Jesus operates on the creation side of the divide. Touching His Deity, He ever remains and operates on the Creator-side of the Divide with the Father. As Jesus walked this earth as a full-blooded man, He ever-retained His equality of nature and glory with the Father in the heavenly realms. His prayer in John 17:5 reminds us of His Pre-eternal. Such glory was retained by Christ and at His ascension was declared and reaffirmed in His exaltation. Amazingly, Jesus now retains the full-humanity He began partaking of from Mary's virgin womb - a reality which will forever cleave unto His Person. In short, Jesus Christ as God in human flesh is equal to the Father (and the Person of the Holy Spirit) with which He shares the One, eternal, Divine being as God. 

Closing thoughts
If Jesus Christ was not equal to the Father, then there would be no way He could provide salvation - since salvation is of the LORD (Isaiah 43:10-11; Jonah 2:9; Acts 4:11-12). As equal sharer in the One Divine nature with the Father, the Son of God came to our world to become an equal sharer with us in a truly human nature. If Jesus were not truly man, then He would be unable to be our Savior, since without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Leviticus 17:10-11; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:27-28). As we have seen today, this is yet another truth that saves the soul.       

Friday, September 23, 2016

Truths that save the soul - One Sovereign God, Who is Father

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John 5:16-18 "For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working. 18 For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God."

Introduction: Jesus said what?
A chain of events were set in motion that shifted the hostility of Jesus' enemies into high gear, when Jesus had healed the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda. Whatever their hostilities towards Him were, those animosities were cloaked under religious devotion and pious expression. Something about this particular miracle unleashed the pent up resentment. The Jewish leadership were looking for ways to undercut Jesus' ministry. Luke 6:7 records for example - "The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him." According to commentators, the Jews had devised 39 ritualistic laws concerning what one could do and not do on the Sabbath. Whenever the paralytic man that Jesus healed took up his bed and walked (John 5:8-9), that action broke Jewish religious law #39. 

If breaking of the Sabbath wasn't enough, the straw that would send Jesus' opponents into orbit would be the explanation Jesus gave them concerning why He did the miracle. In short, Jesus claimed to be not only doing the works of God - but, that He was performing such works as One equal in authority, power and glory as the Father. We know that Jesus made claims or did actions that served to demonstrate His identity as the God-man. In claiming the God of Israel as His Father meant that Jesus was setting Himself in an unprecedented category of having "an-in" with Yahweh. The Old Testament scriptures asserted Yahweh as "Father" of the nation of Israel in the sense that He was the God of Israel who had chosen and called them (see Deuteronomy 32:6). For Jesus to say that Yahweh was "His" Father was to express a category that, in Jewish ears, was not only unprecedented but highly inappropriate. In Mark 2:7 we read about the Jewish officials response to Jesus' pronouncement of forgiveness of sins to a man: “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” To say that "God was His Father" was Jesus' saying that He and the Father were equal and One in being whilst being distinct, Divine Persons. 

Today we want to follow Jesus' radical claim of deity. Contrary to what many say, namely - that Jesus never claimed to be God in the course of His earthly ministry - we will discover certain truths that Jesus unfolded that save the soul. Today's post features one of these saving truths: One Sovereign God, Who is Father. 

Saving truth: One Sovereign God, who is the Father
As Jesus expands on His response to the Jewish leadership desiring to persecute Him, He states in John 5:19 "Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner." This astonishing statement indicates that Jesus claimed nothing short of being able to behold the Father, Yahweh of Israel - with unmediated, unveiled eyes. According to Deuteronomy 32:39 and other Old Testament passages, no man has ever beheld the face of God and lived. The Jews equated direct experience and seeing of God as grounds for death (see Judges 13:22). Such a truth was the Old Testament's way of drawing the line of division between the Creator and the creation. In Isaiah 6 we find that not even the angels of Heaven have ever directly beheld the face of Yahweh, since they worship Him with wings veiling their faces.  Undoubtedly, John here in John 5:19 is reminding us that Jesus, though being truly man, was also truly God. Only the Son could truly behold the Father, since He shared in the same nature as He (see John 1:1 & 1:18).

As Jesus unfolds this truth of One Sovereign God who is Father, He intersperses His exposition with statements of His own unique relationship with the Father. Jesus never departed from the Old Testament truth that God was indeed One God, One Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Jesus' statements about the Father would had fallen in line with Jewish orthodoxy and with the Old Testament itself - since no one disputed the Deity of Yahweh as "Father". Five particular statements in John 5:21-26 are made by Jesus pertaining to the Father as One Sovereign God that can be traced back to specific Old Testament texts that assert such truths. The Sovereign God, Who is Father.....

1. Raises the dead. John 5:21a and Deuteronomy 32:39.

2. Final Judge of the all the earth. John 5:22; Genesis 18:25b and Daniel 12:2

3. Worthy of worship. John 5:23; 1 Chronicles 16:29

4. Savior alone.  John 5:24 and Isaiah 43:11

5. Self-sufficient. John 5:26 and Psalm 90:2

This first eternal truth "One Sovereign God, Who is Father" is a truth that saves the soul and is central to the Gospel, proclaimed by Jesus and the church today
The affirmation of the Father as the One true and living God is a cornerstone to saving faith. Old Testament texts such as 1 Samuel 2:1-2; Psalm 67:1-2 and Isaiah 43:10-11 affirm the uniqueness of God in His existence and His power to save His people. New Testament texts such as 1 Corinthians 8:6 never backed away from the Jewish affirmation of there only being "One God" or "Monotheism". One Savior. One Creator. Such statements affirmed the unwavering allegiance to the reality of One True and living God as the sole Savior. When the Jews had crossed the Red Sea, the proceeding plagues had served to dismantle the Egyptian polytheism and to show that such deities were fakes that could never save. Pharoah had set himself up as a deity and ended up drowning in the Red Sea. 

When we come to the New Testament, the affirmation of the One true and living God as the cornerstone of saving faith doesn't cease. Hebrews 11:6 notes for example: "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." The historic Christian church has made this great truth part of its confession of the Gospel that saves. For instance, the "Apostle's Creed" begins in this manner: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth...".1 The Nicene Creed, still recited by many Christians the world-over today, begins in the following fashion: "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible."2 As a more contemporary example, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 says the following in part about the Father: "God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ." 3

Closing thoughts
As we close out today's post, we have noted Jesus' unfolding of His true identity in John 5:21-26. His astonishing statements regarding His own deity served to present eternal truths that save the soul - the first of which being: "One Sovereign God, Who is Father". This first major truth provides the bedrock for what will be Jesus' revelation concerning His own equality with the Father and thus - His claim to Deity. Such truths are vital for Christians to understand. Without the correct knowledge of who God is and what He is like, Christians cannot identify the work God is doing in their lives. Moreover, the very definition of salvation in the Bible includes this first affirmation of "One Sovereign God, Who is Father". I'll close today with 1 John 5:20 - "And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."


Thursday, September 22, 2016

The fruit of kindness

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Galatians 5:22 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness".

Recently I had lunch with a chaplain of a local Christian ministry in our area. This man shared with me how he often will end-up ministering to some of the harder-to-reach people groups in tough situations. In meeting with this man, I noticed how he had a quality of kindness and gentleness that bespoke of an inner-strength within him. The kindness or gentle-quality of this chaplain went beyond human kindness. In the situations he talked to me about, the most effective way he seemed to build bridges to other-wise hostile people was through the Spirit-given fruit of "kindness" or "gentleness" spoken of by the Apostle Paul in the above passage. What makes such a virtue so precious in the Christian's life? What is meant by the fruit of "gentleness" or "kindness"? Today we want to briefly explore the fruit of kindness.

Christian kindness is connected to God's kindness
Whenever we talk about God's qualities or attributes, theologians often speak of those qualities which He shares with human beings, particularly His people. Such qualities shared between God and His people are called "communicable" attributes. Whenever we say God "communicates" a trait to His people, we are speaking in a comparative fashion, since human beings as His image bearers express those qualities in a creaturely way. So with respect to this Holy Spirit given virtue of "kindness", we find the Bible speaking frequently of God's "kindness" or "gentleness". For example, in Romans 2:4 and Romans 11:22 we read of the "goodness and kindness" of God leading sinners to repentance. At bottom, God is not only "Good", but "Kind". Such kindness or gentleness is far-from a deficiency in God. If anything, God's kindness to His enemies speaks of His goodness. As a matter of fact, God is so-good as to possess an overflow by which He can still show goodness even to those that have no desire to return the favor. The kindness of God speaks to the essence of His grace shown to all men in general and to those who respond to His overtures of grace in particular. 

Based upon what we observe of God's kindness, we could say then that this virtue of kindness or gentleness operates without any underlying motive of expecting kindness in return. Often-times, plain expressions of human kindness proceed on the basis of "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine". With the manner of kindness mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5:22, the kindness or gentleness is an unconditional, no-strings-attached type of kindness. 

Christian kindness is connected to Jesus Christ
In Titus 3:4 we read of how Jesus Christ's incarnation as God in the flesh counts as the "kindness of God" making the ultimate appearance in our world. he whole text of Titus 3:4-5 reads: "But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." Christ's very life was a total expression of kindness and gentleness. Again, we musn't conceive of this virtue as meaning Jesus to be some type of weakling. Far from it! To express this sort of kindness and gentleness in the face of situations that were anything but kind or gentle meant that Jesus had control over His response to those around Him. As God, the Person of the Son already had this particular Divine attribute of kindness. Whenever He came in His decisive revelation as the man, Jesus, this Divine quality of kindness was refracted and expressed in and through His perfect humanity. Jesus demonstrated this Spirit-wrought virtue of "kindness" or "gentleness" in its most purest form. As Paul writes in Colossians 3:12-13 "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you."

So Christian kindness as a virtue of the fruit of the Spirit is connected to God's kindness and to Jesus Himself. Let's consider one final point about this Spirit-given virtue of kindness....

Christian kindness is needed in our churches and our world
Imagine how people would respond to Christians and the church if this virtue of Spirit-wrought Christian kindness was at the forefront of our dealings? Paul connects this to the task of evangelism, by first noting in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 "And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain— 2 for He says,
“At the acceptable time I listened to you, And on the day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”. Paul then says later in a few verses in 2 Corinthians 6:4-6 "but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, 5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, 6 in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love." Such kindness can speak volumes in our evangelistic efforts.

Or how about in how Christians carry themselves in the culture? In the Old Testament we find the main character Ruth expressing her desire to ultimately marry Boaz in a custom where she approached him to be what was called her "kinsman-redeemer". In such a custom, whenever a widow's husband died, it was appropriate for her to be betrothed and married by her dead's husband closest relative (whether a brother or some other male relative). Such an arrangement meant that the "kinsman" would take on the widow's debts and property, hence "redeeming her". For Boaz, Ruth's expression of "kindness" spoke volumes to him. We read in Ruth 3:10-11 "Then he said, "May you be blessed of the LORD, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. 11"Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence." Such an incredible virtue like Christian kindness can go a long way in establishing one's character and rapport before others. 

Our churches definitely need to have more examples of such a virtue like the fruit of kindness. If for anything, our churches ought to be characterized as centers where people can see a level of kindness unfounded in any part of the world. God's kindness expressed through the Spirit-wrought virtue of kindness can result in influencing others towards Christ. Jesus Himself reminds us in Matthew 5:16  "In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." Or again, the Apostle Paul states in 1 Timothy 5:25 reminds us - "Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed."  

Closing thoughts
Today we focused on the fruit of Christian kindness. We saw its importance in how it is connected to God's kindness, Jesus' expression of kindness as God in human flesh and then how our church and world needs this kindness.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The fruit of long-suffering

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Galatians 5:22 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness."

I am sure you have in your home a "power-strip" to which various electrical-powered devices are connected. Most of the time we find "power-strips" near computers or in kitchens. Such devices have multiple outlets all routed into one cord and plug that in-turn plugs into a wall-outlet. Power-strips enable people to access the power they need through multiple outlets. Whenever we think of the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, such a list of virtues act as the Holy Spirit's power-strip for the Christian to plug their obedient Christian life into whilst living out their faith.

In past posts we have studied Paul's description of what is termed "the fruit of the Spirit". We have looked at the first three of these fruit: love, joy and peace. One could say that these first three fruit deal with Christian virtues that enable the Christian to relate to God from the inside-out. Today's post will feature the beginning of the second set-of-three in the nine fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 - namely "patience" or as some other translations render, "long-suffering". 

How God's "incommunicable" and "communicable" attributes aid us in understanding the fruit of the Spirit
One of the truths we learn about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 is that they are virtues born-forth by the Holy Spirit in the Christian who attends to following in obedience in Jesus Christ. Since the Holy Spirit is a member of the Trinity, He connects the Christian to those virtues and qualities that makes Christ-likeness possible. The particular virtue of "long-suffering" or "patience" can be better understood in connection with what we term God's "communicable attributes". 

One of the most profound studies one can undertake is to consider the attributes of God. Attributes are those expressions and traits of God's very being by which He expresses Himself. When God acted in history toward His people, He would reveal to them a quality or feature of His very being by which they could behold and worship Him. Theologian Elmer L. Towns notes the following about God's attributes on page 98 of his "Theology for Today":

"The nature of God defines his existence, whereas the attributes of God reflect His nature through attitudes, actions and points of relationship with His creation/creatures."

As theologians have studied the being and character of God by way of His attributes, two general categories have been offered to try to handle the subject. The first of these are what we call God's "incommunicable" attributes and the second type of attributes are termed "communicable". To negatively illustrate these words in a different context, we all know what a "communicable" disease like a cold-virus is all about. One can be at work or school and someone can suddenly sneeze on you. The next day, you find yourself exhibiting similar symptoms as the person from whom you caught or had "communicated" the cold. Thankfully, ailments such as cancer are "incommunicable", which means, they cannot be transferred by human contact. 

To positively illustrate these same words, what happens when an excited parent places gifts underneath a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and the children open such presents the next day? The excitement of the parent is somehow communicated to the children at the sight of those gifts. Now if there is a goldfish in that same room, that goldfish will be no more excited by the opening of the presents than if it were any other day. Such experiences are "incommunicable" with respect to the fish.

With God and His relationship to human beings, we understand that their are some attributes which (by analogy, mind-you), we share to-a-certain extent with God. In other words, there are attributes of God that are "communicable" and others attributes that are "incommunicable". Hence, Divine attributes such as infinity are "incommunicable", since only God is infinite. However, other attributes, like "long-suffering", is a moral quality that finds its comparative expression in the Christian. 

What God's long-suffering or patience communicates to the Christian who partakes of the fruit of "long-suffering"
God is described in scripture as a "long-suffering" or "patient" God (Exodus 34:6; Romans 2:4; 1 Peter 3:20). Other passages in the Bible describe Christians as being able to express "long-suffering" or "patience" as well (2 Timothy 3:10). Old Testament believers, such as the prophets, exercised "long-suffering" or "patience" (James 5:10), with Job offered as a chief example (James 5:11). Certainly we find passages that indicate that God's communicable attributes, like "long-suffering", are to be expressed by believers. Romans 15:4-6 describes how the scriptures connect God's communicable attribute of long-suffering to us: "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. 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Further study reveals that Jesus Himself is the contact point between us and Himself in Hebrews 12:3 "For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." God's long-suffering in the Spirit's working gives us a spiritual "long-fuse" with which to handle life, challenges and provides the power to endure hardship. 

Closing thoughts
As we considered the fruit of "long-suffering" or "patience", we discovered that by considering God's communicable attribute of "long-suffering", we can better understand this particular fruit. We also discovered that long-suffering is a vital virtue for the Christian, since it gives us the tools we need to persevere, the wisdom to handle life's challenges and the strength to look to Jesus - our Mediator. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

P5 - What the Christian "has" to live for God - Promise of a heavenly home

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2 Corinthians 4:16-18 "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

Over the last few days, we have considered what Jesus gives the Christian to live the Christian life. Whenever it comes to the Christian life, the New Testament urges the Christian to understand what all they have in Christ. The world, the flesh and the Devil work hard to detract followers of Jesus from their true identity. In 2 Corinthians 3-4 we find at least four things in the Christian's possession. We have noted three of them in the last few posts...

1. Positional Standing with God. 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

2. Power to live for God. 2 Corinthians 3:7-4:1

3. Person of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:2-12

Today we aim to finish out our series on what the Christian "has" with respect to living the Christian life. We will look at the fact the the Christian has a fourth important resource for living a life for God in this world, namely the promise of a heavenly home. 

The nasty here-and-now and the sweet-by-and-by
The first three resources have to do with living the life of faith in this world. With that noted, what else does the Christian "have". The Christian life is undoubtedly lived out in this world, yet, it is not just about this world. There is a world beyond this world that presses in on the Christian. The Old Testament prophets often spoke about the Heaven, eternity and the destiny of believers in faint outlines. When Jesus came on the scene, the reality of Heaven was brought to bear and the tangibility of such an "other-worldly" reality was shown to had "broken-into" our world by the coming of Jesus. The New Testament letters grant us even further exposition on the realities and glories of Heaven, with the Book of Revelation devoting entire chapters on the subject. 

When it comes to the subject of eternity, we find in the Christian a seed of hope that cause one to pine for the world-to-come. The late Dr. Adrian Rogers once remarked that the Christian life is not only about life in the sweet-by-and-by, but also about the nasty-here-and-now. Undeniably, the Apostle Paul is keenly aware of the "nasty-here-and-now" in 2 Corinthians 4:2-12. He switches gears and writes about the reality of the Christian's heavenly home driving them onward towards godly-living. In 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 we find the leverage of his argument for our heavenly home, with 2 Corinthians 4:17 being the fulcrum: "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison." This reference to the "sweet-by-and-by" contrasts with the present hardships. According to the Apostle Paul, the believer's heavenly home is without compare. 

What the New Testament has to say about the Christian's heavenly home
We know from other scriptures that the concept of Heaven being likened unto a city is found throughout the Biblical authors. According to Hebrews 11:9-10, Abraham the patriarch had been in search of it through faith. We as Christians are already designated a citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem above (Galatians 4:26; Philippians 3:20). Presumably these references are talking about the "third heaven" where believers in the Lord go when they die in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:5-6; 12:4).

The scriptures speak also of what will be a "New Heavens and a New Earth" (1 Peter 3:13). Jesus then told his disciples in John 14:1-3 that He is going away to "prepare a place" which we can presume to be the grand city described in Revelation 21 and 22. The whole point of Revelation 21-22 is to demonstrate that God in Christ with His people will come to tabernacle, and thus Heaven will characterize earth and earth's physical nature will characterize Heaven in the Eternal glory of those chapters.

A quick tour of the New Jerusalem
The place we call "Heaven" right now will no doubt be glorious. However, whenever we think of the New Heavens and Earth being prepared for by the Savior, we find a reality that will be even better than the current place called Heaven. We first of all note it is a Heavenly city (Revelation 21:10-11). This is most likely the same city spoken of by Jesus in John 14:1-3. 

As a heavenly city, it is secondly a costly city, composed of solid diamond gemstones (Revelation 21:12) and other costly materials such as gems and transparent gold (21:15-20). 

Thirdly it is a promised city, as seen by the names of the patriarchs and apostles inscribed on its gates and foundations (Revelation 21:13-14).

The fourth thing we can note about this city is its size: 1500 miles in each direction, with the same length characterizing its height. Quite literally this is a cube that is the size of North America or most of Europe. The height of this city has led many sound interpreters to conclude that the city may be composed of multiple stories and levels. To wonder if there would be enough space to live, some rough calculations yield that if the New Jerusalem, with all of its levels being a mile of distance from top to bottom (and this 1500 levels high) had tracts of space laid out for 8 billion people, each person would easily have 250 acres! What we must realize of course is that God is a big God and that the whole point of large proportions in any of His creations is to display His glory (Compare Psalm 19:1-6).

So in being a heavenly, costly and promised city that is quite grand in scope, we can notice yet another trait, fifthly that this city is a God-centered city (21:22-25). In as much as its studded gemstones and unfathomable beauty describe the New Jerusalem, without God as the light and the Lamb as the light, this city would never shine, would never be precious and would never be grand. 

We can note yet another trait, number six, that this city will be a life giving city (22:1-5). Notice how this city has a healing tree, a river of life and unending light.

So let us quickly review what we have noticed thus far about the New Jerusalem described in Revelation 21:9-22:5

1. Heavenly City
2. Costly City
3. Promised City
4. Large city
5. God-centered City
6. Living City

Why our heavenly home is cause for living the Christian life in this world
The New Testament visions of the believer's future heavenly home spark a rich desire to live for God in the here and now. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:18 "while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." Christians are a people that are ever pulled in two directions. The "outer-man" in these verses tugs our soul into this reality, this world. We often find ourselves tethered to making a living so as to nearly forget what life's meaning is all about. We are decaying and fading away. The other direction is the pull of the "inner-man" in these passages. The realities of eternity burn ever-brighter in the spirit of a man. Caught in the middle of this ongoing tug-of-war is our soul - the seat of personality, emotions, mind and choices. 

To know that as a Christian, I have a heavenly home, drives me onward to live for God. I find in these verses the supreme explanation as to why one must endure the hardships of life as a Christian. God is fitting us for eternity. Would it be that the believer's heavenly home lead their gaze of faith to point upward to Jesus. 

Closing thoughts
These last several days have been devoted to exploring what the Christian "has" to live the Christian life. We've noted four main truths from 2 Corinthians 3-4:

1. Position with God
2. Power to live for God
3. Person of Jesus Christ
4. Promise of a heavenly home