Thursday, August 31, 2017

Shadows Of The Truth - Hinduism And Buddhism Compared To Biblical Christianity

Image result for eastern religions
Acts 17:22-23 "So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you."


On August 21st, 2017, many people throughout the United States watched a solar eclipse. The wonder of the moon passing between our earth and the sun captured imagination and scientific curiosity. Where we live, relative to our location on the earth, the moon blocked out about 80% of the sun (due to being in what is called the "penumbra" of the moon's shadow). 

Image result for solar eclipse

A strange and faint shadow clung to the outside surroundings. For a brief moment, the day-time sky was dominated by a faint shadow. 

Whenever the Apostle Paul enters Athens Greece, he entered into the cultural and intellectual center of what had by that point represented the former glories of Greece. Rome was in power and the ancient Greek philosophies of the Stoics, Epicureans and others dominated the city. The intellectuals of the day did not realize they were dwelling in the shadows. They thought they had true light. 

The torch of reason burned on the mixed fuel of philosophical thought and paganism. God's general revelation of Himself, known to all people, was intermixed in with what had by that point become the warping of the truth. Paul came to bring forth the true light of the Gospel as so centered around the death and resurrection of Jesus.

All religions, philosophies and ideologies are striving to grab hold of a particular principle or truth that is a shadowy counterpart to the real sets of truths that is Christianity. All religions are a mixture of God's general revelation, man-made ideas, superstition and elements of spiritual darkness. As we can see in the opening text above, Paul indicates that his audience had an altar dedicated to "The Unknown God", quite literally in the Greek "Agnostos", from whence we derive the English word "Agnostic" to describe those who assert that one cannot know whether we can know anything about God. 

In today's post I wants us to consider to Eastern religions and their respective central projects: Hinduism and Buddhism. As will be seen, each of these strive to grab hold of a principle that is but a shadow of the reality proclaimed by Biblical Christianity.

Hinduism's Main Project And Shadow - Union With Whatever Is Divine. Christianity's Guarantee and Reality - Union With God Through Jesus Christ

C.V. Matthew, a specialist in the belief system of Hinduism, writes in his book: "The Saffron Mission. A Historical Analysis Of Modern Hindu And Missionary Practices" (Cambridge Press. 1999):

"Roughly 8 “sects” of Hinduism. Hinduism portrays itself as an all-inclusive, tolerant, multi-path system to the Ultimate Religion. All Hindus view themselves as the society of the living God. They desire immersion in all of life’s activities while trying to gain, on their view, good karma in this life. For the Hindu, union with what they deem “Universal Soul”. Hinduism is as much about the Indian culture, language and way of life as the rituals." 

It needs to be understood that in this post, we are painting with a very broad brush. Nevertheless, to get to the root of Hinduism's main goal, one could say that all the rituals, the 330 million deities, the various sects, the various holy books (Vedas, Upanishads and the like) are all aimed at one thing: escaping the cycle of birth/rebirth and to find union with the Divine principle they call "Brahma". 

In Hinduism, people are endlessly born, dying and being reborn as different life forms. Evil and sin are illusions or “maya”. The goal of Hinduism is to come to a union with the impersonal “all” or “Brahma”, thus getting past the illusion of good and evil. Depending upon how morally one lives in this life and how much ritual one participates in will, in the Hindu mind, determine whether one has "good Karma" or "bad Karma". Karma is a Hindu word referring to "works or deeds" and is essentially a debt-based system of works salvation. 

Apologist and author Ravi Zacharias notes about Hinduism: “For the Hindu, karma-the moral law of cause-and-effect-is a life-defining concept. Life carries its moral bills, and they are paid in the cyclical pattern of rebirth until all dues are paid in full. Hinduism here conveys an inherited sense of wrong, which is lived out in the next life, in vegetable, animal, or human form. This doctrine is nonnegotiable in Hindu philosophy.”

Sanasara is likened to a wheel of sorts, wherein a person keeps literally going around in circles. "Sanasara" (sometimes spelt: “samsara”) and its related concept "karma" portray a person trying to live good enough in this life to have a better spot in the next. The goal of Hinduism is to escape "Sanasara" and to achieve "Moksha" or union with the Universal Soul.

The Bible paints a different picture. There was a literal Adam and Eve and a serpent named Satan who came to tempt them. Passages such as Romans 5:12 summarize for us the events of the fall, namely that through one man, sin entered into the world, and through sin came death upon us all. In contrast to Hinduism, evil and sin are not illusory. Instead, they’re realities that intruded into the perfect creation made by God (See Genesis 3:7-21; 1 Kings 8:46; Rom. 5:11-21) 

In Biblical Christianity, we find that God has provided Himself in the Person of the Son taking unto Himself a truly human nature in His incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus Christ is the One way through which all by faith can have union with God through Him (see John 14:6; 2 Peter 1:3-4). This union is a relational union. 

Unlike Hinduism, the follower of Jesus Christ does not go out of existence or meld their human nature into God's Divine nature. Instead, the Christian comes to participate in and with Christ, Who is Himself united to the Christian by way of His human nature while at the same time ever united to the Father and the Holy Spirit by way of His Divine nature. Only Christianity guarantees reconciliation, relationship and thus true reunion with God in Christ.

Buddhism's Central Project And Shadow: Refuge From Distress And Pain. Christianity's Promise And Guarantee: Redemption And Forgiveness Caused By Sin And Pain

Jacky Sach, a practicing Zen Buddhist, writes in her book: "Essential Buddhism - Everything You Need To Understand About This Ancient Tradition" (F+W Publications, 2006), concerning the central aim of Buddhism:

"Our minds can be our worst enemies. When we desire something our egos can come out in full force and feel threatened at the idea of not getting what we want. We can become irritable, selfish, and stressed. Whether our desire is for a new home, a new job, a larger piece of pie, or peace of mind, the threat of not achieving our desired objective can turn us into unruly and unpleasant individuals. Trying to turn over our desires, to find a place in life where we are content just to be, filled with compassion and love for our fellow humans and our surroundings, is absolutely heaven on earth."

Siddharta Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born to an affluent family around the time of 566 b.c. When he came to be aware of the world outside his palatial home, Gautama witnessed suffering, pain and hardship. He saw the injustice of suffering and concluded that the problem lied within each person by way of their desires. By a process of a seven-year journey of introspection, Gautama became renamed as "Buddha" or "the enlightened one". His claim was that by becoming detached from one's desires and discovering that ultimate reality is nothing, one can achieve "Nirvana" or a semblance of heaven here on earth.

The problem with Buddha's teaching was that he was teaching a half-truth. Surely the issues of humanity's problems are found within man, but the way he described it and the solution he proposed was way different than from what we see in Biblical Christianity. Buddha attempted to achieve his project apart from any belief in any deity, let alone the true and living God. 

In the end, Buddhism is a system of practice and belief that tries to reform and purify humanity without God. By detachment from everything, including desire, the Buddhist claims their own brand of salvation.

Biblical Christianity proclaims the truth of how sin and evil are real (Genesis 3:7-15; 1 Kings 8:46; Romans 3:23; 5:11-21) and how Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8), redeem sinners who believe by grace (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9) and to make all who follow Him by faith into new people (2 Cor. 5:17). In Christianity, rescue from sin involves not detachment but reattachment to the God who made me and redeemed me (2 Corinthians 5:15-21). 

Reality is not nothing but something that God will one day transform into a New Heavens and New Earth, wherein righteousness will dwell (2 Peter 3:13). Heaven is a real place, not a state of mind (John 14:1-3; Philippians 3:20-21). Hell is a real place that can be avoid in Christ by faith but will be occupied by those who persist in their rejection of God and Christ and die in their sins (Luke 16; John 3:36). Only in Jesus Christ is true forgiveness, freedom and redemption found (John 8:12, 36; Ephesians 1:7). 

Closing thoughts

Today we considered shadows of truth that are found in two world religions: Hinduism and Buddhism. We also noted that despite their best efforts, all religions outside Christianity fail to arrive at the central purposes of their respective projects. In Jesus Christ alone is found true union with God by faith and true redemption and forgiveness that is caused by sin. As we consider the imitations and comparison to the genuine article, we can come to better appreciate all that God offers in Jesus Christ through the Old and New Testaments. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Defining Total Success - Romans 10:15-17

Image result for hurricane warnings
Romans 10:15-17 "How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” 16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."


Our family lived in Florida for a number of years. I can recall the year when we experienced three hurricanes. It was astonishing to see how many people would vacate a given area to escape the path of the storms. What was even more amazing was to see the resolve some had in choosing to ignore such warnings. I can recall one video that showed a man sitting on top of the roof of his home while it was floating in the aftermath of a particular hurricane. We shake our heads at such things, and yet, when it comes to heeding God's Word, we sometimes choose not to respond. 

Just as no one could blame the weatherman nor law enforcement for the choices of some to ignore their repeated warnings - so too must it be said of those who plea with unsaved loved ones and friends to believe the Gospel. Today we want to consider what counts as success in the task of evangelism.

Who fails when the Gospel is delivered?

Paul is dealing with the irrationality that characterizes the response of unbelief to the Gospel. In Romans 10:15, we find Paul appealing back to a practice in ancient cities that involved messengers bringing news from a battle-line or from another city. 

Watchmen would be situated along the walls of a given city. Whenever they spied a runner with a message on the horizon, they would signal the inhabitants and city official to gather at the city-gate to receive the messenger. Once the messenger arrived, the major concern was whether or not such a person had good news. Whenever the news was favorable, the saying would go: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

However, there are some people who might not had agreed with such estimations. Maybe, for example, they were secretly hoping for a different outcome to the battle or, maybe they were not on the side of the officials. No one can blame the messenger, nor the contents of his message for rendering the response of rejection. It is always a matter of the listener's heart - since, after all, that is the heart of the matter. 

What succeeds in the task of evangelism?

Thankfully, Paul writes in Romans 10:17 "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." These words assure those delivering the Gospel that success is not measured by the response of the listener, but rather by the obedience of the messenger. 

Isaiah 55:6-10 gives a fuller treatment of these thoughts. Note the appeal given by those bringing the good news to unbelievers in Isaiah 55:6-7 "Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, For He will abundantly pardon."

We then find the messenger answering anticipate objections, reminding the listener that the appeal of the message comes from God and not man in Isaiah 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts." Truly God's grace is needed for the grasping and reception of the message (hence the point of Romans 10:17).

Then we come to the part of Isaiah's exposition that states why no evangelistic appeal is ever a failure. The delivery of God's Word will result in one of two things: conviction leading to repentance or condemnation of the person's sin which will result in their digging in of the proverbial heels (compare John 16:8-11). God's Word never renders anyone neutral. Isaiah 55:10-11 states - “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it."

Closing thoughts:

Therefore we find that God's Word is always working. Delivering the message of the Gospel spells success for the messenger. God's work in His Word never fails, since He facilitates the well-meant offer of salvation to sinners by the Holy Spirit's active work of convicting sinners. The ball of responsibility is always in the court of the one receiving or rejecting the message. Would it be that we not cease nor give up on those around us. Would it be that we ever place our confidence in Christ and the power of the Spirit working through the Gospel. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Interpreting Jesus' Parables And Using Them To Understand Other Parts Of The Bible

Image result for parables
Matthew 13:10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”


In today's post we aim to introduce the reader to the parables of Jesus and some practical tips to studying and applying them.  Not only do Jesus' parables connect readers and listeners to important spiritual truths, but at times, Jesus' parables can shed light on harder-to-understand portions of the Bible. We will begin this post by first defining a parable, and then walk our way through various examples on how to interpret and apply the parables of Jesus by using one of His more well-known parables: "the parable of the soils"

1. What is a parable?

The most fundamental meaning of the term "parable" as to do with taking a known idea, principle, experience or story and placing it alongside a spiritual truth in order to shed light on that spiritual concept. The simple diagram below illustrates what is literally meant by the term "parable":
----------------------spiritual truth--------------------

____common experience, story, illustration__

The term "parable" comes from two Greek terms: "para" meaning "alongside" and "ballo" meaning "to throw, cast".  When combined together, the term describes someone like Jesus taking a known thing and "casting it up alongside" and otherwise unknown spiritual truth that needs illuminated to the listener. 

Some Bible teachers estimate that in upwards of 30% of Jesus' teaching was in the form of parables.1  We discover over 50 parables of all different forms told by Jesus in the pages of the four Gospels. By studying them we can glean important insights into areas such as salvation, practical everyday Christian life, the Kingdom, the supernatural realm, bringing glory to God and relating to other people.

2. How do we understand the parables?   
As we come to the parable of the soils in Matthew 13:1-23, Jesus gives us the key to understanding His parables. As a matter of fact the parallel passage in Mark 4:13 actually has Jesus saying: "And He said to them, 'Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?" We will first of all look at the simple method for interpreting Jesus' parables as gleaned from Matthew 13:1-23 and other passages.

a. Observe the setting of the parable.
In Jesus' parable of the Sower the setting features a sower or a farmer, seed and different types of soils.  Consulting a good Bible Dictionary or a good Study Bible with study notes can enable the reader to begin understanding the imagery of many of Jesus' parables. Resources such as J. Dwight Pentecost's "The Parables of Jesus" notes: Since wheat was a staple of the diet in Palestine, the procedure of raising wheat would had been very familiar to the Lord's hearers. In preparation for sowing the seed, the ground was cleared of all old growth. This caused the entire field to look the same. The sower had no idea of what roots or rocks lay beneath the surface soil."

Pentecost then compares this ancient method of farming to today:

"The soil was not plowed as is done today, but rather the seed was broadcast by the sower on the surface of the soil. The seed was then scratched into the soil with a primitive wooden plow. The sowing was done before the early rains that caused the seed to germinate. The sower waited through the growing period for the coming of the latter rains that brought the grain to full fruition and thus provided a bountiful harvest."

Such background information will ensure the reader that they are getting to the intended meaning meant by Jesus and a better understanding of what He is communicating.

b. Find the key point of the parable.
Parables by and large are designed to communicate one main idea, principle or truth, however there will be those parables that are composed of multiple parts, requiring each part to be interpreted.  Jesus' parable of the soils is told by Jesus in Matthew 13:1-9, with His own interpretation of it given in 13:18-23. Clearly there is more than one part to the parable, however there is at the same time one overall theme, namely the different patterns we see in how people hear and understand the Word of God (compare Matthew 6:23). 

Bible scholar Simon J. Kistemaker reminds us: Althought it is generally true that a parable teaches only one basic lesson, this rule should not be pressed too far. Some of Jesus' parables are complex in composition. Later he writes: Moreover, in Jesus' parables it is not the beginning of the story but the end that is important."3

c. Cross reference other scriptures to see how the parable connects you to other parts of the Bible.
Jesus' telling of this parable of the soils in Matthew 13 ought to be compared to His telling of it in Mark 4:3-8 and Luke 8:5-8. Such cross comparison can enable the reader to understand the nuances of Jesus' parables. 

Over time the parables can provide a window in which to see the broader unity of the Word of God. In seeing the bigger picture of God's truth, we can then come back to the parable itself and have an even better understanding.

Take for instance Paul's discussion in Romans 10:16-21 of how the majority of people hearing the Gospel end up not heeding it. There are certainly excuses typically raised by people for not believing the Gospel, which Paul dismisses due to all men being without excuse (see Romans 1:18-21; 10:18:21). Why is it that people so often either reject the gospel or seem to believe but then later on fall away? Jesus parable of the soils can aid in shedding further light on the interpretation of Romans 10:16-21. 

The first three soils in Jesus' parable refer mainly to hypocrites or "make-believers" that seem genuine but do not possess true saving faith. Only the fourth soil in Jesus' parable speaks of one who have "heard the word in an honest and good heart" (Luke 8:15). The first three types of people in Jesus' parable and those in Paul's exposition are like those described in Hebrews 4:2 "For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard." 

d. Live out the main point or teaching(s) of the parable
It is obvious that the reason why parables begin in the realm of the known and proceed to the unknown is to get the listener to bring spiritual truths to bear in everyday life. As James notes in James 2:26 "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." In studying the parables, the reader or listener or preacher is able to cloth spiritual and oftentimes abstract principles in the garments of everyday life. Ordinary life is where God would have us to live out extraordinary lives for His glory.

1. Simon Kistemaker. The Parables - Understanding the Stories that Jesus Told. Baker. 2002. Page 10 

2. J. Dwight Pentecost.  The Parables of Jesus.  1982. Kregel. Page 46.

3. Simon Kistemaker. The Parables - Understanding the Stories that Jesus Told. Baker. 2002. Page 11

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Holy Spirit's Work In The Lives Of Non-Christians And Christians

Image result for the Holy Spirit's work
John 16:8-11 "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged." 

John 16:12-13 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.


The opening passage for today's post has been put into two distinct sections that highlight the Holy Spirit's work in the lives of unbelievers (John 16:8-11) and believers (John 16:12-13). As a quick note on the latter of these, although Jesus' instructions are primarily toward the apostles, by extension, the Spirit's work described by Jesus can include all Christians (see for instance 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 1 John 2:20,27). 

The Divine Person of the Holy Spirit and His workings among and in people

Today's post features the Holy Spirit's work among non-Christians and Christians. Whether people realize it or not, God in the Person of the Holy Spirit is ever working to bring the glory of God to people. The Divine Person of the Holy Spirit is the Member of the Trinity that works as the chief agent in affecting conversion in sinners and ongoing change in the lives of Christians. As a Divine Person, the Holy Spirit is truly God - thus making what He does among people a work of God and entailment of the other two Members of the Trinity (the Father and the Son). 

The Holy Spirit works as the Ambassador of the Trinity, bringing to unbelievers the power and Person of the Son for them to place their trust. Unbelievers need His works of conviction and soulish illumination to enable them to either perceive the message of general revelation that leaves them without excuse or to quicken them to the special revelation of the Gospel that leads to true saving faith. 

Christians need the Spirit's working from the inception of regeneration all the way through to the end before their leaving this world. By the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, each Christian is reminded that they are an adopted son or daughter of the Heavenly Father (see Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:4-6) and have Jesus as their elder brother according to the flesh (see Hebrews 2:14-17). Below is an unfolding of these general observations in further, specific applications as it regards the Holy Spirit's workings among non-Christians and Christians.

The Holy Spirit's work among non-Christians

First, sinful man must have the Spirit’s work of convincing Him that Jesus is worthy of worship. The problem is that sinful man has no desire to worship this great God. The Holy Spirit’s task in regenerating lost sinners in saving faith is to remove the heart of rebellion against God and replace it with a heart that desires God. Romans 8:5-6 tells us – “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” 

The preacher may come to you with polished words and the song leader may be angelic in their voice and musical ability. Yet, lest the preacher’s message be accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s conviction and lest the song service be charged with the Holy Spirit's anointing power, all will fall on deaf ears. The anointing refers to the Holy Spirit's ministry in delivering whatever is necessary to break away the dependence upon self and to receive empowerment as a result of dependence upon God. As mentioned, The Holy Spirit acts as the Ambassador of the Trinity. He brings the desire to worship God to unbelieving man, convicting him of sin, righteousness and judgment and making known to Him the things of God (John 16:8-12).

The Holy Spirit's work among Christians 

Then in terms of the Holy Spirit's working in the Christian life, the New Testament details the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life from its inception as seen in the following ministries He performs:

i. New Birth/regeneration.
James 1:18 "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures."

ii. Filling of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18 "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit."

iii. Leading/prompting of the Spirit
1 Corinthians 10:13 "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." Philippians 3:15 "Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you."

iv. Union with Christ by the Spirit
1 Corinthians 12:13 "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." (1)

v. Anointing/power/illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit
1 John 2:20 "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know."

1 John 2:27 "As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him."

Closing thoughts:

As we close out today's post, we have toured the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of unbelievers and Christians. May all of us be ever receptive to His work in our lives. 

(1) This particular point is not water baptism, which follows and signifies the reality of this work of the Spirit already having occurred in conversion. Water baptism is a God-ordained picture that re-enacts and illuminates the new believer to the truth of what happened to them at salvation.  People don't get water baptized to get saved and spirit baptized, rather they are water baptized following their salvation. 

Water baptism logically connects the new Christian back to the reality of their prior spirit baptism, however it does not impart the salvation which it pictures or points.  In the death, burial, resurrection sequence of believer's baptism by immersion, the Christian acts out in sign form the Spirit's uniting of them to Jesus Christ which occurred in His spiritual baptism or uniting of them to Christ at prior saving faith.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How The Word of God Works In Regeneration And Sanctification

Image result for The Word of God
Romans 10:17 "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."


The beginning of the Christian life starts with regeneration or the new birth (John 3:1-5; Titus 3:4-6; 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18). The continuation of the Christian life following regeneration in saving faith is what the Bible terms "sanctification" (1 Corinthians 1:30; 6:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 4:3). Both graces require the same ingredients for each to begin and carry forth: the Holy Spirit, an open heart of faith and the Word of God. 

One could say that the Holy Spirit is the Agent responsible in initiating the miracle of regeneration and regulating (with a cooperating believer) the ongoing work of sanctification. Certainly without a heart open to truth in light of the Spirit's working, there can be no salvation to be worked forth by Him. In like manner, unless a believer has a heart open to growing further in the things of God, sanctification by the Spirit in cooperation with that saint won't be forthcoming. 

So what about the words of the Bible? What does scripture have to say about itself with respect to its role in regeneration and sanctification? 

The Word of God In Regeneration

First, let's consider the work of regeneration wrought forth by the Holy Spirit in the human heart. We find the following scriptures testifying to the role of God's word in salvation:

Luke 16:31 "But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

1 Corinthians 1:18 "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

1 Thessalonians 2:13 "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe."

2 Thessalonians 2:14 "It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."

James 1:18 "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures."

1 Peter 1:23-25  "for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24   For, “ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE   FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, 25 BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.” And this is the word which was preached to you."

It is a remarkable thing to think about when we talk about the preaching or teaching of a book resulting somehow in a change of heart. It surely cannot be attributed to the skill or personality of the preacher whenever a soul makes a decision for Jesus Christ. What is there about the Bible that makes it different from any other book in the world? 

I recall once talking at length with a Muslim man about the Quran. My question to that man was whether or not the reading aloud of the Quranic text could make a convert to Islam. He looked at me rather puzzled and said: "no, not really". The Muslim's religion knows nothing of converting power coursing through the words of its religious tome.

The Bible is different. All of the verses I mentioned above reveal that the reading aloud, preaching, teaching or explanation of the words of the Bible bring about the conversion of the soul. Even seeing the precious text of the Bible and reading it to oneself can result in a heart open to truth in general to saying yes to Jesus in a specific act of faith. The miracle of regeneration in the soul is wrought by God's miracle book: the Bible.  

The Word of God in Sanctification

1 Corinthians 2:10-13 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words."

Colossians 1:4-6  "since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;           5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6     which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth."

2 Thessalonians 2:13 "But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning  God has chosen  you for salvation through sanctification  by the Spirit and through belief in the truth."

Hebrews 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

1 Peter 2:2 "Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for your salvation."

In the five verses I just listed, we discover that the same Bible that the Spirit uses in bringing about regeneration in saving faith is the chief instrument through which the Christian exercises himself or herself in sanctification. It wasn't too long ago that I was listening to a lecture by a prominent atheist professor of religion at a well-known university. If I were to mention this professor's name, some may recognize him by his many books in which he criticizes the Bible and Christianity. 

This professor explained in his lecture how he begins each semester of his university course on religion. He does an informal poll of the class (many from the so-called Bible belt of the United States). He will ask them: "how many believe the Bible to be the Word of God?" The forest of hands in the room testify to the majority view of the class. The next question he will asks pertains to a currently popular movie or book and he asks the students again how many have seen the movie or read the book. Again, many hands shoot up in the room. The third question raised by the professor concerns how many in the class have read the Bible through from beginning to end, at least once. By that point, only two or three raise their hands. 

The professor at this point then tells the class that for a book they believe to be authored by God Himself, one would think that everyone in the class would had read that book. Think about it, an atheist professor, no friend to the Bible nor Christianity, sees the folly of neglecting the Book of God. Yet, so few Christians ignore the Bible to their peril. The Bible is the primary means used by the Spirit in shaping and molding the willing Christian in becoming more Christ-like in their sanctification. Truly God's Word which can change the heart and keep the saint must be kept as priority in its reading by any Christian desiring to change from one level to the next in their sanctification. 

Closing thoughts

Today we explored how the Word of God works in regeneration and sanctification. Unless God's Word is part of the Gospel equation, no one will believe and be saved. Unless God's Word is intertwined in Christian sanctification, the Christian commitment of the child of God will stagnate and grow sterile. The Bible is God's living Word. It breathes life into the heart dead to God and breathes life into the heart wanting and needing to grow in God. Would we all cherish and take more seriously that precious book called "The Bible", "The Word of God". 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Christmas In July And Romans 10:4

Image result for Christmas in July
Romans 10:4 "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."


I've always thought it quite odd that commercials for Christmas shopping begin in July. It seems odd that in the heat of summer there are ads with snowmen, evergreen trees and the lights of Christmas. Of course, all diligent people who know the nature of Christmas shopping exercise prudence in starting to shop early. The stores know that what they advertise in July will prepare people for that big day - Christmas day. What may seem sort of out-of place and irrelevant in the summer will give way to a sigh of relief on the morning of December 25th. The ads, strange commercials and the like are a means to an end. 

Understanding the meaning of "Christ is the end of the law"

Whenever we consider the purpose of the Old Testament: with its rituals, law, Patriarchs, prophecies, promises and the nation of Israel - there is a sense in which all of those different elements are advertising for some big upcoming event and Person. The word for "end" used by Paul in Romans 10:4 speaks of a purpose, a fulfillment and a completion of a process. Jesus Christ is the intended subject and object of Old Testament expectation and Biblical salvation. 

Christ did not come to bring an end to the Law, but rather to show us what it looks like when it is being fully lived out and to complete the righteousness which it demanded. In a wider sense, Christ's incarnation, cross, resurrection and ascension fulfills and explains everything we find in the Old Testament (see Luke 24:44). Most English translations render the word as "end". Consider how various English translations render Romans 10:4

Romans 10:4 (NIV) "Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes."

Romans 10:4 (NLT) "For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God."

The word translated "end" or "culmination" or "already accomplished" is the Greek noun "telos", which we find in English words like "television" and "telescope". With a "television", I'm literally getting a broadcast of a full and complete event as it is unfolding in real-time. 

Image result for televisions

With a telescope, I am "scoping out" the full and complete range of stars and planets that fall within my line of view.

Image result for telescopes

Such ideas describe how Christ was the fulfillment of God's revealed plan of salvation in the Old Testament. Take notice of some texts that aid us in understanding Romans 10:4 - 

John 8:56 "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”

Hebrews 1:1-2  "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world."

1 Peter 1:10-11 "As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow."

Like televisions and telescopes, the prophecies, promises and people of the Old Testament were televisions and telescopes through which people could see the "end" focus: Christ Jesus.

Without Jesus Christ, there is no salvation

What would had been the outcome if Jesus had not come, died on the cross nor raised from the dead? We would be forever looking for the culmination of God's promises and predictions which were made in the Old Testament. If God the Father and Son had not covenanted in eternity to supply the salvation necessary to redeem sinners; if the Son had not agreed to be incarnated as the man Jesus of Nazareth; if He in turn had not agreed to go to the cross and raise from the dead - all bets would be off. To say Jesus Christ is the "end" of righteousness means there is no more to be done. 

Much like the enthusiasm that accompanies Christmas morning, Christ's arrival and accomplishment brought with it joy and a sense of relief. The wait was over. Now it is the responsibility of every Christian to tell as many people as possible that He has come. Their efforts to try harder and do better are unnecessary. The gift of eternal life is just that - a gift. 

Dr. Adrians Rogers once summarized all other religions by noting that they could be summarized as "do-do-do-do". However, Christianity can be summed up with respect to the salvation offered and received upon saving faith: "d-o-n-e". So when you really think about it - maybe Christmas ads in July aren't so strange after-all. God used all of human history, the nation of Israel and 39 Old Testament books to prepare and put forth the only Savior that can save - Jesus Christ. Now it is a matter of receiving by grace through faith His incomparable gift! 

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Problem With Man-Made Salvation - Romans 10:1-4

Image result for bad cup of coffee
Romans 10:1-4 "Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."


I'm a big coffee drinker. Years ago I began drinking coffee while working on night shift at a manufacturing plant. My recipe for the perfect cup of coffee included a little bit of milk, the coffee and a few teaspoons of sugar. One day when I had awoken from my sleep to get ready for the day, I made my typical cup of coffee. The night before had been particularly long. I was bleary eyed and not fully awake. I poured in the milk, the coffee and what I thought was sugar. When I began to sip and savor that coffee, I immediately was jarred awake and had to spit it out in the sink. Why? I had unwittingly substituted what I thought was sugar. In the sugar's place I had spooned in table salt! The perfect cup of coffee recipe was ruined. The coffee was unfit for human consumption and was worthy of a trip down the sink.

Do you realize when it comes to changing lives, people try the wrong recipe? Human beings are born with what we call "original sin", meaning that the original sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was transmitted down through every generation (see Genesis 3:1-14; Romans 5:11-21). This "original sin" has warped and ruined the human mind, will and emotions - resulting in man's inward curvature toward himself and away from God. Human beings know they are guilty and sinful, and thus try to manufacture their own version of salvation. 

In Romans 10:1-4, we find the Apostle Paul mourning over the spiritual condition of his fellow Jews. The nation of Israel alone had received God's Law, the revelation of the Old Testament and the promises (see Romans 9:1-5). Furthermore, from the humanity of the Jewish nation would derive the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Tragically, Israel in Paul's day had most of the ingredients needed for salvation, save one: a heart of faith. 

Man-made salvation is described by Paul in Romans 10:1-4 as having something, missing something, wanting something and rejecting something.

1. First, we find that man-made salvation does have one thing: Desire to worship. Now of course, the unbelieving heart won't worship the true and living God. Sadly, the Jews in Paul's day "had a zeal for God", but, not according to knowledge. They worshiped what they thought was in the right way. Instead, they had mixed together the truths of God as given to them in the Old Testament with centuries and layers of human tradition. When we don't worship in God's way (Jesus), we won't get to the true and living God. 

The result? The people were more zealous for the trappings of their religion and man-made system than the God of revelation. Nevertheless, the human propensity to worship stems from being made in His image, having eternity written on the heart (see Genesis 1:26-28; Ecclesiastes 3:11). Unless there is genuine salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, this impulse will be misguided and steer the person further and further away from God. 

2. In addition to having one thing, man-made salvation is missing one thing: saving knowledge of God. We read in Romans 10:2 "For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge." The Greek word used by Paul in Romans 10:2 speaks of a specific knowledge, a saving knowledge of God. To know about God, His oneness in being, His eternality, His invisible nature, and to even have a fear of God in His revealed attributes gets one in no better position than a fallen angel - a demon (see Romans 1:18-20; James 2:19). It is not enough to know about God. Jesus says that eternal life is knowing the true and living God and Jesus Christ, His Son, Whom He sent (see John 17:3).  

3. So man-made salvation has something, is missing something and thirdly wants something. Paul states in Romans 10:3 "For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God." Righteousness refers to "rightness with God". Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, who weaved together garments of fig leaves to cover their fallen nakedness, human beings attempt to cover their fallen condition before God that knows all and sees all. Unless the righteous garment of Christ's perfect life and substitutionary death is received by outstretched arms of faith, fallen man will continue to seek after their own way of salvation. 

Anytime we try to manufacture our own spirituality or salvation, we by default are rejecting what God has already, freely and victoriously provided in Jesus Christ. 

4. So human attempts at salvation have a desire to worship (albeit anything but God), are missing a saving knowledge of God and seek to establish the standard of righteousness that will silence the condemnations of God's law and conscience. But now let's lastly consider what human attempts at salvation reject: Christ Himself. Paul writes in Romans 10:4 "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."

What does Paul mean when he states that Christ is the "end" of the law? The Bible Knowledge Commentary explains:

"The Law did not and could not of itself provide righteousness before God for individuals (cf. Rom. 3:20; 7:7). But Christ fulfilled the Law (Matt. 5:17–18) by keeping it perfectly during His sinless life (cf. John 8:46) and then gave His life in payment for the penalty of sin and the broken Law (cf. Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:13–14). The Law then pointed to Him as the Source of the God-provided righteousness it could not supply (Gal. 3:24)." 

To give another illustration, think of the relationship between a map and a particular destination you may have in mind when traveling. The map is but the means to the destination. You may use a physical map or use a gps. The gps or map is not the destination, but instead is telling you how to get to the destination. The map or gps does not contain within itself the destination. Instead, the destination is external to the map or gps. Once you arrive at your destination, you don't keep staring at the map or fiddling with your gps for entertainment. What do you do? You get out of the car and begin to enjoy and explore your destination. 

Sadly, many people will try to find where they are going rather than heeding a map or gps. I don't know about you, but I on occassion will shut off the gps (maybe the little voice is annoying me or maybe I think I know better than it does). I get lost, frustrated and end up missing out. In like manner, the Law of God points me to the cross. Unless unbelieving man has "recalculated" as it were at the cross, he or she will continue driving in the wrong direction. 

Closing thoughts:

Having the wrong approach or wrong elements for salvation is much like getting lost or drinking a really bad cup of coffee. Unless we have Christ, we don't have salvation. Unless we receive Christ, we will persist in rejecting what God is offering to us. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Introducing The Mere Christian Approach To Communicating And Defending The Gospel

Image result for mere Christianity
Acts 11:23-26 "Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. 25 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."

Introduction: Defining Mere Christianity

Whenever one talks about communicating and defending the Christian worldview - which is the best approach? Furthermore, if one is attempting to communicate or defend Christianity - which Christian tradition or "brand" best represents the case for Christian theism? One twentieth century writer chose to do a series of radio broadcast that eventually became a book entitled: "Mere Christianity". That author, C.S Lewis, produced his series of lectures and the book, which, in his own words, summarizes the "mere Christianity" approach: 

"Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times." 

In reading the introduction to Lewis' book, one discovers that his term "Mere Christianity" was borrowed from an earlier 17th century Christian pastor and theologian Richard Baxter. Baxter was a Puritan pastor who desired to communicate and defend the Christian faith in his context - 17th century Anglican England. Lewis saw in Baxter a potential method in which he could set forth the Christian faith in what was his post-war twentieth-century English setting.

Lewis then captures the essence of "Mere Christianity" in the following famous and helpful word-picture:

"I hope no reader will suppose that 'mere' Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of existing communions - as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires, chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in."

Such thoughts drive me to consider Lewis' contribution as a valid method for communicating and defending the Christian worldview today. We will first note the contents and argument of "Mere Christianity". We will then consider some leading Christian thinkers and institutions that have adopted the "Mere Christianity" approach as evidence for its enduring and effective appeal in reaching a non-Christian culture with the claims of Christianity. Then as a final set of thoughts, we will propose that this method is effective in taking up the task of communicating and defending the Gospel.

A Brief Summary Of C.S Lewis' "Mere Christianity"

In turning to C.S Lewis' work "Mere Christianity", a simple and straightforward strategy is laid out for what constitutes the communication and defense of the Christian faith. Lewis divides his overall work into "Books", with four such divisions covering the following main points:

Book 1: Right And Wrong As A Clue To The Meaning Of The Universe

Lewis' first major plank for presenting "Mere Christianity" centers on the assumption that our universe is not just a physical, but also a moral reality. Five main sections comprise this first leg of "Mere Christianity", spelling out Lewis' version of the moral argument for God's existence. 

Book 2: What Christians Believe

This second major plank of "Mere Christianity" centers on the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The final and fifth section entitled: "The Practical Conclusion", summarizes what lies at the heart of the "Mere Christian" approach to the core of Christian doctrine. Lewis writes:

"The Perfect surrender and humiliation were undergone by Christ: perfect because He was God, surrender and humiliation because He was man. Now the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in his conquest of death and find a new life after we have died and become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures."

Book 3: Christian Behavior

This third major leg of Lewis' overall case for the Christian faith is the longest. Much like the Apostle James, Lewis finds the greatest evidence for the reality of the Christian faith to be found in how it changes those who are followers of Christ. The scope of the "Mere Christianity" approach to Christian apologetics and communication is seen in the number of topics covered by Lewis. For example, in Lewis' time, the popularization of Freud's psychoanalyisis was sweeping Europe and America. Such a movement was attempting to redefine humanity apart from God and to recast people in terms of their underlying drives. 

Lewis asserts that apart from God's existence and the reality of Jesus Christ - there can be no justification for morality, let alone Christianity. This heavy emphasis on the grounding of moral values and duties in God and the necessity of a changed life for those claiming Christianity is what makes "Mere Christianity" a perennially useful resource.

Book 4: Beyond Personality - Or First Steps In the Doctrine Of The Trinity

In Lewis' final installment of Mere Christianity, one finds a laying out of a Trinitarian concept of God - and the life-changing implications that follow. Lewis notes:

"I warned you that Theology is practical. The whole purpose for which we exist is to be thus taken into the life of God. Wrong ideas about what that life is will make it harder."

Centering around the Personability of God, Lewis develops his final section around demonstrating the reasonability and plausibility of God being Tri-personal. In establishing God as Personal, Lewis shows how commitment to this God, as decisively revealed in and by Jesus of Nazareth, makes Christianity both "easy" and "hard". 

In sum, the easiness of which Lewis speak points back to what was achieved by Christ on the sinner's behalf. Receiving all that Christ did and is by faith means that I don't have to jump through hoops to attain it. With that said, the "hard" part of Christianity comes with counting the cost and recognizing that following after Jesus isn't a call to be "a nice-person", but a "new person". Heeding the call to be a "new creature" means dying to self, the old habits and old ways of thinking and adopting daily by faith what Christ has set forth in the Bible. Lewis notes:

"It is something like that with Christ and us. The more we get what we now call 'ourselves' out of the way and let Him takes us over, the more truly ourselves we become."

Mere Christianity then is not just an apologetic strategy, nor just another approach to communicating the Christian faith. Lewis' project aims not at just making converts - but disciples of Jesus Christ. 

The Mere Christian Approach As a Major Strategy For Communicating The Christian Faith in the 21st century

Since Lewis' book was published, major Christian ministries have adopted his approach. In reading a recent autobiography by Liberty University's Elmer Towns, indirect-appeal to this sort of approach explains the wide-variety of Christian students that enroll and graduate from Liberty. In terms of a more overt reliance upon Lewis' "Mere Christianity" method, one only need to look at one of the leading institutions on the forefront of Christian Apologetics and Christian Ministry - Houston Baptist University. Other examples of leading Christian ministries demonstrate how far-reaching Lewis' project as shaped a generation of Christian thinkers:

1. William Lane Craig, a Christian Philosopher and Theologian, founder of the ministry "Reasonable Faith"

2. J.P Moreland, a scholar and professor at Talbot School of Theology who has written numerous articles and books 

3. Ravi Zacharias, Frank Turek and other leading Christian apologists regularly appeal to Lewis' work to one degree or another in their public debates, books and lectures 

Closing thoughts

Today we considered C.S Lewis' work "Mere Christianity" as a valid method for communicating and defending the Gospel. We were mainly concerned at laying out the basic contents and argument of the book, as well as understanding why this approach is worth adopting as a major method for communicating the Christian faith.