Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Big Questions Of Prayer

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Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you."


When my dad was alive, I would find myself asking him questions. To my recollection, I never recall my dad growing impatient with my queries. As a matter of fact, my dad's love language was that of a "time-spent" person. So-called "time-spent" persons enjoy spending time with the people they love. My dad's favorite expression of building relationships with the people he loved was to spend quality time. I knew from an early age that I had his favor. No matter the line of inquiry, questions served as points of entry into fostering closeness. My dad’s wisdom, and my need for it, often prompted the questions. 

The Uniqueness of Biblical Prayer

The uniqueness of Christianity's approach to prayer is that it centers around the concept of a Father to a child, and a child to a Father relationship.1 God has designed prayer so that we can draw to Him, and he to us. Often-times, questions are entry points for the Christ-follower to explore a deeper walk or experience with God in their daily life. Asking questions such as "why pray", for example, prompts us to see that God has included prayer in His overall Providential dealings with people and our world. For those in a redemptive relationship with God through Jesus Christ by faith, this Divine design of Biblical prayer portrays God's people as children to a Father. Frances de Sales (1567-1622) writes in his book -  “Introduction to the devout life”: 

“Prayer opens the understanding to the brightness of divine life, and the will to the warmth of heavenly hope.” 

Summarizing Today's Post: Why Raise Questions In Prayer? 

How we pray is the most immediate evidence to us about our level of awareness of God. Additionally, how we view prayer and how seriously we take prayer says quite a bit of how we view God in relationship to ourselves. There are those who can fake their way through prayer by making an outward show to people around them or fooling themselves. Yet, when we get real with God, urgency characterizes our prayers. We cry out. We call out. We raise questions. People in the Bible raised questions when they talked to God. Among the questions we can ask God about prayer, the most fundamental one is: "why pray, if God knows?" The answer to this question is two fold: first, we're commanded to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and second, God invites us to have a face to face conversation with Him in prayer. As Corrie Ten Boom once noted: 

“The Devil smiles when we make plans. He laughs when we get too busy. But he trembles when we pray-especially when we pray together.”

1. The Appropriateness Of Asking. 

Matthew 7:7 was quoted at the beginning of today's post to set the tone for the main topic: "The Big Questions of Prayer." Sometimes people wonder if it is appropriate to ask God questions in prayer. The fear is if we ask God questions, we can run the risk of questioning God's character. There can be of course those questions we ask out of anger, fear or ignorance. However, most questions asked of God in prayer are attempts to clarify what it is He is doing. Luke's version of Jesus' words in Matthew grants an expansive commentary on Matthew 7:7. We find the text in Luke 5:9-13 

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. 11 Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” 

Remarkably, the "father/son" motif we alluded to earlier is expressed by Jesus in His teaching on prayer. God invites His children to ask questions on account of closer fellowship with Him! Let us be reminded of James' words, the half-brother of Jesus according to the flesh in James 4:2 

"You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask."

So to not ask God prevents us from receiving answers. More importantly, we miss out on a growing experience with God through a developing prayer-life. Those who regularly pray learn that knowing God is more vital than getting answers. This point, which is so fundamental, is missed so often by all of us who name Jesus as Savior and Lord by faith. So asking God the big questions in prayer is appropriate. So then, what exactly are examples of "big questions" in prayer? For what purposes could God use them in developing Christians as his people?

2. Asking Big Questions, & How God Develops Us

In the 16th century reformer Martin Luther’s book: “A Simple Way to Pray”, we find the following description of the place of prayer in our lives:

“We know that our defense lies in prayer alone. We are too weak to resist the devil and his vassals. Let us hold fast to the weapons of the Christian, they enable us to combat the devil.”

Below are examples of some of the "big-questions" of prayer we may often find ourselves asking. To make this exercise simple, I've laid out the questions per the six interrogatives found in the English language: "who?", "what?", "when?", "where?", "why? and "how?" along with the suggested purpose God may use in the eliciting forth of questions to Him.

1. Who? --> Knowing God. 

It is interesting when God turns the tables and asks us the questions in prayer. We find in prayer that we sometimes don't know God as well as we thought. The "who" sort of questions focus our attention on getting to know God better. In Matthew 16:15 we find Jesus raising the following question: "He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?”' 

2. What? --> Conviction.   

Abram's relationship with God took a quantum leap in Genesis 15. God shows Abram the stars in the nigh sky to convey the magnitude of His covenant with him. Abram's level of faith goes from operating in probabilities to certainties. Quite literally, the word "believed" in Hebrew refers to having a firm conviction about something. Our English word "Amen" is a transliteration of the Hebrew root "'Amen'" (אֱמִ֖ן). Whenever someone says "amen" in a church service or at the end of prayer, we're saying: "so be it". Jesus often prefaced statements in the Four Gospels with the double affirmation, "truly, truly", of which the Greek text uses the words taken over from the Hebrew: "amen, amen" (ἀμὴν ἀμὴν) or "so be it, so be it".  Thus, we see the following assessment of Abram's faith in Genesis 15:6 "Then he believed (i.e. "He amened") in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." It would be this very text that the Apostle Paul would quote in his exposition on the doctrine of justification by faith in Romans 4.

3. When? --> Timing. 

Whenever we find ourselves asking God the "when" questions, we're concerned about matters of His will and timing. In two places we find good examples of the disciples and Jesus discussing issues of timing. First, we read in Matthew 24:3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”  Then we read in Acts 1:6 "So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

4. Where? --> Provision.  

Do we often wonder where finances will come from when paying bills or needing resources to do ministry? God's people are challenged to trust Him for financial, spiritual and emotional provisions. Three passages give us an example of the big "where" type of questions. Psalm 121:1-2 I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. Also Philippians 4:6-7 "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make your requests known unto God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus." One more, Philippians 4:19 "And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."

5. Why? --> Calling.

Have you and I ever asked God the big "why" sort of questions. Gideon asks such questions in the book of Judges. Often we find ourselves second-guessing God's calling on our lives. Note what Gideon says as recorded in Judges 6:13 Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

6. How? -->Desperation.    

The "how" questions emerge when we're desperate. Often we find ourselves caught between "a-rock-and-a-hard-place". David expresses such desperation in the Psalms. First, we read in Psalm 13:1-2 How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? 2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? The secondly, Psalm 42:5 "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence."

These six questions, or ones like them, are ways in which we find ourselves seeking God. Seeking God leads to growth in God (compare 4:6). So then, we find God includes inquiry as part of the design of prayer for our spiritual development. As we close out this post today, asking the big questions of prayer can only occur in a beneficial way once we're reminded of the assurances of prayer.

3. Assurances of prayer. 

Matthew 7:7 not only prompts us to "ask", "seek" and "knock" with respect to our approach to God in prayer, but it also is a springboard into the assurances we find in seeking the Lord. I want to close out this post with two wonderful passages that speak to this matter of the assurance we find with God in prayer. The first text is found in Hebrews 4:16 

"Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

The second passage of scripture speaks of how we can know God hears the prayer of the Christ-follower - 

1 John 5:14-15 "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him."

May we not have timidity when it comes to seeking God through Christ by His Spirit as we draw more closely to Him by way of the big questions of prayer.


1. The spiritual landscape of our planet represents variations of people attempting to connect with their idea of deity. Mankind has all sorts of questions. Unfortunately, there is no other conception of a Personal God like there is in the Biblical revelation of Him. All 4,000 or so religions in our world, to one degree or another, have some form of expression of prayer, albeit man-made versions. Seeking some sort of response from some sort of deity evidences mankind's bearing of God's image (see Genesis 1:26; Romans 1:18-20). Mankind will seek anything else except the God of scripture. Only when the Spirit of God has so prompted sinners by conviction, leading to the new-birth by faith, can people be called true "seekers". Unfortunately, due to the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, mankind's spiritual sensibilities have resulted in warped views of God and self (Romans 5:12-21; Romans 1:21-25). All other religions outside of Biblical Christianity attempt to gain favor with God by way of rituals or rite involving some sort of man-made effort in prayer. 

Unlike other religions, the spiritual relationship entered upon by faith in Jesus Christ has God's favor (i.e. grace) front-loaded into the spiritual relationship. In contrast to man-made religion, which has man reaching up to a deity of their own making, Christianity alone has God reaching down to the sinner through Jesus Christ. Biblical prayer is just as unique. Biblical prayer features God, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, initiating prayer through the Christian to then in turn express themselves in inquiry and praise to the Father through the Son (see Romans 8:26-27; Ephesians 2:18).

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Part Three - Divine Simplicity, The Incarnation And Why The Incarnation Of The Son Of God Took Place

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Colossians 2:9 "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form."


In our last post, we considered the following subjects that occupied our reflections upon Christ's appearances in the Old Testament:

1. The Old Testament's overall revelation of the Son of God. 

2. We also spent some time considering what light is shed upon the Son's pre-existence and deity by the doctrine of divine simplicity. 

3. As we studied these important subjects, we found out how the doctrine of Divine simplicity enables us to talk meaningfully of God's revelation of Himself in our world. 

For readers wanting to review the last post, simply click on the following link here:

The state of the Son in relationship to Old Testament history was that as the Second Person of the Trinity before the incarnation. Anytime the Bible uses titles such as "The Angel of the Lord" or "The Word", such references point to the Son before His incarnation. The title "Son" speaks specifically to His pre-existence in eternity with the Father and Holy Spirit as One God. In today's post, we want to focus attention upon the coming of the Son of God into our world. By exploring the Son's incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth, we will see how this event relates to Him retaining a Divine nature that is described by the doctrine of Divine simplicity. 

The Doctrine Of The Incarnation: Expounding On How God the Son Came Into Our World And What Took Place When He Came To Be A Man

Theologian Wayne Grudem has written the following heading to define the incarnation on page 554 of his major work, "Systematic Theology": "deity and humanity in One Person of Christ". When we speak of the "incarnation" or "enmanning" of God the Son as Jesus of Nazareth, we refer to that act in which He, as a Divine Person, came into this world to partake of the additional experience of what it was like to be a man. The event itself entailed two main miracles: 

1. The virginal conception and birth through Mary, which explains how He came.

2. The hypostatic union. This miracle involved the joining of a truly human nature unto His Personhood. As the Divine Son of God, He already bore all the properties associated with true deity. The hypostatic union describes "what took place" in the incarnation, namely, He assuming unto Himself a second, truly human nature, with all of its attendant properties. 

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 does a fine job of summarizing what occurred in the incarnation of the Son of God:

"In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin." 

Why The Incarnation Of The Son Of God?

The incarnation describes what took place when the Person of the Son of God united true humanity and undiminished deity within Himself as a Divine Person. New Testament texts such as Matthew 1:20-23; Luke 1:35; John 1:1-14; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:13-16; 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:15-16 and Hebrews 2:11-14 testify to this point. One may ask what would prompt the Divine Person of the Son to so united to His Person a human nature? Moreover, does the doctrine of Divine simplicity have any compatibility to the doctrine of the incarnation?

Three major thinkers in the history of the church aid us in answering this question: Athanasius, Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Aquinas. I mention these three thinkers due to their consistent adherence to the doctrine of Divine simplicity, which they saw as shedding light on the Bible's teaching about the God of the Bible, and the incarnation. In the quotes below, I will mention how each of these writers answer the question of: "why the incarnation", followed by a reference to what they affirm about the doctrine of Divine simplicity. These references will show the reader how histories greatest Christian thinkers saw no conflict between the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity and The Incarnation. 

First, Athansius of the fifth century, explains why the Son became incarnate in his work, "On The Incarnation":

"The Word, then, visited that earth in which He was yet always present ; and saw all these evils. He takes a body of our Nature, and that of a spotless Virgin, in whose womb He makes it His own, wherein to reveal Himself, conquer death, and restore life."

Athanasius expresses his belief in the Divine simplicity of the Divine nature of God, shared by the Triune Persons in his work - "On The Trinity", by the following statement: "nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being." As touching the deity of the Son, we can say similar remarks as expressed by Athanasius.

Secondly, the 11th century theologian Anselm wrote a major work on the incarnation entitled: "why God became man", expressing why he thinks Christ became incarnate in terms of achieving God's original purposes in creating humanity, which fell into sin:

"that this purpose could not be carried into effect unless the human race were delivered by their Creator himself?"

As Athanasius did, Anselm too subscribed to the doctrine of Divine simplicity in chapter 12 of his classic work on the doctrine of God: "The Proslogion" - "But, clearly, whatever You are You are through Yourself and not through another."

No other writer affirmed the doctrine of Divine Simplicity more extensively than did Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas, in his massive work: "Summa Theologicae" offers his answer as to why the Son became incarnate in Part 3, Question 1, Article 1, of the same work: 

"Hence it belongs to the essence of the highest good to communicate itself in the highest manner to the creature, and this is brought about chiefly by "His so joining created nature to Himself that one Person is made up of these three—the Word, a soul and flesh," as Augustine says (De Trin. xiii). Hence it is manifest that it was fitting that God should become incarnate."

Aquinas devotes a long section near the beginning of "Summa Theologicae to the doctrine of Divine Simplicty. The fact we find him affirming both doctrines in the same work demonstrates how he saw no issue in affirming Divine Simplicity and the incarnation of the Son of God.

Applications And Closing Thoughts For Today

We aimed today to consider the meaning of the incarnation of the Son of God, the reason for it and how the incarnation is compatible with the doctrine of Divine Simplicity. We referenced key New Testament passages and saw how great Christian thinkers handled these issues. So why are these considerations important to us? Let me suggest three pastoral suggestions:

1. If we can come to know the Lord Jesus Christ on a deeper level, ought we not love Him enough to think harder about Him (see 2 Peter 3:18)?

2. We ought to see how magnificent Christ is by virtue of what He came to reveal to us about God and our own humanity. He, as truly God, makes God accessible to us by way of the true humanity which he assumed and still retains for our sake. This ought to bring comfort to the Christian, since Christ, as man, can empathize with us, while as God, He is not caught off guard by what is going on in our lives (see 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:1-2).

3. By exploring the thoughts of others in Christian history, we can discover the rich faith of which we're a part. We can praise God for how various questions we find ourselves asking today were addressed many centuries ago.  

Friday, September 7, 2018

Part Two: The Doctrine Of Divine Simplicity - Exploring Christ's Deity And Pre-existence In The Old Testament

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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."


In our last post in this series, we considered the doctrines of Divine Simplicity, the Trinity and Christology. For those readers wanting to review "part one", simply click on the following link:  

The purpose for presenting those three doctrines was to lay the groundwork for exploring the compatibility between the doctrine of Divine Simplicity (DDS) and Biblical Christology. The Person, natures (Divine and human) and work of Jesus Christ comprise the main points of what is called "Christology" (i.e. "the study of Christ"). The focus of this particular set of posts is whether or not the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity (i.e. God is not composed of parts, is immaterial and is identical in His existence and essence, with no potentiality in being) is a useful doctrine in shedding light on Christology. We want to start with considering Christ's deity as revealed in the Old Testament. Along the way, we will consider the doctrine of Divine simplicity and how the Bible talks about God in His interactions with people by way of various Old Testament appearances of what is arguably non-other than the Divine Person of the Son. 

How The Old Testament Reveals The Second Person of the Godhead and Why Divine Simplicity Is Not Affected 
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What is meant when we say that Jesus Christ is, "very God and very man" or "Jesus is Lord"? 2 Peter 3:18 commands us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. No one can ever exhaust the Person of Jesus Christ. He is all-together lovely. 

The equality of the Son with the Father is not just a New Testament truth (even though it is most fully realized in the New Testament). Certain Old Testament patterns of revelation suggest some sort of plurality of Personhood as identifying the One God of Israel. The term "Godhead" speaks to this specific feature of the God of the Bible in which a plurality of persons (we've used the terms "subsistences" or "hypostases" in previous posts to refer to how the Divine Persons bear the properties of Deity or are instances of the Divine nature as revealed in scripture). Whether we speak of the Father, Son or Holy Spirit, all three share in and each bear the appropriate properties that are assigned to Deity (i.e. omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, simplicity and all the rest). 

This broadly hinted at "plurality of Personhood", as characterizing the One God called "Yahweh" or "Elohim" in the Old Testament, is traced out in quick fashion below. The Old Testament's revelation of God is relevant to our discussion of the deity of the Son hinted at in the Old Testament and expressed in the New Testament.

For starters, there are times where the idea of at least "two divine Persons" are hinted at and even asserted in various Old Testament passages (Psalm 2; Psalm 110; Proverbs 30:4; John 1:1; John 17:3-5; Colossians 1:13-16). The Person of the Son appears throughout the Old Testament record and is even explicitly named as a distinct Personage in passages such as Psalm 2; Psalm 110 and Proverbs 30:4. Under various revelations of Himself to people in what theologians refer to as "Theophanies" or "Christophanies", this second Divine Person is shown as a distinct but nonetheless co-equal identity within the Divine revelation of the God of the Old Testament. Examples of such "Christophanies" include:

1. In many places throughout the Old Testament, we see appearances of the Angel of the Lord with Divine attributes equal to Yahweh (Genesis 16; 22; Exodus 3:2; Numbers 20:16; Judges 2:1-4; 13:20). 

2. In other places, we will see "two Yahwehs", one invisible in Heaven and the other appearing in temporary human form to various people (Genesis 18; 19:23; Judges 2). The "visible Yahweh" is portrayed as having the same Divine authority and status as the "invisible Yahweh". Theologian Michael Heiser refers to this Old Testament phenomena as "the two powers of heaven" doctrine, functioning as a precursor to the New Testament's teaching on the unity and equality of the Father and the Son (John 17:1-5; 1 Corinthians 8:6).

3. We also see the Person of the Son appear in disguise as a rock from whence water flows (Numbers 11:4,34; Psalm 106:14; 1 Corinthians 10:6); the burning bush which spoke to Moses (Exodus 3:14); a man that wrestled with Jacob (Genesis 32; Hosea 12:4); the Captain of the Lord of hosts that spoke to Joshua (Joshua 5) and other places.  

The Relevance Of Divine Simplicity to The Various Appearance of God the Son in the Old Testament

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At this point, it is important to ask about what relationship the doctrine of Divine simplicity has to what we see in the Biblical text. The DDS asserts that the Divine nature is "without parts" and thus, immaterial in nature. Whenever the Bible asserts that "God is" something or uses a noun to affirm "what God is" or "how God is" in His essence and existence, we have the smoking gun of the doctrine of Divine simplicity. For example, Psalm 99:5 ends with the short phrase: "Holy is He". Such expressions are what theologians refer to as "predicating of attributes to God", meaning that God is the truest and fullest expression of that attribute. In other words, Yahweh does not merely have an attribute called "holy", rather, He is Holy and Holy is He. God is, by His essence and existence, holiness par excellence. To expounds further on this attribute of holiness, Isaiah 6:3 records the Seraphim crying out the three-fold repetition of "Holy, Holy, Holy". God is , in His existence and essence, this very attribute, and conversely, this very attribute is God. The other attributes of God we find in scripture (i.e. omniscience, mercy, love, goodness., etc.) are described in the same fashion as what we saw with God'a holiness. The doctrine of Divine simplicity teaches us that God is all His attributes, with no attribute being more center stage than another. What this means then is: God as Holy is truly Holy with respect to other attributes with which we understand Him in similar terms (i.e. God is holy loving and lovingly holy; God is holy merciful and lovingly merciful; God is holy omniscient and omnisciently-holy and so forth). 

What makes this intriguing, in terms of the Person of the Son, is that Jesus Himself asserts in John 12:41 that what Isaiah saw in Isaiah 6:3 was no less than He Himself! By affirming the deity of the Son, the terminology used by the Old Testament in describing such Old Testament appearances suggest the applicability of Divine Simplicity as expressing what we mean when we say "Jesus is truly God". 

How the Bible Talks About God and Its Relevance to Understanding Christ's Deity and Divine Simplicity

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So what about all the various Old Testament appearances in terms of an "embodied Yahweh" and other sorts of appearances that clearly involve Yahweh manifesting Himself in created or creaturely ways? Do these appearances in any way conflict the doctrine of Divine Simplicity? More specifically, does the Son's appearances in various forms and ways in the Old Testament do away with the notion of Him bearing a Divinely Simple nature?

Theologians have understood the Bible's way of speaking of God occurs on a two-level way of speaking. Passages that speak of God as "not changing" or "changing His mind" (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6) and which describe the Son (Hebrews 1:8-13; Hebrews 13:6) use language that speaks of God as He is in His existence and essence (i.e. "being language" or "ontological language"). Such "ontological language" is God telling us what He is like and how He is like as the Divinely Simple Being that is identified as Father, Son and Spirit. 

A second type of description used by the Bible for God utilizes analogies and metaphorical descriptions, such as God having "eyes" (2 Chronicles 16:9); "wings" (Malachi 4) ; some sort of embodiment (Daniel 10:6) and even "changing His mind" (Genesis 6:1-6). This second way of talking about God is the way in which God communicates Himself for our understanding. God's use of this second manner of revealing Himself is called "analogical language".  An "analogical description" refers to how God reveals an attribute of Himself in a comparative way to something in the created order. Thus for instance, whenever we see God described as "having eyes", this expression points us back to the "being language" or "ontological language" of God as everywhere present or omnipresence. 

To handle all the Biblical data correctly, it is important to interpret the analogical language scripture uses to describe God according to the ontological or "being" texts that reveal God as He really is. If the student of scripture fails to consider these observations, heresies such as Mormonism, which teach that God is some sort of Divine humanoid being with physical parts, will result. 

I know that today's post has tossed a lot of new terms at some readers that can quickly get us all deep into the weeds. So, to put what I just wrote in another way, a wonderful, proven illustration may help. Older Theologians use the illustration of a parent lisping to an infant in so-called "baby-talk". Why do parents do this? So that the baby is not hindered in interacting with the parent. 

As to what occurs in the relationship between the Son and the created order, the experience of change is with respect to how people experienced Him in the Old Testament. The Person of the Son, like the parent in the above illustration, "stoops down" to the level of His people by various ways, whether they be covenants, through objects or in taking on a temporary embodied form (see Hebrews 1:1-2). As author Dr. Sinclair Ferguson once remarked in a sermon, 

"Christ's Old Testament appearances functioned as a dress rehearsal for His permanent taking on of a human nature in the incarnation."

As noted already, God, by the Person of the Son, appears as a burning bush, somehow as a rock issuing forth water or as the visible Yahweh for our sake. Even though we know "that" the water from the rock and the burning bush are "Christophanies" or "Theophanies" or appearances of Christ; we still don't comprehend "how" Christ is genuinely revealed to His people in those instances. All we can say is that the pre-incarnate Christ "bent down" in such appearances to communicate to His people while all the while not ceasing to remain Divinely simple as a Divine member of the Godhead.

The Person of the Son, as we have discussed above, is free to interact with our world. Any changes and interaction with such a Divine Person like the Son (also called "the Word" in John 1:1-3,14) are how we experience Him on our side of things. It is not God's nature that undergoes such changes. Instead, we are the ones that experience change in such interactions. In the next post, we will discover how these features of the Old Testament's portrayal of God sets the stage for how we understand the Son's decisive revelation of God in His incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth. 

More next time....  

Saturday, September 1, 2018

What Must Precede Any Spiritual Victory In Obtaining Greater Christian Progress

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Deuteronomy 3:1-2, 21-22 - “Then we turned and went up the road to Bashan, and Og, king of Bashan, with all his people came out to meet us in battle at Edrei. 2 But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not fear him, for I have delivered him and all his people and his land into your hand; and you shall do to him just as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’ 21 I commanded Joshua at that time, saying, ‘Your eyes have seen all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings; so the Lord shall do to all the kingdoms into which you are about to cross. 22 Do not fear them, for the Lord your God is the one fighting for you.’


I can recall as a kid the arduous process of learning how to ride a bike. Like untold numbers of children, I too required "training wheels". The purpose of training wheels was to aid in preparation for what would follow: learning how to ride a bike. The day did come when my dad took off the training wheels. I'll admit, I fell several times, learning how to ride the bike. However, those scraped knees and bruises prepare me for the day of victory when I finally rode my bike without falling. 

The Battle Before the Battles Leading To Victory

The Book of Joshua physically illustrates the spiritual, New Testament truth concerning the believer’s inheritance and identity in Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 3-4). The idea of the promised land (or "Canaanland") involves taking possession of the promises of God in the Christian life. Contrary to some older, well-meaning Christian songs, "Canaanland" is not illustrative of our going to Heaven in the sweet bye-and bye. Rather, the battles fought by the Israelites under the leadership of Moses and Joshua physically picture the Christian's progress in Godliness in the present world of the "nasty now-and-now". 

Joshua and the second generation of Israelites out of Egypt were called of God to take ownership of some 300,000 square miles of land that was promised to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see Genesis 12; 15; 17; 22; 24; 28; 31; 35). But before the conquest of Canaanland in Joshua could commence, there first was a major battle needing fought against two kingdoms. The Kingdoms of Bashan and Heshbon were the final barrier between the people of God and the promised land. Once those two kingdoms were diffused, the formal conquests we read about in the book of Joshua could get underway. 

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The above opening passages in Deuteronomy 3:1-2 and verse 21 summarize for us the Divine orchestration of this battle as a precursor to the Israelites' entryway into the promised land. Moses recollects of how he and the Israelites were making the journey to the eastern side of the Jordon known as the "plains of Moab", and the battles they faced (see Numbers 21:21-35). The map below depicts the setting for both the battle and Moses' recounting of such in Deuteronomy 3.  

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Moses was delivering a series of final sermons in what would be the final year of his life. The plains of Moab would be the final staging ground and point of entry into the military campaigns of Joshua and the Israelites in the Book of Joshua.

So What?

The point of rehearsing the geography and history of Moses, the Israelites and Joshua was not to bore readers. Rather, understanding the concrete historical realities in the Old Testament prepares us for the principles we find in discerning the spiritual realities of the Christian life in the New Testament. In this post, we will consider the process it takes to acquire what is promised by God. The big question of today's post is this: what must precede spiritual victory and progress for the Christian? Let’s explore!

Remember, God ordains to allow conflict, not to destroy us, but to work in us dependence upon Him. 

What is remarkable about the accounts of ancient Israel is how much of what they experienced, and failed to achieve, was undertaken by Jesus and achieved. Whenever you read the opening sections of His public ministry in Matthew 4; Mark 1 and Luke 4, you find Jesus battling toe-to-toe with the Devil. This "pre-battle" was necessary, since in His humanity, Jesus needed to defeat the Evil One to demonstrate that unlike Adam and Israel before Him, Jesus alone could qualify as the Savior of souls. 

Just as a championship team must first play all the other teams and learn lessons from defeats and smaller victories, so too do all of those on "Christ's winning team" have to experience the pre-requisites that are spelled out in this post. All that we find portrayed in the life of ancient Israel, under the leadership of Moses and then Joshua, foreshadows what Christ would come to do in destroying the Devil's works and providing the basis for Christian spiritual victory (see Hebrews 2:14ff and 1 John 3:8)

Thus, in Deuteronomy 2:24-25 we read - 

‘Arise, set out, and pass through the valley of Arnon. Look! I have given Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land into your hand; begin to take possession and contend with him in battle. 25 This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under the heavens, who, when they hear the report of you, will tremble and be in anguish because of you.’ 

God had a purpose for Moses and Israel waging this "pre-battle" with the kings Og and Sihon. The Israelites originally failed to enter into the promised land for fear of the giant clans they saw in the reconnaissance mission of Numbers 12-13. These giant clans were the remnants of the offspring resulting from the unholy physical unions sanctioned by fallen spirit beings that we read about in Genesis 6:1-4 and the tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11. The outcome of that failed mission involved 40 years of wandering in the desert. For the second generation of Israelites that we read of in Deuteronomy and Joshua, failure was not optional. They needed to see how God could use them to defeat the very thing that had crippled their parents in fear.

Jesus, the believer and the necessity of a Divinely orchestrated process prior to spiritual victory

God clearly ordained that Jesus combat Satan in the wilderness. Although the Person of the Son, touching His Divine nature, was truly God, nevertheless, touching his humanity, the Son underwent the process He would expect of His followers in depending upon the heavenly Father. Dear believer, for spiritual victory to occur and progression in the things of God to take place, we too must learn what precedes spiritual victory. We have this process given to us by God to put the past behind us and to press onward to what He has before us (see Philippians 3:14; Hebrews 12:1). To make greater Christian progress, we learn the following principles from this incredible episode in Deuteronomy 3 and other passages.

1. Conflict with the enemy. Deuteronomy 3:1-2; 11-12 

Whenever we read through these portions in Deuteronomy, the book of Joshua or most every narrative in the Old Testament, we find incredible concrete illustrations of New Testament truths. God ordained these "pre-battles" to remind his people that in their process of taking possession of His promises to them, the obtaining of such an inheritance would not come without a fight. Ephesians 6:10-12 speaks to this point - 

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."

I'm sure any of us would prefer not to have conflict - whether it be societal, spiritual or relational. Whenever we read the New Testament Gospel records, we see Jesus having multiple conflicts with Satan and his parasite kingdom. Why didn't Jesus wipe Satan and his dark kingdom out of existence? In ways that often boggle the mind, God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting conflict. As we look at what these texts teach us of conflict and its place in progressing the Christian life, we can note the following:

a.  Conflict strengthens dependency. Deut. 8:3 & Mt 4:4; 2 Cor. 12:9

b. Conflict certifies identity. 

As David was fleeing from Saul, he received the following encouragement from a woman who would later become his wife, Abigail, in 1 Samuel 25:28b “for the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil will not be found in you all your days.”

c. Conflict clarifies priorities. Eph 6:10-12 

Taking up the spiritual armor causes us to see that the invisible priorities of faith are above the urgency of material possessions, acquiring of wealth and such.

d. Conflict prepares one for greater service. 

Whenever David faced Goliath in battle, that engagement was preceded by Providentially arranged conflicts between David and various wild animals in his shepherding days. Notice what David states in 1 Samuel 17:37 

"And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear , He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine….”.

So we can see that conflict precedes spiritual victory. But now notice what else necessarily precedes obtaining a "spiritual win"...

2. Certain word from God. Deuteronomy 3:18-22 

In the midst of spiritual battle, the child of God comes to cling hold of God's word. In daily meditation on the Word of God, the Christ-follower learns to discern whenever the Spirit of God is speaking to him or her. In other words, a certain word from God emerges from the written Word of God that gives strength for the journey. Learning how to discern the Holy Spirit's voice through His word is a vital skill to have once entering into the progression of the Christian life. What truths attend this "certain word"?

a. Importance of a certain word. 

Proverb 25:11 "Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken in right circumstances."

b. Source of a certain word. 

Jesus says the following about Himself in John 10:10 

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." 

The source of God's certain word is none other than God Himself. In the  lyrics of an old hymn, "Wonderful words of life", we find this thought poignantly expressed: 

“sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life; let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life. Words of life and beauty, teach me faith and duty, beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life”.

So in receiving a certain word of God in the season before spiritual victory, we learn of its importance and its source. Now notice thirdly how such a certain words from God affects the Christian....

c. Effects of a certain word. 

The Apostle Paul prays for God to affect His readers by the Word in Ephesians 3:16-19 - 

"that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God."

So what must precede any major spiritual victory in the progress of the Christian life. We've noted conflict and a certain word from God. Now notice one last detail...

3. Courage to obtain victory. Deuteronomy 3:23-29

If you and I don't experience the acquisition of courage in the "pre-battle" before the main battle that leads to victory, we will find our faith wither in the process of advancing in the things of God. Joshua's book opens up with God urging Him to "be strong and courageous". Courage is faith's backbone to trust God. Only when we have faced the prospect of failure and learned to overcome the fear of it can  we then taste the sweet fruit of victory. Note what we learn about courage as prerequisite to the obtaining of spiritual victory...

a. Source of Courage.  

The Apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 1:7 "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline." All Christians received the indwelling Holy Spirit from the moment of saving faith (John 14:16-17; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 3:6; 6:19-20; 12:12-13). The indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit includes imparting of courage in the those times when we need such a virtue in face of certain fear. 

b. Supplies for courage.

Note the following promises from the Book of Hebrews 13:5b, 6 and 8

“Never will I leave you nor forsake you; 6 so that we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?”,8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Closing thoughts

In today's post, we looked at what must precede spiritual victory. In other words, to progress in the Christian life, there is that requisite process God takes us through to get us ready for the increasing demands of maturing in the the things of God. Here is what we learned:

1. There must needs be conflict.
2. There must needs be a certain word.
3. There must needs be courage.