Overcoming Temptation (The Jesus Way)

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death” (James 1:13-15, RSV).

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

PERHAPS YOU’VE HEARD IT SAID “sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” There is a basic concept at work here which involves obsession and compulsion. Watchman Nee (1903-1972) was a Christian leader and teacher who worked in China during the 20th century, helping to establish numerous churches in that region of the world. Nee wrote, “It is a pitiful and tragic thing to be obsessed. Those who are obsessed are in a very abnormal condition.” He said obsession encompasses lying and deception. The obsessed Christian lies to himself, pretending there is no problem with his behavior. This self-deception becomes thick like fog, making it nearly impossible to see beyond obsessive thought and habitual action.

What is Obsession?

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I have been prone to obsessions throughout my life. Psychology teaches us that obsessions are “recurring thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced as intrusive and unwanted and, for most people, cause anxiety or distress. The individual tries to ignore them, suppress them, or neutralize them with a different thought or action.” The specific details of obsessions can vary widely. For example, they might include thoughts about contamination, a desire for order, taboo thoughts related to sex or religion, or a compulsion to harm oneself or others. Obsessions can revolve around activities that provide pleasure or escape, especially relative to alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, watching pornography, or eating.

At this stage, the brain is typically focused on the so-called benefits of a particular action or habit rather than the negative consequences. One hallmark of an obsession involves what some addictions counselors refer to as euphoric recall. At first blush, this might sound “warm and fuzzy.” Relative to substance abuse, however, this is associated with remembering past drinking and drugging experiences in a positive light, while overlooking negative experiences associated with it. I heard someone at a 12-step meeting say, “Play the tape all the way through.” Huh? He expounded: “Look past the high and the fun and the escape, seeing the eventual consequences of taking that first drink or drug.” In other words, remember the ugly results. 

What is Compulsion?

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Compulsions are “repetitive behaviors or mental acts that one feels compelled to do in response to an obsession or based on strict rules.” Typically, such behaviors are meant to counter anxiety or distress or to prevent a feared event or situation, but they are not realistically connected to these outcomes, or they are excessive. Although rare, obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions can lead to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). A person suffering from OCD is often plagued by obsessions or compulsions that take up more than one hour a day or cause clinically significant distress or impairment for the individual. In order for this diagnosis to stand, all other potential disorders involving similar symptoms must be ruled out. Psychiatrists and psychologists call this procedure differential diagnosis.

The Book of James

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James 1:13-15 explains the process of obsessive thoughts in the believer that lead to temptation and sin. The apostle gives us a few key points to think about.  We must remember that James said when we’re tempted, not if we’re tempted. It is inevitable that we’ll be coaxed or seduced (essentially “baited”) to disobey God’s Word. The foundation of such temptation can be demonic or fleshly. It can have physical or psychological roots, or, frankly, both. For example, the enticement to take a drug or to watch pornography has a physical component of pleasure and escape, but it might also have an emotional or psychological component. Depending on your circumstances, such as severe physical pain, the enticement can be nearly impossible to resist. From a psychological viewpoint, the inducement can be pride, anxiety, depression, or boredom. In my experience, both physical and psychological enticement can be equally compelling. The perfect storm, especially for me, is when both mechanisms are at play!

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James is quick to tell us that temptation is a solicitation from the devil to do wrong, and is never directed by God (1:13). Satan doesn’t want us to think about the how of our temptation. Instead, he wants us to obsess over the temporary pleasure to be gained when we give in to what is baiting us. The devil will deceive us about the results of taking the bait. Perhaps we’ll buy into this action as having some type of relief or benefit. That’s why deception is his “go-to” device. Our habitual sin is rooted in automatic (compulsive) behavior, focused only on temporary pleasure or escape. Hand-in-hand with the thought that God does not tempt us to sin is the fact that temptation is strictly an individual matter (1:14).

Eugene Peterson places verses 2 through 18 under the heading “Faith Under Pressure.” In his translation The Message, he writes, “Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, ‘God is trying to trip me up.’ God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way. The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets us pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer.” It’s critical that we see what James is teaching us on temptation. He is saying we are lured away from God in the midst of trials by our own desires. It is my experience that temptation is specific to that which I personally find pleasurable. Not everyone is prone to finding relief at the bottom of a bottle or from a handful of opiate painkillers, as I have been. Not all men or women are enticed by pornography. These wiles are specific to each of us, which makes them harder to resist.

On one level, we simply want to sin. Paul taught us this in the seventh chapter of Romans. He says, “But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead” (7:8, NIV) [italics mine]. He reminds us that the law is spiritual, but at our core, that is in the flesh, we are not spiritual. We’re sold as a slave to sin (7:14). Prior to giving his life to the Way of Jesus, Paul was a “Pharisee among Pharisees,” well-educated at the feet of the renowned rabbi Gamaliel. He knew the Law front-to-back. He felt justified in persecuting and murdering Christians as members of a heretical sect of Judaism. No doubt he believed he was helping to protect Israel from the wrath of God.

It is important to note that Paul, a highly-educated Jew who was called to preach the Good News to the Gentiles, and had undergone spiritual conversion on the road to Damascus, still recognized his struggle in the flesh. Exasperated, he said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (7:15-18, NIV).

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Be careful, though, for it is possible to allow Paul’s struggle to become a loophole with which you will excuse your own wilful sin. I’ve been there, thinking, If even Paul can’t resist the flesh, then how can I? (See my blog article Do You Look for Loopholes as a Christian?) Wilful sin, however, is anathema to repentance, which literally means “to turn away from.” To repent is to do a 180 and never look back.

So Now What?

Repentance involves having the will to change; to never be the same again. If temptation is so difficult to resist, then what is its purpose in the life of the Christian? We know that sin occurs when we yield to enticement and make a wrong decision regarding our behavior. The dynamics of that mental and emotional process is complex. Although we’ve been freed from being a slave to sin (see Romans 6), we haven’t completely lost our taste for sin. Desires will remain in our flesh for as long as we live in a physical body. What we cannot excuse, however, is the practice of sin. Paul notes this problem in Romans 1:32, using the Greek word prasso to describe wilful sin. This refers to performing sin repeatedly or habitually. One definition specifically states, “to exercise, practice, to be busy with, carry on.”

If we are aware of a particular desire personal to us that entices or lures us into sinful behavior, we are responsible for addressing that behavior. Instead, many of us (me included) agree to be tempted, and we get on with practicing the sin. Looking at it this closely truly exposes the mechanism (the “come-on” if you will) and the chronic, repeated behavior associated with that temptation. Let’s be real: We simply “give in” once again and fail to resist the devil.

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Temptation that leads to sin always follows the same process.  There are four steps involved in giving in to temptation:  (1) the bait is dropped, (2) our inner desire is attracted to the bait, (3) sin occurs when we yield to temptation, and (4) sin results in tragic consequences.  To be aware of these principles is to be armed in the face of struggling with temptation. But can a true Christian habitually sin? Many believers wrestle with this question, and often give up and give in, thinking they must not be saved if they cannot stop sinning. Some will even teach that if you have habitual sin in your life you are not really a Christian. One pastor put it to me this way a few years ago: “You don’t have God in your heart.” Ouch! But unfortunately we can have head knowledge about God and Jesus, yet not have the required heart knowledge needed to act according to our beliefs or our intention to do that which is right.

Thankfully, the Bible takes no steps in hiding the sins of key Old Testament figures. Abraham, Isaac, Moses, and David were not super heroes. They were normal men who sinned as Adam did. There is no question that David is one of the Bible’s more prominent figures. Jesus Christ came from the House of David. We are easily inspired by his youthful willingness to fight Goliath, his tender friendship with Jonathan, his worshipful Psalms, and his enduring patience under wicked King Saul. It’s almost hard to believe that this beloved character who’s spoken so highly of in more than half of the Bible’s books would also be guilty of breaking half of God’s commandments. David coveted Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2-3), committed adultery with her (11:4) effectively stealing her from Uriah (12:9), lying to him (11:12–13), and eventually having him murdered (12:9).

Others come to mind as well. Noah was a drunk (Genesis 9:20-21). Sarah doubted God and allowed Abraham to have sex with her maidservant in order to help fulfill God’s promise of a son (Genesis 16). Jacob was a pathological liar (Genesis 25, 27, 30). Moses had a bad temper (Exodus 2, 32:19; Numbers 20:11) and killed an Egyptian. Solomon was said to be the wisest man in the world, but he was a sex addict who took over 1,000 sexual partners (1 Kings 11). The prophets, even as they spoke for God, struggled with impurity, depression, unfaithful spouses and broken families. Looking to the New Testament men of God, we see Peter’s denial of Christ (John 18:13-27). Paul persecuted Christians, often sending them to death, before God chose him to lead the Gentile world to Christ (Acts 22:1-5).

Handling Temptation the Jesus Way

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Paul said God intends for us to work out our salvation daily with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Unfortunately, the importance of this verse is lost on many Christians today. It is often used by certain teachers and preachers to instill fear into people, wrongly warning them that they can lose their salvation. (I am working on a blog article on this subject, which will be based on diligent exegesis, to be published at a later date.) Paul was certainly not encouraging believers to live in a continuous condition of nervousness and anxiety. That would contradict his many other exhortations of peace of mind, courage, and confidence in Jesus, the author of our salvation. The answer lies in the Greek word phobou (from phebomai) which Paul uses for the word fear, meaning “to be put to flight.” Paul was likely telling the believers at Philippi to work out their deliverance (salvation) from sin by fleeing from it or, in the alternative, by telling it to flee. This dovetails nicely with James’s admonition, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, NIV).

The Greek verb for “work out” (katergazesthe) refers to continually working to bring something to completion or fruition. This sounds a lot like the ongoing process of sanctification by which we are “set apart” from our sinful nature for God. Paul describes himself as straining and pressing on toward the goal of becoming like Christ (Philippians 3:13-14).  He teaches that the very essence of salvation is holiness—what he calls sanctification of the spirit. He says good works find their only root in salvation and sanctification. In other words, we are not saved by our good works, but rather we are saved for our good works. It is true that genuine Christians are identified by their fruits. Jesus reminds us that He is the Vine, and God is the Vinedresser (John 15:1). The Vinedresser cuts off every branch that bears no fruit, while pruning the ones that do, making them more fruitful (15:2). This is a great description of the process of sanctification through being pruned and made fruitful.

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The means by which we are able to work out our salvation and resist temptation is grounded in Jesus. If we want to participate in the salvation and restoration of the world, we must live in a manner that works toward that end. We follow Jesus. This includes coming to understand the power in the Name of Jesus: power to break chains, heal minds and bodies, build the Body of Christ, and rely on the Holy Spirit to clarify the truth of the Gospel. Accordingly, we must not cherry-pick the Gospel. We cannot decide to follow Jesus in some aspects of our lives, but go our own way (or, worse, the way of the devil) in others. If we are going to follow Jesus, we must learn the ways in which He leads. Moreover, we need to examine His relationship with the Father. We have to lock on to these methods and follow them with consistency and completeness. Paul reminds us that this is not easy, and James tells us it can only be accomplished by resisting Satan.

Concluding Remarks

The ways and the means promoted and carried out in the world today are designed to take God completely out of the equation. It is no coincidence that America is suffering at the hands of gun violence, murder, terrorism, hatred, bigotry, increased rates of abortion, brokenness (especially regarding the home), addiction, deception, selfishness, illness, and heartache. Surely, wars are fought and won, wealth is accumulated, elections are won, diseases are cured, and victories are posted, but at what cost? The means by which these ends are achieved leaves a hole in the soul of our country. Many people are killed, others are impoverished, marriages are failing apart, addicts are dying at an alarming rate, our schools and other venues have become soft targets for violence, children are being abandoned and neglected, and worldly churches are hawking their watered-down message in the name of Christ. As a result, we’re not moving toward spiritual maturity.

Simply stated, Jesus said, “I am.” He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the Word in the flesh. The salvation of the world. The Head of the Body of Christ. He said we must repent, believe, and follow Him. We repent by making a decision to turn away from everything we were in the flesh and walk toward Jesus. This must include a change of heart and mind, which is the first step in becoming a new creation in Him. This requires a personal, trusting participation in the reordering of our reality. Lastly, we must follow the Way of Jesus. This involves every aspect of our daily lives, including what we think, how we speak, the manner in which we behave, and how we pray and interact with Christ. To follow the Way of Jesus implies that we enter into a brand new reality that necessarily shapes our character. We cannot separate what Jesus says from what Jesus does and the manner by which He does it, nor can we fail to walk in that same manner.

References

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.

Nee, Watchman. The Holy Spirit and Reality. Hatfield, South Africa: Van Schaik Publishers, 2001.

Peterson, Eugene. The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus is the Way. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eeardmans Publishing, 2007.

 

The Gospel of John (Part Two)

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

IN THE FIRST PART of this study, we looked at the reasons why John chose to write his account of the way of Jesus. We saw John present Jesus as the Word who was with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit at Creation. John described Jesus as the Light of the world. He reviewed the ministry of Jesus, including His teachings and mighty miracles, recounting Jesus’s claim of divine authority. At the end of Part One, we see that John had mentioned the mounting opposition to Jesus. In Part Two, we will examine the final days of the life and death of Jesus. We’ll see how He marched forward in all boldness and authority up to the moment He gave up His spirit, dying for the sins of all mankind.

Final Days Before Crucifixion

We join Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus in the eleventh chapter of John’s gospel. The stone was rolled away and Jesus said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41-42, NIV). After saying this to the Father, Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” (11:43). Some of the Jews who witnessed Lazarus rising from the dead went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. The chief priests and the Pharisees called an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin. They said, “What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation” (11:47-48, NIV).

Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, spoke up: “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (11:49-50). Barclay translates 11:49b, “You are witless creatures!” Caiaphas tells the Sanhedrin that Jesus must die, adding, “You don’t seem to grasp the fact that it is in our interest that one man die rather than the entire nation be destroyed.” Even at this early juncture, the high priest believed Jesus represented a threat to Israel as a nation. He was quite concerned that if Jesus continued making divine claims and raising the dead, God might once again pour out His wrath on Israel. Caiaphas wanted to preserve “political” Israel. He failed to realize that the death of Jesus would guarantee spiritual life to Jew and Gentile alike who came to Him by faith.

As the Feast of the Passover approached, many Jews traveled to Jerusalem from the surrounding countryside. Passover was one of Israel’s great pilgrim feasts. Jews came to Jerusalem early in order to fulfill the requirements of ceremonial cleansing. (We read about these ceremonies in Exodus 19:10-15 and Numbers 9:9-14.) Many were looking about, wondering if Jesus would show at the Feast. The masses were unaware that the chief priests had issued orders for anyone who knew where Jesus was to report it to the temple officials. The Sanhedrin intended to arrest Jesus. John used the Greek word dedôkeisan (“had given”) rather than the aorist word edôkan, reflecting the continuing nature of this command. The order was to remain in effect in full force until Jesus was located and apprehended. This is similar to the BOLO phrase used by law enforcement today: be on the lookout for Jesus. John essentially brings chapter eleven to a close with an air of expectancy hanging over the city. What would be the fate of Jesus if He were to make an appearance at Passover?

Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, arriving at Bethany six days before Passover. It was a Saturday. He attended a dinner served by Lazarus and his sisters (John 12:2). After dinner, Mary took an expensive ointment and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping it away with her hair. It is no coincidence that Mary chose to anoint Jesus in these final days prior to burial, perhaps as part of the yearly ceremonial cleansing. He was to soon be killed and buried.

Judas Iscariot objected to the waste of expensive oil, stating it could have been sold and the money used to feed the poor. It is said this oil was worth “a year’s wages,” which was about three hundred denarii. The average daily wage of a working person was one denarius, so the value of the ointment was exceedingly great. (In today’s currency, its value would have been about $30,000.) Remember, Judas was essentially the treasurer of the disciples’ money. John said, “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (12:6, NIV). Jesus rebuked Judas, saying, “The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me” (12:8, RSV).

The next day, Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. At that time a “great crowd” of pilgrims who had come early to Jerusalem heard Jesus was on His way to the city. They took up palm branches and went out to meet Him. Certainly, many of those in the crowd had learned of the great miracles performed by Jesus, and many had actually heard Him speak. Some might have privately thought, “Perhaps now He will step forward, take on the mantle of leadership, and guide Israel to a brighter future.” After all, anyone who could raise Lazarus from the dead was certainly able to free the Jews from Roman oppression. As Jesus approached, the crowd began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Interestingly, the Hebrew expression that appears in Psalm 118:25 (which is similar to the phrase hosanna) is, “Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity” (NKJV). John notes in 12:19 that the Pharisees were beside themselves over the crowd’s enthusiasm of Jesus entering Jerusalem: “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!'” (NIV).

Jesus makes a prophetic statement to the crowd, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:23-25, NIV). Jesus said, “Father, glorify your name! Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die”(12:28-33, NIV).

Chapter thirteen of John’s gospel marks the beginning of the final period in the life of Jesus here on earth. It was just before the Passover Feast, and Jesus knew the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. At this time, Jesus began to prepare to wash the feet of the disciples. This made Peter feel rather uncomfortable. Peter said, “‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!'” (13:5-9, NIV). Jesus then explained to the disciples that they were already washed clean through their belief in Him, but He noted that not every one of them was clean, referring to Judas Iscariot, who would betray Christ before the high priests.

The Last Supper and the Betrayal

Judas’s treachery made a marked impression on John. (He referred to Judas as “the devil” 6:70-71.) During their last supper together, Jesus told His disciples that one of them would betray Him. They asked, “Lord, who is it?” (13:25). Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” After dipping the piece of bread, Jesus handed it to Judas (13:26). Some commentaries note that to offer a special morsel was one of the ways a host could honor a distinguished guest. Every possible opportunity was given to Judas to turn from his wicked plan. On this special evening, he was given the place of honor and acknowledged by a distinct act of respect. Judas took the morsel, and immediately Satan entered into him. Jesus said to Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly” (13:27-28). It seems no one at the table yet understood why Jesus said this to Judas. They may have thought Judas was to go out and buy what was needed for the Feast. Judas had hidden his duplicity well.

We read the following words in Psalm 55:12-13, “It is not an enemy who taunts me–then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me– then I could hide from him. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend” (RSV). The name “Judas” is instantly connected with betrayal. Few believers realize that Judas was carefully and prayerfully handpicked by Jesus Christ to be among the select group of twelve disciples. No doubt Jesus had good reasons for making the choice, though the purpose is not clearly revealed in Scripture. In fact, prior to Jesus selecting Judas to become the twelfth disciple, the Bible doesn’t mention him. Nevertheless, Judas closely followed Jesus, and paid attention to the words and actions of this extraordinary man from Nazareth. Like the others, Judas preached about the Kingdom of God, healed people, and exercised power and authority over evil spirits. Judas was there. He saw it all. He did it all. Perhaps his loyalty had begun to unravel when he complained about the waste of expensive ointment by Mary to wash the feet of Jesus?

As we saw earlier, the Bible tells us that Satan entered Judas’s heart at the time he betrayed Jesus, and he went out to gather the temple officers and Pharisees to tell them the location where Jesus and the disciples would be later. Perhaps Judas was deceived and didn’t understand the deadly intentions of the Pharisees. His eyes were open following the arrest of Jesus, and he immediately understood he helped put the life of Jesus in grave peril. Matthew’s gospel tells us, “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:3-5, RSV).

Promise of the Holy Spirit

In John 14:16, Jesus says, “And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you” (RSV). This “Spirit” in the Greek is paraklêtos, which is not necessarily easy to translate. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible says, “The gift of the Spirit is a fruit of Christ’s mediation, bought by his merit, and received by his intercession. The word used here signifies an advocate, counsellor [sic], monitor, and comforter” (p. 1006). The Holy Spirit was to indwell the disciples after Christ’s departure. His gifts and graces would encourage their hearts.

The expression clearly denotes a person, not merely an office or a blessing. One point of contention over the decades has been whether the Holy Ghost (which was poured out on the disciples) is the same as the Holy Spirit that abides in the heart of every believer for ever. According to Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, “give you another” means “Not me, but another divine person.” By “forever,” Jesus meant the Holy Spirit will never be taken away. In fact, He will be present during the Tribulation, the 1,000-year reign, and forever (see also Acts 2:16-21).

Jesus Teaches About Vital Relationships

Jesus tells the disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (John 15:1-2, RSV). Some biblical scholars believe Jesus was referring to Old Testament references to Israel as a vine. Psalm 80:7-9 says, “Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land” (NIV). Jesus brings the vine analogy into focus in John 15:6: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (NIV).

Branches separated from the vine wither and die; they are good for nothing but to be burned. If we do not remain in Christ, we share the fate of the withered branch, which is picked up and thrown into the fire to be burned with other brush. Perhaps this is a foreshadow of eschatological punishment of the last days awaiting those who are not Christ’s. Interestingly, those who believe we can loose our salvation if we do not remain in Christ often refer to this Scripture to prove their theory. I believe such theological questions should be addressed through proper exegesis, with less figurative passages found elsewhere in the Bible, and not limited to secondary elements given in an allegory. In any event, Jesus suggests the example of the vine is a two-way arrangement: we abide in Him and He abides in us.

A New Commandment

Jesus says in John 15:10 that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. His focus turns to the concept of love. He says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… this is My command: Love each other” (15:12-13, 17, NIV). In the Greek, êgapêsa is used to call attention to the love of Jesus as demonstrated once for all of mankind when He died on the cross. The present-tense Greek word is agapate, meaning the continuous relationship of love that should exist between all believers. Of course, the ultimate proof of love is the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for a friend. Not only does this include Christ’s love for sinners, it also refers to the kind of love the disciples showed by being willing to die rather than denounce Jesus. The list of disciples and apostles who died because of their ministry is truly shocking: John, James, Philip, Barnabas, Mark, Peter, Paul, Silas, Andrew, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, Luke, Matthias, Antipas, Timothy. Indeed, Jesus told His followers to expect the world to hate them as the world also hated Him.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

Other than Paul’s teachings, John provides the most detail about how the Holy Spirit is to operate in the lives of believers. Admittedly, the explanation Jesus provides in the sixteenth chapter of John’s gospel is rather complex. He begins by telling the disciples not to mourn that He must leave. He says, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (16:7-11, NIV).

Jesus adds, ““I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (16:12-13). The discourse Jesus presented on the Holy Spirit was incomplete, but He noted they would not yet understand the fullness of the Holy Spirit. They were too spiritually immature to grasp it. Jesus essentially deferred full disclosure until the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples and others at Pentecost after Jesus had ascended to heaven to be with the Father. (First Thessalonians 4:9 indicates we are taught by Godi.e., through the Holy Spirit.) Until that time, the disciples would have been confused had Jesus pressed on regarding the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit’s role would be to guide the disciples into all truth. The verb hodêgeô is frequently used throughout the New Testament relative to the Holy Spirit guiding, showing, or teaching “all truth.” In each instance, the context shows that the Holy Spirit will continue the revelatory work of Jesus. He will become the new light, the new teacher, in the absence of Jesus. Please note this is not new truth. Modern erroneous teachers often use the concept of “new revelations” to support their heresy. But the words of Jesus that immediately follow define “all truth” in a less-than-universal sense, and do not give credence to “new” doctrines. It is not about dissemination of new truth but further revelation of the truth that is in Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit will also bring glory to the Son. He will accomplish this by drawing on the riches of Christ (Jesus said, “from what is mine”) and revealing His glory to the disciples and to New Testament believers. In other words, the Holy Spirit will promote a new sense of wonder and a deeper understanding regarding the teachings of Jesus. In this way, the Spirit brings clarity, resulting in praise and honor to Jesus. As the Son glorified the Father by all He said and did, so will the Holy Spirit bring glory to the Son by His work of divine illumination—not the revelation of new or changing truth. All truth is God’s truth. All truth is ontological.

The Time Has Come

Jesus told the disciples in John 16:32-33, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (NIV). Now, in John 17:1-5, Jesus looks to heaven and says,”Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (NIV).

He continues by summarizing His ministry. “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (17:6-9, NIV). In praying to the Father, Jesus notes that all He has belongs to the Father, and all the Father has is His. All glory has come to Jesus through His disciples (17:10).

Jesus notes that His time for parting was near. He says, “I will remain in the world no longer” (17:11a). Being “in the world” was not merely a geographic reference. It spoke of Jesus sharing in the ups and downs of human existence. When Jesus entered the world as an infant, He came to Earth to interact with man; however, He also took on the same limitations we have. This was necessary in order for His incarnation to be effective. Hebrews 2:5-7a says, “It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made [man] a little lower than the angels…” (NIV). The incarnation is put into perspective in Hebrews 2:9: “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

The ongoing ministry of the disciples is noted by Jesus in John 17:16-19: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” In any event, Jesus prays for all who will believe on Him. He says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (17:20-21). He concludes, “I have made you known to [the world], and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (17:26).

The Lamb of God is Slain

We read in the eighteenth chapter of John’s gospel that, after Jesus finished praying, He and His disciples headed across the Kidron Valley to a garden. We know from the other gospels that this was the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed before being captured and brought before the Romans and the Sanhedrin. In John 17:3, Judas entered into the garden with a detachment of Romans soldiers and official representatives of the chief priests and Pharisees. Jesus asked, “Who is it you want?” (18:4b). “‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they said” (18:4). Jesus replied, “I am he.” In the Greek, egô eimi reflects rendering of the pivotal self-description of God in Exodus 3:14. This same Greek phrase is used when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life (John 6:35). They stepped back and fell to the ground. In order to fulfill the words spoken by Jesus to the Father in John 17:12 (“I have not lost one of those you gave me.”), Jesus repeated that He was the one they sought, and added, ” I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go” (18:8). Jesus was bound and brought straightaway to Annas, and then to appear before Caiaphas, the High Priest of that time.

Truly, it is difficult to reconstruct everything that happened to Jesus that evening (under the cover of darkness), as the Pharisees wanted to conceal what they were about to do to Jesus. We know from Matthew 26:56 that all of the disciples deserted Him and fled. It is likely Peter was running for his life when he was confronted about being one of those who followed the Way of Jesus. As we know, Peter denied Christ three times. He did not publicly deny his personal faith in Jesus as the Messiah; rather, he disassociated himself with Jesus as an acquaintance. I find it interesting that many believers today do the same thing. It appears from John’s gospel that Peter continued his charade by pretending to be one of those who had apprehended Jesus. He later denied Jesus for a second and third time. In fact, he had been recognized by a servant of the high priests who had been in the garden when Jesus was arrested. We can almost expect Peter to confess, having been confronted by an eyewitness from earlier in the evening. Instead, there was a progressive nature to his denial and again he said he did not know Jesus. Immediately after, the rooster began to sound off.

Having made no progress with Jesus, Annas sent Him on to Caiaphas. While questioned by Caiaphas, Jesus said, “I have spoken openly to the world,” adding, “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret” (John 18:20). This is important. Jesus was fully aware of the angst and fear and resentment He had caused among the ranks of the high priests during His final months, yet He never hid the message. He spoke boldly and openly. Jesus said to Caiaphas, “Why question Me? Ask those who heard Me. Surely they know what I said” (18:21). This served only to insult the Pharisees. One from the group slapped Jesus in the face and said, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” (18:22). Annoyed with Jesus, they sent Him to appear be before Pontius Pilate.

Pilate was unable to see any wrongdoing in Jesus, but the Pharisees said, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you” (18:30). Pilate believed the Pharisees should subject Jesus to trial under their own system, but they indicated a lack of authority to execute Him. I can imagine this pronouncement came as a shock to Pilate. Not only did he believe Jesus was guilty of nothing, he did not believe Jesus should be subjected to execution. Pilate goes back inside and asks Jesus, “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” (18:35). Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (18:36). In other words, Jesus lay no claim to an earthly kingdom. He told Pilate He only came to testify to the truth. Pilate said rhetorically, “What is truth?” He returned to the Pharisees waiting outside, saying “I find no basis for a charge against him” (18:38). Wanting to quell the insurrection, Pilate decided this: “…it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release the king of the Jews? (18:39). “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!”

The nineteenth chapter of John’s gospel reports on the crucifixion of Jesus. As I noted in my post “Jesus Said, It is Finished,” Pilate sent Jesus to be flogged. Preparations for the scourging of Jesus were carried out. He was stripped naked and His hands were tied to a post above His head. The Roman legionnaire stepped toward Jesus with a flagrum in his hand, which is a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs and two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each thong. They whipped Jesus to near-death. The soldiers made a “crown” of thorns and pressed it hard into the scalp of Jesus, then put a purple article of clothing around Him, mocking Him as king of the Jews. They marched Jesus to a hill outside the city called Golgotha.  He was thrown to the ground. Heavy, square, wrought-iron nails were driven through His wrists and deep into the wood. The feet of Jesus were pressed backward against the timber. A nail was driven through the arch of each foot, leaving the knees moderately flexed.

Jesus was raised up into the air on the cross. The soldiers took the outer garment off Jesus, leaving the undergarment. They cast lots to see who would get to keep it (19:23-24). Shortly thereafter, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said he was thirsty. A jar of wine vinegar sat next to the cross. A soldier soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to the lips of Jesus (19:28-29). When He had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (19:30). After some time passed, the soldiers came to each of the two men crucified with Christ that day and broke their legs in order to speed up their deaths. When they came to Jesus, they saw that He was already dead, so they did not break His legs. This fulfills Psalm 34:20, which states relative to the righteous man, “…he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken” (NIV).

To be sure Jesus was dead, one of the soldiers picked up a spear and pierced His side, leaving a large wound. There was a sudden flow of blood and water. This was likely a mixture of coagulated blood and the watery serum in the pericardium (the sac surrounding the heart). For many, blood and water represent the two sacraments, while others see it as a reference to justification and sanctification. We are justified (redeemed) by the sacrificial blood of Jesus, and we are sanctified (set apart) for God by our faith in that sacrifice.

According to John 19:38-42, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus, because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

The Empty Tomb

John tells us in chapter twenty (20:1-9) that early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. She ran to Peter and another other disciple and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Peter and the disciple went to the tomb with Mary only to find strips of linen lying there but no body. John notes that the men did not yet understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Shortly thereafter, Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping. She saw two angels inside. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” She replied, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him” (20:11-13). Mary saw a figure standing beside her, but she did not realize it was Jesus. He said, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Mary thought this man might be the gardener. She said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” which means “Teacher.” Jesus told Mary to go “…to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'” (20:16-17).

According to John, Jesus appeared to the disciples the first day of the week in a room that had been secured and locked from inside. Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (20:19-23). Jesus later appeared to Thomas (20:24-28). We know that Thomas doubted at first that this was Jesus. After touching the hands and side of Jesus, Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29). John writes, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31).

Jesus appears to His disciples again (“afterward”) by the Sea of Tiberias while several had gone onto the sea to catch fish. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Him. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Peter wrapped his outer garment around him and jumped into the water. The boat was approximately one hundred yards from shore (21:1-7).

The others jumped into the water also, swimming to shore with Peter. When they got to the beach, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus told Peter to bring the fish they caught to the shore. Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish (numbering 153). The disciples ate breakfast with Jesus. This was the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead (21:8-24). After they finished eating, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Jesus. After Peter’s third “yes,” Jesus said, “Follow me.” I cannot help but remember that Peter had promised Jesus he’d never deny Christ. As Jesus was taken away on the night of His crucifixion, Peter in fact denied Jesus three times before a rooster crowed.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible remarks on the dialog between Jesus and Peter (21:15-19). It states, “We must not be surprised to have our sincerity called into question, when we ourselves have done that which makes it doubtful… the sincerity of our love to God must be brought to the test” (p. 1018). According to The Wycliff Bible Commentary, John 21:15-19 is sometimes called “The Restoration of Peter,” but this might be someone misleading. Peter had already been restored in the sense that he’d received forgiveness (see Luke 24:34). Wycliff says, “But the leadership of an erring disciple could hardly have been accepted for the days ahead, either by Peter or his brethren, apart from Christ’s explicit indication.” So Jesus asked Peter three times: (1) lovest thou me? (2) more than these? and (3) if so, prove it and “feed my sheep.”

References

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997.

Pfeiffer, Charles, and Harrison, Everett, editors. The Wycliff Bible Commentary. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1990.

Chemical Evolution As Proposed by Darwinists

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

DARWINISTS WANT US TO believe that all species of organisms arose and developed through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increased the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. Notwithstanding the fact that Charles Darwin had no formal training or knowledge of genetics, he felt compelled to present an unproven theory of the origin of species. He believed new species are able to originate from prior organisms that have adapted to fit environmental stressors, thus surviving over weaker organisms. Scientists and teachers today have parlayed this into the dogmatic contention that life itself began from inorganic molecules that spontaneously appeared on our planet some time after space, time, and matter created itself out of nothing. In effect, they are attempting to reverse-engineer man by tracing his origin back to molecules present in a so-called organic soup at the dawn of time.

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Granted, Darwin never claimed to explain the origin of life; just the origin of species. The word species means “a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding.” Species is one of the major categories used in the classification of organisms. A hierarchical system is used for classifying organisms to the species level, which, by definition, is the most specific class of organisms. The categories established by this classification are Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Family, Genus, and Species. Species is sometimes confused with kind or sort, as expressed by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis.

From a biblical perspective, land animals like wolves, zebras, sheep, lions, and so on have at least two ancestors that lived on Noah’s ark, about 4,300 years ago. These animals have undergone many changes since that time. But dogs are still part of the dog kind, cats are still part of the cat kind, and so on. God placed variety within the original kinds, and other variations have occurred due to genetic alterations. This is a scientifically sound theory. Genetic variations have occurred over time, resulting in mutations. Never has such a variation changed a dog into a cat or a butterfly into a bat.

THE BASICS

According to evolutionary biology, once life got started, Darwinian evolution took over and eventually produced the degree of diversity we see on the planet today. Under the standard view, a process of random mutation and natural selection built life’s vast complexity one small mutational step at a time. Of course, all of life’s complex features are encoded in the DNA of living organisms. Building new features thus requires generating new information in the genetic code of DNA. Can the necessary information be generated in a non-directed, step-by-step manner as espoused by Darwin? Darwinian evolution can explain each small step along an evolutionary pathway that might produce some survival advantage. However, when multiple mutations must be present simultaneously to gain a functional advantage, Darwin gets stuck. In fact, Darwin (1859) wrote, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

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Michael Behe is professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He coined the term irreducible complexity to describe systems which require many parts—and thus many mutations—to be present all at once before providing any survival advantage to the organism. According to Behe, such systems cannot evolve in the step-by-step fashion required by Darwinian evolution. As a result, he maintains that random mutation and unguided natural selection cannot generate the genetic information required to produce irreducibly complex structures. Too many simultaneous mutations would be required—an event which is highly unlikely to occur. In other words, if a feature cannot be built by numerous, successive, slight modifications, and if intermediate steps do not confer a net benefit on the organism, then Darwinian evolution will absolutely break down.

THE THEORY OF CHEMICAL EVOLUTION

Darwinian evolution requires a mechanism for generation of diversity in a population, and selective differences between individuals that influence reproduction. In biology, diversity is generated by mutations. Selective differences arise because of the encoded functions of the sequences (e.g., ribozymes or proteins). Today, evolutionists lay claim to a process they call chemical evolution, in which diversity is generated by random chemical synthesis instead of (or in addition to) mutation. They state that selection acts on physio-chemical properties. The story of the unguided (un-designed) chemical evolution of first life has some variations depending on who’s version you read, but its main points can be summarized as follows:

  • At the time when the chemical constituents of the first life were developing, the Earth had virtually no free oxygen, important since the presence of free oxygen would prevent the formation of compounds essential for the origin of life.
  • Nature “invented” a way to produce the chemical letters of the DNA/RNA alphabet: cytosine, adenine, thymine, and guanine (C, A, T, and G).
  • Nature “invented” a way to make the sugars ribose and deoxyribose.
  • Nature “invented” a way to combine these sugars, phosphoric acid, and the DNA/RNA alphabet letters (the four nucleobases) into long chains.
  • Nature “invented” a method to make twenty distinct amino acids into sophisticated protein machines.
  • After inventing all this, nature changed the self-replicating molecule into a system in which DNA coded for amino acids and thus for proteins.
  • Finally, nature “invented” a membrane system that isolated the invented molecules from the environment and metabolism began.

Stanley Miller’s “Chemical Evolution” Experiment

Geologists estimate that the Earth formed around billion years ago. They claim that for many millions of years, early Earth was pummeled by asteroids and other celestial objects. Temperatures would have been very high (with water taking the form of a gas, not a liquid). The first life might have emerged during a break in the asteroid bombardment when it was cool enough for water to condense into oceans. They then point to a second supposed bombardment happened about 3.9 billion years ago. They believe this is the point when Earth became capable of supporting sustained life.

In 1953, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey did an experiment to determine if organic molecules could be spontaneously produced. under reducing conditions thought to resemble those of early Earth. The result was a tarry slime with 85% tar, 13% carboxylic acids, and 2% amino acids, which they thought resembled those of early Earth.

Similar experiments have produced the same kinds of results:

  • Living organisms have twenty different kinds of amino acids, a twenty-letter alphabet used to “write” protein and protein machines essential to life. But Miller-type experiments produce many amino acids that are not present in proteins. These amino acids aren’t part of the relevant alphabet for coding life.
  • The side chains of amino acids determine their chemical nature. They may be hydrophobic, neutral, acidic, or basic. None of the amino acids with basic side chains (lysine, arginine, and histidine) have been formed in Miller-type experiments, and yet these are crucial for life.
  • In any given experiment, only a few, and at most thirteen, of the twenty amino acids present on proteins have been formed. All twenty are needed for life.
  • The composition of compounds formed in Miller-type experiments differs from that found in living cells. Monofunctional compounds that inhibit polymer formation are oversupplied in Miller-type experiments. To form a chain from molecules, the molecules must have two “sticky ends; if they have only one, there is nothing for the next compound to attach to. Miller-type experiments produce far too few molecules with two “sticky ends.”

The random mixture of chemicals produced by these types of experiments is simply not close enough to that which is required for life. Anindya Das, Assistant Professor at the Department of Microbiology of KPC Medical College and Hospital, West Bengal University of Health Science, Kolkata, India, stated in a paper Published January 7, 2019, “…it can be assumed that the basic constituents of life like Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorous and other inorganic substances combined in a proportion to create first life on earth. Probably the origin of life started from the production of purine, pyrimidine rings, amino acids, sugar alcohols, nucleic acid chains and the first life on earth is prokaryotic microbes which probably evolved from the virus like particles” [Italics mine]. That’s a lot of speculation.

Das divided the origin of life into three steps: Step I—Formation of basic structural elements or building blocks of life like purine and pyrimidine rings, amino acids, glucose, phosphate energy bonds; Step II—Formation of more complex structural forms by chain elongation of basic structural molecules; Step III—Systematic assembling of all these structural elements leading to a structural unit with functional autonomy where all the biochemical reactions can occur automatically, repeated in an organized way, making it an autonomic functional unit capable of recognition, sensing, sigaling, bio-chemical synthesis, degradation (metabolism), energy production, self-duplication (reproduction), homeostasis and information dissipation. Das said the most difficult part of this theory is how formation of more complex structural forms by chain elongation and the systematic assembly of these parts occurred to achieve functional autonomy, forming the first living form.

Given all the talk about nucleic acids, proteins and such, it’s important to note that a living cell is much more than just nucleic acids and proteins. It has the sophistication of a factory or city. This is true of the very basic microorganism. A complex cell membrane is necessary to separate the content of the cell from the environment. It is always formed from the pre-existing membrane, and separates the intracellular reactions from the environment. A cover that separates the complex reaction pathways would provide isolation from the outside world. This is critical to cellular integrity and, consequently, cellular health. Without a proper membrane, the complex reaction pathways would stand no more chance of surviving and succeeding in the so-called primordial soup than a house of cards in a storm. The membrane, therefore, is likely an essential part of the formation of specific transport systems. Any failure in the cellular wall would cause infiltration of damaging molecules from viruses, toxins or other deadly chemical compounds.

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Researchers who have studied Ebola Zaire initially thought that the virus’s glycoprotein is the primary determinant of vascular-cell injury and that Ebola virus infection of endothelial cells induces structural damage, which could contribute to hemorrhagic diathesis—an unusual susceptibility to bleeding—but not enough evidence has been compiled as yet to make this determination. The hemorrhagic tendencies of Ebola Zaire,  however, are related to decreased synthesis of coagulation and other plasma proteins because of severe hepatocellular necrosis. This is a clear indication of the importance of a strong cellular membrane.

Life is Built Upon Genetic Information

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An essential property of all life is information. This includes the information written using DNA’s four-letter alphabet—the information in proteins that are built by using instructions from DNA. The chemical structure of DNA does not explain its code—that is, the rules that the cells follow in translating the information in DNA into all functional proteins. Nor does it explain the “software” written by it. (See my post Signature in the Cell: The Definition of Life). The chemical structure doesn’t explain it any better than the chemical composition of ink and paper explain the information contained in a printed book, or the language, syntax, and grammatical rules used to create the message.

Here’s the big question: Where did the genetic code come from? Forget for a moment that molecules are made of matter (which cannot create itself). How could genetic coding change itself and remain viable and functional at each evolutionary stage? Biological information (essentially data) remains a sticky point for those who cling to purely materialistic origins for life. There is no scientific evidence supporting the notion of a mindless origin for this essential feature of life. And there is good reason to believe that biological information, and the language it is written in, instead have their origin in the work of a creative intelligence.

Parting Remarks

Unfortunately, the “official” view in public education remains that life appeared “spontaneously,” not long after the conditions were right, with no need for intelligent design. But there is no credible evidence in support of this dogmatic view. Fred Hoyle wrote, “If there were some deep principle which drove organic systems towards living systems, the operation of the principle should be demonstrable in a test tube in half a morning. Needless to say, no such demonstration has ever been given. Nothing happens when organic materials are subject to the usual prescription of showers of electrical sparks or drenched in ultraviolet light, except the eventual production of a tarry sludge.” He later stated, “The notion that not only the biopolymer but the operating program of a living cell could be arrived at by chance in a primordial organic soup here on the Earth is evidently nonsense of a high order.”

I read in Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, that molecules are tiny machines that require multiple parts in order to function. His most famous example is the bacterial flagellum—a micro-molecular rotary-engine, functioning like an outboard motor on bacteria to propel it through liquid a medium to find food. In this regard, flagella have a basic design that is highly similar to some motors made by humans containing many parts that are familiar to engineers, including a rotor, a stator, a u-joint, a propeller, a brake, and a clutch. As one molecular biologist writes in the journal Cell, “[m]ore so than other motors, the flagellum resembles a machine designed by a human.” However the energetic efficiency of these machines outperforms anything produced by humans: the same paper found that the efficiency of the bacterial flagellum “could be ~100%.”

Pierre-Paul Grasse, past president of the French Academy of Sciences, contended that “[m]utations have a very limited ‘constructive capacity” because “[n]o matter how numerous they may be, mutations do not produce any kind of evolution.” Many other scientists feel this way. More than 800 PhD scientists have signed a statement agreeing they “are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life” (See “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” at http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/). Indeed, Thornton and DeSalle (2000) wrote in Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics: “[I]t remains a mystery how the undirected process of mutation, combined with natural selection, has resulted in the creation of thousands of new proteins with extraordinarily diverse and well optimized functions.”

Resources

Behe, Michael. Darwin’s Black Box. New York: Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. (Chapter 6). UK: John Murray Publications, 1859.

DeRosier, David. “The turn of the screw: The bacterial flagellar motor.” Cell, 93: 17-20, 1998.

Thornton, Joseph and DeSalle, Rob. “Gene Family Evolution and Homology: Genomics Meets Phylogenetics,” Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, 1:41-73, 2000.

Jesus Said, “It is Finished.”

“After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished he said [in order to fulfill the scripture], ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28-30, NRSV).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

TYPICALLY, WHEN WE HAVE completed a “project” or task, we say, “It is finished!” That which we set out to do has been completed. We followed the written instructions (hopefully to the letter); we sought advice when needed, and most likely adhered to it. We stood back, realizing there was nothing else to be done. Our project was completed.

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“It is finished” is perhaps one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. I know atheists, agnostics, philosophy professors, car mechanics, surgeons, gardeners, school teachers, retail sales clerks, Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and humanists who are familiar with the verse. They know Who said it, when it was said, and some even know where to find the verse in Scripture. Yet very few know what it means—especially its scope. Perhaps more sadly, there are those who know what it means, and grasp its comprehensive meaning, yet fail to live out the truth of its significance.

Pontius Pilate

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At the beginning of John 19, Jesus appears before Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the fifth prefect (governor) of the Roman province of Judaea, serving under Emperor Tiberius. It is important to understand that Pilate was not well liked by the Jews. This is likely because he hung worship images of the emperor throughout Jerusalem and had coins bearing pagan religious symbols minted. Pilate essentially helped create a “cult of personality” of the emperor. The Jews had strong objections to Pilate’s customs, especially executing men accused of crimes without the benefit of a trial or to face the charges lodged against them.

The First Century historian Josephus called Pilate a headstrong strict authoritarian Roman leader who, although both rational and practical, never knew how far he should go in a given case. He provoked both Jews and Samaritans to riot. Josephus tells us that “in order to abolish Jewish laws,” and with the intent of diminishing privileges Jews had hitherto enjoyed, Pilate ordered his troops to encamp in Jerusalem and sent them into the city with images of the emperor attached to their ensigns. This practice violated the Torah’s prohibition of graven images and desecrated the Temple by the presence of pagan cult objects on the Temple hill.

The New Testament suggests that Pilate had a weak, vacillating personality. Could he have at least postponed the death of Christ if he stood his ground, making an official proclamation of “innocent?” Pilate weakly capitulated even though he found no fault in Jesus. He said to the mob, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him (John 19:4, NRSV). Pilate’s wife sent him word of a revelation she had about Jesus, urging Pilate to “…have nothing do do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream” (Matthew 27:19, NRSV). Pilate again appealed to the crowd, arguing that he could find no fault in Jesus. The Jews answered, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God” (19:7). In any event, Pilate was but a cog in God’s plan for the redemption of mankind.

This frightened Pilate to the point that he returned to his court room and asked Jesus, where he was from (v. 8), but Jesus would not answer. Pilate then said, “Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you” (v. 10). Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” (v. 11). Pilate finally capitulated. He brought Jesus before the crowd and said, “Here is your King! Shall I crucify [Him]? The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then Pilate handed Christ over to the mob to be executed (v. 14-16).

Let’s take a moment to review the etymology of the word crucifixion. Its origin rests solely with the Latin phrase crux, meaning a tree or any wooden structure used to execute criminals. In the Greek, the most common term is stauroo (σταυρόω), meaning “to crucify.” It occurs 43 times in the New Testament. The word excruciating—a word often used to express the most severe pain possible based on the “pain scale” we’ve all heard when asked by a doctor or nurse to rate our pain on a scale of 0 to 10—also has Latin roots. It is based on the term crux, and includes the term cruciāre, which means torment or torture. Some synonyms for excruciating include unbearable, insufferable, unendurable, agonizing, and racking.

The trial of Jesus violated traditional, official Jewish & Roman jurisprudence for capital crimes, procedures, & protocol, ending with an unlawful sentence & subsequent execution by crucifixion.

The Crucifixion

After His arrest at the Garden of Gethsemane under cover of darkness, Jesus endured six separate trials or hearings (three by the Sanhedrin and three by the Romans). In response to the mob’s insistence, Pilate released Jesus to them to be murdered for claiming to be “King” of the Jews. He underwent scourging, mocking, and horrendous beatings.

Dr. C. Truman Davis, a Christian medical doctor who is affiliated with CBN, felt compelled to apply his medical knowledge to the physical effects crucifixion had on the body of Jesus of Nazareth. Fair warning: This is an account of most horrific acts against  our Savior. I was brought to tears several times while recounting them here. Dr. Davis’s description brings to mind the major motion picture The Passion of the Christ.

The physical passion of Jesus actually began in the Garden of Gethsemane. Of the many aspects of His unimaginable sufferings, the one of greatest physiological interest is when He sweat droplets of blood. It is interesting that the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible states, “…other ancient authorities insert add 44, And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44). Modern skeptics have tried to discredit this account under the mistaken impression that this is simply not medically possible. However, medical literature has documented the rare phenomenon hematidrosis, or “bloody sweat.” You can read about this condition at Medical News Today. Under great emotional stress—such as the kind Jesus suffered—tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, causing blood to mix with sweat. This can cause pronounced weakness and possible shock.

Preparations for the scourging of Jesus were carried out when He was stripped naked and His hands were tied to a post above His head. It is doubtful the Romans followed the Jewish law of limiting a whipping to no more than forty lashes. The Roman legionnaire stepped toward Jesus with the flagrum (or flagellum) in his hand—a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each. The heavy whip was brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’s shoulders, back, and legs. At first, the thongs cut Jesus’s skin only. But as the blows continued, the thongs cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and ultimately a spurting of arterial blood from vessels in the underlying muscles. The initial blows produced large, deep bruises which were broken open by each subsequent blow. Finally the skin began to hang from Jesus’s back in long ribbons. The trauma left the affected areas unrecognizable. When the centurion determined Jesus was near death, the beating was stopped. Jesus was untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, soaked in His own blood.

The Roman soldiers are not done yet. They saw an opportunity for mockery. Because Jesus was accused of claiming to be King of the Jews, the soldiers threw a robe across His shoulders and placed a “stick” in His hand to represent a scepter. Still, a “king” needs a crown. Flexible branches covered with long thorns (commonly used in bundles for firewood) were plaited into the shape of a crown and it was pressed into Jesus’s scalp. There was a lot of blood loss due to the scalp being one of the most vascular areas of the body. After mocking Him and striking Him across the face, the soldiers took the stick from His hand and struck Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. Finally, exhausted from their sadistic beating, the robe was torn from His back; having adhered to the clots of blood and serum in Jesus’s open wounds, this caused Him great pain. In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans returned His garments. The heavy patibulum of the cross was tied across His shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution detail of Roman soldiers began its slow journey to a hill near Jerusalem called gulgulta in Latin, meaning “place of the skull,” seemingly because of its skull-like shape.

In spite of His best efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss, was too much for Jesus. He was, after all, in a human body. He stumbled and fell. The rough wood of the beam gouged into His lacerated skin and muscles across His shoulders. He tried to rise, but his body had been pushed beyond its endurance. A centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selected an onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus followed, still bleeding and sweating and in a state of shock—a 650-yard journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha is finally completed.

Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild painkiller. He refused to drink it. Simon was ordered to place the patibulum on the ground and Jesus was violently thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire found the depression at the front of the wrist( between the radius and ulna). He drove a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. He did the same to the other wrist. The patibulum was lifted in place at the top. A plaque reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” was nailed above Jesus’s head. Jesus’s left foot was pressed backward against His right foot. With with both feet extended, toes down, a nail was driven through the arch of each foot, leaving the knees moderately flexed. Jesus is now crucified. As He slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in His wrists were putting pressure on the medial nerves.

As Jesus pushed Himself upward to avoid stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail that had been driven through His feet. This caused tremendous pain. His arms fatigued, causing great waves of cramps to sweep over His muscles, causing spasms. Eventually, His muscles were so severely cramped that He could no longer push Himself upward. Hanging by his arms, His pectoral and intercostal muscles became paralyzed. He was no longer able to exhale. Carbon dioxide built up in His lungs, coursing through His bloodstream.

Jesus experienced hours of horrific pain, cycles of joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, and burning pain where tissue was torn from His lacerated back as He moved up and down attempting to breath. He began to experience a terrible crushing discomfort deep inside His chest as the pericardium slowly filled with serum, compressing His heart.  It was almost over. The loss of tissue fluids had reached a critical level; His compressed heart was struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into His muscles. His tortured lungs were making a frantic effort to gasp gulps of air. His tissues were severely dehydrated, sending pain signals to His brain.

Jesus’s body was now extremely ravaged. He could feel the chill of death creeping through His body. This realization brought Him to express, “It is finished.” His mission of atonement had been accomplished. He could finally allow His body to die. With one last surge of strength, he once again pressed His torn feet against the nail, straightened His legs, took a deep breath, and said, “Father! Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

“It is Finished.”

Found only in the Gospel of John, the Greek word translated “it is finished” is tetelestai, an accounting term that means “paid in full.” When Jesus uttered those words, He declared the debt owed to His Father due to man’s sin wiped away. He died to pay our debt. Certainly, the full meaning of Jesus’s life and ministry had to culminate in His crucifixion. Through His resurrection, that ministry continues to this day. Paul astutely said, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14, RSV).

It’s been said that just before He died Jesus looked back over His life’s work, and, knowing that His mission was accomplished, summoned Death. He departed His body and went to be with the Father. There is something in Jesus’s dying declaration that has a much deeper meaning than the utterance of a man on his death bed indicating he has come to the end of his journey. Jesus’s dying remark indicates there are no loose ends left, no unfinished tasks dropped from His hands to be taken up and carried on by others. His life is a rounded whole, with everything accomplished that had been endeavored, and everything done that had been commanded. Jesus laid the foundation of salvation by the laying down of His life.

Henry (1997) writes,

“It is finished; that is, the counsels of the Father concerning [Jesus’s] sufferings were now fulfilled. It is finished; all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, which pointed at the sufferings of the Messiah, were accomplished. It is finished; the ceremonial law is abolished; the substance is now come, and all the shadows are done away. It is finished; an end is made of transgression by bringing in an everlasting righteousness. His sufferings were now finished, both those of his soul, and those of his body. It is finished; the work of man’s redemption and salvation is now completed. His life was not taken from him by force, but freely given up” (p. 1014-1015).

Matthew 19:28: “After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill Scripture), ‘I thirst'” (RSV). There is an interesting interpretation that when Jesus said those words He was speaking of a “spiritual” thirst—a need to return to His Father. This sits well with the synoptic gospels: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me'” (Matthew 27:46, RSV). This verse in Matthew refers to Psalm 22:1:”My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  Kidner (1971) calls this “The Psalm of the Cross.” No Christian  can read Psalm 22:1 without being vividly confronted with the crucifixion. It is not only a matter of prophecy fulfilled, but of the sufferer’s abject humility—there is no plea for vengeance, as Jesus certainly would not have intended. Kidner notes, “The Gelineau translation entitles it “The suffering servant wins the deliverance of the nations.” In fact, A. Bentzen ( 1955) points out, “it is not a description of illness, but of an execution” (p. 94, n. 40).

You may recall Jesus’s cry to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39, RSV). I believe Jesus was not asking God to “pardon” Him or take away the need for His death. Rather, I believe Jesus foresaw the wrath of God that the Father would justly and rightly pour out upon mankind for their sins. Jesus asked if it were possible that this cup of wrath might pass from Him. That He might not have to “drink” from it. Nevertheless, He was willing to bear the load of His sufferings (to the fullest extent required by the Father) in order that you and I could escape the bitter, dark, lonely, horrific consequences of our sin. Matthew 26:42 says, “Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done.'” Jesus was willing to suffer complete and utter abandonment of the Father in order that we might walk with the Father for eternity clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

How Does This Apply to Us?

The last words of Jesus have a deep and eternal meaning. I have no doubt that Jesus knew what His last words needed to be and He knew the power those final words would have for generations still to come. He had great purpose in them, which still breathe such life and meaning for our lives today. Jesus became the final and ultimate sacrifice for our sin. The word in this verse, finished, means “paid in full.” The uniqueness of the wording is in the verb tense: it indicates both a point in time when it was initially accomplished and that it would continue to be complete or finished. This is what Christ came to do. This is the Good News. He came to firmly establish God’s plan for redemption that had been ordained before the foundation of the world. We read in 1 Peter 1:3 that by Jesus’s great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Verse 9 says, “As the outcome of your faith, you obtain the salvation of your souls” (RSV).

Peter tells us to gird up our minds, be sober, set our hope fully upon the grace that is coming to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. We are to turn from our childish ways, no longer conforming to the passions of our former ignorance. Rather, we are to be holy as Christ is holy! He adds, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake… You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:18-20, 23, RSV).

In closing, I can only hope that you have felt in your heart the unbelievable sacrifice Jesus bore for you and for me; that you can spend even a moment imagining how horrific and excruciating His death was, and that He went through it in total obedience to the Father, lifted up on the wings of His glorious and unfathomable love for you and me. And perhaps, if even for a moment, the next time you step outside of the way of Jesus you will feel so severely convicted that you will stop in your tracks and thank Him for the power He has given us all to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. Further, I hope you are as changed through reading this post as I have been while writing it.

As a faithful brother in Christ loves to say, “Change me LORD, never to be the same again!”

References

Bentzen, Aage. King and Messiah. Cambridge, UK: Lutterworth Press, 1955.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 1997.

Kidner, Derek. Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1971

 

The Gospel of John (Part One)

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

THE GOSPELS OF Matthew, Mark, and Luke are remarkably similar, while John is quite different. This does not mean there are four “versions” of the Gospel. Through the four gospels the Good News is told from the perspective of four different writers. Why four unique explanations of the Gospel? Each of the writers had a specific audience in mind as they addressed the ministry of Jesus. Also, each gospel shows a unique relationship or experience with Christ. The writers expressed that element through targeted arrangements of the historical data of Jesus’s life. Given the immense amount of information in the Gospel of John, I will divide this article into two parts.

A Brief Look at The Synoptic Gospels

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are considered synoptic, meaning they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence, with similar or sometimes identical wording. The Greek word for “synoptic” is συνοπτικός, which means “seeing all together.” Regardless, the priority of each of the gospels was to focus on the message of the Good News. For example, Luke’s gospel correlates with the Book of Acts. There are seven corresponding themes in Luke and Acts: (1) salvation to the Gentiles; (2) progression of the Gospel throughout the ancient world; (3) the Holy Spirit; (4) the importance of prayer; (5) wealth, poverty, and marginalized society; (6) Christianity as the true Israel; and (7) treatment of Christians under the Roman Empire.

Why Did John Write His Gospel?

The Gospel of John presents an amazing exposition on Jesus Christ, and is perhaps the most succinct and elevated view of God found anywhere in literature. John presents a record of our Savior’s profound teaching, convincing arguments, and declarations of His divinity and relationship with the Father. This differs from Matthew, Mark, and Luke in that there is no genealogy of Jesus’s birth or childhood; nor does John list the numerous miracles, parables the ascension, or the Great Commission.

While some New Testament scholars believe the purpose of John’s gospel was to combat Docetism—the doctrine, important in Gnosticism, that Christ’s body was not human but either a phantasm or of real but celestial substance, and that therefore his sufferings were only apparent—and to oppose those who retained loyalty to him. John clearly states, “…but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (20:31, RSV). John tells about how Jesus dealt with individuals, what He preached to the crowds, how He trained the disciples, His debates with the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and a wonderful explanation of the gift of eternal life. John also describes the gathering storm Jesus would face soon as a result of his confrontation of “established religion” and its leaders. John’s gospel account has been received by believers worldwide as the best recitation of the way of Jesus—not just the way in which we are able to come to the Father, but also the way we are to interact with the fallen world in which we live.

At the outset, John chose to introduce Christ as the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3, RSV). John tells us, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (v. 4). He is clear that Jesus is the Word incarnate who brings truth, grace and salvation. Jesus is God.

John was a personal witness to the ministry of Jesus. His gospel is an inspired record of the teachings, miracles, and crucifixion of Jesus as he saw them. His purpose was to set forth the evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, and that it is only through faith in Christ alone that we are saved. John repeatedly cites events that support this claim, often using words such as “witness” and “testimony.” He identifies many who can corroborate the acts of Jesus: Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, Thomas, and Nicodemus to name a few. John’s gospel also provides details on Jesus’s arrest, trials before Pilate and Caiaphas, the scourging, His crucifixion and resurrection, and accounts of those who saw the risen Jesus before His ascension.

A Detailed Exposition

The first eighteen verses are sometimes referred to as the prologue—a somewhat misleading designation in that it tends to suggest the material covered in these verses is more introductory than substantive. John’s presentation of the Logos in the opening paragraph serves as an historical and theological summary of the entire book. He tells of  Jesus’s preexistence (prior to creation), His work in Creation, His incarnation, and His rejection by the world. John teaches of Jesus’s gift of eternal life to all who will receive Him. The Gospel of John is a sound and critical foundation on which to begin building our relationship with Jesus. The prologue is a poetic overture that combines the major theological principles that form the foundation of the entire Gospel.

In The Beginning

John begins with a majestic announcement regarding the very essence of Jesus Christ: “In the beginning was the Word.” Jesus was, is, and forever will be the Word—existing before time itself. The Word was not a created being. Rather, the Word is God and was with God at the moment of Creation. Heraclitus of Ephesus mentions “the Word” in his secular writings. He lived near Miletus, the birthplace of philosophy, and is best known for his belief that things are constantly changing (universal flux), that opposites coincide (unity of opposites), and that fire is the basic material of the world. He stated that God was always present: “Having harkened not to me but to the Word (logos) it is wise to agree that all things are one. Greek philosophers specifically believed that logos was the principle of reason or order in the world” [emphasis added]. This dovetails quite nicely with the doctrinal principle that Jesus was the Logos, co-creator with God the Father, and that He sustains (orders) all things.

John states that it was through the Word that all things were made. Remember, Genesis 1 tells us “God said” and it came to be. Words were spoken. Jesus (the Word) was the active agent in Creation. Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-17 that Jesus is is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; that in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, adding, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (RSV). Hebrews 1:2 reminds us that through Jesus God created the whole world. Life (zôê) is one of John’s favorite words. Zôê refers often to the supernatural life that comes from God, and which Christians share through faith in Jesus Christ. John says God (in His relationship with believers) is both the “bread of life” (6:35) and the “light of life” (8:12). John wants us to see Jesus as the light of men.

The True Light

It is important that we see Jesus as the light of men. It enables us to see God at work in the world. God gives “light” in the sense that He has endowed mankind with reason, intelligence, and the ability to discern between right and wrong. But the coming of the true Light has a far more important purpose. This light is given that we might comprehend the difference between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. Had Jesus not come, bringing light to all, the human race would still be wandering the earth in spiritual darkness, cut off from fellowship from the Father following the expulsion of our first parents from the Garden of Eden. Some biblical scholars believe the primary meaning of “bring to light” includes illuminating man’s true nature outside of Christ.

John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (RSV). This a remarkable assertion of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. I would not be surprised if this is the point where most secular philosophers of the First Century took exception. Although these learned men believed in logos as a representation of eternal Reason, a claim that this eternal concept became flesh would give them much pause. By declaring that “the Word became flesh,” John answered the Docetics who, while acknowledging that Jesus was divine, could not bring themselves to accept the fact that He was also fully human. They would claim that Jesus only appeared to be a real man.

There is a critical explanation in John 1:18—”No one has ever seen God.” Jesus made Him known. The Old Testament states that God appeared to man at various times, but such appearances were always partial and incidental. God said to Moses in Exodus 33:20, “No one may see Me and live.”) While no one has seen God Himself, John tells us that Jesus is “at the Father’s side.” Some scholars see this verse as “close to the Father’s heart” or “in the intimate presence of the Father.” This is precisely why Jesus could say that when the disciples saw Him they saw the Father. Jesus was a living interpretation of the Father—the means by which the heart and the will of Father was made known.

Initial Ministry

The second chapter of John’s gospel brings us to a wedding in Cana of Galilee where Jesus turns water into wine. This act has become a bone of contention among many atheists, scoffers, and doubters. They see it as a cheap parlor trick. This miracle is provided to set forth a sign—Jesus performed a wondrous deed that points beyond itself to reveal some aspect of the person of Jesus and to evoke faith on the part of those to whom it is given. The Greek word sêmeion (“sign”) indicates that the miracle at Cana showed Jesus’s “self-manifestation.” Hillsong Worship performs a song called “New Wine.” I believe some of the lyrics provide an insight regarding Jesus’s miracle at the wedding. Lyrics include, “In the Crushing, In the Pressing, You are Making New Wine… Make Me Your Vessel, Make Me an Offering, Make Me Whatever You Want Me to Be… Cause Were There is New Wine, There is Power.”

John retells the day when Jesus cleansed the temple. Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple courts. The Greek word hieron used by John refers to the entire temple area with its buildings and courts. This is where He found men selling animals for sacrifice (undoubtedly at a profit) and exchanging foreign money so visitors could pay the temple tax. This seems to be a type of forced tithe. In comparison, when the pastor at my church announces the collection of offerings and tithes, he says, “If you are visiting with us today for the first or second time, this is not for you. We just want you to enjoy your visit with us today.” Tradition during the First Century, however, was that, for any Gentile who came up to the temple to worship, prayer had to be offered in the middle of a cattle yard and money market. This entailed purchasing an animal to be sacrificed. Jesus was appalled by the commotion connected with the marketing of these animals and the changing of currency in His Father’s house. Accordingly, he chased the men and their animals from the temple and set their birds free.

The New Birth and Living Water

In the third chapter we are introduced to a Jewish Rabbi called Nicodemus. This Rabbi was among many who were attracted by Jesus’s miracles but not openly committed to following Him. The religious leaders saw Jesus as a heretic rather than the central figure of Christianity. Nicodemus was likely an honest seeker who wanted to know more about Jesus. He could have chosen to see Jesus at night because he didn’t want other rabbis to see him talking to this so-called heretic, or perhaps he wanted to meet with Jesus away from the pressing crowds in order to have His undivided attention.

Nicodemus addressed Jesus with the honorable title “Rabbi.” Regardless of his personal doubts about the ministry of Jesus, Nicodemus chose to be respectful. He correctly saw Jesus as a teacher sent by God. He intended to ask Jesus how he could inherit eternal life, but Jesus broached the subject first. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:5, RSV). Nicodemus was confused. This did not make sense. How could a man return to his mother’s womb and be born anew? Jesus explained, saying that which is born of flesh is flesh, but that which is born of Spirit is spirit. He told Nicodemus that man must be lifted up to the Father as the Son is lifted up. He told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (v. 16). Jesus wanted Nicodemus to understand that the heart of the Gospel was not a philosophical observation about God’s character, but a declaration of redemptive love in action.

John sets forth further insight regarding eternal life in chapter four. When Jesus arrived at Sychar (possibly at ancient Shechem or the village of Askar), He stopped at a well where He met a Samaritan woman who was drawing water. Jesus asked the woman for a drink from her container. She was shocked that He would drink from her vessel because Jews were not to associate with Samaritans. They were considered to be “unclean.” Ignoring the woman’s comment about custom, Jesus said that if she knew who He was she’d have asked for “living water.” He spoke of “streams of living water” that will flow from within the believer, which we also know is the Holy Spirit we receive when we accept Jesus as the Christ.

Jesus’s Healing Ministry and Other Miracles

Jesus encountered a royal official in Capernaum whose son lay sick. When this man learned that Jesus had come to town he went and begged Jesus to come heal his son who was at the point of death. Jesus challenged the man, saying, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (4:46). The man insisted that unless Jesus came to his home right away his son would die. Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live” (v. 50). The man believed the words of Jesus and headed home. Amazingly, the man professed his believe (v. 51) to his servants before he saw evidence that his son was well. As a result of his faith, his son was healed.

John recalls Jesus’s healing of a paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda (5:1-18). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead at Bethany where Mary and her sister Martha lived (11:1-44). Mary is the same woman who anointed Jesus’s feet with perfume. Admittedly, this is an incomplete listing of the healing and miracles of Jesus.

The account of Jesus feeding the five thousand (6:1-15) has been deemed as a “miracle” that took place in people’s hearts. They overcame basic human need and selfishness, choosing instead to share what they had. This meal is also considered by some New Testament scholars to be sacramental in nature. Each person received a fragment of the bread and fishes. It constitutes a miracle—something wonderful that actually happened. Those who are uneasy to accept this event as a genuine miracle are likely an example of the natural mind denying God as Creator’ One who has absolute authority to act within His own creation as He chooses.

Some time after the feeding of the five thousand the disciples set out for Capernaum by boat (6:16, 21). The trip was said to be about five miles. The crossing was extremely difficult. The Sea of Galilee lies approximately six hundred feet below sea level. Cool air often flowed over the Sea, displacing warm moist air hovering over the water. Violent weather conditions occurred rather quickly. The original Greek for the phrase “started across the sea” (6:17, RSV) is êrchonto, and is translated “they were trying to cross the lake” [emphasis added]. Jesus appeared on the water “during the fourth watch of the night” (Mark 6:48), which is between the hours of 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. The disciples had been attempting to sail the rough seas for at least nine hours. They had rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking toward the boat on the surface of the raging sea. His appearance frightened them—they did not recognize Him immediately and perhaps thought He was a ghost. Jesus said, “It is I; do not be afraid” (John 6:20, RSV). Scripture tells us that immediately after Jesus declared His identity the boat reached its destination without further incident.

We’re told in John 21:25, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (RSV).

Jesus Claims Divine Authority

Jesus said in John 5:19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise” (RSV). He added, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (verse 21). Jesus said He only did what He saw the Father doing. This does not mean that He merely imitated the Father. Rather, it shows the continuous relationship that exists between the Father and the Son. Jewish leaders believed the prerogative to raise someone from the dead belonged solely with God, and they did not see Jesus as God. Jesus claimed that the Son makes anyone live whom He chooses. This was not arbitrary, but is consistent with what we read throughout the New Testament (see Romans 9:18). Jesus later commissioned the disciples, and indeed all believers, to go forth and do these same things in the Name of Jesus.

Jesus said the Father had given to Him the authority to execute judgment. He adds, “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, His form you have never seen” (v. 37, RSV). God turned judgment over to the Son because through His incarnation Jesus learned what it means to be human, faced with temptation. In addition, He had been given the authority to judge because He is God’s Anointed One. Jesus noted in verses 28 and 29 that the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

Opposition in Jerusalem

It is clear from Scripture (7:1-52) that Jesus was aware the Jews wanted to take His life. We read in chapter five that the Jewish leaders held an intense hostility toward Jesus, and were eager to kill Him. Their indignation stemmed from Jesus’s claim that God was His Father, thereby equating Himself with God (5:18). The disciples thought that if Jesus wanted to carry out a public ministry He should go to the capital city and make Himself known (7:3-5). In response, Jesus said His time had not yet come. The word “time” in this verse is from the Greek word kainos, meaning “a right or favorable time.” It was not necessarily a moment in time from a chronological standpoint.

The Feast of Tabernacles began in Jerusalem (7:1). As crowds gathered, there was an undercurrent of discussion about Jesus. Some called Him “a good man,” and remarked that they believed His teachings were positive and helpful. Others claimed Jesus was a heretic who was deceiving the people and leading them away. Gonzalez (2010) said that Christianity was not deemed a new religion in the early days, but a heretical sect within Judaism. After the crucifixion of Jesus, many Jews believed Christianity was a heresy that was spreading from town to town, tempting “good Jews to become heretics” (p. 42). Sentiment among the Jewish population was that Christians might once more bring the wrath of God upon Israel. This attitude had really root during the latter part of Jesus’s ministry and played a part in His trial and execution.

Jesus waited until the Feast was well underway before He went into Jerusalem (7:14). It is possible He waited several days until the initial excitement of the Feast had subsided so His followers would not be as likely to put on a ceremonial demonstration. Such display would have been met with serious consequences, and it was not yet time for Jesus to be taken and tried. In any event, the crowds at the Feast marveled at the knowledge Jesus had concerning Scripture, especially because He had not received formal teaching. He publicly stated that His teaching came from God, adding that anyone who speaks on their own authority does so for their personal benefit. Of course these words came as a stinging rebuke to the Pharisees and high priest. Jesus reminded the crowd that even Moses did not speak for himself, but was a representative of God the Father.

We see in verses 21 through 24 that Jesus continued to speak out against the established “religion” of the day. He saw the Pharisees as hypocrites. John reminds us that the Jewish leaders were outraged when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, telling him to pick up his mat and walk (5:8). However, these same religious leaders were known to break the Law when it suited them. For example, they performed circumcisions on the eighth day after the birth of the child (the age at which the procedure must be done) even if it fell on the Sabbath. Because the law regarding circumcision was given to the Jews as part of the Abrahamic Covenant, the church leaders thought circumcision took precedence over the regulation regarding “work” on the Sabbath.

It was on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles that Jesus boldly announced, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (7:37-38). This remark about the thirsty recounts Isaiah’s ancient summons: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost… Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David” (Isaiah 55:1,3, NIV)). Jesus’s claim that He could supply those who were spiritually thirsty with streams of living water. This made quite an impression on the crowd gathered at the temple. When some in the crowd said Jesus must be a prophet, someone said, “‘This is the Christ.’ Still others were saying, ‘Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He?'” (7:41). It was believed that nothing good could come from Galilee (see John 1:46).

Jesus Offends the Religious Leaders

When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12, RSV). This remark was made before a group of religious leaders. John 8:3 notes that the Pharisees brought before Jesus a woman accused of adultery. The NIV footnote indicates “the people” is an arbitrary interpretation of the Greek word autois, or “them.” The RSV translates autois “them,” referring to the Pharisees present when the woman was brought forth.

The Old Testament contains many examples  of “light” as a metaphor for spiritual illumination and life. Psalm 27:1 says, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (RSV). Darkness was often thought to represent ignorance and death. Jesus essentially told the Pharisees, “I have come to be the light of the world.” The religious leaders decided that they must discredit the godly claims of Jesus. One of them said, “You are bearing witness to yourself; your testimony is not true” (John 8:13, RSV). In other words, they said Jesus’s claims were nothing but his opinion. Perhaps they were been concerned that Jesus might be right—stating a theological truth—but they believed He could not possibly prove it. This might be why Herod and the religious leaders taunted Christ: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (Luke 23:37, RSV).

When Jesus said, “I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me” (8:19), the Pharisees began to use ridicule to discredit Jesus. One of them sarcastically asked, “‘Where is your Father?'” Jesus answered, ‘You know neither me nor my Father; if you knew me, you would know my Father also'” (v. 20). In essence, they told Jesus, You’re living in a fantasy world. They did not understand that Jesus spoke to them of the Father (v. 27). Jesus further riled the Pharisees when He claimed to be the One who will set men free from the wages of sin (v. 31). He tells the crowd, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me (v. 42). To know God as Father is to love the Son who was sent by Him. The religious leaders could not allow Jesus to stand before the temple courts and declare His divinity, so they challenged His pedigree. They said, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (v. 48).

The Pharisees thought it was incredulous that Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:10-11) [emphasis added]. He was basically stating that His entire life was sacrificial. Jesus was saying He was “the perfect sacrificial lamb.” This caused great division among the Jews, both the religious leaders and the crowds.

Jesus encountered His Jewish adversaries at the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem. The crowd asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (10:24). In response, Jesus said the works He does are done in the Father’s name, and they bear witness to Him [Jesus]. He told the crowd they do not believe Him because they are not His sheep. He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (v. 27-28). Certainly, this enraged a number of Jews, especially the Pharisees. Jesus boldly remarked, “and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (v. 30). The crowd took up stones to stone Him. He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John at first baptized, and there he remained for some time.

Please join me in the next day or two for the second half of this crucial topic;

References

Gonzalez, J. (2010). The Story of Christianity Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

 

 

 

 

Signature in the Cell: The Definition of Life

“What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
    made earth overflow with your wonderful creations. Oh, look—the deep, wide sea, brimming with fish past counting, sardines and sharks and salmon”

(Psalm 104:24-25, MSG).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

CHRISTIANS TODAY ARE FREQUENTLY looked upon with suspicion as a subculture that holds strange, old-fashioned, narrow-minded views on the origin of the universe, the nature of man, and the existence of a supreme being. In certain circles, especially politics and academia, there is a degree of condescension, suspicion, and contempt. The world sees Christians as “haters” or “bashers,” labeling us  elitist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, and delusional. Unfortunately, this is due in part to the words Christians use when taking on today’s culture. Still others say Christians are on the opposite side of science, believing in a fairy tale God, holding irrational beliefs as to the origin of life and the universe. Although Christians are called upon to be ready to defend the Gospel at any time, 1 Peter 3:15 provides a clear admonition that when doing so we are to show courtesy and respect.

Darwin Portrait

In Darwin’s time, few, if any biologists talked about biological or genetic information. Today, they routinely refer to DNA, RNA, and proteins: carriers or repositories of information. Biologists tell us that DNA stores and transmits “genetic information,” that it contains a genetic message, including instructions—a genetic blueprint or digital code—regarding how the life it “represents” should be assembled. Biology has recently entered its own information age. Scientists seeking to explain the origin of life have taken note. Life is not made up of mere matter and energy, but also information. Since matter and energy existed before life, this critical aspect of living organisms is now center stage. Inanimate matter cannot write the information necessary for life. At some point, biological information came into existence. Consequently, theories that claim to explain the origin of life must answer the genetics question.

It’s a Matter of Information

What exactly is “biological information?” Beginning in the 1940s, mathematicians and computer scientists began to define, study, measure, and quantify information. They made distinctions between several types of information. What kind of information does DNA contain? What kind of information must origin-of-life researchers explain the origin of? DNA contains specific information that deepens the mystery surrounding life. Most of us use the term information to describe some piece of knowledge. According to the standard definition, information holds two distinct meanings: (i) facts provided or learned about something or someone; and (ii) what is conveyed or represented by an arrangement or sequence of things. The second definition is on point regarding our discussion on the origin of biological or genetic information. It refers to genetically transmitted information. The specific “code” of life itself. It is a rather dubious claim to state that genetic information came from nothing; that it “wrote” itself. Moreover, information specific to the second definition equals an arrangement or string of characters that accomplishes a particular outcome or performs a function of communication.

Indeed, DNA contains alternative sequences of nucleotides that can produce some specific effect. This certainly indicates that DNA contains information or, if you prefer, instructions, regarding life. Neither DNA nor the cellular machinery that uses its information is conscious. As an appropriate comparison, neither does software “code” comprehend the existence of the software program itself. Yet clearly software contains a kind of information or instruction. Strikingly, its code is made up of some combination of zeros and ones: yes/no, left/right, this/that. How much more complex is the genetic code of a living organism?

Information theory was developed in the 1940s—81 years after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, which he claimed explained the development of the rather complicated and sometimes messy process of speciation. In was in the 1940s that MIT engineer and mathematician Claude Shannon was studying an obscure branch of algebra. Few people were paying attention. He had taken nineteenth-century mathematician George Boole’s system of putting logical expressions in mathematical form and applied its categories of “true” and “false” to switches found in electronic circuits. I am reminded of my study of basic electronics and electrical systems in the 1970s as a high school student, wherein the movement of energy through a circuit was determined by whether a switch was “open” or “closed.” Shannon’s master’s thesis has been called “possibly the most important, and also the most famous, master’s thesis of the century.” It eventually became the foundation for digital-circuit and digital-computer theory. Today, structures exhibiting specified complexity in living organisms are completely unknown and unknowable apart from the DNA, RNA, and proteins that establish their genetic features.

Applying Information Theory to Life

Obviously, there is a tremendous amount of variation between species. Species—groups of similar organisms within a genus—are designated by biochemical and other phenotypic criteria and by DNA relatedness, based on their overall genetic similarity. You may recall from ninth-grade biology class that living organisms (whether animal or plant, zebra or zucchini) are divided into seven levels: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species.

Classification System.png

There are five kingdoms, which are determined by how living organisms obtain their food, the types of cells that make up their body, and the number of cells they contain. Phylum gives us a grouping of physical similarities. Class designation narrows similarities even further. For example, the reason man is considered a mammal is because we too drink milk from our birth mothers. Order is based on taxonomy—a checklist of characteristics that determines how organisms are grouped together. Orders are then divided into families. Because they share much genetic information, organisms in a family are said to be related to each other. Genus is a way to describe the genetic name for an organism. Species is the most specific classification of living organisms, hence the word used to label the category. The root for this term comes from the Latin specificus meaning “constituting a kind or sort.” Accordingly, when we identify a subject in conversation, we are said to get specific.

Consider species with which we are familiar. We recognize zebras by their stripes, elephants by their trunks, giraffes by their long necks, bald eagles by the color of the feathers on their heads, and monarch butterflies by the patterns on their gossamer wings. Species are defined by their traits. This is true across all life. Mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, starfish, sea urchins, crustaceans, arachnids, insects, worms of all kinds, shellfish, octopi, snails, corals, jellyfish, sponges, mosses, ferns, grasses, orchids, fruit trees, fungi, algae, bacteria, and all the life forms on earth possess unique combinations of traits. The origin of species is a question of the origin of traits. If you want to know the origin of zebras, you need to discover the origin of stripes. The origin of plants is bound up in the origin of trunks. Giraffe origins are inextricable from the origin of long necks. The origin of any species is found in the origin of the traits that define them. Examination of traits must include microscopic observation.

Let’s Get Specific

Somatic cells (i.e., non-reproductive cells) divide through a process of cell division termed mitosis. In both animals and plants, before the nucleus breaks down, structures that look like flexible noodles (called chromosomes) appear during a period termed prophase. Through prometaphase, the membrane surrounding the nucleus breaks down. The process continues through a complicated sequence of events. Because the process of nuclear division is so complex, it suggests a functional role for chromosomes. If chromosomes were inert and irrelevant to heredity, why would cells take such care to pass them on via such a unique and detailed cycle?dna helixThe answer to the how of DNA function is intricately bound up in the structure of DNA. Any potential structure for DNA must show how it could carry complex hereditary information. The architecture cannot simply repeat unchanging units. Chemically, the structure of DNA would need to be stable over many generations in order to pass traits along to future generations. For example, elephants produce more elephants each generation, giraffes more giraffes, bald eagles more bald eagles, and so on. The stable framework of DNA is the only explanation for this phenomenon. In addition, DNA must suggest a method by which it can be replicated. Without consistent transformation of genetic information, hereditary traits would become diluted and, ultimately, extinguished. Theoretically, this would result in a gradual fading of features familiar between parent and offspring, and, consequently, between homo sapiens.

Biologists eventually discovered the double helix, the structural relationship between DNA and chromosomes. DNA doesn’t exist in chromosomes as a long, straight stretch of helix. Rather, chromosomes represent dense forms of DNA. This is accomplished by packaging of DNA—cells wrap these helices around proteins in progressively higher levels of concentration to form the familiar chromosome shape. When sperm and egg fuse, the chromosomes of the sperm join the same nuclear compartment as the chromosomes of the egg. Interestingly, these paternal and maternal chromosomes exist as individual entities, carrying coded information from each parent. In other words, since both the father and the mother provide an equal number of chromosomes, both parents make an equal contribution to the features of the newly conceived offspring. Given the intricate science of heredity, it is simply impossible for the DNA of a giraffe to morph into the DNA of a chimpanzee. An offspring mimics its parents, period.

Remarkably, the physical basis for heredity—the nature of the very code of life—was not uncovered until nearly 100 years after Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species. This is indeed a significant bone of contention. Without this genetic information, Darwin could not have accurately argued for the origin of species. If he had no concept of how traits were written in a genetic code, he could not have identified the origin of any particular trait. In addition, he had no biogenetic knowledge that giraffes cannot become buffaloes. Moreover, reptiles cannot develop into mammals. It is simply not possible—not even through mutation. In other words, Darwin could not logically argue that through survival of the fittest a salamander became more adept at surviving in trees, leading them to eventually become birds, flying from tree to tree in the acquiring of food. This violates the very code of speciation.

What Are the Odds?

Carl Sagan Photo.jpg

The arguments presented by today’s New Atheists fly in the face of logic and probability. They espouse their theory on the origin of life amidst a vacuum of proof. Indeed, despite mathematical probability. I was a huge fan of Carl Sagan. My father and I used to watch his weekly television program on PBS. I loved hearing him utter those famous words, “…billions and billions.”  Sagan went to his grave viewing the universe as nothing more than molecules in motion. Granted, we and everything around us are comprised of molecules. Looking at the atom, we see a tiny universe unto itself—protons and neutrons orbiting a nucleus. Stepping back, we can see each atom orbiting other atoms in myriad combinations specific to the type of substance it is—air, water, carbon, hydrogen, grass, trees, the family dog, the food we eat, even the screen on which you are viewing these words. In fact, molecules of light are making it possible for you to see your computer screen.

BigBang

Sagan, and others, would have us believe this finely-tuned orchestra of atoms circling atoms, planets circling the sun, the Milky Way circling other universes, just “happened” at some indiscriminate point in the observable past, when the universe just burst forth from a singular point of extremely hot and extremely dense matter. Matter, incidentally, which they claim popped into existence out of nothing. They fail to explain why it is okay for their theory to violate the laws of thermodynamics. Something cannot come from nothing. Energy cannot create itself. Further, prior to the Big Bang (which, by the way, is a term that does adequately describe the point when the universe began) time, space, and matter simply did not exist.

Donald Page of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Science has calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one out of 10,000,000,000124 which is a number that exceeds all imagination. Astronomers Fred Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe found that the odds of the random formation of a single enzyme from amino acids anywhere on our planet’s surface are one in 1020 and, in addition, that there are about two thousand enzymes. The probability of these enzymes assembling randomly in a pattern that could define life is only one part in (1020 ) 20,000 or 1040,000. This is an outrageously small probability that could not be achieved even if the entire universe consisted of a dense organic soup. This is just one step in the formation of life. Nothing has yet been said about DNA and where it came from, or of the transcription of DNA to RNA, which scientists say cannot even be numerically computed.

Scientists have yet to thoroughly explain mitosis and meiosis. The first term mitosis refers to a cell dividing into two clones of itself, each with the same number of chromosomes. On the other hand, meiosis describes cell division that produces four cells (called gametes). These gametes are more commonly called sperm in males and eggs in females. Unlike in mitosis, the gametes produced by meiosis are not clones of the original cell, because each gamete has exactly half as many chromosomes as the original cell. A chromosome is a thread-like object (scientists literally called them threads or loops when they were first discovered) made of a material called chromatin.

dna

Chromatin is made of DNA and special structural proteins called histones. One way to think of a chromosome is as one very long strand of DNA, with a bunch of histone proteins stuck to it like beads on a string. Chromosomes are stored in the nuclei of cells. If you compare the diameter of a cell nucleus (between 2 and 10 microns) to the length of a chromosome (between 1 and 10 centimeters, when fully extended!), you can see that a chromosome must be scrunched up into a very small package in order to fit inside a nucleus. The average chromosome is about a thousand times longer than a cell nucleus is wide. The situation is a bit like how a very long snake can coil up into a tight ball. This process is known, but the mechanism is not understood.

Joey Lagarbo, a scientist who works in the field of genetics, stated, “I completely understand where [this] comes from but at the end of the day it will only confuse you more. There are 46 chromosomes in a diploid human cell or 23 pairs of homologous chromosomes. Each of these 46 chromosomes do replicate but are still attached to each other by a centromere (that’s how we get the prototypical X shape of a chromosome). Each replicated chromosome is composed of two sister chromatids that are attached at the hip by a centromere; they are NOT completely separated. In other words, we went from 46 ‘I’ shaped chromosomes to 46 ‘X’ shaped chromosomes.” Someone responded to Lagarbo’s explanation by saying, “I understand this, but if someone could explain [the] conceptual problem it would be very much appreciated.”

A Change of Worldview

Jean Paul Sarte.jpgI want to share something about Jean-Paul Sartre. He was a French atheist and existential philosopher, most noted for his 1943 Being and Nothingness. Sartre promoted an anti-deterministic philosophy. In other words, science not based on causality. That’s scary! This is a type of existentialism based on the “logic” that existence precedes essence, and that matter is only defined by what man thinks it is. Man, according to Sartre’s initial philosophy, first materializes into the world, encounters himself, and only afterwards defines himself. There is no “definition” of anything outside of man’s opinion as to what it means to him. This is an anti-materialistic worldview that stands at odds with the scientific basis of existence. He wrote, “The effect of any form of materialism is to treat all men—including oneself—as objects, which is to say as a set of predetermined reactions indistinguishable from the properties and phenomena that constitute, say, a table, a chair, or a stone.”

The problem is that man is said to be free to choose—to invent himself and the physical universe. There would therefore be no genetic code for anything, let alone ethics. No ontological proscription for how man should behave. This is the very essence of moral relativism: The view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to culture and the zeitgeist of each historical period. No standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others. Amazingly, Sartre underwent a deathbed conversion espousing the grace of God and the “creatureliness” of man. Reversing himself, he said, “I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God” [emphasis mine].

Divine Design

The astronomical evidence for God must be strong when atheistic scientists admit that the universe exploded out of nothingness. Agnostic astronomers now claim that supernatural forces were at work in the beginning, leading them back to a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries. But the scientific evidence for God does not end with the Cosmological Argument. For many, the precision with which the universe exploded into being provides even more persuasive evidence for the existence of God. This evidence, technically known as the Teleological Argument, derives its name from the Greek word telos, which means “design.”

The essence of the Teleological Argument is this:

  • Every design has a designer
  • The universe has a highly complex design
  • Therefore, the universe has a Designer

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) wrote, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” William Paley (1743-1805) made the now-famous argument by his commonsense assertion that every watch requires a watchmaker. Imagine you’re walking along in the woods and you find a diamond-studded Rolex on the ground. What do you conclude is the cause of that watch: The wind and the rain? Erosion? Perhaps some combination of natural forces? Not at all! There is absolutely no question in your mind that some intelligent being made that watch, and that some unfortunate individual must have accidentally dropped it in the woods.

Our universe is, in fact, even more complex than that watch—containing a planet with a myriad of improbable and independent life-supporting conditions that make it a tiny oasis in a vast and hostile universe. Odds noted above that Princeton’s Donald Page put forth, and which astronomers Fred Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe added to some time later, support intelligent design. These highly precise and interdependent conditions (which are called “anthropic constants”) make up what is known as the “Anthropic Principle.” In essence, the Anthropic Principle states that the universe is extremely fine-tuned (designed) to support human life here on earth. But this concept is more than a mere supposition. It is dependent on particular conditions:

  1. Oxygen Level. On earth, oxygen comprises 21 percent of the atmosphere. That precise figure is an anthropic constant that makes life on earth possible. If the oxygen level was just a few percentage points higher, fires would erupt spontaneously; if it were a few percentage points lower, human beings would suffocate. We know this is true from numerous summits at Mount Everest that require climbers to gradually acclimate to lower levels of oxygen higher up the mountain. Typically, climbers must supplement their need with bottled oxygen or risk dying from high-altitude cerebral or pulmonary edema (HACE or HAPE).
  2. Atmospheric Transparency. The small window astronauts must hit reflects the exacting standards by which the universe has been designed. While the atmosphere presents a reentry problem for astronauts, its present qualities are absolutely essential for life here on earth. The degree of transparency of the atmosphere is an anthropic constant. If the atmosphere were less transparent, not enough solar energy would reach the surface. If it were more transparent, we could be bombarded with a lethal amount of solar energy. Moreover, the atmospheric composition of precise levels of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and ozone are in themselves antropic constants. (This is why we’ve heard near-doomsday warnings about a thinning of or a hole in the ozone layer.)
  3. Moon-Earth Gravitational Interaction. If the gravitational interaction between the moon and the earth were greater than it currently is, tidal effects on the oceans, atmosphere, and rotational period would be too severe. If it were weaker, orbital changes would cause serious climate instability. In either event, life on earth would be impossible.
  4. Carbon Dioxide Level. Precisely the correct amount of carbon dioxide is maintained naturally in the earth’s atmosphere. In fact, forests play a critical role in the global carbon cycle by absorbing carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, storing carbon above and below ground, and producing oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Consider the danger of increased “carbon footprints” created by various forms of pollution, including transportation and manufacturing. The phrase  greenhouse gases is based on the increased “greening” of our trees, which is causing higher concentration of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere.
  5. Gravity. The gravity that is pulling earth’s inhabitants to the surface is also an anthropic constant. Its strength may be frightening and mysterious, but it couldn’t be any different for life to exist. If the gravitational force were altered by 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001 percent, our sun would not exist, and, therefore, neither would we. Now that’s precise design!

Typically, atheists respond to the concept of an Anthropic Principle in one of two ways. Some admit there’s some kind of Designer. Astronomer Fred Hoyle had his atheistic beliefs shaken, responding to this concept by agreeing that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, chemistry, and biology. Although he was vague, Hoyle recognized that the fine-tuning of the universe requires intelligence. Other atheists admit design but then claim there is no Designer. They say this precise tuning “happened by chance.” This flies in the face of basic logic. How can the universe be designed (indeed, finely-tuned) without a “tuner?” Pianos cannot possibly tune themselves. Nor could the universe have “designed” itself.

Concluding Remarks

John Glenn, on his return to space in 1998 aboard the space shuttle Discovery, said, “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible.” Nearly 2,000 years ago Paul wrote, “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20, RSV). Evidence of a heavenly Designer is clear, but man often takes it for granted or, more typically, sets out to prove a negative: There is no God, therefore God did not create the universe. C.S. Lewis, in his iconic book The Screwtape Letters provides great insight into this tendency we have to take for granted the amazing world around us. It seems that in our empirical world we are too busy to slow down and contemplate the universe and our place in it.

All instruction, all teaching, all training, comes with intent. Someone who writes an instruction manual does so with purpose. Every cell in our bodies contains a very detailed instruction code, much like a miniature computer program. A computer program is written in the language of ones and zeros: 110010101011000. The way they are arranged tell the computer program what to do. The DNA in each of our cells is very similar. It’s made up of four chemicals: adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine. When mapping genomes, scientists abbreviate these chemicals A, T, G, and C. These are arranged in the human cell similar to the following: CGTGTGACTCGCTCCTGAT. I find it remarkable that there are approximately three billion letters arranged in code for every cell in a living organism. The very function of each cell is determined by how the code is written.

We’re often told by “scientists” that God does not exist. They don’t leave it there. They also add that science cannot prove the presence of a metaphysical concept or an ephemeral being. Of course, the “logical” conclusion they come to is God is not real. The irony is not lost on me that they are trying to prove a negative by using the same science that actually points to several critical points: (i) the universe began as a very hot and very dense singularity; (ii) energy and matter cannot create itself; (iii) the universe is expanding, and will ultimately cease to exist due to entropy and chaos; (iv) all physical elements, from from the subatomic level to the the endless expanse of the universe, orbit each other in an extremely well-tuned dance; (v) the Anthropic Principle provides a critical examination of five major factors which, if altered even one tittle, would cause the extinction of all forms of life on earth.

The laws of physics, when applied uniformly and fairly, indicate that the universe could not have created itself. The scientific principle cause and effect fails to support the birth of our universe from nothing, as there is no known explanation for the cause of the singularity or the cause of the “explosion” that formed everything. Scientists who accept that the universe was formed from the Big Bang believe their assumptions are true. However, they too rely on “faith” to conclude that that the universe was born at the precise moment of the Big Bang from an infinitely small point of hot, dense matter for which they have no explanation of its original source. Simply stated, they have absolutely no theory for the original source of this matter and energy. William Paley’s logical conclusion was that every watch requires a watchmaker.

Repent, Believe, Follow

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

I WANT TO HAVE A CONVERSATION about what it means to truly follow the way of Jesus. There are, unfortunately, nearly as many explanations of this critical theology as there are people who believe in it. Certainly, this is not what Jesus intended to happen in the Body of Christ. We see this in the numerous denominations, dogmas, philosophies, and factions present in the church today. Admittedly, most believers are making an honest attempt at presenting Jesus in a manner that attracts non-believers to Him. There is, however, a percentage of ministers and laypersons whose focus is on culture rather than Jesus.

Some in the ministry believe the best way to attract others to Jesus is to downplay the ugly side of His ministry: the wrath of God, the wages of sin, the nature of a fallen world, the dark side of the human heart. They think that zeroing in on these vitally important doctrines will cause new believers to lose heart, and block non-believers from coming in from the cold to hear the truth. Instead of shouting the truth of the Gospel from the mountaintop, they create “warm and fuzzy” messages, start coffee clatches at church, and ply the common man with “lights and music.” They create an atmosphere of pageantry, of pomp and circumstance, rather than proclaiming critical points of doctrine.

Truly, this is a matter of spirituality—how we go about following Jesus in word and in deed. The way of Jesus is about loving and saving the world. It is personal, not disembodied, abstract, convoluted, fleshly. Many churches in the United States today are glaringly impersonal: programs, organizations, discussion panels, techniques, general guidelines—about information rather than knowledge. For me, accumulation of information is not synonymous with the acquiring of knowledge. Facts don’t lead to change. Knowledge does.

Many who consider themselves “followers” of Jesus today seem to embrace the ways of their surrounding culture as they go about their daily living “in the Name of Jesus.” This is quite dangerous. It is as if they are going along with the world at work, at school, in the marketplace, while espousing the way of Jesus only while at church or in the company of other believers. It is as if they see Christianity as a religion and not a relationship. In other words, many are Christians in name only. They are “fans” of Christ, but not “followers.” Personally, this is a fairly recent change for me that came about through humility and complete honesty. It is a critical prerequisite to becoming a disciple of Christ.

Jesus presents us with a different way; one that is separate from the world, not a supplement to it. It is grounded in a personal relationship that can only grow through true repentance. Ah, but what does the word repentance really mean? If you want to discover an interesting but troubling truth about most mainstream Christians today, ask them to explain what it means to repent. Some will tell you it means reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs. They believe it simply means saying to God, I am sorry. Please forgive me! But a literal translation of the Greek μετάνοια (“metanoia”) indicates a transformational change of the heart. It involves turning away from a life of sin and not going back. It’s “doing a 180.”

Jeremiah 35:15 says, “I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your doings, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land which I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me” (RSV) [Italics mine]. Personally, I did not take this step for decades. Typically, I made a profession of faith, but acted in a manner that was not consistent with my profession. In the vernacular, I “talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk.” And isn’t the way of Jesus in reality a walk?

In essence, failing to walk out our profession of faith is wrong thinking and wrong living. One of the most stinging rebukes I’ve experienced was when my younger brother said, “I can’t stand you and I don’t trust you. You are nothing but a hypocrite!” Ouch! At the time, my reaction was one of anger. But my brother was right. I understood the what of following Jesus, but I had yet to practice the how. I was living a fleshly life like the rest of the world. My behavior was chock full of justification—ruled by anxiety, depression, selfishness, and chronic pain. My defense mechanisms, despite holding an undergraduate degree in psychology, included denial, rationalization, and projection. I justified my behavior because of how others had behaved toward me.

These excuses are ways of the flesh, involving coping strategies common to culture but not a proper part of the way of Jesus. Much of these mechanisms are terribly destructive. They are highly ineffective in promoting lasting interpersonal relationships. I know this because of the impact they’ve had on my life—divorce, loss of numerous jobs, no true close friends, estrangement from my family. Such behaviors are often useful in getting ahead in a secular world (albeit with considerable negative consequences relative to human connection), but not in the community of Jesus. They frustrate any attempt to become part of the Kingdom of God.

The Jesus Way

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Take a second look at what you just read. He said He is the way, sure, but He didn’t stop there. He also said He is the truth and the life. This statement is made up of three distinct parts. To ascribe to one of these three concepts is to invite failure in our Christian walk. The Jesus way is predicated upon to the truth He gave us about the life we can have through Him. Follow me for a minute here. Merely having information about Christianity (the way) will not produce truth in our everyday activities. Consequently, we will never achieve the life we can have in Him. Reading about the life we can have in Jesus is useful only in a “quiz bowl” competition on the Bible. We’ll get the question right, but we will miss the means by which we can come to know the truth about the information, and, therefore, live in a manner that is victorious.

In other words, the Gospel gets only partial attention in our churches today. The concept of Jesus as the way is the most frequently evaded metaphor among Christians today. This is because we don’t always hear the entire truth. Jesus, in His statement we read in John 14:6, sets out in plain language that the way comes first. We cannot know the truth, and then appreciate and live the life, without first entering into the way. This crucial step can’t be skipped if we are to become disciples of Christ. The way of Jesus is the only means by which we can obtain the ability to practice and come to understand the truth of Jesus Christ. This involves living Jesus seven days a week—in our homes and workplaces, at school and in the marketplace—not just on Sunday!

This is how the “local” church (our part in the Body of Christ) demonstrates the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus. We are told to leave everything behind, take up our cross (personal sacrifices needed for complete service), and follow Him. But what does it mean to follow Him? What do we need to give up in order to make this commitment real for us? I believe Jesus was stating an imperative: in order to follow Him we must live an authentic, committed life for Him and through Him. The beautiful life Jesus lived—marked by a passionate love for and unwavering obedience to God and a compassion for people—must be learned and practiced. It must not be theoretical (head knowledge); instead, it must be demonstrated through action (heart knowledge). We cannot live like Jesus without following Jesus.

More Than Mere Consumers

It seems the American way is the way of consumerism. I am not casting aspersions on our wonderful system of democracy, nor am I putting down the idea of open markets, free enterprise, and equal opportunity for success. Our country needs to return to the concept of providing equal access for obtaining an education and earning a fair living. These are, without a doubt, opportunities that are unique to the United States. Further, this is completely different from wealth. Equal opportunity leads to a level playing field for the accumulation of wealth. Opportunity begets wealth. It is not proper to take wealth from those who have obtained it and give it (without merit) to those who have not worked for it.

Perhaps this is why many of our churches today seem to be churches of consumerism. It is not appropriate, however, to market our churches in the same way we market and promote goods and services. When we approach “church” in this manner, we risk getting off message. This is typically not an intentional diversion. Rather, it is a symptom of using the wrong message (indeed, the wrong mechanism) for growing our congregations. It puts emphasis on “congregation” (the size of a church’s membership) rather than on the Body of Christ. Congregation is not the same thing as church.

Today’s churches, especially the so-called mega-churches, increase membership through marketing. Leaders of these types of congregations believe the quickest and most effective way to get people to come to services is to identify what they want and give it to them—satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the Gospel in consumer terms: entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem-solving, warm feelings, and the like. I see this specifically as a problem with the ministry of Joel Osteen. He promotes “the best life now,” saying, “everyday is Friday” (whatever that means), and tells his followers they need only stop seeing themselves as sinners, losers, damaged goods, hopeless and helpless. It’s not the concept that’s wrong; it’s the approach. This method leaves sin and repentance out of the message. Whenever we water down the Gospel, making it less harsh (in other words, more “palatable”), we step out of the way of Jesus.

The End of Me

“Follow me” is one of the greatest commands spoken by Jesus during his earthly ministry (see Mark 1:17). This statement, however, is preceded by the commands repent and believe (see verse 15). The Kingdom of God is at hand. In other words, He is the Kingdom. It is what Jesus revealed in His ministry. Our access to the Kingdom can only be obtained through repentance—a decision to leave one way of life (one reality) and enter another. It requires a complete change of mind and heart. In my own experience, I was unable to appreciate any victory over sin (especially over active addiction) until I came to believe, completely and entirely, that there is only one way to achieve it: the way of Jesus. My hope is you are able to grasp this sooner rather than later. It will revolutionize your life.

This requires what Kyle Idleman (2015) calls coming to “the end of me.” But what does this mean? In a nutshell, it means “death is life.” The Bible says life’s real prize is hidden. We have to know where to look for it. Paul wrote, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3, RSV). It indicates that to live the life that is hidden in Christ we must first die to ourselves. Jesus made this clear when He said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14, RSV).

Idleman writes, “Death is nobody’s favorite word. We tiptoe around it with nicer names. Someone passed on. They’ve gone ahead. They crossed the river” (p. 194). He says we tend to do whatever we can to live in denial of our eventual death. Perhaps you’ve heard the lyrics from Joe Diffie: “Well I ain’t afraid of dying, it’s the thought of being dead… prop me up beside the jukebox if I die, Lord I want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to go tonight.”

Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Matthew 16:25-26, RSV). Jesus was not speaking of our physical (literal) death, but was speaking of a spiritual reorientation of our focus. To die to self is to set aside what we want and focus instead on loving God with everything we’ve got and valuing others as highly as we value ourselves (see Matthew 22:37-39). This moves us away from self-centeredness and closer to becoming openhearted followers of Christ who care deeply for others. We cannot serve God or others while enamored with ourselves.

Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21, RSV). Focusing on ourselves is easy. It’s what we all do in the flesh. It’s part of our fallen nature. The moment Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and partake of the forbidden fruit, they put self-knowledge ahead of fellowship with God. As a result, their walk with the Father was forever changed. It is only through adhering to the command of Jesus to follow Him that we can ever hope to put God and our fellow man ahead of ourselves. This concept is, as I stated at the beginning of this article, found only through repenting (turning away from self and our sinful ways), believing that Jesus is the way to the Kingdom of God, and following Him.

True (spiritual) life is found only through the laying down of our physical (carnal) life. We are not wired to turn from our physical world and embrace the metaphysical. Indeed, we cannot grasp spiritual concepts merely by thinking about them. We can begin by taking steps each day to surrender. We cannot hope to comprehend the way of Jesus without denying ourselves. Jesus said, plainly and simply, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, RSV).

Jesus is our way to God. Moreover, Jesus is God’s way to us. God comes to us in Jesus, speaking the words of salvation. Those words necessarily begin with one simple but crucial step: repentance.

References

Idleman, K. (2015). The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begins. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publications.

Perdew, Baylock, R., and Phillips, K. (1993). Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die) [Joe Diffie]. On Honky Tonk Attitude [CD recording]. New York, NY: Epic Records