Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Works of Christ

The following is a summary of my most recent lesson in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University concerning the “Work” of Jesus.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

Grudem joins most Evangelicals in affirming that the penal substitutionary theory is the primary theory and most important way to understand Jesus’ atoning work. But after sampling other biblical images and biblically based theories, pick one image or theory other than penal substitutionary and “defend” it as your new favorite: What is the full scope communicated via this image or theory? Why is it especially meaningful to you?

The lesson this week gives us much to consider regarding the “work” of Jesus Christ, i.e., His sacrifice on the cross. I’m sure most of us realize the importance of “threes” in the work of Christ. First, it is a three-day event. Jesus was taken into custody sometime around midnight (Thursday into Friday) and brought before the Sanhedrin and Roman officials for a series of “trials.” He was crucified on Friday and, after defeating death, He rose from the dead on the third day. Looking at the “work” of Christ in greater detail, “three” shows up several more times. There are three “stages” to the event itself: (1) death; (2) burial; (3) resurrection. Further, each of these stages addresses separate issues regarding atonement. In the first stage, Jesus shed His innocent blood, which correlates with the axiom “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” In the second stage, Jesus suffered actual (physical) death. This stage satisfied our moral debt. The third stage allowed our “sentence” to be served by proxy.

K.M. Kapic provides a wonderful explanation of the work of Christ on the cross. “Taken together, the images on this colorful canvas can help us see the full portrait of atonement: in Christ, God saves us as our mediator, sacrifice, redeemer, justifier, substitute, king, victor, and healer.” [1] Arguably, a key component of the work of Jesus on the cross is His taking our punishment (penal substitutionary). For this week’s discussion, I wish to focus on 1 Peter 2:24. Jesus bore our sins. However, I believe it is only because of His death and resurrection that we have been given the means through which we can “die” to sin—resist its dominion over our lives, especially the “practice” of habitual sin—and live unto righteousness in Christ. Kapic does not believe Christ paid a “ransom” to Satan. I concur. Mankind was enslaved to “sin,” not to the devil. Release from the domination of sin carried a price tag: the death of Jesus Christ.

We see in Christ’s earthly ministry many examples of His beginning to “reverse sin’s curse,” especially regarding how to stand up to temptation, the critical importance of love, submitting to the will of the Father, self-sacrifice (even unto death), and restoration. These activities point to what righteousness should look like. Human sin is in stark contrast to righteousness. Not only does sin seek its own appeasement, it causes a “failure to ‘render unto God his due honor.’” [2] God cannot overlook man’s abject disloyalty. However, I digress. Let’s stay on the matter of Jesus providing the means by which we can resist sin and seek righteousness.

Grudem defines atonement as “The work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation.” [3] Although this is slightly vague on its surface, I agree. But I must add that the term “salvation” is very comprehensive and includes deliverance from sin’s power and effects. The Hebrew language indicates some synonymous terms for salvation: freedom from constraint; deliverance from bondage or slavery; preservation from danger. From a New Testament point of view, Christ’s atonement provided release from habit and vice, a growing emancipation from all evil, increasing spiritual perfection (maturity), liberty, and peace. R.E.O. White says Jesus did not die to “win back God’s favor” for us. We had it all along. Rather, the work of the cross enabled us to move from a life of rebellion to a childlike willingness to trust and obey. [4]

I see a vital application of this aspect of the work of Christ to my life. I was subjected to severe “corporal” punishment growing up, which only served to make me fearful and angry. I was not empowered to handle anger, express love, or socialize with others, which led to rebelliousness, sin, addiction, self-centeredness, and a lack of social consciousness. While in active addiction, I fed my sin nature and ignored God’s initial call on my life. My coping mechanisms included those typically associated with addiction: denial, rationalization, blame, escape through physical pleasure. I lacked respect for authority.

Although I tried to stop drinking and getting high numerous times, this was not possible until I began to see how far out of balance my overt behavior was to the Christian worldview I claimed (pretended?) to have. I had to stop seeing myself as the “failure” my father constantly alluded to and, instead, see who I am in Christ because of His work on the cross. This allowed me to love myself and my neighbor. Eventually, I was also able to forgive and begin to love my enemies; what I call my “worst critics.” Not surprisingly, the result was an increasing alignment of my will with God’s will, which led to recovery from addiction. No human power (including mine) could ever break me free from the bondage of sin and addiction. I am convinced that without the all-encompassing benefits of “salvation” we cannot stand up to sin and put on the righteousness of Christ. The work of Christ on the cross allowed me to be forgiven and escape just punishment for my sins; however, it also provided my emancipation from the bondage of sin.


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Person of Christ

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University regarding the Divine/Human Aspect of Jesus Christ.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I found information under the heading Biblical Perspective—Jesus Christ: Both God and Man to be a great springboard for this discussion. Indeed, one of the great mysteries in Christianity involves discerning how the two natures of Jesus (divine and human) relate to each. In fact, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:6-7, “[W]ho, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (RSV). Reading further, we also see that Jesus (while in human form) humbled Himself and became obedient to the will of the Father even unto death on the cross. To me, it seems counter to Christian doctrine to argue, as Arianism does, that Jesus was begotten by God the Father at a point in time as a being distinct from the Father and, consequently, subservient to the Father. Further, Arianism states that Jesus was the first creation of God. Interestingly, the heresy of Jehovah’s Witnesses would support this belief. In fact, it is for this very reason Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate the birth of Christ. JWs are essentially rationalists who reject the Doctrine of the Trinity and, accordingly, much of the teachings and miracles of Jesus Christ.

Arianism bases its belief, at least to some degree, on Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” Accordingly, I will begin with this biblical verse. Quoting from a transliteration of the Greek, Colossians 1:15-16 says, “In whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of (our) sins; who is an image of the God—invisible, firstborn of all creation, because in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things through him and for him have been created; and he is before all things and all things in him consisted.” [1] My interpretation of this passage is that Jesus is considered the “firstborn” because of His divine actions regarding creation itself. It refers to Jesus as the cause of creation. It does not refer to the creation of Jesus. Matthew Henry provides a helpful interpretation. Regarding Jesus, Henry states, “He was born or begotten before all the creation, before any creature was made; which is the Scripture way of representing eternity, and by the eternity of God is represented to us” [emphasis mine]. [2] Henry continues by explaining that all fulness dwells in Jesus; a fulness of merit and righteousness, of strength and grace for us. This seems to fly in the face of Arianism’s claim that God created the Son at some point in time.

To help support my opposition to Arianism, please consider the commentary of Finis J. Dake. The Greek word prototokos, translated “firstborn” and “first begotten” is used of Jesus to mean the firstborn child of Mary (Mt. 1:25). [3] To me, this refers to the firstborn in God’s family as it relates to God born into humanity and not to deity. Acts 13:23 says, “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised” (NIV). Acts 13:33 says, “He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.” It would appear this refers to God sending Jesus to earth (as God incarnate) which set in motion the plan through which all of mankind can become adopted sons and daughters. The Nicene Creed would seem to muddy the waters regarding this critical doctrinal question with the wording: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; begotten from the Father; only-begotten—that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God.” However, the Creed specifically states, “Begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father.” [4] In fact, homoousion to patri refers to the Father and the Son being “of similar substance” or “of like being,” and does not indicate that God the Father created God the Son.

D. J. Treier, in his treatise “Jesus Christ,” notes the biblical history of Jesus’s earthly ministry and inauguration of a “new humanity.” This is the very essence of the “good news.” Concerning whether Jesus was “begotten” of the Father, it is important to note that Jesus has always been, and He was with God and “was God” at the creation. Perhaps it is best to consider the remark “today I have begotten thee” to be the beginning of the Christology of Christ; the start of His earthly mission. Treier notes, “The Bible’s Christological foundation begins with the ‘incarnational narrative.’” [5]

We must also remember that Jesus said He existed before Abraham (John 8:58). Also, He claimed that He and His Father are one (John 10:30), that He is equal with the Father (John 5:17-18), and that He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit were present (together as separate beings) at the moment of creation (Genesis 1; John 1:1-3). And we must not forget that Jesus (the man) was born in the flesh through Mary as conceived by the Father. This is the only manner in which we can rightly state that Jesus was born of the Father; however, it is the incarnate (physical) birth of Jesus we’re speaking of in this instance and not His creation as God the Son. Moreover, God has always existed as a three-in-one being, consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Consider the word “trinity” (tri-unity or three-in-oneness): meaning three and unity. I heard it expressed this way a few years ago: not one-plus-one-plus-one equals three, but one-times-one-times-one equals one.

Footnotes

1. Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 791

2. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1164.

3. Finis J. Dake, The Dake Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville: Dake Publishing, 2008), 389.

4. Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, 5th ed. (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 11.

5. D.J. Treier, “Jesus Christ,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 442.

 


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.

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.

“Is My Life Worth Living?”

“The purpose in a man’s mind is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5, RSV).

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, RSV).

IT IS OBVIOUS THAT purpose can guide life decisions, influence behavior, shape goals, offer a sense of direction, and create meaning. For some, meaning is defined by what they do—doctor, lawyer, construction worker, teacher, welder, chef. Others seek meaning through spirituality or religious beliefs. Unfortunately, some never find meaning for their lives. I cannot think of a more sad state than existing without knowing why you exist, or where you’re going.

A Matter of Worldview

We are talking about worldview. Everyone holds a worldview, which Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) define as “the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world and is the basis of our decisions and actions.” Sire (2015) says a worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or unconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world. [Italics added.]

I agree with Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) that truth is absolute; if not, then nothing is true. They consider (p. 64), “If a worldview is true, we can expect to find at least some external corroborating evidence to support it. This does not mean that something is true because there is evidence for it, but rather evidence will be available because something is true.” [Italics added.] It is critical to note that evidence is always subject to interpretation, and interpretation also can be subject to bias. As it’s been said many times, worldviews function somewhat like a pair of eyeglasses. When you begin wearing glasses, the rims can be quite distracting. In a short while, however, you lose your awareness of the rims and even the lenses. You forget you’re wearing glasses.

Accordingly, we can lose perspective on our assumptions, presuppositions and biases, especially with the passage of time. Entwistle (2015) warns us that assumptions and biases affect data interpretation. He said, “…what we see depends, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see.” (p. 93) Our ability to know is both dependent upon and limited by the assumptions of our worldview. In my Christian worldview, I recognize God as the unique source of all truth, and that this truth is absolute. In other words, it is not relative, but it is universal and unchanging. Truth is not absolute on its own merits; rather, it derives ultimately from God. I do not believe, however, that the Bible contains all that we need to know: e.g., we don’t consult the Bible to understand how to change a tire or perform brain surgery. Scripture does contain everything we need to know regarding God, the spiritual life, and morality.

We begin developing our worldview as young children, first through interactions within our family, then in social settings such as school and church, and from our companions and life experiences. Increasingly, our media culture is playing a key role in shaping worldview. We are a culture saturated with powerful media images in movies, television, commercials, music, gaming, and social media. What we watch, listen to, and read, impacts the way we think.

The lack of a sound basis for the meaning of life can cause a gnawing sense of being unfulfilled. This perception underlies everything we do. For example, we can be “busy” with many things, yet wonder if what we’re doing makes any real difference. Life, by its very nature, presents itself one day at a time: a random and unconnected series of activities and events over which we seem to have little or no control. If a sentiment of disconnectedness develops in our everyday existence, boredom sets in deep within our soul. To be “bored” does not mean we have nothing to do; it means that we question the value of the things we are so busy doing. Here is the great paradox of life: Many of us are busy and bored at the same time!

Symptoms of a Lack of Purpose

Interestingly, boredom might be rooted in resentment. If we run around all day like a crazy person, doing this and that, yet wonder if our busyness means anything to anyone, we easily feel used, manipulated, or exploited. Is this not often how a parent feels when he or she is constantly doing for their children, but the children appreciate nothing? In this state of mind, we begin to see ourselves as victims pushed around and made to do things by people who do not acknowledge us or take our contributions seriously. An inner anger starts to well up inside us—an anger that eventually settles into our hearts. Left unresolved, this anger leads to resentment, which has an effect on us much like a poison.

Perhaps the most damaging expression of our looming sense of unfulfillment is depression. When we start to believe our life has little or no effect on those around us, we can easily fall prey to sadness, depression, and regret. This can morph into guilt. It must be our fault that no one appreciates us, right? Perhaps we don’t do enough. Maybe we did the wrong thing. We begin to think it’s all our fault. This guilt is not always connected to just one event; sometimes it is connected with life itself. We feel guilty just for being alive. The realization that the world might be better without us becomes a sort-of “sub plot” to our life. We look in the mirror and, “Is my life worth living?”

Boredom, resentment, and depression are all symptoms of our sense of being disconnected. We cannot help but see life as a broken connectedness. We feel as though we don’t belong. Not surprisingly, this often leads to loneliness. This is what is meant by being in a room full of people at a gathering but feeling all alone. We experience this  because we don’t really feel like we’re part of the community. And it is this paralyzing sense of separation from others that establishes the core of much suffering in the world. When in this state of feeling cut off from the community, we quickly lose heart. Ultimately, if we don’t address this sentiment, we see ourselves as passive bystanders. We tend to live life “on the bench.”

Americans Increasingly Turn to Suicide

There is now a potential for us to believe our past, even our present, no longer carries us to the future. Instead, we go through life worried, cut off, without any promise that things will improve. Perhaps this is at the crux of one’s decision to commit suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide was the tenth-largest cause of death in America in 2017, claiming the lives of more than 47,000 people. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54. There were more than twice as many suicides (47,173) in the United States in 2017 as there were homicides (19,510).

No Sense of Roots

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Most of us have an address but cannot be found there. We know where we belong, but we keep being pulled away in many directions, as if we were still homeless.” I had a t-shirt years ago that had a rather interesting quip written on it: I Have Gone to Find Myself; If I Return Before I Get Back Keep Me Here. Does this not address the very struggle we all face when attempting to define the meaning of our existence. This “rudderless” life leads to our being tossed to and fro on the ocean in search of a port—any port—in the storm. For me, this pervasive sense of meaninglessness and loneliness led to some rather damaging behavior—infidelity, job hopping, geographic changes, and addiction. I learned that when we feel an inescapable sense of disconnectedness we will being to lie to ourselves. Not only about what the meaning of life is (or should be), but about the serious damage our addictive behaviors and activities of distraction are causing—both to us and to those around us.

What is the Answer?

If you are familiar with Scripture, you will likely remember that Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying that we should not be busy with everyday activities. Instead, His response is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of our focus—to essentially relocate the “center” of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to stop focusing on “many things,” and instead focus on the “one necessary thing.” He does not preach of a change in activities as a means of finding a meaningful life. That would be akin to putting a temporary bandage on a bleeding wound. When we ignore critical wounds in the flesh, we risk developing a puss-filled infection that can spread to our bloodstream, thereby causing a “systemic” infection.

Instead, Jesus speaks of a change of heart. This change is what’s needed to make everything different even while everything appears to remain the way it was. Let me be clear: Many of us are living lives that are in need of drastic change. That’s a given. When we focus on the one necessary thing, we begin to tap into the resources needed to realize an effective change in our direction. This is what Jesus meant by His comment to the disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:25, 31, 33, RSV).

I believe it is only when we understand the importance of Jesus’s urgent instructions to make God the center of our lives that we can better see what is at stake. We will understand who we are, why we are here, and why things happen the way we do. This cannot be achieve through our human wisdom or understanding. We can’t grasp the things of the Spirit while focusing on the flesh. A heart set first on the Father’s kingdom is also a heart that is properly oriented toward the spiritual life. Thankfully, Jesus provided an exemplar for us to follow when refocusing our attention in this manner.

We see that Jesus was not merely a zealot who ran around the Holy Land espousing some “new wave” approach to life. He was not interested in seeking a “self-fulfilled” life. Rather, everything we know from Scripture is that Jesus was concerned with only one thing: To do the will of the Father. From His very first public utterance in the Temple, He made this abundantly clear. “‘Why were you searching for me?’” he asked. “’Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?'” (Luke 2:49, NIV). The footnote provided for this verse at blueletterbible.org says, “be about my Father’s business.” Jesus was quick to tell his disciples, “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” (John 5:19, RSV). In other words, Jesus wants us to understand that without God nothing is possible. Moreover, with God nothing is impossible.

Consider this thought: Jesus is not our Savior simply because of what He said to us or did for us of His own accord. He is our Savior because what He said and did was said and done in obedience to the Father. Paul expressed this in Romans 5:19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19, RSV). This speaks of an all-embracing love—for the Father and for us. We cannot understand the impact of the richness of Jesus’s ministry until we see how everything He did was rooted in one thing: Listening to the Father and obeying out of the power of a perfect and unconditional love.

When Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life, He was not merely stating that everything He said was true. It was, of course, but He meant something much deeper. He was not speaking of an idea, concept, or doctrine, but He was talking about true relationship. I believe that’s why we cannot quash the nagging sense of meaningless alone; rather, it must be understood through relationship with Jesus and with the Father. It is only by first loving God, then loving our neighbor as ourselves, that we can hope to find the connectedness many of us are desperately searching for day after day. When our lives become a continuation of Jesus’s life and ministry, we begin to see the paramount importance of being connected with Him and the Father in order to experience connectedness to our “selves” and others.

Concluding Remarks

It is in and through the Father’s kingdom that we find the Holy Spirit, who will guide us, heal us, challenge us, and convict us. This is the very mechanism for renewal. Moreover, this is not merely hitting the “heavenly lottery.” The words, “all other things will be given you as well” express that God’s love and care extends to our whole being. When we set our sights on Him. we come to understand how God keeps us in the palm of His hand. We learn not to worry, project, or become hopeless. We avoid the trap of emotional upset, including anxiety and depression. We become lifted up into God’s unconditional love and care. A change in our hearts leads to a change in our perspective, and this is the very meaning of developing a Christian worldview.

References

Entwistle, D. (2015). Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd Ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books

Phillips, W., Brown, W., and Stonestreet, J. (2008) Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview, 2nd Ed. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing.

Sire, J. (2015) Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, 2nd Ed. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.

A Plague of Darkness

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived” (Exodus 10:21-23, NIV).

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Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

The plagues of Egypt in the story of the Exodus are ten calamities inflicted upon Egypt by God in order to force Pharaoh’s hand to free the enslaved Hebrews. Pharaoh’s stubborn resolve caused Egypt to suffer extreme devastation because of the ten plagues. The Egyptians ultimately lost nearly everything, including their crops, potable water, livestock, their first-born sons, and even their army. One would think Pharaoh would get the message after seeing his land and its people suffer plagues of blood, frogs, lice (or gnats), flies, livestock, boils, hail, and locust infestation. Yet he remained defiant, refusing to free the Hebrews.

The LORD instructed Moses to call darkness down upon Egypt. Eugene Peterson’s translation of Exodus 10:21-23 states, “GOD said to Moses, ‘Stretch your hand to the skies. Let darkness descend on the land of Egypt—a darkness so dark you can touch it.’ Moses stretched out his hand to the skies. Thick darkness descended on the land of Egypt for three days. Nobody could see anybody. For three days no one could so much as move. Except the Israelites: they had light where they were living” (MSG). According to the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, in the footnote, God created darkness, and He can use it against His enemies. This pervading darkness is also referenced in Joel 2:2a: “…a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (NIV).

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Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible notes this plague as “darkness which might be felt, so thick were the fogs. It astonished and terrified. It continued three days; six nights in one; so long the most lightsome palaces were [as] dungeons” (p. 87). The Egyptians literally sat in a soup of darkness, unable to see anything or do anything. Pharaoh’s bullheadedness regarding God’s demand that he free the Hebrews brought upon Egypt a physical darkness that nothing could penetrate. Matthew Henry’s commentary states, “…never was [a] mind so blinded as Pharaoh’s, never was [the] air so darkened as Egypt”[emphasis mine].  If three days of utter, palpable darkness were so dreadful, I wonder what everlasting darkness will be like 

This darkness was specifically calculated by God to effect the spirit of the Egyptians, whose chief object of worship was Ra, the sun-god. Its suddenness and severity mark it as a preternatural withdrawal of light. No matter how you interpret the mechanism by which this darkness developed—thick clammy fog, vapors, a sandstorm, or chamsin—it was such that it overwhelmed the senses, and so protracted as to continue for three days. Seventy-two hours of sheer madness. The symbolism is uncanny given that the sun was an object of Egyptian idolatry. This calamity correlates with Revelation 16:10: “Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness…” (NKJV).

The darkness that fell upon Egypt when Pharaoh refused to set the Hebrews free was not just darkness. Rather, it was a pervasive physical and metaphysical darkness so great and total that the Egyptians could not even safely walk through their houses without danger. Amazingly, the antithesis of this darkness is the miraculous Light of the LORD that shined in the homes of each Jewish family throughout the duration of this plague. God was not simply amusing Himself through the ten plagues. Rather, it showcased the cumulative effect of a complete and pervasive manifestation of God’s glorious justice—a literal example of the punishment God dishes out for complete and continual disobedience.

Darkness followed the plague of locusts without warning or pronouncement, signifying God’s relentless resolve. Its substance created conditions that were physically unbearable. Massive and considerably burdensome. This plague had a repressive impact on the mind and spirit of the Egyptians. Imagine having no physical reference point. No indication that anyone or anything existed. The nagging question would be, Where did everyone go? Even if the Egyptians could have moved, they would not have been able to outrun the darkness. It would have chased them down. It was the utter absence of life-giving light. Nothing can grow in darkness. All that is real and alive is choked off.

I cannot imagine darkness so thick it can be felt. The only event in my life that comes close to putting “utter darkness” in perspective involves a trip to an anthracite coal mine with my sons when they were younger. While 300 feet down in the mine shaft, the tour guide gave us a warning and then shut off the lights. You cannot fathom sheer darkness unless you experience it. I literally could not see my hand in front of my face, and lost all sense of where I ended and the darkness began.

The Amplified Bible expresses Exodus 10:21-23 as follows: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky, so that darkness may come over the land of Egypt, a darkness which [is so awful that it] may be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and for three days a thick darkness was all over the land of Egypt [no sun, no moon, no stars]. The Egyptians could not see one another, nor did anyone leave his place for three days, but all the Israelites had [supernatural] light in their dwellings.” The Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible says “…darkness which could be felt was so dense that no light could penetrate it enough for anything to be seen. No one could move from his place. This could be a picture of the outer darkness of hell.” The footnote regarding Moses stretching his hand toward heaven, although a simple gesture, showed the powerful result of Moses obeying the LORD. In other words, God said, “If you do this, I will do that,” and it came to pass in a flash.

WHEN GOD SPEAKS, WE MUST LISTEN AND OBEY

Malachi 2:2 states, “If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name, says the LORD Almighty, I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me” (NIV). Frankly, we can only “listen” to the LORD when we have prepared our hearts to hear Him. If you want to hear Him speak, you must be quiet, focusing on what He is saying. Listening for God’s voice requires having a desire to actually hear Him. Not surprisingly, this also requires making a conscious decision to block out the chaos around you and focusing your thoughts on Him. David said this in Psalm 143:8: “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life” (NIV).

God Uses Darkness to Lead Us to the Light

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I love Isaiah 9:2, which says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (NIV). It’s no secret that we are living in a fallen world; one marred by sin and disobedience, resulting in servitude, misery, illness, deceitfulness, hatred, bigotry, stubbornness, and countless calamities. It is rather easy to get discouraged under such circumstances. Worse, it is likely most of us forget the fallen nature of mankind and all of creation. Many believers today get ensnared by the devil, blaming God when bad things happen to good people. This is a sure sign that we’ve gone “heart blind.” This is a kind of spiritual sickness in which we give up and give in, expecting nothing but doom and gloom. We become accustomed to existing in a broken world, no longer able to see the Light.

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It cannot be denied that where there is sin there will be darkness. Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:19-21, NIV).

Jesus: The Light of the World

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12, NKJV).

“I am the light of the world,” is rooted in Jesus’s relationship with the Father. He speaks from God and for God and as God. Apart from Jesus, we live in darkness. We have limited (human) capacity to understand who we are in Christ. We cannot accurately interpret or explain what we see in the world. Aimee Joseph puts it this way: “The beauty of our humanity is still evident, but ugliness abounds.” In her blog post The Lack of a Loom she writes, “Without a loom, without what is called a meta-narrative, we end up with disconnected piles of threads and yarn and fabric. Sure, we can organize them into neat piles, putting sweet silky feelings and experiences in one pile, grouping commonplace day-to-day experiences and emotions in another and gathering the itchy, scratchy strands of suffering into a discard pile. But, living without a loom leaves us with lives and hearts and societies that are divided and compartmentalized at best, and schizophrenic and purposeless at worst.” In other words, without Christ, our beauty remains incomplete and unexpressed.

The light of Christ is the brightness of God shining on the scrim of our human soul. Life can be wonderful on earth—as it often is—but not fully complete without Jesus. In other words, it is not “abundant life.” We are all created to crave the Creator, our Father, and we’re given access to the Father through a relationship with Jesus. When we come before the Father through our Great Intercessor, we begin to see even the darkest corners of our hearts brighten. But it is only through coming to the end of us that we find Jesus. We begin to see ourselves as God sees us: clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Only then are we set free to run to and cling to God. Only then can we hope to escape the darkness of sin.

References

Baker, W., Zodhiates, S. (2008). Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

Dake, F. (2008). The Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Publishing, Inc.

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

Joseph, A. (January 17, 2019). “The Lack of a Loom.” [web log comment].  Retrieved from: https://aimeejoseph.blog/2019/01/17/the-lack-of-a-loom-3/

 

 

Justification

MARTIN LUTHER STRUGGLED a great deal with the idea of justification and righteousness. He was so obsessed with sinning and offending God and worried he would die having failed to confess everything. He spent a great deal of time ruminating about his behavior. He unfortunately focused how he could punish himself  and assure that he would be redeemed and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Luther often deprived himself of comforts, including blankets and coats during cold weather, and often flagellated himself as punishment.

Luther became fixated on Paul’s letter to the Romans. He could not grasp the manner by which he could ever hope to become “righteous” in God’s eyes. He was especially concerned about Romans 1:17, which says, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Luther, in his Preface to his Commentary on Romans (1552 A.D.), wrote

This Espistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.

It seems Luther was quite concerned about the orientation of his heart and about how he might earn salvation. He wrote, “How can a man prepare himself for good by means of works, if he does no good works without displeasure and unwillingness of heart? How shall a work please God, if it proceeds from a reluctant and resisting heart?” This was his personal obsession: Is my heart right with God? Can I possibly be worthy of redemption? How can I put on the righteousness of Christ? No doubt he was tormented with the example of Paul regarding the struggle to do good. Paul wrote, “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 do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-17, 19).

In his commentary, Luther wrote, “So also the Apostle says in in 7:15: ‘That which I do, I allow not” (I do not approve). The Apostle means to say: As a spiritual man I recognize only what is good, and yet I do what I do not desire, namely, that which is evil, not indeed willfully and maliciously. But while I choose the good, I do the opposite. The carnal man, however, knows what is evil, and he does it intentionally, willfully and by choice.” Looking again at Romans 1:17, Luther said,

God certainly desires to save us not through our own righteousness, but through the righteousness and wisdom of someone else or by means of a righteousness which does not originate on earth, but comes down from heaven. So, then, we must teach a righteousness which in every way comes from without and is entirely foreign to us.

God’s righteousness is that by which we become worthy of His great salvation, or through which alone we are accounted righteous before Him. Luther struggled to understand how it is we become righteous. Not surprisingly, Romans 1:17 directly affected the course of the Protestant Reformation more than any other. The moment Luther grasped in his heart the process by which we put on the righteousness of Christ a gate opened to heaven. He was able to grasp that it is only through God’s love and grace and justice that we can become righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ.

Of course, it took Luther asking the right questions: What does this mean, that there’s this righteousness that is by faith, and from faith to faith? What does it mean that the righteous shall live by faith? Again, verse 17 contains the theme for the whole exposition of the Gospel that Paul lays out in Romans. Luther could now understand that what Paul was speaking of here was a righteousness that God in His grace was making available. It is to be received passively, not actively. Rather, it is received by faith

From a linguistics standpoint, the Latin word for justification that was used at this time in church history is justificare from the Roman judicial system. The term is made up of the word justus, which translates “justice or righteousness,” and the infinitive verb facare, which means “to make.” But Luther was looking now at the Greek word used in the New Testament: dikaios, or dikaiosune, which does not mean “to make righteous,” but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous. This allowed Luther to realize that the doctrine of justification is what happens when God sees us clothed in righteousness through our faith in Jesus Christ. Justification does not come through sacraments or priestly absolution or by an edict handed down from the pope. This position shines through in Luther’s 95 Theses that launched the Reformation.

Consider three theses written by Luther:

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent,” He called for the entire life of believers to be one of penitence.

The word cannot be properly understood as referring the sacrament of penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

Those who preach indulgences are in error when they say that a man is absolved and saved from every penalty by the pope’s indulgences.

So Luther said, “Whoa, you mean the righteousness by which I will be saved, is not mine?” Nope. It’s what he called a justitia alienum, meaning “alien righteousness.” It’s a righteousness that belongs properly to someone else. A righteousness that is extra nos, outside of us. It is the righteousness of Christ. Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. The doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.” Luther considered justification to be the article by which the church stands or falls.

WHAT IS JUSTIFICATION?

Justification and righteousness are legal terms. Following a trial, a verdict is declared as to how the individual now stands before the court.  In Scripture, to justify does not mean to make righteous in the sense of changing a person’s character. We’re not magically changed into righteousness; instead, we are declared righteous in the eyes of the Lord. When He looks at us, He no longer sees our sins. He has wiped them away and remembers them no more. Rather, when the Father looks at us He sees Jesus.

Here are several key points regarding justification:

  • Justification is the opposite of condemnation. In Deuteronmy 25:1 the judges are to acquit (justify) the innocent and condemn the guilty. Clearly, to condemn does not literally mean “to make them guilty,” but rather to “declare them to be guilty,” and so determine them to be “guilty” by the verdict. In other words, if a man or woman stands accused of a crime and wins an acquittal, the verdict does not render an otherwise guilty person innocent. The verdict does not change the facts. After all, guilty people win acquittal in criminal court. It’s a matter of applying the law to the evidence and making a declaration.
  • The terms with which righteousness is associated have a judicial character—for example, consider the emphasis in Genesis 18:25 on God as the Judge.
  • The expressions used as synonyms or substitutes for justify do not have the sense of “making righteous,” but carry a declarative or constitutive sense.
  • The ultimate proof that justification involves a status changed by public declaration lies in the biblical view that through the resurrection Jesus Himself was “justified” (1 Timothy 3:16). The justification of Christ was not an actual alteration in His character. Rather, it refers to His vindication by the Father through the triumph and victory of the resurrection. Romans 1:4 says, “And who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (NIV).

THE POWER OF JUSTIFICATION

The practical impact of this doctrine cannot be overstated. The wonder of the Gospel is that God has declared Christians to be rightly related to Him in spite of their sin. Luther struggled with the same thing I have on many occasions. That is, assuming that we remain justified only so long as there are grounds in our character for justification. Paul’s epistle teaches us that nothing we ever do contributes to our justification. Frankly, there is nothing adequate we could do. Ever.

Justification is more than forgiveness; it involves being cleared of all blame, free from every charge of sin lodged against you. In a secular court, a judge cannot both forgive a man and justify him at the same time. If he forgives the defendant, then the man must be guilty and therefore he cannot be justified. If the judge justifies the defendant, the accused does not need forgiveness. God forgives the sin and justifies the sinner. Plugging this analogy into the Gospel, God forgives the guilty and condemned sinner and literally places him in a new position devoid of any charge against him at all (see Romans 8:1).

IT’S A MATTER OF FAITH, NOT A MATTER OF LAW

No one is justified by his or her own actions. Romans 3:20, 22-23 says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin… this righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (NIV).

God justly justifies sinners through the work of Christ. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2). When we confess our sins, we discover that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from our own unrighteousness. Of course, this still begs the question How does Christ’s righteousness become ours? Martin Luther was able to settle on faith in Christ. No works of ours, no good resolutions or reformation, can justify us or contribute one little bit to our justification. Such outwardly good works are really our attempt at self-righteousness. For us to be justified, Jesus must pay the penalty for our sins, and we must receive that payment by faith.

At the center of Paul’s teaching is the cross of Jesus and faith in the sacrifice of the crucified Lord. Paul wrote, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:1, NIV).  Certainly, God’s wrath is revealed in His response to sin. Without a valid source of justification, we’d have no choice but to face that wrath. We deserve it. God also demonstrates His righteousness in the salvation of men. His wrath toward the sinner was poured out on Jesus Christ who died an agonizing and horrendous death in our place. God’s anger was appeased in Christ. Accordingly, God is able to save and to bless everyone who believes in Jesus Christ and who receives His salvation by faith.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Justification is of grace, to be received as a gift by faith in order that God may guarantee his promise of salvation. If justification depended on works, it would be unattainable. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that justification were attainable. It would be subject to decay unless we were able continue justifying ourselves by works. Thankfully, justification is all about grace. It is based on the work of Christ, not on our works. Accordingly, God is able to guarantee our justification. We have assurance of our salvation and the hope of heaven. Once forgiven, our standing in God’s eyes is that of a “just” or “righteous” person. The empowerment of God’s Spirit enables one to continue in righteousness.

Being justified by God means that once redeemed we can become partakers of His divine nature, and we can aim for perfection. The divine image, with moral and spiritual perfection, which was imparted to us in the Garden of Eden and subsequently marred and distorted by sin, is now our goal. We must not let God’s gift of justification by faith lead to becoming complacent. Like Paul, we should be diligent in our efforts towards spiritual perfection and sensitive to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

Sin’s Lost Dominion

Romans

Paul began his letter to the Romans by setting forth the theme: The righteousness of God (see Romans 1:1-17). In this letter, Paul tells us how to be right—with God, ourselves, and others. Paul also explains to us how one day God will make all of creation right. This is what is meant by restoration, the biblical meaning of which is “to receive back more than has been lost to the point where the final state is greater than the original condition.” This type of restoration is broader in scope than the standard dictionary definition. The main point is that someone or something is improved beyond measure. Throughout the Bible, God blesses people for their faith and hardships by making up for their losses and giving them more than they had previously. Job comes to mind.

Romans was not written for daydreamers or religious sightseers. We have to think as we study Romans, but the rewards will be worth our effort. If we grasp the doctrinal message of Romans, we’ll have the key to understanding the rest of the Bible. Moreover, we will have the secret of successful Christian living. In fact, Paul sent this letter to believers in Rome in order to provide them with a clear declaration of Christian doctrine. We need to reexamine our commitment to Christ as we read Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

Chapter 6 is a crucial part of Romans. Paul wanted believers to understand that when we’re saved, we become new creations in Christ. We are granted access to the mind of Christ. In fact, we’re told to put on the mind of Christ. It is with this in mind that Paul says believers must die to sin and live to God. He presses the importance of holiness in the first two verses of Romans 6.

Freedom From Sin’s Grasp
Sin’s Power is Broken

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer” (Romans 6:1-2, NIV).

If God loves to forgive us and wash us in the blood of His Son, why not give Him more to forgive? If forgiveness is guaranteed, do we not have the freedom to sin as much as we desire to? Paul’s forceful answer, of course, is By no means! Such an attitude—deciding ahead of time to take advantage of the grace of God—shows that a person does not understand the seriousness of sin and its consequences. It is akin to premeditation. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. God’s forgiveness does not make sin less serious; His Son’s death for our sin shows us the dreadful seriousness of sin. It is not something to be trifled with. Accordingly, God’s mercy must not become an excuse for careless living and moral laxness.

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Paul does not explain away the free grace of the Gospel, but he shows that justification and holiness are inseparable. The very thought that sin should continue simply to ensure that grace might thrive was abhorred by Paul. He taught that true believers are dead to sin, meaning they’ve been freed from bondage through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s point was that although we cannot out-sin the grace of God, we must reckon our bodies dead to sin—we should no longer be dominated by it. After all, as Romans 6:6 says, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (NIV).

Buried With Him; Raised With Him

“That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country. Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! ” (Romans 6:3-6, MSG).

The above translation is from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. It is quite compelling. When we’re a new creation in Christ we develop a desire to become one with Him. The best way to express that underlying desire to others is through a change in character and a modification of behavior. We become willing to follow His commands. Baptism teaches the necessity of dying to sin, and being buried from all ungodly and unholy pursuits. We rise to walk with God in newness of life.

Romans 6:10 tells us, “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (NIV). Martin Luther wrote in his Commentary on Romans, “From this we clearly see what the words of the Apostle mean. All such statements as: 1. ‘We are dead to sin,” 2. ‘We live unto God,’ etc., signify that we do not yield to our sinful passions and sin, even though sin continues in us. Nevertheless, sin remains in us until the end of our life, as we read in Galatians 5:17: ‘The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.'” However, Luther adds, “But to hate the body of sin and to resist it, is not an easy, but a most difficult task.”

A Living Sacrifice

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourself to God as those who have brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14, NIV).

The Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible footnote for Romans 6:12 says, “Having proved the sinfulness of both Jews and Gentiles and that both must be redeemed alike by Christ through faith and grace, Paul now takes up the argument of the divine method of dealing with sin and the secret of a victorious holy life… the questions come up that if salvation is free and apart from works—if the more heinous the sins the more abundant the grace to pardon—then may we not go on in sin so that the grace of God may become magnified? God forbid” (p. 287).

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Luther notes in his preface to Commentary on Romans, “This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul” (p. 101). He states in the body of his Commentary that we are not found in a state of perfection as soon as we have been baptized into Jesus Christ and His death. Having been baptized into His death, we merely strive to obtain the blessings of this death and to reach our goal of glory.

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourself to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness. But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:15-18, NIV).

Paul is describing licentiousness in the above passage. Literally, a license to sin. You’ll notice Paul asks the same question he put to the Romans in verse one, just in case they didn’t get it. This time he expands on the slavery example that he mentioned in verse seven. In verses fifteen through eighteen he states that the master you choose leads either to righteousness and life or to sin and death. One way or the other, we will serve somebody. The option to live life without serving either sin or righteousness is not open to us.

Eugene Peterson, in The Message, says “So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want?” (Romans 6:15, MSG). This is a rather eye-opening interpretation of Paul’s words. Since we’re free in the sanctification of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. I believe Paul’s intent is to clarify the fact that if we offer ourselves to sin it will be our last free act.

Paul is telling us the buzzword for this section of Chapter 6 is yield. It means “to place at one’s disposal, to present, to offer as a sacrifice.” The flow of Paul’s argument in Romans is to first set forth the fallen condition of all men, then the Gospel message of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is appealing to the believers in Rome to offer themselves unto God, bowing to His will for them, because of all that God has done for them. Also, it’s important to note that Paul is focusing on “living sacrifices” instead of the dead sacrifices God required under the Law of Moses (see Romans 12:1).

Sin Shall Not Reign

Paul’s point is this: “That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God” (Romans 6:12-14, MSG). Luther writes, “This is understood not only of lusting after earthly goods and temporal possessions, but also of aversion to temporal affliction and adversity. He who has Christ by faith does not desire the things of this world, no matter how greatly they may allure Him” (p. 104).

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This doesn’t mean we become unaffected by temptation just because we’re saved by grace. We are susceptible to both pleasure and displeasure. The key is to refuse to let sin reign in our lives. Again, we are not under the Law but under grace. This is true because the Law has been fulfilled by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus tells us in John 8:34, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (NIV). Luther notes Paul’s point as follows. “The apostle here meets the objection: How can anyone resist the onslaught of sin and passion? To this he replies: Sin shall not have dominion over you nor triumph over you, no matter how fiercely it may tempt and assail you, provided you do not yield to it. But he who is without faith in Christ is always dominated by sin, even when he does good…” (p. 105) [Italics added].

Every man is the servant of the master to whose commands he yields himself; whether it be the sinful tendencies of his heart, in actions which lead to death, or the new and spiritual obedience implanted by regeneration. Paul rejoices in verse 18: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (NIV). We have a new Master if we want to obey Him. We became enslaved to righteousness. God gave us a new Master; not a license to sin. Paul told the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery” (NIV). As believers, we have been purchased from the bonds of slavery to sin.

Concluding Remarks

When we accept Christ as Savior and confess our faith in Him, our past is blotted out through His atoning blood. Regardless of the nature of our offenses. Our past literally disappears from the sight of God. Psalm 103:10-12 tells us, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (NIV).

When we’re born again, we identify ourselves with Jesus in His crucifixion. We can honestly say, “I am crucified.” Surely, we have no nail holes in our hands and feet, no scar in our side, but in a “legal” sense, as God looks upon us, He sees us crucified with Christ. We are not only crucified with Christ in His death, we are raised up with Him in his resurrection, unto a new creation. When we die with Christ, we die to our anger and resentment. Illicit lusts and desires are dealt with. Unclean habits no longer hold power over us. But let us not forget that just because we are born again we are not incapable of sinning. It is imperative that we identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. We must decide that we have been quickened—raised up together with Christ in new life. Only then will we be able to face the demonic powers of Satan. Our mantra must be Sin shall not have dominion over me because I have been raised from spiritual death with Christ.

References

Kennedy, F., Germaine, A., and Dake, Jr., F. (2008). Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Publishing, Inc.

Luther, M. (1954). Commentary on Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

The Billy Graham of Generation Z?

Jordan Whitmer Screen Shot CBN

Jordan Whitmer’s zeal for evangelism and vision for a movement have some comparing his ministry to that of Billy Graham. And he’s only 19.

Hannah Stephens was 17 and in trouble with her parents. She had gotten caught stealing their tablet computer in order to chat with strangers online and subsequently grounded. “The only places I was allowed to go were home, school, and church,” Hannah said. To this brooding teenager in the small Ozark town of Mountain Home, Ark., life seemed painfully limited. Yet she was about to discover a whole new world.

In January 2016, Hannah’s partner in chemistry class at Mountain Home High School Career Academies invited her to join the planning team for an upcoming event for teenagers called HowToLife. The planning process would require her to attend several meetings leading up to a night of worship, testimonies, and prayer. Hannah knew little about the event—only that it had something to do with Christianity. “This counted as a church activity that could get me out of the house and away from my parents,” she said. That was all the incentive she needed. She was in.

“The second I entered that meeting at the First Baptist Church of Mountain Home youth room, my life was completely changed,” Hannah says, recalling that the students she met seemed to be genuinely in love with God and weren’t merely serving Him out of habit. “I went home that night in tears, telling my mom I wanted what they had, the hope they had.” That may sound unusual considering Hannah is the daughter of an itinerant church planter, raised in the church and reared in a Christian home. She could recite Bible stories and prayed to accept Christ as the Messiah as a little girl. “I did it because I knew that’s what I was supposed to do,” Hannah remembers. But that was as deep as her relationship with God had gone. She had grown up in a Christian culture but wasn’t yet a follower of Christ.

Christ Carrying His Cross

We might “inherit” our faith from our parents, but we cannot inherit their salvation. In fact, we are told to work out our individual salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). The faith of my parents is my faith. My mother and father brought the family to church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night Bible study, and Thursday night prayer and worship. Although I tried numerous times in my adolescence and young adulthood to rebel against it, as we all have, it is clear to me that my faith is truly grounded in the example shown by my parents. I don’t necessarily agree with everything my parents have believed over the years relative to Christian doctrine, but my faith is what it is in part because of their influence.

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For a month leading up to the HowToLife event, however, Hannah felt the Lord working on her heart. She was beginning to really see who was at the heart of the hope she noticed in her peers. Because her family never settled down in one place, she hadn’t ever connected deeply with Christian young people. Now she felt a dynamic closeness with her new friends. She could see the joy of intimately knowing Christ coloring virtually everything about them. Though deep down inside she still felt spiritually unprepared, she served as a counselor on the night of the event. “I saw so many hearts changed that night, including my own,” Hannah says. “I had friends who started crying and confessing their sins to God, opening up for the first time since I’d known them. It reaffirmed that my generation is utterly heartbroken and needs Jesus.”

A BROKEN GENERATION

Demographers, social scientists and journalists commonly refer to Hannah’s generation, starting approximately with people born in the mid- to late-1990s, as Generation Z. Though there seems to be no clear agreement on hard and fast boundary lines, it’s safe to say that anyone who’s a teenager today is part of Generation Z. This generation has grown up in the digital age, giving it some advantages over prior generations. News outlets have broadly described members of Generation Z as more inherently comfortable with technology and better skilled at multi-tasking than their predecessors.

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But there’s a dark side too. The numbers show Generation Z socializes (at least in person) far less than Generation X or the Baby Boomers. Today’s teens spend large chunks of time checking social media. A sense of isolation often sets in for Gen Zers, psychologist Jean Twenge wrote in a recent article for The Atlantic, because of factors like cyberbullying and the nagging sense of missing out on the fun everyone else seems to be having. As a result, Gen Zers’ rates of suicide and depression are so high, Twenge fears today’s teens are “on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”

That fact hasn’t been lost on Jordan Whitmer. ‘[Generation Z is] more ready than any generation to date to experience Jesus, to have that hope,” says Whitmer. “So who better than teenagers who do have that hope—who do have Jesus—to be able to step up, to share the Gospel and to reach Generation Z for Jesus?” Whitmer is the founder and CEO of the HowToLife Movement, the organization responsible for the event that changed Hannah Stephens’ life. It began as an idea in Whitmer’s dining room in December 2014. Back then, Whitmer was in his junior year at Harrison High School in Harrison, Ark., just across the border from Branson, Mo. He felt a burden for his classmates, so many of whom were spiritually lost. How could he reach them with the Gospel?

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The vision that began to take shape in Whitmer’s mind was a student-led youth rally for his whole community. He invited three friends over to brainstorm. There, around the dining room table, they hashed out the details. It would be a night of drama, testimonies, prayer, and worship music, all led by students. Though security guards and a few adult chaperones would be in attendance, Whitmer and his fellow organizers decided no one older than 18 would be allowed to take the stage.

The four friends also came up with the unusual name “HowToLife.” Whitmer notes, “We were thinking along the lines of how to live your life or talking about how to do life, and the ultimate answer to that is Jesus… so that’s kind of how the name emerged.” Students and adult leaders at schools and churches across Harrison got involved in spreading the word. When the rally became reality, in March 2015 at a local junior college, 750 students attended—and 75 of them reported placing their trust in Christ for eternal life. Whitmer was blown away by what God did that night, and he sensed it couldn’t just end there.

A MOVEMENT IS BORN

Word of what happened in Harrison rippled across the Ozarks. Students in other communities wanted to know how they could invite similar work from God where they lived. Whitmer’s instincts were right: HowToLife had become more than just a one-night event in his hometown. It was an emerging movement. During Whitmer’s senior year, he helped organize HowToLife rallies in Missouri and other parts of Arkansas. HowToLife became an official 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in August 2016. Then, during the 2016-17 school year, communities in Illinois, Tennessee, and Texas hosted events. All told, Whitmer says, there have been 19 HowToLife events in seven states so far. That number is on pace to expand to 15 states by summer vacation, and 20 by the end of 2018. About 600 teens have become Christians at HowToLife rallies so far and gotten connected to local churches.

A FAMILIAR MODEL

For the moment, Whitmer is HowToLife’s only paid employee, working out of his parents’ home in Harrison. The ministry has 5,000 followers on Instagram, and over the past six months, Whitmer says, hundreds of students have messaged him on social media platforms asking how they can hold HowToLife events in their communities. He responds by assuring them there’s a tried-and-true template to follow. “It’s in essence like a mini-Billy Graham Crusade event that is done by local high school students to reach their friends and their community for Jesus,” says Whitmer.

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Indeed, HowToLife’s event planning model bears many similarities to that to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. A regional team of students must provide each event’s core leadership. Weeks of detailed preparation (including meetings for prayer worshiping, and reciting testimonies) follow. All the while, publicity is spread as students wear #HowToLife t-shirts to school (the social media-friendly hashtag is ever-present in HowToLife’s marketing efforts) and church youth pastors are invited to get involved. The prayerful preparation pays off the night of each event. To date, more than 6,000 teenagers have attended HowToLife rallies.

Whitmer readily admits the Graham crusades of the latter half of the 1900s have served as his model. That makes sense given that his grandfather, radio broadcaster and teacher Ron Hutchcraft, has a long history with Billy Graham, who passed away on February 21, 2018 at the age of 99: Hutchcraft chaired a crusade in New Jersey in the 1990s and has spoken extensively for the organization over the last 30 years. “I would so love to see a generation of teenagers around the U.S. and around the world that emerge,” Whitmer says. “People that step up, that have a passion for evangelism, a passion for the Great Commission.”

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Does all of this potentially make Whitmer his generation’s Billy Graham? Yes and no, he says. Unlike Graham, he doesn’t feel evangelistic preaching is his gift (though he did speak at several HowToLife rallies before he “aged out”). In his desire to build an organization that has global impact, however, Whitmer definitely senses a kinship with the 20th century’s most famous preacher. “My dream is that ultimately there may be some aspects of true global awakening to Jesus that could come through something like this,” he says.

THE NEXT PHASE

From his earliest days, Whitmer has had a sense of where he’s going, and seen no reason to wait in getting there. He led Bible clubs in elementary, middle, and high school. After graduating from Harrison High School in 2016 (he was valedictorian), Whitmer sprinted on and completed his bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies online through Liberty University just a year and a half later. Now Whitmer is taking on his most exciting, and perhaps daunting, task: Moving HowToLife to the next level. “I would love to see that we have significantly more paid staff and a headquarters in the next two years, by 2019 or 2020,” Whitmer explains. Getting there, he estimates, will take $500,000. That’s why, in addition to helping regional student leaders organize rallies, he spends much of his time crisscrossing the country on a fundraising blitz.

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A survey from the Barna Group released last October revealed that only 4 percent of Generation Z holds a biblical worldview. About 35 percent claim to be atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with a religion, a figure 5 percent higher than for Generation X, and 9 percent more than that of Baby Boomers. Such findings led Barna Group to consider Gen Zers as the first “post-Christian” generation. Post-Christianity is characterized by loss of the primacy of the Christian worldview in political affairs, especially in the Northern Hemisphere where Christianity flourished, in favor of alternative worldviews such as secularism or animism.  It includes personal worldviews, ideologies, religious movements, or societies that are no longer rooted in the language and assumptions of Christianity. A post-Christian world is one in which Christianity is no longer the dominant civil religion, but has gradually assumed values, cultures, and worldviews that are not necessarily Christian.

Whitmer notes, “People are excited to come out to events that are completely led by their friends because teenagers listen to teenagers more than anyone else,” adding that the teen-to-teen dynamic is “the biggest strength of this movement.” HowToLife board member Ralf Stores, 63, agrees. “That idea of youth leading youth to Christ has a very powerful component to it,” he says. “I have found over the years there’s almost a universal culture among youth—clothes and talk and music and those sorts of things. It transcends languages and it transcends the different countries and cultures around the world.” That’s why, going forward, Whitmer says HowToLife will keep the teenagers-reaching-teenagers, no-one-over-18-on-stage component. He believes that inspired idea conceived at his dining room table is timeless.

But he also wants to continue impacting Generation Z as its members enter their 20s and 30s. He’s open to HowToLife becoming a multi-generational, international ministry. “I believe that God can and will continue to do incredible things through this movement on a teenager level, on an adult level and [through] more and more elements as things continue to grow,” he says.

CLOSING REMARKS

Whitmer expects to continue leading the HowToLife Movement for the long haul. Under his leadership, he says not to expect the Movement to get sidetracked by political debates or to delve deeply into secondary (though still important) moral issues. His plan is to borrow another page from Billy Graham’s playbook and keep the primary focus on the Gospel. “My firm belief is that the lack of understanding of the Gospel is the root [of Generation Z’s problems]. Everything else stems from that,” he says. “Focusing on Jesus and the Gospel at the center of everything is what I continue to commit to doing.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION To learn more information about the HowToLife Movement visit: http://howtolifemovement.com

 

Victory Over the Darkness: Realizing Your Identity in Christ

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Is who you are determined by what you do, or is what you do determined by who you are? It is time to discover who you are in Christ, and what that means for your life. Jesus promises us we can live triumphantly. As Christ hung on the cross, He said, “It is finished” just before taking his last breath. What is finished, and just what does it mean to you and me? If we really knew God, our behavior would change radically and instantly. Consider this: When heaven opened to reveal the glory of God, individual witnesses in the Bible were immediately and profoundly changed.

Who Are You?

Who I am—who you are—is far more than what can be seen on the outside. Paul said, “We recognize no man according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16). Most of us identify ourselves and each other primarily by what we look like (tall, short, stocky, muscular) or what we do (plumber, police officer, carpenter, physician, clerk). When we Christians are asked to identify ourselves in relation to our faith, we usually talk about our doctrinal position (Protestant, evangelical, charismatic, Calvinist), our denominational preference (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Independent) or our role in the church (Sunday school teacher, pastor, elder, worship leader).

You need to know who you are in Christ so that you can live your life as God intended and fulfill your destiny. The more you are in agreement with how God sees you the more your behavior will begin to reflect your God-given identity. After all, it’s God’s opinion that matters. Understanding who you are in Christ will provide a solid foundation on which you can build your Christian character.

Know Who You Are; Know Who Christ Is

Is Jesus just another prophet? Is He an historical figure? A “good man?” A teacher? Or is He much more? Is He the Son of God? The Christ? The Messiah? Jesus is more than a good man. He is God revealed in the flesh, who came to rescue mankind from the wages of sin. But the key is to see Jesus as He is, not as others see Him.

Our identity is discovered through a more thorough understanding of who we are in Christ. Once Peter realized his identity in Christ, he went from ordinary fisherman to a key participant in spreading the Good News of the Gospel. On the day of Pentecost, he preached and thousands were saved. He performed miracles and is credited with helping establish the early church. He found out who he was in Christ, which made all the difference.

I Know Who I Am

Scripture contains numerous passages on who we are in Christ:

  • I am a child of God. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
  • I am a branch of the true vine; a conduit of Christ’s life. “I am the true vine and my father is the gardener. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1,5).
  • I am a friend of Jesus. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
  • I have been justified and redeemed. “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
  • I am crucified with Christ. “For we know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body ruled by might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6).
  • I am a fellow heir with Christ. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Rom. 8:17).
  • I am called to be a saint. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2).
  • I am a new creature in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Cor. 5:17).
  • I have been set free in Christ. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
  • I have been made complete in Christ. “And in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:10).
  • I have been raised up with Christ. “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).
  • I have been chosen of God; I am holy and beloved. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12).
  • I am victorious in Christ. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
  • I am God’s masterpiece. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
  • I am totally and completely forgiven. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John. 1:9).
  • I am called. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Life in God’s Kingdom

What about life in God’s kingdom? Everyone has the same chance to live a meaningful life. Why? Because wholeness and meaning in life are not the products of what you have or don’t have, what you’ve done or haven’t done. You are already a whole person and possess a life of infinite meaning and purpose because of who you are—a child of God. The only identity equation that works in God’s kingdom is you plus Christ equals wholeness and meaning.

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If our relationship with God is fundamental to wholeness, why do so many believers struggle with their identity, security, significance, sense of worth, and spiritual maturity? Ignorance is probably the primary reason. The prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6). For others it is carnality, the lack of repentance and faith in God, and some are being deceived by the father of lies. Sadly, a great many Christians are trapped in the downward spiral of self-doubt. We fail, so we see ourselves as failures, which only leads to more failure. We sin, so we see ourselves as sinners, which only leads to more sin. We have been deceived by the enemy into believing that what we do determines who we are. Of course, such a belief can send us into a tailspin of hopelessness and more defeat.

Who we are is rooted in our identity and position in Christ. If we don’t see ourselves the way God sees us, to that degree we suffer from a false identity and poor self-worth.

The Example of Christ

God’s plan for redemption began to unfold when Christ, the Last Adam, appeared. The first thing we notice about the life of Christ is His complete dependence on God the Father. He said, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30). Also, “I live because of the Father” (6:57). And, “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (14:10).

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Like the First Adam, Jesus was born both physically and spiritually alive. This was made evident by the fact that Jesus was conceived by the Spirit of God and was born of a virgin. Unlike the First Adam, although Jesus was tempted in every way He never sinned. He never lost His spiritual life because of any sin he committed. He kept His spiritual life all the way to the cross. There, He bled and died, taking the sins of the world upon Himself. He committed His spirit into the Father’s hands as His physical life ended (Luke 23:46). What Adam and Eve lost in the Fall was spiritual life, which Jesus came to restore. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10b).

What a Difference Christ Makes In Us

The difference between the First and Second Adam spells the difference between life and death for us. Perhaps that life-giving difference is best noted in 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Being “spiritually alive” is mentioned often in the New Testament. For example, in the six chapters of the book of Ephesians alone we find forty references to being “in Christ” and having Christ “in you.” For every biblical passage that teaches Christ is in you, ten teach that you are “in Christ.”

Of course, new life requires new birth. We weren’t born in Christ. We were born dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). What is God’s plan for transforming us from being in Adam to being in Christ? Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Physical birth gains only physical life for us, period. Spiritual life, the eternal life Christ promises to those who come to Him, is gained only through spiritual birth (3:36).

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Spiritually Alive!

What does it mean to be spiritually alive in Christ? The moment you were born again your soul came into union with God in the same way Adam was in union with God before the Fall. This is creation as God intended. Adam and Eve were completely immersed in communion with God in the Garden. Not only did Adam enjoy a sense of significance, but he also enjoyed a great degree of safety and security. All his needs were provided in the Garden.

At the moment we accepted Christ as the Messiah, we became spiritually alive and our name was written in the Lamb’s book of life. Eternal life is not something you get upon your physical death. Paul wrote, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). He was referring to the spiritual life of the believer that doesn’t age or decay as does the outer shell. To be spiritually alive—characterized in the New Testament by the word zoe (the God-like life)—means your soul or soul/spirit is in union with God. That is the condition in which Adam was created—physically alive and spiritually alive, in perfect union with God.

For Christians, to be spiritually alive is to be in union with God. This spiritual life is most often conveyed in the New Testament as being “in Christ,” or “in Him.” Like Adam, we were created to be in union. You may have heard the expression Man is a social animal. We truly live for interpersonal relationships. Man, however, is also a spiritual being. Unfortunately, Adam sinned and his union with God was severed. It is God’s eternal plan to bring human creation back to Himself and restore the union He enjoyed with Adam at creation. That restored union with God, which we find “in Christ,” is what defines who we are as children of God.

A Christian, in terms of his or her deepest identity, is a saint, a spiritually born child of God, a divine masterpiece, a child of light, a citizen of heaven. Being born again transformed you into someone who did not exist before. Of course, it is not what you do as a Christian that determines who you are; it is who you are that determines what you do (see 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10; 1 Peter 2:9-10; 1 John 3:1-2).

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It’s all in how you see yourself.

You don’t change yourself by your perception. You change your perception of yourself by believing the truth. If you perceive yourself wrongly, you will live wrongly.  If you think of yourself as a worthless bum, you will probably live like a worthless bum. If, however, you see yourself as a child of God who is spiritually alive in Christ, you will begin to live accordingly.

Naturally, Satan’s main strategy is to distort the character of God—in my opinion, one way he does this through the rantings of militant atheists, with Christopher Hitchens calling God a “heavenly dictator”—and he can’t do anything to change our identity and position in Christ. If he gets us to believe a lie, we will live as though our identity in Christ isn’t true.

New life results in a new identity.

 

Have They Gone a Bit Too Far?

The University of Minnesota has distributed guidelines on how to celebrate the holidays in the most inclusive, bias-free way possible. They’ve gone a bit overboard in the process, unless you think there’s something innately Christian about bells or the color red. The guidelines – composed by the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences’ Diversity and Inclusion Office – ask that students and faculty respect the diversity of the University community by hosting neutral-themed parties such as a Winter Celebration. Lest there be any confusion over which decorations are sufficiently generic, the document includes a list of items and images that are not appropriate because they represent specific religious iconography.

That includes the obvious, such nativity scenes, menorahs, and angels. It includes semi-secular symbols, such as Santa Claus. It also includes some items whose religious content is hard to discern at all, such as red and green decorations (representative of the Christian tradition), blue and silver decorations (too Jewish), bows, bells, or wrapped gifts. The university said if students encounter one of these examples of religious iconography, they are encouraged to reach out to the University of Minnesota’s Bias Incident Website or contact its office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.

Karl Lorenz, director of diversity programs at the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, stresses that the guidelines are strictly voluntary. “The bullet points are offered for consideration,” says Lorenz. “They are not mandates.” However, because of the voluntary nature, most of the guidelines do not raise constitutional issues, according Ari Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The university, he says, can argue convincingly that parties put on by their units are university speech and it has the right to control the message. He does find it troubling that the guideline instructions indicate individuals should restrict expressions of their religious faith to their own personal space, a measure he says is overly broad. But while Cohn thinks the guidelines are largely legal, they also strike him as “rather ham-fisted and overly cautious.” Indeed. Rather persecutory as well! Perhaps you’d be interested in reading David Limbaugh’s Persecution: How Liberals are Waging War Against Christians. You can check the book out at Amazon. Here’s the direct link: Persecution by David Limbaugh

Indeed, while I have no doubt that the university is sincere about wanting to encourage diversity and inclusion – which is a great endeavor, and even somewhat Christ-like, in that Jesus met, dined with, and healed, literally everyone – this push for bland and generic events could have the opposite effect. The university is encouraging faculty and students not to celebrate campus diversity but to suppress any sign of it. Clearly, this should be an indication to Christians who are in a position of authority at the school that the guidelines have gone a bit too far.

HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS! HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS!

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