Jesus is risen from the dead - and so have we.

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“Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. So what!”  Supposedly, this was a response from a serious skeptic while debating a Christian apologist.  The man said he would grant that Jesus died and then came back, but that could have been an anomaly. Such strange things happen all the time. Then he said something like, “All right, Jesus came back from the dead, but what relevance does that have for me or for any of us? Nothing!”

We all might be saying the same thing today were it not for the fact that Jesus’ early followers explained why the resurrection is relevant. Had the Gospels been written, we would have a wonderful, historical account of a great teacher and philosopher. We might even conclude that Jesus was indeed God, and certainly, someone who came to earth to start a kingdom, who died on the cross, was buried, came back to life, and went up into heaven.  This is what is called the Gospel, which literally means “good news.”

Of course, that is the core of our historical, Christian Faith. Yet, think about this – what if that was all we knew?  What questions would we have? What things could we deduce from such this historical record? Pause to consider that for a moment.

Here is what we would probably know beyond that:

  • He is probably who he claimed to be (but the debate is just who did he claim to be?).
  • He is in heaven.
  • He will be coming back.
  • We are to believe in him.
  • We are to live according to his teachings.

Anything else?

The earliest of the Jesus followers knew that much. Thankfully, God sent his Spirit just as Jesus promised. The Holy Spirit brought hearts alive, indwelled, empowered, and then spoke through those early disciples to explain the relevance of the complete story of Jesus (from pre-birth to his ascension). James wrote about how to think wisely and live well as a true follower of Christ.  Two of the letters that Peter wrote were inspired and preserved for us, telling us about the beauty of such good news and its relevance for Christians in the day to day experiences.

Then, we get to Luke’s writings. Luke recorded a short history about Jesus and then wrote how this Gospel impacted the early disciples and caused the initial explosive growth of the Church. It was due to the power of Christ’s resurrection, Christ’s word, and Christ’s Spirit.

Paul, a master teacher, is converted and called by God to teach the disciples the implications and relevance of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  He presents to us the explicit impact of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension upon those who trust and believe in Jesus the Christ.

What does Jesus’ resurrection mean for you if you trust and believe in Christ?

Turn to 1 Corinthians 15 and read through this very important passage.

Now, check out a summary of this passage:

  • I Corinthians 15:1-11  –  Jesus was raised from the dead and there was viable evidence as well as plenty of eyewitnesses to testify to the event and to see a risen Jesus after his crucifixion.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:12-19  –  If Jesus was not raised from the dead then we have no basis for our Christian faith. We are without life, without hope, and without truth.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:20-28  –  But Jesus was resurrected from the dead and that resurrection makes us alive, gives hope for a new resurrected body when our bodies die, and assures us the most brutal, unforgiving enemy we have, which is death, is itself destroyed.

But wait! There’s much, much more. Paul, Peter, and John teach us the relevance that Jesus is risen and we are risen, indeed! This is what we, those who have a saving faith in Jesus Christ, can know with great assurance.

Through the resurrection power, assured by Christ’s ascension, our lives are now:

Right

  • We are made right with God the Father (Romans 5).

Good Friday put our sins on Jesus Christ. Resurrection Sunday puts his righteousness on us! We are made right because of Jesus. We are given the status of righteousness (Romans 5:18-22).

  • We are also made alive and given the ability to live rightly before God and a watching world. This is because after Jesus was raised and ascended, he sent his Spirit to apply his life and work in us (Romans 6).

This means that in Christ, through his Spirit, he is in the process of removing sin from our souls in order for us to live rightly and to live well in the presence of God.

 

Incorruptible

Spiritual

  • Our souls and bodies are now adapted to God’s spiritual realm (1 Corinthians 15:44, 50-53).
  • At the Great Resurrection, in the end of all history, we will receive the same type of body as Jesus’ resurrected body.  Imagine having the ability to pass through walls (John 20:19)?

Empowered

  • Through Jesus’ resurrection, we are now empowered by the Holy Spirit (Colossians 1-3).
  • Paul’s first prayer in Ephesians 1 is that God’s people would have the depth of understanding and be enlightened to fully know in our hearts and experiences the profound greatness of his power. That nuclear power, the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from three days of deadness and brought him all the way up into the heavenly presence of God to sit on that throne from which he rules all the universe; that power he gives to us so that we share in his kingdom and his rule (Ephesians 1:19-23).
  • For many reasons I love Ephesians, but primarily because it is all about this resurrection power applied to us who believe. Jesus Christ is risen, and we are risen, indeed! That’s the message. In our American culture, we talk much about empowerment.  As Christians, we have more than the kind of empowerment the world seeks. Ephesians tells us:
    • Real power is from Jesus Christ (Eph. 1)
    • We have the power of life through faith in the risen Christ. And the biggest impact of this power is being united with Christ and united together in Christ. (Eph. 2:1-11)
    • We have the power of solidarity in faith, which means we have union together in Christ (Eph. 2:11-4:6).
    • We have the power to grow in Christ through faith. This means we have the ability to become like Jesus (Eph. 4:7-16)!
    • We have the power of light over darkness through faith. That means because he has risen from the dead, we can live like Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:17-32).
    • We have the power of love through faith so that we can love like Jesus (Eph. 5:1-6:9)
    • Finally, we have the power to conquer by faith so that we can be and are now overcomers in Christ (Eph. 6:1-20)!

and…

Eternal

  • We have the new image, the new likeness of the One from heaven (1 Corinthians 15:48-49). Not even Adam or Eve had this when they were made in the image of God.
  • We will never die again. We are risen, indeed (Romans 6:8-9).
  • We each have our own “tent” made to endure eternity (2 Corinthians 5:1).

New

 

Easter Sunday is Resurrection Sunday. In fact, every Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ’s life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus rose from the dead?  Yes!  Does that event mean anything to us? Yes, if we trust and believe in Jesus Christ as our savior and lord. Our rejoicing on Easter Day is not merely a celebration that Jesus died and came back from the dead. So did Lazarus and many others.   Our rejoicing is over the fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection and that it has significant, applied relevance for our lives as Christians!  Jesus is risen! And we are risen, indeed!

 

– Dr. Don

 

This article originally posted at http://wp.me/p5C1Oh-NU

God Gave Moses the Constitution

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What if I told you that God gave Moses the constitution?  Yep. That’s right!  I’m perfectly serious about this.  Around 3000 years ago God gave Moses the constitution.

Oh.  You thought I was talking about the Constitution of the United States?  No.  But that might make for a fun storyline in some kid’s adventure book.  The constitution about which I am talking is the one written for the kingdom of Israel.  The one God gave to Moses to give a newly formed kingdom nation.

Before you dismiss this as whacked out weirdness, hear me out.  It all goes back to the time when God’s people who were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were settled in Egypt.  Initially, what was once a small tribe, led by Jacob and his sons ended up in Egypt due to famine in their homeland.  You can read about it in Genesis chapters 46-50.

The Exodus Story

Flip over to the book of Exodus and you will read how this tribal group grew to quite a sizable nation.  Some say with a population of at least one million.  Because they were not Egyptian, in fact, they were descendants of the Semites from ancient Babylon, the Egyptian leaders decided to force them into slave labor.  They were enslaved some time during the four hundred years they resided in that region.  Things got really bad for Israel.  And like we all tend to do when things get really bad, they cried out to God.  God heard them. However, God did not answer the way they wanted.   Lesson: beware of what you pray.

Exodus also tells us God raised up a man who was the adopted son of the grand leader, called a Pharaoh. Moses was his name, a version of an Egyptian name. Moses had a concern for his blood relatives.  One day he saw an Egyptian severely abusing one of his kinfolks, so he became furious with the Egyptian, killed the guy, got scared and ran away.  In a distant land, he found seven women being harassed by a bunch of bully shepherds, chased off the bullies, met the women’s father who was a priest in the land of Midian, who invited Moses to live among them.  The priest, Reuel (not related to Kalel, aka Clark Kent the Superman) liked Moses so much that he gave Moses one of his daughters to marry.  Zipporah was her name, not to be confused with Zippo the name of a lighter company.  Mo and Zip lived happily ever after.

Well, if you can call living in the middle of some desert as a nomadic shepherd a happy life, then that’s what he had.  He and his wife had a son.  And sheep. They were living the life, minding their own business for quite a while.  

Moses on a Mountain

Then, Moses decides to take a hike up a mountain.  It was there he comes to a bush that seems to be on fire.  Yet the bush is not burning up, and the bush talks to him.  Turns out, this was God speaking through the burning bush.  Not just any god, and not one of the Midianite gods, or anything like one of the Egyptian gods. God told Moses that he was going to use Moses to set his home folks free. You never know what your day may bring, especially if you hike up a mountain.  Can you imagine how Zipporah handled it when Moses came home from work that night?   Okay, so ends happily ever after, right? 

Moses Goes Back to Egypt with a Stick

You probably know the rest of the story?  After arguing with God, Moses does what is told and heads back to Egypt to lead God’s people out of there.  Moses, with his degree from the University of Egypt, experience as a shepherd, and a big stick, went to Egypt.  Moses and his stick went to take on a major leader considered to be a god, with a world-class army.  Isn’t it odd how God does that? Moses had a stick, Samson had his hair, and David had a slingshot.  They all confronted powerful armies but did so with all that they needed:  the Almighty God.

 God does some stunningly remarkable miracles.  Destruction, bloodshed, and terror were repeatedly poured out upon Egypt until Israel was free to leave.  And leave they did.

Moses Leaves Egypt with a Nation

Once they got out into the desert, a major challenge confronted them – what kind of leadership and government would they have?  The Egyptians believed their king was possessed by one of the gods, and for the most part, the religious priests ran the government.  No separation of church and state there.  The people of Israel were influenced by Egyptian culture.

Israel knew very little about their God.  They had the oral traditions passed down for four hundred years.  Now, all of a sudden their God spoke directly to Moses.  Moses was no man-god.  The true and living God did not speak through wood or stone idols.  They had no priests to run a government, though they did have elders.  Later on, their familiar Egyptian traditions influenced them to make a statue through which this invisible God was expected to speak.  God and Moses rejected the golden calf they made.  This was all uncharted territory.  What would they do?

God always communicates to people in ways people can grasp.  He uses familiar customs, traditions, and languages but in ways that do not compromise who he is.  To resolve Israel’s challenge of a new government God used an Ancient Near Eastern system various people groups of that region used.  What was that system?

God the King and His Covenant Treaty

There was the king.  For smaller tribes, this would be someone like a sheik.  Large cities or city-states would have kings.  Successful kings gained more power and control over other clans, tribes, cities, and states.  These kings would typically claim to be man-gods.  When a powerful king conquered lesser kings or leaders he would draft a covenant treaty.

The king’s covenant treaty was typically organized in this way:

  • It began with a preamble. This introduction was the bragging rights of the great and powerful king. He would boast about how wise, strong, virile, and handsome he was.
  • This was followed by a history of his accomplishments such as whom he conquered and how he did it.
  • Then came the stipulations. This outlined what the great king will do, which was usually a promise to send troops to help fight off the enemies. It listed what the conquered people and lesser kings had to do, such as adopt the great king’s god as their main god, pay taxes, obey the kingdom rules, and not rebel.
  • The covenant made it clear that the conquered people belonged to the king and he could do with them whatever he wanted.
  • The treaty had a clause that said the original document would be put in a treasure box that was located at the foot, called the footstool, of the main god.  A second main copy would be given to the lesser kings where they had to store it in their god’s footstool box. The big god was supposed to watch over and protect the treaty.  It also said that the treaty had to be read to the people during religious feast days, so other copies would be made and given to the elders, civic authorities, and judges of the conquered people.
  • The treaty invoked other gods as witnesses to the covenant treaty. In other words, these lesser gods were there to back up the treaty.
  • Finally, the covenant was unilateral. That meant it was imposed on the people whether they liked it or not. If the people listened and obeyed then they would be blessed. If they rebelled and broke covenant they would be cursed and pay the consequences. 

In essence, these covenant treaties became the constitution for the kingdom.

God used this very familiar government arrangement for his newly formed kingdom nation, but with a significant twist.  The invisible God is the mighty sovereign king.  No man could claim that spot.  This Sovereign King was the powerful ruler who rescued a people, not conquered a people (Exodus 19).  The preamble in Exodus 19 is God’s self-declaration and legitimate bragging rights.  It also declared what kind of God-King he was.

Whenever a king gained victory over other groups he had a parade and a major celebration.  In that celebration, the priests would use fire and loud drums and horns to make frightening noises to show how powerful the god-king was.  When the Lord gave his covenant to Moses, the people’s representative, he did so with his own show of power.  Displays of thunder, lightening, thick clouds, darkness, trumpet-like noises, smoke, fire, earthquakes and then his voice.  Why?  To show the power and might of this Sovereign King.  He is a consuming fire like no other (Heb. 12:29).  God put on his own display to elicit fear in his presence, to confirm the mediator of the covenant, threaten all false god-kings, and to back up this kingdom constitution. 

The Day of Dependence

It was on the Day of Assembly (Deut. 9:10; 10:4; 18:16) when this Sovereign King issued his unilateral treaty.  The covenant treaty would spell out how God's people were dependent on God as King.  This constitution established his people as a new kingdom-state.  This treaty was written by God’s finger, not by the scribes of the court (Ex. 31:18 cp. Deut. 9:10).  And he wrote it in the familiar form of an ancient near eastern covenant suzerain treaty:

  • There was the preamble (Deut. 1:1-5).  Unlike worldly kings, God didn’t take volumes to brag.  He did not need to.
  • The historical background of the Sovereign Lord is given (Ex. 20; Deut 1:6; 4:1)
  • God presents a simple list of stipulations.  These are the Ten Words (Deut. 5:26).  This was unlike the long lists human kings wrote.  These ten words were unlike the harsh words of the typical egotistical human kings:  they summarized that the relationship between God and his people and how his people would relate would be from love.  They would love their God-King as he loves them (Commandments 1-3).  God's people would love one another in the same way that they love themselves (Commandments 5-10).  They would take a special day each week to worship and celebrate their God-King, enjoy his presence, be thankful for his blessings and protection, and then reorient their lives and time so that they could properly relate to others (Commandment #4).
  • God made two copies.  One for himself as King and one for the main representative of the people. Handwritten copies circulated among the leaders.  Moses was unique in many different ways.  He was the mediator between God and God’s kingdom people, but he was not a lesser king.  He never tried to be.  In the Ancient Near East, the expectation would have been to make a leader like him into a king or for him to claim kingship.  Also, Moses was not a high priest, though he did priestly things.  He was the voice for God.  Normally, statue-idols were the mouthpieces for those gods and goddesses.  Moses was a human, but he spoke for God as a prophet.
  • In God’s covenant constitution was a special clause that told where the covenant would be placed:  in the footstool box of the only living God.  In God’s own handwriting the Ten Words were written on stone and a second copy made on another stone tablet. Both were placed in the box.  This Ark (box) of the Covenant sat in the holiest of all places at the symbolic feet of this invisible, but very real God King (1 Chron. 28:2; Psa. 99:5; Psa. 132:7).
  • The covenant constitution was read often, especially on feast days.
  • It invoked heavens and earth as witnesses since there are no other gods who could be witnesses.
  • And finally, the constitution declared the sanctions of curses for disobedience and blessings for obedience.

Why this history lesson?

If you’ve read this far, congratulations!  Bear with me a little longer.  Here are important things you need to know if you wish to get a grip on the whole point of God’s Law.

  • This lesson provides some of the behind-the-scenes perspective on why the Ten Commandments came about. The Ten Words that we call the Ten Commandments was originally given to Israel when God formed them into a different kind of national kingdom.  It was their national constitution.
  • The Ten Words are the foundation and the bare bones for how to live with God as Lord and how to live with others in the kingdom whose God is their Lord.  Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy build upon the foundation and add meat to the bones.  Therefore, the first reason for the Old Covenant Law was to serve as the civil-religious constitution for the Kingdom of Israel.          
  • The core of God's covenant constitution was love.  This is very important to understand.  This invisible but only true and living God was unlike all other gods.  He is real. They were not.  He is just and righteous.  They were selfish and sometimes had just laws.  He is gracious and merciful. They rarely were.  The kings ruled out of selfish might with the backing of his army.  The basis of their relationship with their people was terror.  Contrary to common complaints about the “God of the Old Testament,” he was not a cruel and mean God who gave his law to abuse people or to taunt them with failure.  Yes, the Lord ruled with the force of creation to back him up.  While the Lord was to be greatly feared, the basis of his relationship with his people was out of love. 

So, the second main reason for the Old Covenant Law was to show that the moral basis for all relationships is God’s love (Deut. 7:6-11; Zech. 14:9).  Failure to love God and to love others breaks relationships, even destroys them through contempt, divorce, murder, theft, and greed.  The ultimate expressions lead to self-destruction, wars and the like.

God's Constitution was a System to Teach what God's Kingdom Was Like

Overall, God’s kingdom constitution was a system to show what life would be like if everyone had a great relationship with this One True God (Deut. 6:24-25), and lived together through hearts of love that show authentic compassion, mercy, and grace.  If only God’s kingdom people took it to heart and not merely practiced it as a mechanical system.

The covenant was the big blueprint, the overall picture and description of life in God ’s kingdom (Deut. 10:12-21).  How could they live this way?  By real faith that came from the heart, soul, mind, and might that was lived out through love (Deut. 6:1-6; Deut. 8:2; Deut. 11:13-14).  The natural consequences that God set up for a life of faith and love would be a blessing (Deut. 7:12-15).

The Lord told them how to live and they were to respond out of a faith-filled obedience.  He said they had to live this way.  He gave promises for blessing and warnings of cursing (Deut. 28).  He also predicted that they would fail miserably and warned them of the horrible, devastating consequences.  However, the God-King said time and again (Deut. 8) that without faith-filled obedience they could not enter or retain the real estate God was giving for the Kingdom.  At the same time, there was no divine enablement and guarantee by grace for them to trust and obey. As it turned out, the first kingdom generation did not move into the real estate God promised because they did not obey and they did not obey because they did not believe (Deut. 9:1-7; Rom. 11:20; Rom. 11:31; Heb. 3:1-4:2).  The later generations would also end up lacking faith and love, even though several generations tried to work the outward system without the inward soul.

What is in it for me?

The description for what it is like to live in God’s kingdom is the same today as way back then. The requirement to have faith in the One True God-King is the same. The expectations and need for living a life of heartfelt and expressed love for God and for others is the same. The warnings against merely having outward performance and standards are the same.  The failure rate is about the same.

Yet, other things are different now.  How?  Take a break, rest your eyes, and think about what you’ve just read.  I’ll be back with more later on.

By grace;

Dr. Don

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do Christians live by law or love?

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In previous articles, I focused on the negative side of the attitudes and behaviors of a segment of American Evangelicalism. Certainly, not all believers in Jesus Christ are gripped with legalism and live accordingly. One of the main points is that to think and behave in the manner many Evangelicals do is contrary even to the rudimentary tenets of Christ’s teachings.  

The irony for these legalists (of which I’ve labeled myself a recovering one), is that to live contrary to Christ’s teachings, indeed to live contrary to the empowered life of God’s Spirit, is to violate God’s Law in the third commandment:  “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”  How is that?  Briefly, to take God’s name in vain is not merely to misuse the name in crude speech.  The Scripture teaches that the application of that commandment is broader than that.  To wear Christ’s name, yet to deny him by living legalistically, hypocritically or by rejecting his clear teachings, is to take his name in vain.  For a fuller discussion on this important issue, I commend the Westminster Confessional Standards, the writings by John Frame, and by J. Douma on the Ten Commandments.

Legalism is pathetic and it has done terrible harm to Christ's reputation.  Counter to that is the positive side of the life of Christ.  I said in a previous article that the early Christians had a powerful reputation for their love for Christ, for one another, and for their neighbors.  Theirs was an authentic, proactive concern and care for others. They were living the Christ life.  This is how it should be with Christians today.

Their love was not motivated by sentiment or even merely because they were trying to follow in Jesus' footsteps.  Their affirmative, dynamic love flowed from the plain teaching of Scripture, the infusion of Christ’s spiritual life, the supernatural empowerment and fruit of God’s Spirit, as well as the model of Jesus.

Love defined in 1 Corinthians 13

The love of Jesus is demonstrated in the four Gospel accounts.  It is also clearly taught throughout the rest of the New Testament.  However, the most succinct and straightforward teachings on Christ’s love is found in the thirteenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians (New Testament).  The context of this chapter is in a section where St. Paul is explaining how Christians ought to conduct themselves and to live with one another and with the world.  The core of their living is in Christ, and the expression of that Christ-life core is love.  This love is genuine affection and for those who are in Christ by faith, Paul says this love is necessary, expressed, permanent and superior to everything else.

Love is necessary

Paul begins each of the first three verses by stating an existing condition.  Then he shows the results of that condition when there is an absence of love. In the first verse, he says you can speak any language, earthly, or heavenly for that matter, but without real affection, you are no better off, as the ancient church Father Chrysostom said than a “positive nuisance.”  By speaking many languages, Paul implies the one has knowledge, so-called wisdom, and eloquence.  But words of a brilliant master linguist without love are irritating, senseless clangs.

For Christians to have, according to verse two, the best of all spiritual gifts, without love, we are nothing.  And we might give to others or offer up our lives sacrificially, our offering might have some benefit for others, but it is of no profit to ourselves if there is no love.

His point is that love is an absolute necessity for the Christian life.  Remove it and all else is ultimately empty.

Love is expressed

The second thing he points out is that true affection is expressed (chapter 13, verses 4-7).  He paints for us a picture, as one person put it, “of putting on love’s matchless beauty.”

True affection is expressed unselfishly (13:4). For one, authentic love is patient. Patience is restraint when you have the right to act.  Jesus gives a parable of this in Matthew 18:21-35.  His lesson is about a king whose servant owed him an insurmountable debt that he could not possibly owe.  Yet the king was very patient with him.  The debtor, in contrast, was very impatient with his own servant who owed him a small amount of money.  This kind of loving patience is also the ability to delay a response, especially when wronged.  Jesus did this for our sake (1 Peter 3:20).  He was patient with the soldiers who apprehended him, patient with the religious and political powers that tried him,  knowing his restraint from acting with supernatural power would lead him to the cross.  It was his destiny to pay for our sins (in fact, for our lack of love and impatience) on the cross.

This authentic love is also kind (read Luke 6 and Ephesians 4).  In a sense, patience is a passive quality - a restraint.  Kindness is an active quality - a bestowal or giving. Kindness is not to be confused with niceness.  Nice connotes a passive pleasantness or sweetness.  Kindness is assertive and proactive.  It may not be masculine to be sweet, but it is manly to be kind; for God is kind.

Kindness proceeds from a tender heart.  It contributes to the peace and happiness of others.  It is the opposite of one’s disposal to do harm to others.

The third quality of this genuine affection is that it is not jealous.  This kind of jealousy is a selfishness that boils with intense desire. In the bad sense, it is like envy, that feeling of “uneasiness at the sight of superior excellence, reputation or happiness enjoyed by someone else, accompanied by some degree of hatred...often with a desire to depreciate the person or to have pleasure in seeing him depressed”  (Barclay).  This is what we see going on in Acts 5:17, 7:9, and 13:45.  This envy-filled jealousy springs from pride and ambition. It is shocked that another has obtained what one has a strong desire to possess.  True affection has a desire that others would find success and happiness in their lives.  

Still another characteristic of true love is that it does not brag.  It is not anxious to display itself like the little banny rooster who struts around because he thinks his early morning crowing caused the sun to come up.  Love is not ostentatious, putting on a display to build up oneself at the expense of others, parading oneself and campaigning to be at the center of attention.  In contrast, true love is humble (2 Corinthians 10:13).

It is also not proud, or more literally, it does not “swell up like the bellows of a ship.” This Christ-love is not puffed up.  Paul made it clear that a central problem the Christians were having in the city of Corinth was that they were indeed proud.  And their pride manifested itself:  they were contentious (4:6), had a bad attitude toward Paul (4:18), were arrogant in their speech (4:19), were apathetic toward sin and evil (5:2), and displayed an intellectual arrogance that repulsed even non-Christians (8:1).  Reverse those things and you have a view of Christ’s love.

The next major thing Paul points out about this authentic Christ-love is how it is expressed behaviorally (13:5-6).  He has five ways of how love acts, though he puts them in negative terms.  First, it does not act unbecomingly.  That is, true love is not rude or deliberately does something to hurt or embarrass another. Next, love does not seek its own selfish ways and benefits as explained above.  Not that love is totally devoid of self, but rather self in an arrogant, self-absorbed way that becomes the source of impatience, unkindness, bragging, and unseemliness.

Thirdly, love is not provoked by wrongs or evil.  Love desires justice and what is righteous;  it even seeks those things.  Love’s response toward sin and evil is not a desire for personal revenge, but rather earnestly desires good consequences would come about so that the sinner or evil doer would change, or repent, or pay so that those who suffered at his or her expense would be properly, fairly served.  Love is not triggered to seek revenge nor allows unjust wrongs to provoke and embitter.

Along with this is the fact that true love does not take into account a wrong suffered.  There is no doubt you will be wronged.  Love for another does not put the wrong they did to you into a mental registry for which there is a plan to retaliate.  Instead, love desires grace and mercy to come upon the offender so that there would be restitution, reconciliation or repentance.  

Note, the thrust of the good news about Christ’s life and work is that he took the registry of our sins, even the sins against him as our God, and paid for them through his sacrificial, loving death upon the cross.

The fifth point Paul makes is that love does not rejoice in or over unrighteousness.  It takes no delight in sin or evil. Love is grieved by wickedness, evil, and injustice.

The apostle goes on to present us with a positive way how love behaves:  genuine love rejoices in the truth.  Since love does not rejoice over unrighteousness but does rejoice over truth, then love is never apathetic or neutral.  This is not merely truth as facts, but moral truth that has its connection to God and his good character.  Love and truth are intimate companions, one person said.  Another wrote, “Love does not avoid truth, and love does not compromise truth.”

The positive side of love is that is it expressed optimistically (13:7).  True love covers over all things. It keeps things in confidence in order to protect another’s reputation.  That doesn’t mean love keeps quiet about another’s sin or crime.  Love in this instance is such that it does not wish to broadcast to everyone something bad, even if it is true (1 Peter 4:8; 1 Corinthians 9:12).

It also believes all things; meaning that even when love has no forensic evidence, it believes the best.  Not that a loving Christian is to be gullible, easily fooled or conned, but rather s/he puts the best construction on things, unless of course there is sufficient warrant to believe otherwise.  For example, when a child tells his parent something, even if the parent is in doubt, out of love the parent will take the child at his word until such time as there is proof otherwise.

Love also hopes all things.  True love is biblically optimistic.  We often think of hope as the wish for a possible, positive future.  But this loving hope is not a hope found in situations, history, the environment, or in people. It is an assurance of a certain future that is rooted in a sovereign God who has all things under control and works all things together for our best (Romans 8:28ff).

The other positive aspect of this love is that it endures all things.  For the sake of Christ and the sake of others, love perseveres and endures whatever comes to it, positive or negative.

Another perspective on this is Paul means to say:

     Love deals well with all things.

             When love has no evidence, it believes all things;

                        When the evidence is adverse, love hopes all things;

                                   When hope is disappointed, love endures all things.

We have seen that in contrast to pathetic legalism, the authentic love in Christ, that flows from Christ is necessary and expressed through certain behaviors.  Now we conclude by looking at the last two qualities about this love: it is permanent and it is superior.

Love is permanent

Authentic love has a permanency about it (13:8-12).  True love is enduring. Its effects endure.  Other things, even the supernatural gifts that the Christians in Corinth so highly prized, are transient. Not so with love.  Furthermore, love is mature.

Love is superior

Finally, true affection is indeed superior (13:13).  Of the greatest virtues of the Christian life: faith, hope and love, it is love that is of the highest significance and importance.  And it is the fundamental quality of the character of a true Christian - not the law and not legalism.  Faith and hope are far greater and better than any law-produced virtue. In fact, love is far superior to even those virtues! As Paul points out in the thirteenth chapter of Romans, love fulfills the law!  Authentic love will love and worship God and him alone. Love will rest in God, and seek him always, but especially on God’s special day.  Love would never dishonor parents or authorities, or betray a marriage bond, or murder, or steal from others, or injure their reputation or falsely accuse another, and love would not be enviously greedy. 

Authentic love in Christ is at the core of a Christian's life

For the genuine Christian who has placed saving faith in Jesus Christ, authentic love is a necessity in life.  Authentic love which comes from Jesus Christ and by faith, is at the core of the true Christian’s renewed soul.  It is expressed in a certain way, which by the way does mimic Jesus. It is also permanent and is it superior to all other virtues.

For Christians, this authentic Christ-love is what ought to motivate us as Christians today. This love is not motivated by sentiment, nor even merely because we are trying to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. This affirmative, dynamic love flows from the plain teaching of Scripture, the infusion of Christ’s spiritual life, the supernatural empowerment and fruit of God’s Spirit, as well as the model of Jesus.  And it flows from us in a positive, godly, good way to one another and then to all people.

 

 

 

What freedom do we have as Christians?

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What Freedom Do We Have as Christians? What freedom do we have with "neutral" things?

Read:     Romans 14

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.  Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.  So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.  It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.  But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.


What is going on in this passage?

In the arena of biblical theology, there is a matter of discussion and sometimes debate surrounding what freedoms believers in Jesus Christ have.  Often times the dialog revolves around things that appear to be “neutral” or “morally indifferent.”  This too was a common debate in the ancient Greek and Roman world, especially with the Stoics (an old philosophical movement).  In the Greek, the term used for this concept was adiaphora (ἀδιάφορα), which literally meant "indifferent things."  For the Stoics such things were outside of morality; things that were supposedly neither morally required or morally forbidden.  In other words, they are “morally neutral.”  For Christians, it came to also mean things that were permissible.

However, as Dr. John Frame of Reformed Theological Seminary (whose material I lean on the most for this study) points out, to discuss “things” as being indifferent or neutral can lead us to forget the biblical teaching that everything in creation is good (Gen. 1:31; I Tim. 4:4).  In Scripture, there is no such distinction between good and bad things or things that are indifferent.

More commonly, adiaphora (as a biblical concept) refers specifically to human acts.  In the Word, all human acts are considered either pleasing to God or displeasing to God (I Cor. 10:31; Rom. 14:23; Col. 3:17; etc.)  Therefore, all human acts are under God’s evaluation as good or bad.

Sometimes it is claimed that there are “acts about which Scripture is silent.”  While not every act or every kind of act is addressed in the Bible, the Word of God does teach in principle that God evaluates all human thoughts, words, and actions.  This is because all thoughts, words and actions occur within contexts that God sees and judges.  Everything a believer does is to be done for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31) and through faith (Romans 14:23).  God declares that everything in creation is good (Gen. 1:31; 1 Tim. 4:4) but sinful people can “make” them bad or evil.  That is because things affiliated with human acts are either right in some situations or wrong in others. 

While Scripture rejects this idea of “neutrality,” the primary point from many of the passages used to demonstrate how things are supposedly neutral is that believers in Jesus Christ are free from the religious and ethical rules imposed by people.  Ultimately what God says is the basis for moral or religious rules.  God’s Word is sufficient and necessary for all of life and godliness (2 Peter 1). While men and women are subject to ordinances of man, such ordinances can never be the ultimate authority.  In fact, they are to be rejected when they conflict with the clear teachings of God’s divine revelation.

How does Romans 14 help us regarding Christian freedom or liberty?

In Romans 14:1 to 15:13, Paul addresses a conflict that had arisen within the new church in Rome.  One group of people has a conviction, indeed a religious conviction, about a matter, while another group does not share the same conviction.  Both parties are convinced they are right and convinced the others are wrong (14:6)

Both groups are Christians.  Both believe they are right.  Paul does not condemn them for wanting to be right.   However, he condemns both sides for their sinful attitude toward each other.  The one side judged the other, while the other group despised their fellow believers. 

Paul then wisely assesses each side. The one faction is declared weak in the faith, and the other is pronounced strong in the faith.  The “weak” group relies on God’s Law and their own interpretations and applications of God’s Law.  The Law is not wrong or evil; it is good (Rom. 7:12, 16; 1 Tim. 1:8)!  However, those who live by the Law are weak because they rely upon the external things of life to govern and rule their hearts.  They are much like children in need of a schoolteacher (1 Cor. 13:9-12; Gal. 3:24ff).  The weak view the strong as living with too much license and are therefore immoral.

The strong are Christians who have taken God’s Word (and Law) to heart but live under the power of the Holy Spirit.  They no longer need the elementary things.  Instead, they apply the principles and spirit of God’s Word with liberty of conscience and life.  Paul sides with the strong (Rom. 14:14, 20; 15:1), as he himself is free from other people’s convictions.  Yet Paul also rebukes the strong because in their liberty they have become a stumbling block for those who are weak.  How?  The strong believers see the weak as legalistic, bound by rules and regulations.  The strong’s behavior causes the weak Christian to grieve.  The strong were condemning the convictions of the weak and were influencing the weak to sin by violating his or her own conscience (what s/he believed was right by faith).  The sin of the weak could be his or her conscience (14:20-23) because s/he is violating what s/he believes is wrong, even though it may indeed be right by God.

What is the solution to this conflict?

First, no one should condemn others

Neither side has the right to despise or pronounce condemnation of the other when it comes to such things.  Believers are to accept one another because God accepts us in Christ (14:3; 15:7).  Both sides are to honor the Lord and therefore each other (14:6-7); for all who are in Christ are servants of God, equal to one another before the Lord.  In the end, only God has the right to judge in the way they wanted to do (14:3, 9-12, 17-18).

Second, be convinced of your own position

Both groups should be fully convinced of their positions in the Lord by faith (1 Cor. 4:21; 14:5, 24). Wavering in the faith is sin (Rom. 14:23; James 1:6-8).

Third, the strong are to treat the weak charitably

The proper way for the strong to treat the weak is with charity (14:2):  (a) the weak are to be won over to the position of the strong by loving admonishment from the Word; and (b) the strong are not to pressure the weak to sin against his or her conscience.

Fourth, Christians have liberty in Christ

Paul tells us that according to Scripture, adiaphora (“things indifferent”) is the freedom to have all our actions done “unto the Lord” and in faith (14:23 cp. 1 Cor. 8-10; 1 Tim. 4:1-5; Col. 2:16ff).  God has saved us in Christ and set us free from sin (Rom. 6:18-22) and death (Rom. 8:2).  We have been granted wisdom and strength for life by God’s Spirit and his Word and therefore given liberty not to be ruled or judged by other people’s personal opinions or preferences (1 Cor. 10:29).  As believers in Christ, it was to freedom that Jesus Christ set us free (Gal. 5:1).

        

(This study is an adaptation of study notes provided by Professor Frame while he taught at Westminster Seminary in California.)

 

Baptism: When heaven meets earth

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Do you recall the part in Jesus’ model prayer where he said, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?”  Simple words. Easily etched into our minds.  Profound words too.  Etching God’s will on our hearts.  “On earth as it is in heaven!”  Have you ever thought of baptism as a contact point where heaven meets earth?  Actually, in a real way, Christian baptism is where heaven meets earth.

Some people are baptized to follow a family’s religious tradition.  Others do so to join a Christian community.  Some are convinced that it is a guarantee of God’s favor and a step toward heaven. Most who become Christians take on the symbol of baptism as a badge of their faith.  For such of us who made a verbal profession, even with a deep heartfelt commitment to believe in Jesus Christ, baptism is often an emotionally moving event. 

Baptism is a sign from the heavenly One and a seal on the earthly one

You know what? Baptism can be all those things.  Yet it is not merely those things.  Baptism is so rich in meaning and so powerful in force that all those good things mentioned above are almost too light when compared to the heaviness of baptism’s heavenliness.  Here is why: baptism is a sign from the heavenly One and a seal on the earthly one.

1 Baptism is a sign from the heavenly One

 A sign points to something else that is more profound than the sign itself. It can be like the stop sign that points to the concept of stopping before entering into an intersection.  It could be a heart sign meaning there is love at some level. Thousands of years before Jesus gave us the new baptism we celebrate today God had given other signs to point people to him, his promises and his work.

Think about this: whenever God engaged his creation and his people it was the intersection of God’s will from heaven to earth, often followed by a sign pointing to what God said and did.  

God repeatedly said he would be the God of his people and his people would belong exclusively to him (Gen. 17:7; Ex. 6:7; Lev. 26:12, etc.).  In fact, all that he is, all that he said, and all that he did for his people is wrapped up in the biblical word, “covenant,” which is code for “I pledge to be your God and you will be my people, and I’ll make it happen!” (Jer. 32:38)

2 There is an obstacle to baptism

However, to make that happen God had to bring rebellious sinners into a right relationship with him.  His people must be like him in his perfection and purity.  As you probably know, God created Adam and Eve of such pure material they could freely engage him (Gen. 1-2).  However, when they crossed the line, defying and rebelling against him, their nature changed so that they could no longer handle being in God’s holy presence (Gen. 3).  There is something about God's unique and indescribable nature that if you do not have a compatible nature you burn up. Think of the angel with a fiery sword guarding the Garden of Eden, the burning bush, or Isaiah’s encounter with God. Think of a lightning strike.  The bad news is that our impurity as sin-infested, rebellious creatures causes us to fry in God’s presence. The good news is that God has done something to change our nature!

For centuries, God has told people about his brilliant and blazing holiness - greater than a million suns.  Actually, it would be far easier for us as sinners to walk through our sun than to walk into God’s presence. Yet, he proved his resolve to lavish his deepest love on people who betrayed him.  We do not have the ability to clean ourselves of the impurity that makes us burn.  Only God can do it.

3 God redeems his people to overcome the obstacle

The pattern revealed in the Bible has been that God performs an act of redemption and reconciliation, and then gives these people a heavenly sign of that act.  It was always something very earthy, simple, or ordinary packed with meaning that’s very profound and extra-ordinary. Like placing fur coats on Adam and Eve, creating the rainbow for Noah and his descendants, or commanding Abraham to circumcise his male children (Genesis 17).

These earthly elements seemed so basic.  However, those who had true faith understood the mystery of those signs’ heavenly meaning: God is our God and we are his people.  He made a promise.  From heaven, he slowly worked out that promise through time until it is complete. Those tangible, earthy signs point to God’s promise and power that he is bringing heaven to earth in order to bring the earthly to heaven (check out Romans 4:11).  His redemptive plan and work fulfilled his promise to overcome that major obstacle.

4 Baptism is related to those old signs

What do those old covenant signs have to do with baptism?  All those signs indicated that in order for God to redeem and reconcile a people it would take the ultimate course.  To get a new nature requires melting away the old with its impurities and reforming it into a new, compatible one.

For Adam and Eve to receive fur coats to cover their naked shame, animals had to die.  The coats were symbolic signs telling that their old dying natures needed death so that new living natures would give them life and that their unrighteous natures would be changed to righteous ones.

Humankind could not make things right with God.  In fact, the vast majority refused to do so and things became so wicked on earth that God had to wipe it clean using a catastrophic decontamination process (Gen. 6-9).  Only Noah and his family were spared because they believed in God's threat and the promise.  The rainbow sign showed that to be in God’s presence one’s sinful impurities must be cleansed.  Wash the old to be dried in the new.  Oh, and by the way, this washing ceremony was repeated many times in different ways in the Old Testament. They are called “washings” but the ancient word is the same word from which we get “baptism” (Deut. 30:6; Isa. 52:1; Jer. 4:4; 6:10; 9:25-26; Ez. 44:7-9; Hebrews).

After Noah, God called Abraham, not because he was good enough, but because God’s love chose to make him, his family and descendants a special people.  Abraham heard God’s voice and believed in what God was saying, yet he was helpless to do anything to leave his rebel world and polluted flesh and be as pure and holy like God.  So, this loving God made a contractual promise with Abraham to have a redeemed and reconciled people (you’ve got to read Genesis 12-17). The ancient contract was not on paper but made by a ceremony.  The sign would be circumcision.  For us, that’s a strange thing but in that ancient culture, the life-giving organ was akin to the life-sustaining organ of the heart. This very painful, bloody sign taught it takes cutting away what is unclean in order to be made clean (Deut. 30:6; Isa. 52:1; Jer. 4:4; 6:10; 9:25-26; Ez. 44:7-9).  The point was - surgery is needed to cut out the tumor of sin so the person can be made well again; and only God can perform that (Rom. 4:11; Col. 2:10; 1 Pet. 2:9ff). 

Faith in God's mercy and grace, trust in his redemptive work, and active belief in his promises brings about the necessary heart and status change.  Once a person is well again, God begins the lifelong process of making her or him less like the old, unclean, sinful person and more like the perfect, holy person of heaven.  Heaven on earth.  Check out Paul's explanation about this in Ephesians 1:1-11 and 2:1-18.

Let’s summarize here

God gave certain signs to point to his promise and his acts of redemption to make certain people pure enough to be with him.  It takes death to bring life, washing to be clean, and surgery to make well.  Only the God of heaven can make that happen to people on earth.  Those signs were then placed on those people like seals (think badge, branding or tattoo).  More on that in Part Two: Baptism is a seal on the earthly one.

What does all this have to do with today’s water baptism?  When the God of the heavens became the Man of earth he did so to accomplish all those old promises.  Jesus, the God-Man, was perfectly pure.  He could complete the Covenant.  He started his work in the wilderness, that place where Adam was sent (check out John 4 as a reversed reenactment of Genesis 1-3).  Jesus worked back toward God and the Garden (the picture of the Garden of Gethsemane).  To take his people all the way to God, he became the sacrifice whose death and resurrection gives us new life and clothes us with righteousness.

Jesus went through the Jewish washing ceremony.  Not that he needed it.  He did it for his people because that baptism indicated a repenting from sin to a sacredness we need (Mark 1:4; 16:16).  His washing makes clean those who believe in him (Acts 22:16).

Jesus also completes the surgery we need to take out the tumor of sin.  He had no sin but as he hung dying upon the cross to pay the penalty for our sin notice that his heart was cut to the core. His surgery gives us a new heart.  Jesus is the perfect intersection of heaven and earth.

Since all those old signs were going to be completely fulfilled by Jesus, he gave his new people a new sign of a different baptism.  Aren’t you glad about that?  It’s a simple, earthy sign filled with rich and heavenly meaning: God loves you and performed incredible works to fulfill his promise that he would be your God and you would be his people (Rom. 6; Col. 2:11-12).  Baptism turns your eyes to Jesus who made it all happen.  It speaks deeply of what it took for God to make you righteous, clean, and well.  It’s the symbol of that glorious intersection of heaven and earth, of bringing heaven to earth.

Dr. Don