It’s Not About Us, Or What False Teaching Gets Wrong



False teaching seems to be increasing. More people are buying into old lies, and new lies are popping up at an alarming rate. There is an ever growing number of people who want to camp under the umbrella of Christianity but who don’t hold to some of the most basic tenets of the faith—such as, God exists.

I don’t mean to be snarky here, a group of people have begun to self-identify as Christian agnostics. I don’t see the rationale behind the idea. The Christian faith is centered on Jesus Christ and His work to reconcile us to God, so how can a person be a Christian if he’s uncertain about God’s existence?

But those who identify as agnostic Christians have lots of company when it comes to people who claim the name of Christ while ignoring what He said. My point here isn’t to start a list of false teachings. Rather, I want to focus on what those false teachings seem to have in common.

In a word, I think all false teaching is self centered. It’s more important to those believing a false teaching that they are comfortable or tolerant or intellectually satisfied or rich or right or inclusive or happy or whatever else different people set ahead of God.

Some will even say, in essence, If God is like the Old Testament describes Him, then I don’t want anything to do with Him. God, in other words, has to conform to their wishes. He must be made in their likeness, as opposed to they, made in His.

The truth is, Christianity is not about what we wish God were or what we’d like Him to do. We don’t get to tell Him how He should deal with suffering or sin. We don’t get to order Him to make us healthy or wealthy. We don’t get to exclude Him from creation or salvation. Any attempts to change Him and what He’s said or done, are actually forms of rejecting Him.

That’s not to say we can’t question. Those who embrace a false teaching often say people who cling to the God of the Bible are unwilling to search for answers. But that’s simply not true.

Job asked more questions than a good many people ever will, and God didn’t scold him for asking. He confronted him about his accusations against God, and Job agreed that he was wrong. God “in person” showed Job what sovereignty and omnipotence and wisdom really meant, and Job repented in dust and ashes.

Gideon questioned God, over and over. He wanted to be sure he’d understood that he was to be a part of the great victory God had planned. He wanted to be sure he got it right that he was supposed to decrease the size of his army. He wanted to be sure he was supposed to go forward in the face of his fear.

David asked questions, too. Why do the wicked prosper; how long, O LORD; why have You forsaken me; what is Man; why do You hide Yourself, and many others.

Abraham was another one who entertained doubts. He, and Sarah, weren’t sure they’d got it right. God was going to make a great nation from his descendants? God must have meant heir, or, if descendant, then birthed by a surrogate, not Abraham’s barren wife.

No, and no. God corrected him and repeated His promise.

Mary questioned. Me? A virgin? How could that possibly happen?

Moses doubted which lead to such despair he asked at one point for God to simply kill him then and there because he couldn’t continue leading an angry and rebellious people.

I could go on, but the point is this: asking questions is not wrong and people who ask questions aren’t necessarily disbelieving. What’s wrong is thinking that our answers are better than God’s.

And that’s what all false teaching has in common. Man has secret knowledge of God, or can earn his own way into God’s good graces, or can come to God however he pleases, or can worship the god of his own choosing, or can manipulate God to do his bidding, or can re-image God the way he wants Him—all of those and a host of other false ideas put self ahead of God, as if it’s all about us.

But it’s not.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in January 2014.

Photo by Jonas Ferlin from Pexels

Learning From Leviticus


Leviticus might be the least read book of the Bible.

Almost exclusively, the book lists out laws God gave to the people of Israel who were just coming out of slavery. They didn’t have a national identity apart from their history and their servitude. They didn’t have a command structure and barely had a culture—their language was undoubtedly mixed with the Egyptian tongue; their tastes in food, Egyptian; even their religious beliefs, heavily influenced by Egypt.

In fact, when they faced difficulty, what did they want to do? Go back to Egypt. That generation of Hebrews only knew Egypt as their home. Undoubtedly they wanted the abuse to stop: they didn’t want to be forced to expose their male babies so that they died; they didn’t want to be forced to reach an impossible work quota; they didn’t want to be beaten in punishment for not doing what they were told; they didn’t want to be kept against their will. But their will often was to stay in Egypt.

God changed that. He not only freed them, but He gave the nation structure. He gave them their own government. He gave them their own religious ceremonies and celebrations. And He gave them a new home. Not new really. They were going back to the land Abraham had bought, the land God had promised to give to his descendants. To them.

But what does Leviticus have to say to Christians? We are not, Christ said, a worldly kingdom. Israel was. Our citizenship is in heaven. Theirs was on earth. God governs our hearts. But for Israel, God governed. His word was the law of their land. And the law as they traveled to that land. Leviticus is that law.

It lays out things the people were to do involving health, safety, worship, celebrations, treatment of one another, and more.

So what can Christians learn from a book whose purpose isn’t for us? I think there’s a couple things, at least.

First, God shows that He cares about daily stuff. Not just how or when to do worship, but how to deal with poop, too. Yeah, I know. It’s not something we really are particularly interested in reading—what did those Israelite traveler do about human waste? But if God cares about something so . . . human, so ordinary, so un-glamorous, clearly He cares about all of our lives.

Also, God is in charge. He made it clear He gave the laws, and He didn’t share His authority with other pretenders.

Third, God gave the people hope. He constantly referred to things that were future by saying things like, when this or that happens to your house. They didn’t have houses. They lived the nomadic life of travelers, in tents. They didn’t farm, but God told them to have a celebration at harvest time. They didn’t have cities, but God told them about refuge cities. So much of what God laid out for them had to do with the future. This forward looking dovetails with the forward looking God has given Christians. Life is now and not yet. We are looking for the return of the King. We are looking for our heavenly home. And one thing that gives us confidence in God’s promises is that He fulfilled His promises to Israel.

Another thing we can learn about God is His justice but also His mercy. More than once when the people disobeyed and worshiped and served other gods, He could have abandoned them, broken the covenant—the agreement, the pact—He’d made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After all, the people had said they would follow Him, worship Him, and they weren’t. God didn’t let the wrong go unpunished, but He also didn’t forsake them.

In comparison to these bigger issues, this next thing seems kind of trivial, but it does reveal God’s nature: He is a God of order. In reading about the various sacrifices, I’ve noticed that some were to be performed in one place in relation to the altar and others in a different place. Bulls, for instance, were to be dealt with in one place, but lambs in a different place. I can think of some practical reasons behind this, but the Bible doesn’t tell us why. It just shows us that the details mattered. The little things mattered. The where and the how mattered. Those things come from an orderly mind.

Part of Leviticus describes the process of constructing the portable worship center—the tabernacle. In those chapters, more than once God says the particular items were to be made for beauty as well as for whatever function they had. He also named the main artisan and his main helper who were in charge of crafting the utensils used in worship, the alter, the table for incense, the ark, the basin used for washing, the curtains that made up the tent, the clothing the priests were to wear—all of it. For beauty as well as for function. That says a lot about God, too. Beauty is His idea. He made beauty and He wants us to make beauty.

This list is not exhaustive, by any means, but it serves to illustrate a point: even in the parts of the Bible where we least expect to find something important, lo and behold, important truths are there. Makes me aware of just how amazing God’s word is.

Published in: on October 30, 2019 at 5:47 pm  Comments Off on Learning From Leviticus  
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By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


A significant anniversary for Christians is approaching. On October 31, five hundred and two years ago, the grace of God once again took its rightful, prominent place in Christianity. Consequently, I’m re-posting this article from three years ago, with revisions, in commemoration of what God has done.

Part of my growing up included a spiritual education, so I learned early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived, qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

That thought seems odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works, as the Church defined them. No doubt some people who were saved, gained that right standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of His free gift.

All that changed when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church, which is what he intended. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification—God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous—by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah. “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.” (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard of indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Himself as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But in this culture today we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality, and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

The Bible Is The Word Of God


I finished reading the book of Revelation this morning and the plan is to begin reading Genesis tomorrow. It works for me. I don’t need a lot of fancy reading plans—a Psalm a day, a chapter in Proverbs, one from the New Testament and another from the Old, that sort of thing. Those plans can be helpful and I know a number of people that prefer them. I mostly get confused.

I did try to read the Bible in a more linear manner, once matching the various books of prophecy with the appropriate books of history. It worked pretty well, but I don’t really need those kinds of change ups. I happen to like reading books from cover to cover and the Bible is really no exception.

Of course there’s all kinds of criticism about the Bible today, maybe more then at any time in history. I saw a video today that answered some of the big questions, such as, hasn’t the Bible been corrupted down through the ages so that we have no way of knowing what the original actually said.

I never quite understood that point of view, but this video clarified the position and then contrasted it with what has actually happened. The criticism essentially goes this way: the original books of the Bible were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and in Greek. Years later, as the culture changed, someone translated these books into the common language of the day. So one change would be, the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew and Aramaic into everyday Greek. Later, when Rome came to power, the going language was Latin, so both the Old and New Testaments were translated into Latin. The idea, though, is that the ancient manuscripts—the Hebrew and Aramaic ones and the Greek ones—were discarded, no longer used, and no longer available.

On the process went, according to this erroneous view, so that the European languages—German, then French, and eventually English—because the translations of the day. Now, today, we have multiple English translations and none of them is anywhere close to what the originals actually were.

It works, these critics say, on the same principle as the old telephone game many of us played as children. The teacher would whisper something into the first student’s ear and then he would repeat it to the next person, who repeated it to the next, then the next and the next until the end. The last child would say aloud what he had heard and it was usually a complete distortion of the original.

But that’s not the way the actual translation of the Bible works. Rather, modern scholars have this great advantage of thousands of copies of early manuscripts.

With all these multiple copies, they can compare and contrast, so let’s say 100 of the manuscripts say X but a 1000 say Y. That’s a 90% chance that Y is the original. But they don’t stop there. The older manuscripts carry more weight than do the more recent ones.

So here’s what the scholars have found when they compare manuscripts:

More than 70 percent of all textual variants are mere spelling differences that affect nothing. And several more involve inner-Greek syntax that can’t even be translated into English (or most other languages). Then there are variants that involve synonyms, such as between “Jesus” and “Christ.” The meaning is the same; no theological issues are at stake. And there are variants that, though meaningful, are not viable. That is, because of the poor pedigree of the manuscripts they are found in (usually few or very late manuscripts), no plausible case can be given for them reflecting the wording of the original. Remarkably, less that 1 percent of all textual variants are both meaningful and viable. (from Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi, Appendix by Daniel B. Wallace)

Here’s a three-minute video created by this same Bible scholar:

A case in point: a friend of mine is attending a Bible study in which the leader uses one translation, but my friend has one of the more modern translations. She’s said more than once, they are different . . . but they mean the same.

In short, the Bible has not become a corrupt version of the original. All those multiple copies give scholars a chance to ferret out what parts of the Bible are the same and are different. From that we can have an accurate idea of what the original said. The God-breathed original.

Here is the longer address (nearly 40 minutes) that I watched this morning.

Published in: on September 24, 2019 at 5:20 pm  Comments (2)  
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Restoring The Soul


I heard a message recently concerning Christians who are “down in the dumps.” I think it was originally preached as part of a conference for pastors. The speaker, using one of David’s Psalms as a point of instruction, named several other people in Scripture who experienced a point of discouragement: Elijah, Jonah, a couple others. And he could have mentioned the Apostle Paul, too, because he faced discouragement in the face of ministry that was constantly under fire.

This message seemed timely because I recently heard from a friend about an individual dealing with discouragement. I’m not immune myself (as witnessed by my spotty blogging of late).

How great, then, to know that God has already provided for times when a person is disheartened or demoralized or disappointed. The bottom-line answer is in Psalm 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.

When David (who authored this Psalm) refers to the “law of the Lord” here, he is speaking of God’s word. The passage continues, using a variety of other synonyms that add some clarity to what exactly God’s word is: testimony (or covenant promise), precepts, commandment, judgments.

The key for this post is that God’s word restores the soul. God’s word. Essentially it gives us a window to clarity. Our circumstances might be troubling. Our discouragement might come from the way the world is trending—away from God and what is morally right—we might feel alone in whatever we’re facing. The word of God reminds us that what we see when we look around is not the whole story.

It isn’t really the true story. For one, Christians are never alone because we have the Holy Spirit with us. Jesus said, He’s better than Jesus Himself remaining on earth, the most obvious reason being that Jesus, as a man, was limited in space and time so that He could never have physically been with all believers, everywhere. The Holy Spirit can, and does, reside in each believer’s heart, making available to us all His power and comfort and guidance.

Christians also don’t have to worry about the moral mess that seems to be our culture’s choice of living. This lack of righteousness will pass. It’s not a part of the end game. Heaven is. And for us personally, because Christ has defeated sin and death, we can live by His grace, not by the law of sin and of death (see Romans 8).

As for our troubling circumstances, those also will pass. They are not part of anything permanent. Rather, they are like a vapor that passes away, like a flower of the field that fades and falls to the ground. Those metaphors are actually descriptions of the human condition. We are here for a short time when we measure our lifetime with eternity. Paul calls the suffering of this world “light affliction” and “momentary” because there is no permanence in what seems hard now.

Football players right currently are gearing up for the NFL 2019 season. They are dealing with long, hot, hard practices in training camps throughout the US. They don’t love the difficulties as they compete for a roster spot. In truth, they can hardly wait for the games they know are coming soon. They’re willing to go through the “momentary, light affliction” of training camp because they understand 1) their coach wants them to become the best players they can be; and 2) they want to improve their game.

For us, the things that might discourage us are the very things that God can use to make us stronger, better, more like His Son Jesus.

All this we learn in God’s word. All this has the potential of restoring our souls as we dive into His word and let it abide in our hearts.

False Teaching Really Is False


One of the objections to Christianity that I’ve heard atheists make is that anyone can say the Bible points to whatever they want, so all these “Christian” views are equally invalid, since they disagree with each other.

When I rebut that argument by declaring that words have meaning and there is actually an intended meaning in the Bible, which false teaching drifts from, I hear the common atheist objections that have cute and quick handles and serve as a way to dismiss the idea that false interpretations of the Bible are not the same as what the Bible actually says.

The fact is, false teaching has been around as long as the Bible itself. As it happens a number of New Testament writers warned the early church about these false ideas that distort what Jesus taught. Paul, for instance, said some where peddling a “false gospel.”

Later, in 1 Timothy 4:1 he warns his young student in the faith: “the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” Paul continues for another three verses, uncovering the false ideas that were going around at the time before he turns to some related practical matters: have nothing to do with “worldly fables,” discipline yourself spiritually, teach the truth, read and teach Scripture, and so on.

Perhaps no passages in Scripture come down harder on false teaching than do Jude and similarly, 2 Peter. Jude starts with this warning:

For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (v 4)

The rest of the short letter is basically an indictment and warning of these mockers “who cause divisions” and are “worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.”

Peter is just as straightforward, warning the early church of the dangers of deceitful teaching:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (1 Peter 2:1)

I think the key here is “denying the Master who bought them.” Today people who profess Christ “deny the Master who bought them” in a variety of ways. Some spiritualize His very existence—the Bible, they say, is not about a real, historical person but an idea, a good idea that we should try to emulate.

Others “sanitize” the New Testament. They believe Jesus was real, just not the miracle worker his followers claimed he was. The disciples exaggerated his deeds in order to get more people to follow them.

That one is particularly hard to believe because telling wild “Pecos Bill” type tales hardly seems like the way to convince others to believe. It seems more likely a way to create scoffers.

Still others completely distort who Jesus is: he’s just a man—God is not triune; he’s the son of God, as are we, as is Satan—spirit children conceived by God before time.

More subtle twists of the truth say things like, Jesus came to make us good and happy. He wants all His people to be rich and healthy and powerful. This one is particularly dangerous because there’s truth in the premise—just not in the working out of the idea.

God does want us healthy and happy—for eternity. To get there, He intends to fashion us in the image of Jesus. And that may involve suffering. And because we live in a fallen world, one which God has purposefully left us in, we know we will experience suffering and the cracking of this clay pot which we call our body. But thanks be to the Father. He promises to give us new homes, which includes new bodies. The 2.0 versions will be much better than the old models, though God uses the old to bring us to Himself.

All this to say, those who profess Christ are not equal. Some have conjured up a christ of their own imagining, based on the philosophies and traditions of men, some claiming an angel imparted this new and extra revelation to them. But some who profess Christ belong to the true Church, the bride of Christ who will be with Him forever.

The differences are vast, even though the claim of believing in Christ sounds the same. It is not.

Jesus As Lord


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The Bible reveals Jesus as many things—the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, but it seems that the one thing God will make clear to all people at some point is that He is Lord.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)

When I think of “Lord” I think of authority. Interestingly, it was Jesus’s authority that caught people’s attention early on. The gospels record that people questioned the authority with which He taught, they wondered about (and some doubted) His authority over unclean spirits. And His disciples were especially amazed at His authority over elements in nature.

I’m also curious about the way that Satan interacted with Jesus in the three temptations recorded in the book of Matthew. One was a concession that Jesus was master over physical elements, acknowledging that He could turn stones into bread if He wanted. Another was a concession that He, or at least His Father, was master over the angelic host and could protect Him at will.

The third is the one that seems different. In the temptation involving who would rule the kingdoms of the world, Satan seems to be offering to trade what he had for what Jesus had—his power and control of the earthly kingdoms, for God’s position as Lord over all.

Jesus being God had that same position and authority.

Sadly, people in today’s western culture seem eager to bring Jesus down. For some time, other religions have acknowledged Jesus as a prophet, and it seems that view of Him is flooding into our Christianized societies. Hence, to many He is little more than a guru, a rabbi, a good teacher.

Even professing Christians belittle Him by limiting His work on earth to a “this is how it’s done” example for us to emulate. Given that Jesus lived a sinless life, we can undoubtedly learn by studying what He did and said. But Jesus as example should not supplant Jesus as Lord.

What Jesus said wasn’t just good thinking, wise advice, logical, helpful, and moral. It was right. It was true.

He spoke as the one person who knew the Father and who could reveal Him. He spoke from a position of omniscience, without any misconceptions or delusions. No one else could speak this way. Only Jesus. Only the One who is over all.

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority (Col 2:9-10, emphasis added)

I find it especially interesting that Jesus’s half brother James started his letter “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ …” Here’s a man who could have claimed a special relationship with Jesus on a human level but chose instead to identify himself as a servant for life to the Lord. Essentially he established his credentials to say what he was about to say by declaring his relationship with Jesus as Lord, not as brother or friend or even as Savior.

When I think about the fact that those words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, I get a picture of how God wants me to view Jesus.

This article is an edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2011.

Published in: on June 20, 2019 at 5:05 pm  Comments Off on Jesus As Lord  
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I’m Stuck: Knowing The Bible Is True



Photo by Dids from Pexels

I know I sound like a broken record. The thing is, there is so much “fake news” when it comes to Christianity, it seems important to keep saying the same thing in as many different ways as possible. So I’m camped on an important theme: the Bible is true.

In fact, it is so true, it is reliable for life and godliness. In other words, it speaks to our eternal destiny and it speaks to the way we live our lives in the here and now. Kind of important, both those things.

Once again I’ve encountered the idea that the Bible is not in any way helpful because anyone can make it say anything.

That’s partially true, as so much fake news is. Yes, anyone can make the Bible say anything if they distort what it is actually saying. I’ve made that case myself. People can say the Bible proves there is no God because there are a couple places in Scripture that say it just like that: there is no God. Problem is, the first part of the verse says, “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1 and also Psalm 53:1). In numerous places throughout the Old Testament, the phrase appears in a different context, all similar to one another. Here’s the idea from 2 Chronicles 6:14: “O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no god like You in heaven or on earth . . .” (emphasis mine).

The first point to remember when looking at the Bible is that context matters. Lifting a verse or part of a verse from its context can actually shatter the meaning, not reveal it.

The second thing to remember is that the historical details about the text also matter. Who wrote the passage? Yes, God did, but He used humans and they wrote from their own personality and sometimes for their own purpose. So David wrote some of his Psalms as laments, others as praise. The Law of Moses—the first five books of the Bible—preserve the history of the Jewish people and God’s involvement with them. Paul’s letters were to encourage or correct people or churches.

Not only is the writer important but so is the audience and the circumstance that occasioned the writing. The laws that God gave to the Hebrews as they wander in the wilderness for forty years, are not ones God expects the Church to obey. Yes, we actually can learn some important things from reading about God’s interaction with His chosen people, but God in no way intends for the Church today to sacrifice lambs and celebrate the feasts He instituted for Israel.

The third thing to remember is that “the plain things are the main things.” That quote which I’ve heard Alistair Begg say more than once, helps sort out some of the stuff that can be confusing and controversial from the stuff that is essential. After all, the Bible is God’s revelation. He’s not hiding. He made Himself known because He wants to be known.

Another thing to remember is that the Bible does not contradict itself. If it appears to, then we simply aren’t understanding things clearly. Most of the time, we try to oversimplify by taking a particular verse and making it the cornerstone of some doctrine. In fact, there might be other people who have selected a different verse that seems contrary, and they make that the cornerstone of a conflicting doctrine. Most likely, however, both “cornerstones” are true. We are just not understanding how they fit together. Or one group or the other might be misunderstanding the verse they have made ultra important.

I’ll give an example, and I realize I may be stepping on some toes here. In advance, I apologize. Some churches, my own included, take a position that the “ecstatic gifts”—speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy, and such—were only for the first church people. They base this idea on 1 Corinthians 13 that talks about tongues and prophecy being done away with or ceasing. Toward the end of the chapter it states, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” (vv9-10). They reason that the Bible is the “perfect” since it is complete and will not be added to. Hence, in their way of thinking, the perfect has come.

The problem with that idea is that the chapter—which was never intended to be part of a discussion about what has or hasn’t ceased; it’s a clarification of what God’s love is—goes on to say that when the perfect comes “I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t know God or the things of God or even this world the way He knows Me. Not yet. That’s still future.

But that’s a little beside the point. The plain things in Scripture dealing with these “ecstatic gifts” is that they are to fall under the orderly governance set down by Paul in the previous chapter of 1 Corinthians, that they are not to be considered as more important than other gifts, and more. In other words, there are extensive passages about spiritual gifts, where as there is one part of one chapter that would see to contradict all those other verses—but only if you understand “perfect” to mean “Bible.”

Even something like this that separates churches that believe in speaking in tongues from ones that don’t, actually does not separate believers from one another. It’s not an essential. It’s not of the same foundational nature as, Jesus is Lord. Or Jesus is both God and man. Or Jesus died for our sins.

All this to say, the Bible is true. Only people who misuse it or add to it or delete portions of it, will come up with strange and contradictory ideas from those that are the essentials of Christianity—things that the first disciples believed.

Example: Joseph Smith, whose followers sadly suffered much persecution and were chased out of more than one place, added many things to his cult, not the least of which was that marriage had to be polygamous—though today the Mormons have generally stepped away from that particular position. The fact remains that to be a Mormon requires a person to take positions that are not consistent with the Christian essentials.

The basic truth is this: someone outside looking in may not be able to distinguish true Christians from pretend Christians who rely on fake spiritual news, or may not be able to distinguish what the Bible actually says versus what some people claim it says. That’s likely because they have not read the Bible, and if they have, they have done so without understanding the principles of interpretation that apply to all written communication.

Published in: on June 7, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Comments (8)  
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Believing The Whole Bible Is True



Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I understand why atheists have trouble with the Bible. To be honest, it’s not an easy book. Some passages have led people to believe that God has handpicked who will be a Christian while other verses make it clear that His offer of salvation is open to the world. So which is it? Or can we chalk up these contradictions to the fact that the Bible isn’t reliable.

There are other issues—people use verses from 1 John to “prove” that Christians don’t sin (“No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him” 1 John 3:6) whereas James tells the brethren that they are to confess their sins to one another. Peter tells Christians they are blessed if they suffer according to God’s will, but John wishes for his friend Gaius health and prosperity. The Old Testament is full of God’s judgment on Israel’s enemies (and on Israel), but Jesus commanded us to love our enemies.

Along with the apparent internal problems, there’s also the matter about the Bible and science. Many people look at the data scientists put out about the origin of the universe and compare that with what the Bible says—creation, spoken into being, in six days. Then there are the problems of miracles—seas parting, a donkey that talked, water pouring from a rock, the dead raised to life, a few loaves and fishes feeding thousands and thousands of people, blind men able to see, and a virgin birthing a Son. In other words, the Bible claims impossible things happened.

So there are apparent internal contradictions and apparent contradictions with reality as we know it. How then are we to handle the Bible?

It seems to me we have three positions we can take:
1) we can throw out the whole Bible as unreliable
2) we can pick and choose which verses we want to believe
3) we can believe the whole Bible is true, even the parts that seem impossible to resolve with one another or with history or science

People unwilling to accept the challenge of the Bible will be most tempted to opt for the “throw the whole thing out” option. I mean, why look deeper when on the surface the contradictions are so apparent? Why strive to resolve something that looks irresolvable?

In some ways that’s like saying let’s throw out all fruit because I can’t resolve how an avocado is like a watermelon or how a tomato is like a grape. Or, let’s take a couple fruit that everyone knows are fruit. How can we say a peach is like a banana? “There’s no such thing as fruit,” someone might say. “They are all contradictory. You can’s say they have anything in common.”

Except, of course they do—it’s just not readily apparent. You have to think about it, have the definition of fruit explained. So, too, with the Bible.

The second position—the potluck approach—might appeal to those who think faith is a good idea or who think god is a good idea. Their tendency, then, is to construct their faith and their god in the image of their own desires: Peace would be good for mankind, so my god will be for peace. I want a god of love, so all the information about god loving the world can stay but all the verses about wrath and vengeance have to go.

I’ve painted that position in a rather simplistic way. I doubt few people would admit they are shaping god to be what they want him to be. They can give all kinds of reasons from higher criticism for dismissing certain passages of Scripture, or explain how understanding stories as myth can symbolically represent the truth, or whatever other academic gymnastics they wish to employ. The truth is, they have chosen something else to believe as a higher authority than the Bible.

For those ignoring passages that seem contradictory to other passages in order to support a particular theological position, ultimately the person is choosing which they wish to believe, since both are in the Bible. They can’t say one is less Scriptural than the other. They can only try to explain away the verses that stand against their chosen position.

The third choice, accepting the entire Bible, isn’t as satisfactory as the other two positions because there may always be unanswered questions. However, the goal is to let the Bible interpret the Bible. This approach means the Bible is the focus of constant study. For example, to understand Jesus, we have to understand the prophecies He quoted and fulfilled.

We may even have to live with tension between two seemingly impossible truths, much as Abraham did when God promised He’d make a great nation from his descendant—his one descendant, Isaac—and told him to offer that very boy as a sacrifice. How could God’s statements both be true?

Abraham didn’t debate the issue. He simply believed. In his mind, Scripture tells us, he arrived at the idea that God would raise the boy back to life. He knew God was capable of doing the impossible, so he simply believed.

As it turned out, God’s way of resolving the apparent conflict was much simpler, though not any less miraculous. He provided a ram for Abraham to use, a substitution that would become the picture of His own substitution on our behalf thousands of years later when Jesus gave His life to redeem all who believe in Him.

Believing the Bible even though I may not understand how all the apparent internal and external contradictions resolve isn’t really that hard. I don’t understand how the internet works, but that doesn’t keep me from using it. I only have a vague notion how my car works, but that doesn’t keep me from driving it. Why would I think it necessary to understand all the difficult parts about God and about His Word and world (as if my finite mind can grasp all the intricacies of who He is) before believing in Him?

How does salvation work? I’m still grappling with that one after all these years of being saved. I know I am saved. I don’t completely understand how it “works.” I think I understand more today than I did last year or ten years ago. That’s the great thing about believing the whole Bible—there’s always more to learn.

This post originally appeared here in April, 2013, and six years later, there’s still more to learn about the Bible.

The Difference God’s Word Makes


Photo by Jenny Smith on Unsplash

People talk about prayer changing things. It does, but so does God’s word. I’m referring to the Bible. I don’t remember my whole line of reasoning, but this morning I considered writing my pastor a short email. I’m sure he’s glad that I’m opting for this post instead (although there’s no guarantee that that email won’t still happen).

Honestly, the idea popped into my mind because I was praying for him and then thanking God that we have a pastor who faithfully teaches through the Bible. We are presently working our way through the gospel of John in the New Testament, and I really appreciate the teaching. We’ve discussed some great truth, not the least of which was the fifth “I AM” statement Jesus made, which we saw this week: “I AM the resurrection and the life.”

Anyway, back to what I thought to say to my pastor. First I did want to tell him how great it is to hear God’s world explained so faithfully and clearly week after week. Being on the internet has taught me that lots of Christians don’t have that wonderful advantage. Yet here I am in the great blue leftist state whose government likely hates everything I believe, and yet I have the privilege of sitting under such godly teaching. Lots of other Californians do, too. How this has happened, I don’t know, but we are blessed by some great preachers who speak the truth in love: Dr. David Jeremiah, Greg Laurie, Philip De Courcy, John MacArthur, to name just a few.

But I’m off track again. What I thought to say to my pastor, who does have a name—Darin McWatters—is that when he finishes with John, I’d like him to preach through one of the minor prophets. I’m currently reading through Hosea, so that’s the one I thought I’d suggest. I’ve heard more than once a preacher on the radio make a joke about the congregation needing to dust off the part of the Old Testament that contains the books of prophecy, or of people not knowing where they are.

I think, really? That’s kind of an insult—basically saying, the people in your church don’t read the Bible. But then I thought, maybe they don’t.

Off my mind wandered. There’s a guy in the atheist/theist Facebook group that calls himself a Christian, but he does so in spite of the fact that he doesn’t believe the Bible. He “self-identifies” as a Christian because of the “loving community” he’s a part of. I can’t help but puzzle over this. Are these people loving because they are Christians and Theist Guy has simply felt at home with them because they are showing the love of Christ? Or are they in some pseudo-Christian group that doesn’t really even try to embrace Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, but like a good country club, enjoys each other’s company?

And what makes the difference? What makes the difference between this guy and me?

Then it hit me, as clearly as if God had answered my question Himself. Well, I think He did through the Holy Spirit. The difference is the very Bible I was holding at the time. I actually read the Bible, believe it, and want to obey what I learn from it. Not every professing Christian does. And if those pastors who joke about their congregants having to dust off the books of prophecy are right, not every actual Christian reads it either.

No wonder there are Christians who go to church and sleep with their boyfriend or cheat on their homework or lie to their boss or hold grudges.

In some ways the Old Testament is hard because the grace of God is maybe a little harder to find. It’s there in every warning the prophets gave to the people of Israel and Judah, in every miraculous rescue God engineered, in every judge or king He sent to get His people out from under bondage. But in between there’s a lot of disobedience and suffering because of the hole they dug for themselves. The prophets are more of the same, on steroids.

But I kind of think we in our comfy western culture need to hear this same warning. After all, God told us that “all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for correction, for reproof, for training in righteousness” so not just John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 or 1 John 1:9 are helpful verses. The whole Bible is helpful. More than helpful. It’s what we need.

The Timothy passage I’m referring to goes on to say that Scripture will make us “adequate for every good work.” In other words, the Bible changes us. It opens our eyes to the truth. It shows us how we should live and how we can live as we should. It shows us God and His Son, even in a book like Esther that doesn’t actually name Him.

We see Him in the sufferings of Job, in the disobedience of Jonah, in the faithfulness of Jeremiah and Hosea, in the visions of Ezekiel and of Daniel. God and His Son are both the subject and the object of the Bible. “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings,” Paul said. That’s really what the Bible reveals about God: how we can know Him. How we can know His plan. How we can know His power and purpose.

Oh, yes. The Bible is an agent of change. Those who let the Bible fill their lives, will never be the same. They will understand, as Job did, that the words of God’s mouth are to be treasured “more than my necessary food.”

Published in: on May 20, 2019 at 5:22 pm  Comments (7)  
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