Understanding The Bible


I confess, I didn’t realize how many different ways people view the Bible until the Internet exposed me to a wide variety of perspectives. I knew there were higher critics who deconstructed Scripture, essentially shaping it into their own image. But apart from those liberal thinkers, I was unaware of the diverse beliefs about the Bible.

Since I’ve been on the internet, I’ve learned that there are people who see the Bible as myth that contains truth. Others think it is myth, and anyone who believes it is foolish. Others see some parts to be true—the gospels, primarily—but the other parts to be filled with false ideas created by the Jews or by Paul.

On the other side of the Bible equation are those who see Scripture as primarily rules to live by. But again, a good many of these are individuals or denominations which are selective in what they say the rules are. For instance, one blogger I encountered railed against an individual because of his departure from Scripture but saw no problem in treating him without love or even honor, regardless of the number of times commenters confronted him with direct commands in the Bible for Christians to love neighbors, enemies, brothers and to honor all men. Clearly that blogger was selective in the Biblical commandments he felt he needed to follow.

I realize I’ve been fortunate to attend a church my entire adult life that believes in the Bible in a different way. My first pastor, Chuck Swindoll, taught the Bible is the inspired word of God, which means through it God is speaking to me.

I learned it is inerrant and infallible—that there are no mistakes in its individual parts or in its overall message—so the places I see confusion or contradiction actually reveal my lack of understanding, not a problem with the Bible.

I was learned that the Bible is complete. We’re not waiting for a new or better or additional revelation. God didn’t send golden tablets for someone to unearth and translate. He doesn’t speak infallibly via the Pope or the church prophet.

I also learned the Bible is determinative—how we respond to what we hear determines our eternal destiny. Further, it is authoritative. Its truth propositions have the final say, and by them all other truth propositions are to be measured.

Finally, I learned that the Bible is sufficient. I don’t need any other revelation to lead me to God.

Those foundational principles actually undergird my understanding of the Bible, but there are other important essentials that go along with them. Some years ago another pastor, Mike Erre, laid out six questions he asks about passages of Scripture that bring forward the meaning of the text. These can be helpful, I think.

1. What is the historical meaning? What did this passage mean to the original audience? Before it was written for us, it was written for or spoken to them.

For example, when Jesus said, Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest, to whom was He talking? And what were the circumstances that surrounded that statement? In other words, what was the context?

2. What is the literary setting? The Bible is a collection of various genres and as such, not all accomplish the same thing. Some are historical, some poetry, some prophecy, some letters. Understanding their genre helps uncover their intention.

3. How does a particular passage fit into the Big Story? It’s possible to pick and choose parts that make the Bible say something it never intended to say. For example, Scripture says more than once, “There is no God.” But without the context, a person will not know that this is the statement of a foolish person.

Pastor Mike gave an illustration of this. First he showed promo for the movie Mary Poppins, a musical, starred Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews that told the story of a magical nanny who taught a stuffy banker how to truly love and care for his children.

Next Pastor Mike revealed that someone made a movie called “Scary Mary” which edited the original musical to show Mary Poppins pushing the children, making mean faces and threatening gestures. The children responded with fright, and in the background soulful music played. Occasionally shots of a dark and bleak setting came on the screen.

So which is the “real” Mary Poppins? Every frame of “Scary Mary” is in the original, but large, large parts have been left out so that the re-cut version bears no resemblance to the original. In fact it so distorts the movie that someone who didn’t know the story could easily be so concerned by what they saw, they would refuse to see the actual movie.

In the same way, someone coming to the Bible must see how a passage fits into the big picture.

4. What is the gospel dimension? The Bible is the story of God coming near. It is not a self-help book or a list of do‘s and don’ts or a collection of religious traditions to follow in order to earn points in God’s estimation. Rather, the Bible reveals Jesus.

5. What is the subversive element? Every verse of Scripture is ahead of its time. The Bible isn’t merely culturally relevant, it subverts the world order which calls for people to watch out for number one, go for the gusto, get yours while you can. The Bible shows us God’s contrary approach to life—the last shall be first, you gain your life by losing it, you love your enemies, you do not return evil for evil, you take up your cross, and on and on.

6. What is the experiential dimension? The Bible is to be lived, not just learned. “American Christians have been educated far beyond our willingness to obey.” Whenever that is true, it’s to our shame. We may not understand everything in the Bible, but the main things that are plain, that don’t take a seminary degree to comprehend, ought to be our mission statement, our focus, our To Do list.

That point is the one that brings the Bible home. It is at the level of living out what the Bible says that a Christian shows himself or herself to be a Christian. Can we say we love God and hate our brother? No. Can we say Lord, Lord and not do the deeds of righteousness? No. Can we experience God’s forgiveness without turning around and forgiving others? No.

The Bible, for all the important foundational truths that undergird the reason we can and should rely on it, still boils down to a matter of trust—believing God, being reconciled with Him, and then learning all about His heart and what we can do to please Him.

This post is a revised edition of one that appeared here in May, 2014.

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God And His Mysterious Ways


Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here’s one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

As far as “mysterious ways” is concerned, I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years. Thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure him of his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarene from birth, but he broke the parameters more than once that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-ever-after story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-aged through to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of an athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for forty-five years as a quadriplegic and continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

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This article is a reprint of one originally posted May 2011 and reprised in October 2014.

Christ Died for … ?


When I was young, I thought it was clear who Jesus Christ died for. In fact, most of my adult life, it never crossed my mind that this was a controversial subject. Rather, it was fact … that some believed and others did not.

But the world of the internet has put me in touch with lots more people, and suddenly the things I thought were clear, plain, easily understood from Scripture, I now realize don’t appear the same to everyone. Some professing Christians believe one thing and others believe a quite different thing, all based on the Bible. 😕

When it comes to some topics, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that Christians hold differing positions, simply because the Bible isn’t all that clear. End times comes to mind as a topic that can stir debate. Some have studied prophesies in the Old and New Testaments and believe they can create a time line, with the only missing piece the actual date of Christ’s return to rapture His church. Others don’t even think there will be a rapture. And among those who do, there is disagreement as to whether this will occur before, during, or after the Great Tribulation.

And so it goes. Other topics that generate similar disagreements are creation, the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit, church government, baptism … on and on.

But to the question at hand, Who did Christ die for? Isn’t that sort of … the foundation of what it means to be a Christian? So how can there be debate about this question? But there is.

Here are the positions I’m aware of (doesn’t mean there aren’t more):
1. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that no one will go to Hell (the view espoused by The Shack and Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the like).

2. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that Man’s sin nature has been forgiven, but he will be judged for the specific sins he commits. The sins of believers are covered by the blood of Christ, and the sins of unbelievers bring judgment upon them.

3. Christ died for the elect, those He predestined to be His from the foundations of the world.

4. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him appropriate forgiveness.

5. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him, chosen from the foundations of the world, appropriate forgiveness.

The latter is my view, and the more I study Scripture, the more I believe it to be true. This position, as I see it, takes into account all of Scripture, not just a handful of proof texts. But I did come across a verse, one of a number, that shows this tension between God’s work—through His predestination and redemption—and Man’s faith.

I’m referring to a verse in I Peter 2, in which the writer declares Jesus Christ to be the cornerstone, who also is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and then says “for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed” (v 8b). There it is, in one verse: men’s response to God (in this case, rejection of Him) and God’s appointment of men to their destination. The conjunction and gives the two equal weight.

Philippians 3 has a verse like this, but from the side of faith. “Not that I have already obtained [resurrection life] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (v12).

Again, both sides. God lays hold of us and we lay hold of Him.

Too many people want to make salvation a chicken-or-egg discussion (which came first, God’s foreknowledge or God’s predestination? God’s sovereign decision or Man’s free choice). Does a person have faith because he’s predestined or did God predestine those He knew would have faith?

Those are unanswerable questions, though people seem quick to pull out Scriptures to support their view. The fact is, the Bible clearly says God foreknew. And it just as clearly says He predestined. So can we know which He did first? Many will look at Romans 8:29 (“for those He foreknew, He also predestined …”), and conclude, Yes, foreknowledge first. But those from the predestination camp can just as easily point to election verses.

Which is why I say the entire Bible needs to be taken en toto which teaches both God’s sovereignty and humankind’s unfettered responsibility to choose Him.

In the end, I think only the first view in this debate skews God’s nature and distorts His work (and therefore is false teaching). Views 2 through 4 are reasonable and could be true. They do not alter a Biblical view of God. However, as I see it, the last position best accounts for the varied statements throughout Scripture as well as passages like I Peter 2 and Philippians 3. When the Bible seems to say two different things, it’s wise to accept them both. Just because we don’t see how they mesh, does not mean they don’t. After all, God’s thoughts and ways are not limited like ours are.

This article is an updated and expanded version of one that appeared here in August 2009.

God’s Wrath And Mercy


Some years ago at a Christian writers’ conference a fairly well known Christian novelist spoke. One of the things he camped on was that truth in fiction was like a diamond—it shown brightest and best when displayed on a black background.

That analogy has been repeated many times as a rationale for writers to include the details of life in fiction, and not just the way we wish things were.

To put it in terms of Biblical visual art, Jesus ought not always be wearing a white robe and there shouldn’t always be a halo over His head. He shouldn’t have perfectly straight, white teeth, and his features ought to be a little less clean cut.

Same with our stories, contemporary or otherwise.

I understand the point, and I mostly agree. Not everyone does. I had a friend who said he wouldn’t read any more of a certain author because there was a near rape scene in one of that writer’s books.

In writing, this whole subject has become a lot more sticky as political correctness sweeps through our culture, taking books like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with it.

But the analogy stands: diamonds do show their brilliance best against a black backdrop.

And what does that have to do with God?

First, God is holy. We imperfect, sinful humans don’t really understand what holiness is all about, but the other day I started thinking of it in terms A. W. Tozier used. He explained that all of God’s attributes are interlinked with His other attributes. Well, he didn’t say it in exactly that way.

But take God’s quality as an infinite being. That idea doesn’t just mean that He has no beginning or end, but rather also that there is no end to His goodness, to His mercy, and, yes, to His holiness.

So what connection can infinite goodness, infinite holiness have with the very thing that would bring an end to those qualities—evil? There simply is no place for the two residing together. Either holiness is apart from evil and infinite, or it is in contact with evil and limited.

Hence God’s wrath.

Yes, Scripture teaches that wrath is also a quality of God, one that identifies how He feels toward that which would spoil His holiness and the goodness He created.

Thinking in visual terms again, imagine God’s wrath as the backdrop for His mercy. Without His wrath, we actually have a lesser view of God’s mercy. We don’t see it as well without the stark contrast. We don’t know how radically different our lives would be if we experienced His wrath instead of His mercy.

I picture the veil of God’s wrath separating humankind from God’s holiness, but His mercy ripped that veil in two.

Romans 5 explains it this way: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (vv 8–9).

Some people are uncomfortable with the idea that God saves us from Himself.

Of course that isn’t the whole picture because in Colossians He tells us we are “rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (1:13). In other scriptures we learn that God frees us from the slavery of sin, breaks the chains of the Law, takes away our guilt.

But it kind of all starts with His wrath and the brilliance of His mercy that His wrath showcases. Well, maybe it really starts with His holiness. Or it could start with His infinitude. Regardless, by understanding God’s wrath better, and the rightness of it, the necessity of it, I understand His mercy more.

God Means What He Says


In truth, faith can be defined very simply as believing that God means what He says. That’s the same kind of faith other people have when they say they believe the earth is round or that the Stock Market ended the day at such and such closing price or that George Washington was the first President of the United States.

Most everything we believe, someone else told us and we simply take their word for it. That “someone” might be a parent or a school teacher or a boss or a news reporter or Wikipedia.

Of all the people we should trust, you’d think God would be the One people would listen to first and have the greatest amount of belief in what He says. But in reality, that’s not the way it works.

Oh, sure, lots of people say they believe in God, but then it turns out, they qualify this statement by referring to “their idea of God” as if He morphs to suit each person’s taste. I have a commenter on my Facebook page (a hacker, I believe) who said, “Religion was created by man, simply that. God CAN be whoever each individual person wants him to be.”

Of course if humans invented god, then they certainly could decide he was whatever they wanted—a cosmic force; a universal savior absent of any judgment; a kindly but impotent grandfather; an indifferent clock maker that put the world in motion and now has nothing to do with it; one of a pantheon of gods; nature itself; and many, many more possibilities.

The problem there is that none of these is what God said about Himself. Now it’s true that I haven’t read all the holy books of all the religions in the world, even all the major religions. But I know Judaism’s tradition and I know Christianity. The Scriptures of the two overlap, to be sure, but in both and for both God “spoke, long ago to the fathers, in the prophets, in many portions and in many ways” (Heb. 1:1b).

In those many revelations of God about Himself, we have a pretty good picture of Who He is. The greatest statement of His identity may be His declaration to Moses of His name: I AM WHO I AM.

What in the world, or out of it, does that mean?

It means that God is self existent. That He is present, and always present. That He is when nothing else is or was.

There’s so much else that we learn about God from the things He spoke, but He also said, “In these last days [He] has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:2a).

So we all have a decision to make—do we believe what He said, or not? If we do, it’s hard to say, I believe in God but I hate my neighbor. It’s just as hard to say, I believe in God, but Jesus can’t be the only way to Him. Those statements and many, many more indicate the person making them doesn’t actually believe in God. They only believe in the god of their own imagination.

I find it hard to imagine a reason for so many people down through the ages all believing in God or gods, if God did not actually exist. How could a person with no experience of God come up with the idea of God? And not know that he was intentionally imagining someone who was not real? And sell it to lots of other people? And people across the planet imagine and sell as real the same concept? It’s like a giant conspiracy theory.

It’s much more believable that God exists, revealed Himself to people, and some believed and continued to believe, while others decided God should do things their way or for their benefit, so they tweaked what God had said about Himself until they believed a copy which we call an idol.

Of course it’s possible that some people had encounters with evil spirits and adopted them as their god or gods.

The fact remains. The God of the Bible tells us He alone is God. We can believe what He says, or not, but faith demands that we take God at His word.

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Photo By Gilbert Stuarthttp://www.clarkart.edu/Collection/7577, Public Domain, Link

Published in: on August 1, 2018 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Can Someone Lose His Salvation?


Many Christians may not be aware that there are Bible scholars who disagree concerning the question: Can someone lose his salvation? This is a practical matter for me because I have family members who certainly look, by their choices, as if they have walked away from the Lord, even though they made a profession of faith at some point in their lives.

Some passages in the Bible make it seem abundantly clear that no, a Christian doesn’t need to fear losing his position in Christ. Verses like 1 Corinthians 1:21–22: “He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” And Ephesians 1:13b: “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Or how about Ephesians 4:30? “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Of course there are other passages such as Romans 8 that tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God, and passages in Deuteronomy that say God is with us, that He will not leave us or forsake us. The Psalmist says God’s compassion for us is like that of a father. And of course there is the example of the Prodigal Son who simply stopped acting like a son until he came to his senses and returned to his father’s house. He was looking for servant status but instead received from his father the treatment of a son, as if he had never left.

So it’s settled, right? Christians can’t lose their salvation.

Except, what about the parable of the sower. Jesus’s explanation in Luke 8 of one kind of experience with the seed, the word of God, is this: “Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.” So receiving the word is not the same as becoming a Christian?

Or how about Hebrews 6 and 10? From the latter, vv 26–27: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.”

From the former, vv 4–6:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

That description certainly sounds like a Christian to me. In addition, there are any number of atheists who will tell you, they once were Christians, but then they “realized” it was all myth.

So which is it? I have to admit, I kind of waver. I’ve thought at one point that God seals us but doesn’t imprison us, so if anyone wants to leave Him, they can, though nothing outside them will snatch them from His hand.

That sounds reasonable.

But of late I’ve found more and more verses that indicate that a Christian is really known to be a Christian because he perseveres. The idea is continuing in the faith.

Colossians 1:23a is an example: “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel” Or how about Hebrews 3:6: “Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.”

Hold fast, endure.

One commentary said there’s a difference between falling, like Peter did when he denied Christ, and falling away like Judas did when he betrayed him.

Another thought from a commentary concerns the Hebrews 6 passage that basically says, if you leave the faith, you can’t come back. Or does it. In truth, the idea may be that if you enter into sin and continue in your sin, you can’t repent and stay as you are. The Prodigal Son couldn’t repent and not return home, for instance. He had to leave the life that repudiated his relationship with his father.

So, can someone lose their salvation? Only God knows. Were those who knew the truth, who believed for a time, ever Christians? They certainly didn’t persevere, unless they come back home as the Prodigal did. Can we know what’s in a person’s future? Of course not.

What we can know is if we are remaining faithful until the end.

What we can do is pray for those who have turned their back on Christ.

I mean, He Himself asked the Father to forgive the very ones who crucified Him, so clearly He holds no grudges. And who knows which of the people we pray for will come out of the pig sty and come home?

Loving God Means What Exactly?


IconsMore than once I’ve heard or read people saying they love God but want nothing to do with religion. I can’t help wonder what those who hold this position mean when they say they love God.

Is loving God some kind of emotion we generate toward an icon, an idea, or even toward a person? I guess that question puts the focus on the main thing: what do people removing themselves from the constraints of organized religion mean when they say “God”?

I wonder if there is anything close to a consensus. I mean, without organized religion—people coming together in agreement—can’t “God” mean whatever a person wants? So God could be an impersonal force, like fate or destiny. Or God could be the Perfect or Enlightenment to which we all can strive. God could be nature or the universal good or a great pool of consciousness or a spark within each person or … well, you get the idea.

It seems to me, no one can love God unless they know Him. By definition, God is set apart as Other. So how can we know what is transcendent?

Sea_Goddess_of_MercyThe monotheist understands God to be supreme, the ruler, even the creator. Those of a pantheistic mind set see god in all things and all in god. In between are those who believe as the Greeks did or the Hindus do, that there are many gods, each needing to be kept happy in his or her own way.

With all these ideas floating about, how does someone come to an understanding of God?

One common approach I’ve heard is to say, To me, God is …

That approach strikes me as odd. We wouldn’t do that with any other person we know, and we criticize others if we think they are inventing things about someone else. In fact we even have slander and libel laws to punish people who make up harmful stuff about other individuals.

People do repeat false statements about celebrities and politicians, and we wrangle about lines like President Obama is a Muslim or Donald Trump is an idiot. Whether or not the public realizes it, they don’t arrive at these false ideas on their own. They’ve been fed those lines by a propagandist who wishes to influence public thought.

So too with God. Average people did not independently arrive at views such as, To me God is loving and would never care about a person’s sexual orientation; or, To me God is a cosmic force that put the world in motion; or, To me God is a divine spark in each of us. They’ve been fed these lines by an individual who “takes his stand on visions he has seen”—meaning, a spirit has put it in his head—or who is “inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (quotes from Col 2:18).

God, being God, can’t be known unless He discloses Himself. In virtually all the definitions of God, he is understood to exist “apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe” (Oxford American Dictionary). How, then, could people subject to those limitations study, grasp, comprehend, or know One who is outside the confines of our experiences and abilities? The only way to know God is if God would choose to disclose Himself to us.

And He has done precisely that.

So when it comes to loving God, the first and foremost definition of love, as I see it, is recognizing God to be who He says He is.

The online site LinkedIn allows individuals to endorse others with a click of the button. From time to time I get endorsed by people in subjects which don’t reflect what I do or who I am. I appreciate the fact that the endorser was thinking of me, but I also know the person doesn’t really know me or they wouldn’t have back-slapped me in an area in which I have no expertise.

God, of course, has unlimited expertise, but people who don’t know Him put limits on Him, essentially denying who He is. They’ll say He’s loving but not a just judge; He’s powerful but not powerful enough to create the world with a word; He’s good but not so good that the hard things could actually be part of His plan.

How can we get past our limitations? Only by accepting God’s revelation. He, like any artist, poured His heart, His personality, into what He made. So we can look around us at the world—the parts that Humankind hasn’t tainted—and draw conclusions about God. He’s beautiful. He’s interested in the smallest details. He’s cosmic. He’s orderly. He’s nurturing. And so many others.

In addition, He’s disclosed Himself directly to people and has had them pass on His messages to the rest of us. Ultimately He put on skin and became one of us to show us His heart.

Because God made it possible, we can know Him. To love Him means we accept Him for who He’s told us He is.

Loving God also means agreeing with Him. Disagreeing with God is just another way of not recognizing Him to be who He says He is. How could He truly be transcendent and wrong? or just and wrong? or good and wrong?

In short, anyone who loves God will want to do as He says. This, I believe, is a response of the will and not one of the emotions. The funny thing is, where the will goes, the emotions are sure to follow.

This post is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in August 2013.

Published in: on July 26, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Who’s God Mad At?


Atheists criticize God (who they say they don’t believe in) because He’s angry and violent and even because He’s a “child abuser,” by which they mean, He sent His own Son to the cross.

Apparently there has been a movement among Christians that sort of agrees that the way Christians talk about salvation, paints God in these unflattering terms. Better if we drop the idea that Christ took our place on the cross to satisfy God’s justice, with something more noble: victory over sin, death, Satan, the Law. This way of understanding what happened at the cross is called Christus Victor.

I just ran across someone on the internet today who embraces the Christus Victor view of salvation as opposed to the “penal substitution” view. I guess this debate goes back to the “early Church fathers.” According to some, the Church at its inception understood salvation as Christ’s victory over sin and death, over Satan and the Law. Until Anselm. This eleventh century Benedictine monk and theologian apparently introduced the idea of Christ’s substitutionary death.

All this is interesting to me. I really was unaware there was such a “debate” over the meaning of the cross and what God in Christ did to save us.

Well, I guess I knew not everyone sees the wrath of God as a good thing. Some years ago I read an article about some denomination choosing not to include the Keith and Kristyn Getty song “In Christ Alone” in their hymnal because they would not change the line that says, “The wrath of God was satisfied.”

The problem I have is that I think both ideas are clear in Scripture. In fact, the Apostle Paul embraces both. Certainly he talks very plainly about slavery to sin and to the Law in Romans. Here’s a sample from chapter 6:

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv22-23; emphasis mine)

A couple chapters later, he gives another clear statement of Christ’s victory:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (8:2-3)

So what is God angry at (so much so that He condemned it)? Sin, it would seem.

What about the penal substitutionary idea? What does that doctrine hold to, besides God’s wrath? The idea is that Jesus took the place of sinners and died instead of us, that the wrath of God was expended on Christ instead of on us guilty sinners.

The Apostle Paul certainly was clear that we are guilty sinners. And that our identification with Christ changes things for us. Romans 6 again:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection (vv 3-5)

Perhaps Paul’s clearest expression of this doctrine is in chapter 5:

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (vv 9-10; emphasis mine)

It’s pretty hard to read that passage and see anything but God’s wrath—against Christ instead of against us guilty sinners who should have received God’s wrath.

The Psalms reinforces the idea that some will face God’s anger:

The LORD keeps all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy. (145:20)

There’s more to this discussion, obviously, but I think Scripture is clear: God is the victor, through Jesus Christ, and He poured out His love on us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

God’s wrath is toward sin. Christ saves us from facing that wrath as the sinners we are. In other words, Christ is Victor and He is our substitution, freeing us from sin and Satan, and death and the Law. The one grows out of the other, I think. To have one, we must have the other.

When Christ Shall Come — A Reprise


No, this is not a reprise of last Friday’s post. This one is just on the same topic. Actually there’s a lot more that I could say, but I think this is a good place to focus our attention for now.
– – – – – –
The position of the Christian today is not so different from that of the Old Testament saints. They waited for the coming of Messiah and we wait for the return of Messiah.

They had God’s promises, given to His prophets, assuring them that their Redeemer King and that their Suffering Servant would come. We have God’s sure written word telling us of the arrival of our Suffering Servant Savior and the promise of His return as King eternal.

So we wait today, much as Daniel and Micah and Joel did.

The cool thing is, as the people of Israel looked back to how God rescued them from Egypt, we now look back to how Christ rescued us from sin and death. They looked forward to Messiah coming to establish His kingdom, and we look forward to His coming again in power and glory to reign supreme.

One of the best loved hymns, certainly of the twentieth century, “How Great Thou Art,” captures the jubilation of Christ’s return in the fourth stanza.

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home—what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!

I wonder if Christ’s return will be similar to the really big earthquakes which you hear at the same time you feel them. Maybe those shouts of acclimation will rend the heavens as we see Christ with His entourage of angels.

As an aside, this particular hymn, was written by Stuart K. Hine, an English missionary to Ukraine. From time to time something would occur which inspired him to write another stanza. Here’s the story behind the third stanza:

It was typical of the Hines to inquire as to the existence of any Christians in the villages they visited. In one case, they found out that the only Christians that their host knew about were a man named Dmitri and his wife Lyudmila. Dmitri’s wife knew how to read — evidently a fairly rare thing at that time and in that place. She taught herself how to read because a Russian soldier had left a Bible behind several years earlier, and she started slowly learning by reading that Bible. When the Hines arrived in the village and approached Dmitri’s house, they heard a strange and wonderful sound: Dmitri’s wife was reading from the gospel of John about the crucifixion of Christ to a houseful of guests, and those visitors were in the very act of repenting. In Ukraine (as I know first hand!), this act of repenting is done very much out loud. So the Hines heard people calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. They just couldn’t barge in and disrupt this obvious work of the Holy Spirit, so they stayed outside and listened. Stuart wrote down the phrases he heard the Repenters use, and (even though this was all in Russian), it became the third verse that we know today: “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.” (“How Great Thou Art”)

Back to Christ’s return, of course we don’t know the day or hour, but we do know a few things about it. For one, He’ll come to rule. That’s the great and ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament promise.

But there’s more:

Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him. (Isaiah 40:10)

He’s coming to give His reward. Hard to imagine what that will be like. Jesus used the analogy of a banquet. David also talked about our Shepherd preparing a table for us. The idea here is lavish abundance, provision beyond our means. This is fare fit for the King of Kings, yet He seats us at His table.

Without a doubt, Christ’s return is going to be the pivotal moment in all of history. Again from Isaiah 40:

Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

The event will be worldwide, it will be dramatic, even cataclysmic, but mostly it will reveal God’s glory. This is the Shekinah glory which Moses experienced in a secondary way at the giving of the Ten Commandments and which the people of Israel experienced as a pillar of fire at night. This is the glory Paul likely saw and wrote of in 2 Corinthians that outshines what those in the Old Testament experienced:

But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. (3:7-11, emphasis added)

OK, here’s the real shock, at least to me. I don’t know what this will look like:

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Col. 3:4)

It just dawned on me that this may be why God wants to involve us in His work. I’ve wondered why He bothers giving us fallible, weak humans the important task of preaching His word and proclaiming His truth and even of loving our neighbor when obviously God could miraculously care for each one in a far better way than we can. But repeatedly He has given us work to do. Maybe that’s because, in His love for us, He wants to shower us in glory. What a concept! What a God!

Maranatha, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!

This post originally appeared here July 2014.

Jesus Is Coming Again


After Jesus rose from the dead, He stayed on earth for some 40 days. Lots of people saw Him. He spent time explaining the Scriptures—at the time, that meant what we now know as the Old Testament—to his disciples. He wanted them to see how the prophets, the poetry, and even Israel’s history, pointed to Him.

Then He left. But right after His ascension, angels informed the witnesses of this dramatic event, that He would return in the exact same way.

Seems like from that moment on, people have been asking, when’s He coming back?

A long list of people have come up with schemes and systems to figure out the day Christ will return. Clearly these predictions are not Biblical. Jesus Himself said that no one knows the day or hour of His return. He said He didn’t even know, which has scholars scrambling to understand how Jesus, who is God, doesn’t know something that God the Father knows. Try explaining that one. But I digress.

With Jesus telling us nobody has this piece of information about the future, I can’t help but wonder, why do people keep trying to figure it out? It seems like spitting in the wind.

In fact, I think it does far more damage, and who gets the black eye is the name of Christ and all of Christendom. Every time some misguided person, or false teacher, announces that he knows the date of Christ’s return, the jokes start to fly. And they get uglier with each false prediction. I pretty much want to say, if someone claims that Jesus is coming back March 10, 2020 (or whatever), we know for sure when He is NOT coming back, because nobody knows.

The sad thing is, with every failed prediction, not only do those who reject Jesus become entrenched in their unbelief, many others begin to question. Is He ever coming back? I mean, things have been going on the same as always for the last 2000 years. Why is He waiting so long?

Well, for one, He’s waiting for what the Bible refers to as “the fullness of time.” What that means, I’m not altogether sure. I don’t know what cosmic things have to align, what political powers have to fall or rise. One thing I know, God is waiting for the Church to be made complete. In other words, one reason for the delay was so that you and I, fellow Christians, would be born and would be saved. There might be decades or centuries of others who God will add to His family. We simply don’t know.

But we do know for certain that Jesus is coming again.

He said He is. The angels said He is. Scripture says He is.

There’s another strange belief that Jesus already has returned, and we’re in the era leading up to the end. I admit I don’t understand all that the proponents of this idea say. I think it’s not true. We know from Scripture that His return will be cosmic and universal and public. He will not come back in the manner He first came. Sure, there were angels then, but their announcement of His birth was localized. Everything else about His arrival was more in keeping with His role as the Suffering Savior. When He cones back it will be as the Conquering King.

The important aspects of Jesus’s return for us to know and remember are these: His return is sure. He will give the dead in Christ their new bodies. Our part is simply to be ready. Focusing on the “when” is not the way to get ready.

We’ve been given a mission, and the only way to be ready for Christ’s return is to be doing the job He gave us to do.

Imagine a military unit sent abroad to rescue a village trapped by a volcanic lava flow. Instead of carrying out their orders, though, they stop to take pictures and work feverishly to determine how long the villagers have before the lava overtakes their homes.

We Christians are a rescue unit. We have orders to bring out of dangers all who will come. So why would we spend one minute trying to calculate how long we have before tragedy strikes those who have yet to turn to Christ?

I understand that God will make a way of escape for any who want to come to Him. But what about any of us not doing our job?

In the story Jesus told about the ten virgins who awaited the coming of the bridegroom. Only five were prepared. The other five were turned away. Was Jesus telling us that doing the work He has set before us, is evidence that we do, in fact, believe in Him?

Jesus told other stories about His return. One had a servant taking what he was supposed to invest and burying it in the ground. The master in the story threw him out too. Sitting on what we’ve been given is not what “be ready” entails.

Good servants, I learned from Downtown Abbey, anticipate what their master wants. Well, we know what our Master wants: disciples. He wants us sharing the gospel; facilitating others who are going places we can’t go, to share the gospel; praying for those who are in strategic places to share the gospel. After all, we’re on a rescue mission. We need to bring in as many to safety as will come.