Another Heresy: God Is Not A Trinity


Trinity—three persons in one essence. This simple definition of the nature of a Triune God has been part of the Christian faith since the beginning.

As early as Genesis 1, God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”

And who was this “Us”? John spells that out in the first chapter of his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then in verse 14, he clarifies the issue: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father.”

Jesus Himself stated clearly, “I and the Father are one,” which is why the Jewish leaders wanted to kill him. His claim, as they clearly understood, was that He was God. In their view this was blasphemy.

Christianity has affirmed this belief in a triune God—a personal God, at that—indivisible, yet individual. The Father is not God made flesh, but He and the Son are one.

Some people claim this concept was invented by someone like Paul or another of the early Church leaders. But who would conceive of the inconceivable? Who could conceive of the inconceivable? Only those to whom the inconceivable has been revealed. Good Jews like Paul would never have come up with such heretical ideas on their own.

If I were going to imagine a god, I’d certainly conjure up one that didn’t come with confusing claims like three-in-oneness.

Some years ago, I read Melody Green’s No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green. Melody, you might know, is the widow of musician Keith Green, a song writer in her own right, and the President and CEO of Last Days Ministries.

In telling Keith’s story, Melody of course weaves her own with his. When she details the spiritual journey they took exploring Christianity, she explains they both had problems with Jesus. Melody has a Jewish background on her mother’s side of the family, and Keith came out of the Christian Science religion.

When they first started investigating Jesus, they were drawn to His teachings. Keith first decided he wanted to follow what Jesus said. But friends told him he still wasn’t a Christian.

Later both he and Melody became convinced that Jesus was God’s Son. But how could He then be God?

So is He?

I used to teach a short unit on the Doctrine of God, including the trinity. Because of this, I began looking at the gospels with that question in mind.

Well, to be honest, I already believed He is God from other passages of Scripture. Colossians 2:9 for example, says, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.”

Then there are the John 1 verses I quoted above.

But I began to look for more.

I started with some of the names ascribed to Jesus—they were the same as those given to God: Creator, Savior, Shepherd, King, even I AM.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

The verb Jesus used for I AM, was the same construction God used when He identified Himself to Moses in Exodus.

But I also began to note the attributes of God which Jesus demonstrated.

For example, He was omniscient. Toward the end of His ministry He told his disciples that He would be crucified. He knew Judas was the one who would betray Him. He told Peter he would deny Him—three times, and before the rooster crowed—but also that he would “bounce back.” He knew what Phillip was doing before He came to see Jesus. He knew at various times what the Pharisees were thinking when they were trying to trap Him with their questions. He knew Peter would find a gold coin in the mouth of a fish. There are others.

Jesus also demonstrated omnipotence. He calmed stormy seas, walked on water, healed the blind and lame and leprous, raised the dead, multiplied bread and fish, cast out demons, and forgave sins.

And of course Jesus declared Himself to be one with the Father:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
– John 14:6-9

There’s more, and happily Keith and Melody Green learned the truth in their own study of Scriptures. It’s an important truth, a dividing point, really, separating those who know about Jesus, and may even admire Him, from those who know Him and recognize Him as God Incarnate. It divides Christians from people who say they believe in Jesus but then deny the most fundamental thing He reveals about Himself.

This post is a revised and edited version of two other articles that appeared here in 2008 and 2010.

For more information about the trinity, you might like this short video.

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Published in: on June 28, 2019 at 5:36 pm  Comments (4)  
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A Common Heresy Of Our Day


Photo by Monica Silvestre from Pexels

In an insidious way the “emergent church,” which took the spotlight a decade or so ago, only to morph into “progressives,” has given impetus to one of the saddest heresies that could ever be. People like Paul Young (The Shack) and Rob Bell (Love Wins) reduced God to one quality: love.

But isn’t God, love? Yes, absolutely. But He is so much more. He is also merciful and kind, gracious and forgiving, creative and communicative, powerful and all knowing. But He is also some things we in western society seem to ignore or deny: He is jealous, the way a husband is about the purity of His wife; He is wrathful, the way a father might react to the rape of His daughter; He is just, the way a judge is who faces a mass murderer.

The truth is, God’s jealousy and wrath and justice are not contradictory to His love; the are extensions of it. A loving God cares for the oppressed and the needy, so what does that mean for the oppressor and for the one who is stingy or selfish? How does God manifest love to both sides of robbery or rape or scam?

By extending His forgiveness to both. Yes, even those who have received harsh treatment, unfair treatment, have committed sin. None of us is perfect. All of us need God’s great grace. And God offers it freely.

But not everyone accepts it.

The heresy of the day says that God simply waves off the part of Scripture that says someone must believe in order to receive life eternal. Apparently, in the thinking of those who fall into this wrong thinking, God is simply too loving to be just. He cares so much for the perpetrator of evil, He will not punish him. After all, the thinking goes, Jesus already paid the price for all our sins.

There’s truth there, which is, of course, how all error presents itself: it shows some truth before it twists it into abject falsehood.

I realize some Christians believe that, no, Christ died only for the elect, whoever they might be. We just don’t know.

As clearly as Scripture portrays the existence of an “elect” and believers who are “predestined,” it just as clearly portrays God’s gift of salvation as available to the world and free for all.

But there’s a huge gulf between those two positions—salvation for the elect on one hand and salvation for everyone on the other. Scripture makes a very clear case that salvation is given to all, but received by some.

Romans 5 is one of the best passages, but certainly not the only one, that walks the tightrope between the two extremes. Here are the pertinent verses:

For while we were still helpless [all of us], at the right time Christ died for the ungodly [all of us]. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die [but there is none righteous, none good]. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners [all of us], Christ died for us [all of us]. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. [all of us?] 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. [sounds like all of us] And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. [only some—emphasis mine]

Clearly, receiving the necessary reconciliation—becoming restored to a relationship with God—is dependent upon receiving what has been offered. So God’s saving work is available to all, but only efficacious for some—those who believe and receive.

The sad heresy of our day would have people believe that whatever their path of spirituality, or no path at all, they will nevertheless be accepted into eternal life with God.

It’s sad and not loving because it withholds the truth about the eternal condition of the lost. They can go through life and hear from Rob Bell or any of these other universalists that they’re just fine, not lost, not perishing, not in need.

The loving thing is to let people know that we’re all in the same boat, all right there together in a boat headed for spiritual death. But there is hope, there is rescue, there is a Savior.

Problem is, no one will look for a Savior if they don’t know there’s something from which they must be saved.

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.

Extraneous Theology


In a Facebook group to which I belong, another member used the term “extraneous theology.” I might not have given the phrase too much thought except for the fact that it was used in conjunction to a definition of “Christian”—someone who “professes and follows Christ.” All the rest, he went on to say, is “extraneous theology.”

Really?

The discussion began with the question about including books by Mormon writers in a list of titles considered Christian science fiction or fantasy. One person stated that Mormons are not Christians. To which the aforementioned member responded with the professing-and-following-Christ and extraneous-theology comment.

I don’t think the deity of Christ is extraneous. That’s the issue at stake when Christians want to include Mormons among the brethren. Someone else in this same group chided the membership for being overly concerned about who is in “the club.”

I’m not sure which point to answer first!

The Church is not a club. It’s the bride of Christ. All may be included.

The gospel of Matthew records a parable Jesus told of a king who invited people to his son’s wedding feast. Presumably he began by inviting those close to him—neighbors and friends. But they refused to come. So he told his servants to go out into the streets and invite whoever they encountered, “both good and evil.”

Christianity is not an exclusive club—apart from this one thing: Christians accept God’s invitation to His banquet. Well, there’s one other thing.

One of the guests in Jesus’s parable showed up without the proper attire. “A man [was] there who was not dressed in wedding clothes” (Matt. 22:11b). When the king asked him why, he had no answer so he was thrown out. Worse, he was punished.

So, were those who attended the wedding feast a special club? How could that be if everyone was invited? Were the requirements for attending the wedding feast “extraneous”? Hardly. Seems like they were necessary.

In the same way, understanding who Jesus is falls into the necessary category. Mormons understand him to be a created being, the brother of Satan. A number of years ago I did some research on this subject. Here’s what I found regarding Mormon beliefs

About God and Jesus (source for these excerpts, Truthnet.org):

  • “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345)
  • “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangilble as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Spirit has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit…” (Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22)
  • “As man is, God once was: as God is, man may become” (Prophet Lorenzo Snow, quotedin Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, 105-106)
  • Remember that God, our heavenly Father, was perhaps once a child, and mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement; has moved forward and overcome, until He has arrived at the point where He now is” (Apostle Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 1:123)
  • When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one his wives, with him. He helped to make and organized this world. He is Michael, the Archangel, the Ancient of Days! About whom holy men have written and spoken—He is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom we have to do” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 1:50)
  • Jesus is the brother of Satan this is revealed in the Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 4:1-4 and affirmed by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, 13:282)

Let me add a statement from a Mormon site:

Like most Christians, Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Creator of the World. However, Mormons hold the unique belief that God the Father and Jesus Christ are two distinct beings. Mormons believe that God and Jesus Christ are wholly united in their perfect love for us, but that each is a distinct personage with His own perfect, glorified body (see D&C 130:22).

Mormons believe that all men and women ever to be born, including Jesus Christ, lived with God as His spirit children before this life. God wanted each of us to come to earth to gain experience, learn, and grow to become more like Him. But God also knew that His children would all sin, die, and fall short of His glory. We would need a Savior to overcome our sins and imperfections and reconcile us with God. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was chosen to be this Savior long ago during our premortal life with God. We shouted for joy when we were presented with God’s glorious plan for His children (see Job 38:7). [emphaes are mine]

Notice the intro, “like most Christians.” Mormons, or Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ, which is their official name, want very much to be accepted as part of the mainstream of Christianity. They are not. What they believe about Jesus (let alone the concept of our preexistence as “spirit children,” God having a physical body, and much more) shows that they do not agree with what Scripture teaches.

Is the deity of Jesus “extraneous theology”? Clearly not. Why are so many Christians blinded by externals? In truth, Mormons live upright lives. They believe in “family values.” They are good citizens, for the most part (except for the small portion that clings to the original Mormon doctrine about polygamy). They are kind and welcoming and friendly. In all likelihood, Mormons make good neighbors. They certainly have a close-knit community, and they support their writers. But these things do not make them Christians! Beyond these externals lie the false ideas about Jesus.

Perhaps the starting place is for us to learn the difference between extraneous and essential theology. Who Jesus is, is pretty much at the core of Christianity.

I’m Stuck: Knowing The Bible Is True



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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 Inexplicable Sacrifice


With Easter behind us and Christmas too far away to think about yet, it is nevertheless appropriate for us to consider Jesus. After all, He didn’t come to earth to look all cute and cuddly in a manger, or to have icons constructed of Him hanging on a cross. He came to earth for one primary purpose: to give His life as a ransom for us all.

Many years ago, when I taught missionary children in Guatemala, we sang a chorus each day before our prayer for the noon meal. One I learned from those kids came to mind some time ago:

For there is one God and one Mediator
Between God and man.
For there is one God and one Mediator,
The Ma-a-a-an, Christ Jesus,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Oh, what a wonderful Sa-a-vior!

The thing is, that chorus is straight from Scripture:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Tim. 2:3-6)

So I began to think about this “giving Himself” in conjunction with John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (emphasis mine). God gave the person He loved most to redeem dying sinners. But because in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, God was just as surely giving Himself for our ransom.

The idea then came clear—Jesus, the Mediator, the bridge between God and man—is the bridge to Himself. I know this bothers some atheists but in actuality, it is the ultimate picture of God stooping to reach humans—we who are incapable of reaching God because our sin created a separation.

Jesus, however, had no sin. He, being God, has perfect access to God. He being man could die the substitutionary death His justice as God required.

I did mention that this sacrifice is inexplicable, didn’t I? 😉 I mean, really. He’s the sacrifice He Himself required?

Why not simply do away with the requirement?

That’s basically saying, why not make green, red? Calling sin, not sin, doesn’t change the fact that sin is antithetical to God. God’s character doesn’t give any quarter to sin. He is just and holy. To pardon sin, with no penalty paid would be mercy without justice.

I suppose most of us would like mercy instead of justice, as long as God offered that to us and not to rapists or murderers … or even to the guy at work who is constantly taking advantage of others. Him, we’d like to see God give justice to, not mercy.

In truth, we don’t want criminals getting away with harming others and we don’t want selfish people getting away with using people. We long for a just world. Why else would there be protest movements such as the Occupy Wall Street movement of some years back. Those protestors lived in a land of great plenty and generous people, yet they didn’t think it’s fair for some to get rich at the expense of the many.

Over a hundred years ago, anti-trust laws were passed in the US for the same reason. Railroads held the exclusive means by which ranchers could get their cattle to market, and they took full advantage of their monopoly to get rich and richer. Other businesses did likewise, and the people cried for justice. Not to God, but to the government.

The truth is, the government—any government, led by whatever ruler—isn’t able to provide perfect justice. Only God can, but that doesn’t bring us comfort because the severity of sin means I too must face His justice—if it weren’t for His great kindness and mercy that led Him to stoop, to bridge the gap, to mediate, to ransom, to give His Son, to give Himself.

But in truth, He did come. He did give his life as a ransom for us all! How great is our God! Oh, what a wonderful Savior!

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here under this same title in November, 2011.

The God Who Involves His People


Today is the National Day of Prayer here in the US. Consequently, in honor of that occasion, I’m posting this edited version of an article that appeared here ten years ago.

For whatever reason, God has chosen to involve us in His work.

People today like to talk about the “mystery of God,” as if there’s some kind of veil over His face or some kind of secret we have no hope of learning. Never mind that Jesus came to show us the Father. Never mind that the Holy Spirit lives inside us. Never mind that Jesus said the Spirit would guide us into truth. Never mind that He explained the things concerning Himself from the Law and the Prophets.

But here’s what I do find a mystery—perfect, omnipotent, all knowing God, Creator of the universe, wants to involve me in His work. Somehow, my being a part, rather than Him snapping His fingers or speaking a word, or even unleashing the Heavenly Host, brings glory to His name.

Here’s one of the ways that the skeptic can know that Christianity wasn’t thought up by some human—there are so many improbabilities, so many apparent contradictions. If a person was to invent an all powerful, sovereign god, it would be most logical to have that all powerful, sovereign god take it upon himself to do what he knows is best. Cut out the middleman, so to speak. Do it himself because then he would be sure it would get done right.

But that’s not the way the God of the Bible has chosen to operate. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. Then He commissioned those who believe in Him to make disciples. He commands us to love one another and to love our enemies. And He tells us to pray for our pastors and teachers and fellow Christians and rulers and authorities. In short, He gives His church the responsibility of representing Him to the world.

Why would He do that? We do it so imperfectly. Inevitably we invite hangers on and pretenders.

But it’s His plan, and remember, He is sovereign and all-knowing as well as all powerful.

Rather than exploring all the reasons why people no longer like church or can’t stand Christians, perhaps we should simply go about the business of being the Body Christ which God intended us to be. Will some people still scoff? Sure. Will some still be offended? Undoubtedly.

But the scoffing won’t be because we’re doing something scoff-worthy. The offense will be the gospel and not the contentious way we conduct ourselves.

And the thing is, child-like faith in a great God who invites us to ask anything according to His will, brings us to His throne of grace.

Published in: on May 2, 2019 at 5:09 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Good Man, Or God?


One of the remarkable facts about Christianity is the deity of Jesus. Well, that and His humanity. I’m sure Jesus’s dual (and yet not divided) nature is one of those issues that causes thinking people to do a double-take. After all, nothing else we know of is all one thing and at the same time all another. It would be like a caterpillar being a butterfly simultaneously.

We’re familiar with mixtures. Brass is an alloy consisting of copper and zinc. Mules are a cross between donkeys and horses. We have hybrid cars, hybrid roses, hybrid breeds of dogs. The tendency, then, is to think of Jesus as a kind of hybrid between God and Man, but that’s not what the Bible says.

That He was a man seems like a given. He walked and talked, ate and drank, lived and died. Rather, the sticking point for people today seems to be the idea that Jesus, while being a Man, was also and equally so, God. In the flesh.

Paul spelled it out a several times in his letter to the Colossians:

  • “He is the image of the invisible God” (1:15a – English Standard Version)
  • “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (1:19 – ESV)
  • “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9 – ESV)

This is a hard one for many people to swallow. Since there are extra-Biblical records authenticating Jesus’s life, it’s pretty hard to deny that He existed, but to believe He is God? That’s where a lot of rational people draw the line. This idea of His deity, they say, was an invention of His followers. He Himself never claimed such a thing.

Really?

More than once He did just that. More than once the gospel of John records Jesus claiming to be the I AM–the very name of God which He revealed to Moses and which was recorded in Exodus. One of the clearest statements comes in John 8 when Jesus says to a group of Jewish religious leaders “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

Not only did He use the name the Jews considered holy, but He also said He predated their ancestor. Clearly, they understood precisely what Jesus was saying because they picked up stones to stone Him–the penalty for blaspheme.

Besides referring to Himself as I AM, Jesus also called Himself the Son of God. Some people have claimed that this is simply a Jewish reference to God being the Father of all Mankind, that Jesus was in no way claiming any special relationship to God.

But that isn’t consistent with the times Jesus expressly referred to God as His Father. For example, when He was twelve, He was in the temple schooling the religious leaders. When His parents came looking for Him, He said He had to be about His Father’s business. Not Joseph’s carpentry, clearly. He referred to God and the business was that of explaining the Scriptures.

He also said, at his last meal with His followers, that He and the Father were one. Clearly, this was a reference to God, not to Joseph, who may have died years earlier.

Then too, Jesus answered Philip’s request to show His disciples the Father, with this: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9b).

In addition to Jesus’s own clear statements, several times, God witnessed directly about Jesus’s identity. When He was baptized, for example, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'”(Matt. 3:17).

In the Jewish culture, a fact needed two or three witnesses to be established. Besides the testimony of the Father, Jesus said His works testified about who He was. I think these are often neglected. Jesus acted in ways that were consistent to the attributes of God revealed in the Old Testament.

For example, God the Father is omnipotent and Jesus showed Himself to be the same:

    • He raised a dead man back to life
    • He healed a blind man so that he could see
    • He multiplied five loaves of bread and a few fish so that they fed five thousand men and an untold number of women and children
    • He walked on water
    • He stopped a storm with a word

    At other times He demonstrated His power over the spirit world, casting out demons from various people. He also forgave sins.

    He showed that He was also omniscient, knowing at different times what those who judged Him were thinking, knowing that He would be handed over to godless men and crucified, also that He would raise from the dead on the third day, knowing all about the Samaritan woman’s past when He met her at the well, knowing who would betray Him and that Peter would deny Him three times.

    These instances are not exhaustive, but the key is this: while God made Man in His image, there are certain attributes that are termed incommunicable because God didn’t transmit those qualities to us–He reserved them for Himself. And yet, Jesus clearly demonstrates those traits time and time again.

    Besides His own word, His Father’s word, His works, Jesus had two other witnesses. One was John, a prophet of God, the forerunner of the Messiah. The other is Scripture. Jesus spelled this out: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).

    In fact, the Old Testament is full of allusion and direct prophecy that reveals Jesus to be God. Interestingly, Jesus spent forty days here on earth after His resurrection. We know from the gospels that one of the things He did was explain Scripture to His disciples. So when Peter preached about Jesus in his first sermon, he peppered it with Scripture, quoting from the prophet Joel and from various Psalms. In his second sermon he quoted from Moses, from the book of Genesis, and again from one of the Psalms.

    Peter, remember, was a fisherman, not a rabbinical priest. He’d never been trained as a scholar, yet here he was laying open Scripture, explaining to others what undoubtedly Jesus had explained to him.

    The evidence is far from circumstantial. To disbelieve that Jesus is God, one would have to come to the question with the foregone conclusion that such a thing isn’t possible; that, in fact, there is no God; or that the documentation of the evidence is unreliable. The good news is, there is a God; Jesus is His Son, God incarnate; and the Scriptures that reveal His identity are reliable.

    This post originally appeared here in April, 2013.

God, The Same Yesterday, Today, And Forever


I think most who identify as Christians believe God is the same yesterday, today, and forever—which is how the Bible describes Him. But to listen to some talk about the Bible, it would be easy to think that the Old Testament shows God as different from the New Testament.

The natural conclusion would be to assume that only one testament or the other reveals the true nature of God.

The biggest mistake in that line of thinking comes in not seeing that the Old and New Testaments show the same God. Both show Him to be sovereign, loving, just, righteous, holy, omnipotent, merciful, omniscient, gracious, forgiving, patient, and on and on.

Some people have this snapshot of God as WRATH in the Old Testament and a contrasting snapshot of Jesus as LOVE in the New. It’s a false dichotomy, and a sincere look at what Jesus taught and what the prophets and the psalms reveal, should make that clear.

But why the Old and New Testaments? In theological terms, “testament” means “agreement,” specifically God’s agreement with His people. So, while God does not change, His agreement with His people does.

Until Jesus came, the agreements or covenants God established were most often (but not always) conditioned upon humankind’s response: if they did certain things, God would bless them, but if they did certain other things, they put themselves under God’s curse.

Adam and Eve essentially had such an agreement with God. If they obeyed Him, they would live, and if they disobeyed, they would die. Abraham had a covenant with God, and so did Jacob and Moses and David and Solomon. In truth the Abrahamic covenant was with his descendants, too; the Mosaic covenant was on behalf of the people of Israel; and God’s agreement with David was with those in his lineage, culminating in Jesus.

And Jesus initiated a new covenant, a new agreement.

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Matt. 26:27-28)

Paul referenced the new covenant on more than one occasion. He wrote of it to the church in Corinth, for example:

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant. (2 Cor. 3:4-6a)

The writer of the book of Hebrews went to some length to explain the new covenant (8:6-10; see also chapters 9 and 10) and how it differed from the old (I’ll let you read that for your homework).

I don’t want to get sidetracked with a long explanation about the old and new covenants, but what’s important to understand is that God’s character is exactly the same from everlasting to everlasting. But that doesn’t mean that He treats every person the same way or that He deals with every people group the same way.

I think in this age of “tolerance” we’re looking for uniformity. Nothing is “fair” unless we all have the exact same hand dealt to us. Then, and only then do we think it’s fair because it’s now up to us to do with that hand whatever we can.

Such a silly notion. If that were the accurate view of justice, then none of us could be smarter than any one else. We couldn’t be more athletic or better singers or taller or ambidextrous or more mechanical or . . . well, anything that could be perceived as an advantage. We have to have that same hand to play as the next guy.

In contrast to that silliness, God seems to delight in working with people that have a disadvantage. David was the youngest in his family, Abraham didn’t have any sons, Ruth was a widow, Joseph was a slave. The whole nation of Israel, in fact, God said was not His pick because they were more numerous or stronger or more righteous than the other nations. In fact, He said the opposite was true.

He used the small and weak in order that we could all see Him at work. It’s hard to take the credit for a victory when we’re outnumbered, when the other army has more advanced weapons, and when they have the tactical advantage. In those circumstances, when God brings the victory, we can only say, Praise God!

No matter what, though, God’s point and purpose is to make Himself known. He says it over and over again. He wanted Israel to display His glory to the nations. He wants His Church to make disciples of the nations. Always God has done what He’s done that we might know Him, even when what He did was to kick His children out of the garden He’d made to be their home, or to exile them from the Promised Land, or to give His Son as a sacrifice that all who believe might be reconciled with Him.

Our ways aren’t God’s ways, so we don’t always recognize what He’s doing, especially if we expect Him to treat everyone the same, or worse, if we expect Him to act the way we would act.

But no mistake: God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, we need to believe what He’s told us about Himself and stop looking for Him to behave the way we think He should. After all, He is God, not an idol we can move from place to place or dress up in purple if it suits us.

He is the sovereign, and He tells us what is righteous. How dare we shake our fists at Him or tell Him He was wrong to judge people whose heart He knew intimately. Who are we in comparison to who is He?

I’m not perfect in love or goodness. I don’t know all truth. I’m certainly not sovereign or all powerful. And if it comes right down to it, I am most certainly not the same yesterday, today, and forever. I’m more like a vapor that appears for a little while and them vanishes away.

Not God. He’s as sure as His word, and His word abides forever!

From the archives: this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in March, 2015.

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