Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I Don't Like iit!

Most people dislike the doctrine of human sinfulness. Guess what! I dislike it too! I particularly dislike applying it to myself, just as I suspect, dear reader, that you dislike applying it to yourself. The very idea that human beings can't claim goodness, and therefore hope to justify themselves before God, deeply offends us. Its repugnance causes most people to either revise the Gospel into something more palatable or reject Christianty altogether.

I understand those responses ever so much more than regular readers might suppose, and much prefer to see myself as someone capable of meriting my own salvation. Please don't confront me with my sin; I really would prefer not to see it. And while we're being honest, on most days my sinful nature would rather skip personal Bible Study because I don't like how the Holy Spirit uses His Word to expose the rottenness of my heart.

God, however, won't adjust His holy standards simply because I don't like them. Nor will He ignore my inherent sinfulness in the interest of my self-esteem. Through His Word, He regularly exposes all my thoughts, attitudes and behaviors that violate His commands and reinforce my need for a Savior.

Please take the time to click this link to Scriptures on man's sinful nature. No, it's not fun reading, but we need to see and accept the Lord's assessment of us in order to embrace the Gospel message that we needed Christ to die for our sins. As much as we yearn to see ourselves as "basically good people," we must humble ourselves and acknowledge the Lord's authority to call us sinners.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. ~~1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Negative Until Positive

My niece, despite being less than a year old at the time, knew good and well that she must not touch my potted ivy plant on the low shelf. My sister and I watched her crawl toward it with unmistakable determination. Half-way across the room, she paused and looked over her shoulder at my sister with a defiant expression that reduced us to laughter. The little minx knew she was about to break a rule!

People try to deny the existence of a sin nature in each human being, but that funny incident with my  niece convinced me that we sin instinctively. John Calvin called it  "total depravity." As much as we want to believe in man's basic goodness, Scripture indicts every single one of us as incorrigible rebels against God. Consider, for example, Paul's unflattering description of humanity in his letter to the Romans:
10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” ~~Romans 3:10-18 (ESV)
Not a pretty picture!

We need, however, to accept this picture of ourselves in order to understand why Christ, the Incarnate God, died for us. The Gospel makes no sense apart from the doctrine of man's sinful condition. In order to understand the concept that Jesus Christ died to save us from sin,  we must first face up to the ugly truth about ourselves. The Good News follows the bad news that we need salvation.

Being arrogant sinners, we quite naturally balk at this doctrine. The idea that God considers us to be sinners insults our sense of dignity, causing us to reject the Gospel...or at least amend it in ways that put us in a better light.

I know I tend to emphasize mankind's sinfulness in my writings, and I also know some people dislike my blog for that reason. But unless people see the negative truth about the human condition, they cannot fully appreciate the positive message of the Gospel. Indeed, the recognition of how sinful we are in comparison to His purity stirs believers to adore Him all the more for His incredible grace in dying for our sin! So as I write these next few posts, trust that this unpleasant doctrine merely prepares us for the joyous message of the Gospel.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Intimate Identifiication

Having introduced the concept of Christ's deity as an important fact to understand in relation to the Gospel, I now turn to the equally important fact of His humanity. He is 100% God, certainly, and He is equally 100% Man. In this discussion, I won't try to explain how He can fully possess both natures simultaneously, knowing that theologians much more learned than I scratch their heads in bewilderment over that question. Instead, I want to show you a glimpse of how His humanity plays into the Gospel.

The writer of Hebrews gives us a picture of Jesus' purpose in coming as a Man.
14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. ~~Hebrews 2:14-18 (ESV)
Jesus, unlike either God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, experienced all the frailties, difficulties, limitations and temptations that you and I face. As a result of His intimate identification with all the weaknesses intrinsic to humanity, He has compassion for us. That compassion motivated Him to take the punishment  that properly belongs to us by suffering a brutal execution on the cross.

Had Jesus merely assumed human form like the fictional gods of Greek and Roman mythology sometimes did, His death would have been nothing more than an illusion. Consequently, it couldn't have provided any real atonement for sin. Thankfully, He shed human blood, and His bloodline went back through David all the way to Abraham so that no one could forensically dispute His Messianic claim.

I have decided to close with this weekend's hymn a day early so that, as we reflect on Jesus as a Man of sorrows, we might worship Him with newfound awe. What a Savior!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Harvard: From Adams to Zuckerberg, With An Eccentric Mother In Between

We should have stayed home Tuesday to   advertize for  an evening  PCA, but we honestly believed we had an interim person lined up. Tuesday night, her husband told us that her circumstances had changed, but by  then we had already indulged in a student-led tour of Harvard Yard. I think I'll take a break from my series on elements of the  Gospel to show you a few photos John took, beginning with Massachusetts Hall.
This freshman dorm housed Founding Fathers John Hancock, James  Otis, Samuel Adams and (my favorite)  John Adams. Now the two lower floors hold administrative offices, including the university president's office...though the top floor continues to serve as a freshman dorm. Too bad the tour opened with its highlight for me.

Widener Library fascinated both me and John.

Harry Elkins Widener graduated from Harvard in 1907. His avid love of books led him to develop an extensive collection, some of which he'd gathered in Europe. Sadly, he perished on the Titanic. In his memory, his mother had the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library built to house the remainder of his books.

One of Mrs. Widener's stipulations in donating the money and books for the library prohibits any alteration to the visible structure, posing quite a problem when added books and technologies required expansion. The school solved that dilemma by building six stories down and expanding outward underneath Harvard Yard. So typically Boston!

Our tour guide pointed in the direction of Mark Zuckerberg's dorm, where he developed Facebook, but neither John nor I could tell exactly which building she indicated.
You may need to take your own tour of Harvard to find the building. Since time restraints prevented me from showing you all the pictures John took and telling you all the stories, perhaps you really should consider visiting Harvard for yourself. Although I suppose my PCA search ought to have kept us home Tuesday, I can't regret going. Neither will you.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Celebrating, Not Merely Stating

The First Century church at Colossae, because of its location as a major seaport welcoming tradesmen and sailors representing a variety of cultures, struggled against false teachings of various kinds. In response to the multiplicity of errors that made their way into the Colossian church, the apostle Paul wrote a letter meant to correct the doctrinal problems. Before addressing the particulars, however, he reviewed the basic Gospel message.

Paul introduced this review of the Gospel with a powerful explanation of Christ's deity:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)
In describing Christ as  "the image of the invisible God," Paul equates Him with God. From there, He identifies Christ's role in creation, insists that He holds the entire universe together, and crowns Him as the Sovereign Ruler. Then he makes his claim even more directly in verse 19: "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell."

Yes, God dwells in every believer through His Holy Spirit, but He doesn't give us all of His fulness.  Vincent's Word Studies offers the clearest commentary on verse 19 that I could find.
The word must be taken in its passive sense - that with which a thing is filled, not that which fills. The fullness denotes the sum-total of the divine powers and attributes. In Christ dwelt all the fullness of God as deity. The relation of essential deity to creation and redemption alike, is exhibited by John in the very beginning of his gospel, with which this passage should be compared. In John the order is: 1. The essential nature of Christ; 2. Creation; 3. Redemption. Here it is: 1. Redemption (Colossians 1:13); 2. Essential being of the Son (Colossians 1:15); 3. The Son as Creator (Colossians 1:16); 4. The Church, with Christ as its head (Colossians 1:18). Compare 2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 1:19, Ephesians 1:20, Ephesians 1:23. Paul does not add of the Godhead to the fullness, as in Colossians 2:9 since the word occurs in direct connection with those which describe Christ's essential nature, and it would seem not to have occurred to the apostle that it could be understood in any other sense than as an expression of the plenitude of the divine attributes and powers.
   Thus the phrase in Him should all the fullness dwell gathers into a grand climax the previous statements - image of God, first-born of all creation, Creator, the eternally preexistent, the Head of the Church, the victor over death, first in all things. On this summit we pause, looking, like John, from Christ in His fullness of deity to the exhibition of that divine fullness in redemption consummated in heaven (Colossians 1:20-22).
Again, the passage celebrates (rather than merely stating) Christ's divine nature, making it inseparable from the Gospel message. Christ, being God Himself, willingly bled and died on the cross to atone for the sins of those who trust in Him. Remember, Paul here identified Christ as both the Creator and the focal point of His own creation, and in the next breath introduced His willingness  to sacrifice Himself for our rebellion against Him. If that amazing fact doesn't give you a desire to fall on your knees with wonder and adoration, just keep reading about the Gospel. It only gets better.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Who Is He, Anyway?

When we say that Jesus died for our sins, we need to first establish Who Jesus actually is. A "Jesus" of our own making certainly couldn't provide any real atonement since, essentially, He would be a figment of our imagination. So I must begin this exploration of the Gospel with the doctrine of Jesus, firm in my conviction that everything begins and ends with Him.

Obviously, I can't fully explain Jesus in a few short blog posts, especially when true scholars have written volumes about Him. (Currently, I must concentrate on interviewing prospective PCAs, an inconvenient task which distracts me from writing much of anything.) But I hope that, as I report basic information about Him, my readers will search the Bible to gain a more comprehensive understanding of each point I make.

Today, I want to emphasize Christ's deity, which He claimed using words and idioms that First Century Jews completely understood. As a 17-year-old girl, I found John 8:48-59 riveting. Here's the passage in the ESV:
48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
Notice verse 58. When Jesus said, "I AM," He referred back to God's words to Moses from  the burning bush:
13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” ~~Exodus 3:13-14 (ESV)
The Pharisees, having great knowledge of this passage in Exodus, instantly caught Jesus' reference, as evidenced by their attempt to stone Him  in verse 59. They had no difficulty recognizing the fact that Jesus had very openly claimed to be God.

So many other Scriptures support the beautiful doctrine of Christ's deity, and next time I want to show you a section from Colossians that demonstrates the doctrine in a way that makes me tingle with amazement every time I read it. Forgive me if I go on and on about Jesus being God, but in nearly 44 years, I still love reviewing Biblical texts that highlight His divinity. Once I grasped that God Himself bore total punishment for my many sins, I gained a deeper appreciation of the Gospel's wonder.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Gospel And Doctrine

Simply stated, the Gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sin and rose again on the third day. Faith in these two facts assure a person of salvation.

Yes, it's that simple.

At the same time, this simple Gospel raises several questions that must be asked and answered in order to understand the nature of salvation, its implications and why it matters. Even though a small child can understand its basic components, the principles can never be fully exhausted, even after decades of diligent study. God extends well beyond the limitations of human intellect, yet anyone can access Him regardless of age, education or cognitive ability.

I want to look at the  various aspects of the Gospel, which necessitates examining various doctrines. Some might protest that we should forget about doctrine and "just focus on Jesus." In response, I'd ask how we can do even that without the great doctrines of Scripture that tell us Who Jesus is, what He thinks and how He relates to us. Without these doctrines, He gets treated as a  half-fictitious being Who  conforms Himself to individual  preferences.

Throughout these posts that explore the doctrines implicit in the Gospel, I pray that the Lord will show more liberal readers how and why the Gospel depends on sound doctrine. More importantly, I pray that any readers who haven't yet responded to the Gospel might place their faith in Jesus as they read through this series.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  ~~Romans 1:16 ((ESV)

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