Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What is the Great Commission?

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Matt. 28:19, 20 (NIV)

Although there are four commands in the Great Commission, one is emphasized more than the others. We are told to go first. Making disciples of all nations is the key command. We are to be found baptizing them and teaching them everything the Lord has commanded. In other words, we are to stress the making disciples portion of the verse, but we are to be going, we are to be baptizing, and we are to be teaching. The stress here is laid upon the command to make disciples.
But what are we to make of this commission? I do note that Jesus made time to give this commission just to his eleven disciples. Thus, with twelve people (counting Jesus), the world was to be turned upside down. Most of this eleven were to suffer martyrdom for expressing their faith, but express it most wonderfully they did!

Before going into all the world, the disciples were bade to tarry in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is after the coming of the Holy Spirit that boldness was given to these men—under-educated though they were, and this boldness resulted in the gospel being plainly given to many multitudes who were visiting Jerusalem to observe the holy day of Pentecost. Thus, the Jews who heard the gospel, and believed, could now return to their other cities and begin sharing the message. Within a short time, Christianity became a world religion.

Peter, the one who had been frightened nearly out of his mind, and the one who denied his Lord, whom he had sworn never to deny, is filled with the Holy Spirit, and delivers the first sermon of a spirit filled body of believers. The result was that there were thousands of people who heard the message and believed.

It has been suggested that the book of Acts should be properly termed Acts of the Holy Spirit, and it is indeed a story of God building his church through his gifting of the Holy Spirit. I have done studies on the filling of the Holy Spirit, and nearly every time a believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, it is in an environment of proclamation. What might God be teaching us through this? I would think that if you expect to be filled with the Spirit often, then you ought to be found in an environment of proclamation. God does seem to honor the terms of the Great Commission with the direct filling of his Holy Spirit.

If you are at all like me, you probably recognize that I have given a pretty standard book definition of the Great Commission, and that should be a starting place to understand it. But after defining it, I realize there are lots of questions left to answer. The first question is concerning the duty on individuals to carry out the Great Commission, namely I am concerned about what I have to do. It is certainly true that the means of evangelism is through the witness of his poor vessels—of which I am one of the poorest. Does God really mean to use my lips to draw others to Christ? If so, suppose I do not do what I am supposed to do? Am I then sending people to hell who otherwise might not go? The scripture does indeed say that God intends to use the “foolishness of preaching”, and it also asks the question, how can they hear without a preacher? Here is where I read quotes like this and feel guilty for not doing more. “Could a mariner sit idle if he heard the drowning cry? Could a doctor sit in comfort and just let his patients die? Could a fireman sit idle, let men burn and give no hand? Can you sit at ease in Zion with the world around you DAMNED?”1

The answer to these concerns is perhaps not easily available—partly because I do feel we always should leave room for the Spirit to convict us of our need to be concerned over the lost. The verse before the Great Commission is predicated with a new fact, that Jesus has been given all power, and because of that power, he now charges us to go out into the world. Interestingly, this power, at least part of it is now endued upon we believers. “ But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Our power is not in ourselves; rather it is to be vested in the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to do things we could not do in ourselves. Yes, God has chosen the foolishness of preaching, but he has also put his own very Spirit inside us, and wonder of wonders, we see the will of man and the sovereignty of God being blended together to make the perfect “milkshake” for the presentation of the gospel. No one has successfully explained how this sovereignty of God and the will of man works, but as the plan of God has unfolded, we have seen millions, and perhaps billions, of people reached through this blending.

What about the guilt? Let me answer as I feel, and have felt throughout my Christian life. I think it is altogether appropriate for me to feel some guilt. I need to be answerable to God for getting the message out to the lost around me, especially those whom God has made a part of my world. I need that guilt, that I might examine myself, and see, not whether I am talking about the gospel enough, but rather whether I am filled with the Spirit enough, that when opportunities are offered, I am ready to share through the power of his Spirit, not in my own power. The gospel message is quite often capable of doing far more damage, even to the point of pushing people away, when it is proclaimed in the power of men, rather than the power of the Spirit. “It is not altogether due to personal diffidence that true believers often find it difficult to speak to the unsaved about their need of Christ. There may be a restraint upon such service; for if the unsaved are not prepared by the Spirit, any attempt to force a decision may be a violation of the plan of God.”2 Walking carefully in the Spirit may be the only correct answer in sharing the gospel, and that I need to seek to do above all else.

Chafer regards intercessory prayer for the lost as being a primary tool to reach them effectively. “It is true, however, that intercessory prayer is the first and most important service. As has been stated, the divine order is to talk to God about men, until the door is definitely open to talk to men about God.”3 With this quote, I think we are forced back to the idea that true evangelism must come from “revived” hearts, and revived hearts, in turn, comes from effectual intercessory prayer, both for our sleepy hearts, and for those who are perishing without the message of salvation.

I have lived long enough to see revivals in my life. They do always seem to start with the fires of God put within the souls of two or three, who begin meeting together, offering effectual prayers, first to their brothers and sisters in Christ, that they might be awakened from their proverbial sleepiness, but also to their communities, that the word of God might be given voice and power. It begins with me, when I begin to realize the absolute high place God has lifted me to, as one of his sheep. The second step is in looking at the people whom God has placed in my life, and realizing their utter need without the gospel. That should motivate me to intercessory prayer—and God’s empowerment to preach the Great Commission faithfully. I know of no other way.

How might a church be given this burden? First, they should have a small battery of prayer warriors as I previously outlined. The spiritual kindling must be strategically laid if the fires of revival are to burn brightly. Any who attempt evangelism, must recognize the great need of the church is to awaken her from her sleepy state, that she may recognize both her solemn charge and her great power available through the Spirit.

1. Ravenhill, Leonard (2004-08-01). Why Revival Tarries (p. 92). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 940-942). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
3. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 935-937). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What does Jesus mean when he says he has all authority?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Matthew 28:18 (NIV)

Who is this Jesus? Jesus may well be the hardest person to define in the world. He is at once God, and yet fully man. He is not two natures, but the natures are fully merged, neither at the price of the other. He has been described as fully God and fully man. The technical term, fitting only Christ in all the universe, is theanthropic. Chafer says, “If the hypostatic union of two diverse natures in Christ is subject to superficial gloss, it is rendered ineffectual at every point, the purpose of God is thwarted, men are still in their sins and doom, Christianity becomes only a refined paganism, and the world is without hope.”1

So that is the explanation, but you may ask, do I understand it? No! I do not understand, other than to say it is the very best definition presented from the Bible. There are other things in the Bible that I do not pretend to understand, such as the Trinity. My lack of understanding in no way diminishes the truth that is being taught. It simply is what it is.

Describing the authority of Jesus in any length is beyond the scope of this short answer, so I have selected but five characteristics about Jesus that I want to present, all characteristics showing the God of power. First, Jesus is proclaimed to be the Creator of all things. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). The Bible claims that Jesus was not only present during the creation that is taught to us by Moses, but also that he was the agent creating. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John 1:10). We use the phrase, ultimate irony, too often, and yet this is the ultimate irony, that the Creator of the universe should enter the world, and yet be unknown by that world. Colossians tells us a bit more about his creating power: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him (Col. 1:16). There is not anything in all of creation that was not created by the Son, and everything has also been created for him.

Secondly, Christ has power as the Sustainer of the world. The very next verse of Colossians tells us, “ And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:17). The word consist actually means to hold together, and when I read these words, I get the idea that it is Christ himself actively holding all things together. I think of his awesome power, holding all things together by his might, and that if he stopped that for a single instant, the very atoms of the universe might just dissolve.

Third, Christ is the Ruler of this entire universe. “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:24, 25). He is bringing all things back under his subjection. We are told elsewhere in scripture that Satan is the prince of the power in the air, and that he is controlling much of the world now. But he has always had limits, and his defeat is sure, whereupon all things will be again subject to the rule of God the Father.

Fourth, he is the Resurrector. Spell Check does not seem to like that word, and I suspect the world does not either. Yet, he is the one who resurrects. “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25, 26). In one of the most dramatic chapters of the Bible, Ezekiel 37, God asks Ezekiel whether these “dry bones” can live. Ezekiel replies, “Thou knowest, Oh Lord!” Ezekiel then watches God resurrect and restore flesh on the dry bones. Jesus claims this power, and used it on Lazarus, calling, “Lazarus, come forth.” Some scholars feel that if he had not limited his call to Lazarus, we would have seen all the dead come forth. The Bible is clear, and teaches that man is made in the image of God, is not a temporal creature, and is meant to have eternal life. This life is restored by Jesus, where, it is taught, the sheep and the goats are separated, some to judgment and others to eternal life at the feet of Jesus.

Last, Jesus is presented to us as the Almighty God. John makes this clear, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). There are a great many cults who would try to deny these five characteristics of power present in Jesus, but they do so to their own detriment. The scripture is clear when Jesus declares that he that hath seen me hath seen the Father. At the end of chapter eight of John, Jesus makes the greatest of claims taking the very name of God, “I am.” The Jews who did not believe took that to be blasphemy, and tried to stone him right away. I think those cults who redefine Jesus to be what they want him to be, make the same mistake. They miss the Jesus so clearly presented in scripture, and thus they miss him altogether.

It is not an accident of history that this one man separates all men into two groups, one that anxiously awaits his coming, and one that denies his personhood. I do not think it an accident that we celebrate two Christmases each year—one that celebrates the advent of the Christ-child being sent to man, and the other who celebrates the good works of a funny man in a red suit. Some of us see him as he is, while others only seek to deny that which should be obvious to all. God has brought us to new life. And that life is in no one else except his Son. If you haven’t considered the claims of Christ, perhaps now would be a good time. What a wonder that God should come as a man, and be rejected by those whom he loves!

1. Chafer, L. (1948). Systematic theology. (Vol. 1, p. 385). Grand Rapids: Kregel, Inc.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What does the Bible mean when it says our God is a consuming fire?

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
Isaiah 6:5

How is it that we who claim to love God do not know him as a consuming fire? I am working my way through a biography of Keith Green, and it is not a small wonder to me to find Keith consumed with a hunger for the presence of God that broke through his weak training and doctrine. Keith had a long ways to go to find any orthodoxy, which is not hard for me to understand when I remember the mantra of the sixties and seventies was, “do your own thing.” Keith came to Christ from a background in Christian Science, was himself Jewish, and was part of the Jesus movement. The doctrine took a long time for him to get straightened out, but along the way he attracted many to Christ, just, I think, because he was so consumed by hunger to be filled with the very presence of God.

American Christians are a peculiar bunch; they are told about accepting Christ often in quite sterile terms, and in those terms they believe. I think it is not since the last great revival, in the late seventies and early eighties, that we really see new Christians captured in the holy presence of their God. I am not talking about emotional excess here—there is a great movement away from any emotion today. I am talking about a real meeting with the very God who would change our lives—and that is going to produce plenty of emotion. When I accepted Christ, I knew there was such a sharp change in me that nothing except the presence of a loving God could produce. Tears streamed down my face for hours, yet I was not in a crowd. I was alone, but for the first time his loving presence entered my life, and I knew that the most wonderful experience ever had just happened to me. I had come into the presence of the living God.

Moses saw the burning burn, yet the bush was not consumed. He turned aside at the wonder of it all, and in doing so, he came into the presence of God. It changed him forever! Why do we not see changes like this in every new believer? I am convinced it is our fault—we do not expect anything, and often become quite uncomfortable when someone we would lead to Christ expresses emotion. So we carefully prepare tracts that explain perfectly the doctrine, but we make no preparation for what might happen if the person should, God forbid, actually be overwhelmed by the spirit. We do not act like we even believe much has happened, yet the Bible says the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner finding his way back.

Last summer, I enjoyed reading through much of Jonathan Edwards. Early in his ministry, he came under fire from other churches for his practice of staying with new converts at the altar, and praying with them. It was not until the converts would feel the presence of God and his mercy that they were allowed to go home. Edwards spent much time defending his practice to other church leaders, who thought such expressions of emotion to be simply vulgar. There were many converts under his early ministry, and apparently a great revival happened among the community.

I ask the pointed question, why is it that we do not expect this for every believer? How is it that we can attempt to package the holy God in a tract, and expect the believer to walk away with a changed life? Thanks be to God that he does bring change about through our poor means of presentation. We are careful to be absolutely doctrinally correct, but we want all emotion to be utterly quenched. Why are we then surprised when the “new converts” do not show much change in their life? Tozer says it thus: “The modern scientist has lost God amid the wonders of His world; we Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word. We have almost forgotten that God is a Person and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can. It is inherent in personality to be able to know other personalities, but full knowledge of one personality by another cannot be achieved in one encounter.”1

I am simply trying to point out the obvious here. It takes a bit of time for us to understand and be willing to interact with new acquaintances. Why in the world would we expect anything different for starting a new relationship with God? Ask the American new convert what he did today, and he might answer, “I went to the grocery, stopped off at the gas station, and accepted Christ at the end of the church service”. No wonder there is not a change in most lifestyles—it is too much of our common life to be thought of as different.
Think I am too far afield? Then let’s look at these verses: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1,2). This is not to be a second later experience for the Christian. It is to come with urging of the Spirit of God himself, at or near the point of conversion. It is to mark all Christians, but how little of it do we see today?

Our bodies should be presented as reasonable service. When we come to Christ, we should be in utter and complete awe at what he has done for us, and that should start a lifelong process of transforming us. Tozer had it pictured perfectly, “Let us beware of tinkering with our inner life in hope ourselves to rend the veil. God must do everything for us. Our part is to yield and trust. We must confess, forsake, repudiate the self-life, and then reckon it crucified.”2 That can hardly take place properly if our only knowledge of Christ is praying the sinner’s prayer. How much better it would be if every new believer could explore and pray to his newly-found God, and find out that he is, indeed, a consuming fire.

We tend to treat the decision for Christ as the smallest of things. Instead it is the largest of things and how willing we ought to be to talk and pray with the new convert, that they may have time to appreciate the wonder of what has happened. Conversion is a god-thing, but ought we not give God a bit of time to reveal his majesty? Modern life, I suspect, has always “been busier than it ever has before”, and Americans rush from one thing to another all of their lives, seldom stopping to consider the important things of life, because the urgent things of life are allowed to crowd them out. Says Tozer, “We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.”3

We all know those in our church who have met with the “Consuming Fire”. It is written all over their faces, and their behavior reflects the very person of God. Their time (how is it that they seem to have so much more time for God than I?) is filled with the joy of God, even as they seek to fill their hours serving him. How like them we want to be, and yet we never take the time to really reflect on what meeting God is like. I re-read Moody’s biography two summers ago, and was reminded about his vision of God. So captured was he by his loving God, that he began bringing hundreds of children into the Sunday School—before he even fully understood what salvation was all about. I am convinced that Moody was the great man he was, not because of his doctrinal understanding of God, but because he knew his God was a Consuming Fire. Wouldn’t we all be better off setting our lives aside in this new year, and hungering and thirsting for the very presence of the Holy God? I suspect we might find such a change that we would never go back. And perhaps we should even find God giving us more Moodys!

1. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson (2011-01-31). The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 127-129). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.

2. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson (2011-01-31). The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 511-513). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.

3. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson (2011-01-31). The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 742-744). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.

Friday, December 27, 2013

What is unrepented sin?

Unrepented sin is sin which the believer, as opposed to the unbeliever, commits. What is does, and what must be done about it, and how God treats it will be the subject of this peace. Learning to walk with God is one of the new Christian’s first duties. The brand new believer finds that the Bible implicates him in sin, and he is soon shown the way of repentance, and receives forgiveness for all of his sins at the cross. It is important to understand the completeness of forgiveness—there remains nothing to be done, and in every sense of the word, it is finished forever. If there remained any element depending on the merit of mankind, forgiveness could never be given, but would be earned, a doctrine that the Bible does not teach.

Stepping into the new calling and the new life becomes a central focus of the newly saved. They tend to be overwhelmed with the sense of forgiveness, and to want to express gratitude to the God who has given them this. I know that my own new life, now a great many years ago, was filled with love for God that I did not know how to express, but which overflowed my life more or less continuously. I certainly did not understand many doctrines, as I had come from a non-Christian background, and did not remember much from my occasional (few and far between, I am afraid) Sunday School class. One of my first mistakes is one that I see repeated often in new-believers—I thought that I would be able to live a life pleasing to my new Master, provided I just put in the proper amount of effort. I put in lots of enthusiastic effort in my new endeavor, but it was not too long before I realized I was falling short. Redoubling my efforts availed nothing; fortunately by then I was beginning to understand doctrine.

Living in the flesh, even with dedication, remains no more than that. There are a few men that we can all look up to, for their deeds are truly wonderful and magnificent. But the Bible teaches that whatever is not of faith is sin. James, it is true, tells us that one should show his faith by his works, but the works are always supposed to start from the foundation of faith. I look at the example of saints like John Wesley, whose zeal and abandonment for God were almost without parallel. I look at D. L. Moody, who determined to be the one man, fully and wholly dedicated to God. As a new Christian, I had to learn to walk anew, in faith, and I can tell you that for a while I was walking in very small baby steps. I was not at all like Wesley or Moody. I had to learn the truth of Paul’s statement over and over again. “For what I do is not the good that I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing (Romans 7:19).

It is to that struggle that I want to write about now. What can be done for sin that the believer commits? First of all, we need to know that Christ, when he came, he died for the sins of the whole world. Every sin is covered, as I stated above, but sins which are committed by the believer will break fellowship with God. Grieve not the Spirit, says the scripture, by whom you are sealed for the day of redemption. What a fantastic—and morbid—thought that is—that I might grieve God himself by my behavior.

My eyes need to be on the cost of my salvation. God gave his son that I might live. It hurt! In the Bible, it is not an accident that God asked the three Patriarchs for their sons. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his own son, Isaac. Isaac, in turn, lost Jacob, who feared for his life, running away from his brother Esau, and the Bible does not record his ever seeing his father, Isaac, again. Jacob spent years parted from his son, Joseph, being tricked by his own sons into believing a wild animal had taken his life. In all three generations, we have the father being pictured as being parted from his son. It cost God a lot to give his son. Though I believe the plan of God from eternity past was to give his only begotten son, yet it came at the greatest of costs. God the Father endured the separation of his son, and not only that, even took his wrath and poured it out upon his own son. There is more power exerted in the cross of Christ than was exerted in all of the heavenly creation. It took that much, that I might be saved.

In light of what he did in my behalf, should not I be constant in giving myself to him? How willing we ought to be, who have been redeemed from sure condemnation. But we are in mortal bodies after all, and though we await our redemption from sin, we still find ourselves totally unable to live a life pleasing to God. Except. For. One. Thing.

He has given to us that same Spirit that we are not to grieve. That spirit, given to us, that we who are so frail and sinful, might give ourselves to him, and be filled with the very power and holiness of God himself. If it were not true, it would be blasphemy to say such a thing—that God pours himself into each one of us, gifting us with his very nature. Yet it is the very thing that God has done, and what a wonder it is!

In my early years of walking with Christ, I came to dub the process of dealing with sin, “spiritual breathing”. It is, I think, my own term, and is not from the Bible, though I hope to show the principles are indeed from the Bible. When we sin, and we will and do each day, we have seen that we are already forgiven. When Paul reveals this great truth in Romans, that we should be free from the penalty of sin, he also teaches that we are not to take advantage of it, that we are not proving the glory of God by excelling in sin. Rather the opposite. We turn from sin, that we might show the world that Christ is in us.

But when we do sin, the scripture says, we have an advocate with God, even Jesus Christ, and we know we are his if we keep his commandments. When we fail, we already have the forgiveness of God, but John (1 John 1:9) says that when we fail, we must confess, or agree, with God. Always God is there with his forgiveness through Jesus Christ, but we need to agree with God that sin is sin, and we need to turn from it.

Thus, when I sin, I inhale—or take sin into my body, and when I confess—I exhale, or I confess with God my sins. It is something that needs practice and discipline—for spiritual breathing is not what our true nature wants to do. Scripture says, “In him dwells all the fullness of the godhead bodily.” But the next verse, again, if it were not in the Bible, would probably again be thought blasphemy. “And you have been given fullness in Christ.” God himself has been placed within us. We live not in the weak vessels that we have not yet shed. No! Instead, we are to show the very God placed within us—his fullness dwells in us.

And we are called, not to live a sinless life, but rather to live a life dedicated to letting the Spirit mold and make us into the very image of Jesus Christ himself. Among other things we are to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And that is the victorious Christian life! To think that God himself would be in us, and to think that is what all Christians are called to! That confession should mark our way, every day. The spiritual Christian will seek to keep the lowest ledger possible, keeping his sin regularly confessed, just as though he were breathing. That is how unrepented sin is to be treated.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Reflections on Christmas

I see the country wind up every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas with the same sort of drivel. The stores all engage in selling the latest and greatest whatever, and the trouble is, I do find myself heartily going along with them. I make expenditures greater than what I can afford to supply stuff to my children and grandchildren that they don’t really need, and all the time, I find the country urging me on—it’s Christmas.
Why do we do these things? I look back over my life, and I find that I am doing the same sort of things that Mom and Dad did. My life is a reflection of my Americanism, and not for the first time, I want to reject that. “Enough!” I shout. This year is going to be different—I say to myself every year, as I fall into the same trap. Christmas is such an exciting time for the kids, and when we had the patter of little feet in our house, it was absolutely wonderful to be awakened by cries of delight from our surprised ones. All of that is wonderful in its own way.
My dad strung lights in my early years, and as a Dad, I felt it my duty to go and do likewise. I bought so many Christmas lights one year that my house was the brightest one on the block, and if not quite up to Christmas Vacation standards, it still won first prize for my neighborhood. This year? No lights. Inside? No tree. Wrapped presents lay all around the house waiting for delivery, but we will wait in vain for the sound of small feet pattering in our house this season. My wife and I agreed; there did not seem to be much reason for going through all the decoration.
When I attended Biola, eons ago, there was a wise professor who happened to teach about giving during my first Christmas there. He said that one ought to give until it begins to hurt, and then give a bit more. I thought it a lovely idea, and have adopted it as a lifelong pursuit. Christmas is about giving—about God giving himself that man might live. The angel tells us, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” What remains with me after all these Christmases is That Gift, staring me in the face, becoming ever more important to me.
How many more Christmases shall I have before he returns? I do not know the answer to that, but I know his presence in my life, in the lives of my wife and daughter, testifies that he is returning, and soon. My sister-in-law echoed my thoughts exactly when she said, “Oh I have expected to see it in my lifetime!” I was saved by Christian friends who directed me to The Revelation, the first book of the Bible I ever read. I have lived in Christ since 1972, watching and waiting for his return.
But his second coming, visible, and known to the whole world, will be unlike the first coming, as a babe in the manger. What a precious thought it is to me when I think of God coming into the world, “that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The angel was right—I did not expect anything less—good news of great joy for all the people. I hope to see many in this coming year hear the gospel—that God himself entered the human race, and find out what a difference that babe in the manger made so long ago.
I try to imagine what the world might be like without his coming the first time. The world little knows, neither wants to acknowledge the vast difference that babe’s coming made so long ago. It did change the world forever, and radically, as God reconciled man to himself, drawing all men to himself. When I reflect on that, I know that this Christmas, even without all the glitter and the lights, will be the best one so far. Do I not have much to be thankful for?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What is unforgiven sin?

I think it necessary to make a sharp delineation here between the believer and the non-believer. God freely forgives sin once and forever when any person comes to believe God. “For God so loved the world, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but come to life everlasting (John 3:16). Believing God is always followed by recognition of sin, of need, and of repentance. But that same person, not believing, is condemned because he rejects the plan of God for his rescue—the only plan which is available to him. “But he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Thus, we have unforgiven sin, but only because of a man’s refusal to believe.

How is it that a gracious God should refuse to forgive sin? The proper answer is that he has not refused to forgive sin, but has granted all forgiveness because he poured out his justice on the Son, that all who believe might be freely forgiven. I think what most people think, when they bother thinking about the deep things of the soul at all, is that forgiveness is sort of a benign overlooking on the part of God, who weighs your sin most lightly and will fudge the scales a bit in your favor if you need it. Of course that is the opposite of what is really happening, and ought to remind us of our solemn duty to proclaim both the death and resurrection of the Lord.

The question is not as many people feel: why should God keep me out of his heaven? Rather the question is: How can a just and holy God possibly allow you into his heaven? It is precisely to address the latter question that God performed his judgment—upon himself—coming to the cross, and giving himself freely to the world, that “whosoever” might believe. Justice was served that mercy might follow, but there can be no mercy for those who walk away from the freely given gift of God. Hence, we are left with many people with unforgiven sin. What can a holy and just God do that he has not already done? Giving his own life that we might live was giving his all, and having given his all, there remains nothing left to be done. Nothing.

Recently a woman in our church testified of her coming to the Lord, but being stopped for a time by a silly notion in her head that she would face God on her own, rather than go to him for forgiveness. I think all our silly notions about getting past the judgment of God on our own must wither when we see the absolute standard of holiness; none of us could match that standard for a single hour, let alone a lifetime. He poured his judgment upon his Son, that he might also pour his mercy in unmeasured amounts for those who receive him. Facing God on our own merit will always have only one result: we fall under judgment, for there is no forgiveness for sin if we will not receive that which is so freely offered.

How many people do we know with unforgiven sin? If you are like me, probably lots. Forgiven sin is the greatest gift to mankind, and it comes through the greatest giver, Jesus the Messiah. Unforgiven sin is something that no one should face death and judgment with, and I wonder how many of us live and walk and talk to our family and friends with unforgiven sin and never bother to tell them of their need. I think it is because we so seriously undervalue the gift that we have been given.

The gospel has been defined as one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread. But it is far more than that. We are now children of the king, and will one day rule with Christ on this very earth. How is it that so many of us forget that we were but beggars? All we want to remember now is that we are kids of the king, and forgetting our low estate, we disdain to even speak to others about the source of our bread. The Bible says, how shall they hear without a preacher? Yet, we ourselves have become hopelessly fat and lazy on the riches of Christ, and find it too tedious of a job to tell others about Christ.

Thankfully, there are many Christians seeking to tell others where to get bread. Not long ago I read again Chafer’s excellent book, True Evangelism. He states eloquently that the biggest need for successful evangelism begins with prayer. “It is true, however, that intercessory prayer is the first and most important service. As has been stated, the divine order is to talk to God about men, until the door is definitely open to talk to men about God.”1

The church today stands in sharp need of revival, and that must begin with prayer. Prayer for the lost ought to be at the center of our focus. We no longer seem to have that focus, the kind of focus that swept America in the 1970s that caused Time magazine to declare 1974 the year of the evangelical. I was saved in 1972, and consider myself part of that movement. Yet, even I need to be reminded of that great time, and recently I was reminded when reading a biography of Keith Green written by his wife, Melody Green. She describes a scene where, as a new believer, Keith goes to a friend and tells him about finding Jesus. The friend starts to reject the message, but Keith is so overwhelmed by his friend’s utter need, he bursts into tears. The tears make the difference and persuade the friend of the way to Christ.

Have you or I been so concerned for our lost friends that we have told them in tears about Christ? Have we done our job in praying for an utterly lost world? I thank my God that my pastor seems to carry these prayers and concerns with him even to Starbucks (where apparently he goes quite often), and his evangelical message is quite bold, and often received well. Others in the church are like that—they seem to carry Jesus with them wherever they go. Would that we were all like that—for the truth is that we are either forever lost or forever saved when we pass from this world. We are either forgiven or unforgiven, and perhaps we need to reflect more on what that means.

Leonard Ravenhill tells the story of Charlie Peace, a convicted murderer on his way to his hanging. The preacher who accompanied him on his last walk was uttering words about the awfulness of hell. Turning to the preacher, Charlie Peace said, “if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!"2

I submit that if we really reflect on forgiveness, and know our high estate, and also the low estate of our father, our mother, our children, or our neighbors who do not know that forgiveness, we would go more eagerly to those bloody knees. I fear our message has been blunted by our unbelief, and a blunt message who shall hear? Revival is called revival because we become newly awakened to old but timeless truths. The world plods onward to its destruction, but some may yet be rescued, if we but pray and sharpen our hunger and thirst, to see men as God sees them. Shouldn’t we, who were but beggars ourselves not so long ago, be busy talking to other beggars? Both revival and evangelism ought to start with prayer. With you. With me.

1. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 934-937). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
2. Ravenhill, Leonard (2004-08-01). Why Revival Tarries (Kindle Locations 334-337). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Friday, December 13, 2013

What is the foolishness of preaching?

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
1 Cor. 1:21

How is it that the immortal God should clothe his revelation in mortality? Essentially that is the one question behind the “foolishness of preaching”, for it pleases God to save his frail beings through mere words spouting from the mouths of men. His wisdom chose the unlikely vehicle of preaching to save them that believe. And yet, the question draws us irretrievably back to another realization, that the coming of Christ is indeed God clothing himself in mortality, for in the biggest wonder of the ages, and all of creation, God has fully intended to reveal his wisdom through the tragic figure of his Son impaled upon the cross. God also has fully intended that the message of the Son’s victory over death should be proclaimed by mere mortal men. And, if you are like me, that is a precarious situation in which to find oneself. I find myself apprehensive of my own words, realizing that those words are words which people may or not find the gospel. What is this “foolishness of preaching”?

It was through the witnessing of the gospel that two friends were powered to challenge my world view, make me look at myself through God’s eyes, and come to him through the foolishness of preaching. I daresay you, if you have encountered God, have a similar story to tell and that would prove the foolishness of preaching is not at all what it would seem, because the very power of God is behind the weak words men would offer. From the Day of Pentecost onward, God has blessed his church through the outpouring of his Spirit when the gospel is preached.

It is at this point of “foolishness” that I would like to tarry for a bit, and explore what it may mean, but also what it does not mean. First, it does mean that the gospel, simply and plainly should be expressed, to the fullest bit of the preacher’s ability. Even while the preacher is preparing his message, he is to muster every bit of his creativity and persuasion, but all the while he is to know that results come from the quickening of the Holy Spirit, and no words themselves, apart from the Holy Spirit, would ever be adequate to move sinful man to confessing his dire need for a savior. I think the warning of Lewis to be applicable here: “He has room for people with very little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have. The proper motto is not ‘Be good, sweet maid and let who can be clever,’ but ‘Be good, sweet maid, and don’t forget that this involves being as clever as you can.’”1 The worker of evangelism is required to lay all the cleverness he might muster at the Master’s feet, but all the while he is to know that it is God who must empower the presentation of the gospel.

Which leads me to explain what it does not mean. It does not mean that we check our brain at the door when presenting the gospel. Sometimes I see the gospel presented in such a light that it looks ridiculous and seems to draw no one. What is wrong with telling the gospel that way? I rejoice in the gospel being presented, but the apt and wise student of the gospel should look at his audience and tailor his message to them. Does that sound far-fetched? Look at the sermon that Paul preached to Mars Hill in Acts 17. Paul identifies an “unknown” god that the people of Athens were careful to worship, lest his anger be stirred, and it is to that unknown god that Paul identifies as being the Lord God. It was a simple platform for gospel presentation; Paul found something, the unknown god, by which he could start communication of the gospel and move his audience to the place where they were more apt to hear. Chafer reminds us, “No human power or argument is sufficient to enlighten a darkened soul concerning the necessary steps into the way of life. This is a part of the work assigned alone to the all-sufficient Spirit.”2 Even the mighty Paul, or perhaps I should say, especially the mighty Paul, depended on God to enlighten men.

Look at the example of Paul. He had been a Pharisee, meaning he had most likely memorized vast portions of the Old Testament. When he became newly born, or born again, he then had to retrench all of his learning, putting all things in scripture under the headship of his Lord, and he spent many years doing just that. No one could ask for a more highly trained evangelist. He was trained well in the “wisdom of the world” and we find him quite able to use that wisdom, that his words might bring the glorious gospel to hearts that might be unwilling to listen to him otherwise.

So the principle of using every bit of our “wisdom” to gain a chance to express the gospel to an unwilling audience is established, and there is a place for the wise to speak, and, I think, be heard. But there is also a place for the timid soul to speak, and by the evident nature of his very timidness be heard. I fall much more into this category, and I am able to tell you that my very reluctance to speak shows through with my stuttering and general ineptness of speaking, which sometimes will draw attention as people discern that I speak of something that is so meaningful to me that I cannot keep it bottled up; it spills all out, and, I am afraid, makes an intolerable mess. But whether we speak from the well trained avenue, or what I call the compelled manner, the Spirit of the Lord is able to take our feeble words, endue them with his Spirit, and bring the very Word of life to a lost soul. But it is never our words, as words, flowery or compelled stuttering, are what God makes of them. “No human power or argument is sufficient to enlighten a darkened soul concerning the necessary steps into the way of life. This is a part of the work assigned alone to the all-sufficient Spirit.”3

We know the Word will cause offense; it is a stumbling block to those who refuse belief. “There is probably nothing that offends the modern sensibility more than the affirmation that the Bible is true in a unique, exclusive, universal sense.”4 What a wonder it is that our weak vessels, with our sinful natures, and our frail testimonies, should be used by the Holy God to proclaim the words of life! And God uses us successfully to a hostile audience, which by its very nature, hates our message. Is it not utterly amazing? I wonder if this is not one of the highest places for the sovereignty of God to show forth. If God can use us, frail, timid, proud, and arrogant, to bring forth his light to a darkened and hostile world, can he not do anything?

What motivation that should be to us—those of us who carry on with this “foolishness of preaching”. God means to take us, as we are, but fill us with his Spirit, use us for his purposes, and sometimes, some of those purposes include the awakening of dead souls. We who were dead in trespass, who now can realize how utterly broken we are, bring the very Word of life to those who are still dead. Not to us, Lord, but unto thy name be all the glory! And so it is, wonder upon wonder, miracle upon miracle, unto God be all the glory and majesty forever. The foolishness of preaching.

1. Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (pp. 77-78). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 572-573). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
3. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 572-573). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
4. Pearcey, Nancy (2010-09-01). Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (p. 32). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

What is forgiven sin?

It is, or should be, obvious that Christ took on the penalty of all the sins of the world. “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The penalty is paid totally, and there is nothing that we can add or subtract to; God’s grace has been given to men and even the world dimly recognizes the all-important incarnation every Christmas season. But there arises an important question, at least in the discerning reader’s eye. It is obvious that the world continues as it always has, and things seem to be constantly going from bad to worse. Why is it that we do not see more change in the lives of these “forgiven” hordes?

The answer is simply that they are not forgiven until they begin believing God. God simply insists on one condition—that men begin believing God—that they believe Christ the son of God was sent to be their Savior. Creeds split over exactly what takes place in an individual when he receives Christ, as to how much of the individual’s will is involved. I would leave that argument to theologians, and stress rather what I think most would agree upon. I would show through the Scripture of the utter need of man to come to Christ, for come they must if they are to receive the work of Christ done in their behalf. “Christ’s death is sufficient for the whole world, but secured the redemption of the elect.”1 “In like manner these passages are characterized by such universal words as "all," "every man" and "the whole world." From this it must be believed that the death of Christ has already provided a great potential and provisional value for every guilty sinner, which is now awaiting his personal recognition.”2

However we are to define the elect, we must agree that all the elect must receive this forgiveness of sin. It is the only condition which God gives upon the sinner, and it is a sure thing that there is no other way to be saved other than believing God—that he sent his son into the world, that whosoever believes should not perish, but have everlasting life. Thus the problems of an sinful world have been solved in the death of Christ on the cross, except for those who refuse to believe.

What can be done for those who refuse to believe? As Chafer said, long ago, “If men go to perdition it will be because every possible mercy from God has been resisted.”3 I cannot conceive of a worse punishment than knowing that God has made a way to save your soul, that you have refused that provision, and that neither you nor a loving God can do anything to mediate your judgment. In society, people commonly believe God to be a merciful one, but they misunderstand his mercy, thinking that justice is a balance scale, and if their good works do not quite outweigh their bad works, God will somehow fudge the scale with his thumb. There is no merciful thumb of God; we have been weighed and found wanting, and there remains no salvation other than that which God has wrought. “One is either a justified covenant-keeper in Christ or a condemned covenant-breaker in Adam.”4 The choice cannot be put off, for in putting it off, is not one already making a choice?

We have indeed been weighed, our measure is taken, and the scripture declares none of us to be good, no not one! The importance of what God did through Christ on the cross cannot be overstated. The sins of the world were nailed to that cross in Christ, and forgiveness is offered to all, that those of us who are willing to look upon that cross, and believe God, will not experience unforgiveness; instead all is forgiven and their remains nothing left for us to do for our salvation but to be a receiver of his grace. “The conclusion from these revelations is that by the cross God has declared our sin, His own righteousness and His own unmeasured love. He has spoken to us through His Son. The reasonable requirement is that we believe that message. This is the only condition given in the Bible upon which one may enter into God's saving grace.”5

On the part of the new saint, confusion sometimes arises over their sin after the cross. I will hear them pray to God for forgiveness, asking God to do that which he has already done. It is never necessary for the believer to ask for forgiveness, for the Bible teaches that that forgiveness was totally given to us with our belief. In fact, Chafer has identified at least thirty-three distinct operations that happen to the believer when he believes God. One of those is God’s provision of complete forgiveness, where all of our sins, past, present, and future, have forever been judged in the condemnation of his son. Instead of asking for forgiveness, what the sinning saint is commanded to do is confess his sin. There is no additional penalty or time out or recompense that must be done at the time of confession, as some would teach. There is no repetition of formulaic prayer, neither any act of contrition or efficacious work that we must do to receive that forgiveness anew. Instead we confess our sin, agreeing with God that it indeed was sin, and we receive renewed fellowship with his Spirit.

There are certain sects of Christianity that teach that we must be saved all over again when we find ourselves in deep sin. But such false teachings seriously misunderstand the grace of God, who judged all sin upon the cross. If there were the least tincture of work to our salvation, if we had to do the smallest amount of work to insure the forgiveness of God, we would surely be in the most desperate of straits. I have found people who follow such errant doctrine have very limited understanding of their sin nature. Such people think their sin only comes seldom, and that somehow their own work will keep them secure against such future occurrences. They miss ever understanding the depth of the treachery of their own hearts, and they miss understanding the total wonderful picture of forgiveness that God has done for us in sending his son to die for us. It is simply his grace.

Unforgiven sin? For the believer, then, such a thing is unknown. For the unbeliever, relying on his own works? God is not able to forgive sin which is unpunished, and the unbeliever will face the penalty for all of his sins, unto the least and greatest sins. I can imagine no worse fate than to be as the rich man who died, and was tormented in the due penalty of his sin, and begged God to send someone back from the dead to tell the gospel, that his brothers might be saved. Jesus taught that not even then, when someone clearly defied death, and returned with the gospel, not even then, would people believe. There is no sacrifice left over for those who will not cast themselves on the free grace in believing what God has already freely done.

But even though the purchase on our part is through belief, and is thus free, we ought always to remember that it was by no means free to God. He purchased our redemption at the highest cost and with the greatest work he had ever done. He gave his all for us, and in giving his all, there is nothing more that conceivably could be done. Are we not valued by God most highly? Next time Satan would accuse you and try to make you feel worthless, remind him just how much God does value you. And, since he does value you and I so much, is it not time that we were about our Father’s business?

For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.
1 Cor. 6:20

1. Horton, Michael S. (2011-10-11). For Calvinism (Kindle Locations 72-73). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
2. Lewis Sperry Chafer (2008-07-24). Salvation (Kindle Locations 348-350). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
3. Lewis Sperry Chafer (2008-07-24). Salvation (Kindle Locations 426-427). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
4. Horton, Michael S. (2011-10-11). For Calvinism (Kindle Location 820). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
5. Lewis Sperry Chafer (2008-07-24). Salvation (Kindle Locations 323-325). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
6. In turning to the Scriptures to discover what it has pleased God to reveal of His saving work in the individual at the instant he believes, it will be found that there are at least thirty-three distinct positions into which such an one is instantly brought by the sufficient operation of the infinite God.
Lewis Sperry Chafer (2008-07-24). Salvation (Kindle Locations 588-590). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What is original sin?

For when you eat of it, you shall surely die.
Genesis 2:17

Oh my momma warned me
And how my daddy cried
The day I left my home
You said you'd always keep me satisfied
But oh how you lied (you lied)
Well I should have heard my momma's words
But then I guess I had too much pride (original sin)

Keith Green, from Dear John letter (to the devil)

Original sin? What was the sin that started it all? I love reading Genesis time after time, and picking more up from the text each time I read it. I often think there is much that God has not told us (and there is!), so I go back and find that he has hinted at that which I was wondering about after all. Keith Green alludes to original sin as being pride in his famous lyrics above, and I think pride does pretty well nail it. Let’s examine the story and see what we can know.

First of all, I notice that God gave Adam the one rule, not to eat of the fruit of the tree, before Eve had yet been created. One rule I would think would be pretty easy to keep track of, and to plainly repeat, yet when Eve repeats the rule to the serpent, she gets it wrong. She adds, “and you must not touch it, or you will die.” I always wonder if Eve edited the rule here, or if Adam gave an edited version. The text does not say, but it does clearly show that they were unable to keep even a simple rule clear in their minds.

If I had to guess, I would guess that Eve twisted the rule, because she did so after starting to talk to the serpent, and scripture elsewhere makes it plain that Eve entered into this sin being deceived. It probably is true that she was already trying to over respond to the question of the serpent, and was already entering into his deception. What we are sure of is that she saw the fruit was both good and pleasing to the eye, and she partook of it.

Adam, being with her, received of the fruit and ate it, perhaps as is commonly thought, because he understood she was in sin, and entered into sin willingly with her. I cannot be sure of that, but scripture elsewhere makes note of the fact that Adam knew fully that he was disobeying, whereas his wife had been deceived.

When God confronts them both, Adam does what humans have been doing ever since, and lays the blame on the woman, saying, “The woman you put with me gave me some fruit, and I ate it.” God questions Eve, and she does what humans have been doing ever since, and lays the blame on the serpent. God takes both excuses into account, since they were valid, and in his curse, lays most of the curse upon the serpent, pronouncing it first upon the serpent, then Eve, and finally Adam.

The curse to the serpent is very important, for here is contained the first prophecy of Christ. “He will crush your head and you shall strike his heel.” Thus we find both the crucifixion, “you shall strike his heel”, and the second coming, “He will crush your head”, prophesied. I think it important to note that the curse pronounced from God was vile, perhaps beyond anything we might understand, but the worst of it was saved for the serpent. Man and woman, after the curse, were both made garments of animal skin, suggesting the shed blood necessary for their redemption, and they were cast out of the garden.

Paul teaches us in the book of Romans that all of creation is groaning with this curse, still in effect after all these years. I wonder about the extent of the Fall, but evidently it radically changed the animal kingdom, and perhaps even the plant kingdom. We get some hint of the changes when we are told in Isaiah that he who dies at one hundred will be thought to be cursed, and when we are told twice that (chapter 11 and 65) the lion will eat straw like the ox. During the time of restoration, the time of the Lord’s rule on earth, the earth will evidently get many of the characteristics of garden back.

But I should not leave the topic of original sin without talking more about its effect on all of mankind. Romans teaches us that by one man sin entered the world, so that all men are sinners. From a Christian perspective every lifestyle is sinful, if it be apart from repentance at the foot of the cross. Men have scattered their plans and dreams across the world, but all of it is as vapor unless they believe God for their redemption.

Our world is a fallen one, and I have long noted that for every problem men of good conscience try to fix, twenty more seem to spring up unbidden. Redemption by our own efforts will never work, and those who insist on working out their own salvation in this world will doom themselves and their followers to perdition. It is the lot of men to be born into sin, but it is the grace of God to redeem men from their fallen state. Through the provision of the death of Christ on the cross, the redemption of man is finally solved, taking nothing of the efforts of man, but is totally complete and sufficient in and of itself. Says Chafer, “Grace means pure unrecompensed kindness and favor. What is done in grace is done graciously. From this exact meaning there can be no departure; otherwise grace ceases to be grace.”1

The biggest lie of the serpent in our day seems to be the gentle urge for people to never consider their sin before God. Instead they are told only of a gentle God likened unto a benevolent grandfather who will weigh their good acts with their bad acts, and who is known to “fudge” the scales with his thumb. Those who live out their lives never considering their need will find themselves meeting a God who loves them and has provided redemption for them, but because he is a holy and just God, will condemn them because of their refusal of redemption. “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

A cure for original sin? Not to be had on this side of the cross. But believing God will lead to no condemnation, or rescuing from the wrath of a just God. By the cross God has mediated two superlative characteristics of his divine nature. First, he satisfies his judgment nature forever, for he has judged the sins of the world on that cross. Second, he satisfies his nature of grace and love, for all who will but look to the cross will find redemption and that forever. “God does not ignore or slight the fact of human guilt and sin; for He has met these issues perfectly and finally for all men in the death of His Son. There remains no demerit, nor degrees of demerit, to be considered or recognized. By grace there is now offered alike to all men all the infinite resources of the saving power of God.”2

1. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2008-07-19). Grace (Kindle Locations 231-232). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2008-07-19). Grace (Kindle Locations 249-251). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Friday, November 29, 2013

What is the job of the Holy Spirit?

This answer is terribly constrained by space. I would refer the reader to The Holy Spirit, by John Walvoord, or any of the other fine works mentioned within this short space.

The Holy Spirit? Too many churches today will hardly talk about this third part of the godhead, and I think it altogether fitting that I talk about at least the main part of what the Holy Spirit does. Emotional extravaganzas have been the excuse for hundreds of years not to talk about the Spirit, and I suppose that we have not changed in that regard in these times. I find an author talking about these problems almost a hundred years ago. “If the Holy Spirit is a person, and a Divine Person, and we do not know Him as such, then we are robbing a Divine Being of the worship and the faith and the love and the surrender to Himself which are His due.”1 It is not the purpose of this answer to talk about possible excesses of saints, both in the present and the past, but rather to point out afresh that he is part of the Trinity, and to saints, a very important part. As Torrey says later in this same passage, “If we think of the Holy Spirit as so many do as merely a power or influence, our constant thought will be, “How can I get more of the Holy Spirit,” but if we think of Him in the Biblical way as a Divine Person, our thought will rather be, “How can the Holy Spirit have more of me?”2

Just how important is the Spirit anyway? Another famous Christian tells us, ” Take away the dispensation of the Spirit, and his effectual operations in all the intercourse that is between God and man; be ashamed to avow or profess the work attributed unto him in the gospel, -- and Christianity is plucked up by the roots.”3 That is a very large statement to say that without the Holy Spirit, Christianity would be plucked up by the roots. But after reflecting on the many jobs of the Spirit, I wonder if John Owen is not understating the case. I base that reflection on two things. The first is that according to Genesis we are told that the Spirit was hovering over the face of the waters. Evidently he too was involved in the very creation of the world. The second thing that makes me think Owen may be understating the importance of the Spirit is found in Paul’s writing to the Thessalonian church, “For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way” (2 Th. 2:7, NIV).

The meaning of that verse cannot be overstated. Evidently the Holy Spirit is the one who restrains, or holds back, the very spirit of lawlessness that rules this world now. This restraining work has a specific duration, and is to be taken away and then the “wicked” one, or the man of sin will be revealed. This time will be the start of the 70th week of Daniel, or the beginning of the tribulation. Just how does the Holy Spirit restrain lawlessness? We are not told anything but general things, and need to take clues like when God and Satan are disputing about Job, and God sets limits which Satan cannot exceed in his troubling of Job. In other words, God is restraining Satan with limits. We also see Daniel, when he started praying, that the answer was given at once, but held up until the limits on Satan were somehow overcome. Neither of these examples specifically mention the Holy Spirit, but they are examples of the sort of restraint which probably is applicable. Walvoord says, “Most of the restraining works of the Spirit are revealed as accomplished through various means. The work of the Spirit in revealing truth through the prophets, particularly the warning of judgment to come, and the work of the inspiration of the Scriptures with their power helped to restrain sin.”4 Noah is told that “My Spirit shall not strive with men forever,” and thus the Spirit is spoken of as a Restrainer, even in the Old Testament. Evidently he has been restraining from the beginning, and is a good reason that the world is not in worse condition than we find it.

Now this Holy Spirit is given to every believer, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). And we have been given the Holy Spirit for all of time, for all of eternity. How is it that the Spirit who restrains is removed? Does God break his promise and remove his Holy Spirit from us? Nay, and a thousand times nay! Some scholars believe that when this Restrainer is removed from the world that it will also indicate the removal of all believers at the same time—the rapture takes place, and Christ removes the Holy Spirit and his sheep, taking them to the place that he has prepared for them. “I go now to prepare a place for you, that where I am there you may be also.” The world, without believers or the Holy Spirit, would suddenly become a very dangerous place indeed.

So one of the biggest jobs of the Holy Spirit is restraining the evil one, and the lawlessness which will result when he is given free reign. But there is so much more that the Holy Spirit does! Read these words and see, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26). One of his jobs is to testify of Jesus. In another place Jesus tells us that the Sprit speaks not of himself. Instead his ministry is to glorify God the Son.

The Holy Spirit also does many other things. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged” (John 16:7-11). Here Jesus is telling us that the job of the Holy Spirit is to reprove the world of sin. In other places we are told that no one comes to the Father by himself; rather it is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict, or reprove, each individual and to show him his need for salvation.

Specifically spelled out, the Holy Spirit reproves the world of sin because of their unbelief. He does the same for righteousness because Jesus ascended to heaven after taking on the sins of the world. He does the same for judgment because the prince of this world, namely Satan, has been judged and found wanting. Therefore all those who follow Satan, knowingly or unknowingly, are in judgment with Satan, and must believe God in order to escape that judgment.

So, how important is the Holy Spirit? I would say that his importance cannot be overestimated, and that if we remove him from the church, as Owen says, we will tear up the very roots of Christianity. In my many wonderings about that which is to come, I used to sometimes get the feeling that heaven would be terribly lonely, since I might want even for a glimpse of Jesus, and certainly would spend my life at the back of more faithful multitudes with better access to Jesus than I had. But that feeling is not true! I have the Holy Spirit, the very being of God, given to me throughout eternity, and there will be no such loneliness, for I shall have the company of God in me at every moment. No wonder the New Testament writers tell us of the joy inexpressible to come. What a wonderful thing to look forward to!

1. Torrey, R. A. (Reuben Archer) (2011-03-24). The Person and Work of The Holy Spirit (Kindle Locations 37-38). . Kindle Edition.
2. Torrey, R. A. (Reuben Archer) (2011-03-24). The Person and Work of The Holy Spirit (Kindle Locations 42-44). . Kindle Edition.
3. Owen, John (2010-03-23). John Owen on the Holy Spirit (p. 6). . Kindle Edition There are many general and large things that the Holy Spirit seems to be involved in.
4. Walvoord, John F. (2010-12-21). The Holy Spirit: A Comprehensive Study of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit (Kindle Locations 1937-1939). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What is meant by “being a good Berean"?

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
Acts 17:11

In my last question, I answered why Christians should read their Bibles, but it occurs to me that I really did not go far enough, for if I leave off with just reading, I have not really said what I mean to say. It further occurs to me that the verse above, with a good explanation ought to clarify what I mean about reading. I am afraid that I do intend to talk about interpretation quite a lot, for it makes an enormous difference as to how we approach the scripture. Does God really mean the plain sense of what he tells us?

This last question is more important than it seems; many Bible scholars from different ages have interpreted passages symbolically or metaphorically. Nowhere is this done more often than prophecy, and perhaps a brief look at history will explain why. Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D. and the nation of Israel ceased to exist. Much of the prophecy of the Bible tells how God is going to restore the nation of Israel. Many good scholars looked at prophecy, and decided since Israel was out of the picture, Christians must have supplanted all of God’s promises to Israel. But a careful reading of scripture makes it plain that God is not finished with Israel. “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). The plain sense? God is going to write law inwardly on the hearts of the Jewish people. This verse, along with many many other verses in scripture make it plain that God is going to continue to deal with Israel.

The rule for interpretation of the Bible should be as is commonly taught in many Bible universities: when the simple sense makes the best sense, seek no other sense. I would like to suggest a few simple rules to follow when you are reading your Bible. First, notice to whom the passage is speaking. Is it to the nation of Israel? Is it to a church to which Paul is writing? Was it for a specific time and purpose? Next, establish who is doing the writing. What is his motive in writing or speaking? Lastly, what is the plain sense of the passage, considering both who wrote it and to whom it was written? It is only after these steps are studied that we should attempt to take a passage and find application towards our world, or for ourselves. Thus application should always follow sound interpretation, and never the other way around.

What should you do when you find a difficult verse? The first thing I try is a different version and see if the difficulty remains. Sometimes translators do a better job with one version rather than another. Word studies are usually my second option for dealing with that difficult passage. What is the literal sense of the word in the original? Third, I check commentaries that are well known and generally accepted. It helps to know the backgrounds and favorite doctrines of even the well-known commentaries. Last, if the subject and verse is interesting enough, I search through for a book that revolves around the subject. Here I have to be even more careful to know at least a bit about the author, so that I may know he approaches the scripture in the same careful manner.

So with those rules in mind, let’s inspect the verse I began with: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” In the context of the passage I note that Paul was thrown out of Thessalonica after a mere three Sabbath days of preaching. I know from my reading that there were many faithful ones reached, and Paul wrote two letters to them later in his life, to encourage them and to clarify doctrine, particularly about the Second Coming. But from this passage in Acts, it is evident there was sufficient evil generated against them to force them to leave Thessalonica and journey to Berea. There Luke (the writer) tells Theophilus (the recipient of the book of Acts) that the Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica. Immediately, I want to know why they were considered more noble.

Luke tells us of two great things that they did. First, they received the word “with readiness of mind”. They were not only ready to hear the gospel, they were ready to receive it mentally, to engage themselves fully in the consideration of all that it might mean. Second, they searched the scriptures daily. They were reading their Bible. Daily. Third, they were checking the scriptures to see whether the things they were hearing about the gospel were true. Now the application: Being a good Berean for us is constantly reading the Bible, and checking the things of Christ out, seeing how they are so. Perhaps a bit wider application would be that we are checking the things of our world, the world views thrust upon us in our time, and comparing them to the Bible, to see both truth and falsehoods in them.

I think, by application, we can see this passage is an encouragement for us to be Biblically centered, and examining everything in our world through the lens of scripture. Little by little we are to develop a world view that closely follows that which God has taught us through the word. When we do that we are changed as Paul elsewhere tells us, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). What could be better than that?

I leave you with a quote from a book I just finished. I think it appropriate because reading your Bible wisely will indeed change your world view. “Christians may preach passionately about the need for a biblical worldview, but unless they are submitting themselves to a continual process of sanctification, they will not have the power to live out that worldview—and they will discredit the very message they are seeking to communicate.”1

1. Pearcey, Nancy (2010-09-01). Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (Kindle Locations 5071-5073). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why should a Christian read his Bible?

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Colossians 3:16

I came to Christ, like a lot of others from my generation, without a strong creedal background. That is, I think a lot of those from my generation were without much in the way of religious formalism. If we thought about the Reformation at all, it was only in the context of rebellion, for we were very rebellious, or perhaps we thought of the Reformation bringing the end of religion, and we saw ourselves as the moderns who would reform the evil of our world as we set ourselves against those of the prior corrupt generation. My generation was the generation of honesty and truth, and drugs and free love. Some of us figured out that these “virtues” being together were rather oxymoronic in nature, but as far as when we came face to face with the Christ, we were rather a blank page of doctrine.

Of course, we were to find that our generation was even more corrupt than that of our fathers, but the point I want to emphasize is that we came to Christ without many pretenses. Actually, when I came to Christ, I thought very briefly that any of those who claimed to preach Christ were my brothers in Christ, and it was not until I began studying the word that I realized there were many different “gospels” being preached. Why should a Christian read his Bible? One of the main reasons is exactly that—how are we to know when we are hearing another gospel except we know the truth of the real gospel?

God has wonderfully packaged many of his tools for Christian living within the Bible; the Christian has only to draw on them to successfully stand against many of wiles of the world, but draw on them he must, if he is to at all stand. I observe many Christians like unto the seeds cast into rocky soil. They come up and sprout promisingly enough, but the heat of the sun can wither them away in a single day. They are like a compass coming into near contact from an electrical source; its needle is drawn away from true north and points steadily enough, but in the wrong direction. The Christian finds himself spouting all kinds of nonsense, that even a cursory reading of the Bible would reprove, if he would but look.

Why is it that so many confess to a hard time reading God’s word? Saint after saint has come to realization that nothing, unless it is prayer, seems to be interrupted with such regularity as reading your Bible. I know Christians who have a sweet beginning spirit to them that never grow because they have never found the time to discover the Bible’s rules. I have intervened with such people, trying to get them to begin with just a single chapter from the gospel of John, but they run away from the idea of any regular reading.

Such people will go through life, only seeing God through their experience, and through that haze will come to conclusions about their God that simply cannot pass the inspection of the word. Such people have the softest of hearts that are pricked beyond what they can bear when they are hurt, and I often hear them complaining at the unjustness of it all, but they have no understanding of their wonderful standing before God because they are not grounded in the word.

What is grounding in the word? As a young man (yes, I dimly remember those days), I looked to several older saints for direction and counsel. One of these saints was our pastor, who was so warn and feeble that he had almost to be propped up in the pulpit. At the time I was headed off to Multnomah School of the Bible, and I remember his teaching. “You go to college just so you can learn how to study your Bible.” The Bible itself says it: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee (Psalm 119:9,11). Now as an older saint, I can look back on my life and see that the most meaningful times of my life came as I immersed myself in the Bible.

“Search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). How are we to get to know our Lord without the scriptures? To me, it would be like trying to get through life with only one arm. I might be able to do it, but at every turn, life is just going to be more difficult.

How Christians from historical times got through without reading is very difficult to me to fathom. How could a saint live his life not reading the scripture? Perhaps it explains the apostasy of the church, caught up with doctrine no longer centered in the Bible, and falling further away from the word as time went on. Christians were very dependent on the church for all of their doctrinal interpretation, and the further away the church went from the word, the more errors would be apparent in the thinking and practice of the saint. I do believe that the Reformers strongest “reform” was to translate the Bible into the common language, that all might be able to read.

I have long noticed the same pattern in many of those who profess Christ. Refusing to begin a path of education in the word, they become dependent on the message from the pulpit for all their spiritual sustenance. Something happens, as it always does, whether it is a split, or a disagreement, and the saint finds himself bereft of his pastor. He is now totally cut off from the church, and his life without leadership begins to show bird-walking as his feet carry him about aimlessly. I believe strongly in fellowship with the saints, and listening to a godly man (we do have a very godly pastor), but can any pastor really carry that much load? It ought to be the aim of every Christian to begin with such messages, and those messages ought to regularly drive him back to the Bible, which is the proper source of all doctrine.

An excellent verse which talks about what should be happening in our lives: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). How do we get renewed apart from the word of God? It is God’s will that we should become, in nature, like Jesus, who gave his example of living pure and devoted life to his Father. I cannot even take more than a first step without harnessing the power of God available through his word. It is the plan of God to conform us to the image of his Son. We enter into that plan, willingly, by reading and abiding in his word.

The word of God? The Bible. Literally, the book. It has transformed millions of lives, multitudes of sinners, but the masses of men have continued to break their heads upon its rock of truth. Did you know that it remains, even today, the number one bestseller of all time, and has been there so long that most bestseller lists will not even count it? The Bible is a deep and long story in which God’s compassion is untied bit by bit and generation by generation. It is the revelation from God to man, written by many men with but one Author, with the intent that man should again know his God. The one Author deals with many hard hearted characters in diverse fashion, choosing some as vessels of honor and others as vessels of destruction, but none can approach him without faith. Thus it has one theme: that man might turn from his own willfulness to the God of mercy through faith. The crowning achievement in the Bible is the cross, which all the Old Testament looks forward to, and all the New Testament looks back upon. Jesus becomes the winnowing fork of mankind, dividing forever men into two camps, one of everlasting joy, and the other of everlasting punishment. The mercy of God is clearly extended to all in the Bible, but just as clearly, many reject the truth it contains.

The arithmetic of the Bible is thus: it divides men, saints from sinners; it multiplies the grace of God, turning men from darkness to light; it subtracts sin from the sinner, but adds redemption to the lost. Altogether, we shall never find his grace less than our need, for it equals the grandest love story known to man, because it is greater than all our sin and shame. To sum it all up, the product of the Bible is rescued mankind, its quotient is the division of evil from the world, and there is no difference in those who are saved—all must face him equally, regardless of sin, race, or creed, and must be added to him through faith, or subtracted from him through sin. How could we ever find a better equation than that which has already been given us?

Having come to Christ, having put your trust in him, and having declared to the world that you would be his disciple, therefore go to the word of God, and make a disciple of yourself first, that you may obey everything he has commanded. It is his will. But you will not even know that it is his will, unless it be that you start reading the Bible. What is it that they say? A long journey begins with but a single step. Step into the book of John, and read about our savior, Jesus, or try the book of Romans and find out about your Christian standing before God. God calls us to become in the image of Jesus, and will one day make us totally into that image. Meanwhile we are to take on that image now, with the power of the Holy Spirit, and through instruction in his word. There is no other way. The book. The Bible.

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Romans 8:29

Monday, November 11, 2013

What is the significance of the regathering of Israel?

That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: and the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.
(Deut. 30:3-6).

I am not sure why there are so many negligent views of prophecy today. On the one hand, we have those who find in the Bible the daily headlines of the newspaper. But on the other hand, we have those who disparage any literal interpretation of prophecy whatever. Truth lies somewhere between the two extremes, but how are we to tell where?

The answer, I think, is easier than one might expect. No doubt the universe is unfolding just as God has designated, and every word of every prophecy about the future of man and the earth will also unfold just as God has foretold. Psalm Two is one of my favorites, for it pictures the kings and rulers of the earth conspiring against God and his Son, and in all of their plots and conspiracies the Lord laughs at them in derision. They amount to absolutely nothing. Thus, the Bible stands athwart history, and is shouting its message to those who but read.

In the long years that there was no Israel around, Bible scholars looked at these prophecies and wondered how they would ever possibly come true. Perhaps in that light, we can best understand how so many of the prophecies were not taken literally, and speculation was so rampant as to what the Bible might mean. Indeed, Revelation seems to have a new historical interpretation with each successive generation. Even Augustine, a premillennialist at first, became convinced that the Lord would only return as men prepared for his coming, and became convinced that postmillennialism was the proper interpretation. Beginning with the turn of the last century though, efforts were beginning to be made to re-establish a Jewish homeland, and that is a key point at which our literal understanding of these prophecies had a chance to enlarge.

Chafer published his magnificent The Kingdom in History and Prophecy in 1915, and was already looking toward Israel, saying, “But He will yet regather them, else the oath of Jehovah will fail, and that regathering will be without reference to their own choosing, or merit. Under an unconditional covenant He has pledged to place them in kingdom blessings, under the glorious reign of their Immanuel King and in their own land (Deut. 30:3-5; Isa. 11:10-13; Jer. 23:3-8; Ezk. 37:21-25). This, too, shall be done by no human processes, but by the mighty power of God.1 But Chafer was largely basing his beliefs on scriptures, quoting them extensively.
There were some discussions going on concurrently during this period of Chafer’s life. “In 1896, Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist living in Austria-Hungary, published Der Judenstaat ("The Jewish State"), in which he asserted that the only solution to the "Jewish Question" in Europe, including growing antisemitism, was through the establishment of a Jewish State.”2 Eventually, this desire for a Jewish state was endorsed by England with the famous Balfour Declaration: “His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”3 Thus was sanction given to the Jewish people to reclaim part of their homeland.

With Israel’s obtaining sovereignty at last in 1948, many of the prophecies that had had centuries of symbolic interpretations thrust upon them could at last be looked at literally. Could God really have meant what he plainly said after all? In the opening verse of this question (at the top), one of the most famous of all prophecies is given. Chafer plainly sees the sense of this verse, saying, “That Israel will yet be regathered into her own land is the burden of about twenty Old Testament predictions beginning with Deuteronomy 30:3.”4 Had Chafer lived to see the nation of Israel being born, he would have seen his Biblical prophecies coming true. He did plainly see and state that from the Bible it was evident that Israel would come together again.

God plainly says that the Lord will one day bring all of Israel back from the lands to which they have been scattered. This action is to be taken of God regardless of the faithfulness of the Jews. Today, as we look at the religion of the Jews, they could scarcely be further away from God. According to some surveys, there are more atheistic Jews percentage wise than any other people. Yet God is faithful.
But what are we to think of this regathering of Israel? God is preparing for his return. Much more than that we cannot say with any degree of confidence, and those speakers who see current headlines in Biblical prophecy seem to doom themselves and their followers to disappointment. Listen to what Jesus taught concerning his return.

But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
Luke 13:32
Is it not interesting that Jesus himself knew not the hour of his coming? It was left for God the father to know, and him alone.

And again:
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
Matthew 24:32-34

Most scholars believe Jesus was using the fig tree as a symbol for the nation of Israel. We have watched Israel come to the forefront during the last century, and have watched it continue despite the fact that all of its surrounding neighbors have called for its destruction; indeed most of those countries have been actively involved in trying to destroy Israel.

We see a people who are altogether not ready for their Redeemer in the nation of Israel, but we also see in Israel a nation rapidly exhausting all of their allies in their bid to keep their freedom. It is fairly easy to envision a time in the not too distant future when Israel will find herself alone, surrounded on every side by enemies, and in the most desperate of straits. That, coincidentally, is exactly the picture prophecy presents of the seventieth week of Daniel, that last week of years before the end of this age—the age of grace.

The significance of the regathering of Israel? Only the declaration to a blind and deaf world to see and hear that King of Kings and Lord of Lords is preparing to come back. Will any see and take heed? The scriptures from Matthew, above, signal that it is the “season” in which he is to come, and the consistent charge from our Lord is to “watch”. Are you watching as I am, wondering when and how the outcome will be? It is, after all, the command of our Lord.

1. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 596-599). . Kindle Edition.
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Balfour_portrait_and_declaration.JPG
4. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-07-07). Dispensationalism (Kindle Locations 216-217). . Kindle Edition.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

What are the times of the Gentiles?

And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
Luke 21:24

The times of the Gentiles starts with the Babylonian captivity, way back in the book of Daniel, who longed to look into future things, and was given several visions about the world to come. Seventy weeks, declares the angel, have been determined against your people (Daniel 9:24). Seventy weeks sounds like a relatively short time until one realizes that these are weeks of years, amounting a total of 490 years. Sixty nine of those weeks of years were determined until the Messiah is “cut off”. This happened with the death of Christ on the cross, as near as we can figure it, exactly 483 years later. It is one of the most wonderful prophetic predictions of the Old Testament, and the truth of the prophecy eclipses even the best higher criticism, since the book of Daniel was in existence long before the time of Christ.

But this was a confusing passage to the scholars of that day: How could a suffering Messiah that was so evident in the Old Testament also be a reigning Messiah? The simple answer is that Jesus himself pointed to the division with his quotation of Isaiah, “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”. Jesus deliberately refrains from quoting the last part of this verse, “and the day of vengeance of our God”, for he had not come to bring vengeance, but rather to offer mercy and salvation to a lost world.

The day of vengeance was to begin with that fateful seventieth week, of which Daniel himself is given the explanation that “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” In the portion of the verse I quoted, the pronoun “he” refers to the prince. The prince here, I believe, refers to the prince of the world, Satan himself. I cannot seem to get around the plain sense of the verse; it is obvious that sacrifices are once again being offered in the Jerusalem temple.

It is well to remember that Daniel wrote this in a time when the temple itself had been utterly destroyed, and that happened for the last time in 70 A.D. Daniel was talking about sacrifice in a temple that did not, in his day, exist, and was pointing ahead to a temple that does not exist today. Many Bible scholars feel that this points to a future rebuilding of the temple, for how else can sacrifices be once again stopped?

Today’s continuing crisis in Jerusalem has as its basis this non-existent temple of the Jews. On the one hand, Muslims deny that it ever existed, since their temple is built on the same site given by God to David so long ago as the site where the house of God is to be built. On the other hand, the Jews of Israel today are largely a functional atheistic people, but there remains a militant minority of devout Jews. This minority of devout Jews have a disparate and large influence over the pluralistic form of government in Israel today. They wish to use that influence to get back their temple. Christians are watching the fight between the Jews and the Muslims closely today. If God intends for the temple to be rebuilt, it will be so done, even in troublesome times.

Revelation largely, and appropriately, deals with this seventieth week. Chapters four through nineteen deal with this final week, determined against the Jews. It is noted, especially by those who believe in the Rapture (including me), that the word church is not to be found in these chapters, not once, though it is found in the preceding and subsequent chapters. Why? Because the church is not to be found in the seventieth week, a final judgment on Israel, and one which God has never intended to bring upon his church. The church is to be “saved from the wrath to come.”

This final week is a week where God pours his wrath out, both upon the world and upon the Jews, and will culminate in the Coming of the Son. It is the “day of vengeance” that Jesus so long ago refrained from announcing. At the end of the seventieth week, the times of the Gentiles will forever end, and the day of our Lord reigning on earth will begin.
God will at last make peace with his chosen people, the Jews, and Jesus will reign over the earth from the city of Jerusalem. Zechariah says of this day, “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one (Zech. 14:9). Will the Jews at last be reconciled to the will of their God? Listen to the prophet Zecharius again, “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son” (Zech. 12:10).

What preparation will the Jews have for seeing this one whom they have pierced? There are two witnesses that are raised up, and are given spiritual jurisdiction over the nation of Israel for 1,260 days, or exactly one half of this last week. During the middle of the week, when they have finished their testimony the beast is allowed to kill them. After three and one half days, God will raise them even while their enemies are looking on.

What will these two witnesses do? The Bible (Rev. 11) says that they will have the power to shut up the sky so that it does not rain, which reminds us of the prophet Elijah. Did not the men of the time of Jesus’s first coming anticipate the return of Elijah? Indeed, the last words of the Old Testament, Micah, tell us “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Mal. 4). And why is Elijah sent to us? Malachi again tells us specifically, “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” The specific job God tasks these two witnesses with is for them to turn the hearts of his people around.

But what other powers are they given? Revelation (11) tells us that they will have the power to turn the very water of the earth into blood, and they will have the power to strike the earth with plagues as often as they want. This is a powerful allusion to Moses, and undoubtedly these two witnesses will stand against the beast just as Moses stood against the hard-hearted Pharaoh.

But this Pharaoh, or beast, will be different than his type. He will apparently be allowed to win and will bring about the death of the two witnesses. So powerful are these two witnesses that the Bible tells us that the whole world rejoices in their deaths. After three and one half days these two witnesses shall be raised again to life, being carried up to heaven even while their enemies watch.

The times of the Gentiles? The chaos and casual taking of life, the disease and misfortune of men, the wars and strivings against one another, and even death itself will begin to work backwards, as these times conclude with the second advent of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Messiah. A new age of man will be introduced, with a new king, and his subjects, the very despised Jew of the Middle East, will rule with him. And where will we be? We will be like the wedding guests bidden in at the last moment because the regular guests refused to come, and we will be given eternal life to spend at the side of our Savior. If Paul is to be believed, we will help with the very rule of this earthly kingdom, but we will even outlast that kingdom, and will go into eternity ever at the side of our Lord. It just could not be better than that!

A final word? The ground at the foot of the cross is level, and open to all repentant peoples during this time of the Gentiles. The grace of God is offered to all who will receive it, and no man, regardless of race, creed, or sinful lifestyle will be precluded from the sacrifice that God did make on the cross, during that 69th week of Daniel. But do not think to come in your pride, for there is not one lifestyle of which he will approve, save that of the repentant sinner. Let your prayer be that of the publican, saying God have mercy on me, a sinner. We know too well the reward of the prayer of the righteous who say just as the Pharisee, thank God I am not like that sinner.

There will be no comparative scale of righteousness on that day. No grace is extended to any man on the basis of right or privilege or behavior. Instead man will be measured by the eternal standard of righteousness, and only those who are in Christ will be found to meet the standard, not at all by their own righteousness, but rather by the righteousness that is imputed unto them through their faith and belief in God. All men, regardless of race, creed, birth, or privilege, apart from faith, will be found wanting at that time, and the grace of God, boundless in its offer, will not be extended to them. Abraham, says the scripture, believed God, and it was reckoned unto him as righteousness. The day of this age is drawing to a close, and may well be closed before our lifetimes end. Is it not time for you to check your faith that leads to the level ground of repentant sinners before the cross of Christ?

Notes of Relevance

As the prophets in their foreview evidently took no account of time during which Israel was to be cut off from national blessings, the present church age, which began with the cross of Christ and ends at an unrevealed time, is in no instance considered in their foreview, and the remaining moments of the prophesied time will not be counted off until this mystery age of the church has been completed.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1161-1164). . Kindle Edition.

Scofield defines the times of the Gentiles, “Summary: The Times of the Gentiles is that long period beginning with the Babylonian captivity of Judah, under Nebuchadnezzar, and to be brought to an end by the destruction of Gentile world-power by the "stone cut out without hands.”1 Clear as mud? Let me just say that the times of the Gentiles began with the captivity, and are continuing today, until the coming of Christ. Chafer is a little more clear when he defines the times of the Gentiles, “Daniel sees the entire period of the "times of the Gentiles" extending from the captivity, through 483 years to the cross, and on beyond to the dateless coming of the "Ancient of Days" and the setting up of a kingdom by the God of Heaven which shall never be destroyed. "It shall break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms and it shall stand for ever".”2

1. Scofield, Cyrus Ingerson (2011-10-05). Study Bible KJV - Scofield Reference Bible (Kindle Locations 55573-55575). FLT. Kindle Edition.
[Da 2:34,24,44 i.e., the coming of the Lord in glory Re 19:11,21 until which time Jerusalem is politically subject to Gentile rule. Lu 21:24]

2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1171-1174). . Kindle Edition

The portion of "the times of the Gentiles" following the cross, including as it does the church age, is clearly indefinite aside from the events assigned to Daniel's last "week" (cf. Dan. 9:26 with Mt. 24:6-14). This, as might be expected, is the divine method of accurately forecasting Israel's future while reserving any clear light on the sacred secret of this mystery age. There was no secret regarding the "times of the Gentiles," with the attending present position of Israel in the world; but hidden within that era is a briefer period, "the fullness of the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:25) about which nothing had been revealed.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1175-1179). . Kindle Edition.

Luke 21:20-24. "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."

Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.
Daniel 9:24

And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.
Daniel 9:26

This began with Daniel's time, or when the edict to restore Jerusalem was sent forth, and ended with the cutting off of Messiah. This was exactly fulfilled in the 483 years (69 times 7) before Christ.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1160-1161). . Kindle Edition.

As the prophets in their foreview evidently took no account of time during which Israel was to be cut off from national blessings, the present church age, which began with the cross of Christ and ends at an unrevealed time, is in no instance considered in their foreview, and the remaining moments of the prophesied time will not be counted off until this mystery age of the church has been completed.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1161-1164). . Kindle Edition.

Notwithstanding the fact that the mystery age of the church did not come into the prophet's view, the time of the final heptad, or period of seven, was seen to be much delayed; for it was given to him to understand "what shall befall thy people in the latter days; for yet the vision is for many days."

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1168-1171). . Kindle Edition.

It shall break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms and it shall stand for ever" (2:44, 45; 7:13, 14).

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1173-1174). . Kindle Edition.

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
Romans 11:25