Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Josiah's Reform

Near the end of Judah's existence we meet a couple of Kings that deserve some notice.  Hezekiah is a king of whom the Bible says had a faith that exceeded all other kings including those before him (David).  He trusted in and obeyed the Lord when the mighty Assyrian army came up against Jerusalem and was delivered from them.

His great grandson was Josiah who reigned to about twenty-two years before Judah's fall.  Of him it was said that he walked after God in all his ways and turned not to the left or to the right.  (I guess he was an independent)  He was an example of one who will not compromise when it comes to obeying the Lord and his life bears this out.  While some kings before him stopped the worship that took place in the high places, Josiah made it a point to desecrate them so that they would be useless for those who came after him.  He took honoring the Lord seriously.

From an early age he gave his heart to the Lord and was busy reforming the nation and repairing the Temple and restoring its ceremonies.  When they found the Book of the Law that had long been forgotten he has it read and immediately starts to conform to it.  There are no excuses; he just does what God's people do, he obeys.

But perhaps the most amazing thing is that right in the middle of his life's calling of reforming the nation so that it would serve the Lord as He commanded, the Lord comes to him through a prophetess and tells him that none of these reforms are going to do any good; the nation is lost and no amount of "repentance and obedience" is going to change this.  2Ki 22:16  Thus says the LORD, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 2Ki 22:17  Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. 2Ki 22:20  Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.'" And they brought back word to the king. 

As we read on into chapter 23 we learn that right after Josiah heard this he gathers the people together and has them renew their covenant with God.  Why do this if it isn't going to change things for the better for the nation?  The answer is he does the right thing because that is what God's people do.  He does not confuse obedience with pragmatism.  He doesn't serve only for whatever practical benefits he can derive from the Lord.  It doesn't matter how miserable one’s life becomes because we know that serving the Lord is the right thing to do and in the end all things will be worth the effort.  He serves not because it is going to change the present dilemma, because it won’t, but because this is the will of God.  He reforms because that’s what God's people do because that is the kind of people we are in Christ.  We serve the Lord even when he doesn't answer our prayers and even when we don’t understand the direction he takes, even when it may not resolve personal problems, bring economic success or relieve emotional distress.  Either he is God or we try to be.  When we obey only to the point that it seems to be "working" we have overstepped our bounds.

He offers an amazing example of true godliness much like the young girl with Naaman who pointed him to healing even though he had stolen her out of her home.  It shouldn’t be lost on us that all this takes place before he is thirty.  Here is biblical godliness.  His relationship with the Lord isn't about what he will get out of it in this life; his ministry doesn't revolve around pragmatic ends.  God is his life and so everything he does is to honor him.  Whether this leads to a successful life or one of humility and suffering, he just does what is right.  May God give us this type of love and faith.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Did He Really Say That?!!!

I admit this will be easy.  It will not take much adeptness in the Scriptures to point out the glaring problems with the doctrines set forth in this article.  But allow me this luxury for two reasons.  First of all I have a bad sinus infection and so I am having trouble motivating myself to do much, let alone think intensely on something.  Secondly while to most of us reading this the answers might seem obvious, there are an awful lot of people out there who hold to similar doctrines or at least hold to the overall system of Dispensationalism and the men I am about to quote were instrumental in shaping their positions and I believe they were only taking Dispensationalism to its logical conclusion even though it causes them to dance all around heresy.

I was reading the other night from a book on eschatology.  The author holds to an Amillennial position which is fine since I do also.  He quoted S. D. Gordon from his book (Quiet Talks About Jesus) on page 114 and I quote,  "It can be said at once that His dying was not God's own plan.  It was conceived somewhere else and yielded to by God.  God has a plan of atonement by which men who were willing could be saved from sin and its effect."  If you were wondering like I did what that other plan for salvation could have been he goes on to answer it for us.  "That plan is given in the Old Hebrew code.  To the tabernacle or temple, under prescribed regulations, a man could bring some animal which he owned.  The man brought that which was his own.  It represented him."   This is said in the context that if the Jews had accepted his offer of the kingdom he wouldn't have had to die on the cross.

I find such a position shocking for at least two reasons.  First of all it means the OT types of the shedding the blood of bulls and goats were not actually types at all.  They actually did take away sin to make one justified before God.  Instead of types I guess it was just a coincidence that all those OT sacrifices looked so much like the death on the cross of the "Lamb" of God.  One wonders if his Bible even had Hebrews 10:1 in it, "For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near."  Then if we read the next few verses we are left with little doubt that Gordon is completely off the mark.  Heb 10:2  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? Heb 10:3  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. Heb 10:4  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Heb 10:5  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; Heb 10:6  in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Heb 10:7  Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'" Heb 10:8  When he said above, "You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), Heb 10:9  then he added, "Behold, I have come to do your will." He does away with the first in order to establish the second. Heb 10:10  And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

Which leads me to the second thing, he believed that there was salvation possible outside of Christ; Christ is just an added way.  But worse than that he said above that it wasn't God's plan but conceived somewhere else and yielded to by God!  So as all false doctrines do, this hits at the very heart of the person of God and it is hard for me to see how anyone who holds this isn't an out and out heretic.  But I will leave any of you to defend whether he was or not.

Now I am pretty sure that most dispensationalist, who care anyway, do not hold to this position.  It is interesting though that Gordon is still quoted on some of their websites.  But this begs the question, what would have happened if the Jews had accepted the kingdom Jesus was announcing (not just offering by the way)?  Quite obviously he would not have been crucified since it took a deliberate, concerted effort by the Jewish rulers to get that done.  Rome fought them all the way.  No way would the crucifixion had happened if Jesus had been nationally popular and the Jewish officials had accepted him as the promised Messiah.

So either way you are faced with a dilemma that strikes at the very heart of the sovereignty of God and whether all he ordains will happen or whether God has merely set things in motion and it is up to man to let him have his way or not.  It should be clear what position Gordon held.  And if we look for an even more influential leader of Dispensationalism who realized that this position only has these two outcomes we can quote L. S. Chafer who without controversy was very dominate in modern day Dispensationalism.  He wrote, "It was a bona fide offer, and, had they received him as their King, the nations's hopes would have been realized."  It was obvious that their hopes during Jesus day was a Messiah who was not going to be crucified, but destroy the Roman rule.  In fact, as far as they were concerned crucifixion cursed him and disqualified him from being the Messiah.  This is why the gospel was offensive to them.  Even the Disciples held this view and were offended every time he spoke of his coming death.

What Chafer is getting at is that if they had accepted his "offer" Jesus could not have been crucified.  At least this must be the only legitimate conclusion a Bible student can arrive at.  And by the way, to say that God knew ahead of time that they would refuse the offer means God didn't ordain all things, he merely looked ahead at what man would do and devised some make/shift plan to offset it.  And so my main point in writing this article is that if there are any readers out there that hold to Dispensationalism I would ask you to consider what this position forces you to dabble in; it demeans God's person and makes his work nonessential for salvation.  I am not saying that everyone who holds to the position believes that; I am just saying it is a position that cannot stand up to serious Bible study.  

As far as what do we do with the kingdom Christ and John the Baptist came announcing first to the Jews?  It should be abundantly obvious that they were not offering a literal Jewish kingdom with all the Old Covenant trappings and sacrifices.  Time does not allow us to show that this was never the kingdom prophesied of in the Old Testament to begin with.  But I will offer this New Testament proof.  Jesus made it a point to tell Nicodemus (who Jesus said should have known this since he was a teacher of Israel) that if one wants to get into the kingdom he was preaching about one had to be born again because it is spiritual in nature.  He also made it a point to tell him that being a Jew had no bearing as to whether you got in or not.  Thus the entire Old Covenant, Law and sacrifices and Jewish identity was never meant to continue but to come to an end with Christ as he establishes his spiritual kingdom based on much better promises and it comes with much better power.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Epitome of Sin

In Matthew 11 Jesus pronounces judgment on some of the cities of the Jews.  These cities, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum probably saw more miracles than any other city while Jesus was on earth and yet as a whole rejected Jesus as their Messiah.  What is interesting is that Jesus says that if his miracles had been done in three other cities, Tyre, Sidon and Sodom, some of the most pagan and notoriously sinful cities there were, they would have immediately seen their significance and repented.  This raises some interesting thoughts.

Jesus is not saying that there was something innately different about these two groups of people; that the Gentile sinners were smart enough to put two and two together and repent of their sins while these Jews were too stupid to get it.  Jesus will refute that in the next few verses that speak of the sovereign election of God and that he alone enables man to know God.  We think of Joh 1:12-13,  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.   What then is the difference Jesus is pointing out between these two peoples?

First of all, I think he is telling us that those who have more light will be judged more severely; I guess this much is obvious.  But next, instead of teaching that some sinners on their own repent while others do not, I believe Jesus is pointing out the deliberate sin of Israel of rejecting their Messiah.  They had seen the miracles of Jesus so that they knew full well who Jesus was.  They knew the OT scriptures and could plainly see that Jesus fulfilled them all.  But their greater guilt was that they willfully refused this kind of King and this type of Kingdom.  They wanted a kingdom that exalted them as Jews and as soon as they realized this wasn't what Jesus was offering they turned away from him.

I think the same thing is pointed out by John in his gospel in chapter 11.  Joh 11:46  "But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Joh 11:47  So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, "What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. Joh 11:48  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."   Remember this is related in the context of Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave.  Plenty of the leading Jews were present to see this happen and when they told Caiaphas and the rest of the Jewish rulers what Jesus had done they didn't do what the normal sinner would do which would have been to realize that Jesus had been given power from God and we had better listen to what he said.  They didn't put two and two together by examining all the OT scriptures that they knew by heart so that they could see that Jesus had to be the promised Messiah.

They didn't do these things because they didn't have to, they knew who he was.  But there was a big problem with who Jesus was that bothered the Jewish leaders and the populace of these three cities; it is referred to in the verses from John 11.  If Jesus is king we will lose our place (as king).  This has always been the reason behind unbelief.  It isn't that there is no evidence that there is a God or that we are sinners, etc.  The problem is that sinners are by nature unwilling to repent of everything they are and trust in Jesus as both Savior and Lord.  They will accept God on their terms but not God's terms.

But there is a point I want to make with this in mind back in Matthew 11.  Jesus is telling us that the Last Judgment will not hinge on how awful your sins were but on what you did with Christ; on whether you believed or not.  In other words, with all of Sodom's immorality; you know, all those awful sins that revolt us and we are sure we are not guilty of and so God must be pleased with us more than them; all those sins will bring less condemnation than sitting in church week after week and still rejecting Christ.  The worst of all sins  are not those committed by Hitler but are committed by us in the Western, modern world when we don't take Jesus seriously when we have been given more light than most in human history and yet ignore it so that we can have this world.

So lastly, I speak specifically to Christians sitting in the pews year after year.  Even though our sins are forgiven, what should we think of an attitude that cares little for the Word preached to us so that we continue to live our lives the way we want with little concern for what the Lord says to us?  Is this not a similar sin to what we find in Matthew 11?  Are we not ignoring the light that has been graciously given to us?  Is not the Judgment going to be more about how we used the light rather than whether we participated in certain sins?  How can we compare the sin of unbelief to what Hitler did or the Sodomites?  Because unbelief is rejecting the person of Christ so that you can do your own will.  To reject light when it comes to us, even if it is just to treat it as unimportant, is to put our will over God's and this is the epitome of sin.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Being Perfect as our Heavenly Father is Perfect

John MacArthur has an interesting take on this verse (5:48) in his commentary on Matthew.  He acknowledges that the word translated perfect often meant completion or maturity when used in the Bible but insists that in this verse Jesus is speaking of absolute perfection.  He believes Jesus' point is one that is to be understood throughout the entire Sermon on the Mount; as we come to see what true holiness is and that God accepts nothing less than perfection, we will realize that we cannot be perfect and be driven to Christ as our substitute.

I am not sure if his Dispensationalism plays a part in his interpretation but I will have to respectfully disagree with this take.  This was confirmed to me also when I checked some of the older commentaries that saw it differently as well.  Jesus is teaching us what those in the coming kingdom will look like.  Overall he makes the point that under the New Covenant we will have new hearts that will be driven by love and not merely obeying the rules.  This is why in vs. 20 he said, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  The Pharisees, like Israel in the OT at best could render some measure of outward obedience but their hearts were "far" from the Lord.  The only obedience that honors the Lord is that done out of love.  Later Jesus would explain to Nicodemus that when one enters the kingdom the Holy Spirit gives him a new heart and makes him a new creature in regeneration or the new birth.

Jesus in Matthew 5-7 is not setting up some standard that no one can attain to so that we will realize that we need Jesus's righteousness but instead he is explaining how we serve the Lord under the New Covenant Era.  I agree that at some point every Christian has come to realize that we are ruined sinners with no hope of getting right with God without Christ but this isn't what Jesus is driving home in this Sermon.  If he was then he would leave the crowd in despair without telling them how to fix the problem.  It wouldn't be until some years later after the cross that they would be able to realize how they can be made perfect in Christ.

It seems MacArthur's interpretation has Jesus speaking vs. 48 tongue in cheek; "here is the righteousness the Father demands and by the way you don't have it."  But we notice that the cross and the concept of the atonement is not dealt with in this sermon.  This interpretation doesn't seem to fit into the context of the sermon.   Instead, I would see Jesus answering vs. 20 quoted above.  True holiness is not outward conformity to the Law or hypocritical alms giving, etc. but serving the Lord and others out of love.  Jesus is saying that if this doesn't describe you but instead your religion looks like the Pharisees then you have a problem.

Everything the Godhead does is ultimately to honor itself and Jesus did all things to please the Father because he loved the Father.  Therefore the perfection or the perfect way of holiness is to love God supremely and do everything to glorify him just as Jesus did as an example for us to follow.  Jesus is explaining the nature of true holiness and so he says that the holiness that pleases the Father is going to look like the Father.  Mature godly living serves out of love it doesn't mindlessly or hypocritically do good works to be seen of men or earn God's grace.  

Jesus is telling us to be perfect so it must be something we can do.  He isn't talking about being sinlessly perfect but exhorting us to follow the pattern that Jesus laid down for us which he teases out in the Sermon on the Mount.  This is mature Christian living, loving even as we have been loved and supports Jesus' later teaching that loving God with all our heart and our neighbor as our self is the sum total of the law of God.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Tendency of Growing in Biblical Understanding

I haven't thought of a catchy title that encapsulates my thoughts, thus the rather confusing title but perhaps by the end of the post it will make some sense.  It begins with a recent conversation I had with a couple who have become dissatisfied with the church they are attending.  The main problem was that the Bible was not being taught.  It was just a lot of religious sounding sermonettes designed to make the hearers feel good but little to no attempt to expound the Bible in a systematic fashion.

It is not the first time I have crossed paths with people who take the Bible seriously enough to start questioning what they are hearing every week.  This usually happens when they realize that the preaching doesn't seem to be concerned with teaching all of the Bible and nothing but the Bible no matter how it is received but is more concerned with making everyone happy and growing the church at all costs.  Okay, that might be a little simplistic but I bet it is more accurate than not.

But what I have found over the years is that when I run across people who are actually growing in their understanding of the Word they are always moving away from an Arminian take on things to a more Calvinistic approach.  The couple above are not at this point convinced Calvinists but they are at the point where they are willing to take a second look at it.  It seems apparent that when one starts to really read the Bible to hear what God says you are forced to admit that it teaches God's absolute sovereignty and the fact that he elects some and passes by others.

What I have noticed is that the direction is not from a Reformed position to an Arminian but the opposite.  To me this is telling.  You just don't hear of serious Bible students starting out believing strongly in the sovereignty of God in salvation who after years of study begin to move to a position of a weaker God.  Oh, every now and then you hear of someone who has gone "Arminian". I recently heard of a man who went from a Presbyterian who supposedly believed in election to a Catholic.  He now fancies himself a Catholic Apologist.  But as you begin to study his arguments you soon realize that he has no real grasp of the Reformed position.  In other words, he never really believed in a sovereign God to begin with and has no real concept of salvation by grace alone.

My point is just that there is a reason why as one's understanding of the Scriptures deepens it tends to lead one to a Reformed position rather than an Arminian one.  This by itself doesn't prove one position right above another I suppose but to me it cannot be ignored.  From my own experience the ones who hold to a more Arminian position without exception have whole areas of the Bible that they tend to ignore or deemphasize.  They almost universally use "proof texts" that they insist override any other take on scripture.  Get them away from these texts and they are unable to explain scripture and generally won't even try.  Trust me, I spent a lot of time in their churches growing up.

I trust everyone reading this has purposed in their hearts to read and study all the Bible and accept as God's Word everything in it without any presuppositions that God can't possibly elect some unto salvation or that man must have a free will that is morally neutral.  The Bible plainly teaches the opposite.  Isn't it interesting that the vast majority of what are considered the serious commentaries are written by Calvinists?  Hence the title; the tendency of growing in biblical understanding is toward a strong view of God's sovereignty not the other way around.