Friday, December 19, 2014

Getting the Cart Before the Horse

Rev 13:8  and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
Rev 17:8  The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.

For those of us who were raised with the KJV, we would immediately recognize that the ESV makes a major change in 13:8.  The KJV has the Lamb as the one slain from before the foundation of the world while the ESV applies this to the names of the elect being written down in the book of life.  Commentators state that both are true and so the ones I checked anyway don’t make much of the difference.  While I agree that there is a sense in which one can apply it to both biblically, I think there are good reasons to take the ESV’s translation as best.

The first one is because John later in 17:8 uses this phrase clearly in relation to the elect’s names being written in the book of life and so we should assume that he would be consistent here especially when with the rest of the Bible would support this in the fact that God elected some to be saved from before the foundation of the world, Eph 1:4  even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  

Secondly there is no other place in the Bible as far as I know that refers to Jesus as having been slain in eternity.  Was he predestined to?  Yes, but being predestined to die is not the same as actually being slain which is what the KJV’s rendering says.  Again, if we look at how John describes the Lamb in the book of the Revelation we see that he is referred to as a Lamb that bore the marks of crucifixion but in such places he clearly is referring back to the literal death of Christ in time, Rev 5:6  And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  Rev 5:12  saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!

The third reason why I believe it is best not to refer to Jesus as the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world is because some have twisted this to teach doctrines that are clearly unbiblical.  This in itself does not prove which translation is right because sinful men easily pervert doctrine in the clearest texts, but to me it seems that John is describing the reason why the elect cannot fall.  His point is not that Jesus was destined to die for us but that our security lies in the eternal councils of the Sovereign Lord.  We were destined to believe and so we shall not be deceived.  Conversely in ch. 17, the reason the lost will marvel at the beast is because they were not elected unto salvation. 

The dangerous error that some have used Rev. 13:8 to teach is the idea that election unto an end is the same as the end; in other words, Hyper-Calvinism.  Some have the idea that once God decrees something to happen, then it is as good as done.  But this is only half the story and it is not the biblical view.  Their reasoning might go something like this: since God has decreed that the Son was to be crucified, then in his mind it is as good as done and whether he actually is slain or whether the elect actually repent and believe, it doesn’t matter because God’s will can’t be stopped.  It is not unusual for preachers to say that we were saved when Christ died for us on the cross.  Yet the Bible teaches we were born under wrath and are “saved” when we believe in time.

While thinking they are guarding and extolling God’s sovereignty, they are actually selling the Lord short.  God not only determines the end but the means to that end.  And he is fully capable of making sure that all the steps to the end take place.  So we don’t have to make excuses for him by saying that even though this man died before he believed he is saved if he was elected.  This is the old example the Hyper-Calvinist uses when he says something like: if the man on the battlefield is elected to be saved and a bullet is about to take his life, God will regenerate him or give him faith just before the bullet hits.  But this is adding to what the Bible teaches about how we enter the kingdom where Jesus says over and over again that we are saved through repentance and faith.  It might be better to assume, especially when considering one’s own salvation and not someone else’s, that if you die before you believe you will be eternally lost; of that we at least have solid biblical teaching. 

Now I know that good men warn us that we don’t necessarily know whether and how God saves infants and the retarded and those not able to understand the gospel and so we must leave room for the fact that God might save in other ways.  I don’t have a problem with that.  My point is merely that we must be very careful of changing the way God has told us things work by pointing to election but ignoring the equally ordained means to the end.  God has it all worked out from beginning to end or he really doesn’t have anything worked out at all.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Religious Hypocrisy

Isa 58:3  'Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?' Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Isa 58:4  Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Isa 58:5  Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? Isa 58:6  "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Isa 58:7  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

There are two errors that need to be addressed from this passage.  The first one being addressed in these verses plainly stated it is religious hypocrisy.  It is the idea that we can live any way we want and “fix it” by religious observances.  This is a common misconception among Roman Catholics but prevalent among others as well.  I used to work with several Catholics who were extremely ungodly and made no bones about it but would attend mass Saturday night to have their sin slate wiped clean so they could start all over.  This is pretty similar to what the Jews were doing in Isaiah’s day.

There are a couple of doctrinal failures that would allow someone to do this.  First of all they fail to realize that if someone is truly converted they have been transformed and so now they hate sin and love God and so to continue to live a deliberately sinful life thinking that the sacrifice of Christ can be used so there will be no consequences is to use Christ to dishonor Christ.  It is to completely miss the point of salvation and only serve to demonstrate that one was never saved to begin with.

The second failure is to fail to understand the glory of God and therefore not get caught up in the glory of God.  It is to think so little of the Lord that you think that you can jump through some hoops a couple of hours a week, some meaningless rituals and that he should be happy for the “worship”.  The very essence of our falleness is to not give him our entire life and do everything for his glory, including all our thoughts and actions.  To think no more of God than to throw him a bone now and then is tantamount to how we treat our pets when we pet them now and then because they are starved for attention.

One way we could find such hypocrisy in our own lives might go like this: We will do whatever our bosses want during the week in order for them to give us some money and perhaps ignore our families and live primarily only thinking about self and so on and then come to church and suffer through singing that doesn’t mean anything to us and is not in our hearts to start with or we will endure a message from the Bible about things that we won’t give another thought to during the week and then we find ourselves asking the very questions these people did in vs. 3.  That is the first error (sin).  Basically it is to despise the Lord.

The other error some make in the above verses is to ignore the point Isaiah is making and conclude something not intended.  It is a trap that is easy to fall into today and is prevalent among theological liberals.  It reads the above text and comes to the conclusion that what God wants is for us to go around doing charity work and not worship.  It assumes that formal worship and Bible study (doctrine) and tithing and the like is just “religion” and that it just leads to coldness and has little value.  What God wants is for us to do “practical” things like feed the poor and do good works to those in need.  On the surface it might sound like this what the passage is saying, 5-6.  Is God saying that he isn’t concerned with us going to church and taking a posture of humility, instead he wants us to open a soup kitchen?  One catch phrased used today by those that hold such a view is “Deeds, not Creeds”.

Of course, this is pretty much the same sin as the first; it sees little value in learning God’s Word because it places little value on the Lord to begin with.  It sees religion as something that makes us good people by following principles and not firstly as how to get right with God.  In fact most liberals don’t believe we are sinners under God’s wrath to begin with and so the cross isn’t a way of atonement but an example to follow. 

What would cause someone to not be attracted to gathering with the saints, hearing from the Lord, praying and singing to him, giving to his work, etc.?  Why would they find more pleasure in doing charity work and see church as of little value?  Why do they think they are doing the “more important thing”?  The sin here is to not see the worship of God and instruction in his word as important.  It therefore doesn’t find much glory and value in knowing God but puts the physical needs of man ahead of God and in so doing does the most harm to man.  Some might think that at least they aren’t being selfish because they are serving others.   But the problem is that they are being just as selfish in the sense that they are putting their own desires ahead of God by ignoring what he says and doing what they think is right.  So they end up putting man above God and so in both cases God is despised. 

The answer is of course that both are important and both are how we worship and serve the Lord.  Jesus said as much when he said the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love our neighbor.  Learning to know, worship and serve the Lord will result in doing good works towards our neighbor.  But loving our neighbor while having little time for God is just so much idolatry.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Why, not so much How

Isa 55:7  let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isa 55:8  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. Isa 55:9  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isa 55:10  "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, Isa 55:11  so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Let me make a couple of observations concerning these verses.  I am not sure that I have ever heard vss. 7-9 used for anything other than to express the transcendence of God.  They are generally used to express how far God is above our ability to think and understand him.  But if we read these in context they aren’t really expressing this at all.  The transcendence in the statements isn't about how much smarter, mysterious and more powerful than us God is but instead his righteousness is infinitely beyond us.  This isn’t just a statement that God’s ways are inscrutable by man, in fact, in this sense we are being commanded to think and act like God.  It is a statement of God’s nature or morality compared to ours.

The ways and thoughts of vs. 8 are connected to our ways and thoughts in vs. 7.  The point is that as sinners we are unrighteous and think and do unrighteous things and God is calling on us to forsake our ways and thoughts for his ways and thoughts.  It is not saying that we cannot know his ways and thoughts but it is our duty to think and live after God.  Again, it is not a statement that God’s thoughts are too deep for us to understand but his thoughts and ways are to replace our sinful ones.

So these verses cannot be used to excuse ourselves from being unable to know God and do his will because we can’t understand him.  Quite the opposite they suggests that God has revealed himself in the Scriptures and we are to forsake our ways for his.

The second thing I came away with from these verses comes from vss. 10-11.  Here God says that the reason things happen on earth is because they have their origin in Heaven.  As rain comes down to earth and gives life, so God’s will or his word is the power behind all that happens on earth.  So life isn’t us doing whatever we want and God reacting to us but everything happening on earth is a result of the eternal decrees of God. 

I could go on and on with that subject but let me just point out one thing.  What this truth does is point us to the main question that mankind should be asking.  Unfortunately fallen man generally asks the wrong one.  It is seen often in the scientific fields of study such as String Theory which looks for that one piece of energy or matter that all things hold in common.  They think that finding out the how will explain everything else.  Man looks for the how when God hasn’t given us the answer to that.  What he has given us is the answer to the why. 

How this universe works is interesting and when we get little glimpses such knowledge can be useful.  But far more important is that we get the answer to why all things exist.  All things exist by God and for God and if we fail to understand that then nothing else adds any meaning to life but instead will only serve to distract us from what is truly important.  

The Lord is accomplishing his purpose and those that don’t acknowledge that and turn to Christ are just rebels living on his earth and one day will be condemned.  But for the grace of God you and I would be running Hell bent to perdition only asking how but not submitting to the why.  I praise the Lord that one day his Word came down and produced life in me so that I might quit looking around and start looking up; quit wondering how everything works and start to understand why everything works as it does.