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Posts Tagged ‘theology’

A little confession time meant to show God’s goodness. I could have acquired my Sunday School lesson book in the five days since being home but other things, including a distracted mind, prevented me from making the one hour drive. So I desperately reached out to two of the pastors to tell me what the main passages were for the lesson. Both replied, one with the answer. So, I pray, study, go to bed a bit late. This morning as I am traveling to church, two other applicable Scriptures come to mind but I can’t remember where they are found. I charge into the church, asking the pastor for a concordance, look them up, and rush off to prayer. Even though I don’t advise this type of study and most usually don’t practice it, God was gracious to give me a very productive class in the logic of my presentation for young minds and the attentiveness of my class- they are such a joy.

The lesson was the Ten Commandments. We read Exodus 20:1-21, taking breaks along the way to to explain the commandments and God’s commentary on them. First of all was verse two. God gives the reason why we should heed these commandments: He is God, and He is the one who rescues. In fact, this is the reason for all law. Rule by law is ultimately based on fear (proper reverence) for the Law Giver, and there is only One. The breakdown of law comes when we reject the Law Giver, making all our laws relative, that is, non-absolute.

Next I pointed out that the first four laws are focussed toward God, and later that the next six laws are focussed toward your fellow humans. God’s person, name, and worship are to be reverenced. The day He set aside as the remembrance of His creation is to be observed (no excuses- notice the list to prevent loopholes). This passage, as my son points out, is the best one to refute Old-Earth Creationists. There is nothing symbolic or allegorized about the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath, or six literal days in this passage. To say otherwise makes a mockery of all of Scripture.

Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise)” (Ephesians 6:2) It is not simply obeying when young, but esteeming in speech and practice when grown. God blesses this attitude and action with long life.

Murder is not the same as killing since God requires killing when murder has been committed: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” (Genesis 9:6)

Adultery is acting like married people do with each other. Since that is a protected relationship, God says, “No.”

Stealing, lying, and wanting things that are not yours are wrong.

God said all this with “thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking” (Exodus 20:18) to scare the people into reverencing Him and obeying Him.

(It didn’t work, as the golden calf demonstrated (Genesis 32), and as God knew it would not. Why, because that was not the purpose of the Law as evidenced by what Moses and Joshua said: “The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.” (Deuteronomy 31:16) and “Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins.” (Joshua 24:19))

The purpose of the Law is stated in Galatians 3:23-26, “But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” So, believers don’t neglect to include the Law in your Gospel presentations. The sinner must know that he has transgressed the Law before he will understand that he needs a Savior. But what a blessed thought, as the hymn says, “Free from the Law, oh, happy condition, Jesus hath bled and there is remission…” The Law no longer condemns me, for I am under the blood of Christ. I am freed from the penalty of sin.

Does that mean that the Ten Commandments no longer apply to me. No, ridiculous! As Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

But how does He fulfill the Law, enabling us to obey it so that it is accomplished? “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4) Because of the sinfulness of our flesh, we could not keep the Law, meaning the Law was weak to bring about its own accomplishment. But God the Father sent Jesus whose death on the cross and sending of the Spirit enables us to overcome the power of sin. The Law showed us our inability; Christ on the cross provided ability; the Spirit applies the ability.

In  conclusion, John 1:17-18 says, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” We were given this valuable tutor, the Law, to point us to Christ through whom we may receive grace and truth to know and obey God. If you have come to Christ and are seeking to live by the Spirit, you are fulfilling the Law and it is no longer your tutor. It has accomplished its purpose; God is accomplishing His purpose, praise God!

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When my pastor was leading the Lord’s Supper yesterday, he spoke of the Savior’s perfections, making mention of His impeccable life. For those who have read my blog for some time, you know that words and thoughts can set me off. Words beginning in “im” and “in” began to pour into my mind concerning all the ways that Jesus is perfect. The only one that didn’t come to me was inimitable, but I was looking for an “i” word that means perfect to use in the title. I came home in the afternoon and wrote the following poem. I have provided definitions below to help you.

His impeccable life
On display to see
His impervious character
The reason it could be
His invincible power
Makes His enemies flee
His indescribable wisdom
Totally beyond me
His indefatigable grace
Has set believers free
His incomparable mercy
I praise on bended knee
His interposed blood
Rescued His church, we
His inconceivable love
In salvation the key
His infinite existence
The great I AM is He

Inimitable-so good or unusual as to be impossible to copy; unique
Impeccable-in accordance with the highest standards of propriety; faultless
Impervious-unable to be affected by
Invincible-too powerful to be defeated or overcome
Indescribable-too unusual, extreme, or indefinite to be adequately described
Indefatigable-persisting tirelessly
Incomparable-without an equal in quality or extent; matchless
Interposed-place or insert between one thing and another
Inconceivable-not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable
Infinite-limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure

 

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Last Sunday my pastor preached from Proverbs 6:16-19. He began by assuring us that the purpose of the passage, as well as his sermon, was not to condemn but to help. God points out our sin for the purpose of warning us so that we might come to Him for help. His second point was how far short we fall, yet how gracious God is. My heart was stirred by the sermon and I reflected on it later in the week, I put many of the pastor’s thoughts into the following poem. I hope that you find it admonishing, instructive, and encouraging.

His grace is spread abroad in us
By manifold and diverse ways

That cleanses us from deadly sins
To live for Him all of our days

To end six sins which God so hates
His character pure they offend
Even seven sins He abhors
By fierce judgment He shall attend

No more haughty eyes glaring pride
Now like the humble Savior be
Eyes that show compassion and love
That all might His grace and truth see

Enough of tongues that concoct lies
Denying and obscuring truth
God’s truth will set you free, He said
Renewing your years as in youth

Hands that shed innocent blood, stop
The Savior’s blood was shed for you
Now like the Master’s healing hands
Helping the poor and infirm, too

Hearts devise wicked plans to scheme
Transgress the righteousness of God
A heart of compassion put on
Equity more than just a nod

Feet run rapidly to evil
While rebellion rules in the heart
Submit to the Savior and live
In healing conflict do your part

False witnesses uttering lies
Gossip and slander destroy lives
Put away filthy, silly talk
Be instead one who for truth strives

One spreading strife among brothers
Strikes a note of profound discord
Seek unity with the brethren
Dwelling in peace with one accord

By God’s help we pursue these things
Bringing all glory to our Lord
Blessings come to ourselves and kin
Others encouragement afford

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When two different objects or ideas are placed near to one another, so that their nearness emphasizes their differences, this is called juxtaposition. [Raise up an off white, slightly stained rag and ask, “Is it clean?” When there is doubt, say, “Let me help you.” Raise up a very white, clean rag and point to the first rag, saying, “Is it clean?”] The hymn writer highlights the juxtaposition well, a contrast of seemingly incompatible facts, when he writes: “’Tis myst’ry all: th’ Immortal dies: Who can explore His strange design?” (Charles Wesley) Indeed, how can this be, that the infinite, immortal, all powerful, all knowing, everywhere present, eternal God sovereignly limits Himself to finite, mortal, frail, limited in knowledge and location and time, human flesh?

We do not merely speak of incarnation. You and I are incarnate, that is, housed in flesh. No, we speak of Divine Incarnation, God in flesh. As the Scripture says, “Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:6-8) But another Scripture says, “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:3)

We have stated the fact of God the Son taking on human flesh. But what was the means? How did it happen? The Scripture says, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:20-24)

Through the conception by the Holy Spirit within the Virgin Mary, Jesus retained His sinless, divine nature enabling Him to live a perfect life and overcome death, which had the power to save. By being developed in Mary’s womb, Jesus gained a body of flesh and human nature and capacities by which He could be a substitutionary sacrifice for “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” (Hebrews 9:22)

Therefore, we should celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, because by it we are both saved and taught about God. We should also resolve to serve the Incarnate Christ, because we owe Him our life now and for eternity. As the songwriter says:

“From heaven you came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served but to serve
And give Your life that we might live

This is our God, The Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King”                (by Graham Kendrick)

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On October 31, 1517, the Protestant Reformation began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on to the Wittenburg Castle Church door. The Protestant Reformation was a movement in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, which tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church, because of perceived doctrinal and moral corruption that undermined the Christian gospel. The result was excommunication and the Protestant movement. These Latin phrases; sola scriptura (Scripture Alone), sola gratia (Grace Alone), sola fide (Faith Alone), sola Christus (Christ Alone), Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God Alone), were the fundamental principles of the protestant reformers. They were developed over time, to summarize the theological conviction of the reformers and are central to the doctrine of salvation. -John Piper

In April of 1518, the head of the Augustinian Order called for a formal disputation of the ideas that Martin Luther had put forth. This gave Luther an opportunity to expand upon his concerns. At the meeting, Luther put forward a “theology of the cross” as opposed to a “theology of glory.” -Editors Introduction to the Book of Concord

A theology of glory expects total success, finding all the answers, winning all the battles, and living happily ever after. The theology of glory is all about my strength, my power, and my works. A theologian of glory expects his church to be perfect and always to grow. If a theologian of glory gets sick, he expects God to heal him. And if he experiences failure and weakness, if his church has problems and if he is not healed, then he is often utterly confused, questioning the sufficiency of his faith and sometimes questioning the very existence of God. -Gene Edward Veith

To better understand the theology of glory, one need only look at the adjective included in the five Latin phrases. Alone. The use of this simple term suggests that the theology of glory, understood God’s work of Scripture, Grace, Faith and Christ were insufficient.

The Catholic Church adhered to what Martin Luther called the “theology of glory” (in opposition to the “theology of the cross”), in which the glory for a sinner’s salvation could be attributed partly to Christ, partly to Mary and the saints, and partly to the sinner himself. The reformers responded, “No, the only true gospel is that which gives all glory to God alone, as is taught in the scriptures.” -Monergism.com

This true and Biblical gospel, proclaimed by the reformers, was about how man can be justified before a holy God. Not by any merited favor, but by grace alone. Not any works a man can do such as the confession, penance or indulgences, but by faith alone. Not by any other sacrifice, such as mass, but only in Christ alone. Not found in the church, papacy or tradition, but in Scripture alone. And not for the veneration, worship or glory of Mary, Saints or Angels, but to the Glory of God Alone.

For Luther, the bottom line was the bondage of the will, or the deadness of the human soul. The Bible tells us that we are totally helpless. Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” We were dead in our trespasses and sin and by nature children of wrath. Only grace can raise us from the dead and only Christ could be our punishment. Those two miracles, life from death and wrath removed, can only be received as a gift. Thus, it is to the glory of God alone. -John Piper

When reflecting on today’s subject of God receiving all glory, you may have thought, “I am a Baptist. I know that we do not glorify Mary, Saints or Angels.” This, I’m sure, is true for many of us here. However, these two verses may shed some light on our weakness and who we do glorify instead of God alone.

Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”     2 Timothy 3:2, “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy…”                            

The Bible tells us:

  • Scripture is from God. 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God…”
  • Grace is from God. Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves…”
  • Faith comes from God. Hebrews 12:2, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”
  • Christ was sent by God. John 3:17, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
  • Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
  • Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”
  • Psalm 103: 19, “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all.”
  • Psalm 19:1, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”
  • Romans 13:1, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
  • Ephesians 1:11-12, “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.”
  • Colossians 1:16-17, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
  • Hebrews 1:3, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”
  • Hebrews 11:10, “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
  • John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only son, that everyone believing in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
  • 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
  • Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

Soli Deo Gloria

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Our pastor has encouraged us to look at the 5 solas of the Protestant Reformation. The first Sunday was Scripture alone. The second Sunday was Grace alone. Today we look at faith alone.

When Paul explains the gospel in Romans, he says that in that gospel “is the righteousness of God revealed…as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

I want to begin by looking at how the Catholic church obscured the gospel, then move to how the Reformation recovered the gospel, and finally give an implication of this gospel for us today.

The Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone by tangling up regeneration with justification like a really bad game of twister. Biblically, Regeneration is being born again—having eternal life infused into our souls. Justification is God the judge declaring us to be legally righteous in his sight (instead of guilty). The mixing up of regeneration and justification resulted in the Catholic church teaching that in baptism a man receives an infusion of righteousness into his soul. And this infusion of righteousness is what makes a man inherently righteous before God. Consequently, the Catholic church went on to teach that the fruit of righteousness flows from divine life experienced in baptism so that a man may merit by his gracious works justification. So, the foundation of a right standing before God is what a man becomes at his baptism and what a man does after his baptism. That baptism often being an infant baptism.

This was the thinking that Martin Luther was plagued by. If there was ever a monk who could have been saved by his monkery, it would have been Martin Luther. Vigils, prayers, reading, spending much time confessing, and fasting were performed by Luther. But all of this work failed to give him the peace with God that he was desperate for. And that’s because Galatians 2:16 says “a man is not justified by the works of the law.” So, the Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone by tangling up regeneration and justification and in this way tortured Martin Luther.

But what the Reformation did was untangle regeneration and justification. And this resulted in clarifying what justification means: Justification is not progressive, but the instantaneous declaration of God that a sinner is righteous instead of guilty. And the instrument by which a man is justified is not man’s work, but faith alone in Christ and his work at Calvary.

Romans 4:5 says “ But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Worketh “not”. Justifieth the “ungodly”.

But how can God declare an ungodly man righteous? He does not do this by infusing righteousness into a man’s soul (as the Catholic church taught), but by imputing the righteousness of Christ to a believing sinner. In other words, when a man believes on Christ, God considers the righteousness of Christ as belonging to the sinner.

Think of it this way—when a poor woman marries a rich man, that woman enters into a union with him so that she shares in his wealth. The poor woman becomes rich. Similarly, when a sinful man believes in Christ, that man enters into a union with Him so that he shares in His righteousness. And in this manner God considers Christ’s righteousness as belonging to the sinner and thus declares the sinner to be righteous. This is the only way that a sinful man may have peace with God.

We have seen how the Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone and how the Reformation recovered that gospel. Now, an implication for the church today is this: we had better get justification by faith alone right before we do any work. Another way to say it would be to say, the church had better get the gospel right before she gets to work.

When Paul reveals what the gospel means in Romans, he talks about justification by faith alone.

When the Catholic church obscured that gospel, it gave rise to an unhealthy religiosity. Germany was not being taken over by secularism—it was very religious, but it was an unhealthy religiosity that arose from the burial of justification by faith alone. Contrastingly, we here in America do see secularism taking over. And what a temptation it would be for us in our day to say “We need to get back to being religious!” But if that religiosity does not arise from justification by faith alone, then we are not standing on the gospel.

What revolutionized Europe was not increasing religious activity. It was the recovery of justification by faith alone. May it be so in our day.

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In this third installation of the 5 solae, we come to what another brother had to say about grace alone:

I want to begin with a personal testimony from January of this year…

After a brief explanation from the Lutheran pastor, I followed the funeral procession into the church—deeply moved. Why? For sure I was going to miss my wife’s aunt, who had been a dear family member to us.

But more importantly, what impacted me was the symbol on her casket that illustrated a truth most dear to me. You see, the casket was covered in a white cloth, symbolizing righteousness, which would be the only thing God would accept from her as she would be presented to Him for judgment. But…whose righteousness?

The symbolism goes further—on the cover was the shape of a cross, and the Greek symbols for Christ. Whose righteous works is God accepting?   Would He see ANY of my aunt’s works?

No, for He would not accept them!

She was being presented to God, covered by the righteousness of our blessed Christ! And THIS was our family’s comfort in our loss.

Eph 2:8-10: “For by grace are you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

In this short statement is the sum of the Biblical teaching of the work of grace. It begins with God-working in us faith which justifies us (giving us Christ’s righteousness), which results in good works which please Him—according to His working in us.

Over time, as the Church of the Middle Ages abandoned the supreme authority of Scripture—“Sola Scriptura” in favor of traditions, other doctrines began to emerge—not only those absent from the Bible, but also changes to the understanding of grace itself.

The Medieval Church’s teaching gradually drifted to the assertion that God’s grace would help us produce the works that He would accept for justification, rather than the grace of Christ’s finished work of cross and resurrection for us.

It is in this world that Martin Luther sought to be right with a Holy God.

In keeping with church traditions, he followed the rules of the monastery, and did penance–all to a radical extreme (and even the annoyance of his fellow clergy)—all the time being under condemnation in his heart because of the majesty of God’s holiness and perfection overwhelming him.

At this point, as he studied the Bible, he discovered that it is not his righteousness that God will accept, but Christ’s, and that he should by faith abide in Him! Luther received God’s gracious gift of eternal life.

Luther and the other reformers returned to the Biblical, apostolic understanding that good works and a changed life flow from Christ’s righteousness given to us, instead of leading to it. God will not have his glorious gospel assisted by human works.

Our Christ, as God in human flesh, takes on Himself ALL of our sin and sinfulness on the cross, and gives us ALL of the righteous obedience of His perfect life.   We call this teaching Sola Gratia, or “grace alone.”

In short, God’s grace justifies us completely in Christ’s work, and gives us a heart of repentance, rather than demanding we “do penance.”

Church Historian Stephen Nichols tells us that Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, is portrayed in a portrait with an open Bible.

In an illustration of this grace to us, the Bible was opened to Matt 11:27-30:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

This is Christ’s gracious invitation to us—then, and now.

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we celebrate our salvation in Christ, Sola Gratia, by grace alone—in the words of the Apostle Paul: “…to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved…”

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Several weeks ago my brother in Christ shared this about the sufficiency of Scripture:

“Sola Scriptura is a reminder that God has always worked and will always work on this side of eternity through His word the Bible. Sola Scriptura deals primarily with the issue of authority. It is not a base claim that says that nothing except Scripture is helpful. It is not a claim to Scripture only in all cases. That would not be Biblical. Recognizing this is to distinguish between Sola Scriptura and Scriptura Nuda. Sola Scriptura does not argue that there is no value in anything except for Scripture standing on its own. It is an argument that Scripture is the only basis of authority.

I think a couple of verses would help us frame this discussion. Psalm 138:2 captures the sentiment of Sola Scriptura in a poetic way, but it also stresses a note of praise and worship which seems very appropriate when we are remembering God’s faithfulness over the 500 years since the Reformation. The psalmist here says:

“I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your                       steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your                   name and your word.”

Several translations say this slightly differently, but the idea is clear: God exalts his Word. And God exalts those who exalted his word, and God will be exalted when his word is exalted.

The Reformation, which was a great turning from the time when doctrinal error was pervasive in the church, to a time when the church was based much more on the truth of Scripture follows clearly a line or trajectory of a return to Scripture. Every individual who had a hand in the Reformation of the church was a person who had first learned to see the Scriptures as their sole authority. You can back up to 200 years earlier and look at the life of John Wycliffe in England, who was persecuted for his position on the authority and importance of Scripture. You can look in the 1400s at John Huss, who was also persecuted for a similar stand. He was martyred for his belief in Scripture. But he is the one who famously said, “you may cook this goose.” His name Huss meaning goose, “but in its stead God will raise the Swan who will sing his praises.” That Swan came 100 years later, just a few miles away, in the person of Martin Luther. Martin Luther, was ironically induced into the priesthood in the same church that the bishop who condemned Huss was buried in. And so we see consistently through history, God superintending to bring about his own glory and the reform of his church through the honoring of Scripture. Each of those men engaged in the great task of putting the Scriptures into the language of the common man of their day. Each one of them understood that one of the great tasks of their life was to put Scripture into the language of the common man, so that the English plough boy could read Scripture in English, and the German peasant could read Scripture in German.

Simply put, Sola Scriptura is the cause of the Reformation. The other principles, or rally cries of the Reformation; the other solas, whether it is Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Fide, or Soli Deo Gloria. We could not and would not have any of these were it not for return to Scripture only. Scripture is the foundation; it is the foundation upon which God’s work will always be built.

Peter reminds us in II Peter 1:16. In this passage Peter reminds us of a pivotal time during the life of Christ. A time where Peter and two other disciples are alone with Christ on a mountaintop, and there in that Transfiguration moment they see the Lord in His glory. But Peter tells us in verse 19:

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to          pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the                    morning star rises in your hearts.”

The King James translation express this as “we have a more sure word of prophecy”. One of the things Peter is reminding us of here, is the fact that even if God were to reveal himself physically to us, as Christ was revealed to the disciples on that mountain Transfiguration, that appearance would not and should not be as authoritative or as significant to us as the physical pages of the word of God that we have in our hands. Peter says that what we have is a more sure word; it is a word more fully confirmed, which we do well to pay attention to. Sola Scriptura thus speaks to the authority and sufficiency of the word of God.

The threat to Scripture in the time leading up to the Reformation, came from an approach to Scripture which claimed that we could not know for sure what Scripture was saying. The scholars and some church authorities the time said that we could look to tradition and Scripture, we could look to reason and Scripture, we could look to the great leading voices of the church and Scripture, and we can look to experience and use that to temper our understanding of Scripture. And out of that mixture of endless qualifications and piles of meaningless footnotes maybe we can come up with something that in some way we could call true. Martin Luther said that that approach to truth, and approach to truth that is merely tentative, an approach to truth that denies the absolute authority of God’s word, an approach that says truth is only possible, is an approach to truth that paves the road to hell. Martin Luther said we do not need possible truth. We need therefore truths; truths that are absolute and unequivocal. We need truths that come to us with the thunderous certainty of Romans 5, “therefore there is now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus.” We need truths that are absolute! And our only hope, our only source for that kind of truth comes in the revealed Word of God, Sola Scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is thus the basis of our confident joy. Every commemoration, every anniversary, every celebration, should ultimately be characterized by gratitude. A gratitude that shows that we are thankful to God. God is the only reason why good things live long. On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation our heart should be hearts that are filled with gratitude that God has kept his word. We can say with the hymn writer:

         “How firm a foundation the Saints of the Lord

          Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word

         What more can He say than to you He has said

         To you who to Jesus for refuge have fled.”

Let us be thankful for Sola Scriptura.”

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My son and his wife hosted a Reformation 500th Anniversary Conference back in April. The website for the conference has history of the various states in Europe that were effected by the Reformation. They wrote and edited summaries of these histories. The website also has links to all of the conference speakers’ talks. Soon the site will have legible pictures of the 40 story boards (trifold boards) he and his wife made for the conference. All of these resources may be accessed at www.reformation500pa.com

Happy 500th and happy researching!

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Some anniversaries are celebrated with much pomp. Perhaps in limited or hidden circles or isolated from one another, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated. But from my limited view, I am not seeing it. Perhaps this history changing event is obscured by the willful ignoring of the main purveyors of information. It is my hope that the quiet remembrance and thanksgiving of the saints for this God directed change in direction of the church and at that time will result in godly resolution to renew repentance and reformation in our time.

My church is committing some small focus to this great event and how it effects the church today. For 5 weeks leading up to the 500th anniversary, we are presenting a 5-10 minute “Reformation Moment” on the 5 solae of the Reformation. Then this coming Sunday night we have a speaker who will give us an overview of Reformation history. One of the solae for which I have a transcript is “Solus Christus”:

In these 5 weeks we are giving consideration to the 5 solae that summarize the Reformation ideas about God bringing salvation to man. As has been said, the Latin word sola means “alone” or “only”: only Scripture, only grace, only faith, only Christ, only God’s glory. There is, however, one sense in which they are not alone. The solae must be taken together to give a full picture of what God has done and evermore will do to secure our salvation. All of these solae grew out of the reformers’ realizations that the Roman Catholic Church had strayed from the true Gospel message by adding requirements and layers to what God had done, much as the Pharisees had done by the time Jesus was on Earth.

Today we focus on Solus Christus, Christ alone. That this idea is Scriptural is abundantly clear from numerous references. Jesus, Himself, proclaimed His exclusive role in salvation when He said in John 14, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (v. 6) Peter amplifies the idea when he and John are brought before the rulers and elders of the people in Acts 4:  And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved”. (v. 12) No priest, no deacon, no pastor, no pope, no mentor or prophet or holy man or saint or angel can in any way help us in salvation other than to point us to Christ because, as I Timothy 2:5-6 says, “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”

Furthermore, Christ is only and once sacrificed. For the celebration of the mass is said to be the true body and blood of Christ sacrificed for sins. Scripture says: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)” Salvation comes through trusting in Christ alone for his once and final sacrifice on the cross. We do not need the priest as mediator or the mass as a means of applying saving grace.

Luther understood our tendencies all too well when he said, “we humans are weak and stubbornly perverse and are more likely to become attached to saints than to Christ…that it is easier for us humans to believe and trust in everything else than in the name of Christ, who alone is all in all, and more difficult for us to rely on him in whom and through whom we possess all things.”

As Huldrych [Ulrich] Zwingli proclaimed, “Christ is the only way of salvation of all who were, are now, or shall be.” In Article 54 of his Sixty-Seven Articles (1523), Zwingli explicitly contrasts the Roman sacramentalist view with solus Christus: “Christ has borne all our pain and travail. Hence, whoever attributes to works of penance what is Christ’s alone, errs and blasphemes God.”1

Joel Beeke in writing about the Solus Christus says, “The centrality of Christ is the foundation of the Protestant faith. Martin Luther said that Jesus Christ is the “center and circumference of the Bible”—meaning that who He is and what He did in His death and resurrection is the fundamental content of Scripture. Salvation is only in Jesus Christ because there are two conditions that, no matter how hard we try, we can never meet. Yet, they must be done if we are to be saved. The first is to satisfy the justice of God through obedience to the law. The second is to pay the price of our sins. We cannot do either, but Christ did both perfectly”2

In his “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, John Calvin wrote, “Christ stepped in, took the punishment upon himself and bore the judgment due to sinners. With his own blood he expiated the sins which made them enemies of God and thereby satisfied him…we look to Christ alone for divine favour and fatherly love!…Hence Christ is called “King of peace” (Is. 9:6) and “our peace” (Eph 2:14) because he quiets all agitations of conscience. If we ask the means, we must come to the sacrifice by which God has been appeased. For anyone unconvinced that God is appeased by that one atonement, in which Christ endured his wrath, will never cease to tremble. In short, we must seek peace for ourselves solely in the anguish of Christ our Redeemer.”3

Solus Christus, Christ alone. As one blogger said, “Since Rome has not changed, and since our own hearts constantly look elsewhere for salvation, the issue is still before us today.  So it is still the duty of the church to clear away all helpers and assistants in salvation and preach Christ and him alone. He is all we have for salvation, but he is all that we’ll ever need.”4 Martin Luther gives us a simple summary, quote, “I must listen to the gospel. It tells me not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ the Son of God has done for me.”

  1. http://www.ligonier.org/blog/top-five-books-five-solas-solus-christus/
  2. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/christ-alone/
  3. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 2.16.2
  4. https://reformedreader.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/martin-luther-on-solus-christus/

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Inspired and Profitable

It is such a joy to teach young people about the Word of God. God’s Word is our foundation for truth and life. Trying to increase the students’ understanding and memory of what was being taught, I came up with a diagram. Perhaps it will help you, too.

2 Tim 3-16

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In Isaiah 11:1-10 the rule of the Messiah is gloriously summarized. The first and tenth verses suggest the lineage of this ruler by a plant metaphor. But at first glance it appears to be a mixed metaphor. Verse one reads,Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit”, and verse ten in part reads, “Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse…” So which is he, a shoot and therefore a branch or a root? Is it a poorly played metaphor or a profound mystery?

The best place from which to better understand Scripture is Scripture. Isaiah 53:1-2 introduces the the chapter on the Suffering Servant: Who has believed our message And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground”. Here we see again that He is both shoot and root, and seemingly fragile and stressed. In this chapter the horrors of his demise are chronicled with such detail as to cause even the casual observer to think it must refer to Jesus on the cross. Jeremiah 23:5 states, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.” On trees trunks (or stems) shoots become branches. Now Jesse was the father of King David, so both passages imply the promises given to David in 2 Samuel 7 concerning “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (verse 13) In context the “his” of this verse is the descendant (branch) of David who will rule. Messiah will also be a priest: “Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch.” (Zechariah 3:8) Priests symbolizing the Priest who will come, the Branch. In Revelation 5:1-5 His authority is shown: I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.  Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” God, the Father, sits in majesty upon His throne holding a sealed scroll. John weeps because it seems that no one may open it. But the Root of David, Jesus, has that authority and power because He has overcome sin and death and hell according to the command of His Father. But why is He characterized as a Root here? The final verse I would like to share clears up this dichotomy: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Jesus declares He is the root and shoot (descendant). I believe that the meaning of Him being declared both Root and Branch is as follows: As God He is the Root or origin of David’s line and all things; as Man He is the Branch or descendant of David who would save His people and rule righteously forever. Messiah Jesus is the perfect God-Man, both Root and Branch.

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He said, “Do your best and let God take care of the rest.” I had heard this and similar phrases many times, but I went off on a mental tangent of evaluating it in the light of Scripture. I think that I understand the intent of the saying, namely that we have an active part to play in growing righteousness in our life and God completes what is lacking in us. Thus far I have no problem, but I think we may do better in our understanding and representation of the interplay of our effort and God’s empowerment. Toward a theology of effort and empowerment consider the following diagrams with their perspectives on the topic:

effort-empowerment-arrows

The arrows are somewhat self-explanatory, but I want to clarify them for my own benefit and yours. Though, as I said, the #1 was stated with right intentions, I believe that at face value it is really saying that I exert effort to the extent of my ability and then God kicks in for the rest. But the Scripture says,“for in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28), and “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We cannot even breathe apart from the grace He provides, but the “nothing” here seems to me to be ‘nothing of eternal significance’. As Paul teaches in I Corinthians 3:11-15, For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 

I think that #2 is closer to the right perspective. God wants us to be involved and tells us through Paul to work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12b-13) Our part is working with God by faith that He provides all we need to obey Him. He is actually the one willing and working and He receives all the glory as only He should. We receive no glory for effort, seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (II Peter 1:3-4) The “magnificent promises” and “divine nature” afforded believers far exceed our efforts. For this reason I have the ‘me’ arrow inside the ‘God’ arrow. God is in, through, and around all that we do and amplifies it to a magnificent and divine level, “abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20).The result is that “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11) and “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21)

#3 is not only lazy but detracts from the glory of God by not proving His purpose and plan as revealed in such passages as Ephesians 2:10: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” We are not to be idle. Our flesh will consume us the moment we stop clinging to God and moving forward in the strength He provides, for “the heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Conversely, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

#4 may seem like a statement of working with God, but I have seen consistently that the people who use this phrase are just trying to be good in their own right and have little concern for godliness or God’s glory. He intends and expects of those whom He is saving and the whole world as well that they acknowledge Him in all things: ““Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” (Revelation 14:7) 

Our hearts tend to be lazy when it comes to spiritual disciplines, but I believe that God has ordained that His will is frequently accomplished and His kingdom built by enabling the efforts He orchestrates within us (#5), as we said above from Philippians 2:12-13. So we work hard and bring God glory as you see Paul and the Thessalonians did: For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” (I Thessalonians 2:9-12) It is right and proper that we should work hard at spiritual progress in the strength God provides in order that others might be drawn to God and God be glorified.

And with all of this effort, remember that God needs nothing from us and can accomplish His will without us whenever and however He pleases (#6). “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) But He has made us involved in so much of what He is doing, “for this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19) For  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

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Yeah, man, my life motto, “Life is Good”, “livin’ the dream!” Good vibes, positive outlook, need plenty of that, right? Not so fast. What about when you are sick and you just lost your job and the dog got run over and taxes went up and there is another war and…you get the idea. So, does that mean life is bad then? Is that what I’m saying? Let’s take a closer look. If the phrase, “Life is Good” was the end of the thought, it has limited utility to help us along in life perhaps, but as used in our society at this time it has modifying thought that follows. This implied extension of the thought is also explicitly stated in places like the “Life is Good” Facebook page. It goes something like this: Life is good because I’m doing what I like and liking what I do. The implication is a totally self focused or humanist view of life and it doesn’t work on several levels. First of all, you can’t always do what you want to. Secondly, in a more narrow sense, if doing what you want to do refers to your vocation, it is an economic impossibility for everyone to have the job of their dreams. And as just pointed out, many times life is hard. The idea may well turn into life is good for some subset of the population for whom everything is falling into place, but that must surely imply that I don’t care what happens to the other half or I think they just need to get their life together, think positive, and make it happen. Or maybe we are being urged to follow blind optimism: Let’s pretend life is good and that will somehow make it better. All of these possibilities seem a bit depressing unless you happen to be riding the wave, and even then it probably won’t last.

Rather than just burst your bubble and leave you hanging, I would like to suggest a more meaningful and purposeful phrase and explain why it is not just wishful thinking: “Life is good because God is good.” Stated this way the fact that life is also at times hard is not ignored or denied. God is working blessings deeper and more lasting. In the midst of hardship God is training us to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6,12) and look for what is honorable, pure, and good (Philippians 4:8). He is building, reserving, and guaranteeing future blessings (1 Corinthians 2:9) that outweigh these present difficulties (Romans 8:18). Through His gifts of goodness to us and as we praise Him we are given value, comfort, and provision (Psalm 34). Our lives are filled with meaning (Romans 8:28) and purpose (Psalm 67:7); He is given glory (John 15:8). These reasons that life is good will seem foolish to those who do not know Him (1 Corinthians 1:18), but I invite you to find the peace, joy, and purpose in serving God through the knowledge of His Son, Jesus (Psalm 34:8; Colossians 1:9-13), for He is the way to God (John 14:6). “Life is good because God is good”, which means that all of life is life gained from God and lived unto God (2 Peter 1:2-4), to His glory and for our benefit.

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Hebrews 1:3 is a deeply insightful verse about our God: “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” I have long been fascinated by the phrase “radiance of His glory” and have written about it once upon a time here (Radiance Check out the poem, too.). “Radiance” is translated “brightness” in several versions but seems to fall short of conveying what Jesus accomplishes by revelation to us of His Father. He shines forth His glory, that is, we could not know of God without seeing His glory in Jesus’ representation of Him. You only see the sun because of the light radiating from it. Analogies can be taken too far, in this case to make Jesus out to be something or someone separate from the Father. That is heresy and not at all my intention in explaining radiance. Rather, hear what Jesus said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9) That verse, of course, bears on the phrase “exact representation” also. In the ESV it reads, “exact imprint”. As an illustration I pressed my truck key into Play-Doh. I pointed out that plastic could be poured into the imprint, harden and used to open my truck door. Again, you could get into positive/negative imprint or representation being a facsimile rather than the original but that is not what the Scripture is saying. These analogies fall short because of the mystery of the Trinity, meaning our inability to understand the essential nature of God, but He gives us insight to extend our understanding even though we fall short of full understanding.

The next phrase is the one that has caught my attention most recently. I am now going to indulge in some manifest musing (or “thinking out loud” as we usually say if I were talking to you). Heupholds all things by the word of His power.” “Word of His power” is an odd construction in English. NASB, KJV, NKJV, and ESV use this phrase. NIV, HCSB, and NRSV say, “His powerful word”, and the RSV says, “his word of power”, both phrases which seem to me to have a different meaning from “word of His power”.  I suspect the three newer translations (NIV, HCSB, and NRSV) made interpretative decisions for the purpose of clarity. Is this change justified? The Greek Interlinear Bible (http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/heb1.pdf) has the literal English word order as “declaration [word] of the ability (power) of Him” (“[]” being my addition and “()” being theirs). Not claiming to know more than the slightest inkling of Greek grammar, I can at least say that the majority translations are going with the more literal wording. The interlinear translation and Strong’s help us with what the particular words mean. “Word” here is not logos, the expression of God, but rhema, a declaration. And “power” is dynamis, which means ability or potential for power or action.

The “of” is important. It denotes possession. If I say, “son of mine” I mean the same thing as “my son”. The shade of difference is the emphasis on son in the first phrase. So the reason I don’t think “word of His power” and “His powerful word” mean the same thing is that “powerful” is not possessive, but a descriptive modifier. It says His word is powerful. “Word of His power” says His power’s word. The power is expressed in a declaration (word). Rather than saying His word has power, it seems to be saying that His power has word. His power proceeds forth as that which communicates what will be (be that static (“upholds”) or dynamic (“created” Isaiah 40:26)). Word modifies power rather than power modifying word. If we had the word it could read, ‘His wordful power’. The emphasis is on declaration (word) that upholds all things but the source of that word is His power. From His power proceeds forth a word which upholds. The way his power is being exhibited is through efficacious declaration.

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My pastor taught on Jesus’s warning in the Sermon on the Mount concerning false prophets found in Matthew 7:15-20. He asked, given the teaching of 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged“, and theme of how to live in the Sermon, why is this passage about false prophets (and teachers) here? He concluded that there is a balance to not being condemningly judgmental in 7:1 that emphasized being discerning and discriminating. False Prophets destroy the church from within frequently before their presence is detected. They must be recognized and ousted. The pastor showed from the passage that they have three characteristics: 1) Inwardly Corrupt (outward appearance with no inward experience), 2) Bad Fruit (coming from deeds of the flesh), and 3) Destined for Destruction (true belief includes growth in righteousness). On the second point the pastor describe a bad tree with bad fruit. As happens on occasions my mind drifted off into a parallel illustration.

Eastern Black Walnut (Juglans nigra (I actually remembered that without looking it up, but I can’t remember people’s names. I have poor skills at people name association.)) is an easy tree to identify in the woods. As you approach it you know what it is before you can discern leaves or bark. Very little grows under a walnut tree. The fruit (really the hull of the fruit surrounding the nut) has a poison that prevents other trees and many herbaceous varieties from growing under it. A tree given wide berth by other trees in the eastern forest is rare. More frequently trunks are quite close and roots intertwine each other if sunlight is sufficient for both. When I arrived home I found that the leaves and twigs, but especially the roots, also have the poison,“juglone” (5 hydroxy-1,4­ napthoquinone) (https://hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-193.pdf). The information I read says that many trees and plants are tolerant to juglone, but my observation in the woods tells me that though tolerant in the sense that their leaves don’t turn yellow or the plant die, the plants do not evidently sprout well under walnut trees since the ground most usually looks almost as if it is mowed.

 The spiritual metaphor here is the same as that of a fruit tree but more caustic perhaps? Green, developing walnuts look nice enough and are certainly abundant. The False Teacher may have the appearances of fruitfulness in quality and quantity, but they inhibit life and growth. And the source is the roots which one source said can poison the ground for several years after the tree is removed. Wow! This happens in churches so that they are still reeling years after the false teachers has been run off. “You have seen their abominations and their idols… so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood. (Deuteronomy 29:17-18) And Jesus said, Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” (Matthew 12:33-34) May God multiply to His Church the grace of discernment to recognize and biblically deal with false teachers in their midst so that the sheep are not led astray and poisoned. May He strengthen and refresh those churches who have fallen prey to the poison root and fruit of false prophets that have inhibited growth among its members. May God purify us and build us up in the knowledge of Him so that we may worship Him in spirit and truth and share His glory accurately in the world.

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The nature versus nurture debate is a longstanding argument over whether physical and behavioral characteristics we observe in an organism have resulted from genetic gifting (nature) or environmental influence (nurture). Most informed science observers realize that outcomes in an organism are the result of both. Still the argument persists because we want to know which of the two influences has the most effect on a particular characteristic of an organism. Genes affect the outcome of the organism; environment affects the outcome of the organism; environments pressure genes to turn on or off, producing outcomes in an organism (epigenetics). But does the force of genes and environment decide how a person must act? If you or I say that we cannot help act in a certain way because this is the way we are made or you and I act this way because that is how our parents or culture taught us to be, are we excused to act in that way? No, neither nature nor nurture is an excuse for how a person acts. To see why I say so let us assume for the sake of argument that our actions are influenced by genetic and environmental factors.1 Are we excused for our actions? I have a tendency to lie, which I believe all people have (Jeremiah 17:9; I John 1:6,8,10). Does that excuse me to lie? No, it does not anymore than being pressed into a gang and having a genetically predisposed tendency toward anger gives me an excuse for murdering someone.

Most people will admit to the truth of these statements but what if the subject is more controversial? Chelsea Kensington writes, “Sexual orientation probably is not determined by any one factor but by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences. In recent decades, biologically based theories have been favored by experts… Although there continues to be controversy and uncertainty as to the genesis of the variety of human sexual orientations, there is no scientific evidence that abnormal parenting, sexual abuse, or other adverse life events influence sexual orientation. Current knowledge suggests that sexual orientation is usually established during early childhood.” Many similar quotes may be obtained off of the internet with ease. Again let us assume that this statement is true1, namely that there is a strong genetic predisposition toward homosexuality coupled with certain undetermined environmental factors. Does that make it acceptable in God’s sight? Does that make it right? Does that give us an excuse or reason? No, it does not. Leviticus 18:22 says, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” An abomination is “a thing that causes disgust or hatred,” but to whom? God hates it. If you are still reading this article you are probably either agreeing with me or very angry, but you must realize that if you vehemently disagree that you are not arguing with me, but God. When God hates something, then it is not right and “all unrighteousness is sin” (I John 5:17). The result is sure: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-10). The solution for all these sinners listed, murderers and liars, too, is the same. Do not blame genetic nature or poor nurturing. Instead, admit that you have the spiritual nature of your father, Adam, a tendency to rebel against God, and that you have acted in self-willed reliance upon that nature in your rebellion against God. Plead with God to rescue you from your sinfulness based on what Jesus did on the cross to take away sins and what He accomplished when He rose from the dead to defeat death. (Acts 2:21; 4:12; John 3:14-20; I Corinthians 15:12-26; Ephesian 2:8-9) Nature and nurture have no ability to restrain you from the outcome of joy and peace you will experience.

1I do not agree with the statements but assume them true to show it makes no difference in responsibility.

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Partakers of grace by God’s decree
Participators in grace freely
Profoundly touched by His sovereign grace
Provides, motivates to run the race
 
Manifold grace for every challenge
Manifest grace on Spirit’s works hinge
Modeling character of God’s grace
Molded by His image we embrace
 
God’s grace worked out through His providence
Good gifts and guidance in evidence
Gone is condemnation and sin’s rule
Goal Christ’s likeness as with flesh we duel
 
On God’ grace through each day we will rest
Onslaught in the battle of each test
Ongoing refinement of this jewel
One day glory when Christ comes to rule
 
Philippians 1:3-14 seems to me to be saying that partakers of grace are participators in grace.
The God who decrees and predestines us to receive grace also enables and guides us in the living out of grace.
 

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By clicking on Trinity Day 2 Answers you can see the answers I promised to the Bible Study on manifestation of God’s character in His trinity in God ordained social institutions. We could avoid much of the heart-ache and problems we sustain if we would follow God’s plan for how the social interactions are supposed to work. Government, for instance, is involved far beyond its God ordain sphere of influence so that it mettles in the church and family spheres. Avenging evil and defense of the citizenry is all it is supposed to do. As a result of the many other things it forces on us, we lose freedom by each one.

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Having reviewed the biblical doctrine of the Trinity I now turn to its application by God to all God-ordained social institutions. Because we have refused to understand how God’s character is expressed in what He has created and ordained we try to re-invent social institutions apart from God, effectively destroying them.  I will allow several days for study before I fill in the blanks. (Lest I be called for plagiarism, I must acknowledge the ideas of Del Tackett in “The Truth Project”. I have digested and added my own study and organization to his framework.)  Click on Outworking of the Trinity to start the study.

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