4/22/2013

Knowing God, Chapter Nineteen: Sons of God, Part Two

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

In our last article, we looked at the reason for and the permanence of our adoption in Christ.  If we have true faith in Christ, God is our Father in heaven.  This week we will look briefly at some of what that means. 
As J. I. Packer says in Chapter Nineteen of Knowing God, The prospect before the adopted children of God is an eternity of love.”  Our adoption is permanent, and it depends on the love of God for us and the grace of God to save us.  God will not let us go.  We are his. 

We can also have hope.  Christianity is “a faith that looks forward.”  For Christians, “the best is always yet to be.”  We have the hope of an everlasting inheritance in Christ.  That was the reason children were adopted in the Roman Empire during Christ’s time: “to have an heir to whom one could bequeath one’s goods.”  In just that way, our adoption as God’s children guarantees our inheritance from him (Romans 8:16-17). 
God’s wealth is immeasurable.  We have so much to hope for.

Certain prominent atheists have ridiculed Christianity for being ‘pie in the sky by and by.’  Their idea is that Christianity is mere “wish fulfillment.”  We could ask them if they wish that there were no God who would judge them.  We could point out that their approach could be wish fulfillment just as they accuse ours of being.  The idea cuts both ways.  But Christianity is ‘pie in the sky by and by,’ and the ‘pie’ tastes great.
The Holy Spirit is given to us as “the Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15).  The Spirit comes into our lives at the moment we trust Jesus, and there is nothing more of his presence that we can expect to get in a later second blessing or acceptance of Christ as Lord. 

The Spirit makes us understand and learn about our relationship with God in Christ.  This realization leads to true holiness of life.  We have “an abiding obligation to keep the law, as the means of pleasing [our] newfound Father.”  We joy in making our Father happy.
Packer tells us to think often of the facts: “I am a child of God.  God is my Father; Heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer.  My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too.”  Packer tells us to repeat these things to ourselves “over and over.”

What joy the Father has given to us!  We can be sons and daughters of God. 

4/19/2013

Knowing God, Chapter Nineteen: Sons of God, Part One

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

Last week we looked at what J. I. Packer calls the heart of the gospel, propitiation. Propitiation is the fact that “The wrath of God against us, both present and to come, has been quenched.”  The idea is that the wrath we deserved because of our sin Christ suffered on our behalf.  If you have repented of your sin and placed your faith in Christ, God is not mad at you anymore.  

This week we will briefly look at one outcome related to propitiation: adoption.  The idea here is that God has become the Father of those who place their trust in Him.  As John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” 
Packer defines the very essence of the message of the New Testament in three words: “adoption through propitiation.”  He says, “…I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.”  In “adoption through propitiation,” God is not mad at us, even more, God has given us a place in the family.   We are children of God if we have trusted Christ to pay the penalty for our sins.

Even though, as Packer says, “We are not fit for a place in God’s family; the idea of his loving and exalting us sinners as he loves and has exalted the Lord Jesus sound ludicrous and wild,” God brings us into his family anyway.
I am an adoptive parent.  My wife and I adopted our daughter when she was three months old.  I cannot express the joy that my daughter has brought into my life.  It reminds me of the joy I felt on the day of my marriage and in the moment of my conversion experience. 

We adopted through an adoption agency in Lynchburg, Virginia, founded by Jerry Falwell.  Whatever you think of Falwell, he could raise the money to found great ministries. 
He did a placement ceremony and baby dedication for us in Lynchburg.  Part of a prayer that Falwell prayed I would never forget: “We pray that you would love this child even as God loves us through Christ.”  I do love my daughter, although that love is not perfect as God’s love is. 

I was asked in a college age Sunday School class one time whether God could love us as much as he loves Christ.  I responded by telling them of my love for my adopted daughter.  “Her birth certificate has mine and my wife’s name on it, John Kevin and Katherine Jane Jones.  She is my child, and nothing will ever change that.” 
Our spiritual birth certificate has God the Father’s name on it.  We are his children.  Let us never forget, and let us live to honor our Father.

4/13/2013

Knowing God, Chapter Fourteen: God the Judge

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

Over the last two articles, we have looked in turn on God’s love and His grace.  We have seen the beauty of Exodus 34:6-7: "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  This article turns to the second part of verse 7: “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.”  We too often revel in God’s love and grace while giving no thought to His justice.
However, the Bible shows everywhere the terrible face of God as judge.  As J. I. Packer notes in Chapter 14 of Knowing God, God judged Adam and Eve (Genesis 3), the entire world in Noah’s day (Genesis 6-8), Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19), Egypt (Exodus 7-12), those who worshiped the golden calf (Leviticus 10:1-3), and even His chosen people, Israel (Judges 2:1-15, 3:5-8, 4:1-3; 2 Kings 17, 32:15-17, 23:26-27).  The Bible gives many more examples.

God is serious about judgment.  No one is exempt.  As Packer says, “…the heart of the justice which expresses God’s nature is retribution, the rendering to persons what they have deserved; for this is the essence of the judge’s task.”  This judgment is “a revelation of the moral character of God, and an imparting of moral significance to human life.”  As even Immanuel Kant admitted, we see in God’s judgment the eternal value of moral choices because of the punishments and rewards that God gives.
We all, in ourselves, are without hope.  God’s standard for right behavior is perfection.  Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48).  And we all fall far short of this standard (Romans 3:9-20).  But there is hope from outside of us, from someone else. 
But God, the just judge, became a man in the Person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1-13).  He came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died a death He did not deserve on the cross for the sins of His people.  In the clearest example of God’s judgment in the Bible, Christ was judged for sin (Galatians 3:10-14).  Christ was judged for those who place their faith in Him.  He is our hope.

What are we to do since we are faced with God’s judgment?  Packer writes, ”Call on the coming Judge to be your present Savior…Run from him now and you will meet him as Judge then-and without hope.  Seek him now, and you will find him … and you will then discover that you are looking forward to that future meeting with joy, knowing that there is now “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus “ (Romans 8:1).” 
Flee to Christ!  Turn from your sin and turn to Him in simple trust.  Turn the face of your Judge into the face of your Savior (John 5: 22-23).

4/10/2013

The Grammatico-Historical Method


(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

ARTICLE XV

We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning that the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.

We deny the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support.

 
So begins The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.  Hermeneutics is the science of understanding what the Bible says, and this statement on Biblical Hermeneutics is the collective wisdom of many evangelical scholars on that subject. 

 An international conference produced The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics in 1982.  Leaders from many different branches of the protestant church signed it.  Those who signed the document included Norman L. Geisler, Gleason L. Archer, James M. Boice, D. James Kennedy, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John H. Gerstner, Bill Bright, Paige Patterson, Josh McDowell, Raymond C. Ortlund, Adrian P. Rogers, Bruce Wilkinson, W. A. Criswell, John F. MacArthur, Luis Palau, and John F. Walvoord. 

Article XV, printed above, affirms that the Bible should be taken literally, but please note the care taken to define what “literal” means.  Literal means “normal” or according to the rules of grammar as normally interpreted by the person who wrote the material. It takes into account “figures of speech and literary forms” used by that author.  The “grammatical-historical sense” means, “the correct interpretation is the one which discovers the meaning of the text in its grammatical forms and in the historical, cultural context in which the text is expressed.” Students of the Bible should think carefully about grammar and history.  (Commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics by Norman L. Geisler)

The Grammatico-Historical Method (GHM) is the way we discover the grammatical-historical sense.  The GHM is a Christian method for understanding the Bible.  It “focuses attention not only on literary forms but upon grammatical constructions and historical contexts out of which the Scriptures were written.”  The aim of the GHM is to discover the meaning of the passage as the original author would have intended and as the original hearers would have understood. (Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul)

GMH assumes that the original biblical manuscript languages – ancient Hebrew and Greek, with some Aramaic in the Old Testament – were real languages that people used in a real period of history to communicate real, logical thought. This means that we must learn all we can about those ancient languages to understand how the Bible uses them.  (The amount of knowledge we have about those ancient languages is more than enough to help us understand the Bible.)   

GHM also makes us students of history.  It assumes that the Bible’s authors wrote according to the cultural, political, and religious norms of their historical periods. To know what a Bible passage truly means, we must gather information on the biblical authors’ cultures and the audiences who they addressed in their writings.

When people who want to understand the Bible put grammar and history together, they are likely to have a correct understanding of the Bible’s meaning. The Bible is literally true, and it contains no hidden message behind the words or between the lines.

Since the Bible contains all we need to know about how to get to heaven by grace and how to live life on earth by the law, it is very important to use the GHM to understand it.  Our eternal destinies might be at stake.

4/06/2013

Introduction to Bible Study: Why Should We Study the Bible?


(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)
 
Have you ever heard the story of Admiral Cloudesley Shovell?  Shovell was a famous admiral in the British Navy.  He fought in many important battles in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and he was a popular British hero.  But he is infamous for a disaster that occurred in 1707.

Shovell was leading a fleet of four ships into the English Channel during a strong storm, and he navigated the four ships directly into the rocks of the Isles of Scilly.  The exact number of sailors killed is unknown, but it is said that the bodies washed ashore for many days after the incident. 

The problem was that sailors at the time were unable to accurately measure longitude, the position of their ships.  In a real sense, sailors in Shovell’s day did not know where they were or where they were going.  They had no standard to determine their exact location and course.
The way we view and react to the world around us sets the course of our lives.  We all have a basis for our view of how things work, a set of assumptions we make about the world that enables us to make our way.  If these assumptions are flawed, if we use the wrong standard to determine our course, our lives will end in disaster.

The words of the Bible are the only adequate standard to use while navigating life.  The Bible’s truths are the only assumptions we can make that allow us to really think (See: The Defense of the Faith by Cornelius Van Til and The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller).

We have abundant evidence to prove that the Bible is God’s Word given to us.  We have the testimony of the church that the books of the New Testament were written by eyewitnesses of the events they wrote about and that their message has been communicated to us through the centuries.  (See: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham and The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F. F. Bruce) 

Those eyewitness testimonies tell us about Jesus’ teaching that the Old Testament was true (Matthew 4:4, John 17:17) and His teaching that the New Testament would be true (John 14:25-30, 16:12-15).  They also tell of Jesus’ many miracles, which testified to the truth of what He taught (John 10:38, 14:11). 

We also have evidence that anyone can see who just gives the Bible a fair reading.  The 66 books of the Bible, written over thousands of years by authors many miles apart, do not contradict each other.   The truths given in the Bible are obvious to an intelligent person who is familiar with ‘the ways things work.’ The Bible’s words themselves are so majestic and powerful that they overcome resistance (Psalm 36:9, 119:105).

Above all, we have the testimony of God’s Holy Spirit that the Bible is true.  He speaks to us in our hearts with the words of the Bible, and we are firmly and finally convinced of the truth of Scripture.  God moves us in our hearts and minds.  We are convinced that the Bible is the ultimate authority over us because God, the Ultimate King, gave it to us. 
 
Everything we need to be saved from our sins and to live for God’s glory is clearly stated in the Bible or can be reasonably understood from those things stated in the Bible.  We can understand the Bible because what we need to know is said in one part of the Scripture or another so clearly that even those of us who are not theologians or experts in biblical languages can understand. 
 
The truths of the Bible ‘trump’ any opinions of the church.  They overcome the opinions of ancient writers.  They overwhelm the teachings of mere men.  They ‘ride rough-shot’ over the intuitions and feelings men have in their hearts. 

Since these things are true, how can we ignore the Bible?  How can Bibles collect dust on the shelves in our homes?  Why do we not pick up the book and read it?

This is hermeneutics (/hərməˈn(y)o͞otiks/), the science and practice of understanding what Scripture says.  These are the practical rules used to understand the Bible, and we should look at them in detail so that we do not make mistakes.  They are the guide to the life-guiding truths of the Bible.

 (The author is indebted too Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins for the story of Admiral Shovell.  Parts of this article are paraphrases of parts of the First Chapter of The Westminster Confession of Faith.)

4/03/2013

Communicating the Reformation: The “Five Solas”

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

I bet you can name which company uses all or most of the following slogans:  Reach out, reach out and touch someone.  Finger-lickin’ good.  Taste the rainbow.  Eat fresh.  Think outside the bun.  Have it your way.  Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.  (The slogans belong to: AT&T, Kentucky-Fried Chicken, Skittles, Subway, Taco Bell, Burger King, and M&M’s respectfully.)

Advertisers use slogans because they help communicate a message in a brief, effective and memorable way.  The leaders of the Protestant Reformation used the same method.

The Protestant Reformation occurred in 16th Century Europe.  It was aimed at reforming, or changing, the beliefs and practices of the church at that time. Its leaders included Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Heinrich Zwingli.  The Reformation would eventually bring about great changes in the Western Church. 

One of the best ways to understand what the Protestant Reformation was about is to understand the slogans its leaders used to communicate, and that is what the next few Soli Deo Gloria articles will do.  Like much theological writing at the time, the slogans were in Latin. They are called “Solas” because each begins with that Latin word.  Each of the five slogans is printed below with a translation into English and a very brief explanation.

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone): The Bible contains all things necessary to understand and obey God, and no other form of authority is needed to bind the conscience of the Christian.

Solus Christus (Christ Alone): Christ alone and his death on our behalf on the cross are the means by which all Christians are saved.  Only Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death can make us right with God.

Sola Gratia (Grace Alone): Salvation is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit by grace alone.  Salvation is not a work of the human heart at all.

Sola Fide (Faith Alone): A person is justified (declared innocent) before God through faith alone and through Christ alone.  We get credit for Christ’s righteous life and sacrificial death when we have faith in Him, and the good things we do play no part in our salvation.

Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be the Glory): Salvation is only for God's glory and not for man's glory.  Christians everywhere should always do everything they do for His glory alone.

A fitting place to end: to God alone be the glory.

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