Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Did Paul Teach That Babies Are Born In Sin?

There are many in the religious world who claim that all men are born into this world already guilty of sin. According to these doctrines, we inherit sin (and its guilt) from Adam. 

The Catholics' version of this doctrine is called "Original Sin," and they, in responding to the notion that babies are born sinners, baptize babies (i.e. sprinkling) to wash away the stain of Adam's original sin. Then there are many Protestants who hold to a larger system of doctrine known as "Calvinism." One of the tenets of Calvinism is the doctrine of "Total Depravity," which is more accurately called "Inherited Total Depravity." The Calvinists general do not practice Infant Baptism, but they do believe that not only are we all born in sin, but we inherit a totally depraved nature that is incapable of ever choosing right.  

Whether it is Original Sin or Inherited Total Depravity, Romans 5:12-14 is often used as a proof-text. Ironically, Paul’s words in Romans 5 actually teach the opposite, as we’ll see in this article.

In Romans 5:12, Paul does say, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Upon reading this verse, many conclude that all of us are born spiritually dead because of Adam (the “one man” under consideration). However, notice how this statement is qualified at the end of verse 12. In other words, why did death spread to all men? Is it because we inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin? No! Paul says that death spread to all men because “all sinned.”

Now notice Romans 5:14: “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of Adam…” This is consistent with what we just learned in verse 12. Adam’s sin wasn’t imposed on anyone, nor was the guilt of Adam’s sin imposed on anyone. All men were faced with spiritual death because we have committed our own sins. The implication, then, is that sin is a choice, and we’re not spiritually dead until we choose to sin. Babies cannot choose to sin, so they are not sinful.

Finally, notice verse 18: “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” The comparison here is between Adam’s sin and Jesus’ sacrifice. IF it is true that all men are automatically sinful because of Adam’s sin, then we must also accept that all men are automatically righteous because of Jesus’ sacrifice. We know that this is NOT the case (Mt. 7:13-14; 2 Pet. 3:9); therefore, Paul cannot be arguing that babies are born guilty of sin.

I understand that many other verses are used, or shall I say misused to support the doctrines of Original Sin and Inherited Total  Depravity, but in this article, we have easily answered one of the key proof-texts.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Sheba's Cunning

"And there happened to be there a rebel, whose name was Sheba the son of Bichri, a Benjamite. And he blew a trumpet, and said: 'We have no share in David, nor do we have inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel.' So every man of Israel deserted David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri..." (2 Sam. 20:1-2).
The usurper Absalom was dead. David, the usurped king, was king once more, and yet the transition from disorder to order was not complete for the king hadn't yet returned from the Trans-Jordan to Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom. The tribes of Israel had decided to retrieve the king and to restore order, but the tribe of Judah (the tribe of King David's heritage) had been prompted to retrieve the king themselves. When the rest of Israel heard of Judah's initiative, they felt left out...as if the tribe of Judah was laying special claim to the king. We read about the details of this growing conflict between the 10 tribes of Israel and the tribe of Judah in 2 Samuel 19:41-43.

While emotions ran high, a man of cunning stepped in to fan the flames of rebellion. That man was Sheba. He had observed the rising bitterness, anger and jealousy and knew that this was his opportunity to rise to prominence. How did he accomplish his objective? By validating Israel's emotions and using those emotions to further his own cause. As a result, a confrontation that might have otherwise faded into obscurity quickly transformed into a full-scale rebellion. Many lives were subsequently lost.

Dear reader, we must be on the looking for Shebas in our lives today!

We will encounter hardship from time to time. There will be periods of controversy in the church. Brethren will sometimes fall out of harmony. ALL relationships will have highs as well as lows; there will be disagreements, disunity and discord. It's inevitable! Whether it's your marriage, your church, or your friendships, you will sometimes have feelings and emotions that are inappropriate. Maybe it will be jealousy. Perhaps it will be bitterness. It could very well be lust or unlawful passion. Like Israel of old, you may find yourself stewing in those emotions, and there may be folks who, like Sheba, will come in and for whatever reason validate your emotions and cause you to feel justified when, in reality, you ought to repent of those emotions and pursue a course of peace and love. If you allow someone to validate your emotions as Sheba did with Israel, you may act upon those emotions and engage in actions that you will forever regret.

The Bible instructs us to seek out counsel, and to respond favorably to counsel (Prov. 13:18; 15:22), but we still must be on the lookout for "counselors" like Sheba who provide us, not with good, godly counsel, but with destructive validation. To distinguish between the two, you must first of all be honest about your own emotions. The following emotions are usually unhealthy, if not wrong altogether: bitterness, wrath anger, clamor, evil speaking (Eph. 4:31), contention, jealousy, selfishness, dissensions, heresies (Gal. 5:20), and I'm sure others could be mentioned. If someone validates any of these emotions by causing you to feel justified, and especially if they urge you to act upon those emotions, DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM! 

There are many, many Shebas out there, even within the Lord's church. Sometimes, their intentions may not be quite as self-serving and wicked as were Sheba's, but our reaction should still be the same: don't allow ungodly emotions to be validated by anyone, for ungodly emotions are never justified!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jehoram's Sackcloth Sham

In the Old Testament, a person who was in despair, or mourning, or facing hardship, or expressing repentance before God would often wear sackcloth under their clothes. From the Hebrew word sak, sackcloth is defined as a loose-fitting sack with a course texture. Imagine punching a few holes in one of those big potato sacks and wearing it underneath your clothes. I'm sure you can imagine how uncomfortable that would be. The discomfort of the sackcloth, much like fasting, not only provided a constant reminder of the individual's distress, it directed their minds towards God. At least, this is my understanding of the purpose of sackcloth.

In 2 Kings 6:30-31, we find an example of the King of Israel wearing sackcloth under his clothes. The king, although not named anywhere in the immediate context, is surely King Jehoram, the son of Ahab (2 Kings 3:1 --> 2 Kings 8:16). He was a wicked king whose 12-year reign coincided with the work and ministry of Elisha the prophet.

Now let's consider the text I mentioned a moment ago. To provide some context, the land of Israel was dealing with a severe famine (1 Kings 6:25). The famine was so severe that two women came to the king with the horrific news that they had resorted to boiling and eating their own sons (vs. 26-29). Notice Jehoram's reaction...
"Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the woman that he tore his clothes; and as he passed by on the wall, the people looked, and there underneath he had sackcloth on his body. Then he said, 'God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on him today'" (vs. 30-31).
Jehoram was clearly disturbed by this disgusting news from the women, and the fact that he wore sackcloth beneath his clothes indicates (1) that he had some religious leanings, and (2) he wasn't flaunting those religious leanings, which, if interpreted in the best light, emphasizes a sense of private devotion and humility before God.

However, though the sackcloth covered his body, it couldn't cover his heart. Notice how he cursed Elisha, the prophet of God, and vowed to sever Elisha's head from his body that very day! The king's true character is seen in this statement. Jehoram's sackcloth was a sham!

There is a valuable lesson here for us...

We may go through the motions of religion. We may even endure discomfort in the name of faith. There may even be a sense in which we see ourselves as humble and devout. And yet none of that matters if our hearts are filled with hatred and bitterness. No matter how hard we may try to convince ourselves that we respect God, our outward acts of piety, even though they be many in number, cannot forever suppress the leanings of a wicked heart. This glaring hypocrisy is sometimes seen even among our brethren who, like Jehoram, go through the motions of piety all the while expressing hatred and/or disdain for other saints of God, who harbor ill-will in their hearts, who gossip maliciously about others in the church, and who run from one church to another at the slightest offense (an unloving response).

Please remember that if the sackcloth only covers your body and not your heart, you're no better than wicked King Jehoram who cursed the prophet Elisha! Woe to the Christian who is guilty of such a Sackcloth Sham.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jehoash's Unintended Sermon

The Old Testament is just amazing in that the more I study it, the more lessons I draw from its text. Case in point: I was studying in 2 Kings 14 this morning about the conflict between Amaziah (king of Judah) and Jehoash (king of Israel). Amaziah's army had just "killed ten thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt" (vs. 7) and he was reveling in the rush of victory. Now he felt invincible, ready to take on the world, so he challenged Jehoash, saying, "Come, let us face one another in battle" (vs. 8). Notice Jehoash's response...
"The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, 'Give your daughter to my son as wife'; and a wild beast that was in Lebanon trampled the thistle. You have indeed defeated Edom, and your heart has lifted you up. Glory in that, and stay at home; for why should you meddle with trouble so that you fall - you and Judah with you?" (vs. 9-10).
Did Amaziah heed Jehoash's advice? Of course not. As the text goes on to explain, Amaziah rushed headlong into battle, feeling confident that victory was inevitable. As a result, "Judah was defeated by Israel, and every man fled to his tent" (vs. 12). Amaziah was captured, the wall of Jerusalem was pulled down, and the Temple was ransacked (vs. 13-14).

Jehoash was a wicked king, as were all of the kings of Israel, and so I'm sure he didn't intend to impart to us a spiritual lesson, but the fact is, his comments to Amaziah were spot on, and the spiritual lesson here is brilliant. 

When we claim a victory over sin, especially a particular sin that perhaps we've been struggling with, it is tempting to become cocky, or arrogant. Like Amaziah, our heart might be lifted up in pride to the point that we become careless and even foolish. Suddenly, we feel as if we can handle any temptation, and we almost welcome the challenge. As a result, we put ourselves in precarious situations thinking that because we overcame that sin, we are so strong and so mighty that we can overcome this sin, too. All too often, when we are prideful like Amaziah, we rush headlong into doom and defeat.

It is a wonderful thing to overcome temptation, but remain humble.

Thanks Jehoash for your unintended sermon.

Friday, July 13, 2012

3 Lessons From Romans 7:10-25

Two days ago, I wrote an article explaining Romans 7:10-25, which is one of the most difficult and controversial passages in one of the most difficult and controversial books of the Bible. Even though there are many interpretations of this text, it is obvious to me that Paul here is explaining just how difficult and frustrating it was for the Jews to follow the Law of Moses, how Jesus had delivered them from the bondage of that burdensome Law, and how absurd it was for the Jews to want to return to it when they had freedom and deliverance in Jesus Christ. (Click here to access my first article on Romans 7:10-25).

Hopefully, my first article was helpful in explaining the basic meaning of Romans 7:10-25. However, when we come to controversial passages such as this, we spend so much time explaining what it doesn't say that we fail to fully comprehend the actual message. Dear reader, Paul didn't write Romans 7:10-25 just to give us something else to argue about; this passage is meant, not only to clarify a misunderstanding that existed in the first century, but to convey wonderful lessons that, when properly understood and grasped, will build up our faith. So in this second article, I'd like to move away from the scholarly analysis and focus simply on three highly encouraging lessons that can be gleaned from this wonderful text.

First of all, as was explained in the previous article, the Law of Moses was the source of so much frustration for the Jews who attempted to obey it perfectly. Despite their best efforts to keep every aspect of the Law, they found themselves failing miserably time and time again. "For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do" (Rom. 7:15). Thankfully, Christ has delivered us from that frustrating system known as the Law of Moses (vs. 24), thus implying that Christians should not be equally frustrated in their obedience to the commandments of Christ. 
"For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end" (2 Cor. 1:13).
"But I fear, lest somehow, as t he serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Cor. 11:3).
 "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).
If, as you read and study the New Testament you find yourself constantly frustrated, unable to understand what it says, overwhelmed by the commandments found therein, something is wrong. While some of it is hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16), the Law of Christ is quite simple. While some of the commands of Christ are difficult to apply, they are only difficult to apply because of our pride and refusal to submit, not because the commands themselves are difficult.

Too often, I have seen men (and even brethren) take a simple concept or text and make it complicated. Sermons are preached and Bible classes are taught that overanalyze and/or abuse the scriptures to the point that brethren walk away more confused. This is sad, for by complicating the New Testament like this, we're taking away one of the greatest advantages of Christ's law over the Law of Moses, and Christians end up just as frustrated as the Jews of old. Paul says in Romans 7 that we've been delivered from that.

A second lesson to be gleaned from Romans 7:10-25 is that the Law of Christ is NOT a "law of sin." You see, the Law of Moses was called a "law of sin" (Rom. 7:23) and even a "law of sin and death" (8:2). The law itself wasn't sinful (7:7); in fact, it was "holy" (vs. 12), for God had ordained it. But the Law of Moses ultimately was not meant to deliver the Jews from sin, but rather to weigh them down with sin. In Romans 7, Paul explained how "sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in [the Jews] all manner of evil desire" (vs. 8), and how the Law brought "death." Again, the harder they tried to keep the Law, the more they realized how sinful they were, and how hopeless their situation was. Later, Paul wrote to the Galatians that the law was a "curse" (Gal. 4:14) and it's only purpose was to confine all under sin (Gal. 3:22) until Christ could come. And Christ has delivered us from this "law of sin."
"Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts...For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Rom. 6:12, 14).
"But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins...But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God..." (Heb. 10:3-4, 12).
Sin does exist today. Christians can sin. We do sin from time to time, in fact (1 Jn. 1:8, 10). And yet we have an escape from sin that the Jews didn't have in the Old Testament. While the Law of Moses made it impossible to get out from under your sins, and constantly reminded you how hopeless and helpless you were, the Law of Christ (i.e. the New Testament) has made it possible for us to lay aside the weight of sin  and to "run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1). Rather than live with the constant burden that I am stuck in sin, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot escape it, I need to live with the joy and knowledge that, because of Christ, I am free! I can walk in the light as He is in the light and have true fellowship with God, with Christ, and with other saints (1 John 1). How amazing is this?

The third lesson that we ought to learn from Romans 7:10-25 is that "with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" (vs. 25). The law of sin is a reference to the Law of Moses. The Jewish-Christians of the first century who were holding onto the Law of Moses were doing so to satisfy the flesh. Galatians 6:13 says, "For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh." In other words, their desire wasn't to be conformed to the will of God, but to do what they wanted to do. Even during the Old Testament when the Law was in effect, the emphasis was placed upon outward actions that eventually (hopefully) would result in the right mind. So it often became about "going through the motions."

However, the New Testament law is a law that begins in the mind and is motivated by the mind. So many of the laws we have pertain to our attitude (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 4:25-32; the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7). Even those commands that demand outward action are ALWAYS accompanied by inward thought and desire. The Lord's Supper involves an examination of self (1 Cor. 11:28). Singing is to be from the heart (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Giving is to be as we've purposed in our hearts (2 Cor. 9:6-7). And so many other illustrations could be given.

Again, it is regrettable that many Christians treat the Law of Christ as if it's the Law of Moses. They are completely unfulfilled and unsatisfied (spiritually frustrated) because they're just going through the motions with the expectation that their love for God will eventually grow. Instead of forcing ourselves into a ritualistic pattern of behavior, we need to first of all be "transformed by the renewing of [our] mind" (Rom. 12:2). 

As difficult as it may be to understand some of the ins and outs of Romans 7:10-25, hopefully we can agree on these three points. In the end, we need to treat the Law of Christ, not like the Law of Moses, but like the "perfect law of liberty" it is said to be. If you find yourself unendingly frustrated, burdened, and confused, and if you're stuck in the rut of ritualism, please know that you're not following Christ as He intends for you to, and you're missing out on the true joy of what it means to be a Christian.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The "Law" of Romans 7

When Peter described some of Paul's writings as "hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:15-16), I'm sure he had the book of Romans in mind. Apart from Revelation, Romans may be the most difficult book of the New Testament. Nearly every chapter is controversial, or at least contains some controversial material. However, with careful study, we can understand the book of Romans (Eph. 3:4), and when the book is properly understand, it is a source of great encouragement to the children of God.

Within the book of Romans, one of the most difficult passages (for me, at least) is found in Romans 7:10-25.

Many religious people misunderstand this passage. There are those who use Paul's comments here to excuse sinful behavior, or even to argue that God doesn't hold Christians accountable for the sins they commit (i.e. "Once Saved, Always Saved"). Then there are others who walk away from Romans 7:10-25 thinking that law in and of itself is inherently burdensome, and that we, therefore, ought to emphasize, not law, but grace and liberty (more positive concepts). In this article, I'd like to address both misunderstandings while conveying to you what I believe to be the most logical and harmonious explanation of this great text.

First of all, it is vital that we interpret this text in light of the context

Regarding the first misinterpretation, Paul is NOT justifying or excusing sin, for he has spent much time in this book emphasizing the spiritual peril of the individual who chooses to sin. We are without excuse (Rom. 2:1). We will all be held accountable on the day of judgment for the choices we've made (Rom. 2:5-10). To continue in sin is to abuse God's grace (Rom. 6:1); we must not yield to sin, implying that it is indeed a choice (Rom. 6:12-17). A carnal mind separates us from God (Rom. 8:6-8). While it is true that there is a battle being waged within all of us between the flesh and Spirit (Gal. 5:17), Paul is not saying in Romans 7:10-25 that we can excuse or justify our sins on account that "we're all human."

Regarding the second misinterpretation (that Paul is describing all law is inherently burdensome), we must understand that, in context, Paul is not contrasting LAW and GRACE, but rather the Law of Moses and "the faith" or law, of Christ. 

Consider the cultural context. The early churches were heavily populated by former Jews, and all Bible students are well aware of the fact that there was a lot of pressure for these Jews to hold onto their Jewish roots, including their respect and even adherence to the Law of Moses (Ac. 15; Gal. 2; Titus 1:10). This was a very sensitive issue in the first century.

Also consider the textual context within Romans. In Romans 1, Paul addressed the sins of the Gentiles, but in Romans 2, he quickly turned his attention to the Jews, who, in their arrogance, viewed themselves as inherently MORE righteous than the Gentiles. This mindset had clearly pervaded the church. In Romans 3, Paul affirms that while the Jews had an advantage over the Gentiles (being raised with knowledge of the Old Testament, 3:1-2), "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (3:23). In Romans 4, Paul points out that the great patriarch Abraham was justified by his obedient faith apart from the Law of Moses, for he lived before the Law was implemented, and in Romans 5-6, the apostle explains how all people in all dispensations must seek salvation in Christ, not in the Law of Moses. Of course, all of Romans 11 is devoted to the contrast between "Israel" and the church, and these themes are more subtly addressed in almost every other chapter.

In a more immediate sense, read Romans 7:1-9. The word "law" is clearly used in reference, not to law generally, but to the Law of Moses specifically. Marriage is used to illustrate Paul's ultimate point. Prior to Christ, the Law of Moses is what governed the "marriage" between Israel and God. When Jesus died on the cross, the law came to an end. It was proper for the Jews to leave behind the Law of Moses and to "marry" Jesus (vs. 3). And yet many of the Jewish-Christians were serving Christ while simultaneously serving the Law of Moses, something that was akin to spiritual adultery. Paul, anticipating the question from Jewish Christians, points out that the Law of Moses was not inherently sinful, but had, in fact, taught them (the Jews) about the dangers and consequences of sin (vs. 7).

And that brings us to the passage being considered in this article: Romans 7:10-25. Let's examine this passage piece by piece...
"And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me" (vs. 10-11).
The "commandment" is the Law of Moses, or at least the tenets of the Law of Moses. This is clearly the meaning in light of verses 7-9. The Law of Moses, unlike the civil laws of various societies throughout history, was a spiritual law intended to make a relationship with God possible (at least for those who adhered to the Law). And yet Paul says here - and he goes on to explain - that the Law of Moses was the source of incredible frustration. Instead of finding "life" in the keeping of the Law, he found death.
"Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedinly sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin" (vs. 12-14).
As Paul just clarified in verse 7, the Law of Moses itself was holy. Knowing the Law had been an advantage that the Jews had over the Gentiles in the first century (3:1-2). So the Law itself wasn't sinful, but the Jews' efforts to perfectly keep the Law of Moses had proved to be pointless. The harder they tried to follow the Law of Moses, the more they realized how impossible it really was and how inadequate they were before God. This was a frustrating realization.
"For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not do do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good" (vs. 15-21).
Again, there is a struggle within all of us between the flesh and Spirit (Gal. 5:17), and so it may be that you can relate to some of Paul's comments. Perhaps you have had moments where you sinned even though you knew better, and it may be that in your efforts to draw closer to God, you have had moments of weakness and failure followed by feelings of self-loathing and disappointment. HOWEVER, even though we may be able to relate to some of these comments, we cannot assume that Paul is describing the Christian's struggle with religious law in general. Paul is still trying to get these Jewish-Christians to see the folly of hanging onto the Law of Moses. Why return to a Law that not only is outdated and imperfect, but extremely frustrating?
"For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (vs. 22-23).
This is where the text gets a little difficult for me, so by no means am I going to be contentious on this point. However, I would argue that this is where Paul begins to make a transition in the text; he begins to contrast the impossibility of the Law of Moses with the freedom of the New Testament law. The "law of God," I believe (which is a phrase that hasn't been used yet in this text) refers to the New Testament law. Paul rejoiced in this "law of liberty" as it's called in James 1:25. On the other hand, there was even a part of the apostle Paul that struggled to overcome his inner addiction to the Law of bondage. There must have been something very appealing about such a stict, overbearing system, for it was obviously very difficult for the Jews to let it go and to focus on the new covenant.
"O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God - through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" (7:24-25).
Christ delivered Paul and all the Jews from the Law of Moses which is here called a law of sin, as it was in verse 23. One might ask how Paul could call it a "law of sin" when he had already argued that the Law of Moses wasn't sinful (vs. 7). Please notice that there is a difference. Even earlier, when Paul argued that the Law of Moses wasn't sinful (vs. 7), he was very clear that the Law aroused sinful passions (vs. 5) and brought death (vs. 10-11). It wasn't a sinful law, but it was a "law of sin and death" (8:2).

One final thought: in the latter part of verse 25, Paul is not saying that he simultaneously obeyed the Law of God and the Law of sin (i.e. Law of Moses). He's saying that so long as he embraced the Spirit's influence in his life, he served the Law of God (the New Testament). However, when he (or any of the Jews) returned in thought or in action to the "law of sin" (Law of Moses), it was proof that they had exchanged, even if for only a moment, the Spirit's influence for the influence of the flesh. To further solidify this conclusion, quickly notice Romans 8:1-3...
"There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the SPirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin. He condemned sin in the flesh."
As you can see in this passage, we are bound to a law today. This law is radically different from the Law of Moses, but it is a law nonetheless. Sin still exists. Apostasy is still possible. But thankfully, as Paul explains in Romans 7:10-25, the law to which we are bound is not a law that produces only sin and death, frustration and self-loathing; rather, the law of Christ is far superior, leading to joy and freedom!

Lord willing, in my next article, I will explain the advantages of Christ's law more fully based on the implications of Romans 7:10-25. Click here to access the next article.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Process of Inspiration

It is often said that the Bible is the "inspired" word of God. This language is derived from 2 Timothy 3:16 where Paul writes, "All scripture (the written word) is given by inspiration of God." But what does it mean that the Bible is inspired? There is some confusion on this point.

The Encarta Dictionary defines inspiration as, "stimulation for the human mind to creative thought or to the making of art." Of course, this is how we generally use the word inspiration. On a secular level, an author may say that a certain event inspired them to write a book; an artist may say that a childhood excursion to an art museum inspired them to pick up a paintbrush for the first time. On a more spiritual level, even I may say that a certain event inspired my recent sermon.

However, this is not what we mean when we say that the Bible is the inspired word of God. In other words, God didn't merely "inspire" the apostles and prophets by stimulating them to creative thought. So what does it mean, then, that the Bible is inspired? Let's go back for a moment to 2 Timothy 3:16, which is where we find this word "inspiration" in reference to the scriptures. The word itself is from the Greek word theopneustos and means, "divinely breathed in." So the words that comprise the "scriptures" have been breathed by God. This means that the words from Genesis to Revelation are not the words of men that have been "inspired" or "stimulated" by spiritual experiences; rather, these are the very words of God.

For more insight on this process, let's consider 2 Peter 1:19-21...
"And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."
Peter is giving us insight into the manner in which the scriptures are inspired. It's not as if these holy men of God received an inspired thought that they fallibly interpreted and recorded. Instead, those men wrote exactly what the Spirit of God moved them to write. There are many other verses that confirm that this was indeed how the process unfolded.

Moses, David, Luke, Paul and all the other men who penned the scriptures were NOT simply stimulated to creative thought by their own unique experiences. These men were moved by the Holy Spirit to record the very words of God, breathed out by God Himself, so that we might know, not what Paul thinks about God, but what GOD says about Himself and His will.

This article may inspire other questions, but I simply wanted to offer a brief, biblical explanation of the meaning and process of inspiration. Feel free to submit any comments or questions below!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Controversy in Athens

For much of Paul's life, he had been "a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee...concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Philippians 3:5-6). In other words, he had always lived a very strict life. He was so strict, in fact, that he had persecuted the church, which he had viewed as a divergent Jewish sect founded upon tenets that were blasphemous to the Jewish religion (Phil. 3:6a). Although he was from Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 21:39), he spent much of his time in Jerusalem, the epicenter of Judaism and a place where the corrupt influence of Greek culture was minimal (compared to other regions of the Roman empire).

Then, Paul was converted to Christ in dramatic fashion. He encountered Jesus as he journeyed from Jerusalem to Damascus and was baptized three days later by a humble Christian named Ananias (Acts 9). From that point on, Paul redirected his zeal for the cause of Christ. He proclaimed Christianity as staunchly and as vigorously as he had opposed it before. Of course, Christianity had sprouted from Judaism; it was still a monotheistic religion. Like Judaism, Paul's new Christian faith also required strict moral living (Gal. 5:19-20) as also taught by Christ Himself in the famous "Sermon on the Mount" (Mt. 5-7). Christianity was also similar to Judaism in that it limited salvation to its members (Jn. 8:24; 14:6; Acts 4:12).
My whole point in all of this is to give you a glimpse of Paul's character. He was a man of conviction, who was certainly very religious and knowledgeable, with a strong moral code, and an unwavering devotion to the God of the Bible, the great "I AM!" When he transitioned from Judaism to Christianity, much of this remained the same. 

Okay, now imagine Paul standing in the middle of a city that "was given over to idols" (Acts 17:16), a city of morally-lax, polytheistic Gentiles who had so many pagan altars that there was even an altar "to the unknown god" (Acts 17:23). The city was Athens of Achaia, far removed from his homeland...from his "comfort zone," if you will. This environment was radically liberal for a conservative Christian man such as Paul, so I can only imagine how awkward that must have felt. It would be like placing an American Christian today on a street corner in Tehran and surrounding him with Shiite Muslims. Daniel in the lion's den, right?

But what did Paul do?

He saw the opportunity to impact LOST souls for the cause of Christ. He began his mighty sermon by finding common ground with the men of Athens:
"Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:22-23).
We ought to admire Paul's ability to find common ground and to begin his message so tactfully, and yet please do not think that Paul's sermon in Athens was tactful, diplomatic, ecumenical or at all positive (at least not in that setting). In fact, everything Paul went on to say to these Gentiles was an attack on their religion!
  • They believed in multiple gods and goddesses who all had their own roles in the spiritual realm, and yet Paul affirmed the existance of one "God who made the world and everything in it" (vs. 24).
  • They believed that with their own hands, they could make idols and images in worshiping their gods and goddesses. They had countless physical rituals, and perhaps felt that their deities relied upon their worship. But Paul told them that the true God isn't "worshiped with men's hands" (vs. 25).
  • The Athenians believed that every nation had its own deities. In fact, when Rome would conquer a new nation, that nations deities were added to Rome's list of deities. But Paul told them that this one God had created from ONE blood ALL nations of men (vs. 26). So all nations were obligated to "Paul's God." To the Athenians, this would have been absurd.
  • They believed that the gods and goddesses lived detached lives far, far away, but Paul boldly proclaimed that God is "not far from each one of us" (vs. 27).
  • They must have really viewed Paul as narrow-minded when he said that we "ought not think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising" (vs. 29). In other words, God is who He is, not who we want Him to be! 
  • Then Paul called them "ignorant" (vs. 30). He told them that they had to repent; that is, they had to change their behavior, abandon their religion, and turn to the one true and living God (vs. 30). Why? Because judgment is coming (vs. 31). The implication is that if they didn't accept Paul's message, and if they didn't become Christians, they would face God's wrath (vs. 31). Otherwise, why would Paul mention repentance and judgment?
Paul's sermon in Athens contains many positive themes as well. We see God's power and might (vs. 24-25), His providence and soveriegnty (vs. 26), His love (vs. 27-29), and even the hope that we have as God's people in a life beyond this one (vs. 31, i.e. "assurance"). But I'm sure that many of these pagans were too offended to notice these positive themes.

This mighty message may not seem so controversial to us. The majority of the sermon wouldn't have even been controversial to the Jews of Paul's day; I imagine that if there were any Jews present in Athens that day, they were silently cheering Paul on...at least until He started talking about Jesus and the resurrection. But again, put yourself in Paul's shoes. Imagine the setting. Learn the culture of Athens. Maybe then you'll realize how awkward and controversial this message was.