The Bible comes to us in various forms of literature: history, poetry, and letters, just to name a few. But essentially, the Bible tells one epic story from beginning to end, using all the various genres.
“Every day we wake up in the middle of something that is already going on, that has been going on for a long time, genealogy and geology, history and culture, the cosmos – God. We are neither accidental nor incidental to the story. From it we get orientation, briefing, background, reassurance. Lacking such a context, we are in danger of seeing Jesus as a mere diversion from the concerns announced in the newspapers. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The challenge is to find myself and my place in God’s great story of Redemption and Restoration.
Early in my Christian life I heard someone say, “The Bible was not given to increase your knowledge but to guide your conduct.” Later I came to realize that this statement was simplistic at best and erroneous at worst. The Bible is far more than a rulebook to follow. It is primarily the message of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, with everything in Scripture before the cross pointing to God’s redemptive work and everything after the cross–including our sanctification–flowing from that work.
There is an element of truth in this statement, however, and the Holy Spirit used it to help me to see that the Bible is not to be read just to gain knowledge. It is, indeed, to be obeyed and practically applied in our daily lives. As James says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
With my new insight, I prayed that God would use the Bible to guide my conduct. Then I began diligently to seek to obey it. I had never heard the phrase “the pursuit of holiness,” but that became my primary goal in life. Unfortunately, I made two mistakes. First, I assumed the Bible was something of a rulebook and that all I needed to do was to learn what it says and go do it. I knew nothing of the necessity of depending on the Holy Spirit for his guidance and enablement.
Still worse, I assumed that God’s acceptance of me and his blessing in my life depended on how well I did. I knew I was saved by grace through faith in Christ apart from any works. I had assurance of my salvation and expected to go to heaven when I died. But in my daily life, I thought God’s blessing depended on the practice of certain spiritual disciplines, such as having a daily quiet time and not knowingly committing any sin. I did not think this out but just unconsciously assumed it, given the Christian culture in which I lived. Yet it determined my attitude toward the Christian life.
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1.16)
The “gospel” is the message – the “Good News” – about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and of the Kingdom in and over which he reigns.. Paul is saying that the message has power – life-giving and life-transforming power to all who believe the message. Bible scholars will point out that the construct of the Greek word for “believe”, and the context within the sentence, express that the word carries a connotation of “on-going belief”. In other words, the aspect of salvation that we call “justification” occurs the moment one believes; and the on-going effect of salvation, the process of salvation we call “sanctification” occurs by the same power, and by on-going belief in the same message.
Properly speaking, the gospel message is about Jesus; but the fruit of the gospel becomes evident in those who are believing. The gospel is the power to change us. Certain things become true because of the gospel – because of Jesus. Here are a handful of passages describing what is now true because of the gospel:
John 5.24 – Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
2 Corinthians 5.19 – In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
Romans 5.1– Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 8.1 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8.2 – For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
Ephesians 1.5 – …he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…
Ephesians 3.16-19 – …that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Colossians 3.1-4 – If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your[a] life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
1 John 4.7-12 – 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
Revelation 12.10-11 – 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
The question about the actual birthdate of Jesus of Nazareth is quite debatable. While few probably give it much serious thought, it seems that the most common assumption, at least in my circles, among those who do think about such things, is that it has to be at almost any time of year other than late December. I certainly do not have a definitive answer. I can’t say I even have a firm opinion. But I am at least intrigued by the suggestion of historian Alfred Edersheim, in his classic tome, The Life & Times of Jesus the Messiah, in which he makes a case for the traditional December 25 date:
So much, that is generally accessible, has of late been written on this subject, and such accord exists on the general question, that only the briefest statement seems requisite in this place, the space at our command being necessarily reserved for subjects which have either not been treated of by previous writers, or in a manner or form that seemed to make a fresh investigation desirable.
At the outset it must be admitted, that absolute certainty is impossible as to the exact date of Christ’s Nativity – the precise year even, and still more the month and the day. But in regard to the year, we possess such data as to invest it with such probability, as almost to amount to certainty.
1. The first and most certain date is that of the death of Herod the Great. Our Lord was born before the death of Herod, and, as we judge from the Gospel-history, very shortly before that event. Now the year of Herod’s death has been ascertained with, we may say, absolute certainty, as shortly before the Passover of the year 750 A.U.C., which corresponds to about the 12th of April of the year 4 before Christ, according to our common reckoning. More particularly, shortly before the death of Herod there was a lunar eclipse (Jos. Ant. xvii.6.4), which, it is astronomically ascertained, occurred on the night from the 12th to the 13th of March of the year 4 before Christ. Thus the death of Herod must have taken place between the 12th of March and the 12th of April – or, say, about the end of March (comp. Ant. xvii.8.1). Again, the Gospel-history necessitates an interval of, at the least, seven or eight weeks before that date for the birth of Christ (we have to insert the purification of the Virgin – at the earliest, six weeks after the Birth – The Visit of the Magi, and the murder of the children at Bethlehem, and, at any rate, some days more before the death of Herod). Thus the Birth of Christ could not have possibly occurred after the beginning of February 4 b.c., and most likely several weeks earlier. This brings us close to the ecclesiastical date, the 25th of December, in confirmation of which we refer to what has been stated in vol. i. p.187, see especially note 3. At any rate, the often repeated, but very superficial objection, as to the impossibility of shepherds tending flocks in the open at that season, must now be dismissed as utterly untenable, not only for the reasons stated in vol. i. p.187, but even for this, that if the question is to be decided on the ground of rain-fall, the probabilities are in favor of December as compared with February – later than which it is impossible to place the birth of Christ.
2. No certain inference can, of course, be drawn from the appearance of the star’ that guided the Magi. That, and on what grounds, our investigations have pointed to a confirmation of the date of the Nativity, as given above, has been fully explained in vol. i. ch. vi… (see specially p.213).
3. On the taxing of Quirinius, see vol. i. pp.181, 182.
4. The next historical datum furnished by the Gospels is that of the beginning of St. John the Baptist’s ministry, which, according to St. Luke, was in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, and when Jesus was about thirty years old’ (St. Luke iii.23). The accord of this with our reckoning of the date of the Nativity has been shown in vol. i. p.264.
5. A similar conclusion would be reached by following the somewhat vague and general indication furnished in St. John ii.20.
6. Lastly, we reach the same goal if we follow the historically somewhat uncertain guidance of the date of the Birth of the Baptist, as furnished in this notice (St. Luke i.5) of his annunication to his father, that Zacharias officiated in the Temple as on of the course of Abia’ (see here vol. i. p.135). In Taan.29 a we have the notice, with which that of Josephus agrees (War vi.4.1.5), that at the time of the destruction of the Temple the course of Jehoiarib,’ which was the first of the priestly courses, was on duty. That was on the 9-10 Ab of the year 823 A.U.C., or the 5th August of the year 70 of our era. If this calculation be correct (of which, however, we cannot feel quite sure), then counting the courses’ of priests backwards, the course of Abia would, in the year 748 A.U.C. (the year before the birth of Christ) have been on duty from the 2nd to the 9th of October. This also would place the birth of Christ in the end of December of the following year (749), taking the expression sixth month’ in St. Luke i.26, 36, in the sense of the running month (from the 5th to the 6th month, comp. St. Luke i.24). But we repeat that absolute reliance cannot be placed on such calculations, at least so far as regards month and day. (Comp. here generally Wieseler, Synopse, and his Beiträge.)
As Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year, church leaders across the country are making decisions about whether their respective congregation will hold services or forgo them. As one who holds a firm resolve about the prudency, even the appropriateness, of arbitrarily canceling services on any Sunday, no matter how noble-sounding the reasoning, I appreciate Grayson Gilbert’s thoughts on this matter, posted for Chorus In The Chaos:
Every set number of years, the church has an opportunity to gather with the saints on Christmas Day—and yet this often becomes a point of controversy for professing Christians. Some churches cancel services, while many others keep their doors open. I will admit at the onset of this that I believe those who shut their doors are not only doing a disservice to their congregants, but are in disobedience to the Scriptures.
The call to gather with the saints in the local assembly of believers is one that holds few exceptions to the rule. What has been traditionally held is that unless one is barred from attending church due to the providence of God or works of necessity, Christians should be among God’s people on the Lord’s Day (i.e., Sunday service). That time should be a designated time for all who profess faith in Christ simply because it is a time where the Spirit is uniquely present to work in and through His people as they serve one another, through the proclamation of the Word, the public reading of Scripture, corporate prayer, and congregational signing. In other words, unless we are providentially hindered or performing works of necessity, church attendance should be a non-negotiable to us. That is the general rule.
“The suffering that comes to us is not random. It is not just the flow of chance events that careen along without a plan. It is not crazy coincidence. It is not haphazard and undirected. It is easy for us to see suffering as blind chance, or bad luck, or what others are doing to us. It is not karma, bad thing are not coming to us, because we have been bad to others. God makes it clear that all suffering comes according to God’s purposes in our lives. God is at work even when we cannot see him at work.”
Author Ray Pritchard offers these startling words with regard to the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity:
All Christians believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. If you do not believe this – that is, if you have come to a settled conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true – you are not a Christian at all. You are in fact a heretic. Those words may sound harsh, but they represent the judgment of the Christian church across the centuries.
Pritchard’s words may be a bit shocking. But they are well founded. Affirming the Trinity is one of the non-negotiables of the Christian Faith. Yet, the doctrine of the Trinity is perhaps the most logically confusing among the many complex propositions of historic orthodox Christianity. It is so easy to take a step too far in almost any logical direction and find that we have fallen into a heresy.
I have long been a fan of Hans Fiene’s Lutheran Satire. And I particularly appreciate the humorous way he tackles the issue of the Trinity in this video. Take a moment to watch it.
For those wanting to ponder the definition Patrick finally rattles off in the end (and for which he is affirmed by Donall and Conall):
The Trinity is a mystery that cannot be comprehended by human reason but is understood by faith and is best confessed in the words of the Athanasian Creed which states that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. That we are compelled by the Christian faith to confess that each distinct person is God and Lord and that the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one equal in glory, coequal in majesty.
Leonce Crump’s bio, from the Race and the Church RVA web page:
Originally from Louisiana and raised Catholic, Léonce began following Jesus at age 16. Always an athlete and a talker, Léonce outran his first mall security guard (and pregnant mother) at age 3, and spent most of his grade school years talking with his principals on the subject of public speaking during class. He has been in ordained ministry for 9 years, is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma; and holds Masters degrees in Criminal Justice, with a focus on Case Law, from the University of Tennessee, Missional Leadership from the now defunct Resurgence Theological Training Center, an; is currently finishing his Masters of Divinity at Reformed Theological Seminary.
At Oklahoma he was an All-American wrestler and played a short while on the Sooner football team. He experienced an extended time of rebellion and running from God during college, but after 22 months of living as though he were not a Christian he surrendered to Jesus and ultimately to God’s calling into ministry. After college Léonce competed to make the world team in wrestling, played professional football for the New Orleans Saints and coached collegiate wrestling.
Prior to planting his present church, Léonce had served in 3 churches, starting and leading 3 college and young adult ministries. In 2006 he felt called to plant a church and settled on the under-served area of downtown Atlanta; and in early 2008 he and his wife began the process of planting Renovation Church, in partnership with Acts 29 and Perimeter Church.
A prodigious reader and engaging speaker, Léonce regularly speaks and preaches across the country at conferences and churches of all denominations. Léonce enjoys boxing and MMA, studying theology, history, leadership, church structure and poetry. He likes Soul music, jazz/standards, and Bossaniva. He also loves to lift, keep up with wrestling, football, and rugby, playing with his kids, hanging with the homeless dudes.
To view the first two gatherings of Race and the Church RVA:
More than 200 names for God are recorded in the Bible. All of them are important. Each of them reveals and affirms certain characteristics of God. While God is incomprehensible – we will never exhaust what there is to know about Him – He is nevertheless knowable. He has revealed himself to us. To know God is to recognize what He is like – and what He is not like. As J.I. Packer once said:
“Those who know God have great thoughts of God.”
So what is God like?
This is not an academic question. Though certainly there are some Academics in the news recently who may have been well served to have given a little more thought to the question before holding a press conference only to display syncretistic ignorance. But even in that instance the question is not merely academic. It is personal.
When asked: “What is the greatest commandment?”, Jesus unhesitatingly declared: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22.36-40; Deuteronomy 6.1-7) So let me ask a somewhat rhetorical question: “How can one love God if little to nothing is known about God? Further, even if it is possible to love a god one knows little about, (and I suspect that it may be possible,) how can we claim to be keeping the command to “Love God with all your mind” if we do not engage our minds to learn more and more about him?
Now let me be clear about something: If you are reading this post, and you feel you are less knowledgeable theologically than you think you ought to be, I am not trying to shame you. Truth is this: I am fairly theologically educated. If you have any knowledge of God at all, the difference between your little knowledge and my educated knowledge is so minimal when compared to what knowledge there is to be known about God, that any sense of haughtiness I might be inclined to project would be laughable, if such pomposity would not be so pathetic. My concern is not who knows more than who, but rather whether we know God, and whether, in keeping with the greatest command, we are engaging our minds to be continually growing in our knowledge of God.
If you have a desire to love the Lord with all your mind, let me offer a handful of suggested books about God with which to feed your mind. None of these are technical, but all are excellent. (To my mind, these are actually better than most of the technical theological books I have read.)
This list is far from exhaustive. There are many excellent books on this subject, and I welcome anyone who would like to add to this list to do so in the comment section. Sadly, there are many, many, bad books under this heading as well. Some of the better books I left off this list are Knowing God by J.I. Packer and Reason for God by Timothy Keller. While I enjoyed and highly commend both of these, the list above reflects a thorough introduction and/or reflection, yet easy reads. Keller’s is excellent for those asking the question: Is There a God? Packer’s would be on my list for next steps.
I will end with this: Earlier this year I heard a statement, attributed to John Piper (though I have been unable to confirm it is his), that stuck with me, resonates, and is appropriate to ponder:
For many Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – marks opening day for an exciting month long contact sport – shopping! For many others it is just one more cause for anxiety. In the midst of the seasonal hubbub, take a moment to watch this short video from the Advent Conspiracy.
The Holy Spirit is mysterious to many, perhaps especially to those in more intellectually inclined traditions. Most Christians probably understand that historic orthodoxy recognizes the Holy Spirit to be part of the Trinity, and therefore God, but I suspect many are somewhat less certain about what that means. Often the Holy Spirit is referred to as a depersonalized “it” despite being the third person of the Trinity. Maybe even more questions surround what exactly the Holy Spirit does.
Some time ago I ran across a satirical confession of faith, one that ostensibly reflects the functional beliefs of a typcical American evanglical. Mimicking the pattern of the Apostle’s Creed, the clause regarding the the Holy Spirit declares:
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, who did some weird stuff at Pentecost, but doesn’t do much more anymore except speak to the hearts of individual believers.
How close to the experience or belief of most, I cannot say. But I suspect, and fear, that it is discomfortingly close to the functional belief of too many.
Recently I have enjoyed a four-part series of posts by Jon Payne from Sovereign Grace Ministries blog, titled: The Role of Holy Spirit. I commend them for a thoughtful introduction and overview:
I believe this series provides a good Introduction and/or refresher about this one who is often referred to as “The Shy Member of the Trinity”. Hopefully it will whet your appetite to look further, and to study more deeply.
For those who are interested in digging into this subject, into this Person of the Holy Spirit, I would suggest two things:
First, stay away from some of the more bizarre claims by the likes of Benny Hinn, Perry Stone, Lester Summerall, and others from the Name-It-Claim-It camp, who refer to themselves as “Full Gospel” Christians. More often than not, there is little gospel reflected in the writings of these folks – at least not the gospel of the Bible. (See Galatians 1.6-9) These, at best, offer fascinations that lead away from the Cross.
Second, delve into a copy of one or more of the following books. This list is hardly exhaustive, but I think all of these provide substantive and sound insights about the Holy Spirit:
In many ways it seems to be seen as the conversation stopper, the ultimate trump card. Whenever a skeptic wants to take control of a spiritual conversation, the question gets tossed up like an impenetrable forcefield: With all the different translations and interpretations out there, how can anyone really know what the Bible says.
Of course sometimes it is not a conversation stopper, but a conversation starter. A person genuinely seeking, but perhaps confused or overwhelmed by all the Bible has to say may ask this very question. Such a person may hope that there is an answer. The good news is that there is an answer, and that the answer is “Yes”.
In this short 3-minute-plus video, Michael Horton tackles this question and gives a thoughtful response.
After spending the better part of the past week preparing to preach about the Fatherhood of God, and the amazing doctrine of adoption, from Galatians 3.23-4.7, I am still pondering the richness and beauty of how the Heidelberg Catechism expresses it:
Q 26. What do you believe when you say: I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?
A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and all that is in them, and who still upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is, for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father. In him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father.
All those who are justified God graciously guarantees to make partakers of the grace of adoption in and for his only Son, Jesus Christ. By this act they are taken into the number of God’s children and enjoy the liberties and privileges of that relationship; they are given his name; they receive the Spirit of adoption; they have access to the throne of grace with boldness; and they are enabled to cry, “Abba, Father.” Like a father, God has compassion on, protects, provides for, and chastens them; yet, they will never be cast off, but are sealed to the day of redemption, and will inherit the promises as heirs of everlasting salvation.
These are more than definitions. These are summaries of the the gospel that are worthy of contemplation. For I suspect most of our spiritual problems, and even our emotional troubles, are in one way or another due to our unbelief or lack of understanding of these great truths: first, God is the Father of all who believe, and who are therefore “in Christ:; second, we who believe, and who are therefore “in Christ”, are the beloved Children of God, who is the Creator and sustainer of the universe.
In preparation for this past Sunday message from Galatians, I again marveled at the insight and passion of Martin Luther concerning our Union with Christ:
“So far as justification is concerned, Christ and I must be so closely attached that He lives in me and I in Him. What a marvelous way of speaking!
Because He lives in me, whatever grace, righteousness, life, peace, and salvation there is in me is all Christ’s; nevertheless, it is mine as well, by the cementing and attachment that are through faith, by which we become as one body in the Spirit.
Since Christ lives in me, grace, righteousness, life, and eternal salvation must be present with Him; and the Law, sin, and death must be absent. Indeed, the Law must be crucified, devoured, and abolished by the Law—and sin by sin, death by death, the devil by the devil.
In this way Paul seeks to withdraw us completely from ourselves, from the Law, and from works, and to transplant us into Christ and faith in Christ, so that in the area of justification we look only at grace, and separate it far from the Law and from works, which belong far away…
But faith must be taught correctly, namely, that by it you are so cemented to Christ that He and you are as one person, which cannot be separated but remains attached to Him forever and declares: ‘I am as Christ.’
And Christ, in turn, says: ‘I am as that sinner who is attached to Me, and I to him. For by faith we are joined together into one flesh and one bone.’
Thus Ephesians 5.30 says: ‘We are members of the body of Christ, of His flesh and of His bones,’ in such a way that this faith couples Christ and me more intimately than a husband is coupled to his wife.”
Not long ago I wrote expressing my skepticism about the claims depicted in the heart tugging film Heaven is For Real. I have no doubts about the reality of heaven, it is just the claims of the boy who claimed to have visited heaven that I found dubious. It is nothing personal about him. I am highly suspicious of all of those charlatans making claims of peeping into heaven. I think John Piper expressed it most succinctly:
“If books go beyond scripture, I doubt what they say…”
Interestingly, one of those who has been marketed as a heaven peeper, Alex Malarkey, has come out publicly with an open letter to LifeWay, criticizing the Publisher/Bookstore chain for selling his book. Malarkey, who was the co-author and the central figure of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, has recanted his story, and ironically is challenging LifeWay to use better theological judgment in the materials they produce and promote.
For those curious about Heaven – what God has revealed to us about Heaven in the Bible, I find Randy Alcorn‘s simple titled book, Heaven, to be the best I have read. I recommend it freely, and give it away often.