c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton

Friday, November 29, 2013

From the Day of Pentecost


Jesus gave to Peter the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:19).  On the day of Pentecost he began to use them to unlock doors.
But Peter said two things that might be taken as contradictory.  First, in order to explain the supernatural phenomenon that occurred he quoted Joel, predicting the Last Days and ending with a simple invitation, “’And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Acts 2:21 ESV)
But second, when the Spirit convicted the people of their sins they cried out, “What shall we do?”
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:38 ESV)
Is there one key or are there more?
In the history of the Church there has been confusion over what God requires for salvation.  Some say there are no “works” at all but that God chooses the ones who might be saved and moves upon them to that end by an irresistible grace.  Others sing, “Only believe, only believe, all things are possible, only believe.”  Some Churches have developed relatively elaborate systems of doctrine, morals, ritual, spirituality, and ecclesiastical government to fulfill every jot and tittle of the law.  So today, Christianity is divided between factions over how salvation is accomplished.  These are honest disagreements because Scripture is not self-explanatory.  Various groups have proof texts for the position that they hold.
However, we cannot all be correct.  If the Spirit inspired the sacred writings then passages do not conflict with each other and apparent discrepancies point to a lack of understanding on the part of us fallible human beings.  But why should we care?
John Ankerberg once famously said, “If one tries to be saved in a way that one cannot be saved then one will not be saved.”  Of course, by saying that Ankerberg melodramatically raised the stakes so that folk might take his perspective more seriously.  But according to Romans 2:12-16, God will judge us justly according to the truth that we have.
Be that as it may, what if sincere Christians want a better grasp of the keys?  What if Christian teachers want to be more accurate in explaining the word?  What if we desire to attain to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God?  What if God’s power is unlocked by a better understanding of his purpose?
Assuming those positive motivations, I would like to put forth this theory: the simpler formulas summarize and include the more complex ones; otherwise, one makes hundreds of Biblical verses optional and the temptation to sin might prevent the needed “obedience of the faith” that saves (Romans 1:5 and 16:26).  Therefore, we should reject de minimis gospels and rather observe all that the Lord has commanded us.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A SALVATION SYLLOGISM

The True “Roman Road” to Salvation


[God] will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; (Romans 2:6-7 ESV)

... But I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate … I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (7:14-15 and 18)

 Therefore, God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit …            For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (8:3-4 and 13)

The Anglican ROSE


This acrostic, a handy rhetorical devise, is based on passages from Romans, on Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, and on other worthy sources in the Christian theological tradition.  The passages cited describe the true “Roman Road to Salvation” for use in personal evangelism and basic doctrinal instruction.  The Articles of Religion say, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”  The Homily on Scripture says, “Therefore, forsaking the corrupt judgment of fleshly men, which cared not but for their carcase, let us reverently hear and read holy Scriptures, which is the food of the soul [Matt. 4:[4]]. Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testament, and not run to the stinking puddles of men’s traditions, devised by man’s imagination, for our justification and salvation. For in holy Scripture is fully contained what we ought to do and what to eschew, what to believe, what to love, and what to look for at God’s hands at length.”  John Wesley wrote, who lived and died an Anglican priest, “Try all things by the written word, and let all bow down before it. You are in danger of [fanaticism] every hour, if you depart ever so little from Scripture; yea, or from the plain, literal meaning of a text, taken in connection with the context." (Works, 11:429).  The acrostic here stands in contrast to the Calvinist TULIP.  The Anglican view begins with …

Reason: What can be known about God, his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and deity, is clearly perceived in the things that he has made; so, we are without excuse (1:18-20).  He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. (2:6-8)  For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (2:14-16)  I agree that the law is good (7:16), holy, righteous, and good (v. 12).  I serve the law with my mind (v. 25); it is the law of my mind (it makes sense, v. 23).  It is spiritual (v. 14) and I delight in it (v. 22).
Original Sin: But I am carnal, sold under sin (7:14).  I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members (v. 23).  I know nothing good dwells in my flesh (v. 18).  Wretched man that I am!  Who will save me from this body of death? (v. 24 (referring to physical flesh, the body with which we are burdened in this life, which has a tendency to sin, has sinned, and is, therefore, under a sentence of death))
Salvation Revealed in the Suffering of Christ, God’s Saving Act in Him: God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (8:3-4 ESV)
Eternal Life: If by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body we will live (8:13).  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17 ESV)            For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin … But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Romans 6:5-6 and 22 ESV)  The sufferings of this present life (understanding that the painful way of the cross liberates us from sin and self, preparing us for eternal life) are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us (8:18).
 
This system is not legalism but describes a Spirit-filled walk in the way of the cross, supported by recognized authorities in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church:

In CONCERNING THE NATURE OF THE GOOD AGAINST THE MANICHAEANS, Augustine wrote: But to the most excellent creatures, that is, to rational spirits, God has offered this, that if they will not they cannot be corrupted; that is, if they should maintain obedience under the Lord their God, so should they adhere to his incorruptible beauty; but if they do not will to maintain obedience, since willingly they are corrupted in sins, unwillingly they shall be corrupted in punishment, since God is such a good that it [goes] well for no one who deserts Him, and among the things made by God the rational nature is so great a good, that there is no good by which it may be blessed except God … For sins, which do not preserve but vitiate nature, are not from [God]; which sins, Holy Scripture in many ways testifies, are from the will of those sinning, especially in the passage where the apostle says, “… [God] will render unto every one according to his works.”

From the SCRIPTURE WAY OF SALVATION by John Wesley: From the time of our being born again, the gradual work of sanctification takes place. We are enabled "by the Spirit" to "mortify the deeds of the body," of our evil nature; and as we are more and more dead to sin, we are more and more alive to God. We go on from grace to grace, while we are careful to "abstain from all appearance of evil," and are "zealous of good works," as we have opportunity, doing good to all men; while we walk in all His ordinances blameless, therein worshipping Him in spirit and in truth; while we take up our cross, and deny ourselves every pleasure that does not lead us to God.

From Wesley’s SELF-DENIAL: How vainly we attempt to follow Him that was crucified, unless we take up our cross daily … I know of no writer in the English tongue who has described the nature of self-denial in plain and intelligible terms, such as lie level with common understandings, and applied it to those little particulars which daily occur in common life. A discourse of this kind is wanted still; and it is wanted the more, because in every stage of the spiritual life, although there is a variety of particular hindrances of our attaining grace or growing therein, yet are all resolvable into these general ones, -- either we do not deny ourselves, or we do not take up our cross … Our nature is altogether corrupt, in every power and faculty. And our will, depraved equally with the rest, is wholly bent to indulge our natural corruption. On the other hand, it is the will of God that we resist and counteract that corruption, not at some times, or in some things only, but at all times and in all things. Here, therefore, is a farther ground for constant and universal self-denial … In order to the healing of that corruption, that evil disease, which every man brings with him into the world, it is often needful to pluck out, as it were, a right eye, to cut off a right hand; -- so painful is either the thing itself which must be done, or the only means of doing it; the parting, suppose, with a foolish desire, with an inordinate affection; or a separation from the object of it, without which it can never be extinguished. In the former kind, the tearing away such a desire or affection, when it is deeply rooted in the soul, is often like the piercing of a sword, yea, like "the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, the joints and marrow." The Lord then sits upon the soul as a refiner's fire, to burn all the dross thereof. And this is a cross indeed; it is essentially painful; it must be so, in the very nature of the thing. The soul cannot be thus torn asunder, it cannot pass through the fire, without pain … it is always owing to the want either of self-denial, or taking up his cross, that any man does not thoroughly follow Him, is not fully a disciple of Christ … he made shipwreck of the faith, for want of self-denial, and taking up his cross daily … his faith is not made perfect, neither can he grow in grace; namely, because he will not deny himself, and take up his daily cross.

From the Anglican Rite: And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.

Friday, August 30, 2013

What Is Wrath?


Paul wrote, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18 ESV) 

If something is revealed, it can be observed.  What did Paul see that he called wrath? 

In the immediate literary context wrath was seen as the consequence of actions.  Paul described the actions taken: suppressing the truth of what is called natural theology (intelligent design in the things that are made), failing to honor God or give thanks to him, claiming to be wise, though they were foolish in the previous incidences, and finally exchanging the glory of God for idols.  I would call these theological or religious sins.  In contemporary American society, for instance, we have a form of idolatry called celebrity worship, into which can be folded the worship of athletes, also dependency on the government, aka statist idolatry. 

“Therefore,” Paul says, wrath ensues.  He then describes the wrath.  Three times, verses 24, 26, and 28, it says, in defining wrath, “God gave them up.” 

Now, we must be quick to point out that it does not say God gave up on us, for anyone can repent.  The Bible is full of stories about those that turn and are saved.  In fact, that is the purpose of God in giving us up to the sin and foolishness upon which we insist.  But in this post let us consider what is meant by wrath: it is God giving us up.  The reprobation has specific content.  By observing that content we see wrath and can say one is under wrath: 

·         Impurity and dishonoring of bodies
·         Homosexuality
·         All kinds of unrighteousness (a long list of things) 

Now, one might think that the sin lists above are the cause of wrath.  But no, they are presented as the result of the previous wrong thinking concerning “what can be known about God,” the violation of which is “without excuse.”  Likewise, we might be tempted to think that wrath is something like fire from heaven or those descriptions of the end of the world with plagues and fiery judgment – something that is frightening and physically hurts or destroys people.  Yes, those things do appear in Biblical prophecy and are called wrath.  There will be plenty of time for that!  And yes, even the New Testament tells of those that are punished in extraordinary ways for their sins.  Judas hung himself and his guts fell out.  Herod was stricken and died of worms in obvious consequence of his becoming an object of false worship.  Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Spirit and were struck dead.  Throughout history we might be able to point to those that suffered a deserved end for the evil they perpetrated. 

But in the closest he comes to systematic theology Paul explains in the first few chapters of Romans how we can see the wrath of God in less dramatic terms … and escape it though repentance (2:4) and faith in Jesus (3:21-26).  In fact, his discussion of small scale personal wrath goes on quite some time, subsuming Jews under wrath in several paragraphs, before he even mentions the way of salvation.  One could say that his clear perspective concerning wrath, seeing individual people suffer it, is what moves and motivates his evangelistic explanation as God giving them up.  If God gives people up then he can take us back, which he does in Christ when we are converted. 

But again, how is being given up to the list of bullet-pointed experiences above painful or a punishment relative to the common meaning of wrath?  One might consider some of those things fun!  In fact, a hedonistic personal ethic (if it feels good do it) or a non-judgmental ethos in society (whatever floats your boat) allows people to explore and experience whatever makes us happy, right? 

With that question we have come precisely to the point: what some might call the pursuit of happiness Paul calls wrath. 

Why? 

Because no one is truly happy that God has given up.  The assumed pleasure and personal benefit derived from sinful behavior is the biggest lie on the face of the earth. 

From the beginning mankind has been deceived concerning the true source of our happiness.  The first words out of Satan’s mouth were, “Did God say …?”   Eve’s focus was turned from God, the Creator, to what she saw in the creature, “that it was a delight to the eye, good for food, and desirable to make one wise.”  She committed many conceptual errors, lies, before acting wrongly and incurring wrath. 

We Christians must rid ourselves of conceptual errors, mainly that of antinomianism http://michaeldeshanehinton.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-spiritual-danger-of-antinomianism.html but also of “this world” theology.  We must re-focus intently on God and his eternal purposes in Christ. 

We as Christian people that truly love others need to be able to see wrath revealed and to say, “No, you are not happy.  No one can be happy doing what you are doing.  I see the pain in your face, the anguish in your eyes.  In fact, there is a distinct possibility that you are perfectly miserable without God, and want to get back to him, who is your Creator, your heavenly Father, and lover of your soul.”

David was a great psychologist.  Long before Freud wrote of projection David prayed this:
 

                With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
                                with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
                with the purified you show yourself pure;
                                and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. (Psalm 18:25-26 ESV) 

As Christian people we need to be merciful, blameless, and pure enough to know and experience deeply within ourselves the blessedness, peace, and joy of being with God.  Then and only then can we see the wrath that abides on the bulk of humanity that does not know him, who are tortured by God, not directly but for the lack of him, who has sadly given them up. 

Paul said virtually the same thing as David: 

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. (Titus 1:15 ESV) 

People that act foolishly do not feel good about themselves.  They are not truly happy or free but tend to feelings of emptiness, guilt, shame, self-loathing, and often lash out in anger because they are not happy.  That is the wrath revealed, which Paul saw.  But no one needs to live like that.  Christ our Lord saves to the uttermost.  He will forgive past sins and empower us to live victoriously in this life.  If we repent and pray then we can experience grace and not wrath.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Our Evangelical Mantra Properly Explained


The evangelical rule “justification by grace through faith” must be explained in a way consistent with the rest of the New Testament witness or we will live in perpetual confusion/disunity at the least and at the worst stand condemned of preaching a different gospel (II Corinthians 11:4 and Galatians 1:8-9). 

In the prevalent literature and preaching two terms of the proposition above, justification and grace, have been poorly defined, and a third, faith, suffers from bad translation in several instances of the most popular English versions of the Bible, leading to misunderstanding.  The definitional problems are the easier to resolve by presenting simple theological choices. 

First, does “justification” mean to be declared righteous or does it mean to be made righteous?  This choice determines whether or not one takes all the other passages of the New Testament seriously, including its moral commandments, or leaves them as options largely irrelevant to the prospect of ultimately achieving eternal salvation, all else being equal.  To resolve this question one might consider:  http://michaeldeshanehinton.blogspot.com/2013/01/thoughts-on-salvation-by-faith-by-john.html and http://michaeldeshanehinton.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-spiritual-danger-of-antinomianism.html . 

Second, does “grace” mean unmerited favor or does it mean divine activity?  The implication of this choice is whether or not one is a passive recipient of (monergism) or active participant in (synergism) one’s own salvation.  It may also speak to how we conceive of God himself.  Is the Holy Spirit weak in the face of sin or can the Helper enable and inspire us to live victoriously in this life?  See http://michaeldeshanehinton.blogspot.com/2013/08/what-is-grace.html 

Now, the problem of translation that affects the third term of our evangelical motto, “faith,” is more complicated.  It depends on grammar, specifically the use of modifiers called definite articles.  Definite articles restrict the use of the noun it modifies to a particular incidence of what is described.  “Birds sitting on a fence,” for instance, is indefinite but “the red bird on the picket fence” is definite, if all the other birds are blue and there are no other picket fences in view with birds sitting upon them. 

For the purposes of this lesson we will distinguish between “faith” as an indiscriminate act of trust/believing on the one hand and on the other hand “the Faith,” using the definite article, meaning Christianity in particular, the religion established by Jesus, the new covenant in his blood.  Every religion has the story of its beginnings, a set of beliefs about ultimate reality or God, ethical requirements for its adherents, rituals that the people find meaningful, and a helpful organizational structure.  But a non-descript “justification by grace through faith” tends to make people irreligious for the lack of the definite article modifying faith in key Pauline passages where they occur in the original Greek text.  So, one is left to think that we are saved by believing in Jesus when in fact we are asked to be faithful in the religion that he established, in which, of course, he is the principal actor as per the definition of grace above.

Now, “the Faith” viewed as a definitive religion does not exclude our believing but rather depends on us trusting God to fulfill his word that comes to us by said Faith.  Nevertheless, mere “belief” in American pop-evangelicalism today tends to exclude many things contained in "the Faith," making us prone to antinomianism, often proudly so, which should be rejected as explained under justification above.  It is more accurate to say that "the Faith" justifies us, not the mere act of believing, because people "believe" many things, some of them very strange and not in accord with "the Faith." 

But the problem gets a little more complicated.  There are places where the translators ought to supply the definite article for an English audience where it does not occur in the Greek text.  Why?  Well, as an act of efficiency the Greek writer may consider a noun sufficiently modified without actually penning every way that it can be made specific.  He might not use the definite article, for instance, if other words are there to make it definitive or if his logic makes it clear the precise thing of which he speaks. 

Now, there are many places in the New Testament where the scholars have supplied the definite article properly, yielding “the Faith.”  But in key Pauline passages that fuel the “justification by grace through faith” formula they have in recent times failed miserably.  The offending passages are these (in some cases the Geneva Bible of 1560/99 properly translates the text, which will be noted): 

Romans 3:22 should be translated, as does the Geneva Bible: To wit, the righteousness of God by the faith of Jesus Christ, unto all, and upon all that believe. 

Romans 3:27-31 should be translated: What then becomes of our boasting?  It is excluded.  Through what law?  Of works?  No, but through a law of faith.  For we reason that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  Is God of the Jews only?  Is he not also of the Gentiles?  Yes, of Gentiles, too.  So it is that the one God will justify whomever: the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through the faith.  Do we overthrow law by the faith?  Absolutely not!  We establish a law. 

Galatians 2:16 should be translated properly, as does the Geneva Bible: Know that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we, I say, have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law, because that by the works of the Law, no flesh shall be justified. 

Galatians 3:22 should be translated, like the Geneva Bible: But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by the faith of Jesus Christ should be given to them that believe. 

Philippians 3:9 should be translated, as does the Geneva Bible: And might be found in him, that is, not having my own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, even the righteousness which is of God through faith, 

Paul believed, according to a correct translation of his works, that the Faith of Jesus Christ (Christianity) superseded the Law of Moses (Judaism) as God’s new way of salvation.  His polemic against the Jews, Judaizing teachers, and Peter’s one-time act of hypocrisy caused Paul to contrast Christianity with Judaism in stark terms as two separate religions; hence his language about justification by the Faith “apart from” works of the Law.  But Paul did not seek to overthrow a general principle of lawful existence.  He worked to introduce Jesus’ new religion among the Gentiles, which he called a Law of Faith (Romans 3:27-31, properly translated above) and the Law of Christ (I Corinthians 9:21 and Galatians 6:2).  His exposition of morality led him to speak of what Christians call the Law of Love (Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:14). 

Paul knew the original disciples of Jesus and was familiar with Christ’s teachings through them, so he understood all of the theological, liturgical, and ethical considerations that comprise “the Faith,” and which materially contributes to our salvation.  He would not have discounted the Sermon on the Mount, the Great Commission, the Summary of the Law, the Golden Rule, the Mind of Christ, the Institution of the Lord's Supper, and ultimately, the Way of the Cross.  It was his calling to convey Christian teachings to Gentiles as Apostle to the Gentiles.  Contrary to a common misconception Paul never wrote that we are justified by “faith alone” or that “Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer for justification.”  Nothing that he actually wrote in the original Greek would distract us from the highest standards of Christian discipline, spirituality, and moral behavior contained in the Gospels or other New Testament writings, every passage of which is the apostolic witness to the Faith of Jesus Christ. 

Considering these things we must conclude, consistent with the totality of the New Testament canon: we are made actually righteous by the power of God's Spirit offered to us in and through the Faith of Jesus Christ, if we believe in it and faithfully practice it, enduring to the end.

Friday, August 9, 2013

What is Grace?


After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:7-11 ESV)

To our knowledge Jesus never uttered the word “grace.” 

But Paul used the word “grace” often in his letters (at least 82 times).  He wrote of our being saved by grace.  How did he formulate such a thing?  Jesus never said it – why Paul?

According to the Biblical account, the first time any disciple of Jesus Christ said the word “grace” it was Peter, quoted above, in ecumenical council, discussing what to do about the new Gentile converts … with Paul sitting right there.  So we see, first, that the New Testament witness is consistent; Christianity is and has always been one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Faith because Peter, who knew Jesus and was the chief of the apostles, and Paul both used the word grace.  Peter is Paul’s link to Jesus in the concept of being saved by grace. 

Second, talk of grace arose to solve a practical problem created by events.  What actually happened is, therefore, a key to understanding grace and thus correcting a widespread misunderstanding.  We have heard, for instance, that grace is the unmerited favor of God.  But that definition is an abstraction and largely misleading.  That definition makes grace a function of God’s mind rather than his redemptive action in history.  In the passage above Peter described God’s act in saving Gentiles, which he personally facilitated, to wit:  What he witnessed at Cornelius’ house and what he experienced himself as a Jewish convert to Christ he called “grace.”  This was after Paul reported what God as doing through him.  So, their understanding of grace is fact-driven. 

But before analyzing the salvation historical factors that provide an accurate definition of grace, third, we must critique the traditional definition of unmerited favor.  The most obvious weakness of the idea of unmerited favor is that if grace is unmerited then why doesn’t everyone have grace?  The Universalists, carried along by the idea of unmerited favor preach that, indeed, God does give everyone grace and so we are all saved.

To counter that notion the orthodox believer might argue that grace is offered freely but some do not “accept” it.  But that does not solve the problem.  The act of “accepting,” though it sounds passive, is a work that a man must do so does not fit the term “unmerited.”  Logically, the Calvinists are correct that if anything is required of a man in furtherance of his own salvation one has established a work and thus merit.  “Accepting” is then, and has become in many evangelical circles, a kind of legalism, with double pre-destination the only logical cure. 

The less obvious weakness of “unmerited favor” lies in the second term.  The question is how God distributes his blessings and favor. 

To answer that question we must begin at ground level, knocking down all presumption and assuming that we know nothing of God’s will, plan, and purpose.  The Bible says, for instance, that God does not show favoritism, per se, merited, unmerited, or dyed the color purple: 

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. (Acts 10:34-35 ESV) 

There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:22-23 ESV) 

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:11-13 ESV)

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 ESV) 

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11 ESV) 

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. (James 2:1 ESV) 


From these passages we see that the Jewish idea of special election attaching to them as Jews is passé.  Circumcision was the sign of a covenant that was in this very council being rejected.  Along with the story of how God manifested grace to the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house Peter included a dénouement of the old Jewish covenant with which they were all familiar:  God obviously was not blessing that covenant any longer because it was a continual source of frustration, pain, and anxiety.  The advent of Christ and the religion that he established was vastly different.  It had universal appeal and is offered to anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity.  It was accompanied by signs and wonders by which God testified to the Gentles being “acceptable” to him.  That is, the Jews are not the special people any more.  That is Peter’s principal point in his summary before the council above.  God will save both Jews and Gentiles by his grace, exactly what Paul wrote several times. 
 
Notice what Peter did *not* say in his speech above.  He made no reference to the trance that he entered, the vision that he saw of a sheet let down, or the decree that God made, “Do not call unclean what I have cleansed.”  This exclusion of material fact focuses our attention on what exactly he called “grace.”  The vision was not the grace.  The free selection of food was not the grace to which he referred.  The decree was not referred to as grace.  Again, what actually happened at Cornelius’ house takes grace out of the realm of speculation, theology, or even of special revelation.  What he saw with his eyes and heard with his ears at a point in time and space caused him to say “grace.” 
 
Likewise, what Paul experienced in his work among the Gentiles caused him to follow Peter in the nomenclature of “grace.”

What did they see that they called “grace?” 
 
They saw God act.  Specifically, they saw the Holy Spirit poured out both on themselves “at first” and then upon Gentiles that believed later.  Peter said in the speech above about the event at Cornelius’ house, “Giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us.”  That fact alone convinced him that God made no distinction between Gentile and Jew but that all are saved by grace. 
 
Therefore, the definition of grace is the divine activity that saves, specifically the operation of the Holy Spirit, initially and continually, to convict, convince, heal, free, deliver, empower, discipline, correct, sanctify, and lead us in Christian discipleship. 
 
That seems to be what Paul had in mind when the Galatians were tempted to fall away: 
 
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (Galatians 3:2-6 ESV) 

Just as we find Christian “perfection” associated with the ethic of love we see in the New Testament a close association of “grace” with divine power at work to save – in the Spirit, the power of God, miracles, and gifts of the Spirit being exercised effectively.  Here are a few passages on point: 
 
And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:33 ESV) 
 
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:8 ESV) 
 
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8 ESV) 
 
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. (1 Corinthians 3:10 ESV) 
Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. (2 Corinthians 1:15 ESV) 
 
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV) 
 
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, (Ephesians 3:7-8 ESV) 
 
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,
                “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
                                and he gave gifts to men.”
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (Ephesians 4:7-8 and 11-12 ESV) 
 
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV) 
 
To conclude the criticism of the popular definition of grace, then, we must say that it is not favor but God acting to find those upon whom he might pour out his blessing.  Jesus is described as being “full of grace,” for instance.  Some experienced the power of God flowing through him for healing and deliverance.  Some did not.  Some listened to his word.  Some did not.  Some became his disciples.  Some did not.  The grace was the same.  It was there in him the whole time.  Once a woman drew upon it and Jesus didn’t even know until he felt power leave his body, asking, “Who touched me?” 
 
Fourth, the definition of grace as divine activity makes sense not only from the passages above but also because of the shared root word in Greek: “grace” is translated from CHARIS and a variant is the word “gift,” specifically CHARISMA, that is, reference to the charismatic gifts of the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:4, 9, 28, 30, and 31).  One receives grace, therefore, when he or she has been acted upon by the Spirit to be converted, or has received the Spirit for empowerment, transformation, and guidance.  That is why Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Spirit, which he called “power from on high” and which Peter called the “gift” that yields “manifold grace” (Luke 24:49 and I Peter 4:10). 
 
In this better definition of grace we see, fifth, a contrast with life under the Law of Moses.  On the one hand, God had established a new covenant.  The specific issue before the council was the proposition that one had to become a Jewish proselyte in order to be saved (Acts 15:1).  The council decided that was not true.  They *saw* by direct evidence to the contrary that God was saving people by his grace, his divine power and activity, which cleansed hearts through the Faith of Jesus Christ “apart from” Judaism, or “works of the Law.” 
 
On the other hand, the Law of Moses prescribed rituals and behaviors that we in our own power could not do.  Peter explained the weakness of the Law in his speech at the council, saying that they should not impose upon Gentiles a religion that the Jews themselves could not bear.  Therefore, the early Church arrived at its policy conclusion not by academic or scholastic “debate” alone but by reports of what was happening, which they called “grace:” by his miraculous intervention God helps people enter and fulfill requirements of the new covenant that he established in Christ.  With Christianity, then, there is both a new law of love (John ) and a profound change in how it is fulfilled.  It is fulfilled, Paul wrote, by those who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:xy).

Therefore, when we consider salvation by grace we ought not to engage in speculation about what God might have decreed about this person or that, or guess what God might think in his eternal and immutable mind.  If grace is at work we can see it unfolding before our very eyes in time and space.  Like Peter and Paul we can be facilitators of grace as we exercise the gifts to meet felt needs.  If people either accept or reject this divine activity that will be apparent as well due to the presence or absence, respectively, of changed lives, for when grace happens hearts are cleansed by faith. 

Sixth, this definition of grace makes merit almost completely irrelevant to the discussion.  God as sovereign may act to save whomever he will.  Paul picked up on what Peter said about “grace” and ran with it to justify his work among the Gentiles.  Grace enters the Christian lexicon only because of God’s offering covenant to Gentiles as a class of believers, solving a problem of salvation history, which was the subject of the first ecumenical council recorded in Acts. 
 
Seventh, plugging in the new definition of grace radically changes the way we do discipleship.  It takes us out of our heads and into real life experience.  Our theology becomes much more practical: 
 
·         Salvation becomes an on-going and continual process of being made actually righteous by the miracle-working power of God.  Salvation is not a one-dimensional belief system or speculation about eternal decrees but an experience of God with beginning, middle, and end.  As Peter said above we “will be” saved by grace, future tense. 
·         It liberates us from certain kinds of mental gymnastics that gloss over sin because by grace are hearts are changed.
 
·         It frees us also from emotional contortions whereby we are tempted to pour the entire Biblical witness into believing the concept of “Christ’s finished work.”  By grace we “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV).  With grace the ideas of work and law are not frightening to us because we have God’s help; our relationship with and reliance upon him are deepened by cooperating in our own salvation.
 
·         This active definition of grace heightens the need for discerning of spirits so that we can identify what God is doing vs. what a man or demon might do.  It invites us to watch for God at work and listen to him (see John 5:19 and 30).
·         It encourages us to exercise gifts of the Holy Spirit in meeting felt needs with the knowledge, power, and wisdom that God provides.
 


Friday, July 26, 2013

The Pattern of Biblical Prophecy Requires a Spiritual Perspective


The pattern of Biblical prophecy is this: 

1.        All prophecy concerning Israel was fulfilled in Christ and the remnant of Jews that believed in him at the time of his appearing (Romans 9-11).  Because the Jewish nation did not receive him the covenant with physical Israel ended with the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD.  The Jews are now just another nation (kind of people) called to repent and believe in Jesus like everyone else (Acts 4:23-31). 

2.       Meanwhile, Christian believers are now the true circumcision (Romans 2:29 and Philippians 3:3) and Israel of God (Galatians 6:10), who inherit the promises given to Abraham (Galatians 3:15-29).  Christians are the spiritual temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) and the elect by faith in Christ (Romans 8:33, 2 Timothy 2:10, and Titus 1:1).  The transition from physical Israel to spiritual Christianity was extremely difficult for the early Church (Acts 15) and many today still do not understand it.  The confusing thing is that the New Testament uses Old Testament language to describe new things in Christ.  The use of Old Testament language tempts many to believe in a false continuity when in fact Christianity represents a radial break with Judaism.  That is why Paul says that we are justified by the Faith “apart from” works of the Law.  Accepting the end of the old covenant and the inauguration of the new one in Jesus’ blood is essential to understanding the Biblical world-view.  The rise and spread of Christianity, to the point, was predicted in Old Testament prophecy: 

“I saw in the night visions,
                and behold, with the clouds of heaven
                                there came one like a son of man,
                and he came to the Ancient of Days
                                and was presented before him.
                And to him was given dominion
                                and glory and a kingdom,
                that all peoples, nations, and languages
                                should serve him;
                his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
                                which shall not pass away,
                and his kingdom one
                                that shall not be destroyed.  (Daniel 7:13-14 ESV) 

3.       A distinctly Christian prophetic tradition now applies, which in the words of Jesus is quite simple, “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  (Matthew 24:14 ESV)  Note that Jesus said “this” Gospel of the kingdom.  He means the spiritual kingdom that he taught and proclaimed, not the Old Testament one that was lost when the Hebrews rejected Jesus (Matthew 21:33-44).  “Kingdom” is one of those old words that takes on a new meaning consistent with the paradigm shift occurring in Christ’s new revelation.  His kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36).  Flesh and blood cannot inherit it (1 Corinthians 15:50).  It is “not meat and drink but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). 

4.       In speaking of the end of the world we find an interesting parallel to the end of physical Israel.  Just as the ancient Jews were destroyed (except for the remnant named above) because they rejected Jesus so the world will be destroyed for the refusal of mankind to repent of both personal and systemic evil (except for a “remnant of mankind” (Acts 15:17) that are “called out” of the world to be saved, who flee the wrath to come): 

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.  (Revelation 9:20-21 ESV) 

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.
                The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds. (Revelation 16:8-11 ESV) 

According to Scripture, this world is the kingdom and abode of Satan, who is the god of this world (Luke 4:5, 1 John 5:19, and 2 Corinthians 4:4); this world will be utterly destroyed (2 Peter 3:1-13) but we are not destined for wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10) and so we are strangers and exiles here (Hebrews 11:13-16and 1 Peter 2:11).  We are not to have any affection for the world (James 4:4-5 and 1 John 2:15-17) and should be detached in our dealings with it (1 Corinthians 7:29-31), though we may serve as good citizens of the society in which we live (Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17).  Christians are in danger of falling away because of worldly distractions (Matthew 13:22/Mark 4:19 and Mark 8:36/Luke 9:25) and if we are faithful to God we can expect trouble and persecution in this world (John 16:33 and 2 Timothy 3:12). 

5.       But this world of sin and evil will be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17, 2 Peter 3:13, and Revelation 21:1), inhabited by those that have purified themselves by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their own lives unto death (Matthew 16:24/Luke 9:23,  Romans 8:17, Philippians 3:10-11, and Revelation 12:11).  Those that die in faith, that is, faithful and enduring to the end, will be raised by the Lord to inherit eternal life when he returns (John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 15).  Therefore, Jesus commands us: 

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)