c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: August 2013

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. 


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 in English translations 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.