Monday, May 12, 2014

Three Loves: God, others, and you

2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV) Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Doctrine is an ugly word, with seriously negative connotations.  But what do we believe as Christians?  What does it mean to be a Christian?  What about the Bible?  What does it actually say, apart from any other source regarding truth and the world around us?  These are matters of urgent importance to Christians who claim Jesus Christ as Lord.

Titus 2:1 (ESV) But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.

The Bible is a collection of 66 books of writing spanning thousands of years, there is no other book that rivals the Bible in it's breadth of time, accuracy, historicity, or timeless quality.  There is absolutely nothing like it in the history of man.  When compared with recorded history from outside sources it is considered to be 99.7% accurate. 

2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

The type and style of books are incredibly versatile.  It's important to remember there are very different styles in the books, some are historical accounts, some are recordings of family lines and listings of numbers of people in every tribe.  Some of the books are poetry and songs.  Some of the books are letters to ancient churches from the apostles.  Other books are considered prophecy, meaning they predict the future.

The historical-cultural context is also vital to understand.  And when someone with no training in Biblical interpretation, a chip on their shoulder, and a desire to misunderstand all come together, you get slanderous representations of the Bible that call it misogynist, racist, homophobic, contradictory, and so on and so forth.  I saw an atheist indicate that the Bible supports multiple wives.  That's absolutely false.  There are people in the Old Testament in that situation, in history, but it is most certainly not considered a good thing.  It was a bad thing, and if you read a chapter or two further from accounts of multiple wives, like with Abraham or Solomon, you see it caused huge problems in their lives.

The point here is that taking verses out of their cultural and historical context leads to misinterpretation.

Hebrews 13:9 (ESV) Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

The next thing to be aware of is something theologians called "progressive revelation."  Remember that the Bible contains writing spanning from several thousand years BC, to about 50 years AD.  Progressive revelation means that as time passes in the books of the Bible, God slowly reveals the details of his plan.  So something that was true in the Old Testament, may not necessarily still be true today, because of progressive revelation.  Similar to this is "covenant change."  In the Old Testament, Israel was under the covenant of the law.  A covenant is an agreement, nothing more.  God gave Israel the laws to live by, and during that time someone was considered "righteous" by God, in other words, in good standing, by having faith and trust in God, and also by obeying the laws he gave.  

The Old covenant and the plan in times past, to break it down extremely simply, was like this: Man had turned on God.  But God chose to raise up the nation of Israel on the planet Earth as an example to all mankind of proper living.  All the other nations of the Earth would see Israel, and they would see God blessing Israel, and being their leader, and this would be an example to the nations of the planet that God is good, God is love, and that being his children is the best way.  Israel unfortunately was unable to follow the laws God placed upon them, and continually turned against God, just as the first humans did in the garden.

This resulted in the New covenant, which is located in the New Testament.  This is the covenant with God we are under at this very moment.  Believe in his son, repent, remain in active faith until the last day and you will live forever.  His son being Jesus Christ.  Maybe you've heard of him. 

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV) “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” 

With the revelation of the New Testament, you can then look back at the Old Testament and see how every book of the Bible pointed to the future coming Messiah.  I could write twenty pages on that topic alone, of every pointer in the Old Testament to Jesus Christ, whether in theme, overarching context, allegory, prophecy, poetic reference, or direct reference.

Two such references occur in a speech made by Peter at Pentecost:

Acts 2:22-36 (NIV) 22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’[e]
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”’[f]
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

Everything points to Jesus Christ.  We are greatly blessed to be in relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  The Bible provides our moral framework, our instructions and our understanding of the Lord.  It is concrete and real, yet mysterious.

Ephesians 3:3-5 (NIV) According to[a] revelation the mystery was made known to me, just as I wrote beforehand in brief,so that you may be able when you read[b] to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ (which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit)

So what is our salvation, our eternal life in Christ Jesus contingent on?  Yes, you guessed it, it's contingent on Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross, and his resurrection points to our future resurrection from the dead.  But it is not Jesus Christ alone, and only Jesus Christ.  If that were so, every single person born would have eternal life.  We have to respond to Jesus Christ with something, and that something is called faith.  Faith is our response, Jesus Christ is the completed work.  It's not about works, or working ourselves to heaven.  It's about having faith in Jesus Christ and his work on the cross. 

Hebrews 11:6 (ESV) And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

The divide between works-faith and faith alone in doctrine has lead to some false doctrines, one of which is called the doctrine of eternal security.  This is a false doctrine, it is not biblical.  Eternal security says that once you have believed in Jesus Christ, you can never lose your salvation, because your salvation is contingent on what Jesus did on the cross, not your works.  They are absolutely right that Jesus Christ is what allows for salvation, but we have to respond in faith.  The Bible speaks again, and again, and again of people falling away, believers faith being shipwrecked, and so on and so forth.  The doctrine of eternal security is false and not biblical.

I'll point to Colossians 1:21-23 to illustrate this point:  

Colossians 1:21-23 (NIV) Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[g] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.

Let me break this down, once and for all.  Verse 21 shows the past, the problem, what was going on before we were saved.  Verse 22 shows the solution, Jesus Christ, which allows for holy presentation of the believer in sight of God the Father.  Then we have verse 23, the condition.  "If" you continue in your faith.

Very simply, faith in Jesus Christ's work on the cross is necessary for salvation, eternal life.  It is not about works.  But a believer must continue to the end in belief, in faith, or they have then lost their salvation.  So many other scriptures suddenly make sense when taking this view.  It all falls into place.

This is not a reason for great concern friends.  Because God disciplines those whom he loves, he will preserve our faith.  But apostasy is always possible, if we push hard out of the arms of God.

Philippians 1:6 (NIV) And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Jude 1:3 (NIV) Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  
The doctrine of eternal security is dangerous, because people have a 10 minute conversion, then assume they're good, leave church, fall away, and never come back.  We see it again and again.  The statistics on those who become Christians then fall away, well, it's staggering, about 65% according to a book by Dr. Ben Guiterrez.  

It's very important to understand what eternal life is contingent on.  Rebirth is another requirement mentioned by Jesus:   

John 3:3 (NIV) Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]

 Another requirement is repentance.  Repentance means to have a change of mind about the sins we commit, and to leave our old ways behind.  Don't worry, Jesus helps us do this slowly over time, as does the Holy Spirit. 

Luke 13:3 (ESV) No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Having fulfilled these requirements, we live the Christian life, serving and loving, and enduring difficult times and spiritual attacks.  It's not easy, but it can be done.

Matthew 7:14 (ESV) For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

We are also commanded to make disciples of non-believers while we live on Earth, in the fallen creation.

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV) "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.” 

The Bible contains our message of eternal life, most certainly.  But it also offers wisdom and encouragement of all kinds.  There are myriad's of prescriptions for daily living, some of them culturally bound, but many not.  Many of the suggestions transcend culture and the ones that don't contain principles that are universal to daily life today.

It's really a wonderful book.  Wow.

If you need wisdom, and we all do, then Proverbs

If you need encouragement, then Psalms, or Philippians or Ephesians.

If you're curious about end times issues, Daniel or Revelation.

If you want to understand faith in connection to salvation, Romans.

If you want to understand how good works fit into life, James.

If you want to learn more about Jesus- John, Mark, Luke, and Matthew.

The beginning, read Genesis.

Are you in pain, struggling, read Job.

Are you depressed, at the end of your rope, bankrupt on pleasure, read Ecclesiastes.  

Curious about the beginning of the church or the Holy Spirit, read Acts.

It's incredible how this book touches on every aspect of life providing truth, and very often difficult truth. There is always something new to find in the Bible.  The discipline of Bible study can either make or break a Christian follower of Jesus.  I pray to God often requesting he help me to read my Bible more often.  Prayer and Bible study are two life bloods of Christians.  The third is fellowship and the fourth, just as important is worship, whether personal or community worship of God.  

I'll leave you with the words of Jesus here, to his disciples, regarding love.  Love really is the most fundamental principle of the Bible.  

John 15:9-13 (ESV) As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

I would say our mission as Christians is best summed up right here in the words of Jesus:

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV) 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Love God, love others, and love yourself also.   Don't let anyone ever sell you on worm theology, or that humbleness = abusing yourself.  That is most certainly false.  If I'm cruel to myself, mean to myself, abusive to myself, if I don't love myself, then how can I love others as myself?  If I hate myself, I'll most likely end up hating others as I hate myself.  

Love God, love others, and love yourself.  All the law and doctrine can be broken down to that simple statement.  

Amen. Go in peace.