Saturday, March 31, 2007

Whither Freedom?

Re-reading a very good book, Truth & Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life by J. I. Packer. Here's an excerpt from the first chapter:

  • ...Christian freedom...has to do with surrendering personal independence as one ceases to fight God. ...The freedom for which we were created is only enjoyed under the authority of God in Christ, and the only way we come under that authority and stay under it is by submitting in faith and obedience to what is in the Bible. The path to true personal freedom under God is acknowledgement of the authority of the Bible and its Christ. The gospel finds us rebels, guilty, lost and hopeless, and leads us for salvation to the feet of Christ, who teaches us to live by Scripture, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Is that a counter-cultural set of statements or what? Freedom, as God has designed it to be experienced and lived out by His human creatures, is in exactly the opposite direction that our natural desires lead us. True freedom as individuals is found not in a complete throwing off of personal accountability and external authority, but rather in turning to Christ in the submission of repentance and experiencing regeneration that results in freedom from the bondage to sin and self. And where do we find this transforming and freedom-giving truth? In the theopneustos (God-breathed) words of Scripture.

As James refers to Scripture, it is the "perfect law of liberty". Didn't Jesus Christ Himself say that if we abide in His word, we are truly His followers, and then we shall know the truth and that truth will make us free?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Saint Who??

I just saw a news article about the former Pope John Paul II's sainthood proceedings. Seems that the final requirement for him to be beatified, which is the last step before being declared a saint by Rome has been met - a miracle that can be attributed to his intercession. Apparently a French nun has testified that she was cured of Parkinson's disease because of the Pope's prayer on her behalf.

Sorry, but every time I come across this stuff it really bothers me. What is a saint, anyway? According to the Roman Catholic church it is someone who's life and writings have been studied and show virtue, and testifiable miracles. Oh, and they have to be dead, too. And most people on the street would have some similar definition of sainthood - a really good person, someone who can always be counted on to do the right thing, someone with unlimited patience and forbearance.

Alright, now let's go to the real source of truth on this one - the Word of God. What is the Biblical definition of sainthood? The word is found in the NASB version 69 times. In the OT the Hebrew word is qadosh, meaning a holy one, one who is set apart. In the NT, the Greek word is hagios, meaning one who is sacred, consecrated or holy. In other words, a person who is holy and set apart for God's purposes. And definitely not a dead person, but a living one. But look then also at how the term is applied:

  • to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:7)
  • and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27)
  • Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. (Romans 16:15)
  • To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:2)
  • Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia: (2 Corinthians 1:1)

OK, enough examples. So does this sound like some special class of super-holy Christian? I think not. In fact the term is used in all these cases and everywhere else synonymously for God's people, those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and their faith in Him. If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, then in position before God you are declared a saint. Or as Paul puts in in Romans 1:7, you have been called as a saint. Being holy, sacred, sanctified and set apart as God's own possession is part of the holy calling with which we have been called. Sainthood is not about the virtuous works of our lives or the miracles that can be attested to - although the Bible is also very clear that the true saints will live in a manner consistent with our calling and position. And the very fact that we each have been redeemed and declared righteous by faith is in itself a miraculous work of God. But the whole basis for being a saint - Biblically speaking - rests in God's hands and His works, not in ours. He's the one that declares us to be saints, He's the one that brings it to reality, and He's the one that confirms it by His Word, His Spirit, and His Son.

So rejoice, ye saints of the Lord! You have been claimed by the King of the universe and set apart for His purposes, as His possession, in His Son, for His good pleasure, to reflect His glory. You are no longer identified as a sinner - you were a sinner, you have been saved by His grace, you are declared a holy saint.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Eschatological Scattergories

I've been doing some reading and thinking regarding the whole millennial debate. Trying to come to a personal conclusion as to what seems to be the best position from a Biblical standpoint, as eschatology is an area that I have not spent much effort on developing my own views. It's a complicated subject with a lot of passionate supporters of the various positions. At this point I have to say that I lean towards the classic premillennial view. That being that Christ will return at the end of the tribulation period, resurrect believers that have died, bind Satan and reign for a literal thousand years before releasing Satan for a final battle and the final judgment of resurrected unbelievers. I don't see much if any Biblical support for the popular view that believers will be "raptured" prior to the tribulation, though. So the classic premillennial position seems to be the most consistent with my readings of the Biblical texts and the arguments for & against this and other positions. The amillennial position, even though it does have some points that seem logical, seems to me to be a bit too loose with the literal interpretation of Revelation 20 and some other texts. And the postmillennial view simply seems illogical. So I continue to read, think, study and consider. If you disagree with me, that's OK. Lots of very smart people do. We have to remember that eschatology is a secondary doctrine that should never get in the way of unity over primary doctrines like the deity of Christ, justification by faith alone, etc.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Confident or Arrogant?

Should a Christian be confident of the truth of the gospel and the truth of the Word, and communicate these truths with confidence? What level of confidence in doctrines and truths is appropriate for a teacher of the Bible? At what point does confidence cross over into arrogance? These are questions that have been floating around in my head, and which I think the modern church struggles with greatly.

Let's start with the first topic. If I am a Christian, then I have believed the gospel and received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term believe is a consistent one in the NT for receiving Christ. It is the objective of much of the writings of the NT. For example, John 20:31 states a purpose for his gospel: "but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." To believe is to trust, to place confidence in. Therefore if we have truly believed in the gospel and in Christ, then we have placed our confidence in the truth of the gospel and the person of Christ. Therefore, is it not logical that if we have sufficient confidence in these truths for our eternal destiny, that we should also express and communicate them to others with at least equal confidence?

So how about a teacher or preacher? I have seen and heard some teachers of the Word that seem to spend more time qualifying their statements and giving disclaimers for their positions than actually proclaiming truth. They do so in many cases as an expression of humility. But is this appropriate. I think it is false humility. As a teacher of the Word, I must be fully convinced of the truths and doctrines and interpretations if I am to effectively communicate them. And if I am not so convinced, why would I be teaching these things? Yes, I must always exercise humility in my approach to God's Word and the communication of it, but lack of confidence in the message is not humility. And confidence in the message is not arrogance.

To some extent I think this is an error of the emerging movement, labeling as arrogant those that would express with certainty any type of truth claim. In reality, this is exactly what a minister of the gospel of a teacher of the Bible must do. Certainty, tempered with humility, is a mark of the well-prepared and properly motivated communicator of Biblical truth. To be otherwise is to be disqualified as a teacher.