Saturday, January 28, 2012

Living the Christian Life: Being/ Doing

Being/ Doing

The last aspect that most people focus on is the aspect of being and doing. In fact, the idea of doing or good works is so prominent among many believers that it is deliberately discussed last of all.

The Scriptures when it exhorts us to do certain things always based the imperatives upon the indicatives. In other words, what we are commanded to do (imperatives) is based upon who we are (indicative). Put it in another way, we do (doing) because we are (being).

A look at all the New Testament epistles will show us that the beginning part is always about doctrine. Many people who want to be practical prefer to skip straight to the "applicational section" in the second half of the epistles, sometimes even citing verses out of context. Yet, have they thought why God would give the first half of the epistles to us? Why does God not begin Roman for example with Romans chapter 12 instead of Romans chapter 1?

We see in Romans 12:1 the word "therefore," which links the beginning of this practical half with what is said in the first 11 chapters of the book of Romans. This pattern can be seen throughout the epistles, with another example being the "therefore" of Eph. 4:1. This shows us that it is who we are and who God is and has revealed for us that is to form the basis of what we do.

Living the Christ life no doubt requires us to obey God's commands. But to go straight to obeying commands as a duty is to miss the whole point of Christianity at all, which is about grace. Rather, what we do must be grounded on who we are in Christ (being) and all the truths that God has revealed to us. In other words, to grow in the area of doing requires growth in the area of knowing and in the area of affection. To truly obey God's commands correctly, not out of moralism (sense of duty or desire to be good), requires a progressive growth in knowing and affection. Since such is the case, one cannot truly obey God's commands if one is not growing in the aspects of knowing and affection.

We obey, because we are already righteous. We love, because we are already loved. We are graceful, because we are given much grace. To reverse the order is to destroy the Christian life, something which many people sadly are doing. Those who continue this deviant path will face the judgment of Christ himself when he said,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Mt. 7:21-23)

Note that these people did many works for God, and even called him "Lord" two times, but this is not enough, because they are not of God. Whatever is not done of faith is sin (Rom. 14: 23b), so regardless of how much external righteousness one has, it is still considered "lawlessness" apart from Christ who calls his people righteous.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Living the Christian Life: Affection


God commands us to love Him (Deut. 6:5; Mt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27). Such is part of our spiritual act of worship. How does this love express itself in our affection? What are we to feel for?

If we are to love God, it means that we love God as He is. Having known from Scripture who God is, we are to treasure all of God's attributes. What God loves, we love. What God hates, we hate.

For my name's sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. (Is. 48:9-11)

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”(Rev. 4:11)

There are many things which God loves and many things which God hates. Injustice is one such thing which God hates (e.g. Deut. 16:19-20). We are thus to similarly hate injustice and love justice. But here we will focus on a more fundamental issue with regards to God Himself.

What is the fundamental affections of God? It is for the glory and honor of His Name. God hates injustice, but yet He uses them for His own purposes (e.g. Gen. 50:20). When it comes to God's glory and honor however, that IS the goal to which God works towards.

As we see in Is. 48: 9-11, God's glory and His Name is what God treasures. God's glory is identified with His Name. God's name cannot be profaned, and God's glory will not be given to another. In the context of this passage, it is speaking of God's dealing with Israel. God does whatever He does because to not do so would lead to a profanation of His Name and the lessening of His glory.

God therefore treasures His glory/Name greatly. Closely related to this is the idea of honor, as we see in Rev. 4:11. God is to receive "glory, honor and power," not that He does not have those already, but to be acknowledged as such. God is infinitely glorious, but out of Himself, He does receive the praise of His glory from creatures. The expansion of the list in Rev. 5: 12-13 to include power, wealth, wisdom and might similarly rebounds to the praise of God who owns them. Loving His own glory and honor therefore is the primary affection which God has.

Glory has to do with worth, while honor deals with esteem. To love God with our hearts therefore includes treasuring His glory and His honor above all, as that is what God Himself treasures. It means to consider Christ as infinitely worthy, to magnify His worth in every aspect, and to esteem and elevate God as being supreme.

The Scriptures do say that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8), and the revelation of His back to Moses results in the revelation of God's graciousness and mercy (Ex. 33:17-23). How does this relate to what we have said? God's love, grace and mercy is the primary way God's glory is expressed. God shows us the main way His glory and honor will be served, which is the showing of love, grace and mercy to all who believe. This is seen especially in the practical manifestation of God's glory, in the person of Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:14).

Practically, what all this means is that we must change our affections to reflect God's priority in loving what He loves and hating what He hates. God's glory and honor must be first and foremost in our mind and should be something we feel for. From there, we are to grow in loving God in His love, grace and mercy towards us, and not only for us, but all who will believe.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Living the Christian Life: Knowing


We are to grow in knowledge of God through His Word. With Scripture as our ultimate authority, this means that we are to transform our thinking according to Scripture. Whatever Scripture says is true, whatever that Scripture refutes is false even if we in our human thinking think it is reasonable. This transformation of our mind is the submission of our mind to the lordship of Christ. We are after all to love God with our mind (Mt. 22:37).

How does this look like in practice? Scripture for example teaches creation. Man was created not from animals but from the personal shaping from dust followed by God breathing life into Man (Gen. 2: 7). Since Scripture teaches this truth, it means that evolution and descent from animal ancestry must be rejected as false. It matters little that the scientific community believes in evolution and animal ancestry. A mind submitted to Christ's lordship must obey God rather than Man.

Such submission holds true for every area of thought. Where Scripture speaks, all contrary "facts" are to be rejected. It matters little that the "fact" opposing Scripture has the backing of scientists, PhDs, teachers, even theologians, or any other authority.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Cor. 1:20)

In its context, 1 Cor. 1:20 is speaking of salvation. Yet the broader principle seen here is that God only is wise. True knowledge resides with God, not the fallible opinions of men who do change their theories.

In submitting to God and Scripture therefore, we are not saying that we do that in spite of the real world truths. Rather, God is the only wise One and the only perfect interpreter of all facts. As postmodernism has alerted us, there are no such things as brute facts. All facts are interpreted.

The issue therefore is not some kind of blind faith which disregards real world facts altogether. Rather, the issue is who do we trust as the perfect interpreter of facts. Do we trust God, or do we trust scientists and other human authorities? If we believe in God who created this world, then all real world facts will when rightly interpreted match with what the Scriptures teach. If they do not seem to at the moment, can we admit our finitude and ignorance and continue to trust God, knowing that in the end every real world fact will match the Scriptures?

On things Scripture does not speak about, one is free to hold any position (that does not contradict Scripture) as long as one attempts to think it through using principles taught in Scripture.

Growth in knowing God and His Word therefore implies that we should transform our minds to embrace all that Scripture teaches, and rejecting all that contradicts Scripture. This is the manner in which we are to grow in the area of knowing.

To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. (Is. 8: 20)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Living the Christian Life: Knowing, Affection and Being- Introduction

Knowing, Affection and Being - Introduction

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12: 1-2)

Christians submit to Christ as He is revealed in the Holy Scriptures. What does the Bible say about the areas where we are to submit to Christ and grow in our faith?

In Romans 12:1-2, we can see the various areas highlighted that Christians are to grow, in gratitude to God's grace. They are the area of knowing, the area of affection (or emotions), and the area of being, in no particular order of importance.

We are asked to grow in the area of knowing. In the words of our passage, we are commanded, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." We are therefore to renew our minds by accepting what Scripture says as true. We are not to conform to the world, which is to say that we are to reject anything and everything that the world says that contradicts what is written in Scripture. In rejecting what the world says, we accept what Scriptures says.

We are to grow in the area of our affections. We are to do what we are commanded to do as our "spiritual worship." Worship has reference to many things, but one thing that Christian worship has in mind is our affections. We are called to love God (Deut. 6:5, Mt. 22:37) with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength. Worship is to be done "in spirit and truth" (Jn. 4 :24). Our affections or emotions are to be oriented towards God. In this sense, we are to learn to love what God loves, and to hate what God hates.

Lastly, we are to grow in the area of being, and consequently doing. We are called here to be a "living sacrifice." A sacrifice is something placed on the alter devoted for the worship of God. From our affections we are to desire to be what God wants us to be, and devote ourselves fully to God.

[to be continued]

Monday, January 2, 2012

Living the Christian Life: Our Submission to God's Authority

Our Submission to God's Authority

Having shown that we are to submit to the lordship of Christ, how can we do so in practice? After all, Christ is not present on this earth, and the next time He will come again is in the Second Judgment (Mt. 26:29, Mk. 14:25, Acts 1:11, Rev. 19:11). Whoever claims direct visitation by Jesus Christ today is a liar. The Apostle John was the last to have something like a visitation (Rev. 1:12-17), but this was for the purpose of New Testament revelation which is now complete.

How then can we submit to the lordship of Christ, since Christ is not here? God in his grace has given us a way to do so, through the Holy Scriptures. The Apostle John in his inspired writing tells us that the Word of revelation is shown in the person of Jesus Christ, who came down and was born into the world for us (Jn. 1:1-14). The Word of God's revelation therefore lies in Jesus Christ, and to know Jesus Christ is to know God's Word (Heb. 1:1-2).

Jesus Christ ↔ Word of God = Scripture

Conversely, to truly know God's Word is to know Jesus Christ. Therefore, to submit to Christ means to submit to what is taught in the Scriptures.

In order to further prove the point, 2 Tim. 3:16 shows us that all of the Scriptures are indeed meant to help us to live the Christian life. The Scriptures are said to be breathed out by God, which means that the Holy Spirit is the one who inspires them. The eternal truths of God shown in the person of Jesus Christ are now taken by the Holy Spirit, who uses human language to express these truths.

Therefore for us today, to submit to the lordship of Christ is to submit to all the truths taught in Holy Scripture.

But what about the Holy Spirit, it is asked? Well, 2 Peter 1:19-21 answers the question by telling us that the Scriptures are not of anyone's interpretation, but of the Holy Spirit who supervises its writing. As we have seen in 2 Tim. 3:16, the Scriptures are the breathed out product of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the person who authors the Scripture and interprets it to us.

The Holy Spirit being the author of all of Scripture means that we have an objective revelation of Jesus Christ. By following it, we come to know God and are then able to submit to Christ's lordship. Submission to all of Scripture therefore is what Christians should do.

The Holy Spirit as the interpreter of Scripture means that our subjective understanding of the meaning of Scripture is given by the Holy Spirit. It is not that the Scriptures cannot be understood by itself, but that we as sinful human beings are unable to accept what they teach. Thus, we naturally distort the meaning of Scripture, even without realizing we have done so (1 Cor. 1:18-25, 2:14) The Holy Spirit comes to us and gives us light to understand the true meaning of Scripture.

The Holy Spirit does not speak apart from the Scriptures which He breathes out. Our submission to God's authority therefore is indeed a submission to all of Scripture in all that it teaches, and this is what all Christians are called to do.