The Law Is Good
So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:12)
One of the greatest mistakes Christians often make when discipling new believers is to teach them that the laws of God are no longer binding on us, that what God really wants from us is to love him. There are commandments in the New Testament given to believers, but these commandments are more like suggestions rather than laws. They are often quick to point out that Paul says “we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom. 7:6). Yet, in the very next few verses Paul goes on to say, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” The law is “holy and righteous and good.” Thus, when Paul talks about being “released from the law” he is talking about being released from the condemnation of the law because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but not that we are released from the obligations of the law. The Ten Commandments still apply to the believer and are just as binding on the believer today as they were in the Old Testament. The requirements of the law upon a person does not change at the moment of regeneration, rather the manner in which the law is applied by the Holy Spirit is what changes. As Martin Luther once said, “The Law is like a stick which God used to beat me, but afterward I learned to walk with.” Believers are no longer under the condemnation and judgement of the law, but the law is still there to keep us from sinning. For this reason, in discipling my family, I have taught them to memorize the Ten Commandments. Not because keeping the commandments is a means of salvation, but because the Holy Spirit uses the commandments to drive us to Christ and keep us close to Christ.
The Arbiter Between God and Man
But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times. (Job 9:2-3 ESV)
In Job 9, Job is struggling with trying to prove his innocence to his friends who all think he is being punished for his sins. They are trying to convince Job to just confess his sins so that God will stop punishing him and restore his family and fortunes. Thus, Job ultimately would like to bring his complaint before God but knows this is a tall order. Thus, he says in v.2, “But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.” He will go onto say toward the end of the chapter, “If I wash myself with snow and cleanse my hands with lye, yet you will plunge me into a pit, and my own clothes will abhor me. For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both” (vv.30-33). Job’s concern is that God is so transcendent, and he is so small. God is so holy that even if Job could wash himself with snow and lye, he would still be filthy before God. In the end, Job knows he is not sinless. He is not perfect. But he is not guilty of all the horrible sins his friends are accusing him of. So what is he to do? He bemoans the fact that “there is no arbiter” between him and God. No one who “might lay his hand on” both Job and God. Job understands that what he needs is someone who can mediate between himself and a holy and just and transcendent God. However, what Job longs to have comes into being in the person of Jesus Christ. First Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” What Job longed to see, we experience in the person of Christ. Jesus is the one who lays his hand on us and on God the Father and restores the broken relationship. Christ is the arbiter who effects peace between God and man.
Dying with Christ
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! (Romans 6:1)
I always find it interesting to come across people who give no indication of having any kind of saving relationship with Christ by the way they live, the way they talk or the lifestyle they carry on. Yet, when I begin to share the gospel with them, suddenly they remember they became a Christian years ago and were baptized. “So I’m good!”, they say. In Romans 6, Paul is dealing with a very important question. After having just made the argument in Romans 4-5 that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, he raises the obvious question—if salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, then why does it matter how we live? Can’t we just believe in Jesus and then live anyway we want? Notice Paul’s reaction to that idea: “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Paul reminds them of their baptism and reminds them that when they were baptized, they made a public declaration that they had died to their old way of life, that they were no longer going to live life their way but would now begin to live life according to God’s word and for the glory of Christ. But it’s not just about baptism. Paul is essentially reminding them that if they are truly saved, if they have truly placed faith in Christ, then in fact they have died to their old way of life. Thus, not only is living in sin a contradiction to their baptism but should be a contradiction to their heart’s desires. Those who have truly died to their old way of life will no longer have a desire to live in sin, but will have a new found desire to live in a way that is pleasing to God and glorifying to him.
Presuming to Know the Mind of God
Remember: who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off? (Job 4:7)
One of the things that always amazes me is when people claim to know the inner thoughts of God. They presume to know what God has not revealed in his word. I am specifically thinking about when tragic events befall people. We must always be careful about claiming to know that God is punishing someone for their sins or punishing a nation because of its wickedness. When my wife and I struggled with infertility during our first sixteen years of marriage, we had several people tell us that maybe God was disciplining us for some sin in our life or some sin in our past. Maybe. But without knowing that with absolute certainty, how is it comforting to say that? When a couple is grieving due to infertility, how is it helpful to say that? It’s not. It merely adds insult to injury. This is where the book of Job is too often a neglected book, a book that needs to be read more frequently by Christians. In the opening two chapters of the book we are clearly told that God views Job as a righteous man who fears Him. Thus, the devil tells God that if he allows him to test Job, to put him through some suffering, he can get Job to curse God. God allows the devil to have his way with Job, but tells him to spare his life. Thus, the devil takes all his property, kills all his children, and inflicts Job with painful boils from head to toe. Yet, “in all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10). But amazingly, by the time we reach chapter four, Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends, says to him, “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.” In other words, if bad things are happening to Job, it must be because he has done something wrong. In chapters 6-7 Job attempts to defend himself and explain that he has committed no sin against God. Nevertheless, Bildad, another of Job’s friends responds to Job saying, “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind? Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right? If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression. If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation.” In other words, just acknowledge you’ve done something wrong and repent of it, and God will restore you. With friends like Job’s who needs enemies. The point is that when we are attempting to comfort someone who is going through a tragic event, or even when we are talking about the tragedies that have befallen a nation (think 9/11), we need to refrain from speaking where scripture has not spoken or presuming to know the mind of God. When people are suffering, what they need to hear are words of grace and comfort. Sometimes it’s even better to not saying anything at all. Sometimes what people need is for someone to just hold their hand and sit with them for a while.
To God be the Glory Alone
Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3)
One of the distinctives that make Protestant Christianity unique from every other world religion is the belief that good works add nothing to one’s salvation. Roman Catholicism teaches that eternal life comes by faith in Christ plus fulfilling the sacraments of the Church. Church of Christ teaches that salvation is by faith plus baptism. Islam teaches that eternal life comes from submitting to the rule of Allah. Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Buddhism, Hinduism, and every other world region teaches that eternal life or reincarnation into something better comes from doing our best to be a good person and doing the right thing. However, Protestant Christianity, biblical Christianity, is the only religious view which understands that nothing we do adds one iota to our eternal life. We believe this because this is the point the apostle Paul is arguing by using Abraham as the prime example in Romans 4:2-5. There he says, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” Paul is referencing Genesis 15 where God takes Abraham, a 75 year-old man whose 65 year-old wife is past childbearing years, outside and has him look up at the night sky and promises him that someday his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). This was before Abraham was circumcised or had done any kind of good deed for God. Thus, using Abraham as an example, Paul goes on to say, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” In other words, if you want to depend on good works to earn eternal life, understand that you will get what you deserve. And Jesus tells us that God’s standard is perfection (Matt 5:48). Unless you have lived a life of perfect obedience to all of God’s law, the idea of meriting eternal life through good words is not possible. Thus, Paul says, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” (emphasis added). Like Abraham, to those who simply place their faith in God and in the word of God, in the promise of God, their faith will be counted as righteousness. This is both wonderful news and difficult news for people to accept. Difficult because it strikes at our sense of human pride, our sense of self-sufficiency. Humans are prideful by nature and we want to believe that good things that happen to us do so because of our hard-earned effort. We want to believe that if we enter into eternal life, it is because somehow we earned it. Somehow, we deserved it. We want to be able to pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘I did this.’ For this reason, most people are attracted to other religions where they can try and earn their way to heaven, where their sense of pride and self-sufficiency can be stoked. But the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is simply this—salvation is a matter of faith alone in Christ alone and to God be the glory alone. In this way, God gets all the glory for our salvation and we get none.
God Is a Just Judge
“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.” (Rom. 2:14-16)
Often Christians can struggle with the justice of God when it comes to unbelievers who have never heard the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ. What about the native American who died before European missionaries settled in north America? Where did he go? What about people in western nations who grow up in an atheistic home who are taught their entire lives there is no God? What happens to them when they die? Paul answers the question for us saying that when unbelievers “who do not have the law,” i.e., the law of God, the scriptures, “by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.” Unbelievers by their mere behavior do what the law requires even though they are not aware of God’s law. Universally, all people know it is wrong to murder, to steal, to lie, to dishonor one’s parents, to commit adultery, and so on and so forth. Universally, all humans live by the same set of rules. By doing this they “show that the work of the law is written on their hearts…” They inherently know the laws of God, even though they may not acknowledge His existence. This is called a conscience. And when people who have never heard of Jesus Christ or the gospel violate their God-given conscience, they do what they know to be wrong and thus violate the laws of God. It is by this standard, by their innate knowledge of right and wrong, that “God judges the secrets of men.” Unbelievers will be judged not for violating the external laws of God, which they have never heard of, but for violating the internal laws of God written upon their hearts. God is the just judge who will judge them according to what they know.
The Word Became Flesh
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The gospel of John begins with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Then in v.14 we read: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Why does John describe Jesus as the “word of God”, Greek—the logos of God? Logos—speech, revelation, communication. Why is Jesus the logos of God? I believe this is because the God of the Bible, the God of creation is a speaking God. In Genesis 1 we read that God spoke all things into existence. He did not just think about what he wanted to exist and then it came into existence but “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” “God said, ‘Let there be living creatures,’ and there were living creatures.” Hence, the power of God is in the word of God. We also see that God reveals himself through his spoken word. God is invisible. If God does not reveal himself through speech, he would never truly nor fully be known. Thus, God reveals himself to Abraham by speaking to him saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). God reveals himself to Moses from the burning bush by speaking to him (Exod. 3:4). Had God not spoken to Moses from the burning bush, he would have stood there mesmerized by the sight of what he was looking at, but he never would have known God. Thus, God manifests his power and reveals himself through speaking, through words, through logos. God is a speaking God. He is a God who desires to communicate. In the birth of Christ, in the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, God reveals his power and reveals himself in his fullest sense. “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19). Christ is the complete and fullest expression of the power and person of the living and invisible God. Today, on Christmas day, we celebrate the day God fully made himself known to humanity, the day God took on human flesh and “dwelt among us” and allowed us to see his fullest power and “glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Today let us praise and worship God for fully revealing himself to us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Blessed Be the Name of the Lord
“Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
This is truly and amazing statement by Job when we stop and analyze all that he had just been through. Job had just suffered the loss of all of his property, all of his livestock, all of his servants, and all of his children were suddenly killed by a ferocious windstorm that came upon them and caused the house they were in to collapse on top of them. Most of us through a similar situation would have lost our mind and gone certifiably insane or, minimally, we would have begun to question the goodness and trustworthiness of God. Yet, we read in the very next verse, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” How can that be? How is that possible? Job’s statement in v.21 says it all. “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” He understands that he brought nothing into the world; he literally came into the world without a stitch of anything. Thus, anything he now has, anything he can now count as a blessing, has obviously been given to him from God. The problem with most of us is that sin tends to cause us to think that what we have has come from out own doing. But James 1:17 tells us that everything good we have in this world and in this life comes from God. This is because, as scripture says, God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). The Bible is clear that when it comes to the sovereignty of God, He does what he wills when he will and to whom he wills and answers to no one. Thus, Job understood that if God takes away what he gave us in the first place, we have no right to murmur. Because of our sinfulness we deserve nothing good from God. God does not owe us anything. Thus, anything this side of hell is all grace. Understanding and believing this doctrinal truth will keep us from losing our minds when it seems like the world is crumbling down around us. Naked we came from our mothers’ wombs, and naked shall we return. The LORD gave, and the LORD takes away; blessed be the name of the LORD!
The Nature of Saving Faith
“To bring about the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5)
It is interesting that when Paul starts this incredibly important missionary letter, the letter to the Romans, he states up front the theological reason for writing it. We know that the practical reason for Paul writing this letter was to secure the support of the church in Rome as he attempted to make his way to Spain to spread the gospel (1:11-13; 15:22-24). But why Romans? Why did Paul write this vast and extensive letter to the church in Rome wherein he explains and fleshes out in great detail the gospel message? He tells us in 1:5— “To bring about the obedience of faith”—and then repeats this same reason at the end of the letter in 16:26, “to bring about the obedience of faith.” What does Paul mean by this phrase and why does he repeat it twice? —“To bring about the obedience of faith.” Paul understands that if we truly believe the gospel, if we truly have faith in Christ, if we truly believe we are sinners in need of a savior and are justified by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, then true and saving faith should manifest itself in a life of obedience to God’s word. This is why the letter to the Romans is laid out the way it is. In chapters 1-3 he argues that all are condemned by the Law. In chapter 4-5 he argues that therefore we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. In chapters 6-8 he argues that because of what Christ has done for us, we have been freed from the bondage of the Law, though not entirely freed from the obligations of the Law. In chapters 9-11 he argues that salvation is a sovereign and merciful act of God. Then in chapter 12-16 he argues that “in light of the mercies of God” (12:1), in light of all that Christ has done for us, this is how we ought to live. Paul understands that true saving faith in Christ must manifest itself in a life of obedience or it is no faith at all. Theology that does not lead to a life of doxology is nothing more than heterodoxy.
The Power and Glory of the Gospel
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Rom. 1:16-17)
Paul says two very interesting things in these two verses. First, he is not ashamed of the gospel for “it” is the power of God for salvation. That little word “it” is extremely important and can revolutionize the way we view evangelism if we understand it properly and what Paul means by it. The power of the gospel, the power to transform lives, the power to save sinners, does not lie in how articulate we are; it does not lie in our ability to argue apologetics; it does not lie in how much scripture we have memorized. Rather, the gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation. When the gospel is communicated, regardless of how well or how poorly that happens, the Holy Spirit works with and through the gospel to regenerate dead souls. This is why Paul was so bold in proclaiming the gospel. He understood that the power to transform sinners into believers has nothing to do with him and has everything to do with the gospel message.
Secondly, Paul says that in the gospel message “the righteousness of God is revealed,” the rightness of God, the right-standing of God, the justice of God. How so? All people are sinful and, therefore, justly deserving of God’s condemnation. God being the just judge of all the universe cannot turn a blind eye to sin otherwise he would be an unjust judge. All sin must be punished. But if God punished every sinner, then all would perish eternally. Thus, God takes on human form and becomes man and then lives a life of perfect obedience to his own law and takes upon himself the punishment which we are deserving of. In this way God’s justice is upheld and sinners are spared from the wrath of God. This is the gospel—the good news! And in the gospel message the righteousness of God is revealed for all who believe. As it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The Doing of Good Works
“All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:12)
Is the apostle Paul using hyperbolic language here? Does he really mean no one does good, not even one? Unbelievers do good works. They do lots of good works. Or, do they? In Romans 14:23 scripture says, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” And 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” That is not a suggestion. It’s a commandment. Everything we do should ultimately be done for the glory of God because humans were created for the glory of God. Humans were created to worship God. Thus, while unbelievers do many good things, many good works, they do not do those good works for God’s glory. They may do them for selfish reasons so that others will think highly of them. They may perform good deeds so that others might be indebted to them, or they may do good works to boost their own self-esteem and feel better about themselves. Whatever the reason unbelievers engage in good works, they do not do those good works for the glory of God. In the Heidelberg Catechism, question 91 asks this question: "What do we do that is good?" Answer: "Only that which arises out of true faith, conforms to God’s law, and is done for his glory, and not that which is based on what we think is right or on established human tradition." In the end, the good that we do is only good if it proceeds from a heart of faith and is ultimately done for God’s glory.
Why Study Theology
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
In theology we talk about God as being transcendent. By transcendence, we mean that God is far above our understanding. It is not that there is nothing we can know or understand about God, but that the knowledge of God is so vast and rich and deep that there is only so much we can understand and comprehend. I believe for this reason many Christians resist the idea of studying “theology” or “doctrine”. As if these two disciplines should be left for the seminary professors or professional theologians or as if doctrine and theology are of little use or value for the Christian life. Recently I have been reading through Reformed Systematic Theology (Vol. 1) by Joel R. Beeke and he makes this statement that I think is worth repeating:
“Doing theology is an exercise in coming to know how little we know and becoming humbler in the process. The more our increasing theological knowledge is sanctified by the Spirit, the more our estimation of our wisdom should decrease. Knowing the smallness of our knowledge should discourage any attempt to impress people with how much we understand.”
In the end, the more we study the deep truths of God the more we realize how little we know about God and, thus, the humbler we become. And humility is what it means to be Christ-like.
Why God Gave Us the Bible
What is the purpose of the Bible? Why did God give us the scriptures? Many Christians have an unbiblical view of scripture and would not answer these questions correctly. Many think God gave us the Bible to help us navigate the struggles of living life. The Bible provides us with answers we need and the wisdom to be better parents, to be better husbands and wives, to avoid sin. Others think God gave us the Bible to point the way to heaven for us, to teach us how to get saved and have our sins forgiven. I’ve once heard it said that the B.I.B.L.E. is ‘basic instructions before leaving earth.’ However, while all of the aforementioned points are true on some level, none of them is the primary reason God gave us holy scripture. In John 5:39 Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” All of the Old Testament scriptures bear witness about Christ; they all spoke about Christ and point toward Christ. As though this were not amazing enough, he then says in 5:46-47, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Who has never struggled to read through Leviticus and Numbers? Most Christians I know who have tried to read through the entire Bible and failed, tell me they made it as far as Leviticus or Numbers and then stopped and went back to the New Testament. Yet, Jesus says Moses wrote about him! Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are all about Christ! Then in Luke 24:44 Jesus says to the disciples, who are still trying to wrap their minds around the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” This three-fold description is the way Jews then and now summarize the entire Hebrew Bible. In fact, today they call their Hebrew Bible the Tanakh, an acronym which comes from the Hebrew words Torah (the Law, meaning the first five books of Moses), Nevi'im (the Prophets and poetry), and Ketuvim (the Writings, everything else). Jesus uses this same division to say that everything in the Old Testament is about him. Thus, the primary reason God gave us the Bible was to teach us about Christ, to exalt his Son, to glorify and point people to Christ. Christ walks through every page of scripture. All the Old Testament points forward to Christ and the New Testament point us back to Christ. Christ is the apex of all of Scripture! It is all about Him!
God Created Sex
In the United States we live in a sexually charged and sexually deviant culture. The damaging effects of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s has come to full maturity. While there are many reasons why this has happened, one reason is that for too long the Church has allowed public schools, secular Hollywood, pop-psychology, and mainstream media to educate and shape the sexual views of the younger generation. For too long the Church has remained silent on the subject of sex as though sex is inherently evil, even within marriage. Thus, among Christians it has become taboo to speak about sex with our children, in one-on-one discipleship, in small group Bible studies, and certainly within church. The result is that Christian married couples learn about sex either from the secular world or they don’t speak about sex at all which then leads to unhealthy sexual relations within the marriage which often leads to unhappy marriages which often leads to divorce. When a Christian married couple does realize they have an unhealthy sexual relationship, they seek the advice of a secular psychiatrist for help with their love life. Why? Certainly the Bible has nothing to say about sex and the Church can be of no help in this matter whatsoever, or so many think. Many Christians think this way, despite the fact that God created sex and made it enjoyable on purpose. The Song of Solomon screams this point. Yet for centuries the Church has argued that this book is really just about the love between Christ and his Church. While it is true that all scripture is about Christ and points to Christ (Lk 24:44) and, thus, the Song of Solomon is ultimately about Christ and his love for his Church, it is interesting to note that God uses highly sexually suggestive language to describe this love. This is because God intended for sex between a husband and wife to be the greatest physical and emotional expression of their love. God is not ashamed of sex between a husband and wife. He created it. And sex between a devoted husband and wife is God-honoring and God-glorifying. God intended for husbands and wives to fully enjoy each other in the privacy of their own bedroom. Thus, for example, we read in Song of Solomon 1:12 that the woman says this about her man, “While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance. My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts.” If the king is lying between her breast, likely between her legs, then her ‘nard which gives forth its fragrance’ is not likely a nearby bowl of potpourri. Another of the many examples is in 2:3 where the woman describes her husband saying, “As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” It takes little imagination to understand what she is describing. She describes her husband as a standing “tree” and describes herself sitting “in his shadow” (likely in front of him) and tasting his fruit. While this kind of language can cause some to blush and make us a bit uncomfortable, the point is that this language is found in Holy Scripture, which means God put it there. God designed sex to be fully enjoyable between a husband and wife. It is a delight to God when husbands and wives delight in each other and pleasure one another, and if the Church does not teach this to our teens and young married couples, they will develop unhealthy and unbiblical views of sex from the world.
God Is Not a Rabbit's Foot
“Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” (1 Samuel 4:3)
In 1 Samuel 4 we are given the story of the Israelites going up to battle against the Philistines. Initially the Israelites are badly defeated by the Philistines and routed. Confused and bewildered, they come up with an idea. They will go and get the Ark of the Covenant and bring it up from Shiloh and go into battle with the Ark going before them. Of course, the plan fails, the Israelites are defeated once again, and the Ark is captured by the Philistines. The problem is that they were treating the Ark, the very throne of God on earth, as a lucky rabbit’s foot. They were treating God as though he were some genie in a bottle who would appear at their beckoning and say, “Your wish is my command.” We read this story and can think to ourselves, ‘What were they thinking?’ Yet so often Christians still treat God the same way. We stick money in the offering box or attend church or get on our knees and pray or open up the Bible to read only when things are going wrong in life and we need God to do something for us. We treat God as though he is a lucky rabbit’s foot or Aladdin’s lamp, that if we rub him the right way, he’ll give us what we want. However, if we give money to the church and attend church and pray often and spend time in his word, God wants us to do these things for one reason—because we love him and we desire to please him. If there is any ulterior selfish motive hidden in our heart, God sees it and it is detestable to him.
The Point of Living
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes spends much of the book driving home the point that most of what we do in this world and in this life is pointless because nothing in this life will last forever and nothing that we work for in this world can be taken with us when we die. Thus, by the end of the book, the burning question is this—does anything really matter? What is the point of life? What is the point of living? To that question he replies, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Humans were created to know God and to worship him, to fear him and keep his commandments. Not to fear God in a way that we are afraid he will harm us, but fear in a way that renders to God the respect and worship he deserves. Thus, the whole duty of mankind, the whole reason for our existence and purpose in life is to “fear God and keep his commandments.” Why? The next verse says, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” The reason is because this life is temporary; this life is fleeting. Thus, the only thing that matters is how we live for God. I have a plaque in my home that I love looking at everyday as it serves as a good reminder to me. It reads: “Only one life, t’will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” That statement is incredibly true. Only what we do for Christ matters. Only what we do for the glory of Christ will have any eternal significance. This is what drives me. This is how I try to live my life. I hope this will describe your life as well. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
Is God Enough?
Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations. (1 Samuel 8:5)
Samuel chapter 8 is one of the darkest days in Israel’s history. This was the day they rejected God as their king and demanded the prophet Samuel appoint for them a king like the surrounding nations to rule over them. The book of First Samuel comes on the heels of the book of Judges where we witness the people of Israel spiraling into complete chaos. Judges begins with Israel being constantly attacked by various tribes and surrounding nations but ends with a Levite priest dismembering his concubine and sending her various body parts to the twelve tribes if Israel as a grim message, and then the tribes of Israel going to war against itself and nearly wiping out the entire tribe of Benjamin. Thus, by the time of First Samuel, the people feel that what they need is a king to rule over them, to govern them, to keep them in check. However, what they failed to realize is that the problem is not that they lacked a king, but the problem has to do with two phrases which keep recurring throughout the book of Judges—"Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6; 21:25), and “In those days there was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). Yet, at the very beginning of the book Gideon makes clear that Israel does have a king. When the the people tried to make Gideon king over them, he says, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.” (Jdg. 8:23). Thus, Israel had a king! God was their king! Yet, in 1 Samuel 8, the people wanted to be like the other nations. And this was their downfall. But how often do we do the same? How often do we want what others have? How often do we desire to be like other people? How often do churches desire to be like the surrounding mega-churches and so incorporate their business principles in order to compete? Whenever we think this way, we are essentially rejecting God as our king and saying to him, ‘We want to be like the other nations. We want to live like they live; we want to have what they have.’ In essence, we are saying to God, ‘You are not enough for me. I need something more.’
Christ Kept the Law for Us
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16 ESV)
Adam had one law to keep—don’t eat the fruit. Christ, the second Adam, had the entire Old Testament law to keep and he kept it all. He was tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin. Christ lived thirty-three years on earth as a human which means the three temptations in the wilderness by the devil would not have been the only time Jesus was tempted. That’s what the author of Hebrews is telling us. As a human, Jesus would have been tempted in all the ways humans are tempted but never violated a single law of God. Never lied. Never stole anything. Never entertained an impure thought. Never took a second look at a beautiful woman. Christ, the second Adam, born not in the pristine and perfect world of the garden of Eden, but born into the harsh environment of Bethlehem of Judea, born in a barn and lain in a trough, comes into the world and does what Adam failed to do for all his physical descendants—Jesus kept the law of God, all the laws of God, perfectly.
Why does that matter? (v.16) “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Because of Christ’s perfect obedience for all his spiritual descendants, for all who have faith in Him, for all who are born of God, we now have access back into the presence of God to live with him eternally. Christ, in his birth and in his perfect life of obedience, does for his spiritual descendants what Adam failed to do. And that is—at least in part—what we are celebrating this Advent season.
We Do Our Duty
We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty. (Luke 17:10)
So often it can be easy to struggle with the sin of covetousness, especially living in such an affluent nation as the United States. We look around at the world. We watch TV. We are bombarded with commercials everywhere we look that tell us that the American dream is just beyond our fingertips, if we will just reach a little further, try a little harder. The culture we are immersed in is constantly telling us we deserve more than we have. No matter how much we have, we deserve more. But Jesus tells us in Luke 17:7-10, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table'? Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'" If we recognize our own sinfulness, then we should understand that we don’t deserve anything good from God. We don’t deserve more than we have. As sinful creatures, the only thing we deserve is hell. Yet, God who is rich in mercy has chosen to bless us with all the many good things we have in life. Regardless of the little that may be. If all we have in this world is Christ, then we have more than we can ever possibly deserve. And when we seek to live our lives in obedience to God’s word, we must not think God owes us anything or that we have earned his blessing. “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”
For the Sake of the Gospel
Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:1-3)
It’s interesting that Paul has Timothy circumcised. Why does he do that? The text tells us that it was “because of the Jews who were in those places.” While Paul clearly understood that circumcision or any other external work or ritual does not save a person or even add to their salvation in any sense, he also understood that he would never be able to even communicate the gospel to Jews if they were not even willing to listen to him because of Timothy. Timothy, being half Jewish, needed to be circumcised in the minds of devout Jews. If they discovered he was half Jewish and had not been circumcised, they would completely shut down Paul and Timothy. Paul's actions make sense in light of what he says in 1 Cor. 9:20-23, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (emphasis added). Paul was willing to do whatever was necessary within biblical boundaries to reach the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Shouldn’t we?
It's About Priorities
Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)
I once had a conversation with a gentleman who spent about ten minutes telling me how he likes to stay busy. He works hard all week long and then on the weekends he likes to hunt, fish, or golf. He told me about how he likes to get up early and grab his coffee and head to work during the week so that he arrives about thirty minutes early and can sit in his truck and enjoy his coffee. When he got done, I asked him how his spiritual life was doing? Specifically, how was his daily Bible reading and prayer time going? He then began to tell me how he just struggles to find the time to read the Bible on any consistent basis. He has the time to get to work early, to hunt, fish, and golf, but just cannot seem to find the time to read God’s word. But “man does not live by bread alone, but [man lives] by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” No matter how busy we are, we always find the time to eat every day and we always find the time to do the things that are most important to us. Not finding the time to spend daily time in prayer and Bible reading is not about being too busy—it’s about priorities. If we are not finding the time to spend daily time in prayer and God’s word, it’s because it’s just not important to us. Human beings will always find the time to those things which matter to them most.
Keeping Christmas in Perspective
“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-21)
The author becomes depressed and discouraged when he thinks too long about the fact that at the end of his life, after all his work and labor, when he dies he will not be able to take anything with him, and all that he has labored for will become someone else’s possession and they will enjoy it. So what is the point? What is the point of laboring and working so hard for the things of this world when we cannot take any of it with us? While we certainly must work in order have the basic necessities of life (food, clothing, shelter), and there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to have a decent car that runs, we need to remember that the things of this world are fleeting and temporary, and ultimately will never fully satisfy. It is particularly important to remember this during the Christmas season when we can be so tempted to covet and become discouraged with not being able to afford the things we want, the things that others have. In the end, let’s keep in mind that Christmas is not about stuff—it about celebrating the birth of the greatest gift ever given to mankind—the birth of Jesus Christ!
Helping Children Understand God
Lately I have been telling my children (ages 3, 6, 10, and 12) that my scripture memory verse as of late has been Proverbs 23:13-14. “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” [hell]. They have not been very thrilled about this. And even as I write this, I must wonder how many readers might not be too thrilled about this as well. Our current generation of parents have moved away from corporal punishment as a means of discipline for children. We are now supposed to reason with them and try and get our little three-year-old to understand why their behavior is wrong. We should try and understand why they are “acting out.” We should put them on “time-out” or restrict them from a favorite toy or activity, but by no means should we inflict any physical harm on them. Please don’t misunderstand me, there is value in all the above approaches, and they all have their place. Parents need to explain to their children why certain behavior is unacceptable, and they need to try and understand what makes their children “act out” and help them learn how to manage their emotions. Additionally, “time-out” and "restrictions" should become more the norm as children approach puberty and teenage years. But God is clear and certainly knows what he is talking about in Proverbs 23:13-14. Children need to learn at a young age that there are sometimes serious and painful consequences to their actions. If they don’t learn this when they are young, unfortunately, they will learn it as adults when the seriousness and painful consequences are enormous and far-reaching. However, at a young age, it is not just critical that children experience corporal punishment for their healthy development, but how they receive it. When I spank my children, I do not immediately send them to their room or leave them alone to cry. I hold them in my arms and comfort them, whispering in their ear that I love them very much. When they’ve calmed down, I once again explain to them why they were punished, and I make sure they understand that I love them very much. I will then pray with them and for them. Then I will usually sit and hold them for a while. I do this because I believe that if children don’t experience from their parent (especially from their father) that the same strong arms that will inflict pain on them are the same strong arms that will also love them, hold them, and comfort them, they will struggle their entire lives to understand God. They will struggle their entire lives to understand how the same loving, tender, merciful Father can also be the one who severely punishes his children when we go astray. If you want your children to better understand God, then “do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.”
Dealing with Conflict
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15)
We have all been in a situation where someone has offended us or upset us and we struggle with what to do about it. We sometimes struggle with whether or not we should even be offended. Maybe we are overreacting. Maybe we are being too sensitive. Maybe it’s not worth bringing it up to the other person. Maybe we should just let it go. So what do we do? Often we seek the advice of a trusted friend, a confidant, or maybe even our pastor. But is this what we should do? Jesus says in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Notice Jesus does not say, ‘If your brother sins against you, go and [talk to someone else to first determine if you should go and] tell him his fault, between you and him alone.’ Jesus commands that the very first thing you should do, if someone offends you, is go directly to that person—not a friend, not your pastor—but directly to that person, privately, and talk to him or her one on one. But what if we are not sure we should talk to that person? Maybe we just need to talk through our frustration with someone else. What if we genuinely are wondering if we are simply overreacting? Then that should be determined by going directly to the person who has offended you and saying that to him or her. For example, ‘Hey friend, you said something to me the other day that really upset me. Honestly, I’m not even sure if I should be upset, but I thought I’d share it with you anyway so we can talk about it.’ The reason for going directly to the person who has upset you and not first going to someone else is clear from Jesus’ words: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” No one else needs to know. No other relationship needs to be damaged. When we talk to person B about how person A has offended us, we accomplish damage the reputation of person A in the eyes of person B. We diminish the opinion of person B regarding person A. Now instead of one relationship being damaged between yourself and person A, you have now damaged the relationship between person A and person B. Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15 are not a suggestion, they are a commandment. If someone upsets you, you must go directly to that person to discuss it and not go to someone else. If you are not certain you should talk to the person who has upset you, then you should keep the matter to yourself and speak with no one. Speaking with someone else about how someone has offended you is how division begins within relationships and within the church. Going to someone else instead of going to the person who has upset you is always sinful.
Christ, the Second Adam
Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor. 15:45-49 ESV)
Just as Adam was from the dust, lived, died, and returned to dust, so also will all those who are his physical descendants. But just as Christ lived, died, and rose again in a glorified body, so also will all those who are his spiritual descendants. In v.49, Paul states, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” Christ came into the world as the second and greater Adam to do what the first Adam failed to do. Adam was supposed to multiply and fill the earth with a progeny of God-worshippers, of image bearers of God, who would exercise dominion over all creation. But because of sin, the world becomes populated with God-haters who are a damaged reflection of their Creator. Christ, the second and greater Adam, who was born in Bethlehem two-thousand years ago, has been doing what Adam failed to do. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ruach of God, Christ has been and is filling the earth with people who bear the image of Christ, who are being transformed more and more into the image of Christ, who is the exact image of God. And someday Christ and all his spiritual progeny will have complete and total dominion over all the earth and the earth will be completely filled with God-worshippers who are the image of Christ who is the image of God. Advent is about celebrating Christ, the second Adam who came to accomplish what the first Adam failed to accomplish.
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