Posted in Christian Living

Christian Life as Dictated by the King of Kings: A Prelude to Easter

Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself?” (Eccl 7.16; NASB)1

Take care not to practice your righteousness in the sight of people, to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6.1).

INTRODUCTION:

We are closing in on the culmination of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry—His crucifixion and resurrection and ascension. In just two weeks we will be celebrating Easter. Some of us with family and friends, but those of us here as members of the Body of Christ. In recent generations Easter has been turned into a cultural icon celebrated by many but the meaning of which has been by and large lost. Like so many things taken from our Christian heritage it has become a historical tradition with no greater purpose than serving the individuals who celebrate it. In other words, Easter like Christmas and Thanksgiving has been turned inward where we gratify ourselves rather than recognizing what the celebration truly points to—Jesus Christ.

This attitude is not new. It was rampant in Israel at the time of our Lord’s coming. It was evident in ancient Israel under the reign of righteous kings like David and Solomon. It was visibly practiced during the period of the Judges. And, it was something that Moses had to contend with as he led God’s people towards the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to Abraham in giving the land of Canaan as an inheritance to the children of our chief patriarch’s loins.

Why? Because we are not very good with remembering. We like gifts. We enjoy blessings. We lift our voices in shouts of exclamation when something good happens in our lives. But we struggle with seeing the true importance behind an event, a statute, or a gift.

There were many festivals celebrated in Israel from the time of Moses to Christ Jesus. There was the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths), the Day of Pentecost, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Passover. Each event symbolized a greater truth but what was remembered was the celebration in the sense of a self-gratifying festival of eating, drinking and being merry. Nothing wrong with the latter elements being exemplified. These are things that godly people are commended to do. But there is something wrong with missing the significance of the event pretending that its all about us when its not.

Instruction to His people…

The same may be true with the law of God. God gave His law to reveal His will for His people. Individuals made up of families within a larger community that were created and set-apart to bear His image in this world. Every area of life was to be governed by the life giving instruction of God. As Moses explained to the children of Israel before they took the Promise Land—a reward for faithfulness not faithlessness:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have placed before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding close to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, so that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them” (Deut 30.19-20; emphasis added; also see Deut 32.39).

The law was given to offer instruction to the people of God that they may be righteous before the Lord and as a result live, experiencing His blessing on their life of faithfulness. It is not as if the Law gives life, it does not nor can it. The Law shuts the mouth of sinners for it proves that though they eagerly profess their goodness to themselves and to others the reality is that they (we are all!) sinners. In this way then the Law is meant to drive us to our knees beseeching God’s grace so that we might live by Him; for Him.

I have often pondered the meaning of Solomon’s words recorded in Ecclesiastes 7:16. Is there such a thing as being too righteous, too holy? Is that even possible for a human being? And what of wisdom? Is there such a thing as being too wise? To have obtained such a treasury of knowledge that our wisdom (i.e., the practice of applying knowledge gained) handicaps us? Though the answer is easily enough discerned from the rest of what is said in Ecclesiastes I find it interesting that Jesus addresses the issue as well. In fact, He goes into greater detail of the true meaning of being too righteous or wise.

Christ’s Gold Standard

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of the “Golden Rule.” I have had conversations with self-professing atheists who have cited this rule as the mode of operation (modus operandi) by which all human action should be governed. It is a tradition that has been borrowed from the Christian worldview. It is taken from Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:16,

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (see Rom 10.13).2

But the question we ought to be asking when something like Matthew 7:16 is cited or the so-called “Golden Rule” is referenced, is by what standard? What is the standard by which I am to treat others? More importantly, how will this standard effect my interaction with God. Meaning, how do I treat God with my life (i.e., my thoughts, words and deeds), and how will He treat me in retrospect?

You see the standard by which we are to treat others is not within ourselves; it doesn’t derive from our inner being. According to Jesus, the standard to be applied in treating others, including the God who formed us and gave/gives us life is God’s law. Again we find that our culture has appropriated a truth, turned it into a tradition, but the aim and purpose of it has been forgotten.

Matthew 5-7 is often called the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt 5.1). It contains the meat of much of what Jesus taught during His 3 ½ year earthly ministry. It references God’s people and the standard by which God’s people are to live by. A standard, by the way, that Jesus informs His listeners He did not come to abolish but rather to uphold:

Do not presume that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter shall pass from the Law, until all is accomplished! Therefore, whoever nullifies one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness far surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5.17-20).

God’s law is His instruction for life on this planet. If we want to live, if we want to be blessed, if we want to prosper in what we do building that which will last long after we have faded from memory on this earth, then we must not only know what His word teaches but be diligent in the keeping of it. Both faith and faithlessness in light of God’s Law-Word have their rewards, either life or death.

Matthew 6 and Where the Believer’s Emphasis Lies

Now I noted in the heading (at the beginning/top of the sermon) that we were going to cover Matthew 6 in light of what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, and in light of how Christ Jesus lived on this earth. But before we get there I wanted to give you come context first. I will be quick here. I have already stated that standard by which Jesus applies to the believer’s life in His famous sermon here (the longest we have recorded in Scripture) is the Law of God.

From Matthew 5:21 until the end of that chapter Jesus uses the corrective phrasing,

You have heard that it was said of those of old…But I say to you…” (Matt 5.21a, 22a; ESV).

Here, He is explaining to His audience “you’ve been taught this way…, but I’m here to tell you otherwise….” In short, Jesus is correcting a commonly held (traditionally held) understanding of God’s Law-Word that is actually in error.

Beginning in chapter 6 we see a different emphasis being placed upon Jesus’ hearers; those claiming to be children of God, what we would call “believers” or “Christians” using today’s common vernacular (or if you prefer, language or tongue).3 Matthew 6 starts off with a principle for those who fear (i.e., honor and respect) God:

Take care not to practice your righteousness in the sight of the people, to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6.1; emphasis added).

If we compare this with Solomon’s earlier statement recorded in Ecclesiastes (cf. 7:16) we find that he and the Lord’s words seem to be of similar intent. How so? For Solomon follows his advice of not being too righteous or too wise with the rhetorical question:

Why should you destroy yourself?” (Eccl 7.16b).

The question demands a negative answer. No one should destroy themselves. That is folly. Better to make sure we live in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord God (cf. Eccl 7.18; also see Eccl 8.12; 12.13). Notice that Jesus’ emphasis is the same.

Jesus warns how one ought to live their life (comp 1Pet 4.11). He says to “take care not to practice your righteousness in the sight of the people….” Taken at face value it would appear that He was saying, we shouldn’t practice our righteousness in the public square. But this contradicts how He lived His own life and what He had taught earlier in the same sermon:

Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5.16; ASV; cf. Prov 4.18).
If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love” (John 15.10; comp Acts 3.14).

Righteousness properly defined means “the quality of being morally right.”4 Jesus never sinned (Heb 7.26; 1Pet 2.22; 1John 3.5). No foul word ever touched His lips (1Pet 2.23). For this reason He is identified as the perfect “Lamb of God,” (John 1.29, 36; also see 1Pet 2.24) the “propitiation” (1John 2.1-2) for our sin. And yet, He performed many righteous acts before the people. As long as He had breath in Him until the appointed time, He lived for God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit in accordance with God’s Law-Word.

And so, when Jesus gives the warning to those who claim to follow Him, to those who profess to be children of the Most High, the Heavenly Father unto whom all creatures owe their due, He is not prohibiting or cautioning the practice of God’s righteousness (i.e., godly/goodly works) but the attitude and standard by which we seek to do them.

Take care not to practice your righteousness in the sight of people, to be noticed by them…” (Matt 6.1b).

Such a righteousness is not a godly righteousness. It is the type of righteousness that the wisdom writer Solomon, the 3rd king of Israel, warned against. For what is the goal of the one who seeks to be noticed by others? Is it not to be praised by them? Is it not to gratify the desires of your own heart? Is it not to be cherished by the masses, great or small?

A truly righteous person seeks to please who? God or mankind? The Lord or the people in our day-to-day lives? If it is the latter and not the former, then according to Jesus,

“…you [will] have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6.1c).

He then cites many religious activities that people seek praises from others for.

On Giving…

So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues on and on the streets, so that they will be praised by people. Truly I say to you, they will have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your charitable giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matt 6.2-4).

On Praying…

And when you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they will be seen by people. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. Bu as for you when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matt 6.5-6).

On Fasting…

Now whenever you fast, do not make a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they distort their faces so that they will be noticed by people when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But as for you, when you fast anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by people but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matt 6.16-18)

Christ’s Standard is NOT the World’s Standard

The point here is not that living righteously or wisely is bad, but the standard that we use to deem what our righteousness and wisdom looks like might be. According to Jesus our standard ought to be to please God in all that we do. To honor His Word. To obey His commandments. To live for Him. To seek our reward from Him, not from creatures. Jesus points out in Matthew 5:48 that God’s people are to pursue perfection, which is a synonym for righteousness:

Therefore you shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

That’s our goal. That’s our motivation. That’s our chief pursuit. We strive to be good and pure and holy like our Creator. We make every effort to live for Him and not for the people of this world. This makes many professing believer’s uneasy. And to some extent it should. But it must be noted that,

...there is not a righteous person on earth who always does good and does not ever sin” (Eccl 7.20; cf. Rom 3.23).

This truth, though, does not nullify the expectation that God places on us. Rather it points us to our true need: We need to be delivered, We need to be saved. This is the reason for Jesus. He—the living Word—stepped into creation as a babe, putting on flesh, so that He might represent His people whom He came to deliver from their sins. What the Law of God points to is our desperate need for a Savior, whom we have been gifted in Jesus of Nazareth called the Christ.

While this is true…we NEED a Savior… we must also recognize that the One who saves us is also our Lord! Our lives having meaning because of Him. He defines who we are. Not our feelings. Not our thoughts. Not our desires. Not the people around us in this life. He defines who we are. He is our righteousness. He alone is our wisdom. We are called from the depths of sin—made possible by His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension in history—to live our lives in accordance with His Word, for His glory not the praise of others.

We are told three times (vv. 4, 6, 18) that what is done in secret is rewarded by the Lord. But the converse is also true, what is done in front of people, seeking their praise, is also a reward (vv. 2, 5, 16). If our desire is to please and honor God through Christ by the Holy Spirit demonstrated through faithful obedience (i.e., righteousness), then He will reward us. This does not mean we have to pray in a closet or give in the dark or fast away from others. What it means is that our delight is in pleasing our Father who is in Heaven, whom the world does not know or see. The attention we are intending to draw is His not the praise of others.

Where our Heart Lies

This is what I believe to be the meaning of Matthew 6:19-21 when Jesus speaks of treasure hunters:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Now it is true that this can pertain to material wealth. But the more robust meaning given the flow of the text seems to implicate any type of treasure seeking. Some prefer the treasure of “men’s applause.” The desire to be known, to be thought highly of, to be adored is nothing short of wanting to be worshiped in some way. The accolades of people’s applause is great, and has allured many throughout history. Rather our desire should be to seek the Lord’s will. And with that in mind we shall wrap up with the Lord’s teaching on a proper pray life.

Please note that when Jesus instructs believer’s to pray He is giving a model to follow not only in our prayer life, but also in our day-to-day living. He says,

And when you are praying, do not use thoughtless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way:
Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debtors, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6.7-13)

According to Jesus here what is the purpose of our prayers? To bend God towards our desires or to bring our desires in line with His own? We are warned not to pray like unbeliever’s, this is the meaning of not praying like the Gentiles do. An unbeliever identifies their god as a way to get what they want, but the believer recognizes first and foremost that God alone is Holy; for His name is Hallowed.

After we admit that our God is Holy other, then we pray that His will be done on this earth as it is done in heaven. This is not a reference to everybody else but is foremost to be concerned with the believer’s life. God’s kingdom rule is first seen exercised in His people’s lives. Lives of individuals submissive to His dictates. Next, we find that the believer is to ask for God to provide for his/her daily needs. God gives us the ability to produce wealth, therefore HE alone should get the glory and be recognized as the One who provides for our daily needs. This includes the forgiveness of sins. He saves us from ourselves and He likewise requires us to be gracious in forgiving others who have wronged us (vv. 12, 15-16).

Finally, we close in prayer for God’s deliverance from evil, whether it be the evil one or one of those that serve him (speaking spiritually—demonic activity; speaking materially—human beings that hate God and therefore hate His standards).

Closing Remarks…

In all of this we seek to glorify God not ourselves. Thus as we prepare our hearts for the upcoming Easter celebration let us put forward every effort to remember who it is that died on the Cross, who it is that arose from the grave, and who it is that is seated at the Father’s right hand exercising all authority in heaven and on earth. Easter is the dawning of a new age. Not eastern mysticism, but the rising of the Son of God who not only shines as a bright light upon this earth in the life of His people, but who rightly claims Kingship over all nations and tongues.

ENDNOTES:

1All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard Bible, 2020 update (NASB).

2“the Law and the Prophets” speaks of the entirety of God’s instructive word (Torah—i.e., law) given to His people in the Old Testament as the covenantal (contractual) boundaries by which they were to live (image Him) in this world. When the prophets spoke in the OT they cited God’s Law as the reason judgment (life or death; blessing or curse) was about to fall upon them or some other nation unless they turned (repented) from their sin.

3As an interesting side note the term “vulgate” as in “Latin vulgate” means “common tongue or language.” Therefore, when Latin was the most widely used language (though now it is dead) the Bible’s most prolific translation at the time meant “[in] Latin the common tongue.” Or, so it would seem.

4James Strong and John McClintock, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, 12 vol. TheWord Bible Software.

Posted in Christian Living

Discerning Truth from Error

It is the role of the Christian to not only stand for truth but decipher it from the swamp of information that plaques us on a daily basis. I was asked by a dear friend, “With all the misinformation out there on both sides–the radicals on the left and right–how are we to know what is true?” A pertinent question. One that demands an answer. In getting to the truth we must weigh the source and the intended result from the information that they share. We must measure in our minds what the underlying presuppositions might be. We are to hold their known character in the light and view what has been told by the light of God’s Word. Our Lord is not the author of confusion. He does not speak out both sides of His mouth. He does not apply inconsistent or arbitrary standards to the position He holds. In short, our Lord is not a liar. Jesus does not seek to murder or coerce or manipulate us. He says, “Come to Me and I will give you rest.” He says, “Come to Me so that your sins may be blotted out.” He says, “Come to me and I will give you water and bread that you might live forever.” But not so for Satan who desires to see you bound and gagged in this life and in the next, so that you will experience the wrath reserved for him and the angels (messengers of darkness) in an eternal hell.

The children of God are equipped to identify a lie, even if the whole world is caught under its sway. And we must be willing to stand in the torrent of the cultural winds that seek to blows us down, to bend them to their will. This we can do if our lives be built upon the Rock, for our Rock is not like their rock. Ours is a stronghold, a mighty refuge. Theirs, regardless of its apparent splendor and might, is shifting sand.

It is the role of the believer to know the truth.

Posted in Christian Living, Christian Perspective, Worldview Analysis

To the Victor goes the Narrative

I recently finished reading a biography on Alexander the Great by Jacob Abbott.  This historical accounting of the famous (infamous?) Macedonian king that conquered the known world by the time he was about 26 years old, was an enlightening read.  Histories of the past do not have the scrutinizing citations that we find today in many scholarly works (sorry no Chicago Manual for Writers 16th ed. back then).  And so, Abbott cautions his readers to use some discernment while reading the details of Alexander’s life that have been passed down to us through the annals of time.  One of the things that Abbott says early on in the work bears repeating:

  • “We must remember, too, in reading the accounts of these transactions, that it is only the Greek side of the story that we hear. The Persian narratives have not come down to us.”1

Why is this important, and why does it need repeating?  Abbott’s point is that to the victor goes the history, or narrative.  The one’s on top control what is said, and what is to be remembered.

In this, I am reminded of two things:  First, of Jeroboam king of Israel (Ephraim); Second, our current predicament in the U.S.

First things first…

After the death of Solomon, the 3rd king of Israel, the kingdom was split in two.  There was the kingdom of Israel in the north, and the kingdom of Judah in the south.  Judah retained the capital city of Jerusalem, and Israel’s capital eventually became Samaria.  God judged both of those kingdoms for covenantal unfaithfulness but the first to fall was Israel.  The Assyrians sacked them around 721 B.C.

Before that time came, the Lord sent many prophets to Israel to preach the Word of God to them…that which they had by and large dismissed.  Hosea was one of God’s prophet’s that was sent with an indictment against them.  You may remember Hosea, or you may not, but he was the one God commanded to marry a woman of loose moral values.  Either she was a whore before Hosea married her, or she was one after…we’ll have to let commentators argue that one out.  Doesn’t really matter, though, because how Gomer treated Hosea was a living illustration for how Israel treated the Lord.

They had abandoned the covenant.  They had forgotten the One who bore them on eagle’s wings, delivering them from servitude giving them special status among the nations of the earth.  In short, they no longer remembered the voice of the Lord.  The result of such a state is told to them (us) by Hosea:

  • “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hos 4.6).2

The “knowledge” to which God speaks through Hosea is His Law-Word.  All that God has revealed is instruction for the good of those who love Him, but to abandon what He has given is to court the rejection of God—i.e. death.

Well, what happened? What caused this predicament?  How did the people forget who God is and what He had done? These are questions that need asking.

When the kingdom was split in two, the Lord selected two kings to rule.  Rehoboam, Solomon’s son became king of Judah (cf. 1Kgs 11.13, 43; 12.1); whereas, Jeroboam I3 became the king of Israel (1Kgs 11.30-39; 12.1-24) in fulfillment of what God had spoken (see 1Kgs 12.15).

However, this is where things get interesting…

Jeroboam had been promised as a reward for faithfulness to God’s Word a kingdom like David’s (1Kgs 11.37-38), but no sooner had he received the kingdom by the Lord’s providence Jeroboam I rebelled. How so?  He established a whole new competitive religion.  He changed the capital from Jerusalem and had the people go elsewhere (Bethel and Dan) . He changed the religious festivals that God had established as reminders of what He had done and what He would eventually do through Messiah. He set up whole new priesthood/prophets and dedicated new high places (i.e. temples) with an altar to offer sacrifices upon (cf.1Kgs 12.28-33).

Why did Jeroboam I do this? He feared that he would lose the kingdom he had received and the loyalty of the people.

  • “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah’” (1Kgs 12.26-27).

In order to protect what he had acquired, he devised wicked plans in his own heart to rewrite the narrative, and in so doing led the ten northern tribes into sin.

As a result, there was not one righteous king in the northern kingdom of Israel for the duration of her history.  Hosea’s prophetic indictment against them was fulfilled when Assyria destroyed them, but I highlight this historical event for one purpose: He who is the victor controls the narrative.

Why is the Narrative important?

The narrative has a direct bearing on the people’s (nation’s) mindset.  In the book of Deuteronomy the Lord tells the children of Jacob (Israelites) to be mindful of what He has revealed to them, to be careful to keep His instructions, and to remember all that He has done for them. They were commanded to teach these things to their children throughout their lives, at every opportunity that presented itself (cf. Deut 6.7).  The people were given the figurative expression of posting God’s Word everywhere:

  • “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut 6.8-9; cf. 11.20; italics added).

Notice the symbolism used in this text.

  • First, they are to bind them on their hand and head (i.e. between the eyes). Why? So that the Word of God not only governs their thoughts/perceptions of reality, but also in the manner in which they act/live.  The children of God’s activities are to be controlled by a godly mind (i.e. worldview of thought and action).
  • Second, they are to bind them to the doorposts of the home. Why? Because the home is to be devoted to God’s governing through godly parents, and then the children as they image (honor) mom and dad.  God values the family unit highly and seeks first to protect and guide it from falsehood.
  • Third, they are to bind them to the gates. Why? Well the Hebrew term ( שַׁעַר sha`ar (shah’-ar) noun) translated gates normally refers to the gates of the city.  It was the elders (overseers/judges) of the city that sat at the gates, and as civil leaders they led the rest of the people.  This speaks of God governing the civic areas of life.

Why did God emphasize applying His Word in such a way? Some might say, well because of what is said earlier in the chapter:

  • “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deut 6.4-6).

Yes, it is true that we are to love the Lord our God above all else, but how do we do that?  With our mouths? Yes, but is that all?  With our lives also?  Yes, but privately or publicly? The answer is publicly and privately.  The reason God stresses binding His Law-Word everywhere is because He is all about controlling the narrative.  He is all about His people controlling the narrative.

Relationship to the Great Commission…

Think about this for a moment (seriously give this some careful thought!). When Jesus sends His disciples out to the nations what does He command? After baptizing them in the Name of God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), which speaks of identity, what else does He say?

“Well, we are supposed to make disciples, right?” Okay, how? By “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28.20a), he says.

Which means what, precisely? To be obedient to the Law-Word of God, to be governed by every precept, statute, principle, etc. that His Word touches upon.  In essence, Jesus is saying to control the narrative.  Control what is taught and what is believed about being His disciple.

There are those in Western society that want Christianity to stay privatized (at least until they get total control and then they want to end it).  Faith is never a private issue.  A popular saying today is that “we need to keep religion out of politics,” but what is meant is Christianity.

It is impossible to keep religion out of any discussion.  Everybody is religious, because everybody has a system of beliefs that they adhere to.  That is the general definition of religion: “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”4

The Press, the Intellectual elites in control of the majority of our Universities and Colleges, Hollywood, Political pundits, Public Education, etc. all have and are controlled by a religious narrative that is hostile to the Christian faith.  Even sectors of the Evangelical Church understand this with their foolish language of Wokeness, Intersectionality, etc. and are aggressively trying to control the narrative by telling Christians to shut their mouths.

And here’s the thing “darkness” will always appear victorious as long as we allow others to control the narrative, to control the language, to control what is acceptable speech and what is not.  What bothers me the most is that I notice many Christian ministries are afraid, or they dance very carefully around, hot-button issues.

Before I go on a rant, let me give one example and then I’ll close my thoughts for a bit…

What is abortion? Who is the true victim? What are so many “Christians” afraid of saying what it really is—murder.  What type? In the 1st degree.  Who is at fault? Mommy, possibly daddy, and the doctor who is the paid assassin.  Why don’t professing believers say that?  The short answer is this, because we have allowed non-believers who are living on borrowed capital (Historically in this nation, and ontologically in this world) to set the narrative.

My question is what are Christian disciples, who are being instructed by the biblical narrative, supposed to do in this world? “Oh,” but you say, “Jesus never spoke on abortion?” He didn’t? What Bible are you reading (see Exod 21.22-25)? I hope and pray you aren’t just focused on the red letters, for the same Lord who said the Red Letters likewise spoke in the black letter portion of your Bible.  What part? How about all of it; He is the Lord of both covenants; He is the Lord of the Law; He is the Lord of the beginning, because He was in the beginning…for He was with God and is God.

Just by way of reminder…He is also the victor5, and I don’t believe He’ll be pleased upon His return finding those who bear His Name acting as if He is NOT.

_________________________

ENDNOTES:

1 Jacob Abbott, Makers of History: Alexander the Great, Vol 6 (Akron, OH: The Werner Company, n.d.), 98.  This work was written in the early 20th century.

2 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

3 So as not to confuse the reader a “I” (1st) was placed by this Jeroboam’s name, for when Hosea gives his indictment against Israel and her king it is Jeroboam II that he is referring to.

4 “religion,” def 4, Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.

5 Cf. 1Cor 15.54-57; 1John 5.4: “For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Prov 24.6).  Is not our Heavenly Father our counselor? Is not the Christ our counselor? Is not the Holy Spirit our counselor? Yes…He is.

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Posted in Beliefs, Christian Living, Christian Perspective, Knowing God, Law, love, morality, Reason

A Dose of Humility is Needed

I find it a little perturbing when Christians attack God’s Law because they find it archaic, culturally bound, and overtly harsh. I’m always wondering to myself, “Is this accurate? Is this the sort of attitude that Christians ought to have towards what God has deigned sufficient and necessary for us to know how we ought to live?”

Let’s be honest, we don’t like being told what to do. I mean when we strip it down to the bear bottom the problem is not so much with what God has commanded to be done, but rather the idea that anyone would tell us how we ought to live. “Do we not have any say in this!?!” “Can we not decide for ourselves what is morally right and wrong?” “Are we not wise enough to choose correct path as we weigh the evidence before us in creation and in our own hearts!?!”

The answer is NO.

I remember when my kids were little (two of them are getting ready to graduate here in a couple of years) and the reaction that they would give when told “no.”

My youngest sister used to tease my parents dog (a Chihuahua) by telling it “no.” If the dog were close, she would point her finger at it and say “Minnie—that was her name—No…nooo….nooo.” The reaction of the little dog was comical, but you wanted to make sure that your finger wasn’t too close to its mouth or you’d get nipped. Minnie would turn her head ever so slightly and begin to snarl, eventually chewing you out with a shrill little bark.

This was similar, although not exactly the same, to one of my kids when they were told “no.” A temper tantrum would ensue. No I don’t know about how this was dealt with in your home, but judging from what I see sometimes at the supermarket not very many people today used the approach I did; punishment quickly came next. The age of the child determined the type of punishment they’d get.

When my oldest was about three years old he wanted to grab things on the coffee table that he didn’t need to touch. Some of you out there would probably just move it up to a higher area to avoid the problem altogether. If the items were dangerous to the child sure that makes sense, but there are some things that need to be left in our way in order for us to learn. We receive instruction and when we fail to abide the instruction we get disciplined.

So, when he wanted something on the table that he was not allowed to have I told him “No, you can’t have that. Leave it alone.” After a moment of consideration he went right back for what he was restricted from having. I’m sure his little mind thought, “If I see it, why can’t I grab it? I see you grab it, so why are you telling me no?” I warned him one more time, and the pause of consideration on his part was much shorter. As he reached his hand out to grab it—all the while looking right at me, to see what I’d do—I caught his hand and delivered a quick smack on it and told him firmly, “I said no.”

He looked up at me with his big blue-green eyes as they filled with tears, and then the flood gates opened up. He cried for a few moments, and then I brought him near explaining to him that it was wrong to do it, because I said so: “You’re not allowed to have it,” and then I hugged him and told him I loved him.

He didn’t know it at the time, but my heart was deeply moved by the scene. I hated that he cried as he looked at me heartbroken, but I also knew it was a necessary lesson. If more parents today took disciplining their kids seriously (notice I’m not saying abusing them), then many of the ridiculous attitudes we see on display at the grocery store or on the evening news would not be happening.

  • “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Eccl 8.11).

The pain of that day taught my son to heed my word. He understood that when I said “no” that is what I meant. Temper tantrums were few and far between in our house. I’m not saying that they never happened, they did, but discipline helped curb the hearts and behavior of my kids. Even to this day my wife and I have had people come up to us in restaurants or in other places commenting on how well behaved our children are; polite and courteous.

Question, did I need to tell my child the reason behind my command? Did they have “a right” to know my rationale behind the law I had given?

The answer is NO.

Why then do we want God to give us justification for why He declares a certain behavior as off-limits? Why do we suppose to suggest that it is necessary for Him to tell me His reasoning why He says “NO?” Of course, this is not limited to the Law of God for we often want to question God for why He allowed this tragedy, or why He willed for this to happen when so many things from our vantage point seem horrible.

Listen to the answer we are given in Scripture:

  • “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'” (Rom 9.20).
  • “Shall a fault finder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it…Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40.2, 7-8)
  • “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots!” (Isa 45.9)

It seems to me that we need to learn a little humility when we come before the Word of God. If He commands us in one way, do we dare go another? If He says this is the right course of action, do we dare say “tell me the reason!” Should we not rather say with the one we profess to be our Lord: “Not my will be done, but thine” (Luke 22.42); and “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14.31).

Is this not heavenly wisdom rather than earthly wisdom when we bow the knee before our God and King, acknowledging His divine right over us? It is. And then, is it not utter foolishness when we challenge His Word or course of action because we fail to understand it? It is.

Let us choose Godly wisdom and pray for humility, before we open our mouths uttering blasphemies in ignorance.

Posted in Biblical Questions, Christian Living, legalism, theonomy

Legalism: What it is and what it isn’t

I think it would be safe to say that most Christians would agree with the following sentiment: “Legalism is a nasty thing.” Truly, it’s an unnecessary pollutant that continually attempts to be smuggled into the Christian life. Now can you tell me what it is? Do you know how to define it? Here is where we notice some uneasiness creep in. Knowing that you believe something is easy, but knowing how to define what we believe…well that can sometimes be a bit difficult.

What I would like to do today is add a little bit more depth to what I said before. Previously, I merely touched the surface of a much larger topic. Maybe the equivalent of dipping your toes in the edge of a pool to test the temperature of the water on a nice summer day?

There is a reason that “theonomy” is viewed negatively in the minds of many believer’s. Some are the result of being hammered with a specific tradition.1 Others have misunderstood, misinterpreted and then misapplied certain biblical passages. One normal go to text is Romans 6:14b where Paul says, “…since you are not under law but under grace.”2 By lifting the passage out of its context, the text is made to say what the reader (interpreter according to tradition) believes.

In essence the conclusion drawn is akin to the following statement: “The law no longer applies to the Christian because we are ‘under grace.'” To say that is what Paul meant when he wrote that is to actually pit Paul against himself. For he said earlier in the same letter that our faith in Jesus does not overthrow the use and/or purposeful practice of the law: “On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Rom 3.31b).

Now as tempting as it is for me to dive right into Paul’s argument in Roman’s 6, I need to refrain until my next post. Then, I will attempt to present a sound exegetical argument for what Paul is actually saying in that verse, and how misunderstanding his statement ends up having a negative effect on your walk with the Lord. All I want to do today is explain what legalism is and what it isn’t.

Starting off with an Illustration

The other night my wife and I started watching the 90’s sitcom “Step-by-Step” with our kids. Maybe you’ll recognize it, maybe you won’t, but the show is about a blended family in Port Washington, WI. The newlywed couple each have three children from former relationships; six in all. Nothing is mentioned about those former relationships, at least not in the first few episodes, so you don’t really know what led to the circumstances you see in the Pilot and beyond.

Well as you can imagine the blending process is difficult. The children are naturally biased towards their biological parents. However, in the first few episodes both husband and wife do their best to ease the unification of two formerly separate families into one. Bear in mind they both have their own system of doing things. The dad is a bit laid back, and the mother is very orderly. Both work; he in construction and she as a beautician out of the home, but it is the mother that tries to get the house in working order.

To help facilitate the change she deems necessary she designs a highly detailed law-code for the home. This law code ironically or not has ten commandments that are meant to be followed. The desire of the mother is to bind the family together into one cohesive unit where they eat together, work together and live happily together. This is in response to seeing some early warning signs of broken relationships, and so it is hoped the new law-code will save them. As you can probably imagine, though, things do not work out as intended.

The law of ten ends up resulting in rebellion. The kids and husband rebel. Some are bribed into a false sense of obedience. Those individuals then play the part because they want the rewarded blessing promised to them if an external form of compliance is demonstrated. By the end of the episode one of the children has packed their bags to leave the home, and others are contemplating the benefit of returning to their former way of life. In the end, grace is extended to the children and the family relationship is mended because the law-giver was willing to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the others. Such an act of love healed wounds, and what the mother desired to be accomplished was actually brought to fruition. The end result was that the Law was not overthrown but upheld and the family seemingly prospered.

What Can be Drawn from the Illustration

There are a couple of important things that can be drawn from this illustration that confirm what the Bible teaches. There was a false assumption that the ordering of the law would grant salvation to those who obeyed, it did not because it could not. (**In the illustration if the family met the conditions of the law-code, then the family unit would be saved both individually and corporately).

Yet God’s Word is pretty clear that “…by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal 2.16; cf. Rom 3.28; 4.5).

The conditional clauses found throughout Scripture, in particular in reference to the Law-Word of God state that “if condition ‘a’ is met, then condition ‘b’ will follow.” Those statements do not refer to the ability of man, but the responsibility of man. They speak of what should be done, and if those conditions are met what the promised condition will be, but they never assume ability. The rebuttal to such teaching is, “Yes, but then why does God present the conditional clause if I am not able to do what is required?” To reveal a necessary truth.

First that we are sinners (Rom 3.20; 7.7; cf. Job 25.4), so that the trespass would increase (Rom 5.20; 7.5-13) in order to prove that we are all under a curse (Gal 3.10, 22; Rom 3.9, 23), and therefore shut our mouths and stop our boasting (Rom 3.19; 1Cor 1.26-31). Second, to reveal our need of mercy in that we are all rightly damned (Rom 1.18) in order to point us to Jesus Christ (Heb 4.16), for without the grace of God we are irrevocably lost (comp Gal 5.4 and 2Tim 1.9; cf. Luke 10.21).

  • “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2.5-7).

“What’s the second thing?” “Kris, you said there were ‘a couple things we see’ from the illustration.” Right…you’re right. Here’s the second. The law-code in the sitcom increased the rebellion in the sinners and it was shown to be incapable of saving (mending) the severed relationships (individually, corporately). Grace was needed to bring healing, but the law-code was not completely abrogated. After healing had been introduced into the story by the gracious sacrifice of the mother, the family out of love obeyed the law-code.3

What is Legalism? How Should we Define it?

This brings the discussion back to legalism. What is it? Some interpret legalism to be that which abides by a set of laws. That’s how Merriam-Webster defines it: “strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code” (Def. 1). Before you starting shaking your head in agreement, I’d like you to think about what the definition from English is stating and how that comports with Scripture. (HINT:
Our definition must derive from the Bible, not the other way around).

Paul in preaching to the members of the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia said, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [Jesus of Nazareth] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed [justified] from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13.38-39). The point seems rather obvious through Jesus comes redemption from sin, not the works of the law (cf. Gal 2.21). But then, does this negate the lawful obedience of the believer?

According to the English definition of legalism (one often adopted by people in the Church) Jesus could be rightly labeled a legalist because he was obedient unto the point of death (cf. Phil 2.8). He never sinned because he never strayed from the written Law-Word of God. Therefore, attempting to conflate what the English here says about legalism and what the Bible says about obedience to the Law of God are found at odds with one another.

Now it is true that Scripture condemns attempting to live by the law in order to be justified. In this it only takes one offense for us to be condemned under the entirety of the whole law (Jam 2.10). And yet, we are at the same time told emphatically “By no means” (Rom 3.31; 7.7, 13), for it is through Christ “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8.4). In other words, Jesus atoning work on the cross afforded for us, who did not know the righteousness of God, that very righteousness that Christ knew.

  • “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor 5.21; Isa 53.11).

This in turn enables us to love and live for our Lord. How so? Being the righteousness of God implies that we walk rightly before our God (cf. Hos 14.9; Prov 2.20). This Jesus said his true disciples do because they love Him (John 14.15; 15.10), just as He loves the Father (John 14.31).

What Legalism is Not

True legalism is not obedience to God’s Law-Word—that is faithfulness.4 True legalism is setting up one’s own standard in order to obtain righteousness. True legalism proclaims that what I am able to do by my own power that will justify me before God. True legalism is a setting up of a foreign standard to govern one’s life. This is what Paul cried anathema to in his Galatian letter, for they added to salvation the rite of circumcision and other similar ceremonial type laws that were done away with in Jesus (cf. Gal 5.3, 12). This is what Jesus opposed for instance when he was asked why he and his disciples did not wash their hands before they ate (Matt 15.1-3; Luke 11.37-39), and many other legalistic standards they applied to the people (Mark 7.13).

What legalism is not is being obedient and faithful to the whole counsel of God. This requires study and discernment on our part, a tedious task to be sure but nonetheless fruitful for righteous living (cf. 2Tim 3.16-17). Next time we will look at the meaning behind Rom 6:14.

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ENDNOTES:

1 I feel the need to explain that statement about “being hammered with a specific tradition.” A traditional view is similar to a traditional custom (i.e. family gatherings around Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas) where things are performed and accepted because that has always been the case. Rocking the boat is not welcome in such scenarios. The same sort of thing can happen in our understanding of Christian behavior, practice and living. We are told by those who we look up to, to look at various subjects through the lens of a traditional understanding. Rather than testing the Scriptures to see if the things being taught and/or held to are accurate, an overarching assumption is made that they are. Failure to fall in line with the traditional understanding is deeply frowned upon. Over time those traditions become ingrained in our hearts (i.e. hammered in), and our convictions are situated in such a way to never question them and look down on others that do.

2 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

3 It should be noted that there are some obvious variations in the story line that do not fit the Christian narrative. For one it is the sacrifice of the Son of God that opens up the grace of God for His people. The other notable difference is that the law-giver in Scripture does not allow His creatures to abrogate (change/alter) His law-code, but there are instances where we see that He does so as is His right. Those changes are not arbitrary but necessary depending on the new circumstance that He has established. One easy example is the way dietary laws have changed from creation to today in redemptive history.

4 J. A. Moytner writes, “In the OT as in the NT (e.g. Acts 5.32) obedience [to the Law of God] is a means of grace…That the OT concept of law is, in fact, the biblical concept of law is nowhere seen more clearly than in the continuance throughout the Bible of the same pillars of true religion: grace and law. For the purpose of God remains the same, the obedience of his people, an it remains true that those who walk in the light find that the blood of Jesus Christ keeps cleansing them from all their sin.” Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, [1984], 2001), 675, 676.