Posted in Biblical Questions

Death Biblically Defined as Separation: Dealing with an Objection

What we Witness in the Garden Narrative

God told Adam that the day (when) he ate of the forbidden tree he would “surely die” (Gen 2.17). Either God was telling the truth or He was wrong. The serpent said to Eve you won’t “surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3.4b-5). Again, stated another way, either the serpent was telling the truth or he was lying. This is not an either/or fallacy (a.k.a. bifurcation) because there are only two choices: either God was telling the truth or the serpent was; either God was lying or the serpent was. The issue revolves around the word “death.”

In what sense is death being meant by the Lord God and the serpent? Did the serpent equivocate using the same word in a different sense? Or is it possible that our human understanding of death as cessation from life (a naturalistic view of death) is being read into the text? Is it possible that God used the word “death” emphatically in order to cover all the various ways we might use the word death?

Group 1…

You have one group that says “death means cessation of life, Adam and Eve after eating didn’t immediately die; therefore, their death was just a legal sentence that condemned them to return to the “dust of the earth” (Gen 3.19) since they were only mortal beings. Therefore, the penalty of death comes across as only a physical punishment, a temporal thing. From this belief stems other various forms of thought.

Group 2…

Another group claims that yes there was most definitely a legal sentence of condemnation placed upon the first human couple, and their offspring after them. We are, as the Scriptures confess “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9.27).

**(Which in and of itself is an interesting admission since this implies further legal sentencing after death. How can there be legal sentencing after death, unless there is a spiritual aspect to our sin?).

This second group doesn’t stop with the legal ramifications of violating God’s law in a physical sense, but understands them spiritually as well. In fact, this group argues (of which I am a part) that Adam and Eve did die later (physically) outside of the garden hundreds of years after the event (see Gen 5), but they also died that day in the garden when they ate the forbidden fruit—spiritually. Spiritually they died that day (an inward corruption beset the heart of man). They were cut off from the righteousness of God. They were separated from His goodness, their relationship with Him was severed.

The previous group mentioned (we can call them the cessationiers) denies that Genesis 3 teaches or even implies this. Some go so far as to argue that the Bible doesn’t really teach this idea of death as “separation.” This is due in part to their commitment of only seeing the term “death” defined in one sense. The other aspect is it throws a bit of monkey wrench into a treasured teaching of theirs…freewill. You see, if spiritual death is true, then we are born with a corrupted nature that does not seek God, does not do good, fails to discern the truth of His Word, and is hostile to His Law. All of which the Bible actually testifies are true.

All that is necessary to debunk that idea is to show that the Bible does speak of death as separation and not just cessation from life. Actually, the two go hand-in-hand if you understand them. To die spiritually is to cease to enjoy a life of holiness before God. Just as dying spiritually guarantees that our physical forms as they now are will cease to exist like countless others have done before us.

  • “…the dust returns to the earth as it was and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccl 12.7; ESV throughout). **Here the clay vessel returns to where it came from, and the spirit that God gave returns to Him (cf. Heb 9.27).
  • “…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…We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom 6.2b-4, 6-7). **Here we find Paul speaking of our separation from the old to the new, from death to life, from sin to righteousness in Christ.
  • “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God…[Moreover] now 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 7.4, 6). **Here we see that those in Christ are separated from the condemnation of the law as sinners, to newly created creatures led by the Holy Spirit to produce good fruit. These good works are the (super)natural byproducts of being recreated in Christ Jesus (cf. Eph 2.10), under grace (cf. Eph 2.8-9).

A Quick Overview of Separation (death) in the Garden

Separation on three levels…

First, the man and woman experienced separation from the goodness of God revealed in their shame of nakedness. This is the reason they hid from the Lord in the garden when they heard Him. Their refusal to present themselves to their Maker reveals an inward desire to stay away from Him. If you argue that is because they are afraid, that’s fine, it does nothing to disprove what I have said thus far. They didn’t want to come to Him because they were afraid, because they were ashamed, and they didn’t want to come to Him to face judgment. All point to a break, a separation in their relationship with their Creator.

Second, we see separation experienced between husband and wife. They covered their nakedness from each other, although they had previously seen each other naked. I think we would do well to pay attention to the play on the phrase “eyes were opened.” Their eyes were already opened. They saw everything that God had made. They saw each other. They saw the various other creatures that were not human. They saw beauty and possibility in the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. Seeing (i.e., physical sight) wasn’t their problem, but seeing became their problem as they experienced the seeing of separation that sin had caused them. Ashamed they desired to hide from one another. And not just that, but they also demonstrated this separation in the break of their harmonious relationship.

  • In Genesis 3:12 not only attacks God, but also “the woman whom you gave to be with me” for his sin. Rather than accepting the blame he tried to lay the fault at another’s feet. Such activity demonstrates a break in relational bonds, as the result of sin.
  • In Genesis 3:16 we find that an overriding desire for the woman in sin would be a desire…for [her] husband, [but] he shall rule over you” (brackets added for clarity). This declaration by God as a judgment against the woman shows a breakdown in the relationship she shared with her husband.
  • In Genesis 3:17-19 God says that the “ground…is cursed…because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Adam’s sin brings about death in the sense of separation from the creation and ease of life and life itself. Rather than blessing, the earth has become a curse. Rather than blessing, labor has become a curse. Rather than blessing, life has been cursed in being separated from the land of the living. (to this latter point we shall return to in the next post).

Third, we see the man and woman separated from the garden of Eden, the garden of God (3.23-24). If you look back at Genesis 2 you will notice that the garden was not creation itself, but a sanctuary of sorts that God had placed the man. It served as the heart of creation where the Lord God dwelt with His people. For those familiar with the book of Revelation you will note that this has a striking similarity for what we witness at the consummation of all things.[1]

And so, we learn that death did happen that day in the garden. Adam and Eve experienced the judicial sentence of death, the separateness that death brings. But some say “no, that can’t be. How can separation be death? How can it be said that they were separated from God, for we see God in the very next chapter dealing with them?”

Genesis 4

Of all the chapters that one might come to claim denies spiritual death or death is in one sense separation, this does not appear to be a good choice. Why do I say that? Isn’t it true that we see mankind as a whole offering worship to God? How can they be separated from Him, if they are worshiping Him? If He is still instructing them?

Adam and Eve’s first two Sons: Cain and Abel…

Eve claims that she bore Cain “with the help of the Lord” (Gen 4.1). In verse 2, we are told that she bore another son “his brother Abel.” More than likely these two boys were twins, but if you want to argue the contrary, I see no need in being dogmatic on this point. If they weren’t twins, they weren’t far apart. Both boys grew up together to be men. We are told that “Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground” (Acts 4.2b).

Eventually, as they grew, they put into practice what they had been taught from Adam; namely, the worship of the Lord.[2] We are told that “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions” (Gen 4.3-4a). Only one brother’s sacrifice of worship was acceptable to God (Gen 4.4b-5a), which made Cain angry (Gen 4.5b). When the Lord challenged Cain for his folly and warned him of the consequences if he continued to follow the lead of sin, Cain did not listen (Gen 4.6-7). Rather “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” (Gen 4.8).

Cain’s Sin Brought Separation (Death) in more than one way…

Now for the sake of time I will pass over some of the details of this chapter to get to the point at hand. Cain’s sin drove a wedge between him and his brother leading to death. The death of Abel, and the death of many familial relationships (Gen 4.14). Cain’s sin brought death to the benefits of his labors (Gen 4.11-12a). Cain’s sin drove him from the presence of the Lord— “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Gen 4.12b). Even Cain understood that his sin separated him from the Lord’s presence (Gen 4.14b, 16); cutting him off from the worshiping community (Gen 4.26).

Why Separation is Taught as a Proper way of Defining Biblical Death

If God was separated from mankind due to sin, how was mankind in Genesis 4 able to offer worship to Him? How were they still receiving instruction from the Lord above if the death spoke of in Gen 2:17 and seen in Gen 3 really has spiritual connotations? How can Christians teach spiritual death as separation from the life of God, if life continues to exist?

Categorical Distinctions…

Let’s deal with the question of whether or not it is possible to be separated from God. There is a sense where it is impossible to be separated from the presence of God. Even when Cain was driven from his family with only his wife beside him, he was still in the Lord’s presence. It is impossible for the finite creature to ever be fully removed from the infinite God of Scripture. Impossible since God is always present.

  • “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! (Psa 139.7-8).
  • “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord” (Jer 23.23-24).

So, if we view separation in this sense, it is impossible to be separated from the presence of God. But that would be to confuse the category of the infinite nature of God—His omnipresence—with the separateness that sin brings. Sin destroys, it kills. Sin is that which drives a wedge between us and the holiness of God. Sin result in our being cut off, driven away…the very death of the relationship that man first enjoyed with their Creator. This is what we see as the result of Adam’s rebellion. In this sense then a person is separated from the life of God, the blessing of God and is under the death from God,  the curse of God.

Our Foreparents and their Children…

Let’s look at how mankind in a sinful state is able to come close to God? What do we see in the third chapter of Genesis that might help shed light on this issue? After issuing the consequences of their sin, of Adam’s sin in particular, “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen 3.21). Why?

God is not a pragmatist. He does things for a reason, and it is not an “end justifies the means” type of thing. When the man and woman sinned, they attempted to cover themselves. Their attempt failed horribly. They could not hide what they had done. They could not cover their shame—their sin. But God does for them what they cannot do for themselves. He offers them grace and mercy in this moment. He slays an animal (unless you think He just pulled the skin of the back of some poor creature, or ex-nihlo) to cover their nakedness/shame.

“Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” (Heb 9.22).

Not only do we find the protoevangelium given in Gen 3:15 of the promised offspring who would crush the power behind the serpent, smashing his skull with His foot, but we are also given a glimpse in how this salvation/deliverance is possible—substitutionary atonement. More than likely it was the blood of the lamb (i.e., the life) that provided atonement in terms of shadowy fulfillment that covered our foreparents sin (cf. John 1.29, 36). This first sacrifice performed by God would serve as a memorial; a reminder of what He promised would one day come.

This knowledge would have been passed down to their children. And more than likely this is the reason why Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s was not. Abel’s was offered in faith, which is the only way to please God, the only way to draw near to Him and beseech mercy. Cain’s was not offered in faith. Faith is a demonstration of obedience, so obviously the Lord was displeased with Cain because he was being disobedient. His disobedience resulted in further separation (death) as we have already seen.

Up next…the Tree of Life


ENDNOTES:

[1] This concept or imagery of God dwelling in the midst of His people is seen with the establishment of the tabernacle and later temple where the Holy of holies was located. Thus, Jerusalem is identified in Scripture as the “heart of the earth” (Matt 12.40), the throne of God where God promises to dwell (see Jer 3.17) on His holy mountain (Ezek 43.7). Of which we know is Christ Jesus (see Dan 2.35, 45). “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21.3).

[2] There are several instances in the Bible where parents are told to instruct their children. I fail to see why we should view this knowledge of worship as being acquired by any other means here. So, the boys (now men) learned from their father and mother as children and were now applying what they had been taught on their own. Cf. Exod 12.26-27; Deut 6.7; Psa 145.4; Prov 22.6. This is explained further at the bottom of the post.

Posted in Beliefs

Parables: Truth Hidden in the Open, Part III

 “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matt 13.11-13).[1]

What do you see when you read this text? What do you hear in your heart (i.e., your mind’s eye)? Look at the words. Observe. If you don’t take time to observe what is written, then you will struggle coming to the right conclusion.

A Brief look at Matt 13:11-13…

Jesus’ intent seems pretty clear here. “To you it has been given to knowbut to them it has not been givenThis is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

Jesus has made the purposeful decision to reveal the truth to those of His choosing, but to withhold that same knowledge of the truth from others. He speaks openly, but it is veiled unless further aide is given by God.

Considering the Alternative

Let’s suppose for a moment that Jesus taught in parables to make the truth more accessible to those in Israel. Let’s ignore for the time being what Jesus said was His reason for speaking this way, and for the sake of argument assume that He spoke plainly to the people because He wanted all people to embrace the gospel of the kingdom.  What then?

The Problem with those in the Know…

One of the issues that we encounter in the gospels is that those who were in the know—the leaders of Israel—had a difficult time ascertaining the meaning of Jesus’ message. I bring these individuals up first because if anyone should “know” what Jesus was saying—what He was teaching from Scripture—it was them. I mean, they studied God’s Word vocationally. They were the esteemed teachers in Israel. Surely, they’d be able to make sense of Jesus’ preaching/teaching. However, as you will see, something they liked to bother him about, was speaking more plainly.

 Here are two examples:

  • At the feast of dedication— “So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10.24; see also v. 6).
  • At His mock trial— “If you are the Christ, tell us…Are you the Son of God, then?” (Luke 22.67a, 70).

But when Jesus spoke plainly what was the response? Depends on His audience, right? To the types mentioned above it was unbelief. Not only did they not believe Him when He told them, but their response was one of outrage.

  • Responding to those at the feast, he said, “I told you, and you do not believe…I and the Father are one. The Jews picked up stones again to stone him” (John 10.25, 30-31).
  • Responding to his accusers at the pseudo-trial, he said, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer” (Luke 22.67b-68).

The Problem is not unique…

What’s interesting is that even when Jesus spoke plainly to His own, there were times when they did not comprehend his meaning. After Peter rightly identifies Jesus’ as “…the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16.16), the Lord begins telling His disciples what is necessary for Him to endure: “…that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt 16.21). Immediately, Peter begins to rebuke Jesus. He says to him, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matt 16.22). Of course, from this we get the popularly known retort of Christ: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man!” (Matt 16.23).

What we find, and perhaps it was because of how harshly Jesus told Peter to shut up, is that when the Lord broached this subject again, the disciples were confused by it but would only discuss it amongst themselves (e.g. Mark 9.32; Luke 18.31-34)

Which means what? No not the retort, but the source of the confusion on Peter’s (and the disciples) part. Simply this, in order to understand the truth of God, you need God to reveal it to you.

Natural hindrances aside…

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not denying our natural incapacity to see things as they truly are. We all have blinders of various forms (e.g., traditions, theological convictions, emotional biases, etc.) that we will struggle with from time-to-time (or at least ought to). However, the point that I am making, and I think it is clear from biblical testimony that I am correct, is that without God opening our eyes to the truth we will fail to see.

Evidence on the way to Emmaus…

There seems to be no better instance of this fact than Jesus’ encounters with His disciple’s post-resurrection. Specifically, I am reminded of the road to Emmaus. Here we are told of two of Jesus’ disciples (perhaps husband and wife as some suggest?) that, in the words of the Lord, were “…slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24.25).  In spite of the fact that all of them had been instructed in the Word of God throughout their lives, and under the special tutelage of Christ Jesus Himself, it was not until the Lord began to “open the Scriptures” to them that they began to see the truth (Luke 24.32).

As I said, God must open our eyes before we can see. Likewise, God must open our ears before we can hear (cf. Deut 29.4). Exactly what we find in Jesus’ statement to His disciples in private as He prepared to explain to them the meaning of His parable(s):

“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…” For “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, [yet] to them it has not been given” (Matt 13.13, 11 respectively).

Answering a Common Objection

But to argue that God must first reveal the truth to us, before we understand sounds wrong to the average person. It strikes against our sensibilities. It seems to go against common sense. Surely, if Christ taught the truth, then the people were capable of responding to it. “Why, would the all-loving Jesus keep things veiled to some, but reveal it to others?”

The reasoning goes…

When he says “he who has ears, let him hear” the logical way to take that statement is at face value. Generally, we all have ears, therefore we are all capable of hearing—i.e. comprehending/understanding, as well as, listening and obeying. And so, we find statements like these by the learned:

“…Jesus seems to say that He uses parables to conceal the truth from the people…However, to believe that Jesus deliberately withheld saving truth from people is to attribute malice to Him, and this is not compatible with His character as it is portrayed consistently in the New Testament.”[2]

I’d originally cited this in my first post (HERE). The theologians that wrote these comments are of the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition; denominationally, the Church of the Nazarene. That being said, they do present a popular perspective within Evangelical culture.

Even though Jesus says “this is why I speak in parables” the authors are not convinced. This evidenced by the use of the phrase “seems to say.” Basic grammar mitigates against this slight of hand.

A little grammatical aide…

“This is…” provides the reason why Jesus “speak(s) in parables.” It offers the reason, the state of being—i.e., the grounds for why things are the way they are. Similarly, I might say “This is a baseball,” or “This is the reason he can’t run; his leg is broken.” I am telling you the what and the why.

  • What is this object?” Answer: A baseball.
  • Why can’t he run? Answer: his leg is broken.

Jesus is telling his disciples that He gives to whomever He so chooses to give what He gives. It is His to give, not ours to demand.

Both Harvey Blaney and Carl Hanson believe if Jesus “deliberately withheld saving truth from the people” He’d be acting maliciously. Though common enough, it is a bold claim. Granted from their point of view to make distinctions between who shall and who shall not have the truth is out of character for Jesus. While I empathize with this position (it is one that I formerly held), our answer must be derived from Scripture and not an emotive or psychologically disturbed response.

Feelings are not the standard…

It does not matter if I view something as unfair, who I am to argue against God? It does not matter if some are given more and I am given less, will not the judge of the earth do what is right? Fear before God is what garners true wisdom and knowledge. Humility before the Lord is required, but who is truly humble before God? Who truly fears Him? Scripture says, “No…not…one…” (Rom 3.10-11), it is truly a miracle of Sovereign grace that any of us look at the Triune Creator God in this light.

Remember that before Jesus sends out his disciples—the twelve and the seventy (Luke 9; 10)—he gives them the condition for how they are to respond to their audiences. Those that receive the gospel message of the kingdom are to be given the healing peace of the Lord, but those who refuse are to be given the dust off their feet. Only those that had “ears to hear” were blessed, but the others were condemned.

Returning to Luke 10[3]

The Lord claims that the “hearers” who received the message with joy, heard as an act of Sovereign grace. Where? When He says,

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10.22).

I’m sure that someone will try to argue that Jesus’ statement here does not mean what it “seems to say.” However, if we would only look back a little earlier in the text, we will see that it does mean what it says. For the ones who reject the gospel and receive the sign of dust to which they shall return (symbolic of the judgment of death/condemnation, of that which the serpent and his offspring eat), Jesus says the following:

“I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day [Day of Judgment] for Sodom than for that town. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. ‘The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me’” (Luke 10.12-16).

We are told at least two things in this declaration by the Lord for those who rejected the gospel as presented by His disciples:

  • First, and this is the one most readily recognized, is that our sin is defined in degrees. The more light we have been given of the truth, the more we will be held accountable for. Sodom, Tyre and Sidon did not have the same witness of God as Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, therefore, their judgment (punishment) will be lighter than those who entertained the Son of God and His representatives in their midst.
  • Second, and this is the one glazed over either purposely or due to a blind-spot, is that those cities of Sodom, Tyre and Sidon would have repented if they’d been given the same amount of light, but they weren’t. Why weren’t they? If it is out of character for Jesus as the Son of God to withhold information necessary for salvation, then why didn’t God in the past reveal the truth to those cities who “would have repented long ago…in sackcloth and ashes?” Well…how do you go about answering that question? Do you turn the words of the Lord, or do you turn to your own rational reasoning?

Jesus has already given the reason in Luke 10:21, just as he did for speaking in parables in the Matthew 13 passage cited at the beginning of this post. It was (it is) God’s “gracious will” to hide these things from some and give it to others.

Any questions or comments? Feel free to throw them my way. This is the end of my discussion on this particular matter, but for those interested I offer a little extra.

APPENDIX: Psalm 78

A Brief look…

Psalm 78 provides some (not all) of the reasoning behind Jesus speaking in parables (cf. Matt 13.34-35). If you read this particular Psalm in its entirety you will come away with seeing two types of people being discussed. Those who “hear” the Word of God and those who refuse to “listen.” The obedient have been taught these things from their youth (v. 3) and have made a commitment to teach them to their children (v. 4), in honor of the commandment (vv. 5-7). This in order to prevent them from following in the footsteps of rebellious ancestors (v. 8).

The rebellious “…did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law” (Psa 78.10). This was due to a willful spirit that “…forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them” (Psa 78.11). The writer of this Psalm, says they “tested” and “spoke against God” (Psa 78.18, 19). A habit the rebellious and hardhearted and stiff-necked continued to do; something that the Lord continually judged them for. As their history attests: “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel” (Psa 78.40-41).

I won’t go through the whole Psalm (read it if you will), but this dividing line that the psalmist highlights between those who had “ears to hear” and those who did not is seen throughout Israel’s whole history. At the foot of Mount Sinai, every turn in the desert, the first generations unwillingness to trust in God to give them the promise land, the years of failed conquest after Joshua’s passing, the period of judges, even the period of kings reveal this truth.

Only the hearers entered God’s rest when others could not (cf. Heb 4.1-11). Only the hearers refused to bow the knee to Baal (cf. 1Kgs 19.18). Only the hearers were willing to embrace what God had spoken as true and trustworthy and worthy of applying to life. They remembered, they revered, they embraced in faith. Thus, the opening of this psalm reveals the distinction of who has “ears to hear”:

“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!” (Psa 78.1; italics added).


ENDNOTES:

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

[2] Blaney, Harvey J. S. and Carl Hanson, Exploring the New Testament, Ralph Earle, ed. (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, [1955], 1961), 101.

[3] Why this text? Why not stick with Matthew’s gospel since I used it as a stepping stone for the content discussed in this post. For starters, I am of the firm conviction that the Bible in its entirety is an exemplar model of continuity. The document flows from beginning to end with the same intent and overarching message of God, mankind, and the Lord’s dealing with us. Secondly, the manner in which “seeing” and “hearing” are used in the Bible is more often than not synonymous. Seeing can be both physical and abstract. The same is true of hearing. More is intended with the use of those words than the mere physical activity that we often attribute to them.

For example, “seeing the kingdom of God” as recorded in John 3 is not merely seeing a visible manifestation of the kingdom (cf. Luke 17.20-21), but being able to comprehend and understand the inner workings of the kingdom; which, according to the apostle Paul is not a mere physical activity such as eating and drinking, but a manifestation of the Spirit’s power (cf. Rom 14.17). In what way? In obedience to the King of glory. A desire that is not common to mankind, but a manifestation of the Spirit’s inner working—His regenerative effort—on that which was once fallen, hardhearted and stiff-necked. The same then can be said of “hearing” which is more than a physical activity, but a volition of the will of man revealed through acts of obedience. Therefore, to respond positively to the gospel through correct “seeing and hearing” is seen in the Luke 10 passage where Christ’s representatives were sent to preach the good news. Those who had “ears to hear” embraced the apostolic message, evidenced via miracles of healing, gifted in peace with their God. Those who did not, as we see in the discussion above, received condemnation.

Posted in Biblical Questions

Parables: Truth Hidden in the Open, Part II

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8.8)

“To you [My disciples] has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven” (Mark 4.11-12).

As said in the opening of my last post, the concept of “having ears” and “hearing” at first glance appears to signify that the recipient of Jesus’ words is fully capable on their own to understand (discern; come to a correct judgment) the meaning of His parables. Since parables were essentially taking the common experiences of life and then relating them to deeper spiritual truths, and all people (in general) have ears that hear, then, as the argument sometimes put forward is, that those who heard them ought to be able to “listen and obey.”  (Within those same parameters, I would include not just the parables, but also Jesus’ preaching/teaching ministry in general). In other words, the teachings of Christ (in general) and the telling of His parables (specifically) weren’t meant to be difficult, but rather easy to discern.

The Problem…

However, as I began to show you previously, this was not what Jesus said. He said the opposite. He said that His teaching was veiled to some, but revealed to others. He also said that who He left in the dark, and who He brought into the light was His choice. To His disciples was given the secrets of the kingdom. To them was given the secrets of the wisdom of God. To them was given the secrets of the knowledge of God, leading to everlasting life. Not to others.

An Apparent Exception: Luke 20

Immediately after saying that I am reminded of the parable that Jesus taught the chief priests and scribes (many of whom belonged to the Pharisees). These men were well learned in the Tanakh (Old Testament). History claims that many of them studied the Bible so strenuously in their day that they had the whole Jewish canon memorized. They’d put many of us ministers to shame with their excellent study habits and commitment.

So, when Jesus told them the parable of the tenants they caught on rather quickly. Their ears seemed to work, for the apparently heard the meaning of the parable. As a result, they…

“sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor” (Luke 20.19-20).

The Source of their Angst…

The parable of the tenants is about a vineyard that has been planted by the owner of the field (cf. Isa 5; Jer 2.21; Psa 80.8). After some time had passed, the man sent servants to gather the fruit of the crops that were supposed to be sown for his benefit. However, they beat the first servant “and sent him away empty-handed” (Luke 20.10). The owner “sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed” (Luke 20.11). The same result transpired when he sent a third servant (Luke 20.12). Therefore, “the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours’” (Luke 20.13-14). Which is exactly what they preceded to do (Luke 20.15).

Jesus then interjects a rhetorical question into the parable: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” (Luke 20.15b). Well, the answer is obvious to the observant listener: “He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Luke 20.16). Now when those listening heard this, “they said, ‘Surely not!” (Luke 20.16b). (It appears then that they too understood the message). And then, the Lord shows justification for this teaching by referring to several poignant passages from the Scriptures in vv. 17-18 (see Psa 118.22; Isa 28.16; Zech 3.90; Dan 2.44-45).

A Semblance of Understanding…

And so, we have an instance of the crowd and the religious leaders of Israel seemingly understanding a parable of Jesus. Thus, the person who denies that Jesus’ parables were taught to keep things from those who were not His people believes that they have found justification. For if the converse were true, then these people who would later be screaming for His blood on the day of His crucifixion would have been left in the dark; “hearing but not hearing, seeing but not seeing.”

Unlessof course, it was Jesus’ intention for His hearers to know what He meant? Which is certainly plausible, and I think this is part of it. However, I also believe that in general people heard the parables (and other teachings) of Jesus and were able to grasp their “surface” meaning.

You see, the people had a basic understanding of sowing seed in the land (Luke 8.5). They understood the nature of leaven in a lump of dough (Matt 13.33). They were able to gather the point of a strong man (the thief) coming in and binding the strong man (the tenant) and taking his possessions (Mark 3.27). They knew the danger of attempting to pull the tares out of the wheat field before harvest, before they had beat them on the threshing floor (Matt 13.29-30). They comprehended the value of finding lost money (Luke 15.9), or showing kindness to your neighbor even if he were not of your household (Luke 10.36), of cherishing wealth rather than the will and word of God (Luke 12.20-21; 16.31).

Basic vs. Complete Understanding

All of these things taught in parables—and there are many more—the people would have had a basic understanding of them. But the deeper spiritual meaning? Those things can only be spiritually discerned. Something the religious leaders did not do, even though they understood the basic premise of the parable of the tenants, or they would not have pursued killing Jesus. They wouldn’t have spent money and time in an effort to get the nation, and even those outside of Israel, to vilify Him.

The fact that they did do those things, rather than embrace their Messiah proves that the truth of the matter had not been revealed to them. Here are a few points of reference that should settle the matter in our hearts.

How Peter knew…

  • Jesus asks His disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
  • They answered Him: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matt 16.14).
  • Jesus then said: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16.15).
  • Immediately, Simon Peter speaks up: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matt 16.16).
  • Notice what Jesus said in response: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 16.17; cf. 11.25-27).

Jesus said to Peter, “You did not know me by natural means but by supernatural means. This was not revealed to you by humans means but godly means. The Father revealed to Peter the true identity of Jesus (the Son). And, in turn Jesus called him blessed.”

How the Corinthians knew…

In similar fashion we find this same sort of argument presented by the apostle Paul. Speaking to the Church in Corinth he says that the personal knowledge they have gained of Christ (having been delivered from the state of sin to the state of life) was a

  • “demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2.4b-5).

As opposed to what the world receives. What has been given by God is

  • “a secret and hidden wisdom” that “None of the rulers of this age understood…for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2.7, 8).

However, what the Christians in Corinth had been given, Paul says where what

  • “…God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given to us by God (1 Cor 2.10-12; cf. Mark 4.11).

Something he tacitly denies is possible for the person whom God has not decided to reveal Himself to:

  • “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2.14).

Further Proofs from Jesus’ Ministry

With that in mind we turn to our final points of reference. I will have more to say on this matter in at least one more upcoming post, but these last two instances will be the end of the current discussion.

John 5…

In John 5, Jesus highlights to the Jews what Paul has been teaching the Christians in Corinth. He has been preaching and teaching in their midst for some time. He has demonstrated His power over creation time and time again. He has fulfilled what the prophets, like Isaiah, said would come to pass when the Messiah came. The very things Jesus used to verify to John the Baptist that he need not look for another (see Luke 7.19-23; refers to Isa 29.18-19; 42.6-7; 61.1-3 and some others).

But the Jews were blind to what they saw. They were deaf to what they heard. Seeing they did not see; hearing they did not hear. The Lord said to them,

“…the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to come to me that you may have life” (John 5.37-39).

Much could be said about Jesus’ words here. I will attempt to be brief. First notice that Jesus levels several charges against these who claim to know God. Second, they are unable to make sense of the Scriptures even though they have read them and have heard them many times throughout their lives. Third, they have no life in themselves, and failing to truly see and hear Jesus they do not come to Him that they might have life.[1]

John 8…

In John 8 we find a similar scenario unfolding. Actually, this happens throughout the four-gospels if due diligence is given in observational reading and a willingness to lay aside presuppositional blinders.

Jesus tells the learned and the common man the same thing. He is

  • “…the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8.12).

When those who profess to see and hear the God through His Word mock the Lord, He says to them…

  • “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would also know my Father” (John 8.19).

Meanwhile, to those who said they believed in him, the Lord responded…

  • “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8.31-32).

But this strikes against the heart of the would-be believers. They have heard Him. They have seen Him, but they fail to really “hear and see.” Though they have ears, their ears fail to listen to the truth. The result of which would be to remain as slaves of sin and to die under them (John 8.21, 24, 34-36).

Why? Why couldn’t they see Jesus for who He truly is as Peter did? Why couldn’t they hear the truth and discern its meaning and turn from their sin to Him, in order to be forgiven and gain life? Jesus gives the answer if we are willing to accept it:

  • “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear [are not able] to hear my word” (John 8.43; cf. Isa 44.18; Mic 4.12; brackets section added for clarity).

Closing Remarks…

When I want to hide a gift from my wife, do you know where I put it? Right in the open. In a place where I know it will cross her path, but since her mind will be on other things, she will often times (not always) fail to see it.

These truths (presented in the last two posts) are not radically new. They might appear “new” to you, the reader, but they are found throughout the Bible. The truth is hidden in the open. Just like Jesus was to the masses that saw Him, touched Him, and heard Him.

The only ones who recognized the Lord and Christ for who He truly is are the ones whom the Triune Creator God revealed the truth to. Remember, Jesus said these things were hidden, but to whom they were revealed was a work of the Father (revealing), the Son (revealing), and the Spirit (revealing) in those whom found the favor of God. Not a work of man, but a gift (grace) of God’s mercy.

I think I will return to this subject one more time to deal with a possible objection. Until then, God Bless.  


ENDNOTES:

[1] This is one particular passage that highlights the lifelessness of Jesus’ hearers. Though they are what we would term physically alive before Him, Jesus says they don’t really have life. Why, because they are separated from the life of God. Some might argue “No, this is merely speaking about eternal-life, not saying that they are spiritually dead.” Uhm, I fail to see how that is a meaningful distinction. If one has life in God, it is eternal. The opposite is what? Eternal separation, right? Yes, which according to the way the Bible defines death is what? Spiritually dead. If a person is to be given true life (eternal-life/everlasting-life), then their status as being dead spiritually (i.e., separated from the living God due to their sinful state) must be changed. Who does that? The person or God? We are told “salvation belongs to the Lord,” so too does “life,” which Jesus will give to all that the Father has given Him (John 6.37); those whom have been drawn by the Father (John 6.44), and this an instance of “revealing” the true identity of both (Luke 10.21-22; cf. John 6.45).

[2] Note to Reader: All Scripture references are of the English Standard Version (ESV).

Posted in Biblical Questions

Parables: Truth Hidden in the Open

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8.8).

Who has ears? Most people, right? Of course, there are anomalies, but the general makeup of the human being is two ears, two eyes, one mouth, two hands, five fingers, etc., etc. So, based off the above statement by Jesus it would appear at first glance that He means “you all within the range of my voice ought to hear what I am saying, for you all have ears.” This then, if true, means what? That those who heard the message of Jesus bore the responsibility of responding to it. (Bear in mind that “hear” in this context conveys the idea of listening/obeying).

In Parables…

One of the ways that Jesus taught was in parables. This closing comment by the Lord quoted at the top (Luke 8.8) is attached at the end of one such teaching. A parable is a type of communication that contains elements of both “realism and symbolism.”[1] The term essentially means to “come alongside” in a comparison-type teaching. The realistic side deals with things that have concrete value in life (such as sowing seed, attending weddings, etc.), but within this realism is a symbolism that takes a deeper or secondary meaning of those real-life circumstances.

What is often said—in fact this was something that I was taught very early on in my academic training—is that Jesus taught in parables so that people might understand them. He would take real life scenarios that people could relate to in their everyday life and apply them to spiritual truths. The idea that Jesus taught in parables to veil the truth from certain individuals was adamantly denied as seen in the following citation:

  • “…Jesus seems to say that He uses parables to conceal the truth from the people…However, to believe that Jesus deliberately withheld saving truth from people is to attribute malice to Him, and this is not compatible with His character as it is portrayed consistently in the New Testament.”[2]

Certainly, the underlying assumption by these writers and those who share their sentiment is found in their presupposition regarding man’s ability. Often the argument is presented that if Jesus (God in the Flesh) gives a command (e.g., you need to do this), then people that are hearing His message must be able to (i.e., have the capability of) responding obediently. To say that Jesus spoke a parable as a method of hiding the truth from some is preposterous. Or, so it is argued.

How do we solve the apparent dilemma?  What would be the wise first step? I mean, in order to answer the question with wisdom and knowledge what is the first thing we ought to do? Our immediate response should be to go to the Word of God.

Reasons…

First, we need to see what reason Jesus gave for speaking in parables. (Two reasons will be given in this post). Then as a secondary consideration we should look into what the rest of God’s Word saying about those “who have ears to hear.” That is to say, “Does the Lord’s declared purpose comport with the rest of biblical revelation?” (This will be covered in a future post).

1st—Jesus’ Reason for Speaking in Parables

The parable of the Sower is perhaps one of the Lord’s most well-known parables. Parables appear to be a favorite teaching method of Jesus, but afterwards the disciples inquired of Him: “Why do you speak to them [the crowds] in parables?” (Matt 13.10; also Mark 4.10; Luke 8.9). This is an important question. If anyone knew the reason why Jesus taught in parables, you’d think it’d be Him.

So…what does He say is His reason? What answer does the Lord give? He tells his disciples,

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt 13.11)

“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything in parables” (Mark 4.11)

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand’” (Luke 8.10).

These three verses provide the reason Jesus has given for speaking in parables to the crowds. They also show why He took the time to explain their meaning to his disciples (i.e., those who professed belief and followed Him). If you know how to read, then the meaning is clear. Jesus does not intend to give the “secrets of the kingdom of God”[3] to everyone. The information is being purposely withheld.   

“But…hold on…let’s not get to hasty here,” it is argued. “This must be a special circumstance, not the general role,” it is reasoned. “For to keep or withhold vital information, especially information pertaining to salvation, is so out of character for Jesus,” it is believed.

However, this is not the only time we have Jesus saying something to this effect. That some information is given to those whom He chose, but held from others He did not. Just a couple chapters later (Luke 10) we find the same sort of statement being made by the Lord; hidden from some, but revealed to others.

Luke 10…

In Luke 10, Jesus appointed 70 of his disciples to preach the gospel of the kingdom to the surrounding towns. He sent them out in pairs of two. They were given simple instructions. Proclaim the message I’ve given you. If they come to a house that embraces the message, peace is to be declared to this home. The same could be said of the town that welcomes them. A ministry of healing was given as a sign that “the kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10.9). However, if the home and/or the town rejects them, then they are to keep the peace given to them and present those unbelievers with another sign:

“When you enter any town, and they don’t welcome you, go out into the streets and say, ‘We are wiping off as a witness against you even the dust of your town that clings to our feet. Know this for certain: The kingdom of God has come near’” (Luke 10.11-12).

This sign was a sign of judgment (cf. Luke 10.12-16).

Now, eventually the 70 return to the Lord. And boy, were they happy! Overwhelmed with joy over what they were able to accomplish in Jesus’ name, they said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name” (Luke 10.17). But Jesus curbs their enthusiasm. He tells them that though He has granted them with authority to knock Satan off his high horse, what they should truly be rejoicing over is this: “that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10.20).

Keeping the context of Luke 10 in mind helps us see what I was arguing earlier about the parables. Jesus said He spoke in parables to keep from those who were not His, the truth that under-laid them. Only those whom He chose to reveal the truth would have access to understanding the spiritual meaning necessary for salvation. To His own the secrets of the gospel of the kingdom were given.

Now, we find He has sent out 70 in pairs of two to the surrounding towns with the gospel. Some believed and some rejected the message. The 70 were rejoicing about the authority that they had been granted over the devil, but Jesus turns them to the fact that their names were written down in heaven as to what should be their true source of joy. He then,

“In that same hour…rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, because this was Your good pleasure. All things have been entrusted to Me by My Father. No one know who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal to Him” (Luke 10.21-22; Emphasis added).

The clearness of these statements by the Lord (now in Luke 10 and earlier in Luke 8.10) ought to settle the matter. Jesus did not reveal the truth to all. To some He kept such things secret. He determined who would be the recipients and who would not. He praised the Father for keeping these things “hidden” from those who professed themselves wise; instead, giving to those who did not know their right hand from their left (i.e., infants) the truth. Just as the Father hide the truth, so too did the Son. Just as the Father revealed the truth “according to His good pleasure,” so too did the Son.

2nd—Reason Jesus spoke in Parables

No need in drawing this out. John the Baptist said during his ministry that the “winnowing fork” (Matt 3.12; Luke 3.17) was in the hand of the Messiah, who he also revealed as the Lamb of God (John 1.36). Meaning that judgment was Jesus’ (cf. John 5.22, 27, 30). The judgment was carried out in who received and who did not receive the Word of God, spoken by the prophet Jesus.

All four of the gospel writers point specifically to Isaiah’s prophecy as the reason why some were given the truth of God, and from others it was withheld. The only difference is found in application. Matthew, Mark, and Luke applied it to the parable of the “sower” (see Matt 13.13-14; Mark 4.12; Luke 8.10). Whereas, John used it in a different context to point to the unbelief prevalent throughout Israel at the time of the Lord’s crucifixion (see John 12.39-40).

Isaiah 6…

Like Jesus, Isaiah was sent to a people that were facing the judgment of God for their idolatry. After purifying the mouth of Isaiah to speak on His behalf, the Lord God gave him this charge:

“God, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (Isa 6.9-10).

Now, Isaiah after hearing this decree from the Lord inquires “Until when, Lord?” (Isa 6.11). Here is the answer the prophet received:

“Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants, houses without people, the land is ruined and desolate, and the Lord drives the people far away, leaving great emptiness in the land.” (Isa 6.11b-12).

According to God’s own testimony the only ones that will be saved are the ones that He has decided to save. These are the remnant. These are the recipients of His Grace. The benefactors of His mercy. These are the ones identified as the “holy seed,” the “stump” God has left after pouring out judgment.

As Jesus testified,

“The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those outside, everything comes in parables” (Mark 4.11). 

Jesus divides with the sword of His Word (Matt 10.34; Luke 12.51) between those who are the wheat of His field, the Holy “seed” the “stump” left after He has swung His axe, and those who are tares and dead trees (Matt 3.10, 12; Luke 3.9, 17). The parables were given to divide between two types of people, those He came to save and those He came to condemn, according to Christ’s own testimony.

When next we meet, we shall see if such a teaching actually comports with the rest of Scripture.


ENDNOTES:

[1] Ryken, Leland, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery: An Encyclopedic exploration of the Images, Symbols, Motifs, Metaphors, Figures of Speech and Literary Patterns of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 623.

[2] Blaney, Harvey J. S. and Carl Hanson, Exploring the New Testament, Ralph Earle, ed. (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, [1955], 1961), 101.

[3] For the interested reader, the two phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are synonymous with one another. Matthew used the phrase with “heaven” due to the sensitives the Jews had in not using God’s name in order to avoid blasphemy. But a careful comparison of how he uses the phrase in light of how the other gospel writers use it (due to their Gentile audience) reveals they mean the same thing. Here is an example text that validates that conclusion: “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19.23-24; italics added). 

Posted in Meditation and Prayer

Scraped Knees: Means for Waging the War with Sin

There is a war waging in our hearts in regards to sin and righteousness. If you do not know this, or if you fail to believe this, then I wonder whether or not you have truly touched the grace of Jesus Christ in your life. Whether or not the Holy Spirit has caused your own heart to yearn for your Abba (Father). For to know God is to know His will. To know His will is to reflect deeply on His heart as revealed in His Word as holiness, righteousness, and truth. To know Him is to pursue Him, scraped knees and all.

What do we do when the enemy of our own hearts, that remnant of a sinful nature, rears its ugly head in our minds? How should we respond? For you must do something. To do nothing is tantamount to lowering your arms and raising a white flag so that sin might have its day. The late John Owen offers some sobering thoughts, some necessary aides that we need to consider in this battle of the wills (will of God vs. will of sin).

“Now, these duties are—First, PRAYER, especially private prayer; and, Secondly, MEDITATION.”[i]

On the method of meditation, he says…

“[This] is pondering on the truth as it is in Jesus, to discover the image and representation of truth in our own hearts [as Christians]; and so it has the same intent with prayer, which is to bring our souls into a frame that in all things corresponds to the mind and will of God…when we would undertake thoughts and meditations of God, his excellencies, his properties, his glory, his majesty, his love, his goodness, let it be done in a way of speaking to God [i.e., prayerfully], in a deep humiliation and abasement of our souls before him.”[ii]

And this can only be truly accomplished when we…

“meditate on the word [of God] …and then labor to have our hearts affected by it.”[iii]

In particular, whatever peculiar sin that is raising its arms (battling) against what we know to be pleasing to the Lord. Failing to do this not only makes us susceptible to strong influence that sin uses to draw us (influence us) into all manners of vile acts, but makes the next time easier to bend the knee having calloused our hearts.

On the method of prayer, that which is intended to combat this enemy known as sin, in light of what we have reflected on the mind of God as revealed in His Word, is to

“[work] upon the heart a deep, full sense of the vileness of sin, with a constant renewed detestation of it…This is one design of payer…namely, to draw out sin, to set it in order, to present it to itself in its vileness, abomination, and aggravating circumstances, so that it may be loathed, abhorred, and thrown away as a filthy thing. The one that pleads with God for sins remission, also pleads with his own heart for its detestation.”[iv]

If you would like victory over indwelling sin, Owens tells his readers,

“This is the way appointed and blessed by God to obtain strength and power against sin: Jas 1:5, ‘Does any man lack? Let him ask of God.’ Prayer is the way to obtain from God, by Christ, a supply of all our wants, assistance against all opposition, especially that opposition which is made against us by sin.”[v]

Necessary Means…

Biblical mediation and biblical prayer are two means that God has provided His people in Christ the power over sin. This is not a prescription for sinlessness, but it is surely one that provides the true believer with the ability to sin-less. For such means, provided by our heavenly Father, are that which God the Holy Spirit quickens us in waging this war within our own hearts, as we are being more and more conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Such is an exercise in godly dependency for which we image bearers were truly created for. Not to will what we want, but to will as He wants, as He designed us for His glory!

On our Failings…

But what about our failings in this? What about our inability to walk straightly every moment of every day? Are we then lost? Are we then without hope? Two things might be said on such thoughts. One, this work that we do is not a work that we have done, but is a work of God. What saves us, what delivers us in the end is not our efforts, but wholly His. Two, when we do fail (and we no doubt will from time to time for let’s face it we are weak), we are given this promise:

“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).[vi]

AND

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1.9)


ENDNOTES:

[i] John Owen, Indwelling Sin: The Remainder of Indwelling Sin in Believers, Reprint 1667, Annotated by William H. Gross, (N.C.: On the Wing, 2015), Locations 1992-1993. Kindle Edition.

[ii] Ibid., loc 1994-2000.

[iii] Ibid., loc 2003.

[iv] Ibid., loc 2042-2045.

[v] Ibid., loc 2055.

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