Sunday, February 28, 2010

Freedom to the Unworthy

God’s “sovereignty requires that He be absolutely free, which means simply that He must be free to do whatever He wills to do anywhere at any time to carry out His eternal purpose.” –Tozer But the inscrutability of God is that He has taken his ultimate freedom and surrendered this freedom to His creation. Freedom in the modern day means that one has a right to follow one’s basic, positive nature. But God surrendered His freedom to accomplish His perfect will on earth to humanity. He took some of the most lively part of His creation and limited His own access to it, limiting his rights to openly act on the earth. And he gave over this freedom to the hands of an unworthy, weak creation.

It is this very act that Satan doesn’t understand and rebels against. Satan tested humanity right at the beginning and found them unworthy. Satan continues to test our best and brightest, and finds them all filled with sin, selfish, and lacking true understanding and mercy. Humanity—because of the powerful nature to imitate that which surrounds them—has copied Satan in despising the weak, and rejecting the unworthy, immediately punishing them as soon as they are found. The very rebellion that Satan acts upon humanity to dethrone them from their high place, is that which makes our planet unlivable—judgment of the weak, and calling unworthy those whom God has given rule.

Instead, God invites us, in His gentle way, to follow Jesus. To grant even the unworthy mercy. To offer forgiveness to those who have rebelled. To give up one’s own rights so that the weak might have power and wholeness. To surrender the unnecessary punishment, but instead to be respectful and welcoming so that humanity might imitate God and not Satan.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Misunderstood Sovereignty

I think one of the great confusions about God in theology, and what causes the greatest amount of problems, is God’s sovereignty. The basic approach of Christian theology since Augustine, and finalized in the disciples of Calvin, is God’s control over every aspect of creation. Nothing gets done without God’s authority and approval. Of course, this approach to God falls into difficulties when seeing terrible events happen in which many thousands of people die. How can God, who is supposed to love every single person individually, personally approve of a mass killing of those He is tender-hearted about? I don’t want to get into the complex arguments about how this could be, and some of the greatest Christian literature has been written on this subject. My approach, personally, is that our whole conception of God is wrong.

It begins with a wrong idea of what sovereignty is. Somehow, we consider God’s sovereignty to be different than human sovereignty. This would make sense, since, as we have seen, God is considered to be containing all the power of the universe, in all place, knowing all things both possible and actual, active in sustaining all the universe. Such a being, when considered to be sovereign, would be rightly considered in complete control of every event in the universe. However, as we have also seen, the God of the Bible is not exactly the same as this perfect theological picture of God. God can do whatever He wants, but that doesn’t mean that He exerts all power that exists. God can know whatever He wants, and can be wherever He wants, but this does not mean that He is at all places at the same time. God is existing both before and after human history, but this doesn’t mean that God never had a beginning. God’s needs are limited, but it can be shown that He needs us, if only emotionally, which emotions such as anger and jealousy and love we must affirm that God has or else deny the whole of Scripture.

Even so, biblically, we must limit God’s sovereignty. This statement can get me in trouble, because, of course, biblically we must affirm that God is the creator of the universe, and thus He holds the complete right to rule the universe. That I absolutely affirm. But Scripture also affirms that God has surrendered His sovereignty—His rule—of the earth and all it contains to humanity (Genesis 1, Psalm 8). Humanity is now the sovereign one over all the earth, and humanity has surrendered that sovereignty to governments. Thus, the governments act in God’s stead as ruler over the earth.

Is God still sovereign? Absolutely. If a government steps too far out of line of God’s will, then God steps in and takes the government out—as described in Psalm 82, and seen in Genesis 18-19. And if the whole world abuses those whom God protects, then God will take over the whole world again—and this is what is prayed for in “Thy kingdom come” and described in detail in Revelation. Part of the hope of the believer is God’s direct rule over the earth, through Jesus, without anyone else as mediator between the earth and God.

Why do disasters happen? Because they do. The earth isn’t completely stable, and disasters will always happen. God might prevent them, if He is asked to. And He might help more, if He is asked. But God will not move amidst a government who doesn’t seek Him. And God will not protect a nation who isn’t interested in doing His will—which is all of them, without exception. God is much like a parent who releases his child to go out into the world on their own. The child will suffer much and face terrible trials, but as long as the child says, “I’ll do it myself”, the parent will let them.

The exception is supposed to be the people of Jesus. Jesus was fully in tune with His Father, only doing as He pleases, seeking His will and relying on Him alone. The people of Jesus are supposed to have a relationship with God like that. God is to be fully sovereign over those who release their sovereignty to Him. But as long as we, who claim to follow Jesus, retain our sovereignty, and deny God His proper place, then we will never experience God’s love and power. Disasters will still happen and we will have to face them on our own. The more we release ourselves to trusting God, then the more we will experience God’s care for us.

How is it, then, that those who trust God suffer so much? Because we live in churches, in cities, under governments that do not trust God or surrender their sovereignty to Him. We are under the rulership of toddlers who think that they can do whatever they please. In some cases, those who fully trust the Lord are sacrificed for the sake of others so that they might trust God. This is what happened to Jesus, and many of us suffer because God specifically is asking us to stand in the gap for those who need His help so much.

But there are also many who suffer because the ones truly in charge of the world are toddlers who have to do things themselves, not under the guidance of God’s wisdom, with the focus of God’s mercy or the unbelievable magnitude of God’s power. Trusters of God are just as likely to be in a natural disaster, because those who rule the area are not asking God for help. This isn’t some spite by God, but simply a natural event that God could have prevented if people relied on prayer rather than their own power. Trusters of God are just as likely to die in a war as anyone else, because war is a sign of people not trusting in God, but their own power, and as long as war exists then everyone is threatened. Trusters of God are just as likely to suffer poverty as anyone else, because the governments of this world are more interested in denying their own responsibility and asserting others’ responsibility rather than relying on God’s mercy.

This is why we need Jesus to rule the world. He is the only human who can see clearly with God’s power and mercy. Churches talk about God’s sovereignty, but act as if He is powerless and must work through them. Governments talk about mercy, but they neglect the needy in their own nations and the world, because they don’t really believe in God’s mercy. Jesus demonstrated through His ministry God’s unbelievable power and His mercy. And through His death he paved the way for us to live in it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


It is relatively well known that the Hebrew word for “holy” is rooted in the idea of “separation”. In other words, God’s holiness is His difference from the human world. God is both above all creation, but He is also more pure than all creation. And this is found in His love. He is faithful in a way that nothing of creation is, He is consistently merciful in a way not even the best of humans can achieve. God is unique above all else.

But it is interesting to note the English root of “holy”—halig—means “whole, well, healthy”. This is holiness from the human perspective. That to take on God’s holiness in the human realm is to take on health and strength. To refuse to embrace forgiveness is to refuse well-being. To reject kindness is to embrace sickness. We need to be like God’s otherworldliness in order to be whole.

An Angry God?

“Many think of God as far removed, gloomy and mightily displeased with everything, gazing down in a mood of fixed apathy upon a world in which He has long ago lost interest; but this is to think erroneously. True, God hates sin and can never look with pleasure upon iniquity, but where men seek to do God’s will He responds in genuine affection.” –Tozer

Although tainted with sin, God still gains pleasure at His creation. If His creation was not still the object of His love and desire, He would not have sent His Son to die for it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Paul and the Law

Paul had the law woven into his life. He grew up submitted to the law, studied it, became an expert in it and on the basis of that law he persecuted Christians. Then he saw Jesus as Lord of heaven and everything he once knew changed. He was still an expert in the law, but he submitted it all to Jesus’ understanding and will.

There has been much disagreement throughout church history about what Paul’s opinion about the law is. Some believed that Paul held that Satan wrote the law and Jesus delivered us from it. Others have said that Paul completely supported the law. A popular opinion is that Paul was opposed to following any laws—whether Moses’ or a church’s— holding only to faith in Jesus. To understand Paul’s perspective, we have to read him carefully, and not place our own opinions about the Law in his mouth. When we read Paul carefully, we find that he at least had these opinions about Moses’ law:

Paul was in agreement with Jesus and the early church about the Law
The Law was from God
Paul firmly acknowledged that the Law of Moses was good, not evil, and that it came from God to Moses (Romans 7:12; Galatians 3:19, 21)

Everyone born under Moses must submit to the Law
Like Jesus, Peter and the other apostles, Paul lived in full submission to Moses Law all of his life, even after he was a Christian (Acts 21:24). He also affirmed that Jews under the Law were given a special gift from God to preserve the Law and keep it.

Jesus gave us a higher law to live by
Paul agrees with Jesus and James that Jesus gave us a law to live by, and it is that higher law—not the law of Moses—by which we will be judged. If we live by that higher law, Paul writes, we will have fulfilled all of the law of Moses and more. (Romans 13:8-10)

Gentiles are not required to live under Moses’ law, but Jesus’ law and faith
Paul was in full agreement with the early church that Gentiles did not need to follow the law of Moses because they were never put in submission to it. It is enough that they have faith in Jesus, even as Abraham did. (Galatians 2:15-16)

Paul said the law has no power to help people obey it
Although the law is good and comes from God, it is weak. All it does is communicate what sin is, but it doesn’t give any power to help a person get sin out of their lives. It is a standard, but it has no ability to assist a person who wants to live it, even the one who fully loves the law. (Romans 7:14-15, 8:3)

Paul said the law condemns everyone who lives under it
Because the law has no power to help those submitted to it obey it, everyone who attempts to live under the law will disobey it. Every human is weak, and we are tempted by Satan to disobey God, and, left to our own devices, that is exactly what we will do. We will disobey the very thing we have submitted ourselves to. But the law also makes it clear, if we disobey it or rebel against it, then we will die. Thus the law ends up condemning and killing everyone who is under it. (Romans 7:13-20, 3:9-20)

Paul said that Satan uses the law to destroy people
God gave the Law to Israel to point the way to life, to be holy and pure before God. But Satan recognized the weakness of humans and used the Law as a tool of disobedience. He deceived them to be unfaithful to the law and to God, and so be condemned to death. Once they were condemned to death, Satan had them under his power, for Satan has authority over all who are judged. And Satan desires lordship over people in order to destroy them. In this way, the Law became the tool of Satan for destruction, instead of what it was originally made for. (Romans 6:16; 7:7-12, 25)

Paul said the law is a part of the powers that Jesus delivers us from
Jesus not only delivers us from Satan and death, but from everything that led us to death—including the Law. Again, Paul says that the Law became the tool of Satan, and so it is no longer worthwhile for salvation. But through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have gained freedom from all of that. We no longer must go to God through the Law, instead we go to God through Jesus. Thus, we must not consider that the law is what will bring us to God, for we need only Jesus. (Romans 8:1-4; Colossians 2:11-17). In this way, Jews who follow Jesus obey the law, but only in the way that a Christian would submit to the laws of the nation he or she is living under—because we submit to worldly authorities while we live under them (Romans 13:1-7)

Paul said that gentiles should not put themselves under the law, if they need the Law to save them
There were many in Paul’s day who thought that every Christian—even those who were not born under the law—needed to submit themselves to Moses’ law before they could be truly pleasing to God. Many gentiles under Paul’s care were influenced by this and felt that they needed to put themselves under Moses’ law through circumcision in order to be truly saved. Paul was firm in his understanding that to submit to Moses’ law was to seek salvation from the world, and to separate oneself from Jesus. In Jesus alone is found salvation, and to share that place with any other power is to deny Jesus. (Galatians 4:1-9; 5:1-4)

Paul said that a gentile can put himself under the law in order to minister to Jews
This did not mean, however, that a gentile could not be circumcised. Paul himself circumcised Timothy (a gentile), thus placing him in submission to the Law, not to save Timothy, but to help him fulfill God’s calling on his life. Timothy was called to be an evangelist, with Paul, and in that he would have to be submitted to the Law in all things. This was to make it so that Jews would listen to Timothy when he preached the gospel. Thus some can willingly put themselves in slavery, if it would allow the gospel to be preached. (Acts 16:1-3; I Corinthians 9:19-23)

The Law is God’s will, circumvented by Satan.
But Jesus set us free from the Law.

Notes on the Jerusalem Church and the Law

James, the brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem church, was a completely observant Jew, honored for his righteousness within Jerusalem. This is spoken of by Josephus. James was later martyred for his belief in Jesus, and then mourned by the whole of Jerusalem.

James held that the “royal law” was to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The blessings of the kingdom are promised to those who live according to this law. If anyone judges this law they are declared disobedient to God, and the judge of the law is the one who judges his brother for loving. James 2

Peter was also a completely observant Jew. Peter refused to disobey the law, even when commanded by God to do so in Acts 10. Peter was submissive to Jewish authorities, established by the Mosaic Law, but disobeyed them when they commanded contrary to Jesus. (Acts 4)

Peter was commanded by God to eat unclean food—disobedient to the Mosaic Law— in a vision. (Acts 10) The specifics of the Mosaic law is now optional, dependent on God’s will for that person.

Peter welcomed Gentiles as the faithful in Jesus apart from the Mosaic Law. The tradition of Peter’s people is to not enter or fellowship with Gentiles. However, when Peter had a vision to go to a Gentile’s home, he immediately obeyed God’s new command, although it differed from the old. Peter saw Gentiles receive of the Holy Spirit apart from the Mosaic Law. The Gentiles received tongues from the Holy Spirit, proving their place in God’s new kingdom, apart from any commitment to Moses’ law.

The Jerusalem Church recommended that Gentiles in Jesus not be joined to the Mosaic Law.
(Acts 15) In accord with the actions of the Spirit, the church held that Gentiles who had made no commitment to Moses’ law, but were committed to Jesus are full members of the Kingdom of God.

The Jerusalem Church recommended that Gentiles in Christ obey these universal laws:
a. Be pure from sexual immorality
b. Do not eat blood or things that are strangled
c. Be separated from things contaminated by idolatry
d. Give to the poor
The church did give the Gentiles some regulations to follow, but these are basic commands, apart from Moses’ law.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cramming for the Final Exam

The final day is coming!
There are many Christians today who want to keep quiet about Jesus’ coming, about the fact that he is coming to judge the world with all of his warrior angels, that he will be accompanied by all the saints and gather every person—living or dead— on the earth to judge them (Matthew 25:31-33; John 5:25-29). We do not know when he is coming, only that he could come any time. We see signs and possibilities all the time that his coming could be right around the corner. The question is, are we ready?

The final day is like a final exam. We have studied and worked hard all of our lives, but we still aren’t sure how we’ll do on the last test. We will be tested on everything that we’ve learned—but are we really ready? Can we cram in the last few minutes, in order to pass? Is there a bribe we can pass to the Examiner, to make sure we pass?

But the real question is: What is on the test? We need to know what will be on the test, so we can pass. If we pass the test, we will have great joy and reward from God. If we fail the test, we will live in eternal torment. So what is on the test is exceedingly important—it means life or death for us. So how can we be prepared?

Although many people make many grandiose claims of knowing how to help us through the Final Exam, there is only one person who has already passed through it, so he KNOWS. That is Jesus—he has already been tried by men and God, and God declared him righteous. Jesus knows what the judgement is going to be like, and he knows the reward. No one else has had this experience like Jesus, because no one else has been given their final reward already. So let’s listen to him, and let him tell us what he knows about the judgement day:

Content of the Final Exam: Our lives
a. We will be held account for every action and speech, no matter how unimportant seeming
The first principle of judgement has to do with the content. What will be examined? What is the content of the test? We need not carry pencils around or be gathering up bits of knowledge. The fact is, we are taking the final exam every day. Jesus says, it is our whole lives—our words and deeds (Matthew 16:27; John 5:29). Not just our lives in a general way, but a specific sifting, looking for every single pertinent act or word—no matter how small or carelessly spoken (Matthew 5:22, 28; 12:36). We may think that a single action is too small to be noticed, or that something is just “small potatoes” to God—but God is concerned about every small step, and will hold us account to it all.

b. Anything we repent of in Christ we will not be accounted for
This sounds so harsh of God, to not overlook anything. But God is a God of mercy and forgiveness, not of judgement. He doesn’t want to condemn us unnecessarily. So he gave us the Giant Loophole to judgement: the Cross of Jesus. Because Jesus died on the cross, we will not be judged for our sins. We have only two requirements: we must commit ourselves to Jesus, so the cross will wash away our sins. Secondly, we need to repent of our sins. Any of the sins we repent of in Christ, under his authority, will be wiped away and completely forgiven—if we would only repent. We need to depend on Christ and His Spirit to lead us into repentance, and then all the evil things we have done will be cleansed, never to be spoken of again. More importantly, these things will not be brought up on the judgement day. (Ezekiel 18:30; Luke 13:5; Luke 17:4)

How to get prepared for the Test : the principles of judgement
The next question then is: How will God look at our lives? Does he have a list of secret sins that no one knows about that he will insist that we have all repented of? God is also merciful in his examining of our lives. There are three basic principles that he will follow in looking at us.

c. However you treat the Lord, that is how you will be treated
First of all, He will examine closely how we treated Him and His Son. And however we treated Him, that is how He will treat us. Did we praise Him before others? Then he will also praise us. Or did we curse his name? Then he will also curse us (Matthew 10:32-33). Did we take his word seriously and listen and obey him? Then he will listen to our cries. Or did we disregard his commands and teachings? Then he will also not listen to us, and our needs. (Zechariah 7:13; Matthew 12:50; Luke 11:28). Were we completely devoted to God, serving him with a single mind? Then he will be devoted to us and reward us. However, if we were not devoted to him, but desired other powers before Him, then he will not be devoted to us, but punish us. (Matthew 5:8; Judges 10:10-13). Thus, to pass our Final Exam, we must treat the Lord as he deserves.

d. Whatever you give to others, that is what you receive
The second principle that God will use in examining our lives is an extreme version of the Golden Rule—However we treat others in our lives, that is how God will treat us on the judgement day. Do we treat others with mercy, with concern for them and their ultimate benefit, giving others what they need? If so, then the Lord will treat us with that same merciful care and give us what we need (Matthew 5:7). Do we forgive others’ of their weaknesses and take the difficulties they give us without any harm back to them? Then God will treat us with forgiveness and care (Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 6:35-37). Do we treat those with lowliness around us with care and assistance—then we will get such assistance from God when we are lowly before Him (Matthew 25:35-40). On the other hand, if we judge and condemn others, then we will be judged by God (Luke 6:37). If we hate our enemies, and treat them wickedly—with insults and threats— then God will visit evil—insults and punishments— upon us (Matthew 5:22; I John 4:20). If we cause others to sin, and show no care for their needs, then God will throw us in prison and show no compassion on us (Mark 9:42; Luke 12:45-46).

e. Whatever you receive from others, you will receive the opposite
The third principle that God will examine our lives with is one that isn’t thought of as much, because it seems to have little to do with things under our control. However the principle is clear: However we have been treated by others, especially while doing God’s will, we will receive the opposite. It is assumed in Jesus’ teaching that anyone who is truly following God and his ways will face opposition, oppression and anger from those who oppose God. Thus, if you are struggling with oppression or hatred against you; if you are suffering because of poverty or injustice; if you are in terrible circumstances in life because of following God; if you are disenfranchised or outcast—Jesus says then to be glad! Because God will reward us so greatly in heaven, that all of this life will be but a distant memory (Matthew 5:3-6, 10-12; Luke 6:20-23; Luke 16:25; Luke 14:7-11).

On the other hand, if we are greatly praised by everyone—even God’s enemies; if we live in comfort and entertainment all the time; if we are considered important and take the opportunity to command many for our own good—then God figures that we have had enough of the good life. We have sought out salvation on our own, worldly, terms, and so have rejected his salvation (Luke 6:24-26; Luke 16:25; Matthew 6:1-5). Again, we may feel—how can I control what circumstances give me? But it is clear, if we follow Jesus’ way completely—confessing Jesus publicly (even if it is not acceptable), sell our possessions and give to the poor, reject the ways of our family and friends—then we will gain much disrespect and even hatred. So we can control it somewhat.

f. The more you have, the more is required of you
God is not severe with us, but he is completely just. If we know much of God’s will and desires, he will judge us more severely. However, if we do not understand much of God’s will, God will show us mercy, according to what we know. That doesn’t mean that he won’t judge us according to the above three principles—he will. But the severity of the judgement will be lessened if we don’t understand it all. (Mark 4:25; Luke 12:47-48)

The last thing we need to remember about these three areas of examination by God—we need to pass in all three areas. If we do not repent in any one of these areas, then we will fail our exam. We must seek to be completely devoted to God, completely merciful to others’ and always lowly before others. If we fail, then we repent. But if we reject any of these ways, we reject our hope of success on judgement day

What are the grades?
g. It is eternal satisfaction, or eternal torment
Perhaps this seems too difficult, too other-worldly for you. But remember the cost that is at stake—it is your eternal soul. Our lives right now are but a small, paltry thing. It is little for us, compared to all eternity. Eternity is forever—that’s not just a long time, it is the real Reality. A bit of suffering or self-control or repentance for a few years on earth—maybe sixty, maybe twenty years, whatever you have left—is nothing compared to a thousand years, a million years, a hundred billion. The numbers of eternity are so large, that you can realize that our current life—in comparison—doesn’t even exist. And we have a choice—follow these principles and gain eternal life and joy and contentment (remember, this is FOREVER), or ignore them and face eternal torment—unhappiness, suffering, fear, frustration. These are the consequences (Matthew 25:46; John 5:29; 3:36)

It isn’t too late!
Perhaps you think that it is hopeless. But God is so merciful, so kind, he is willing to bend over backwards to help you pass the Final Exam. All you have to do is ask. He has already given his Son to die for us, so we can be delivered from judgement—won’t he give us more so we can make it the rest of the way? Of course! He promises to give the Holy Spirit—the Helper—to anyone in Christ. He will give us all the resources in heaven and earth to help us pass. All we need to do is ask, and allow Him to give us the help to pass!

Judgement Day is serious,
But God is merciful

What Is Jesus' Perspective On The Law?

So we have learned that Jesus did not oppose the Law in any of his teaching, but affirmed it and even strengthened it. At the same time, we learned that it is now impossible to obey Moses’ law in all its details, for there is no possibilitiy for sacrifices, and there are no priests to consult. So how can one follow Jesus without the law? It would be easy to go to Paul and hear his answers. First, let’s look deeper at what Jesus says about the Law and see if He has anything more to say.

1. The Law is to teach people about it’s fulfillment
Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" John 5:45-47
Jesus, throughout his discussion of the Law, is always talking about the fulfillment of the Law. If you think about it, that makes sense—any law isn’t about some abstract code, but about real people living it out. The difficulty with this is that no one ever fully fulfilled it. It was broken by everyone at one point or another, no matter how much they wanted to obey it—even Moses himself broke the law he gave.
That would be frustrating to any lawgiver. But there is one who fulfilled it completely, both in letter and in spirit, both in story and in prophecy. Jesus fulfilled it. Therefore, the law was an ideal for God’s kingdom that was never realized except by one person. And that same system the law created also completely rejected the one who fully fulfilled it. That would indicate that there is a problem.

2. The Law was given by God and would endure until the next age
For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:18
Jesus here teaches that the law is a solid wall that cannot be revoked. It cannot be bent or broken in any way—until. Until it has been fulfilled. And that fulfillment happened in Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the law in every particular, even taking upon himself the curse of the Law that he did not deserve. And when it was all finished, Jesus declared it finished by saying, “It is completed.” What was finished? First, His obedience of the law, but also His rejection by the Law. Only when both acts were completed can a new kingdom be established. Finally, the law is broken, which opens up the possibility for Jesus to begin a new nation, with all the power of God at its back. With Jesus’ death and, later, the destruction of the Temple and Jewish priesthood, a new age has begun.

3. The Law is to prepare people for kingdom living
Whoever then annuls 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 surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19-20
The purpose of the Law, Jesus says, is not so much for living in the here and now, but to test us for kingdom living. The law was to mark people for their place in God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom is all about doing God’s will, and the law was to train a group of people to live according to God’s will. However, it is sad that those who most focused on the Law and knew it best failed the main purpose of the law—to be ready to live in God’s kingdom. How did this happen?

4. The Law was inadequate for passing God’s judgment
Ultimately, the law, according to Jesus, was imperfect, it was weak. The law, it turns out, did not train people to do God’s will. How did this happen?
They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." Matthew 19:7-9
Here, Jesus demonstrates that the Law was imperfect from its inception. Moses weakened the Law by recognizing human weakness. This does not mean that Moses was an inadequate lawgiver—on the contrary, Moses knew his people well and gave laws to curb their lusts. Moses never said that divorce was in accord with God’s will, but he said that if one makes the wrong move of divorcing, then he gave the rule of how to do it. The law interpreters assumed that this was passive agreement to divorce in general. Jesus disagrees, because the law was not supposed to be the tool of hatred. But because of human misinterpretation of the law, it was used that way.

"And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house--for I have five brothers-- in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'" Luke 16:27-31
Secondly, the law was used very selectively. In the case of the parable Jesus gave, the wealthy man was interested in obeying the law, but not about what the law says concerning helping the poor. In another place, Jesus mentions that the Pharisees focus on lesser laws like about tithing, but miss the larger standards of justice and mercy. If people are picking and choosing what they desire to focus on in the Law, then the law is pointless.

5. The Law needed to be re-focused to be useable
Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent.
Matthew 12:3-7
In this place, Jesus demonstrates that it is necessary, in order to obey the greater commands of the law, to disobey lesser ones. The law is not perfect because it cannot all be obeyed in all circumstances. Sometimes the cultic law is in opposition to the ethical law. In this case, then, Jesus says that the focus of the law has wrongly been placed on ritual and authority. Rather, the focus of the law should be on love and compassion. For this reason, Jesus commands that the “greatest” laws are to be the focus—the laws of love. To love all people is to fulfill the law, and the first is like it, for we are to love God as in a relationship—not loving God as in a code or an entity. We are to live our lives focused on doing what is a benefit to God and to others.

6. Jesus was giving a higher law to help us be rewarded by God on the final day
You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
Matthew 5:21-22
You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. Matthew 5:26-27

In the end, Jesus re-focused the whole of the law, even the ten commandments, to be adjusted to have two goals—to love all; and to be prepared for God’s rule. We need to remember, first of all, that we are going to be judged for every act that we do, whether it is in accord with God’s will or not. And we will be rewarded or punished according to that obedience or disobedience. We need to desire God’s will above all, so that in our eternity we will be treated well. But secondly, we need to recognize that on the last day, God will not judge us according to obedience to the 618 laws or the laws of our nation. Rather He will judge us according to how we had mercy on the needy, on how we remained humble, and on how well we followed Jesus.

Thus, under Jesus, the Law looks very different. It is simply a law of love—both of God and others—and we do it not to rebuke others, but so we can humbly be right before God on the final day. Jesus never denied that we needed a law. Rather, He said that the law we must follow be that of love.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Did Jesus Oppose The Law of Moses?

At least some in Jesus’ day claimed that Jesus was attempting to set aside Moses’ Law. And certainly many of Jesus’ Gentile followers thought that he did. On the one hand, Jesus claims to not be opposed to the Law in any way (Matt 5:17). He opposes anyone who lessens the Law (Matt. 5:19). On the other hand, he claims that a law of Moses was given just to appease the children of Israel’s “hardness of heart”. And he seemed to have many instances in which he opposed Moses’ Law. Or did he? Let’s look at some of Jesus’ teachings that seem to contradict Moses:

1. Divorce—
Matthew 19:1-9 v Deuteronomy 24:1
When confronted with Moses’ command to give a certificate of divorce, Jesus claims that the law was a concession to the disloyal hearts of Israelites, and that divorce was never in God’s plan. He uses another part of the Law which confirms that marriage is established by God (Genesis 1:24). Thus, he concludes, divorce should only be allowed if adultery is found—because adultery would break the covenant of marriage even without divorce. While it seems that Jesus is contradicting Moses, on the surface, Jesus is not actually opposing the law, here. The original law was to make a divorce official by having it be written in order to prevent remarriage. Thus the certificate is less about divorce than to disallow remarriage. Thus, Jesus is bringing the law back to its original intent—preventing remarriage, rather than allowing divorce. Jesus then expands the law opposing remarriage in Deuteronomy 24 to include any kind of remarriage except that following adultery, based on Genesis 1. Thus, Jesus is not opposing Moses, but making the law more consistent with itself and God’s plan in creation. The higher law of faithfulness to a covenant and preventing others from sinning trumps the allowance of divorce.

2. Cleanliness—
Matthew 15:10-20 v. Leviticus 5:2
Jesus claims that it is not what one touches or eats that makes one unclean, but the intent of one’s heart. This seems to contradict Moses who says that what one touches can make one unclean. Jesus, however, does not deny the actions that one should do to remain clean in the law—he is not opposed to bathing, but only mandatory washing before meals (which is found in the oral law, not the written). He could be speaking about the “real” cleanness that will matter on the judgement day, not the day to day cleanness that is significant in contemporary human society. Jesus is not contradicting Moses, but highlighting the moral law.

3. Loving enemies—
Matthew 5:42-48 v. Deuteronomy 23:6
The Law tells the Israelites who to hate, while Jesus says to hate no one—to even love one’s enemies. However, the Law is very specific about who one is to hate—Moabites, Amorites and Canaanites. Other nations are not to be “hated” or done evil to, even if they do evil (Edom and Egypt—Deut 23:7). Yahweh rescinded his command about the Canaanites (Deut. 20:17; Judges 2:20-3:6). The separation was later to be not to intermarry with these tribes (Gen. 28:1; Judges 3:5-7;Ezra 9:1-3). The Canaanites survived to the time of Jesus, but he granted them the eschatalogical promise to Israel if they displayed faith (Matthew 15). Thus, Jesus is not contradicting Moses, but taking a basic principle of the law—“Love of neighbor” and applying it more broadly.

4. Oaths—
Matt. 5:34-37; Matthew 23:16-22 v. Numbers 30:3
Rather than just emphasizing the keeping of oaths, Jesus is denying any oath-speech used in a promise. Moses’ law just demands that one keeps the oath one makes. Moses, of course, is not demanding that people make oaths. So Jesus is not contradicting Moses, but heightening the demand. Jesus is emphasizing honest speech for the sake of others in Matthew 5. In Matthew 23, Jesus argues against oath-taking for the sake of devotion. Overall, Jesus is saying that oath-making is less important than integrity and faithfulness to God. Thus, the higher law trumps the allowance of oath-making.

5. Harvesting and preparing food on Sabbath—
Matthew 12:1-8 v. Leviticus 25:4
In Matthew, the disciples are plucking and eating grain as they pass through a field on the Sabbath. Harvesting food is forbidden on the Sabbath, according to the law and Jesus is attacked by the Pharisees for allowing them to do it. Jesus, however, gives a number of examples showing in the Scriptures how one law is contradicted and set aside for a greater one: a. David ate the consecrated bread intended by law only for priests (I Samuel 21:1-6; Leviticus 24: 5-9). Thus, the cultic demand is marginalized due to the need of doing mercy to the King's servant b. The priests do not keep the Sabbath, but do their work during the Sabbath. Thus, the Sabbath command is marginalized by the need to maintain the temple pure. Thus, the disciples are innocent of wrongdoing before God, because although they may have technically broken the Sabbath laws against harvesting and preparing food (Exodus 20:10; 31:14-15), but they were living out the law of mercy for the sake of the ministry to a king— even as David did of old. Again, Jesus is not contradicting Moses, but prioritizing the law in an internal conflict

6. Honoring Father and Mother—
Matthew 8:21-22 v. Exodus 20:12
One should always honor one’s parents, and one kind of honoring is to bury the dead. However, when a potential disciple asks Jesus to bury his father, Jesus refuses him, telling him to let the “dead bury their own dead”. This seems to contradict the command to honor one’s parents. However, Jesus is not contradicting it. First of all, Jesus is prioritizing work for God’s kingdom before participating in honoring one’s parents, just as Jesus prioritizes God’s kingdom work over many other necessary things (Matthew 6:33). On the other hand, burying is not so much a sign of honor, unless there is no one else to bury them. The important thing is that the body gets buried, and not left exposed. As long as someone is burying the body—as Jesus says there is—then no dishonor is there.

7. Tithing—
Matthew 23:22-23 v. Leviticus 27:30
Jesus states that tithing is a less significant law than mercy and justice. Jesus is not opposed to tithing in this verse. Rather, he is saying it is a less important matter than mercy, justice and devotion to God. Some tithing might very well display mercy, but not the tithe of herbs, which is what Jesus is discussing. Jesus often opposes the oral Torah (Matthew 15:1-15; 23:16-31—opposing the traditions of the “fathers”), but he usually speaks of obeying the “commands” of God instead—the true Torah.

8. Welcoming sinners into the Eschatalogical blessing—
Matthew 9:10-13; 21:21-22 v. Deuteronomy 28:15
The Law makes it clear that those who are under the law but disobey it will die and not receive the blessings of God (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Jesus, though, is granting God’s kingdom to sinners, and welcoming them through eating with them. However, there is always a place in the Law and prophets for those who regret and repent of their deeds (Deut. 19:1-7; Ezekiel 18; Psalm 51; II Samuel 12). Their repentance displays faith, and so they must be welcomed and forgiven. Forgiveness of sin is not foreign to the Law, even for intentional sins (Genesis 50:17; Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14)—Jesus is just emphasizing forgiveness with an eschatalogical spin. Thus, Jesus is in agreement with Moses.

9. Welcoming Canaanites and Gentiles into the Eschatalogical blessing—
Matthew 8:5-13; 15:21-28 v. Deuteronomy 7:1-2
Jesus supports the welcoming of outsiders into the blessing of God in the kingdom. This seems opposed to the Torah (Exodus 34:24; Leviticus 18:24) on the surface, which does not readily grant the blessings of God to Gentiles. Jesus, however, seems to determine that some Gentiles that display true devotion to God and to the coming King deserve a place with Abraham Isaac and Jacob better than some who live within their earthly realm at present (Matthew 8:5-13). This is not opposing the Torah, but making the shift that Isaiah made, determining that the “nations” is anyone who is opposed or unfaithful to God, while the “servants” are those who are faithful to God (Isaiah 65:8-17; 66:17-23). Jesus is not contradicting Moses, but interpreting those who are “inside” God’s kingdom by the standard of faith.

Jesus does not contradict Moses
Jesus does not oppose the Torah in any way. Often Jesus is seen as doing away with Sabbath and cleansing laws of Moses’ law, but he is not doing so. At times he is prioritizing them, so that if they are in conflict, it can be seen which laws should be obeyed in a certain context. At times he is adjusting them, to make them be interpreted in light of compassion and justice. And at times he is heightening them, so they are to be interpreted in light of God’s higher laws. But never does he just say that this law has no place; nor does he set aside any command.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Jesus and the Law

Jesus never disobeyed the Mosaic Law
Jesus was a fully observant Jew, and obeyed the Law of Moses in all of it’s particulars. Jesus said that he had come to “fulfill” the law (Matthew 5:17-18). Part of the meaning of that is that Jesus did obey the law in all of it’s particulars (see below). And, in fact, he obeyed the law better than Moses or David. Jesus’ opponents were looking to catch Jesus in a sin, but they never did. When they brought him to trial, they accused him of false crimes—things he never did. Jesus even invited them to publicly state what part of God’s word he had broken—but they came up with nothing (John 8:46).

Jesus never taught in opposition to the Mosaic Law
Although it may seem like it at times, Jesus never taught against the Law of Moses. Every one of the cases where it seems that Jesus opposed the law of Moses, he was interpreting it, but not disagreeing with it (see the next tract—“Did Jesus oppose the Law?”) In fact, Jesus said that the one who taught anyone to disobey even the least of God’s commands would be least in God’s kingdom. Jesus himself did not in any way teach anyone to disobey the law of Moses.

Jesus’ view of the Law
1. The Law was given by God and would endure until the beginning of next age
Jesus made it clear that the Law was God’s word, and it is God’s standard. He said that as a standard, it would be protected and stand firm until the next age began. Jesus actually placed the Law of Moses on a similar level with his own words. (Matthew 5:18; Matthew 24:35).

2. The Law was given for God’s people on earth to live in Israel
At the same time, Jesus was saying that the Law of Moses was the law for this age—it would not continue into God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom would see a greater law come about, one based on Jesus’ words.

3. The Law can contradict itself
Jesus showed that different laws within Moses’ law contradicted each other. In Matthew 12, Jesus showed that the sabbath law could contradict the law of love, and that the law for priests can contradict the sabbath law. In these cases, Jesus said, one law was greater than the other, and so the greater law is the one to be followed. Jesus stated that the cultic law was less than the ceremonial law, and the ceremonial law is less than the civic law and the civic law is less than the ethical law.

4. The Law was inadequate for passing God’s judgment
The problem with the law, Jesus felt, is that humans interpret it. The two main schools of thought about the law in Jesus’ day—the Sadducees and the Pharisees—were wrong in their interpretations and obedience of the law. Thus, Jesus said, if one’s obedience of the Law was only up to the standard of the Sadducees and the Pharisees, then one would be judged inadequate by God’s standard. Thus, just having the Law is not enough—one must also have the proper interpretation of it.

Jesus often opposed the traditional interpretation of the Law
There were many cases in which Jesus was confronted with a traditional interpretation of the law. He opposed these interpretations on two bases. He said, first of all, that often the interpretations oppose the true obedience of other commands. For instance, he said that a traditional understanding of surrendering wealth to God (known as “corban”) was in opposition to honoring one’s father and mother with one’s wealth when they needed it in their old age (Mark 7:1-13). Second, Jesus said that requiring all Israel obey their interpretations hurts the needy among them. Jesus said that sacrifice—the obedience to the Temple laws—comes secondary to mercy—obedience to meet the needs of one’s neighbor. Thus, Jesus said, there should be no mandatory imposing of a strict law if it harms the needy (Matthew 12:7). In this way, Jesus opposed many of the requirements that modern Jews (and even Messianic Jews) impose upon their followers based on the Talmud.

Jesus taught submission and disobedience to Pharisee’s authority
On the one hand, Jesus taught that his disciples should recognize that the Pharisees had the authority of Moses, and so they were to be obeyed. Then, immediately after, Jesus described the areas the disciples should disobey the Pharisees. Fundamentally, Jesus taught obedience, except where the teachings or actions of the Pharisees contradicted the higher law of God. (Matthew 23:1-2)

Jesus saw himself as fulfilling the Law
Jesus said, “I did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.” (Matthew 5:17-18). However, when Matthew uses the word “fulfill”, he means it in three ways in connection with Jesus:

a. Jesus would obey the Mosaic Law to the full extent
As stated above, Jesus was a fully observant Jew, and never disobeyed the law of Moses. Not only did Jesus obey the law that was written down to the letter, but he obeyed the Greater Law that stood behind the Mosaic Law.

b. Jesus would fulfill the paradigms that were only partially fulfilled in the Mosaic Law
All throughout the books of Moses, as well as the rest of the Hebrew Bible, there were many examples of God’s people, but all of them failed in some way. Moses and David were murderers, Aaron participated in idolatry, Abraham was a deceiver and Jacob was greedy. The children of Israel failed God’s law again and again. However, Jesus took Moses’ and David’s place, as well as the nation of Israel as a whole, and he fulfilled all of their roles perfectly, without any fault before God. Thus, Jesus fulfilled every role the Hebrew Bible presents—he was an obedient deliverer, a just judge, a devoted mediator, and a holy nation who endured through testing. Many of the Scriptures that Jesus was fulfilling were not prophecies at all, but simply stories that needed to be completed (see Matthew 2:15 and Hosea 11:1-2).

c. Jesus would fulfill the prophecies that are stated in the Hebrew Bible
Jesus stated many times that the Scripture would be fulfilled in him (for example, Matthew 26:31, 54). By this, he meant that there were many things in the Hebrew Scriptures that God says would happen. However, they had not occurred yet. Jesus said that he himself would be the focus of the completion of these promises.

Jesus taught a higher law
In order to assist us to be fully acceptable and obedient to God, Jesus taught us how to follow the law. He did this by teaching us the greater law by which one would be acceptable on the judgement day. This higher law is: The one who is faithful to God will receive reward from God; The one who is merciful to others will receive mercy from God; The one who is lowered by others will be raised by God; Whatever one repents of will not be held against them. These laws do not replace the law of Moses, but they adequately explain how anyone could obey any law and be right before God. This could be another way in which Jesus fulfills the law: by teaching the true obedience of it.

Jesus blessed Gentiles apart from the Law
There were two times that Jesus was asked by a Gentile to give them the power of the Spirit, which is only offered to the children of Israel (Matthew 8:5-13; 15:21-28; 10:1, 5-6). Jesus provided the blessing of God to them, as they asked—but only because of the faith they had shown. But either before or after this, Jesus made no requirements that they follow the law of Moses, and there was no expectation that they would, especially for one. Thus, Jesus showed that the blessing of God could be given to non-Jews, even though they did not follow Moses’ law.

The Law is good, but Jesus’ higher law is better.

What Is The Law?

The “Law” is a portion of the Hebrew Bible
In both the New and the Old Testaments of the Bible, the word “law” is used as a title for God’s word that he revealed to Israel. Sometimes “the law” is speaking about the whole of the OT, and sometimes it is only used as a portion of it, such as when it is used in the phrase, “the law, the prophets and the psalms” (Luke 24:44). Often the Law (or in Hebrew, Torah) is used to speak of the first five books of the Bible, also called the “books of Moses” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). When Jesus speaks of the Law, he is usually speaking of these books.

The Mosaic Law is the instructional material of the Hebrew Bible
The Law is also used to speak of certain kinds of writings in the Hebrew Bible. Specifically, it describes the commands and ethical stories of the first five books of the Bible. In this sense, the “Law” is the commands of God, given through Moses. When Paul speaks of the “law”, he is usually speaking of these commands. There are more than six hundred legal commands given to Israel in the books of Moses. Modern Judaism, when it speaks of the “Torah”, would also include their book of interpretations of the Mosaic Law, which is called the Talmud.

The Mosaic Law contain many kinds of commands.

a. Cultic Laws—These laws have to do with the priesthood, sacrifices and the Temple. These laws are no longer able to be obeyed because there has been no recognized Temple or priesthood since the Temple was destroyed in 70AD.
If the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the LORD a bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed. Leviticus 4:3
The high priest shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. Leviticus 16:2

b. Cleansing Laws—These laws have to do with cleanliness laws and community acceptability. Some have to do with hygine and others with acceptable food, but those who violate these commands will be separated from the community and from the Temple.
If a person touches any unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean beast or the carcass of unclean cattle or a carcass of unclean swarming things, though it is hidden from him and he is unclean, then he will be guilty. Leviticus 5:2
If a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean. Leviticus 15:25

c. Ceremonial Laws—These laws have to do with feasts, memorials, months and Sabbaths. They command the people of Israel what days are set aside to rest and to celebrate before the Lord.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Exodus 20:8
This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you… The tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers' households, a lamb for each household… It is the LORD'S Passover. Exodus 12:2-3, 11
Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. Exodus 23:14

d. Civil Laws—These laws have to do with practical concerns of justice. They are the kind of laws that were common in every legal code throughout the Ancient Near East in Moses’ day. They mostly speak of what are legal wrongs that need to be sentenced by a judge.
If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. Exodus 22:1
You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people. Exodus 22:28

e. Ethical Laws—These laws have to do with underlying principles of moral goodness. Rather than speak to a specific wrong, they speak of general principles that other laws are based on.
You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:3
You shall love the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 6:5
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Leviticus 19:23

The Mosaic law is impossible to obey today in every specific.
Many of the laws of Moses have to do with priests and a temple or tabernacle that no longer exist. And other laws have to do with peoples—such as Cannanites or Moabites—that no longer exist. Thus, the Mosaic Law, as a whole, no longer is able to be obeyed to the letter. Those who claim to obey the Mosaic Law are only obeying a part of it that they chose, or an interpretation of it, which changes what it literally says. There is no one today who can truthfully say that they obey the Mosaic Law in all of its specifics.

What are the Prophets?
The Prophets in Ancient Judaism are the “historical” books of the Old Testament of Joshua through Nehemiah and the “prophetic” books of Isaiah through Micah. These books apply the law to different circumstances and interpret the law within those circumstances. These explanations are a new part of God’s command.

There are greater and lesser commands in the Law
One thing that the prophets make clear is that there are greater and lesser parts to the Law. For instance, in Isaiah 1, the people’s obedience to the ceremonial and cultic laws are rejected because they failed to obey the civil law. If justice is not found in Israel, then one’s obedience to the other laws are of no use to be acceptable to God. The prophets also say that sacrifice is no use if there is no devotion to God or compassion for other’s needs. (Hosea 6:6).

There have been many schools of the Mosaic Law
Throughout history, and today, there are different ways to understand and apply the Mosaic Law. In Jesus’ day, it was said, that there were four main schools of thought about how to interpret Moses’ law—but there were many more beyond that even then. One of those schools of thought over time became Rabbinic Judaism that is the basis for the varieties of Judaism that we have today. Another school of interpretation was started by Jesus and was interpreted by the early church to become Jewish and Gentile Christianities. And throughout the last two thousand years quite a variety of thought about the Law has occurred. But any Christian understanding of the Law needs to be based on the teaching of Jesus and the apostolic teachings of the New Testament.

Grace, Grace, God's Grace

Grace “…is a self-existent principle inherent in the divine nature and appears to us as a self-caused propensity to pity the wretched, spare the guilty, welcome the outcast and bring into favor those who were before under just disapprobation.” –Tozer

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Will the Real Grace Please Stand Up?

“We may plead for mercy for a lifetime in unbelief, and at the end of our days be still no more than sadly hopeful that we shall somewhere, sometime, receive it. This is to starve to death just outside the banquet hall in which we have been warmly invited. Or we may, if we will, lay hold on the mercy of God by faith, enter the hall, and sit down with the bold and avid souls who will not allow diffidence and unbelief to keep them from the feast of fat things prepared for them.” –Tozer

This statement is so true, and yet possibly misleading. Protestants often declare the grace and mercy of God, but deny the word of God that supplies it. The only thing between God’s grace and ourselves is faith—this do Protestants rightly assert. However, along with that grace is the reception of God’s word of repentance. If we are still seeking the salvation of the world—wealth and fame and comfort and joy in this world and the people of this world, then we will not obtain God’s grace, for God’s grace is not granting us these things. But if we seek the wealth of God’s kingdom, the fame before God’s throne and the comfort of being embraced by Jesus, that is found in God and its fullness is great and will overpower all our doubts.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Two Gods?

“We should banish from our minds forever the common but erroneous notion that justice and judgment characterize the God of Israel, while mercy and grace belong to the Lord of the church…. God speaks in both dispensations and what He speaks agrees with what He is. Wherever and whenever God appears to men, He acts like Himself.” –Tozer

An Eternal Perspective

When we arrive in God’s kingdom, “…what right will we have to be there? Did we not in our sins take part in that unholy rebellion which rashly sought to dethrone the glorious King of creation? And did we not in times past walk according the course of this world, according to the evil prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience? And did we not all at once live in the lusts of our flesh? And were we not children of wrath, even as others?

"But we who were one time enemies and alienated in our minds through wicked works shall then see God face to face and His name shall be on our foreheads. We who earned banishment shall enjoy communion; we who deserve the pains of hell shall know the bliss of heaven. And all through the tender mercy of God.” –Tozer

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Kingdom of Justice

Jesus’ death provides justice by establishing a kingdom of justice.

This kingdom is not the “church”, which is the institutions of the church established over centuries. Rather, Jesus’ kingdom of justice is made up of those who act in accord with His atonement—people taking up their cross, sacrificing themselves to display the injustice of humanity and to do good for one’s fellow human. Those who surrender themselves for the sake of the poor, and will stand up for God while allowing themselves to be destroyed for it.

This is not a matter of works, or our own effort, but the work of God within us, that we agree with and abide by.

A.W. Tozer on God's Justice

“Justice embodies the idea of moral equity, and iniquity is the exact opposite; it is in-equity, the absence of equality from human thoughts and acts.” –Tozer

“God’s compassion flows out of his goodness and goodness without justice is not goodness. God spares us because He is good, but He could not be good if He were not just.” -Tozer

Jesus and Justice

My favorite passage about the justice of the Messiah is Isaiah 11:1-10

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist. And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze, Their young will lie down together, And the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper's den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea. Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious.

Jesus will come with justice and he will grant justice to everyone, and the poor will finally get what they need and be treated fairly. Those who oppressed the poor will get what they deserve. There will be peace everywhere, and even the animals will be at peace because their needs are met. And all nations will acknowledge Yahweh as God and Lord.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Justice and Righteousness

In the ancient scriptural languages, “righteousness” and “justice” are the same word. Thus, there is no division of meaning between “the just” and “the righteous.”

In our concept of justice, it is a complex notion that has to do with law and the community good. Righteousness, on the other hand, has to do with being religiously right, doing what is right before God. Well, no wonder then that there is no division in the ancient world—no matter what society one lives in. There was no notion of secular justice, of justice without God in any ancient society. To act well for the community, one is acting well before God as well.

Plato, in his Republic, perhaps is the first to separate God from justice, and to only look at the idea itself, outside the idea of “might makes right”. Jesus, however, also separated authority from justice—recognizing that God’s justice isn’t always the same as an authority’s idea of justice. Authorities often act in opposition to God’s justice and a remarkable act must take place to establish God’s justice as primary.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Our Attitude and God's Character

“The hypocritical, the basically insincere, will find God cold and aloof, as they once found Jesus; but the penitent will find Him merciful; the self-condemned will find Him generous and kind. To the frightened He is friendly, to the poor in spirit He is forgiving, to the ignorant, considerate; to the weak, gentle; to the stranger, hospitable. By our own attitudes we may determine our reception by Him.” –Tozer

The Foundation of Goodness

God is not good because goodness is the greatest power of the universe to which God bows down as the ultimate supreme being. Rather, goodness and love is the basis of who God truly is, and so every foundation block of the universe is founded on that basic character of the Creator. The universe can only truly work if functioning on the basis of the character of the Being of creation itself.

The point of the story of Adam and Eve is not that humanity rejected the leadership of God, or that they just disobeyed God. Rather, they rejected His goodness, His bounty, His love. They rejected what is good to see a balance between benevolence and selfishness, between love and apathy, between good and evil.

Creation was not built on a balance, but on radical goodness. All has been out of balance because the center of gravity has shifted. And every single one of us, to a person, has chosen almost every day to accept this compromise with evil and selfishness, rather than completely surrendering to love and trusting that God would take care of us. God, cause us to repent!

The Goodness of God

“God…takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people. That God is good is taught or implied on every page of the Bible and must be received as an article of faith as impregnable as the throne of God. It is a foundation stone for all sound thought about God and is necessary to moral sanity.” –Tozer


God does not change, nor has He ever changed. There is not an “Old Testament god” and a “New Testament god”. There is mercy in the Hebrew scriptures, and grace and forgiveness. And there is judgment and destruction in the New. God has not changed—rather the human focus on God becomes clearer in the New Testament because of the revelation of Jesus.

Jesus knows God so much better than Moses or David or even Abraham. Jesus is unified with God in a way no other human can appreciate or dream of. In this way, Jesus communicates God better and clearer than anyone ever has. And so we can have a better idea of who God really is under Jesus than has ever been the case before Him.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

God's Wholeness

In light of these eight characteristics of God, Tozer’s words are all the more true: “God’s attributes are not isolated traits of His character but facets of His unitary being. They are not things-in-themselves; they are, rather, thoughts by which we think of God, aspects of a perfect whole, names given to whatever we know to be true of the Godhead. To have a correct understanding of the attributes it is necessary that we see them all as one.”

God is not wavering back and forth between different characteristics. If God struggles, it is only because humanity is so far from realizing His ideal, His perfect nature, His perfect leadership on earth. God is often on the edge of destroying His work, because it has progressed so far from His creation, so far from the merciful-faithful-generous-true. God’s justice is always put to the test because of humanity’s rejection of God’s ways. But God does not repent of His faithfulness because of this. He does not back off from His mercy when acting in justice. Rather, God is a whole. If it seems that God is willy-nilly, it is not God who is that, but God’s creation.

Friday, February 12, 2010

God Punishes Sin- God's Character 8

8. Punishes Sin—

Although God is loving and forgiving and repentant of punishing, nevertheless He does not withhold judgment against those who refuse to repent. Yes, God is love, but that love means benefit to those who are like God. Mercy goes to the merciful, forgiveness goes to the forgiving, generosity goes to the generous. Those who are characterized by God’s character receives the benefit of God’s character. But those who undermine God’s character by acting selfishly, by taking from the needy, by being unfaithful, by being hateful to God and His people—these will be punished. They must be punished or else the merciful and faithful cannot live in community. Those who take from the merciful and those who take advantage of the faithful due to their na├»ve faithfulness must be separated from those who act like God. For the despisers of God’s character destroy the community of God.

It is God’s purpose to have the whole world act like Him. To be loving and faithful and merciful and forgiving and kind and gracious. The would can and should be this way. But only if the unfaithful and unmerciful and unkind and unloving and unforgiving are separated. Ultimately, both communities can’t live together. And that is the purpose of God’s punishment. Not in order to be mean to those who disobey. But to forge a community of those who live according to God’s character.

It may look in Exodus 34 that God punishes both the evil and their children and grandchildren automatically. But if that were the case, then it would take away from all that God just described himself as: forgiving and relenting of evil. The compromise is found in Ezekiel 18, where God speaks directly against the assumption of punishment of children for the sins of the fathers. He says that each person is judged on their own merit. It is true, most children follow in the ways of their fathers—no matter how much they want to be different—and if they act in the judging, unmerciful way of their fathers then they will be judged. But if they repent and do what is good and righteous and kind and loving, then God will act in accord with His character—relent from evil, and forgive.

Finally, this last characteristic, the punishment of God is the one characteristic that God’s people in Jesus are not to emulate. Yes, the people of God in the Hebrew Bible act this way, in destruction to those they consider evil, impure. But even in the Hebrew Bible, God relents from having his people act this way (e.g. Judges 2). And in the NT, God reserves punishment only for Himself.

Humanity takes the idea of punishment and goes too far, every time. They punish too much, punish the wrong people, punish by appearances instead of by truth. The final command of Christ to be obeyed is, “Judge with a right judgment.” Thus, it is better for no one to judge at all. Humanity cannot punish justly, therefore all judgment must be handed over to God, and we trust God to do what is right. God certainly has the power and He has the anger against evil. So let us entrust all vengeance, all destruction of people who act in evil ways to God and God alone. He will do what is just.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

God Turns from Punishing-- God's Character 7

7. Al-ra’a-

Literally “above evil” but translated as “relents from evil”.

This characteristic is not found directly in Exodus 34, but in other passages that quote this creed, such as Joel 2:13. As it says in Numbers 23, God does not change his mind—except in one circumstance. God changes his mind about judgment. Just like God didn’t destroy Nineveh in Jonah, and He repented of destroying the Israelites in Exodus 32—even though in both cases He said he would destroy them. God will never change his mind from His promise of mercy, but, if given an opportunity, He will turn away from punishing.

This primarily happens—although not exclusively—by the one who is going to be punished repenting of their sin. Just as it says in Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 18:8, God will not punish the one or the nation that changes their mind about their sin.

Interestingly enough, in Exodus 34, God relents from evil just on Moses' word, not necessarily because of Israel's repentance, for God knows that Israel isn't especially good at repenting. It all gives the impression that God uses punishment as the last resort.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

God is True-- God's Character 6

6. ‘emet—Truth.

God is completely true. He always speaks the truth, He doesn’t change His mind as to the blessings He gives, and He doesn’t lie. Numbers 23:19 says it clearly: “God is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should change his mind. Has He not said and will He not do it? Or has He spoken and will He not make it good?”

It is interesting that in that verse, as well as speaking about chesed that the Bible indicates how different God is than humanity. Humanity is faithless, changing with the circumstances, breaking promises, speaking lies. Humanity looks to get out of deals that would benefit others more than themselves. Humanity is about the self, only benefiting others if it’s good for them. But God is not only true and faithful and merciful, but He is abounding in these qualities. Humanity could never be characterized as having truth or lovingkindness, but God is bursting with these qualities. They make up the main characteristics of who God is.

Monday, February 8, 2010

God is Lovingkindness-- God's Character 5

5. Chesed:

Faithful love.

This is probably the most common and important word that describes God. It combines two ideas: God’s faithfulness and His mercy. It means that God keeps his promises, but in a way that is merciful. It is possible to literally keep one’s word, but to do so in a way that still visits evil on others. But God keeps his promises in a way that is a benefit to His people.

This is one of the foundations of Jesus’ teaching, for instance the Lord’s prayer. We make requests of God to fulfill what He has already promised and we trust that He will do so to our benefit, granting us our daily needs and delivering us from evil.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

God is Forgiving-- God's Character 4

4. Nsa awon pasha:

Forgiving sins and rebellions.

Again, God doesn’t immediately punish. Instead, he looks for ways to forgive, for opportunities to set aside the sin and bring a person back into His presence again.

Jesus describes God in Matthew 18 as a king who readily forgives huge debts. In that same parable, however, he also describes God who will withdraw that forgiveness if one does not forgive others.

God is Slow To Anger-- God's Character 3

3. Arak ‘anep:

This means literally, “long to anger” and is usually translated “slow to anger”.

It means that when someone wrongs God or someone else, he doesn’t immediately react with punishment. Rather, God listens and looks. He listens to see if there are extenuating circumstances he should have mercy on. He looks to see the full context of what is really going on. He also speaks to the one who wrongs Him, and speaks gentle words of repentance and restoration.

Jesus spoke of God in this manner in his parable of the vineyard workers. The owner of the vineyard continued to send messengers, even after the workers proved unworthy, even dangerous. The owner did respond in anger, but it took a long time for him to come to that place.

God is Gracious- God's Character 2

2. Hanan:
This describes God’s graciousness and pity.

He sees the desperate place of those before Him and chooses to help them. God sees the repentant and how they need His presence, and He grants them forgiveness. God sees the slaves and gives them deliverance. God sees the oppressed and grants them freedom.

Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to describe this characteristic of God, for he had pity on the man dying on the side of the road. And Jesus says that we are to have this characteristic of mercy or pity, and if we have it to others, then we will receive it from God.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Eight Characteristics of God, 1

The Eight Characteristics of God:
These are both actions and moral characteristics. There is a lot of overlap in the definitions of these terms and so what we really have is, rather than eight distinct attributes of God is one overall character, described in eight ways.

The Hebrew word will be given, and then it’s definition:

1. Rahum:

This means generous or compassionate. It is usually used to characterize a leader or a king and it refers to how he responds to those who rebel against him. He doesn’t immediately punish those who rebel, but gives them a chance. He doesn’t give people what they deserve, but what they need. Jesus indicated that the main characteristic of God we should be like is His mercy, His love of enemies, who gives food to those who are ungrateful (Luke 6:36). Jesus also describes God as like an employer who gave a full day’s wage to those who only worked for an hour. They didn’t deserve that wage, but the employer calls himself “generous.” (Matthew 20:1-15)

The Character of God

What is this character? It is found, classically, in the creed of Exodus 34. This creed is quoted some twenty other times in Scripture, both in the Hebrew Bible and in the Greek. I’ve quoted it before, but here it is again:

"The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." Exodus 34:6-7

Here there are eight characteristics of God, all of which together equal the whole of what we are to share with the Father. It is the center of what we should know about God—His character rather than philosophical speculations about His being. If we are to know a person, we speak of their character, not their physical makeup. If someone says, “What is Steve like” it would be irrelevant to speak of my limited capacity of knowledge, my necessity to wear glasses or my shoe size. What is important is the kinds of things I do, the attitude I typically have and my relations to my friends, my children and the poor.

Even so, when God gave his special personal description to Moses, it isn’t concerning his classic orthodox attributes. In fact, as we have seen, the whole of Scripture only clearly speaks of a few of these. Rather, these eight characteristics of God’s personality is what is emphasized, what is spoken of again and again. If we want to know God, if we want to know how we are to be unified with God, these are the characteristics we should focus on.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Unity With God

The deepest relationship with God that is mentioned in Scripture is not what most mystics talk about, a vision of the Most High, glorious, revealing deep mysteries. That is still on the level of knowledge, of intellectual stimulation. The deepest relationship with God is unity with God. This has been mentioned by a few mystics—Meister Eckhart for one, and some of the mystics collected in the Eastern Orthodox text, the Philokalia. They use the text in John 17 as their proof-text:

"I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one.”

So Jesus prays that we, his disciples, might be in God, even as the Son and the Father are one. Because most theologians focus on the unity of God as a nature of God’s being, then the mystics assume that some would take part in God’s very being, His nature. Of course, this can get a mystic in trouble, because God’s being is so other than human. But the unity that Jesus is talking about here, I am certain is not speaking of the being of God. First of all, this unity is something that all the disciples could share, not just a few individuals. Secondly, the unity is not just shared with the Godhead, but amidst the disciples themselves. There is something mystic going on here, but it does not have to do with God’s nature. Which may indicate that the oneness between the Father and the Son, in this context, is not speaking of God’s being at all.

What could the oneness between the Father and the Son be? Something in which the disciples can share? One of the most powerful statements in John about the unity between the Son and the Father is in John 5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”

In this passage, Jesus does not focus on the Son having the same being of the Father, but the same will. In other words, the Father communicates his will to the Son and the Son does it without question. Because of this, the Son and the Father share other things: judgment, because the Son will always act in the Father’s will; miracles, because the Son acts according to the Father’s mercy; and glory, because the Son is the arm of the Father in doing the works of the Father. Thus, in this passage, Jesus does not emphasize sharing in the being of the Father, but the character and will of the Father. Jesus is completely obedient to the Father and he is of the same character as the Father.

If we think about it, this must be the source of unity between the church and the Godhead. The church is unified in doing the will of the Father and in acting out the character of the Father. Certainly humanity, no matter how sanctified, could never participate in the omnipotence or omniscience of the Father, although the Father might give us glimpses of this by acting according to the power of the Spirit. Rather, we are to be acting in accord with the character of the Father.