Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Faith Is a Gift, but Not One from Us to God

"Faith" has become a psychological term in modern America. Any time someone has a crisis, the advice he gets is that he "just has to have faith." Faith in what? Or in whom? Nothing, but just faith in faith.

Even among professing Christians, the word has lost its biblical content. While evangelicals still profess to believe that we aren't saved by works, they have come to mean "saved by faith" as saved by a merit that I offer to God. I have even been asked by a Mormon, "Isn't faith a work?" And the answer is no, it's not a work. Nor is it a merit that earns us salvation. God is not impressed with our giving Him our faith, as if He
were a wife impressed by roses from her husband. But isn't that the attitude that most people have? "Gee, God, aren't you honored that I place my faith in You?"

And, no, He isn't.

If the wife in my analogy told her husband that she wanted flowers, and gave him the money to buy them, would she feel special because of his "gift"? Obviously not! Even less if she handed him the flowers, to be handed back to her.

In the same way, God is not obligated to us by the faith that He creates in us. Oh, no! He didn't just say that! Yeah, I did.

"By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). These words from Paul are repeated frequently. And properly so! However, it is rare that the person spouting them actually pays attention to what he is saying. It is usually quoted to prove justification by faith. but is that exactly what it say? No, it's not. Paul says that we are saved by grace through faith. Faith is the instrument of salvation, the means by which it is applied, not its basis. It is grace that saves, according to these verses. What is grace? Grace is God's application of the merits of Christ. That is why Paul goes on to say that it is a gift!

The Christian is saved by grace, which produces faith in the believer. The believer does not produce faith. therefore, it cannot have merit before God. "Through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3 NASB). Here Paul explicitly states that faith is given by God, though in different levels in respective Christians (compare Mark 9:24).

That which God gives us cannot be then something that we can claim as merit before Him.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Sabbath Must Last Through Our Mortal Existence

A common objection that I hear to the Fourth Commandment is that "Jesus is our Sabbath." It's a slogan, not something the speakers have ever actually thought through. Where does the Bible say that? What would it mean for Jesus to be our Sabbath? And, if Jesus fulfilled the Fourth Commandment, such that it is now abrogated, what about the rest of the Commandments?

What is the purpose of the Sabbath? There are several ways to answer that question. I will focus on just one in this article.

God answers this question in two places. Through Moses in Exodus 31:13, He said, "Above all you shall keep My Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you." And again in Ezekiel 20:12, "I gave them My Sabbaths, as a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them." Both verses emphasize the role of the Sabbath as an occasion for God to sanctify us, to make us more like Him.

That explains what the writer of Hebrews meant (Hebrews 4:9), when he wrote, "There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God." We do not yet experience that rest in this life because we are not yet fully sanctified, a process that continues through the rest of our mortal existence. Therefore, the Sabbath must also continue for just as long.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Jehovah's Witnesses and the Immortality of the Soul

According to Jehovah's Witnesses, upon death a person's spirit disintegrates, to be recreated by God at the resurrection. Their official website says, "the soul dies when the person dies; it is not immortal. Since a person is a soul, to say that someone died is to say that his soul died." In addition to being unbiblical, that sentence is deceptive. I will address the first problem, and then come back to the second.

The Watchtower has a problem with selecting isolated verses, then putting their particular spin on them, while ignoring everything else the the Bible says on the matter. This doctrine is a case in point.

In Acts, chapter 7, Stephen the Deacon gives an evangelistic sermon to a crowd of Jews, who are incited against him. Incited so severely that they stone him. As he lay dying, Stephen uttered a final prayer: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59). Just by itself, this verse refutes the Watchtower doctrine. If Stephen's spirit would disintegrate when he dies, then what does he expect Jesus to receive? This man of the Lord obviously expected his spiritual essence, not just to survive the death of his body, but even to go to be with his Savior, thus ruling out any concept of Purgatory, too.

And now, for the deceptive element in the Watchtower comment quoted above. It correctly states that a person is a soul (Genesis 2:7). Then it says that to say a person has died is to say that his soul has died. That is equivocation of the most egregious kind. They use "soul" to mean a person and "soul" to mean spirit in the same sentence, treating them as identical. They aren't. If they are going to use "soul" to mean a person, which, I grant, is a biblical usage, then simple integrity would require them to have used "spirit" in the second usage. Yet, they didn't, deliberately obfuscating one thing for the other.

So, I have this question for Jehovah's Witnesses: If the Watchtower is going to use deception to prove their doctrine, why do you want to follow their teachings? Do you not want a religion based on integrity?

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Salvation According to Scripture, Contrasted with Oneness Salvation

Oneness Pentecostals love to quote Acts 2:38: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." They claim that it lays out an ordo salutis ("order of salvation"), in which a man repents of his sins, is then baptized as an act that brings remission of sins, and then receives the Holy Spirit (marked by ecstatic gibbering that they call "speaking in tongues"). They claim that the lack of water baptism as they understand it and of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as they understand it, means that a man cannot be saved.

Not even considering the contradiction of their interpretation - actually, misinterpretation - of Acts 2:38 with the doctrine of salvation in the rest of the Scripture, it is overthrown even by the actions of the Apostles in the Book of Acts.

We see the Apostle Peter (the same speaker as in 2:38) in Caesarea, preaching to the friends and relatives of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48): "While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 'Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?' And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days."

So, we have Peter, preaching to a crowd of Gentiles, but the events aren't in the order of 2:38. The Gentiles heard the word preached, believed, received the Holy Spirit, including speaking in tongues, and then were baptized. If we assumed the Oneness interpretation, then we would have to claim that these Gentiles received the Holy Spirit before they were saved! Can even Oneness believers suggest any such thing?

However, there is no such conflict with the biblical Gospel: "By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Unlike the Oneness perversion of Acts 2:38, salvation in the Bible is by grace through faith, not by baptism or any other ritual or action of men. And then the believer receives the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13, John 7:39), without any gibbering (speaking in tongues having been temporary). Then he is baptized upon professing his faith in the church (we aren't addressing infant baptism here).

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Jesus is God, but He's Not the Father

One verse that I consistently see in defenders of Oneness theology is John 14:9: "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know Me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?" They claim that Jesus is here saying that He was the Father. Of course, modalists never go on to quote the next verse: "Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works." Jesus goes on to explain to Philip, not that He is the Father, but that the Father is in Him. Even Oneness believers understand that He cannot be in Himself.
If Jesus looked here, would the Father look back?

Another verse that modalists don't quote is John 5:37: "The Father who sent Me has Himself borne witness about Me. His voice you have never heard, His form you have never seen." So, here Jesus is saying that we do not see the Father by looking at the Son. Is He contradicting Himself in the two verses, saying in one that no one can see the Father, but in the other that we can see the Father in Him?

Not at all!

We have all heard someone say, "Oh, I see now," after having something explained to him that he had not previously understood. Do we think that he means that the meaning has popped up on the wall in front of him? Of course not! We understand that he means that he now understands, that the meaning has been revealed to him in a processable form.

In the same way, when we look at Jesus, we see the Father, not as a visible figure in front of us, but rather as He has now been revealed to us by and in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Catholic Images and the Second Commandment

Most Americans are familiar with the Ten Commandments from our Sunday School days as kids. Some of us can even recite them from memory. For those who can't, the Commandments are found in Exodus 20:2-17 (and repeated in Deuteronomy 5:6-21). The Second reads, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God..." In spite of such a plain ban, buildings of the Roman Catholic Church are notorious for the presence of images and statues, especially of the Virgin Mary. Shrines are even built to them in Catholic homes.

The first problem is that Catholic portrayals of the Commandments hide the Second, a problem which I address here.

However, when confronted, Catholics will dodge the implications of the commandment by claiming that their use of images of saints is a matter of devotion, not worship, and, therefore, not a violation of the commandment. For statues of Jesus, they claim to be worshiping Christ Himself, not the statue; the statue is merely an aid.

I have dealt with the issue of saint worship elsewhere (such as here). I want now to address the worship of Jesus by use of images of Him.

In Deuteronomy 12:29-30, Moses gives the Israelites a grave warning: "When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.'" This was written during the Conquest, as the Israelites were driving out the pagans in the Promised Land, as God had commanded them. We see immediately that He is warning them not to get sucked into the worship of the deities of the pagans, the very perversions for which God had judged the Canaanites. However, that wasn't the end of the warning: "You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods" (Deuteronomy 12:31). Not only did Jehovah forbid the Israelites to worship the Canaanite deities, He also forbade them to use pagan forms of worship to worship Him!

This was an error that Israel had already made in their travels in the Wilderness. When Aaron, Moses's brother, had made for them the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:1-6), in imitation of the pagan rituals that they had known in Egypt, they did not call it a new god, as is often mistakenly thought. Rather, they called the image "Jehovah" (verse 5)!

This is the death blow to all of the pretenses of Rome. She claims that there is no harm in using an image of Jesus, an image just like those used by the pagan Romans in earlier Christian history (just as Israel had learned from the Egyptians), because it is an image of Jesus, not of Jupiter. Yet, that is exactly the pretense of the Israelites as they called the Golden Calf "Jehovah"! And it is equally judged by God's words through Moses: "You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods" (Deuteronomy 12:31).

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Proving God: God Blesses His Word Alone

As I write this, I am working through the reading list for an apologetics course. The books mention several bible verses on the topic, such as II Corinthians 10:4-5 and I Peter 3:15. And I fully understand why those verses get a lot of attention. They are of obvious importance.

However, two other verses come to my mind that don't appear in apologetics texts.

The first is Luke 16:31. it comes at the end of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. In the story, impoverished, suffering Lazarus goes to Heaven, while the unnamed rich man, who had ignored Lazarus on his doorstep during life, goes to Hell. From there, the rich man begs the Patriarch Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers of the reality of judgment and Hell. Then Jesus, in the voice of Abraham, answers, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead." The rich man represents the atheist in modern America, who claims that he would believe in God, if He just gave whatever evidence the atheist happens to demand. but no, says Jesus, that's a lie. Any man who rejects the evidence of the Bible, in which God has spoken to all men, has rejected the principle of evidence. What evidence can there be above God's personal testimonial, not just to His existence, but to His nature, His will, and His provision for the salvation of His people?

The other verse is Isaiah 55:11: "So shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." This is the flip-side of the verse from Luke. Where that verse said that no evidence will avail apart from God's Word, this one promises that His Word will succeed where He has purposed it.

Nowhere in Scripture does any preacher, including Jesus Himself, ever seek to prove the existence of God. Rather, they all take it for granted, and then proceed to apply His truth to their respective audiences.