The Tenth Leper

Theology Made Practical

Author Archive

A Helpful Way to Read the Laws of the Bible

deuteronomy

I’m willing to bet that of all the various sections of the Bible, none is more universally feared and neglected than the Law (Genesis – Deuteronomy). Recently I wrote that when we really believe what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is saying, it will revolutionize the way we read the Bible. When our mindset shifts from “Is there anything God wants me to see here?” to “What does God want me to see in this passage?”, we will approach all sections of Scripture with expectancy, determination, and patience.

Determination and patience are especially important when reading all the Old Testament laws. Parts of these books are just bewildering. Not only do they not seem in any way relevant to us today, but it’s hard to see what possible purpose they served even in their own time.

And yet, difficult as they may be to understand, all the laws of the Old Testament are meant train us in righteousness and to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). So how can we read the Law in such a way as to be trained and equipped by it? Here is a question I’d recommend asking when reading the Law that I’ve found very helpful:

What does this law reveal about God’s character and his values?

An important principle: laws are always a reflection of the values of the lawgiver. In America, you can’t steal things that belong to your neighbor, because we value the right to personal property. You can’t drink and get behind the wheel, because we value human life. You can’t prank order a pizza to your buddy’s house because we value having absolutely zero sense of humor.

What this means for us as we read the laws of the Bible is that every law we encounter is a window into God’s heart. And since the goal of our salvation is to know God intimately (John 17:3), books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy have great potential for helping us to draw closer to him. By no means will asking the question above answer all your questions, but it will at least get you headed in a helpful direction. There are two big benefits to asking this question:

Benefit #1 – It helps us to understand and appreciate strange laws.

Let’s apply this question to Deuteronomy 22:8:

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone shall fall from it.

Welcome to your new life verse that absolutely you should get tattooed on your chest in Hebrew.

First off, what’s a parapet? A parapet was essentially a guardrail. In this time, roofs were flat and “were used for various household activities, including sleeping in hot weather.”[1] So there’s an obvious cultural disconnect here. No one I know has a flat roof. And even if they did, they wouldn’t use it to sleep in summer. That’s what air conditioning is for.

But what does this command teach us about God’s values? God is telling his people to take proper safety precautions. Since people were going to be on these roofs, he told them to put up parapets so that they wouldn’t fall off. And since visitors would have been among the people who went up on the roof, he’s also telling them to love their neighbors by having those parapets there. What we learn about God from this single verse in Deuteronomy is that he values human life, cares for us, and is a welcoming God. As Christians, this verse then should comfort us and motivate us to seek ways to reflect those values in our relationships.

Benefit #2 – It expands our understanding of clearer laws.

When we stop to ask what God’s laws tell us about him, we’ll also start to see that they have application that extends way beyond their initial context. Consider Exodus 20:13 – “You shall not murder.” Cut and dry, right? I’m proud to say that I have never broken this commandment. But is “not giving Law and Order a new plot line” all that this verse addresses?

Like Deuteronomy 22:8, the “You shall not murder” command reveals the value God places on human life. Let’s go deeper though. Why does God value human life? He values human life because he created us in his image (Gen. 1:27). God created us to represent him and be a brilliant picture of what he is like.

But when it comes to murder, looking like God means way more than just not doing it (still though…don’t). It means not doing everything that leads up to it. People don’t just wake up one day and decide to kill someone. Murder is the final step in a long line of sins that include bitterness, jealousy, anxiety, and ultimately anger. None of these things reflect God’s character and values. Jesus addresses this very issue about murder in Matthew 5:21-26. His point is that Exodus 20:13 goes beyond just not murdering someone and demands love and reconciliation with others.[2]

Listen to how the Heidelberg Catechism from the 16th century extracts the values of God bound up in Exodus 20:13:

I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor- not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds- and I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge. I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either. Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.

The catechism keeps going after this to stress that this command goes beyond just “not murdering”. It’s about envy, vindictiveness, hatred, and anger. In light of this, Exodus 20:13 speaks to every single scenario in which you you encounter these sinful attitudes.

Again, this question may take time to answer. But be patient enough to seek an answer to it. It won’t explain everything. But it’s a great starting point when we feel like the Law is irrelevant to our lives today.

 

[1] ESV Study Bible

[2] This whole idea of getting to the heart of the Law explains a lot of Jesus’ interactions with the religious leaders of his day. These people knew the Law very well but had completely missed the point of it.

Two Verses that Will Change the Way You Read the Bible

I admit it: the title of this entry is unashamed click-bait, piquing your curiosity as to what fresh insight I have to bring to your spiritual life. There’s a lot of click-bait out there on the WWW whose headlines fail to deliver on their promise. And if you’re a Christian, you’re likely to feel a twinge of that disappointment over the verses I’ve chosen. Because rather than showing you two verses you’ve never seen before, or offering you a brilliant new take on an oldie-but-goodie, I’ve chosen a straight-forward reading of an extremely familiar text: 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

disappointed baby

Wah wah.

Admit it, you’re disappointed aren’t you?? You were expecting the next Prayer of Jabez.

Here’s the deal. Yes, this is a familiar text. Maybe you even have it memorized. But the danger is when we allow ourselves to become numb to what is so familiar. In this case, so many Christians know these verses and acknowledge that all Scripture is breathed out for God and is profitable. But when it comes to actual practice, many of translate that verse as “All New Testament Scriptures, Psalms and Proverbs, Genesis and Exodus (first-half only) is profitable.” Those are just what we tend to read most, which is why you can literally buy pocket-sized New Testaments with Psalms and Proverbs. (I’m still waiting on a pocket NT with Haggai and Numbers.)

Ask yourself: do I really believe what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is saying? When you do, it’ll revolutionize the way you read the rest of the Bible. If you believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable, you will come to all parts of it with the assumption that God wants to use it to encourage you and make you holy. You’ll stop wondering if God is trying to tell you something through Obadiah and start asking what he’s trying to tell you through it.

No, not all sections of Scripture are easy to read. But diamonds aren’t always on the surface. Sometimes you have to dig for them. When you come to all of Scripture with the assumption that treasure is to be found there, it’ll give you patience, determination, and yeah, maybe even excitement when reading those books whose treasures aren’t totally obvious. 1 Chronicles 1-9 is as much the word of God as Romans. Galatians is as much the word of God as Nahum. And we deprive ourselves of so much when we neglect them.

In my own life, when I started to really believe 2 Timothy 3:16-17, it gave me fresh motivation to pursue the parts of Scripture that I was least familiar with. It’s been like finding treasure. It was under my nose the whole time, but I never put forth the effort to go get it. In January I started year 2 of my two-year Bible reading plan, and I’m just finishing up Lamentations. Meaning for 2014, my daily Bible reading didn’t even touch the New Testament. On top of that, I’ve also decided to spend an extended amount of time studying the most dreaded book of the Bible: Leviticus. Why am I doing this to myself, you ask? Because it’s neglected treasure, and I don’t want to miss out on what God wants to teach me through it.

So believe these two verses. Then get digging. Thanks for clicking on my click-bait. Stay tuned for my upcoming articles “22 Reformers Who Look Like Animals” and “25 Pastors That Cannot Even Handle It Right Now.”

A Conviction Which Asks Not For Reasons

A Conviction Which Asks Not For Reasons

It’s sometimes thought that you can’t appeal to the Bible to support the Bible’s claims- i.e., you can’t believe that the Bible is God’s Word simply because it says so. Something else has to validate that claim, otherwise you’re arguing in circles.

In another entry I wrote a while back, I addressed this question. My point there was essentially that ultimate authority is self-attesting. If an authority needs something outside of itself to authenticate it, then it’s not an ultimate authority. Which means that at the end of the day, a person can only come to believe that the Bible is God’s Word by reading it.

John Calvin once called this “a conviction which asks not for reasons.” In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, he argues this point over against the idea prevalent in his day that the Church has authority to declare what is Scripture and what is not. Rather, the Church can only acknowledge Scripture to be God’s Word and give “unhesitating assent” to it (1.6.2.)*.

In our own day, this same struggle exists in different forms. In many circles, people look to reason to give the Bible authority. Anytime some rejects the Bible because it doesn’t seem to align with human reason, they are saying that reason is a higher authority in their eyes than the Bible. Now let’s say you’re a Christian and you use reason to answer every one of that person’s objections to Christianity. Furthermore, in response to your reasonable explanations of the Bible’s credibility, they make a profession of faith. This is good, right?

Well, maybe not. If the basis of their faith is in reason, then reason is still their ultimate authority, not God’s Word, which would be fine except for the small problem that their faith will be extremely unstable. What happens to their faith when something in the Bible doesn’t match up with reason? Ultimately, faith based on anything other than God’s Word itself is going to be futile. Continuing, Calvin says:

If, then, we would consult most effectually for our consciences, and save them from being driven about in a whirl of uncertainty, from wavering, and even stumbling at the smallest obstacle, our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human conjectures, judgments, or reasons…” (1.7.4)

Calvin goes on to say that even if you were to adequately refute every one of a person’s objections to Christianity, you still wouldn’t be “implant[ing] the certainty which faith requires in their hearts.” This isn’t to say that apologetics (the defense of the faith) is useless, only that it has limits. You can’t argue someone into the Kingdom of God. If you win them with reason, their faith will be dependent on reason and falter when obedience to God doesn’t seem reasonable.

The “higher source than human conjectures, judgments, or reasons” that Calvin says our conviction must be based on is God himself, specifically God’s Spirit. A person becomes convinced that the Bible came from God in the same way that “we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, [and] sweet from bitter…” As we read Scripture, the Spirit convinces us that that God is its author, which in turn leads us to obey it in repenting of our sins and putting our faith in Jesus to save us. As many arguments as I could give for why the Bible is God’s Word, at the end of the day I just believe it is. It’s as natural to me as distinguishing between light and darkness.

…the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted. (1.7.4)

And a little further on,

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. (1.7.5)

And at the risk of sounding uber-Reformed since I’ve already quoted Calvin a ton, I love what the Westminster Confession of Faith says on this: “…our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority [of Scripture], is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.” Scripture is its own evidence because the Spirit, who alone can cause us to believe it, works through Scripture itself.

Getting Practical

Alright let’s get real practical. What does all this mean? What Calvin and the Westminster divines are addressing is something that has huge implications for how we minister to other believers and how we witness to non-believers. As an example, I’ve heard more than a few preachers talk about how, when asked by a skeptic or a seeker what they should read in defense of Christianity, they recommend the Gospel of John.

If I’m really honest, there have been many times when that sounded like a wasted recommendation to me. Why recommend the Bible if they’re not even convinced that it’s the Word of God? Shouldn’t they read More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell first? Or The Reason for God by Tim Keller? Shouldn’t they at least warm up to the possibility of the Bible’s truthfulness before getting anything out of it?

Sure, that might be a good starting point. Books like these are great and helpful. But we have to realize their limits. They can’t do what only the Holy Spirit can, which is convict of sin and point to Jesus (see John 16:7-8). And the Spirit is most known to do this through the very words he inspired in the Bible. You’re more likely to win a convert to Christ by reading the Bible with them than by trying to convince them that the Bible is worth reading in the first place.

John’s Gospel doesn’t address things like the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. But it does present us with a Jesus who demands our submission and love. And only the Holy Spirit can make those demands beautiful in hearts that are disposed to reject them.

So trust the Bible to do more than you or any brilliant Bible scholar could ever hope to accomplish in the hearts of other people. The Spirit is continuing the work that Jesus began even to this day, and the Bible is his chief weapon.

 

* “1.6.2” = Book 1 (of 4 total), Chapter 6, Paragraph 2

Around the InterWeb (7/30/14)

Here are a couple of non historical Christian romance e-book deals:

Answering Alternatives to the Resurrection – “The possibility of an argument does not necessitate probability.” This is an excellent point that all Christians should remember when engaged in any kind of debate with skeptics.

Wax and Wane – Interesting article on the resurgence of vinyl records.

Who Invented the TULIP? – I literally just learned about Cleland McAfee a few weeks ago, so I thought this was fascinating. This is also a good reminder of the limits and weaknesses of the TULIP acronym in describing Calvinism.

Around the InterWeb (7/28/14)

It’s a good time to be alive for Christian readers. The advent of the e-reader along with frequently very generous deals have made it much easier to build a solid library on the cheap. Here are some good deals going on right now:

Identity – Good stuff: “Personal identity—the ‘Who am I?’ question—is one of the most difficult issues to resolve. Is my essence to be found in my self-awareness, or in my actions, or in my relationships, or in my creation, or…?”

The Myth of God’s Silence – Great reminder from Ed Welch. “Silence is how someone treats a slave, and we are not God’s slaves. We are his children. Even more, we are his friends, and friends get the inside story.”

Performing for the Approval of the Crowd – You should follow Scott Kedersha’s blog. It’s primarily a blog about marriage, though this particular entry is more generally focused. Great stuff all around though.

Why Israel’s Request for a King Was Sinful (And Why It Matters)

As I’ve read through Scripture over the years, some things have struck me as so strange or confusing that I’ve had to research it immediately and find an answer to my questions. Other verses however are just confusing enough to make me wonder what’s going on, but not so perplexing that I seek out an answer, at least not immediately. I might make a note to look into it, but I forget about it until I come across that same passage a year later and wonder the same thing.

Israel’s request for a king in 1 Samuel 8 is one such passage. It is a request that God clearly condemns, but for a while now it’s not really been clear to me why. The text is as follows:

When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

Just in reading this passage, the sinfulness seems apparent: Israel wanted to be ruled by a human king, and not God. More so, they wanted a king “like all the nations”. They wanted to look like the world around them, not as God’s distinct people. Straightforward right? So why did this passage end up in my “Confusing Texts” pile?

This text never presented any problem to me until I came across Deuteronomy 17:14-20, where God says he’s totally cool with them wanting a king “like all the nations that are around me”.

You're not really studying Scripture correctly if this doesn't happen to you from time to time.

You’re not really studying Scripture correctly if this doesn’t happen to you from time to time.

So what gives? Well according to Deuteronomy, wanting a king wasn’t in itself sinful. So the problem in 1 Samuel 8 couldn’t have been the request itself, but the motive behind the request. We get a little bit more clarity of Israel’s motive in 1 Samuel 12 when Samuel gives his “farewell address” to the nation*. In his address, where he rebukes Israel for requesting a king, he reminds them of how God had delivered them in earlier times of distress:

  1. The Exodus (12:8). Samuel reminds them of their descendants, who were enslaved in Egypt and cried to God for deliverance. And boy did he ever come through.
  2. The Judges (12:9-11). Next up is a reminder of the time of the judges. The book of Judges is the story of a cycle that goes like this: a)Israel is serving the Lord, b) Israel sins and falls into apostasy, c) they are then given into the hands of their enemies and enslaved, d) they cry out to the Lord to save them, e) God raises up a judge to deliver them, f) Israel’s delivered.
  3. Nahash the Ammonite (12:12). Alright, so now things are getting clearer as Samuel addresses this more recent threat. Nahash isn’t mentioned until 11:1, but the Ammonite threat was likely very present back in chapter 8. What Samuel is saying in chapter 12 is this: “You cried out to God in Egypt and he delivered you. You cried out to God over and over again in the time of the judges, and he delivered you every time.” He’s hammering it into their skulls that God delivers those who cry out to him. But in the face of the Ammonite threat, they didn’t cry out for deliverance. They cried out for a king.

Psalm 146:3 says: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” But that’s exactly what Israel is doing here. It wasn’t wrong for them to want a king. The problem was that their solution to the threat of the day was wanting a king instead of crying out to God for deliverance, even though that had always worked out so well for them in the past. 1 Samuel 10:17-19 reinforces this as well.

Seen in this light, there’s several lessons we can draw today from 1 Samuel 8.

First, as Dale Ralph Davis writes, “[w]e have a tendency to assess our problems mechanically b3h (50)rather than spiritually. Our first impulse is to assume there is something wrong in our techniques…How easy for even energetic evangelicals to look for a new gimmick rather than cry out for a new heart.” Israel’s solution wasn’t repentance and crying out to God (which would’ve done the trick). It was assuming that everything would be fixed if only they had a king.

Second, as Davis points out, we are often most interested in dictating what form God’s help must take instead of crying out to him for deliverance. When we specify how God should act, we are trusting in a method and not in a good and sovereign God who will deliver us as he sees fit.

Finally, and this is a big one, beware of requesting godly things for ungodly reasons. The request for a king was perfectly fine (Deut.17:14-20). But Israel’s motive for this request was tantamount to rejecting God as king. This point particularly hits home for me. For years I prayed to get married. And according to Proverbs 18:22, I was asking for a good thing. But too often my request for a wife was selfish and idolatrous. I needed a wife to give me a sense of meaning and acceptance, things which incidentally I already had from God my Father through Christ. In so doing, I was rejecting God by asking for something that- on the surface- was a perfectly fine request. Take note of why you pray for what you pray for. Selfish desires often masquerade as pious prayers.

Our proposals and solutions then can be completely reasonable, clearly logical, obviously plausible- and utterly godless.

-Dale Ralph Davis

 

 

*I’m hugely indebted to Dale Ralph Davis for his treatment of this text in his commentary on 1 Samuel. I’m basically summarizing his work here.

Six Ways to Fight “Bible Reading Plan Guilt”

All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17

Bible reading

For a book that speaks so much about finding rest, peace, and life, the Bible can be a source of guilt more than anything else. For one thing, I don’t know a single Christian who thinks they read the Bible enough. All of us feel like we could (and should) be spending more time in it. But if you’re going through a Bible Reading Plan, with designated readings for each day, that guilt can often be compounded. After all, when we fall behind we can look at our plan and actually see how much Scripture we haven’t read. You can see that you should be reading Numbers 4 today but are stuck in Exodus 27. Do you burden yourself with trying to catch up or just give up? What will it be: stress or guilt?

Here are six things to keep in mind when you come across this dilemma:

1. Remember the gospel. “The essence of the gospel is that God accepts us because of what Jesus did, not because of what we have done.”[1] Whether you’ve successfully done the “Read the Bible in 90 Days” plan or are falling behind in a one-year plan doesn’t affect God’s love for you. God’s acceptance of you isn’t based on your performance, and when we forget that we will feel unwarranted guilt. The degree to which falling behind devastates us is the degree to which we’re forgetting the gospel.

2. Rejoice in what you have read. Let’s say your reading plan has four different readings a day and that you’re only up to date on two of those. When we forget that first point above, we tend to only focus on the two we haven’t read than the two we have. Rejoice in the two you are up to date on. Being consistently in God’s Word is something that should always be celebrated.

3. Check your motives. If you do find yourself obsessing over the two tracks in your plan that you haven’t read rather celebrating the two tracks you have, it’s time to check your motives behind having a plan in the first place.  Alan Jacobs has wisely observed, “I think most people read quickly because they want not to read but to have read.” Many times in my own life I’ve set out to read the Bible in one year mainly so that I could say I did it. Whatever pace we go, if our motive in Scripture is anything other than to draw near to the God of our salvation, Bible-reading will be mechanical and a source of condemnation instead of life when we lag behind.

4. Be realistic. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us that all Scripture is helpful. Does the way you read Scripture reflect that? Many of us if we’re honest only camp out in Psalms and the New Testament. Reading plans are helpful in that they bring us to sections we’d otherwise never read, sections that according to Paul are still God-breathed and profitable. In this way, reading plans appropriately challenge us.

With that said though, be realistic. Some people fall off their reading plans because they’ve set themselves up for failure by trying to do more than they’re able. Keep in mind that while we should read all of Scripture, there’s nothing in the Bible that demands that we do it in one year. One-year plans are the most common, but there are also two-year and even three-year plans.

5. Beware your enemy. As I mentioned earlier, when we fall behind in Bible reading plans, we often find ourselves having to choose between the stress of trying to catch up or the guilt of scrapping the plan entirely. I think this dilemma plays right into the hands of our enemy. At the end of the day, God’s Word should be a delight to us (Ps.1:2; Col.3:16). Jesus said that he came to bring us life and to have it abundantly (John 10:10). But in that same verse, he also describes the work of our enemy: he “comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” In Revelation 12:10 he is called an “accuser”.

There will definitely be times when we neglect God’s Word because we’ve prioritized other things over him. And those are moments when we should repent (all the while keeping in mind point #1 above). But falling behind on a man-made reading plan isn’t in itself something that needs to be repented of. But you better believe our enemy will use it against you. Be on guard.

6. Start Now. Because they have to start somewhere, readings plans typically start on January 1. So what should you do if you decide you want to start a reading plan in March? Or when it’s June and you’ve fallen so far behind in your plan that catching up is impossible? Start fresh. Maybe it means you’re starting half-way through the book of Jeremiah instead of the beginning. That’s okay! The goal is not just to finish a specific plan. The goal is to be consistently refreshing ourselves at the fountain of God’s Word and to encounter him daily through it. The plan we use, and whether that means we read all of God’s Word in the course of a year, are secondary issues.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
Psalm 1:1-2

 

 


[1] Gospel-Centered Family by Tim Chester and Ed Moll, p.33

3 Reasons Why Every Christian Should Study Theology

Go to any Christian bookstore and you’re likely to see “Theology” as its own section, right next to the sections on “Church Leadership”, “Men’s Interest”, “Christian Living”, “Biography” (with such stirring classics as The Autobiography of George Muller and Linspired: Jeremy Lin’s Extraordinary Story of Faith and Resilience), and “Fiction and Romance”.

silence of winter

For fans of Amish romance, these are good days to be alive.

While this may be necessary for a bookstore, many of us Christians do the same thing with our faith: we section it off. One day I’ll be focusing on theology by reading a book on the Trinity. Then I’ll get into my men’s ministry mode by praying with other men in the church and doing accountability questions. Another day I’ll focus on the subject of spiritual disciplines by planning out what time I’ll be getting up to pray and read my Bible.

In reality though, all the various facets of our Christian walk are derived from theology. “Theology” is not just another compartment of an already-crowded room of things you need to think about in order to faithfully obey Christ’s commands. It’s the context behind those commands and the fuel for spiritual health, and your walk with Christ will dry up without it. Consider the following:

1. Everyone Is a Theologian

“Theology” by definition is “the study of God.” It was A.W. Tozer who famously observed, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Important because how we view God at any given moment affects how we live our life in that same moment.

For example, Satan’s attack on Eve was a theological one. He successfully tempted her to disobey God by distorting her view of him. Suddenly the good God who had blessed them with an abundance of good trees to eat from became the withholding God who didn’t want what was best for her. And if God was going to withhold something good from her, then she’d have to take matters into her own hands. Similarly, when Jesus addressed the topic of anxiety (Topical Sermons 101), he knew that underneath anxiety was a faulty understanding of who God is, which is why he counters anxiety with a reminder of God’s sovereignty and his goodness (Luke 12:22-34).

Our understanding of who God is always makes its way into our daily lives, whether we’re aware of it or not. The stress you feel about an upcoming deadline says something about your view of him. So does your struggle with anger. So does your need to be validated by others. The implication here is that everyone is a theologian. As John Frame writes, “theology is the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life.” Just before this, he writes:

The professor of theology at a university or seminary is no more or less a theologian than the youth minister who seeks to deal with the doubts of college students, of the Sunday school teacher who tells OT stories to children, or the father who leads family devotions, or the person who does not teach in any obvious way but simply tries to obey Scripture. Theoretical and practical questions are equally grist for the theologian’s mill.

-from Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief

2. Theology Helps Us to Grow More Like Jesus

In John 8:44, Jesus calls Satan “a liar and the father of lies.” But what exactly is he lying about? And how does it affect us? In light of the previous point, a major way Satan lies to us is by convincing us that God is someone other than who he really is (if he even exists at all).

If Satan’s goal is our destruction, and if lies are one of his weapons toward that end, then truth is what we need in order to resist him and find abundant life (John 10:10). According to Scripture, healthy doctrine leads to our sanctification (John 17:17), freedom (John 8:32), godliness (1 Tim.6:3), and life and mission (Matt.28:18-20). Good theology promotes things like these while bad theology robs us of them. Our joy in Christ and deliverance from sin is the fruit of good theology. There is an organic link between the two.

3. Theology is Best Taught and Learned in Real-World Situations

We see point 2 fleshed out in the letters of the New Testament. Authors like Paul consistently call Christians to live in light of what’s true. That’s why in in Ephesians for example, he’ll give the bulk of his “How-To-Live-The-Christian-Life” instructions (Eph.4-6) after he’s rocked your world with some rich theology (Eph.1-3).

Will you find theology in Romans? You betcha. Romans covers some pretty major stuff: justification, adoption, election, free will, and the role of the Jews in the church age. But remember that Romans is a letter, written by Paul to address the real, practical needs of the church in Rome. The Bible doesn’t teach doctrine in the abstract. Paul wrote Romans 9 not to philosophize about God’s sovereignty and our responsibility, but so that Jews and Gentiles at this church would get along with each other. That’s not to say we can’t extract theological truths from it (we totally should). But it is to say that theological truths should spill over into the contexts of our lives.

To give one more example, consider the doctrine of the person of Christ (also called “Christology”). Christology covers Jesus’ humanity and his divinity, and how the two relate to one another. It’s a biggie. It covers over 30 pages in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and is a doctrine that is widely debated. And it’s a topic you can’t talk about without addressing Philippians 2:5-11.

But why is beautiful passage about Christ’s humility and servanthood in Philippians instead of Galatians or Thessalonians? Because according to Philippians 2:1-4 and 4:2-3, there was to some extent some friction in the church. And Paul teaches them Christology so that they would then follow his example and serve one another by considering the interests of others before their own. So what does Christ’s humanity, his deity, his virgin birth, and his sinlessness have to do with how you treat your spouse, your friend, your parents, your roommate, that annoying person you’d rather not be around? According to Paul: everything.

Pictured: why you should finally go mow the lawn.

Pictured: why you should finally go mow the lawn.

Here’s the point: New Testament theology is taught in the context of real-life situations. It’s not abstract teachings divorced of context, so we shouldn’t study them that way. Abstract theology is unnatural. Christology affects your marriage. God’s sovereignty affects how you deal with trials and is a wonderful comfort to your friend who is worried about his finances. Predestination and the atonement affects how you respond when you turn back to that same old sin again.

The example of the New Testament should remind us today that doctrines are best taught and learned in these real world moments when we most need to hear them.  When doctrine is applied to our lives, it brings great comfort. And this in turn helps us to grow in our love of the God of whom these things are true. So strive to become a better theologian. For some that will mean reading big books. For others, it might mean studying Romans over the course of a year. Whatever it looks like, grow in your knowledge of the God who loves you.

 

The First Step in Understanding and Loving the Prophets

In early 2009 I began working at a coffee shop. In one sense, I was pumped. I love coffee, it was a great latte-art-2environment with fantastic co-workers, and I needed additional income. But I was also a little apprehensive  about the skill-set required to actually do the job. The task of learning what people meant when they said they wanted a “grande upside-down skinny caramel macchiato with peppermint” seemed daunting and unattainable. But I learned and got to the point where I could have made something like that in my sleep.

What helped me learn that stuff wasn’t simply memorizing recipes, though. Instead, what helped me was getting a proper framework of how to make espresso drinks. Things became so much easier to learn when I understood a) what a latte is (espresso and steamed milk), and b) that so many of the drinks I was making were just variations of that foundational drink. That gave me a starting point from which I could understand so many other variations of that drink.

I’ve come to dub that experience as “The Latte Test.” The principle is simple: once you have a framework in place, you can then begin to categorize all the other details.

Recently in my life I’ve been growing in my love and understanding of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. Before you think I’m a freak, know that that’s more due to the fact that I’m growing in my desire to study the parts of the Bible that are most bewildering to me. And bewildering they are. And long.

But just as learning to make complicated drinks for me came down to learning one basic drink, I learned quickly that I couldn’t begin to understand all the complexities of the prophetical books without understanding the one main thing the prophets were talking about: the exile. O. Palmer Robertston writes:

It was the event of Israel’s exile, and the future beyond the exile, that the literary prophets of Israel were called and commissioned to explain.

Knowing this is the first step in understanding all the details of the prophets.

Why the Exile Happened

In Genesis 12, God chose a man named Abram in which to bring about his plan to send an “offspring” exilewho would crush the head of the serpent who had tempted Adam and Eve to sin (Gen.3:15). He promised Abram offspring, land, and that all the nations of the world would be blessed in him. Much later, the descendants of Abram (later renamed Abraham) made their way down to Egypt to escape a famine. While there they grew in number and were eventually enslaved by Pharaoh.

In response to his covenant with Abraham, God took action and brought his people out of Egypt so that they could dwell in the land promised to them. Before bringing them to the land, he stopped his people at Mount Sinai so that he could give them the law through Moses. The law served to instruct them how they were to live as God’s people in God’s presence.

In Leviticus 26 and again in Deuteronomy 28, we see an extended discussion about the blessings that the people of Israel would experience if they were obedient to the law and the curses that would fall on them if they weren’t. (In a sense, the rest of the Old Testament is the answer to the question of which path they’ll take.) Prolonged disobedience would result in exile.

Where the Prophets Fit In

The law casts a long shadow over these books. The prophets were God’s “covenant watchdogs.” That is, their role was to hold the nation accountable to the law. As God’s people (now divided up into two kingdoms: “Israel” in the north, and “Judah” in the south) continued to walk in disobedience to it, God sent the prophets to warn them about what he said he would do in response to their disobedience and to plead with them to repent. The northern kingdom was destroyed and exiled by the Assyrian Empire in 722 BC. Judah lasted until 586 BC, when Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were carried off by the Babylonian Empire. There were prophets who ministered before, during, and after the exile.

The Message of the Prophets

isaiahGod’s people had been called to be a light to all nations. But they were consistently unfaithful to God and his covenant, which meant they would bear the ultimate curse of covenant disobedience. The destruction of the northern kingdom was significant, but the destruction of the southern kingdom was even more so. Why? Because Judah’s capital was Jerusalem. And Jerusalem was where God’s temple was. And God’s temple was where God dwelt. So when the Babylonian armies destroyed Jerusalem and the temple of God, to the Israelites it looked like God had been beaten by the gods of Babylon.

On top of this, it raised other questions. God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a nation, that they would dwell in this land, and that they would be a blessing to all nations. But now? Their population was decimated, they were removed from the land, and they were slaves in a foreign land once again. Not only that, but God had promised David that one of his descendants would sit on his throne forever. But now there wasn’t even a kingdom to be king over. Did God lie? Was he unable to fulfill his promise? Everything they had known and believed in was thrown into question.

Into this hopelessness and despair, the prophets spoke God’s message to his people. They assured them that not only was God still undefeated, but that it was actually his hand that was behind Jerusalem’s destruction. They explained what was happening to them by reminding them of God’s holiness and their sin and encouraged them to repent. Some prophets predicted the exile in advance so that when it happened, it would be confirmation of God’s control over history rather than a source of despair. Additionally, the prophets went even further into the future and anticipated a restoration beyond the exile.

Restoration

But even if the relationship between God and his people was restored, what’s to say that they wouldn’t just fall back in to the same cycle of sin and get booted out of the land again? Restoration from exile sounded great, but how comforting was it in the long run? Just what kind of restoration are we looking at here?

It wouldn’t be a mere restoration of how things once were. Rather, God would do something new. In the words of Robertson, the kind of restoration promised involved a “new covenant, a new Zion, a new temple, a new messiah, a new relation to the nations of the world.” And as if that weren’t lofty enough, Isaiah went on the prophesy about new heavens a new earth.

“Restoration” then didn’t just have implications for the remnants of Judah in Babylon. It had universal implications. It wasn’t confined to just getting them back from Babylon. After all, the last three prophets in the Old Testament (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) ministered to the people who had returned to rebuild Jerusalem, people who were now disillusioned by how not awesome it was being back in the land.

Getting back to Jerusalem wasn’t the end game. Instead, it was a crucial step in God’s plan of  a much greater restoration from a far more serious exile: humanity’s exile from God’s presence which had resulted from Adam’s sin. The new messiah would be the light of the world that Israel had failed to be. The process of restoration he would usher in would be to save his people from their sins and form not just a new Israel, but a whole new humanity. Eventually this new humanity would inhabit a new earth free from the presence of sin and filled with the presence of God. In doing so, he would fulfill God’s promise to Abraham to bless all the nations through him as well as God’s promise to David to put one of his descendants on his throne forever. This is the significance of the very first verse of the New Testament:

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Matthew 1:1

So Why Read the Prophets?

Because they don’t just cover the contemporary issues of their day. They describe a restoration process that includes saving people from their sins as well as living in a world without sin. So from Isaiah to Malachi, we have a ton of references to the gospel. So much of the New Testament is the fulfillment and unpacking of what we find in these books.

God’s promises- all of which find their fulfillment in Jesus- fill the pages of the prophets. So the more we study them, the better our understanding will be of what Jesus came to do in his first coming. We’ll also enhance our understanding and excitement of what he’ll do upon his return.

So exile. Start with that. Then grab a latte and read them.

God’s Fatherhood and Mine

I became a dad almost three weeks ago.

I’ve always enjoyed hearing guys talk about how becoming a father has added new layers to their understanding of who God is and how they’re treated by him, and I’ve been pretty excited to share in those insights.

Again, I’m only a couple weeks in, so I don’t have a ton of new profound wisdom to offer here. But there is one new layer of understanding that I’ve come to appreciate: I love my son because he’s my son. He’s precious to me simply because he’s mine.

And really, there’s no other possible reason that I could love him. He doesn’t do anything. He’s a consumer. He’s not pulling his weight around here. He sleeps, eats, and occasionally shrieks like a velociraptor. He doesn’t pay rent. He doesn’t listen to reason. But it doesn’t matter. He’s mine, and I love him. Every Christian can say the same about God their Father. And all of us need to remember that. Sometimes desperately so.

Yet sometimes we make a distinction in our minds. Of course I’d say that about my natural-born son. But we struggle to think of our heavenly Father in the same way. If I’m honest, the relationship between a father and his son here on earth seems more real and unconditional than my relationship with God. I feel like if God chose to be my father, then he can also un-choose me.

But I think this line of thinking plays right into the hands of our enemy. A Christian is not a natural-born son of God. He’s an adopted son. And Satan will try to exploit that, leading us to wonder:

-Are you really God’s son, given where you came from and what you’ve done?
-Are you really brothers and sisters since you come from such different backgrounds?
-Will you really be loved and welcomed into God’s family with the baggage that you bring with you?
-I wonder if adoption means that I will always be God’s daughter? What if I do something bad? Can this be reversed? Will He always be my Father?
-Does adoption make me different from others? Is this special identity good or peculiar?
(taken from Mike Milton, “What is the Doctrine of Adoption?”)

I’ve heard it said that many adoptive parents wonder if they’ll be able to love their child the same way a biological parent would love theirs. But the moment they meet them, that concern completely disappears. Whether biological or adopted, a parent’s children are their own, and they love them for it.

And whether it’s his natural child (Jesus) or his adopted sons and daughters, God loves his children. This is captured beautifully in Deuteronomy when God reveals his motive in redeeming his people out of slavery:

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 7:6-8

God loves his people because he loves them. Pretty remarkable.

I love my son because he’s my son. And he will be son whether he is obedient, disobedient, or just sitting there pooping his diaper. Which means I will love him in all these scenarios. Similarly, for those who have been united to Jesus, and who are now sons and daughters of God, you are loved. He’ll love you in your obedience. He’ll discipline you in your disobedience, but he won’t condemn you. He’ll be patient with you as a newborn. In all this, he’ll love you.

Knowing this provides the incredible security of being fully known and yet fully loved. And this allows us to come and repent before God when we sin, knowing that we’re accepted in his presence. Satan will attempt to convince us otherwise. And he is successful when you’re convinced that God is the last person you should dare approach after you committed that sin (leading us to find refuge elsewhere). This security keeps you from hiding in shame from God on the one hand, and the crushing burden of feeling like you have to prove yourself to him on the other.

God’s presence is the safest place to be after you sin, because there’s forgiveness there. And he delights to forgive his children and see them grow to look more like him.

Post Navigation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 39 other followers