There is but a step from Lent to Carnival

J. C. Ryle’s remarks on John 18:28–

It is no uncommon thing to find people excessively particular about the observance of trifling forms and outward ceremonies, while they are the slaves of degrading sins and detestable immoralities. Robbers and murderers in some countries are extremely strict about confession, and absolution, and prayers to saints. Fastings and self-imposed austerities in Lent, are often followed by excess of worldliness when Lent is over. There is but a step from Lent to Carnival. The attendants at daily services in the morning are not unfrequently the patrons of balls and theaters at night. All these are symptoms of spiritual disease, and a heart secretly dissatisfied…

A religion that makes a man neglect the weighter matters of daily holiness and separation from the world, and concentrate his whole attention on forms, sacraments, ceremonies, and public services, is to say the least, very suspicious.

The Truthfulness of Christianity

“Christianity, if it be not the true religion, is certainly the greatest cheat that ever was put upon the world; and, if so, it must be of the devil, who is the father of all lies: but it is certain that the doctrine of Christ is no doctrine of devils, for it is levelled directly against the devil’s kingdom, and Satan is too subtle to be divided against himself.”

–Matthew Henry, 5:1035 on John 10:19-21

Defend the Faith Biblical Challenge

I received an email today from one of many news services about religious items. Wow, talk about invective!

The low-down: An author asks folks to supply evidence that he has used the Bible incorrectly in his latest book, The Case Against Evangelical Christianity, specifically these points:

The book makes several controversial claims: among them I argue the Virgin Birth story is a fictional account, and that there is little credible evidence within the New Testament to support the physical resurrection of Jesus. With respect to the Rapture, I conclude belief in it reflects profound biblical illiteracy. Finally, I present important biblical evidence to shed doubt on the idea that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.

He offers anyone $100 if they can demonstrate that he has improperly used the Bible “as supporting evidence.” Perhaps that’s where the rub lies–the Bible isn’t viewed as the only source, just supporting evidence.

The author has some “rules” that you have to abide by to successfully mount a challenge, the most interesting of which is the first:

I will only pay for scriptural evidence I use incorrectly. I will not pay for evidence that supports another viewpoint.

So you’ve got to change his mind about what he thinks about the Bible. Given the blinding effects of sin and Satan upon the unbelieving mind, the only One who will successfully accomplish that is the Holy Spirit. And I doubt he’ll pony up the $100 then.

Matt 1:23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which translated means, ‘God with us.’”

Matt 28:6 “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”

John 14:3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

Deut 5:4-5 “The Lord spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire, while I [Moses] was standing between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord”

God’s Transforming Grace

Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison (Acts 8:3)

…serving the Lord with all humility and tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20-21)

What a great illustration of God’s grace in transforming Paul’s heart and actions, from going house to house as a persecutor of Christ to going house to house as a proclaimer of Christ!

Introduction to the Gospels

You can download a PDF of this here.

Having introduced the New Testament, let’s now briefly consider some basic things about “the Gospels.”

The English word Gospel comes from the Anglo-Saxon word godspell and is made up of god (God) and spell (a story). Gospel, then, means either God-story or good story. This last meaning lines up with the Greek word for which gospel is commonly translated. Used over 70 times in the New Testament, gospel always refers to the message, the good news of what God has accomplished through Jesus Christ. Thus, we should understand the Gospels as referring to “the good news about Jesus Christ.”

Why were the Gospels written? It’s common to think of the Gospels as biographies of Jesus, but that’s not accurate. Biographies give a lot of information about someone’s life, but the Gospels are very selective as to what they tell about Jesus. Being guided by the Holy Spirit, the Gospel writers carefully chose what they wrote about Jesus. They had a goal or purpose in why they were writing.

The Gospel writers had at least three motives or goals for these accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. First, they wanted to help the missionary work of the church, showing who Jesus was so that others would trust in Him. Second, they helped the church defend their beliefs, providing answers to questions about who Jesus was and what He did. Third, the Gospel writers wanted to help the church teach believers about their Savior and strengthen their faith in Him.

Why are there four Gospels? It is common—and probably correct—to recognize that because each gospel writer had a specific purpose in writing he also had specific people he was writing to. Thus the gospel writers tell about Christ in a way best suited to whom they were writing to. Matthew wrote to Jews showing Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Jewish King. Mark wrote to Romans, portraying Jesus as the tireless Servant of the Lord. Luke wrote to Greeks, depicting Jesus as the Son of Man who came to rescue the lost. John’s account is addressed to all men, proving that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who alone can provide eternal life.

The ultimate reason, however, why there are four gospels is inspiration—the Holy Spirit moved these writers to produce written records of Jesus, guiding and protecting them so that they wrote exactly and accurately the truth about Jesus Christ.

Before surveying each of the Gospels, there are five important things you must understand in order to interpret them correctly.

First, recognize the Old Testament background of the Gospels. For example, when the New Testament talks about the Christ or the Messiah it does so from the standpoint of what the Old Testament said about the coming Messiah—who He would be, what he would do, etc. The New Testament doesn’t ignore or change the meaning of the Old Testament—it builds on, continues, and fulfills it!

Second, recognize that Jesus’ earthly ministry was mainly to the Jews. Jesus was “born under the Law” (Gal 4:4), was “a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers” (Rom 15:8), and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24). We should expect this as Jesus was first of all the Jews’ Messiah! Sadly, they rejected Him, with the result that revelation was given that the Old Testament gives no hint of—the church (Eph 3:5–6). Though the Gospels say little about the church they definitely show the gospel is for everyone and that disciples be made of all the nations.

Third, understand the meaning of the phrases “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven.” These mean the same thing (Matt 19:23–24; Mark 10:23–25). Matthew uses “Heaven” instead of “God” because the Jews he wrote to had such reverence for God’s name they would say “heaven” instead. Also, this kingdom refers to the Messiah’s future, literal rule on earth. When Jesus talked about the kingdom, His Jewish hearers knew exactly what He was talking about—a literal earthly kingdom with the Messiah ruling. If Jesus was thinking of a different kind of “kingdom” He would have said so, but He never does this. Jesus is the head of the church (Col 1:18), he is never called the King of the church.

Fourth, understand the nature and purpose of miracles. Miracles are supernatural acts that only God could do. They were God’s “stamp of approval” on His messenger and the message to prove that they were truly of God (Matt 11:2–6; Acts 2:22). Jesus thus did miracles to prove to people that He was the promised Messiah (Luke 7:18–22).

Fifth, understand the nature and purpose of parables. People often think that Jesus taught in parables to help others understand what He was saying, much like using an illustration. The fact, though, is the exact opposite! Jesus didn’t start teaching in parables until after the Jews rejected Him (Matt 13:10, 34–35). Jesus used parables as a form of judgment. Parables gave truth to Jesus’ disciples but at the same time withheld that truth from those who rejected Him as the Messiah.

Introduction to the New Testament

For our Wednesday Bible studies at Orwell Bible Church we’ve begun a new series I’m calling Scripture Summaries. The objective is to give a clear, concise overview of one book of the Bible at a time. We started this past week with an Introduction to the New Testament. You can download a PDF of the following here.

Introduction to the New Testament

The last 27 books of the Bible are called the “New Testament.” “Testament” is the translation of a Greek word that means “covenant.” At one time “testament” referred to a covenant between God and man (compare the KJV with NASB in passages such as Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25, “this is the new testament/covenant in my blood”).

“Covenant” refers to a relationship. “Old Testament” refers to the relationship that existed between God and men before Jesus Christ, whereas “New Testament” refers to the relationship God now has with men through Jesus Christ. “New Testament” refers back to the “new covenant” of Jeremiah 31:31. There God reveals four aspects of the new covenant that He will establish with Israel. Today, all who trust in Jesus Christ participate in three of those aspects: they know and obey God, have forgiveness of sins, and have the Holy Spirit indwelling them.

We do have a biblical basis for referring to two sections of the Bible as “testaments.” In 2 Corinthians 3:14 Paul says that when Jews read “the old covenant” their minds are blinded to its truths because they do not believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

God gave His Word in written form through men, protecting them from error and guiding them so that every word they chose was exactly what God wanted written. This Word from God is inspired, meaning “God breathed.” As time progressed God’s people recognized the character of these writings and welcomed them as God’s Word, a process called canonization. Because the New Testament was originally written in the Greek language and Christians needed God’s Word, it was copied and translated into thousands of languages and thus transmitted to Christians.

As Christians, we know that the 27 books of the New Testament are the Word of God because the Holy Spirit has taken away the hostility toward it we had as unbelievers and has replaced that hostility with a love, certainty, and conviction that the Bible is from God and is His truth.

Because the New Testament is God’s Word Christianity is rightly called “a religion of the Book.” We do not worship the ink and pages, but the statements of truth conveyed by that ink on those pages tell us about the one true God so that we can worship Him in spirit and truth. Some may criticize our attention to and faith in the written Word of God, but the Bible is no mere human book, it is the very Word of God!

Why do we have the New Testament? What is its purpose? Why was it written? Answering these questions can be challenging as each book of the New Testament is unique, having its own characteristics and purpose for being written. However, as we look at all 27 books we are able to see that the purpose of the New Testament is to give the church God’s written revelation of Christian doctrine and practice. The New Testament tells us what believers in Jesus Christ should be convinced of and how they should live.

As we consider the entire New Testament, we are able to see two basic sections or divisions. The first section provides the basis for and growth of Christianity and consists of the four Gospels and the book of Acts. The Gospels provide the basis of Christianity—the person and work of Jesus Christ and Israel’s rejection of Him as their Messiah. Acts provides the birth and growth of Christianity throughout the then known world.

The second section of the New Testament sets forth the doctrine and practice of Christianity and consists of what are called epistles or letters, the books from Romans to Revelation. Doctrine is truth that believers in Christ must know and base their practice on. In the New Testament, issues of lifestyle, church life, and even petty problems are dealt with in light of God’s truth.

An Evangelistic Essential

“…so that the world may believe/know…” (John 17:20, 23)

A “church” may have all kinds of external evidences of “success” but if there is no true spiritual unity such is but an outward façade.

Jesus’ intention for his body (in which are unified both Jews and Gentiles) is that, by virtue of their unity and the ministry that each member renders as a result of that unity,the world would believe in Christ with repentance and faith.

Note what Jesus prays here in the upper room on the night in which he was betrayed (John 17:20–26)

What does this unity of believers look like? A: the one Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13), the household of God (Eph 2:19).

  1. The pattern of this unity is in the Godhead—three persons but one God. So also in the Body of Christ there are many members but a unity of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:12–13). The Spirit formed a spiritual “body” of many different members.
  2. The members, though different in appearance and function, function in harmony (1 Cor 12:14–20)
  3. The members depend on each other, respect one another, and care for each other (1 Cor 12:21–31)
  4. There is no distinction between believers—Jew or Gentile, male or female, bond or free, poor or rich, strong or weak (Gal 3:27–28; Eph 2:19). This does not mean that there are no differences in roles or responsibilities. Rather, there are no differences of spiritual position because of your race, status, or gender.

This is not a prayer for an outward unity seen in a large church organization. The unity is a unity in the Father and the Son—“that they also may be in Us” (John 17:21).

No program or “ministry” can accomplish these things because these are strictly spiritual in nature, not material!

When this “body” was formed on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) Jesus’ prayer was answered!

How does the unity of believers in the body of Christ accomplish/result in unbelievers’ salvation?A: exercise of spiritual gifts (Eph 4:3–16) and believers’ prayers (Rom 15:30–31; 2 Cor 1:11)

  1. There is no other way to “explain” the oneness and unity among such different peoples other than it is something God has done.
  2. Each member of the body is given at least one spiritual gift (Rom 12:3–8; 1 Cor 12:7; Eph 3:7; 1 Pet 4:11)
  3. Each member is to use his gift for the unity, maturity, protection, and growth of the body (Eph 4:11–16)
  4. Each member can pray “with” other members though separated from one another (Rom 15:30–31; 2 Cor 1:11)
  5. Each member must love each other (1 John 4:11–13, 20). People “see” God’s love when God’s people love one another.

When the lost see this body, raised up by the simple gospel message, wonderfully put together and ordered, they cannot deny that such is the work of God. NOTE: The emphasis is on the work that God has done through his people!

Can disunity in a church body hinder evangelism? Yes! If there is bitterness, internal strife, and an unwillingness to seek and grant forgiveness your focus is on you,rather than others, and this is the opposite of love!

Experience vs. Evidence

One of the more challenging passages in the NT is Hebrews 6:4–6. This provides challenges because it sounds like one loses his salvation. However, if more careful attention were paid to what is said in the immediate and larger contexts, this perceived problem would fade away.

Specifically, note the illustration given in vv. 7–8 and the encouragement in vv. 9–12. The point of the illustration is this: Fruit is the evidence of life; no fruit shows no life.

In his encouragement in vv. 9–12 the author of Hebrews does not consider personal experience (as noted in vv. 4–5) as sufficient evidence of salvation. Hear what he says in v. 9—“we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation.” The author of Hebrews clearly does not consider personal experience alone as part of the “things that accompany salvation.”

What are the “things that accompany salvation”? The context tells us—

  • Good works, v. 10
  • Love for Christians, v. 10
  • Perseverance, vv. 11–12

This is consistent with larger context of the book of Hebrews, which sees perseverance in Jesus Christ as essential to salvation. It is also consistent with the rest of Scripture, which recognizes genuine salvation as belonging to those who bear appropriate fruit as opposed to a mere profession of faith.

Don’t evaluate your standing before God by what you have felt and experienced. Look at your life—is there evidence of a real, demonstrable change in your behavior, activities, affection, direction, and devotion?

Daily Bale for March 25, 2011

For family devotions we jumped ahead a bit and read Exodus 32, the golden calf incident. Josiah correctly got the main problem, their making and worshiping of idols, but then asked what I thought for an 8 year old was a perceptive question– “But they didn’t have the 10 commandments yet; Moses was just coming down the mountain?” True enough, little theologian! However, that does not excuse their sin, and Aaron at least should have known better. The incident shows that Egypt was still in the Israelites, even though the Israelites were out of Egypt.

For part of my personal Bible reading I read Ephesians 5. I noted this paragraph–

3But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

I thought about how for some reason we Christians too often find amusement in and imitate the common grace expressions of our culture instead of embracing and imitating (v. 1) a full-fledged saving grace mindset. We should embrace the latter, not settle for the former. We should desire that which should be named among us, that which is proper among saints, that which is fitting a citizen of the coming kingdom of Christ and God.

Ran several errands around town. Emails and phone calls. Reading, studying, preparation for Sunday.

Got a call from the doctor’s office that my insulin came in!!! Good news, as I was almost out. Bad news, Andy had the van and wouldn’t be back until after it closed. I got my exercise in at least!

Family night, which means lots of home-made pizza!

One of the men from church sent me this great picture of an area barn–

IMG_0505c.jpg

A Great Question and a Great Answer

Once in awhile we’ll take our Wednesday Bible study for an “Ask the Pastor” session. It’s usually a lot of fun, in addition to being helpful. Occasionally someone will ask a real tough question that I have to answer with “Uh, I have no idea. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”

In a jail in Philippi, there were two men who were asked a great question:

Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

An answer was readily and confidently given:

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.

Let’s pray that that great question is asked more often, and we’ll have the opportunity to give the great answer!