Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What does the Bible mean that we are not to judge others?

Jesus’ command not to judge others could be the most widely quoted of His sayings, even though it is almost invariably quoted in complete disregard of its context. Here is Jesus’ statement: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Many people use this verse in an attempt to silence their critics, interpreting Jesus’ meaning as “You don’t have the right tell me I’m wrong.” Taken in isolation, Jesus’ command “Do not judge” does indeed seem to preclude all negative assessments. However, there is much more to the passage than those three words.

The Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean we cannot show discernment. Immediately after Jesus says, “Do not judge,” He says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matthew 7:6). A little later in the same sermon, He says, “Watch out for false prophets. . . . By their fruit you will recognize them” (verses 15–16). How are we to discern who are the “dogs” and “pigs” and “false prophets” unless we have the ability to make a judgment call on doctrines and deeds? Jesus is giving us permission to tell right from wrong.

Also, the Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean all actions are equally moral or that truth is relative. The Bible clearly teaches that truth is objective, eternal, and inseparable from God’s character. Anything that contradicts the truth is a lie—but, of course, to call something a “lie” is to pass judgment. To call adultery or murder a sin is to likewise to pass judgment—but it’s also to agree with God. When Jesus said not to judge others, He did not mean that no one can identify sin for what it is, based on God’s definition of sin.

And the Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean there should be no mechanism for dealing with sin. The Bible has a whole book entitled Judges. The judges in the Old Testament were raised up by God Himself (Judges 2:18). The modern judicial system, including its judges, is a necessary part of society. In saying, “Do not judge,” Jesus was not saying, “Anything goes.”

Elsewhere, Jesus gives a direct command to judge: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24). Here we have a clue as to the right type of judgment versus the wrong type. Taking this verse and some others, we can put together a description of the sinful type of judgment:

Superficial judgment is wrong. Passing judgment on someone based solely on appearances is sinful (John 7:24). It is foolish to jump to conclusions before investigating the facts (Proverbs 18:13). Simon the Pharisee passed judgment on a woman based on her appearance and reputation, but he could not see that the woman had been forgiven; Simon thus drew Jesus’ rebuke for his unrighteous judgment (Luke 7:36–50).

Hypocritical judgment is wrong. Jesus’ command not to judge others in Matthew 7:1 is preceded by comparisons to hypocrites (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16) and followed by a warning against hypocrisy (Matthew 7:3–5). When we point out the sin of others while we ourselves commit the same sin, we condemn ourselves (Romans 2:1).

Harsh, unforgiving judgment is wrong. We are “always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:2). It is the merciful who will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7), and, as Jesus warned, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

Self-righteous judgment is wrong. We are called to humility, and “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6). The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector was confident in his own righteousness and from that proud position judged the publican; however, God sees the heart and refused to forgive the Pharisee’s sin (Luke 18:9–14).

Untrue judgment is wrong. The Bible clearly forbids bearing false witness (Proverbs 19:5). “Slander no one” (Titus 3:2).

Christians are often accused of “judging” or intolerance when they speak out against sin. But opposing sin is not wrong. Holding aloft the standard of righteousness naturally defines unrighteousness and draws the slings and arrows of those who choose sin over godliness. John the Baptist incurred the ire of Herodias when he spoke out against her adultery with Herod (Mark 6:18–19). She eventually silenced John, but she could not silence the truth (Isaiah 40:8).

Believers are warned against judging others unfairly or unrighteously, but Jesus commends “right judgment” (John 7:24, ESV). We are to be discerning (Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). We are to preach the whole counsel of God, including the Bible’s teaching on sin (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:2). We are to gently confront erring brothers or sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:1). We are to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15–17). We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Recommended Resources: Judging Others: The Dangers of Playing God by Ken Sande and Logos Bible Software.

Friday, July 3, 2015

How should a Christian deal with feelings of guilt regarding past sins, whether pre- or post-salvation?

Everyone has sinned, and one of the results of sin is guilt. We can be thankful for guilty feelings because they drive us to seek forgiveness. The moment a person turns from sin to Jesus Christ in faith, his sin is forgiven. Repentance is part of the faith that leads to salvation (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Acts 3:19).

In Christ, even the most heinous sins are blotted out (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 for a list of some unrighteous acts that can be forgiven). Salvation is by grace, and grace forgives. After a person is saved, he will still sin, and when he does, God still promises forgiveness. “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).

Freedom from sin, however, does not always mean freedom from guilty feelings. Even when our sins are forgiven, we still remember them. Also, we have a spiritual enemy, called “the accuser of our brothers” (Revelation 12:10) who relentlessly reminds us of our failures, faults, and sins. When a Christian experiences feelings of guilt, he or she should do the following things:

1) Confess all known, previously unconfessed sin. In some cases, feelings of guilt are appropriate because confession is needed. Many times, we feel guilty because we are guilty! (See David’s description of guilt and its solution in Psalm 32:3-5.)

2) Ask the Lord to reveal any other sin that may need confessing. Have the courage to be completely open and honest before the Lord. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

3) Trust the promise of God that He will forgive sin and remove guilt, based on the blood of Christ (1 John 1:9; Psalm 85:2; 86:5; Romans 8:1).

4) On occasions when guilty feelings arise over sins already confessed and forsaken, reject such feelings as false guilt. The Lord has been true to His promise to forgive. Read and meditate on Psalm 103:8-12.

5) Ask the Lord to rebuke Satan, your accuser, and ask the Lord to restore the joy that comes with freedom from guilt (Psalm 51:12).

Psalm 32 is a very profitable study. Although David had sinned terribly, he found freedom from both sin and guilty feelings. He dealt with the cause of guilt and the reality of forgiveness. Psalm 51 is another good passage to investigate. The emphasis here is confession of sin, as David pleads with God from a heart full of guilt and sorrow. Restoration and joy are the results.

Finally, if sin has been confessed, repented of, and forgiven, it is time to move on. Remember that we who have come to Christ have been made new creatures in Him. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Part of the “old” which has gone is the remembrance of past sins and the guilt they produced. Sadly, some Christians are prone to wallowing in memories of their former sinful lives, memories which should have been dead and buried long ago. This is pointless and runs counter to the victorious Christian life God wants for us. A wise saying is “If God has saved you out of a sewer, don’t dive back in and swim around.”

Recommended Resources: Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from Emotions That Control You by Andy Stanley and Logos Bible Software.

Friday, June 19, 2015

When / How do we receive the Holy Spirit?

The apostle Paul clearly taught that we receive the Holy Spirit the moment we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior. First Corinthians 12:13 declares, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Romans 8:9 tells us that if a person does not possess the Holy Spirit, he or she does not belong to Christ: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Ephesians 1:13-14 teaches us that the Holy Spirit is the seal of salvation for all those who believe: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.”

These three passages make it clear that the Holy Spirit is received at the moment of salvation. Paul could not say that we all were baptized by one Spirit and all given one Spirit to drink if not all of the Corinthian believers possessed the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9 is even stronger, stating that if a person does not have the Spirit, he does not belong to Christ. Therefore, the possession of the Spirit is an identifying factor of the possession of salvation. Further, the Holy Spirit could not be the “seal of salvation” (Ephesians 1:13-14) if He is not received at the moment of salvation. Many scriptures make it abundantly clear that our salvation is secured the moment we receive Christ as Savior.

This discussion is controversial because the ministries of the Holy Spirit are often confused. The receiving/indwelling of the Spirit occurs at the moment of salvation. The filling of the Spirit is an ongoing process in the Christian life. While we hold that the baptism of the Spirit also occurs at the moment of salvation, some Christians do not. This sometimes results in the baptism of the Spirit being confused with “receiving the Spirit” as an act subsequent to salvation.

In conclusion, how do we receive the Holy Spirit? We receive the Holy Spirit by simply receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior (John 3:5-16). When do we receive the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit becomes our permanent possession the moment we believe.

Recommended Resources: The Holy Spirit by Charles Ryrie and Logos Bible Software.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

How to pray? What is the proper way to pray?

Is it best to pray standing up, sitting down, kneeling, or bowing down? Should our hands be open, closed, or lifted up to God? Do our eyes need to be closed when we pray? Is it better to pray in a church building or out in nature? Should we pray in the morning when we get up or at night before we go to bed? Are there certain words we need to say in our prayers? How do we begin our prayers? What is the proper way to close a prayer? These questions, and others, are common questions asked about prayer. What is the proper way to pray? Do any of the above things even matter?

Far too often, prayer is viewed as a “magic formula.” Some believe that if we do not say exactly the right things, or pray in the right position, God will not hear and answer our prayer. This is completely unbiblical. God does not answer our prayers based on when we pray, where we are, what position our body is in, or in what order we word our prayers. We are told in 1 John 5:14-15 to have confidence when we come to God in prayer, knowing He hears us and will grant whatever we ask as long as it is in His will. Similarly, John 14:13-14 declares, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” According to these and many other Scriptures, God answers prayer requests based on whether they are asked according to His will and in the name of Jesus (to bring glory to Jesus).

So, what is the proper way to pray? Philippians 4:6-7 tells us to pray without being anxious, to pray about everything, and to pray with thankful hearts. God will answer all such prayers with the gift of His peace in our hearts. The proper way to pray is to pour out our hearts to God, being honest and open with God, as He already knows us better than we know ourselves. We are to present our requests to God, keeping in mind that God knows what is best and will not grant a request that is not His will for us. We are to express our love, gratitude, and worship to God in prayer without worrying about having just the right words to say. God is more interested in the content of our hearts than the eloquence of our words.

The closest the Bible comes to giving a “pattern” for prayer is the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Please understand that the Lord’s Prayer is not a prayer we are to memorize and recite to God. It is an example of the things that should go into a prayer—worship, trust in God, requests, confession, and submission. We are to pray for the things the Lord’s Prayer talks about, using our own words and “customizing” it to our own journey with God. The proper way to pray is to express our hearts to God. Sitting, standing, or kneeling; hands open or closed; eyes opened or closed; in a church, at home, or outside; in the morning or at night—these are all side issues, subject to personal preference, conviction, and appropriateness. God’s desire is for prayer to be a real and personal connection between Himself and us.

Recommended Resources: Prayer, The Great Adventure by David Jeremiah and Logos Bible Software.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What does it mean that a Christian is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)?

The new creation is described in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” The word “therefore” refers us back to verses 14-16 where Paul tells us that all believers have died with Christ and no longer live for themselves. Our lives are no longer worldly; they are now spiritual. Our “death” is that of the old sin nature which was nailed to the cross with Christ. It was buried with Him, and just as He was raised up by the Father, so are we raised up to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). That new person that was raised up is what Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 5:17 as the “new creation.”

To understand the new creation, first we must grasp that it is in fact a creation, something created by God. John 1:13 tells us that this new birth was brought about by the will of God. We did not inherit the new nature, nor did we decide to re-create ourselves anew, nor did God simply clean up our old nature; He created something entirely fresh and unique. The new creation is completely new, brought about from nothing, just as the whole universe was created by God ex nihilo, from nothing. Only the Creator could accomplish such a feat.

Second, “old things have passed away.” The “old” refers to everything that is part of our old nature—natural pride, love of sin, reliance on works, and our former opinions, habits and passions. Most significantly, what we loved has passed away, especially the supreme love of self and with it self-righteousness, self-promotion, and self-justification. The new creature looks outwardly toward Christ instead of inwardly toward self. The old things died, nailed to the cross with our sin nature.

Along with the old passing away, “the new has come!” Old, dead things are replaced with new things, full of life and the glory of God. The newborn soul delights in the things of God and abhors the things of the world and the flesh. Our purposes, feelings, desires, and understandings are fresh and different. We see the world differently. The Bible seems to be a new book, and though we may have read it before, there is a beauty about it which we never saw before, and which we wonder at not having perceived. The whole face of nature seems to us to be changed, and we seem to be in a new world. The heavens and the earth are filled with new wonders, and all things seem now to speak forth the praise of God. There are new feelings toward all people—a new kind of love toward family and friends, a new compassion never before felt for enemies, and a new love for all mankind. The things we once loved, we now detest. The sin we once held onto, we now desire to put away forever. We “put off the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:9), and put on the “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

What about the Christian who continues to sin? There is a difference between continuing to sin and continuing to live in sin. No one reaches sinless perfection in this life, but the redeemed Christian is being sanctified (made holy) day by day, sinning less and hating it more each time he fails. Yes, we still sin, but unwillingly and less and less frequently as we mature. Our new self hates the sin that still has a hold on us. The difference is that the new creation is no longer a slave to sin, as we formerly were. We are now freed from sin and it no longer has power over us (Romans 6:6-7). Now we are empowered by and for righteousness. We now have the choice to “let sin reign” or to count ourselves “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11-12). Best of all, now we have the power to choose the latter.

The new creation is a wondrous thing, formed in the mind of God and created by His power and for His glory.

Recommended Resources:
Who am I in Christ by Neil Anderson and Logos Bible Software.

Friday, April 17, 2015

How should Christians stand up for their faith in such an anti-Christian world

As Christians, the two things we can do to stand up for Christ are to live according to His Word and grow our own knowledge of Him. Christ said, “Let your light shine before men…” (Matthew 5:16). This means that we should live and act in a way that supports the gospel. We should also arm ourselves with knowledge, both of the gospel (Ephesians 6:10-17) and of the world around us. First Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” All we can do is live and teach as Christ would and let Him take care of the rest.

Critics of Christianity have become more vocal recently. This is partly because there are many people who do not believe in God or understand the truth about Him at all. Yet the apparent increase of anti-Christians is also due to perception. As with many topics, those who truly despise Christianity are the loudest and most vocal of the non-believers. The vast majority of those who do not believe don’t care enough to bother believers. The few angry, vocal, bitter unbelievers make enough noise to seem more numerous than they are.

The typical insult from the non-religious crowd is to refer to believers as “ignorant,” “stupid,” “brainwashed,” or to otherwise suggest that those who have faith are less intelligent than those who do not. When a Christian stands up intelligently for his faith, the terms change to “bigot,” “extremist,” or “zealot.” When people who know that the believer is kind and loving hear this, the atheist starts to look like the fool that he or she is (Psalm 53:1). Most non-believers have no personal reason to see Christians negatively, but they sometimes hear so much from the loud anti-Christians that they just assume it is so. They need examples of Christ-like living to see the truth.

Of course, when someone claiming to be a Christian says or does something that is not Christ-like, the angry, loud crowd is there to identify him as a typical religious hypocrite. This is something we have been warned to expect (Romans 1:28-30; Matthew 5:11). The best thing to do is to cite a passage of the Bible that speaks against what the person did. And remind the atheists that just because a person says he is a Christian, and even if he thinks he is a Christian, that does not mean that he is. Matthew 7:16,20 tell us that true Christians will be known by their actions, not merely by their profession. And remind critics that absolutely no one lives without sinning at all (Romans 3:23).

An important thing to remember is that no one, no matter how persuasive, can force anyone to believe anything he doesn’t want to believe. No matter what the evidence, no matter what the argument, people will believe what they want to believe (Luke 12:54-56). Conviction is not a Christian’s job. The Holy Spirit convicts people (John 14:16-17), and they choose whether or not to believe. What we can do is present ourselves in a way that is as Christ-like as possible. It is sad that there are many atheists who have read the entire Bible looking for ammunition against Christians, and that there are many Christians who have hardly read the Bible at all.

It’s hard for the angry crowd to accuse a Christian of being a hateful, cruel bigot when that person demonstrates a life of kindness, humility, and compassion. When a Christian can discuss, debate or debunk secular arguments accurately, the label of “ignorant” no longer fits. A Christian who has read the secular arguments and can politely expose their flaws helps to deflate the stereotypes advanced by atheists. Knowledge is the weapon, and it is invincible when we let Christ direct us in how to use it.

Recommended Resources:
Living Loud: Defending Your Faith by Norm Geisler and Logos Bible Software.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"What are the different names of God and what do they mean?"

Each of the many names of God describes a different aspect of His many-faceted character. Here are some of the better-known names of God in the Bible:

EL, ELOAH: God "mighty, strong, prominent" (Genesis 7:1; Isaiah 9:6) – etymologically, El appears to mean “power,” as in “I have the power to harm you” (Genesis 31:29). El is associated with other qualities, such as integrity (Numbers 23:19), jealousy (Deuteronomy 5:9), and compassion (Nehemiah 9:31), but the root idea of might remains.

ELOHIM: God “Creator, Mighty and Strong” (Genesis 17:7; Jeremiah 31:33) – the plural form of Eloah, which accommodates the doctrine of the Trinity. From the Bible’s first sentence, the superlative nature of God’s power is evident as God (Elohim) speaks the world into existence (Genesis 1:1).

EL SHADDAI: “God Almighty,” “The Mighty One of Jacob” (Genesis 49:24; Psalm 132:2,5) – speaks to God’s ultimate power over all.

ADONAI: “Lord” (Genesis 15:2; Judges 6:15) – used in place of YHWH, which was thought by the Jews to be too sacred to be uttered by sinful men. In the Old Testament, YHWH is more often used in God’s dealings with His people, while Adonai is used more when He deals with the Gentiles.

YHWH / YAHWEH / JEHOVAH: “LORD” (Deuteronomy 6:4; Daniel 9:14) – strictly speaking, the only proper name for God. Translated in English Bibles “LORD” (all capitals) to distinguish it from Adonai, “Lord.” The revelation of the name is first given to Moses “I Am who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). This name specifies an immediacy, a presence. Yahweh is present, accessible, near to those who call on Him for deliverance (Psalm 107:13), forgiveness (Psalm 25:11) and guidance (Psalm 31:3).

YAHWEH-JIREH: "The Lord Will Provide" (Genesis 22:14) – the name memorialized by Abraham when God provided the ram to be sacrificed in place of Isaac.

YAHWEH-RAPHA: "The Lord Who Heals" (Exodus 15:26) – “I am Jehovah who heals you” both in body and soul. In body, by preserving from and curing diseases, and in soul, by pardoning iniquities.

YAHWEH-NISSI: "The Lord Our Banner" (Exodus 17:15), where banner is understood to be a rallying place. This name commemorates the desert victory over the Amalekites in Exodus 17.

YAHWEH-M'KADDESH: "The Lord Who Sanctifies, Makes Holy" (Leviticus 20:8; Ezekiel 37:28) – God makes it clear that He alone, not the law, can cleanse His people and make them holy.

YAHWEH-SHALOM: "The Lord Our Peace" (Judges 6:24) – the name given by Gideon to the altar he built after the Angel of the Lord assured him he would not die as he thought he would after seeing Him.

YAHWEH-ELOHIM: "LORD God" (Genesis 2:4; Psalm 59:5) – a combination of God’s unique name YHWH and the generic “Lord,” signifying that He is the Lord of Lords.

YAHWEH-TSIDKENU: "The Lord Our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:16) – As with YHWH-M’Kaddesh, it is God alone who provides righteousness to man, ultimately in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, who became sin for us “that we might become the Righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

YAHWEH-ROHI: "The Lord Our Shepherd" (Psalm 23:1) – After David pondered his relationship as a shepherd to his sheep, he realized that was exactly the relationship God had with him, and so he declares, “Yahweh-Rohi is my Shepherd. I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

YAHWEH-SHAMMAH: "The Lord Is There” (Ezekiel 48:35) – the name ascribed to Jerusalem and the Temple there, indicating that the once-departed glory of the Lord (Ezekiel 8—11) had returned (Ezekiel 44:1-4).

YAHWEH-SABAOTH: "The Lord of Hosts" (Isaiah 1:24; Psalm 46:7) – Hosts means “hordes,” both of angels and of men. He is Lord of the host of heaven and of the inhabitants of the earth, of Jews and Gentiles, of rich and poor, master and slave. The name is expressive of the majesty, power, and authority of God and shows that He is able to accomplish what He determines to do.

EL ELYON: “Most High" (Deuteronomy 26:19) – derived from the Hebrew root for “go up” or “ascend,” so the implication is of that which is the very highest. El Elyon denotes exaltation and speaks of absolute right to lordship.

EL ROI: "God of Seeing" (Genesis 16:13) – the name ascribed to God by Hagar, alone and desperate in the wilderness after being driven out by Sarah (Genesis 16:1-14). When Hagar met the Angel of the Lord, she realized she had seen God Himself in a theophany. She also realized that El Roi saw her in her distress and testified that He is a God who lives and sees all.

EL-OLAM: "Everlasting God" (Psalm 90:1-3) – God’s nature is without beginning or end, free from all constraints of time, and He contains within Himself the very cause of time itself. “From everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

EL-GIBHOR: “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6) – the name describing the Messiah, Christ Jesus, in this prophetic portion of Isaiah. As a powerful and mighty warrior, the Messiah, the Mighty God, will accomplish the destruction of God’s enemies and rule with a rod of iron (Revelation 19:15).

Recommended Resources: The Names of God by Ken Hemphill and Logos Bible Software

Why is the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ so important?

The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important event in history, providing irrefutable evidence that Jesus is who He claimed to be – the Son of God. The resurrection was not only the supreme validation of His deity; it also validated the Scriptures, which foretold His coming and resurrection. Moreover, it authenticated Christ’s claims that He would be raised on the third day (John 2:19-21; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). If Christ’s body was not resurrected, we have no hope that ours will be (1 Corinthians 15:13, 16). In fact, apart from Christ’s bodily resurrection, we have no Savior, no salvation, and no hope of eternal life. As the apostle Paul said, our faith would be “useless” and the life-giving power of the gospel would be altogether eliminated.

Because our eternal destinies ride on the truth of this historical event, the resurrection has been the target of Satan’s greatest attacks against the church. Accordingly, the historicity of Christ’s bodily resurrection has been examined and investigated from every angle and studied endlessly by countless scholars, theologians, professors, and others over the centuries. And even though a number of theories have been postulated that attempt to disprove this momentous event, no credible historical evidence exists which would validate anything other than His literal bodily resurrection. On the other hand, the clear and convincing evidence of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is overwhelming.

Nonetheless, from the Christians in ancient Corinth to many today, misunderstandings persist relative to certain aspects of our Savior’s resurrection. Why, some ask, is it important that Christ’s body was resurrected? Couldn’t His resurrection have just been spiritual? Why and how does the resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantee the bodily resurrection of believers? Will our resurrected bodies be the same as our earthly bodies? If not, what will they be like? The answers to these questions are found in the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, a church that he established several years earlier during his second missionary journey.

In addition to growing factions in the young Corinthian church, there was rampant misunderstanding of some key Christian doctrines, including the resurrection. Although many of the Corinthians accepted that Christ has been resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:1, 11), they had difficulty believing others could or would be resurrected. The continuing influence of Gnostic philosophy, which held that everything spiritual was good whereas everything physical, such as our bodies, was intrinsically evil, was essentially responsible for their confusion regarding their own resurrection. The idea of a detestable corpse being eternally resurrected was, therefore, strongly opposed by some and certainly by the Greek philosophers of the day (Acts 17:32).

Yet, most of the Corinthians understood that Christ’s resurrection was bodily and not spiritual. After all, resurrection means “a rising from the dead”; something comes back to life. They understood that all souls were immortal and at death immediately went to be with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). Thus, a “spiritual” resurrection would make no sense, as the spirit doesn’t die and therefore cannot be resurrected. Additionally, they were aware that the Scriptures, as well as Christ Himself, stated that His body would rise again on the third day. Scripture also made it clear that Christ’s body would see no decay (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27), a charge that would make no sense if His body was not resurrected. Lastly, Christ emphatically told His disciples it was His body that was resurrected: “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39).

Again, however, the Corinthians’ concern was regarding their personal resurrection. Accordingly, Paul tried to convince the Corinthians that because Christ rose from the dead, they also would rise from the dead some day, and that the two resurrections – Christ’s and ours – must stand or fall together, for “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (v.13).

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (vv. 20-22).

When Jesus Christ was resurrected, He became the “first fruits” of all who would be raised (see also Colossians 1:18). The Israelites could not fully harvest their crops until they brought a representative sampling (first fruits) to the priests as an offering to the Lord (Leviticus 23:10). This is what Paul is saying in verses 20-22; Christ’s own resurrection was the “first fruits” of the resurrection “harvest” of the believing dead. The “first fruits” language Paul uses indicates something to follow, and that something would be His followers – the rest of the “crop.” This is how Christ’s resurrection guarantees ours. Indeed, His resurrection requires our resurrection.

And to allay their concerns regarding connecting the spirit to what was deemed an undesirable body, Paul explained to them the nature of our resurrected bodies and how they would differ from our earthly bodies. Paul likened our deceased earthly bodies to a “seed,” and God would ultimately provide another body (vv. 37-38) that would be like Christ’s glorious resurrected body (1 Corinthians 15:49; Philippians 4:21). Indeed, just as with our Lord, our bodies which are now perishable, dishonored, weak, and natural will one day be raised into bodies that are imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Our spiritual bodies will be perfectly equipped for heavenly, supernatural living.

Recommended Resources: The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Logos Bible Software.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What does the Bible say about racism, prejudice, and discrimination?

The first thing to understand in this discussion is that there is only one race—the human race. Caucasians, Africans, Asians, Indians, Arabs, and Jews are not different races. Rather, they are different ethnicities of the human race. All human beings have the same physical characteristics (with minor variations, of course). More importantly, all human beings are equally created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to lay down His life for us (John 3:16). The “world” obviously includes all ethnic groups.

God does not show partiality or favoritism (Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9), and neither should we. James 2:4 describes those who discriminate as “judges with evil thoughts.” Instead, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (James 2:8). In the Old Testament, God divided humanity into two “racial” groups: Jews and Gentiles. God’s intent was for the Jews to be a kingdom of priests, ministering to the Gentile nations. Instead, for the most part, the Jews became proud of their status and despised the Gentiles. Jesus Christ put an end to this, destroying the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14). All forms of racism, prejudice, and discrimination are affronts to the work of Christ on the cross.

Jesus commands us to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34). If God is impartial and loves us with impartiality, then we need to love others with that same high standard. Jesus teaches in Matthew 25 that whatever we do to the least of His brothers, we do to Him. If we treat a person with contempt, we are mistreating a person created in God’s image; we are hurting somebody whom God loves and for whom Jesus died.

Racism, in varying forms and to various degrees, has been a plague on humanity for thousands of years. Brothers and sisters of all ethnicities, this should not be. Victims of racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to forgive. Ephesians 4:32 declares, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Racists may not deserve your forgiveness, but we deserved God’s forgiveness far less. Those who practice racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to repent. “Present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13). May Galatians 3:28 be completely realized, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Recommended Resources: Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper and Logos Bible Software.

What does it mean that God is love?

Let’s look at how the Bible describes love, and then we will see a few ways in which God is the essence of love. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a). This is God's description of love, and because God is love (1 John 4:8), this is what He is like.

Love (God) does not force Himself on anyone. Those who come to Him do so in response to His love. Love (God) shows kindness to all. Love (Jesus) went about doing good to everyone without partiality. Love (Jesus) did not covet what others had, living a humble life without complaining. Love (Jesus) did not brag about who He was in the flesh, although He could have overpowered anyone He ever came in contact with. Love (God) does not demand obedience. God did not demand obedience from His Son, but rather, Jesus willingly obeyed His Father in heaven. “The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). Love (Jesus) was/is always looking out for the interests of others.

The greatest expression of God's love is communicated to us in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Romans 5:8 proclaims the same message: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We can see from these verses that it is God's greatest desire that we join Him in His eternal home, heaven. He has made the way possible by paying the price for our sins. He loves us because He chose to as an act of His will. Love forgives. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

So, what does it mean that God is love? Love is an attribute of God. Love is a core aspect of God’s character, His Person. God’s love is in no sense in conflict with His holiness, righteousness, justice, or even His wrath. All of God’s attributes are in perfect harmony. Everything God does is loving, just as everything He does is just and right. God is the perfect example of true love. Amazingly, God has given those who receive His Son Jesus as their personal Savior the ability to love as He does, through the power of the Holy Spirit (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1, 23-24).

Recommended Resources: The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson and Logos Bible Software.

What should be the Christian view of romance?

Although there are no references to the word romance in the Bible, there are 281 mentions of love. Since the dictionary definition for romance is "ardent emotional attachment or involvement between people; a love affair," these two terms can sometimes be used interchangeably. But the true meaning of love, as defined in the Bible, has been corrupted in the common usage of our English language and society. Most often, love is confused with infatuation - that elated, "high" feeling we get when we "fall in love." This kind of "love" is something that lasts typically a short time and, unless replaced by true love, results in broken relationships.

The Bible covers two types of love: agape and phileo. Agape love is represented by God's love for us. It is a non-partial, sacrificial love best demonstrated by the gift in John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life." This kind of love is unconditional. The "Love Chapter" in 1 Corinthians deals more explicitly with this. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a). This passage is often quoted at weddings and other celebrations of love.

Agape is a connection through the spirit. A true manifestation of this requires a relationship with Christ. For without Him, agape love isn't exhibited in its truest form. We, as humans, can't reach this level alone. We need our Heavenly Father's Spirit in us, working through us. "The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Only through that Spirit can we reach this goal.

The other kind of love, phileo, is considered "brotherly love." It is usually based upon how others treat us and our feelings in any given situation. It involves direct interaction and sometimes comes with a price tag of expectation, wanting something back in return. It's a demonstrative form of love offered through the soul. But, it's also a command from God. "Let us love one another, because love comes from God" (1 John 4:7).

Love is the attribute of God that means the most to us. If God didn't love us, whom He created, He would have traded us in for a better model long ago. Despite our many failures, God keeps working with us (Romans 5:8). Time and time again, despite His patience being tested, He demonstrates that love for His people. He only banned Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. He didn't take their lives. He spared the world because He found one man of upright faith in Noah. He rescued Lot from Sodom before destroying that city. He made Abraham the father of many nations and blessed him with his long-awaited son, despite Abraham's impatience when he fathered a son through his wife's servant.

In the same way God shows His love for us, He expects us to love Him totally and to show love toward each other. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27). Jesus spoke these words when the Pharisees questioned Him about the greatest commandment of God. Although they tried to trick Him, Jesus didn't change the law; He fulfilled it. His sayings about love were not new. The emphasis was merely changed.

The relationships in our lives will either be governed by agape or phileo love. When thinking in terms of romance, we allow the manifestation of that agape love to pour out from our hearts. As a result, we are eager to do everything we can to please the other person and make that person happy. In a love relationship between a man and a woman, the romance is the physical evidence of the love that exists. When that relationship progresses to marriage, the love built between the man and woman only grows deeper as the bond is made stronger through the intimate union of body and soul. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Biblical love elevates the husband's affections for his wife to the point of loving his wife "as his own body." It also instructs wives to submit to their husbands as the head of the household (Eph. 5:25-29). But submission doesn't mean subservience. On the contrary, when true agape love is manifested in the marriage, the two will act as one, and both will love the other as they love themselves. The tenderness and romance will come out of that love.

By far, the best book in the Bible on this romantic and agape type of love is the Song of Solomon. An oft-quoted and many times favorite of romantics, this book demonstrates the parallel between the agape love Christ has for His church and the deep, abiding love a husband has for his bride. The lover and beloved exchange dialogue with each other, and the beloved speaks with her friends. Every passage attests to the deep and abiding love between the lover and beloved. The two are so consumed with that love that it fills them and gives them strength to face each new day. They find comfort and solace in each other's arms and are incomplete without each other. Being together excites them, and when they're apart, they anticipate their reunion.

But, above everything else that is demonstrated in God's Word, it's important to keep in mind that love/romance is an action. It's not passive, and it's not a feeling. It's a verb. It requires you to do something in order to bring it to pass. It also requires that you put the other person's wants and desires above your own. Whenever you need a reminder, go back and read 1 Corinthians 13. And remember, you don't have to do it alone. God's Spirit will work through you. All you have to do is ask.
Recommended Resources: The Book of Romance: What Solomon Says About Love, Sex, and Intimacy by Tommy Nelson and Logos Bible Software.