one of the law’s important functions

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

1 Timothy 1:8-11

I don’t think we would think well of a road in a mountainous region which had no guardrails near a steep cliff. That is one important way to appreciate the role of God’s law in Scripture. It is not meant to keep us from enjoying ourselves, but rather, to keep us from harming ourselves. It is also meant to point us to the necessary correction we need.

While the law tells us what’s wrong, only God’s grace in Christ can help us repent of our sin, and turn in a different direction, toward God, and toward pleasing God. We can’t do it ourselves simply by checking off the right boxes, and changing our behavior. We need God’s grace in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, and for the new life through which we can see change occurring in our lives through a changed heart and a renewed mind.

Not easy, but given to us day after day in and through Jesus.

 

a breathtaking view

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22

Ephesians, especially the first three chapters in our Bibles, is written to see something of the vast panorama of God’s working in the new creation in Christ, with a special emphasis on the church. Unfortunately for too many of us who have been in the Bible a number of years, it can come across differently than how it did originally. That’s when we maybe need to step back, slow down, move through it slow enough, then stop, and note the beautiful portrait and scene in our mind’s eye.

The passage quoted above is very much like that. The thoughts to the original readers would have been breathtaking in themselves, and Paul surely almost breathlessly himself, unravels a glorious picture before us. So that what we end up with is a breathtaking view.

Contrast that to what is presented today as glorious, maybe even the kingdoms of the world in all their splendor as maybe through a vision, the devil showed the Lord in Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness. Really, all the world has to offer can’t compare with what God reveals to us by the Spirit in God’s word through the gospel. No, it can’t compare. In fact what comparison we do end up finding by the Spirit’s help is the difference between darkness and light. At best between what is provisional and good in its place for now, and what is perfect and to last forever.

The entire Bible especially taken together is like this. And the book in it we call Ephesians. In and through Jesus.

what makes the difference in the Christian life? (not politics)

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Acts 20:22-24

A cursory reading of Paul and his ministry makes it evident that the gospel is the heart and soul of what he was about. And it is clearly evident that Christians share in that, Philippians 1 along with the rest of that letter being a clear example.

When we read the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah, Amos, etc.) along with the rest of the Bible, it becomes clear that justice in terms of the love and righteousness of God’s will in totally loving God, and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is front and center. It is not something on the side that we can get to if we are so inclined, or find the time, while simply evangelizing, getting people “saved” takes up the bulk of our time. No. Evangelizing and discipling involve inculcating people in the reality of God’s love and truth, the witness of the gospel, the good news in Jesus being made clear in the church itself in the forgiveness of sins and the new life found in Jesus.

Fastforward to the United States today, and politics. You find good people divided on virtually anything and everything, including Christians. But guess what? Jesus’s heart beat is not Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Progressive, Conservative, whatever. No. It’s God’s grace and God’s kingdom come in him. It’s essentially his own heart beat given as a gift to us by the Holy Spirit. So that in love we can live past whatever differences we have with each other, as hard as that might be at times.

When we buy into something less than that, then we’re into idolatry, pure and simple. Our passion, our heart beat, and frankly how we evaluate everything comes from God in Christ and the good news in him. We’re to do it in all humility and love. Not simply dissing the significant importance of earthly politics in its place. But knowing that what we have goes beyond that, so that ironically it can impact it in a heavenly way. Being heavenly-minded so that we can be of earthly good. But living through and for Jesus and the gospel. In and through him.

the weapons of our warfare

By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

2 Corinthians 10:1-6

I suppose we shouldn’t forget that Paul was an apostle with a unique calling so that all that is said here might not apply to what we might call secondary apostles and servant-leaders in the church today. But it surely does apply in some sense, and in a secondary sense to all Christians.

I can hardly get my mind around all Paul is saying here. But one strong, obvious point is his insistence that he and those with him fought differently than the world. Surely in every way, the physical weapons of the world included, and of course not included with Paul and the apostolic band. Paul’s battle was spiritual. And this was a church matter. Paul even said he didn’t judge those in the world, but only in the church, since those in the church had committed themselves to the gospel.

It seems that his weapon was the preaching of the gospel, setting forth the truth plainly and therefore commending the truth to every person’s conscience, including the art of persuasion. You don’t see a hint of resorting to tactics common in the world. Appealing to his Roman citizenship did save him some pain and trouble, but what he was all about was one thing: the gospel, and the power of God for salvation that gospel brings.

Something for us to ponder and pray about as Christians during such a tumultuous time in our nation and the world.

the gospel is what we’re to be living out, as well as witnesses to

We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.

2 Corinthians 10:14-16a

What seems beside the point in Paul’s addressing of his concern in passing, but really is at the heart of the point is what he was all about: not self-aggrandizement or self-glory, but only and always about the gospel of Christ.

Paul is getting after those who were set in opposition to him, claiming apostleship for themselves perhaps because they found themselves in opposition to Paul and somehow thought they could do better, or more likely out of an underlying self-ambition with a professed belief in Christ. But Paul wasn’t about self-ambition in the least, but again- only and always about Christ and Christ’s gospel.

Sometimes we may not feel we have anything to offer to others, or at least not anything they would accept. After all, people look at another according to their status, what they’ve achieved in life, or whether that other is beneficial to them, not to mention whether it all seems relevant or jives with them.

Paul was concerned about none of that, because the gospel is inherently weak and foolish in the world’s eyes, just as he had told them in his first letter to the Corinthian church. God takes the weak and despised and nothing things as his instruments to help others. The gospel is not only to be proclaimed, but lived out by those who proclaim it. Christ’s weakness in his death on the cross is to be embraced by his followers, that they might know God’s resurrection power in Christ. When we are strong in ourselves, then the only help people will get is what help we can give them, not God’s help.

And so we must continue on no matter what we’re facing or going through. Believing and knowing that we are on course only in the weakness of Christ for the good news that will bring others into the power and blessing of God. In and through Jesus.

to the undeserving: all of us

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:1-7

How we translate Ephesians 2:3b is debated. It is literally “we were by nature, children of wrath” (see link above for different translations and here for all of them on Bible Gateway).

Children of wrath is a Semitic idiom which may mean either “people characterized by wrath” or “people destined for wrath.”

NET Bible note

Even though it could mean that we’re by nature, wrathful, I think both the immediate context, and the biblical context as a whole warrants the NIV‘s translation above. We’re indeed by nature deserving of God’s wrath because of our sin and wickedness. Wrath one might say is shorthand for God’s judgment. God’s anger can be involved, but oftentimes wrath in Scripture is in the context of God’s judgment. This meaning is brought out in at least many English Bible translations which try to provide clarity on what would be ambiguous to the reader, probably particularly where it seems there is sufficient clarity. Of course that can be swayed by theological understanding. The Bible translation sponsored by Mainline Protestantism which attempts to do this, the Common English Bible (CEB) translates this similarly:

All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

But thankfully it doesn’t stop there. To see how well that thought follows, click the (CEB) link just above, which is especially clear.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:4-7

God’s love we can say cancels out God’s judgment or more accurately taking it on God’s self (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) through Christ and the cross. There’s no other way according to Scripture’s consistent testimony throughout, completed in the gospel.

So yes, to the undeserving, all of us: God’s gift of love in forgiveness of sins and eternal life is made available as a gift to receive by faith. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the righteous boast

This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”[b]

1 Corinthians 1:28-31

For God’s people, followers of Jesus, there’s one boast and one boast only. It’s in God himself and what God does. Somehow God takes his people into his work by the Holy Spirit, so that we’re actually involved in what God is doing. So we find that we not only are given, but actually participate in God’s goodness.

So our only boast is in God and in God’s work in Jesus who is Lord, and the cross, God’s saving act in Jesus. And in the difference that makes in our lives and the lives of others. In and through Jesus.

while the world is falling apart…

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46

We live in a time of cultural seismic change. In society, including the church, certainly in politics. And if you’re not on board, then you’re not welcome.

Christians need to hold steady, just as the psalm tells us. Not be taking sides in the culture war, or whatever war is going on out there. But standing steady in the faith, come what may. On the truth of the gospel, and as found in Scripture.

We need to appeal to reason, but no matter what we say, we will face opposition. Of course we need to listen well, too. We can learn from those who oppose us, since they might have some truth in what they’re saying. After all, we have our blind spots too.

When it’s all said and done, we still hold steady to the truth as it is in Jesus and in Scripture. And we stake our lives on that, and nothing else. Confident in the God who has made himself known in and through Jesus.

God’s salvation door is wide open

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:2b

There’s no question that it’s a difficult time to live, especially in some parts of the world.  Of course all of that is relative, depending on what you mean. But no matter which way you turn, there are tremendous difficulties and challenges. In many places it’s dangerous to be a Christian, but it’s interesting how in some of those very places the church is growing faster than in “the free world.” And there are the cultural sea changes, with the strong reactions against them. Terrorists groups in the name of religion, the steady spread and increase of Islam. Other world religions continuing their traditions.

And there’s the awful bloodletting that continues on earth. Abortion being one prime example. Nuclear weapons are still a threat, and all the more so in the hands of brutal dictatorships. And we can go on and on with the problems. God’s judgment in letting humans reap what they sow is indeed present. And yet Jesus came with a different message, a message for all. The good news in him is that all can be saved simply by believing in him and so receiving the gift of eternal life. Through his death for the forgiveness of our sins, and his resurrection for our new life in him.

Paul’s words above, of course God’s written word, is in harmony with John’s words in his gospel account:

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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17

And Jesus says the same close to the time of his crucifixion and death:

…I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.

John 12:47b

While there’s plenty else going on in the world, and God is active, this seems to be the main point of the present: God’s salvation in Jesus is now offered, free to all.

And this is said by Peter to be precisely the reason the end is not yet coming, at least in part:

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:3-13

God’s salvation door is now open wide. Hopefully through our prayers, and others seeing God’s salvation beginning in us, they too might walk through and join us. In and through Jesus.

 

 

“the redemption of reason”

The wise will be put to shame;
they will be dismayed and trapped.
Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,
what kind of wisdom do they have?

Jeremiah 8:9

In a challenging, but interesting article, Dallas Willard speaks of a crisis of reason not only in the universities, but right in our Christian schools. Aptly called, “The Redemption of Reason,” because Willard is making the point that sin through bad philosophy has shipwrecked reason, so that it is now essentially meaningless. And what has gone down with it is any idea of moral knowledge. All lost because it has been separated from its source and ground, or place, from God who is spirit, and why creation exists in the first place (my words in part here; I would highly recommend a slow read of that article).

The Bible is essentially reasonable, even when we can’t track with all that is happening entirely. Taken as a whole, then considered in its parts, we can say without a doubt that there is plenty of sense in the story, whether or not it jives with all of our sensibilities. The problem nowadays is that our outlook has been shaped from centuries of what amounts to essentially bad philosophy in different forms, which end up denying truth because they’re untethered from the one source of truth, God. And so we go gallivanting, who knows where.

Religion is looked down on as something like old school. Of course the one revelation is fulfilled in Christ and the good news in him as unfolded from the pages of Scripture. Reason is very much apart of our faith, essentially Christ’s resurrection in history at the center of that, along with the reality of God mediated to us in Christ by the Spirit.

Where does that leave us? In a crisis even in our Christian circles, because we’ve by and large retreated from reason because of how it is understandably failing in the secular universities. We have done so by placing our study and appropriation of Scripture in a separate category probably without knowing it, because we have to make do in the real world. And Scripture seems different, anyhow. Well it is, and it isn’t. It’s from God, but it’s right down to earth where we live in our humanity. And that certainly includes reason.

Again what’s needed is nothing less than the redemption of reason, according to Willard. And Christians must lead the way, or show the way, because reason itself loses all significance apart from God, and won’t stand on its own, completely dependent on the meaning assigned to it. It’s not like we have to figure out the problem; it’s in the air, just assumed, grounded somehow in whatever human endeavor, good things like science, which essentially can’t be the basis of meaning since God is not in their equation.

So we shouldn’t flee from reason, or be apologetic about it. Instead we need to demonstrate through faith the reasonableness of it all, while at the same time holding on to mystery as part of the story, what’s up, and what God is doing in our lives and in the world. And see the gospel in Jesus as essential in all of this, leading us to God and the new life in him.