Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Sabbath" in Colossians 2


After

Here is a simple study about "Sabbaths" in Colossians 2 which I wrote in a comment to a friend who had thought that the "Sabbaths" referred to ascetic practices, pagan mixes with Judaism, worship of angels, etc., instead of referring to the seventh-day Sabbath of the Old Covenant (the Mosaic Law). Simply looking at the passage's internal definitions and comparing it to identical patterns and usages in the Old Testament actually makes things a lot clearer and shows that we can take Scripture at face value without having to search far and wide for alternate explanations. (^_^)

The bulk of Colossians 2 seems to clearly be referring to the same kind of 'Judaizing' Paul addressed in Galatians (which also triggered the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15). All of the latter part of Colossians 2 can easily be found in first century Judaism: the harsh-treatment-of-body comment easily matches extreme Pharisees and Essenes, and the "worship of angels" also matches Jewish myths like the ones found in the deuterocanonical books such as the Book of Tobit. Different sects and factions existed inside Judaism, but it's important to recognize that each of them still clung to the Law (that is, the Law of Moses -- the Old Covenant). No matter what extra beliefs they added on, they all held the Law in common, including all of its feasts as described in Leviticus 23 (which begins the list of feasts with the weekly Sabbath). And more importantly, all the factions of first century Judaism all held *circumcision* in common. That the Colossians 2 devotes so much time to the issue of "circumcision" is perhaps some of the heaviest evidence that the main challenge Paul was defending Christianity against was from something fundamentally "Judaizing" in nature. It was a challenge from people who still said that the Old Covenant was necessary.

While various people make a case to say that the last part of Colossians 2 refers to some more extremist Jewish groups, the evidence is inconclusive (except for people whose already-decided conclusion about Sabbath *necessitates* reading it to mean anything but the weekly Sabbath no matter what the evidence says). However, if we examine the internal evidence in the chapter then several things are immediately clear about the "Sabbath" as it is mentioned there:

1) A list of ordinances including charges against us was nailed to the cross in the body of Jesus Christ

2) Because this list was nailed to the cross, Christians are no longer judged by food, drinks, New Moons, festivals and Sabbaths.

3) Therefore, the reason that we are no longer judged by those things is because they were contained in the "list" that was nailed to the cross. (The word "therefore" at the beginning of verse 16 makes this direct link to the preceding two verses 14-15.)

4) Verses 16-17 state that those things (drinks, foods, Sabbaths, New Moons & Festivals) were shadows of Christ and not the real substance, which is Him Himself.

5) Because they were called "shadows" of Christ, those things had to be part of the original Mosaic Law (Old Covenant) and not mis-interpretations or extra things added on by ascetics or pagans. Just as the sacrifices were called "shadows" in Hebrews 10 (using the same Greek word), in the same way these things were called "shadows" of Christ. Just as the sacrifices were completely fulfilled by the cross, in the same way these things were completely fulfilled by the cross. Just as there is no need for further sacrifices, there is no further need for these things. Therefore we are not judged by them, nor are we to judge one another by them.

Now that we've established that the "Sabbaths" mentioned here are those proscribed by God in the Mosaic Law (instead of some pagan/ascetic thing), the question arises as to what the "Sabbaths" mean. Are they the weekly, seventh-day Sabbaths? Or are they something else? The answer is not difficult because the "Sabbaths" are put next to the monthly festivals ("New Moons") and then the yearly festivals ("feasts"). The pattern is weekly, monthly, and yearly. If we look back in the Old Testament we will see that there at least THIRTEEN references which put "Sabbaths" together with "New Moons" (often including "feasts" as well)...

Link: "Sabbaths and New Moons" in the Bible

The pattern of "Sabbaths, New Moons (and Feasts)" is simply an established pattern that had always been used in Judaism. Paul was using the same pattern in Colossians. The matter Adventism has always tried to dodge is the fact that the "Sabbaths" refer to the weekly Sabbaths, not to the certain appointed festivals. Firstly, if the "Sabbaths" referred to feasts, then Paul was being redundant by mentioning feasts twice ("Feasts, New Moons and Sabbaths [Feasts]"). But more importantly, examination of the 13 Old Testament references of "New Moons and Sabbaths" being mentioned together clearly reveals that the "Sabbaths" always referred to the weekly Sabbaths in the Old Testament. (This is extra-visible when you notice that the sacrifices [offerings] made every weekly Sabbath are often referred to in the same verses).

Check out the above verses as well as these below (and their contexts) to see whether they refer to the weekly Sabbaths or not:

Link: "Sabbaths and offerings" in the Bible

Now of course, what I've written above is to address the charge that "Sabbath" was not included in the "list" nailed to the cross. Obviously from the established Old Testament pattern of mentioning Sabbaths, New Moons and festivals together, Paul was referring to the seventh-day Sabbath and not any other kind of "sabbath".

However, all of what I've written above will mean nothing to the person who has tried to explain away Paul's words by saying that he was referring to "ceremonies instead of the 'moral' law". By the expression "moral law", the objector refers to the Ten Commandments. The objector believes that the Ten were not part of the Old Covenant primarily because of the moral nature of half of the commandments, the call to worship God alone in the other half, and the fact that the Ten were placed inside the ark while the "book of the covenant" was place outside the ark.

This sounds like wisdom, but simply isn't biblical at all. Read more carefully and think about it more carefully:

1) The Ten Commandments were given only to the ancient nation of Israel. This is apparent from the readings both in Exodus and Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 5 in particular, Moses makes it clear that God did not give the Ten Commandments even to the forefathers of the Exodus generation (in other words, He didn't give the Ten to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, etc.). It is written in Psalms 147:19-20 that God did not give these laws to any other nation but Israel. Some will say that we must keep the literal Sabbath day because "We are spiritual Israel," but then I wonder: if literal Israel kept a literal Sabbath day, wouldn't it make more sense for "spiritual Israel" to keep a spiritual Sabbath day instead of a literal one? The fact is that the Ten Commandments were written to the ancient nation of Israel alone, not to all mankind. This is clearly evident from the command to honor one's parents "so that your life may be long in the land the Lord your God is giving you" -- in other words, the promised land of Canaan. In Ephesians Paul recognized and applied the good moral principle behind the command, however he changed the ending completely. We simply cannot take the Ten Commandments literally unless we are ancient Israelites living in or about to enter into the land of Canaan.

2) Numerous times the Bible refers to the Ten Commandments as "the words of the covenant" or as "the tablets of the covenant". In each case it is the entire Sinatic, Mosaic covenant being referred to. I.e., the old covenant (see these three passages, which are a sampling among many).

3) The title Exodus 34:28 gives to the Ten Commandments is "The Words of the Covenant". This is especially appropriate because the Hebrew name for the Ten Commandments is literally "The Ten Words" (the Hebrew word for "commandment" derives from the word "word"). In other words, the Ten Commendments are "The Ten Words of the Covenant" (which Hebrews clearly identifies as the Old Covenant). So now it is appropriate to take a look the full title: "The Ten Commandments of the [Old] Covenant".

4) Throughout the books of the Law the words "covenant" and "testimony" are used interchangeably. Besides the Tablets/Words of the Covenant, there was also the Blood of the Covenant, the Book of the Covenant, the Salt of the Covenant, the Curses of the Covenant, etc. And besides the Tablets of the Testimony, there was also the Tabernacle of the Testimony, the Curtain of the Testimony, the Tent of the Testimony, etc. In other words, it is no accident that the Ten Commandments were called the Tablets/Words "of the covenant" or "of the testimony". They were part of the covenant which also included the tabernacle, the blood, the salt, the curtain, the book, etc.

5) I left out one obvious "of the Covenant" (or "of the Testimony"). The Ark of the Covenant! Yes, it's easy to forget about that one. Just like all of the above articles mentioned were part of the Old Covenant, so also the Ark of the Covenant was indeed the Ark of the Old Covenant! Do you know what this means? It means that it doesn't matter where the Ten Commandments were placed --whether inside our outside the Ark-- because the whole Ark itself is the Ark of the Old Covenant!

6) The entire 613 commands of the Old Covenant (including the Ten) had 'moral' commands all over the place. The list of the Ten is not complete. For example, in the loving-your-fellow-humans department, there are clearly more than the five or six listed in the Ten as demonstrated by Jesus replying to the rich young ruler in the words of a some of the Ten, but then adding "do not defraud" and "love your neighbor", thus showing that those two additional commands were not included in the Ten, at least not in God's mind! (See Mark 10 and Matthew 19 for yourself) Thus Jesus listed things as of critical importance which were both inside and outside of the ark. If Jesus listed them that way, isn't it a bit bizarre for us to title the Ten as "the moral law" when He didn't see the Ten as being the full package of morality?

7) Because Jesus listed "love your neighbor as yourself" as being a separate command apart from the Ten Commandments (see the passages linked above in #2), doesn't it follow that "Love God with all your heart... (etc.)" is also not defined by the first half of the Ten Commandments? If we're going to say that the first half of the Ten Commandments are also "moral commands", is it proper to call the Ten the "moral law" although they don't include the even greater command to "love God"? Jesus said the two greatest commandments were loving God and loving our neighbors. Yet neither of these were listed in the Ten, and were considered separate from the Ten by Jesus Himself. Can we really call the Ten Commandments as "The Moral Law" if they don't include the Two Greatest Commandments in God's mind?

Now back to Paul, there is more obvious problem with the idea that it was simply "the ceremonial law" was nailed to the cross. Objectors point out the truth that the Greek word for "list" refers to the "charge list" (or handwriting) against us. In other words, this was the list of our transgressions that God was blotting out.

We must then ask the obvious question: Were the only transgressions God blotted out on the cross our failure to keep the ceremonies of the Old Covenant?

What a horrifying proposition! Then we would still be in our sins!! But no, hallelu Yah, no! The overwhelming witness of the New Testament is that Jesus died for our sins, yes, even and especially our moral sins!!

Now what was physically nailed to the cross? Was it a list of paper? No, it was a body. It was the body of Jesus Christ! He took all our transgressions and sins in His body. When Paul wrote that the charge list of our transgressions was nailed to the cross, he means it was nailed to the cross in the body of Jesus Christ. All our sins--moral and ceremonial and everything--were nailed to the cross in the body of Jesus Christ who became sin for us.

Now look at the full statement Paul wrote again:

"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made us alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."

The first part of the sentence connects immediately to the second part. The first part talks explicitly about our "sins". Not the mere failure to keep ceremonial commands. No, our very "flesh" or "sinful nature"! God's forgiveness is for our sins. Our hardcore, guilty-as-sin sins! All the talk of "canceling the list" comes immediately after Paul said this: God forgave us of our sins. The list spoke of our sins and nothing less.

Yes, you could say that it included our failure to keep ceremonial commands correctly. However, as has already been shown, God didn't give those ceremonial commands to any other nation but ancient Israel. While Gentile nations were punished for bloodshed and immorality throughout the Old Testament, no Gentile nation was ever punished for failure to keep the Sabbath day, or the New Moons, or for eating pork, or for not circumcising their children, etc. Gentile nations were never guilty of those failures. Only ancient Israel.

Paul said that we are not judged by those things anymore because Christ died, and the Law (all of it -- ceremonial and moral) died with Him. Paul illustrated this in Romans 7 by using the example of marriage:

"Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man."

Israel was married to God through the Old Covenant (see Jeremiah). She broke the law repeatedly and deserved eternal punishment. But instead the Husband Himself (God the Son) came and died instead, releasing her from her punishment and from that law of marriage (the Old Covenant).

Paul then called his people and all people (Jews and Gentiles) to accept Christ's death, and to themselves see that in Him they all have "died to the law".

"So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God... now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."

Israel was once bound to God through the law, the Old Covenant (and any of us foolish enough to put ourselves back under the Old Covenant were bound the same). But now by dying with Christ, we are freed from that Old Covenant law in order that we might be married to Christ in a better covenant of marriage: the New Covenant! We serve Him in the New Covenant, in the new way of the Spirit, not in the old way of the Old Covenant.

Yes, a lot of morality is easily seen in various commands (from the 613 commands of the old law). But that package is not our guide anymore. Not the 613 package, nor the package of "The Ten", either. Moral and ceremonial were all mixed together. And like the example of the command to honor parents, there are often valuable principles even in commands couched in the situation unique to the ancient Israelites. The moral principles often need to be extracted and interpreted. An example of this is in 1st Corinthians 9 when the Spirit in Paul pulls out a command about oxen and extracts a principle for how to treat one another. We must let the New Covenant interpret the Old instead of forcing Old Covenant commands into the New Covenant. The Spirit is faithful to interpret and lead us into all truth. The New Testament interprets the Old, not the other way around. What is written in the New is written in the light of Christ, while what came before was in parts and shadows. We must read by the Light instead of by the Shadows! Hallelu Yah!

Views of Revelation

July 20, 2010

This is part of a response to someone who mentioned various views of the book of Revelation...


What is said about Revelation written to the early church(es) is incredibly true, but the internal writing of the text also includes a large bulk for future fulfillment. Some preterists symbolize the future aspects of Revelation, and that's seems a little excusable at times with apocalyptic literature written with heavy symbolism. We could almost do that with Revelation *except* that a lot of the events spoken of in unfulfilled "future" terms are corroborated in the gospels and epistles, often not couched in symbolic language.

That Revelation spoke to the early church(es) is undeniable and really, a lot of readings of Revelation ought to begin at that point, asking what it meant to the first audience, to the first church generation.

However in doing that we don't have to worry about finding how each part was fulfilled in the past. The early church grounded itself on the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ. Because of that they didn't have to know what each part meant or what each symbol in Revelation represented. They knew that their salvation was not dependant upon knowledge of each part of Revelation. Their assurance of salvation was not dependant on having an end-times "road map" or explanation of what Revelation meant which they could use to show other Christians that they were prophetically priviliged (so to speak) or more "right" than other Christians were who didn't understand all the book.

Because they rested in Christ and didn't need to understand every part of the prophetic book, God was able to bring them rest and assurance through the book. What was meant to encourage, encouraged. What was meant to warn, warned. And what was not understood was not fretted about because they rested in Christ's righteousness and knowledge instead of in their own.

This stands in incredible contrast to groups who have tried to construct a detailed explanation of what the symbolisms mean, who think they know what the "issue" will all be about in the end, etc. They believed that their understanding/explanation of the end-time events would give them rest and assurance that they'd make it through the end, but it's done the exact opposite. Instead they are worried about if they will be spotless or not, if their perfection or sanctification will be complete or not. They are worried about if they will be one of the elect who turns out not to be elect, etc. By trying to find rest through their knowledge and trying to find which ways they could please God and prove themselves to be "the" church at the end, they unintentionally slipped into the curse of Isaiah 28. God offered them rest in Christ, but they looked instead for "rule upon rule, do and do and do, a little here a little there", etc.

Anyhow, basically I don't think we need to care about each of the major views or the theories about who authored them. I was raised in a church that had it's own explanation -- which was mightily incorrect. When God led me out of that church to Himself, He gave me rest in Himself, in the gospel alone. When I read Revelation now, I start with the gospel and leave with the gospel, not because that's what I'm trying to see or find, but because God is there with me and I can't see anything else with Him there. His love and His Spirit are blinding and overwhelming!

That's a long way of saying that I don't sort through mens' views anymore. =) And moreover, as I wrote earlier, my rest is not in my understanding of each part of Revelation or having an explanation for the events mentioned in it. Start to finish, we know it is about Jesus Christ. He is the Alpha and Omega of Revelation. If anyone's explanation does not point to the gospel of God's grace, then it is off, because Revelation is the testimony of Jesus, not using Jesus' name to testify about other things one needs to know in order to ascend the steps to Christ or stairway to heaven, etc. The testimony of Jesus is the testimony God has given about His Son, that by believing in His name we have eternal life even now.

Reconsecrating Eschatology... it's all about You, Jesus!

We have a Savior who has gone before us and dropped our anchor in the Most Holy Place where we now enter freely by His blood. He sat down at the right hand of God when He had finished the work of atonement for our sins. Believing on Him, we are seated in heavenly places in Him. My life is hidden in Christ with God. When Christ appears, not only will He appear, but I will appear with Him.

Having said all that, I love the book of Revelation and prayerfully talking/sharing about it. I love worshiping God with its words, and I love hearing Him speak through it. But I can't step out of His presence for very long to debate theories people came up with, and I can't step out of His presence long to try and calculate which commands or bits of knowledge need to be known in order to be following Jesus correctly or not, etc. It's like leaving the Most Holy Place and drawing maps outside the curtain about how to go back in.

Just go in! Ask Him! He'll answer! You don't need to calculate! You don't need a chain of prooftexts! You don't need to guess about things! You don't need to check what someone else has written! You just need GOD! We can't hear what the Spirit says to the churches unless we receive His free gift of the Holy Spirit as our inheritance in the New Covenant. There is only One Spirit who gives many gifts. If we are looking to the "spirit of prophecy" in someone else to have final say or confirmation on what things mean, we're shortcutting ourselves out of our inheritance in the New Covenant. We're missing out on what He promised to give us... not only in understanding, but in *rest* above all! Because reading Revelation any other way leaves us in unrest.

But reading it resting in His Son as our righteousness and salvation, knowing we are saved in Him by His work instead of by ours, we can read Revelation with enough confidence that we don't have to know what each part means, and we don't have to display our insecurity by trying to prove to ourselves or anyone else that we are His true people. The Lord knows who are His, and when we trust Him for our salvation we look to Him alone for affirmation and confirmation that we are His, not to our works, not to our obedience, not to institutions, not to churches, but to Him. And we leave that with Him, and so find rest in Him.

GOD'S WAY IS GOOOOOD!!

What's Wrong With Legalism?

July 14, 2010

The problem in "legalism" is not that laws are being kept from the wrong motivation. Every legalist & legalistic system says you're supposed to keep the laws "from the heart" or "out of love". The problem in legalism is that it says we cannot be accepted by God or even make Him happy unless we keep certain laws.

The only antidote is God's grace. Until we can see that our acceptance with God and pleasingness to Him is not based on any kind of law-keeping, we won't be free from legalism, nor will we have rest for our souls. Trying to obey laws "from the heart" or "out of love" is simply trying to make yourself a new heart (the new heart is God's job, not ours).

After

The deep truth underneath it all is that we're afraid of what will happen if we don't obey those laws. Someone says "God's grace" instead of laws, and we know we need to agree with that, so we quickly say, "Yeah, yeah", but we also decide that whatever "grace" means, the end result of it is that we're going to keep those laws (that grace will help us do it, etc.). The final point is still "the law", because of the terrible fear of what happens if you don't keep it.

This misses grace almost entirely, and above all it misses rest for your soul. It uses grace as a means to keeping laws, in contrast to what the Bible said: the law was meant to lead us to faith (in God's grace), and after faith has come we are no longer under the law. We're still afraid of punishment because we looked at perfect love as a means rather than as an ends. As a result the perfect love of God's grace could only do so much in us; it couldn't cast out all our fears and give us rest.

God gave us perfect love by sending His Son to die for our sins and free us from both the law and the fear of punishment. Jesus died for us long before any of us ever sinned or kept a law, long before any of us were even born. No matter whether you end up believing in Him and being saved or not, God thought you were worth the price of His Son's blood. In other words, completely apart from the law, in His Son's death God has loved you, accepted you, and wanted you.

Yes, He's going to clean you up and make you a better person. But that's not why He loved you, and that's not why He wants to be with you forever (think about it: He's already surrounded by sinless angels). He doesn't accept you because of the new heart He gives you. Instead He gives you a new heart because He has already accepted and loved you. You make Him happy not because of what you do but because of who you are. Not only does He love you, but He even likes you so much that He wants to spend eternity with you!

Gently Broken

"Legalism" is not just "emphasizing the law too much". Legalism is emphasizing the law period, in any degree! Legalism is thinking (erroneously) that your status before God is based on your commandment-keeping. Legalism is trying to make Him happy by keeping a commandment. Legalism is simply not knowing how enraptured and head-over-heels in love God is with you. Legalism is not knowing that He accepts you because of who you are instead of what you do.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Views of Revelation

July 20, 2010
Cross-posted at FAJ blog

This is part of a response to someone who mentioned various views of the book of Revelation...


What is said about Revelation written to the early church(es) is incredibly true, but the internal writing of the text also includes a large bulk for future fulfillment. Some preterists symbolize the future aspects of Revelation, and that's seems a little excusable at times with apocalyptic literature written with heavy symbolism. We could almost do that with Revelation *except* that a lot of the events spoken of in unfulfilled "future" terms are corroborated in the gospels and epistles, often not couched in symbolic language.

That Revelation spoke to the early church(es) is undeniable and really, a lot of readings of Revelation ought to begin at that point, asking what it meant to the first audience, to the first church generation.

However in doing that we don't have to worry about finding how each part was fulfilled in the past. The early church grounded itself on the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ. Because of that they didn't have to know what each part meant or what each symbol in Revelation represented. They knew that their salvation was not dependant upon knowledge of each part of Revelation. Their assurance of salvation was not dependant on having an end-times "road map" or explanation of what Revelation meant which they could use to show other Christians that they were prophetically priviliged (so to speak) or more "right" than other Christians were who didn't understand all the book.

Because they rested in Christ and didn't need to understand every part of the prophetic book, God was able to bring them rest and assurance through the book. What was meant to encourage, encouraged. What was meant to warn, warned. And what was not understood was not fretted about because they rested in Christ's righteousness and knowledge instead of in their own.

This stands in incredible contrast to groups who have tried to construct a detailed explanation of what the symbolisms mean, who think they know what the "issue" will all be about in the end, etc. They believed that their understanding/explanation of the end-time events would give them rest and assurance that they'd make it through the end, but it's done the exact opposite. Instead they are worried about if they will be spotless or not, if their perfection or sanctification will be complete or not. They are worried about if they will be one of the elect who turns out not to be elect, etc. By trying to find rest through their knowledge and trying to find which ways they could please God and prove themselves to be "the" church at the end, they unintentionally slipped into the curse of Isaiah 28. God offered them rest in Christ, but they looked instead for "rule upon rule, do and do and do, a little here a little there", etc.

Anyhow, basically I don't think we need to care about each of the major views or the theories about who authored them. I was raised in a church that had it's own explanation -- which was mightily incorrect. When God led me out of that church to Himself, He gave me rest in Himself, in the gospel alone. When I read Revelation now, I start with the gospel and leave with the gospel, not because that's what I'm trying to see or find, but because God is there with me and I can't see anything else with Him there. His love and His Spirit are blinding and overwhelming!

That's a long way of saying that I don't sort through mens' views anymore. =) And moreover, as I wrote earlier, my rest is not in my understanding of each part of Revelation or having an explanation for the events mentioned in it. Start to finish, we know it is about Jesus Christ. He is the Alpha and Omega of Revelation. If anyone's explanation does not point to the gospel of God's grace, then it is off, because Revelation is the testimony of Jesus, not using Jesus' name to testify about other things one needs to know in order to ascend the steps to Christ or stairway to heaven, etc. The testimony of Jesus is the testimony God has given about His Son, that by believing in His name we have eternal life even now.

Reconsecrating Eschatology... it's all about You, Jesus!

We have a Savior who has gone before us and dropped our anchor in the Most Holy Place where we now enter freely by His blood. He sat down at the right hand of God when He had finished the work of atonement for our sins. Believing on Him, we are seated in heavenly places in Him. My life is hidden in Christ with God. When Christ appears, not only will He appear, but I will appear with Him.

Having said all that, I love the book of Revelation and prayerfully talking/sharing about it. I love worshiping God with its words, and I love hearing Him speak through it. But I can't step out of His presence for very long to debate theories people came up with, and I can't step out of His presence long to try and calculate which commands or bits of knowledge need to be known in order to be following Jesus correctly or not, etc. It's like leaving the Most Holy Place and drawing maps outside the curtain about how to go back in.

Just go in! Ask Him! He'll answer! You don't need to calculate! You don't need a chain of prooftexts! You don't need to guess about things! You don't need to check what someone else has written! You just need GOD! We can't hear what the Spirit says to the churches unless we receive His free gift of the Holy Spirit as our inheritance in the New Covenant. There is only One Spirit who gives many gifts. If we are looking to the "spirit of prophecy" in someone else to have final say or confirmation on what things mean, we're shortcutting ourselves out of our inheritance in the New Covenant. We're missing out on what He promised to give us... not only in understanding, but in *rest* above all! Because reading Revelation any other way leaves us in unrest.

But reading it resting in His Son as our righteousness and salvation, knowing we are saved in Him by His work instead of by ours, we can read Revelation with enough confidence that we don't have to know what each part means, and we don't have to display our insecurity by trying to prove to ourselves or anyone else that we are His true people. The Lord knows who are His, and when we trust Him for our salvation we look to Him alone for affirmation and confirmation that we are His, not to our works, not to our obedience, not to institutions, not to churches, but to Him. And we leave that with Him, and so find rest in Him.

GOD'S WAY IS GOOOOOD!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Identifying the 'True' Church

July 8, 2010

Various breakaway groups in Christianity have at times tried to use chain-links of prooftexts to bolster their claim to being the sole true "church". Without exception these claims are based on a certain kind of obedience to a particular "test" command or some point of knowledge that you need to know in order to be worshiping the true God (such as how to spell His "original" name correctly, etc.). Each of these groups believes that the heart and core of Christianity --Christ and Him crucified-- is insufficient to save. One needs the group's special knowledge in order to ultimately be saved. Each of these groups believe that their message actually *is* the heart and core of true Christianity.

The one book in the New Testament that seems to be devoted to knowing who is His and who is not is the book of 1st John. In this book "knowledge" means knowledge of Christ Jesus, the Son of God. And in this book, "commands" explicitly means loving our brothers and loving one another as He loved us (3:23). This all arose out of how Jesus Christ Himself said the world would know who His "true" disciples were: by His love in them for one another (Jn. 13:34-35). Jesus didn't say that His people would be known by their knowledge, doctrines, healthy bodies, or even by their holiness. He said they would be known by love, agape love. It seems like in various churches and breakaway groups the whole "church ID" question is made to be about everything else *but* what Jesus said.

This love (agape) is shown to us in this: God loved us while we were His enemies, long before we ever obeyed or disobeyed anything, and He gave His Son to atone for our sins. And we are called to the same love, to love even our enemies and bless those who curse us. This is the message and truth that only Christianity carries. When we let go of this agape love, we let go of loving our brothers, and we do not know Father or His love for our brothers. We begin to react to their sins with judgment instead of according to God's calling to give them agape.

This is why Matthew 24 says that the love (agape) of most will grow cold -- *because* they have reacted to the increasing wickedness in the world by ceasing to love (agape) their enemies. This is also why the same John who defined "commands" as meaning "loving one another" writes about "commands" in the book of Revelation in the context of the church being persecuted. They are known and shown to be His by their obedience to His command to love one another, even their enemies, instead of growing cold by reacting with judgment and vengeance. In all of John's writings, "commands" speaks of loving one another, even in Revelation.

Although all generations in Israel before had heard the law of Moses and experienced great miracles & judgments of God, none had yet seen Father until Jesus Christ came. All of the holy displays and rules of holiness in the Old Testament did not reveal the express image of God (Heb.1:1-3) and outshining of His character until Jesus Christ came and showed that God is love (agape). In the same way, God's children (the "true church") are not truly known by the holy displays and rules in the Old Testament, but rather are known by Christ's grace and love. The law came through Moses, and men did not know Father. But "truth" came through Christ, and now we have seen the Father in the face of Jesus Christ.

This means that just as Scripture says, we are neither judged nor proved to be His by external measurements such as foods, drinks, holy days, Sabbaths, etc. The "ID" book (1st John) speaks of knowing we are His by something that is fundamentally internal (love!) and extremely difficult for us to ultimately judge one another about. Moreover, the same book echoes Paul's numerous statements by saying that we know we belong to Him because He has given us His Holy Spirit. The Spirit, too, is invisible and can only ultimately be seen by God Himself and by our own hearts. The Spirit is the seal of our redemption (Eph.1:13-14). The "witness" that we belong to Him is not how well we keep a certain commandment or know a certain amount of knowledge. Rather it is the Spirit who witnesses that we belong to Him: "The Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God" (Rm.8:16).

Friend, I don't know if you have children or not, but I have two young children. If someone wants to see whether my children are truly my children or not, are they going to look at the works my children do? No, they'll simply do two things: First, they'll ask me if I am the father. Second, if they need more proof, they'll call for a medical test to determine parenthood. If my son grows up and wonders if he was adopted, what will he do? First he will ask me! And if he still doesn't believe me, he can go for the DNA test. In the same way, God has testified that we are His by two things: first by the witness of the Holy Spirit (Father's witness that we belong to Him) and second by the witness of our own born-again spirits (our deepest DNA) who cry out, "Father, Daddy!"

Children are identified by their parents and by their blood. Children aren't identified by their duties, works, or even by their obedience. Of course every parent wants their child to obey. But did the Father say that His son ceased to be His son when he went away to live in a far away country? Did the son only become a "son" again when he returned? Not in that Father's eyes! In the Father's eyes we belong to Him based on our spiritual DNA, not based on the obedience we render to Him (especially not based on obedience to the already-fulfilled shadows of the Old Covenant).

Children aren't identified by their works. But *slaves* are. Employees, slaves and servants are identified by their jobs, their peformance, being "owned" as a commodity and being valued primarily for their productivity instead of who they are. This is where mankind was prior to the coming of Christ, kept under law as slaves until the Son came and brought adoption to all who believe in Christ. So we no longer measure if we are His or not based on law, based on the terms of slavery, but instead we look to the Spirit of adoption because of what the Son accomplished for us -- purchasing us, redeeming us from slavery so that we are now heirs and no longer slaves.

In other words, yes, it is all about Christ and Him crucified. It is all about loving with His love. The heart and core of Christianity is more than sufficient to save. And in fact, it is by resting in the heart and core of the gospel that we are identified as His in His eyes, and it is by His love that the world will also know we belong to Him. If any group makes the matter of identifying "God's true people" to be about anything other than God's identifying "commands" in 1 Jn.3:23 (believe on Christ and agape one another), then the hard truth is that such a group is actually drawing people *away* from God and His commands.

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What's Wrong With Legalism?

July 14, 2010
Cross-posted at FAJ blog


The problem in "legalism" is not that laws are being kept from the wrong motivation. Every legalist & legalistic system says you're supposed to keep the laws "from the heart" or "out of love". The problem in legalism is that it says we cannot be accepted by God or even make Him happy unless we keep certain laws.

The only antidote is God's grace. Until we can see that our acceptance with God and pleasingness to Him is not based on any kind of law-keeping, we won't be free from legalism, nor will we have rest for our souls. Trying to obey laws "from the heart" or "out of love" is simply trying to make yourself a new heart (the new heart is God's job, not ours).

After

The deep truth underneath it all is that we're afraid of what will happen if we don't obey those laws. Someone says "God's grace" instead of laws, and we know we need to agree with that, so we quickly say, "Yeah, yeah", but we also decide that whatever "grace" means, the end result of it is that we're going to keep those laws (that grace will help us do it, etc.). The final point is still "the law", because of the terrible fear of what happens if you don't keep it.

This misses grace almost entirely, and above all it misses rest for your soul. It uses grace as a means to keeping laws, in contrast to what the Bible said: the law was meant to lead us to faith (in God's grace), and after faith has come we are no longer under the law. We're still afraid of punishment because we looked at perfect love as a means rather than as an ends. As a result the perfect love of God's grace could only do so much in us; it couldn't cast out all our fears and give us rest.

God gave us perfect love by sending His Son to die for our sins and free us from both the law and the fear of punishment. Jesus died for us long before any of us ever sinned or kept a law, long before any of us were even born. No matter whether you end up believing in Him and being saved or not, God thought you were worth the price of His Son's blood. In other words, completely apart from the law, in His Son's death God has loved you, accepted you, and wanted you.

Yes, He's going to clean you up and make you a better person. But that's not why He loved you, and that's not why He wants to be with you forever (think about it: He's already surrounded by sinless angels). He doesn't accept you because of the new heart He gives you. Instead He gives you a new heart because He has already accepted and loved you. You make Him happy not because of what you do but because of who you are. Not only does He love you, but He even likes you so much that He wants to spend eternity with you!

Gently Broken

"Legalism" is not just "emphasizing the law too much". Legalism is emphasizing the law period, in any degree! Legalism is thinking (erroneously) that your status before God is based on your commandment-keeping. Legalism is trying to make Him happy by keeping a commandment. Legalism is simply not knowing how enraptured and head-over-heels in love God is with you. Legalism is not knowing that He accepts you because of who you are instead of what you do.

Finally an update!!!


Okay, everyone, it's been five millenia since I've updated this page... sorry! This page really needs an overhaul. Lots has been going on and I've put a lot of things on Facebook. I'm slowly going to start transferring "notes" I wrote there to this blog. And eventually I'll also combine a few blogs into this one (the "Jesus Otaku" blog, etc.).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sanctification


"Sanctified"

A friend asked me,

"What do you think of our sanctification? Does it involve diligent effort from us or do we rest in this also? I just don't want to lose my rest by slipping backward into sins, or forward into work."

I answered:

I don't know exactly how to explain it, and I am far, far from feeling sinless or perfect. But sanctification is His job. It's like this picture above. It involves cooperating with Him as He leads, but above all it begins by resting in Him and accepting that somehow ultimately it is His job from start to finish.

In my own life here's what ths means:

I fall, I feel down, and often when that happens I try to think of what I should do to apologize or feel properly repentant. And that leads me nowhere. Finally I end up looking up to Him, and I know He's there and I have rest in Him, and I realize I've been trying somehow without Him.

Then as I'm there in His rest, I bring up the "But what about next time, Lord?" fear, and He just smiles and holds me and says don't worry (and makes me cry a lot like that, with His love). And He says He never left me.

I say how bad I am, and He says no, He sees me differently than I do. He washes me with His word, telling me how pure and beautiful I am in His sight, and how He has washed and cleansed me by what He did for me on the cross. He tells me my sins are finished in Him.

"What about next time?" I ask again.

He says, "Look here, look up to Me."

I don't think I've gotten "past" this point or this process.

And somehow, He tells me now, "That's all right; that's the idea."

*****

See also: "You Have Been Sanctified" (at Heart For Adventists)

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