This is a helpful article from a friend of mine. Please read and enjoy … or don’t enjoy.
Does God talk to people today? Let’s check the facts!
This is a helpful article from a friend of mine. Please read and enjoy … or don’t enjoy.
Does God talk to people today? Let’s check the facts!
It has been a very long time since I last wrote. I have been very busy with teaching, family, and taking courses myself. I must also admit that I simply haven’t had anything to say. However, I have just finished a course on Canon and Criticism and had to do some writing (and still have some to go), and thought that I would share with you what I have written. I pray that this is insightful and helpful.
The canon of Christian Scripture is the foundation of the Christian system. Therefore, it is the final authority for Christian thought, belief, and action.The question that must follow concerns authority: by what authority has this canon been determined? Men have put forth great effort into determining exactly which books belonged in the canon, but fallen man is not the final authority on such issues. If the books contained in the canon are indeed God-breathed, then He is the Authority to which man must turn to determine the canon of Scripture. This paper will examine the testimony of Jesus Messiah, the second person of the triune godhead, in order to argue that Scripture’s own testimony settles the debate over canonicity. In the end, the reception or rejection of the canon, and thus the testimony of Jesus, will depend on the faith, or lack thereof, of the reader.
The apostle Paul informed Timothy that all of the “sacred writings” are profitable the end result being that “the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17, NASB) This flows well with his teaching that believers are God’s workmanship “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB) Since Christians are the result of God’s workmanship, and He has prepared works for them to complete, then it is reasonable to believe that the sacred writings that He supernaturally delivered to man, and providentially preserved through the centuries contain what must be known by His people in order to complete their work. To this end, it is also reasonable to believe that He gave and preserved His own testimony concerning what writings constitute the sacred writings. Jesus offered such testimony concerning both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.
Jesus and the Hebrew Canon
That the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was unquestioned in the early Church is settled fact. As F.F. Bruce wrote, “They accepted the Old Testament scriptures as they had received them: the authority of those scriptures was sufficiently ratified by the teaching and example of the Lord and his apostles.” However, as has already been stated, it is Jesus’ own testimony that gives the final, authoritative stamp upon the Hebrew Scriptures. When Jesus testified concerning Scripture He was offering God’s own perspective and stamp of authority on the words of the Old Testament. As John wrote, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God” (John 3:34).
There are three traditional divisions of the Hebrew Scripture, the Torah (also known as the Law of Moses, or the Pentateuch) the Nevi’im (the prophets), and the Ketuvim (the writings). These three divisions consist of the same basic books that are in the present day canon the only difference being the divisions in two books that were originally combined, i.e. Samuel (1 & 2) and Ezra-Nehemiah. Although this is not the focus of our investigation, it is necessary to understand in order to properly interpret Jesus’ testimony concerning the Scriptures for this division comprises the Hebrew Scriptures to which Jesus consistently turned during His earthly ministry. Jesus directed His disciples to this division as “the key to the Scriptures…all that which concerns Himself in the Law of Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets.” Luke 24:44 reads “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” In fact, the recorded words of Jesus are filled with references to or quotations from these three sections. Rene Pache states that “One tenth of His words were taken from the Old Testament….180 of 1,800 verses which report His discourses are either quotations of the written revelation or else direct allusions to it.”
Further, when one looks more closely the quotes and allusions may be seen to identify each of the divisions separately. First, in Jesus’ confrontation with Satan three times He quoted from the Torah, in particular from Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:16; 6:13, cf., Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). He also validated the Genesis account on multiple occasions as well as the creation of Adam and Eve (Matt. 19:4-5). In these two accounts alone He addressed the beginning and completion of the Torah. Second, Jesus identified Jonah as a prophet and used Jonah’s time of being swallowed by the great fish as an illustration of His own impending death, burial, and resurrection (Matt. 12:40-41). In doing so Jesus validated the latter prophets. Jesus also did the same for the former prophets when He used the example of Elijah and the widow, Zarephath, in Luke 4:26. Finally, Jesus included the Ketuvim, the writings, as He quoted from the Psalms on numerous occasions, as well as quoting Daniel including His favorite title for Himself, “Son of man.” Each of these quotations, or allusions serves to demonstrate that Jesus viewed the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures as the God-breathed, authoritative canon.
It is easy to accept that Jesus identified the Torah and Nevi’im, but the question of the Ketuvim may need more explanation. In Matthew 21:42 Jesus asked the religious leaders if they had never read a particular passage from “the Scriptures.” He then quoted from Psalm 118:22-23. This illustrates Jesus’ words to the disciples in Luke 24:44 when He referred them to His teaching from the Psalms. The Jews often used the first words of a Hebrew book as its title, which is similar to what Jesus did by using the term Psalms. In fact this form of shorthand was quite common, as Greg Gilbert has described it, “the Jews often used a shorthand to refer to the books of their Old Testament, either “the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings” or, more simply, ‘the Law and the Prophets.’…(the book of Psalms representing the Writings as the largest book in that collection).” And when using this form in His teaching Jesus “was endorsing and ratifying the authority of the entire Old Testament from start to finish.” Dr. Chris Cone concurs with Gilbert, asserting “Psalms is the name of the first book of the section called the writings, and it would be consistent with the practice of using that as the name for the entire grouping of books. In other words, Psalms would be the title for the entire section called the Writings, the Ketuvim.”
It is clear from this short examination of Jesus’ view of the Hebrew canon that one may conclude that the existing canon found in Protestant Bibles is the same as that of Jesus’ day. Gilbert offers a fitting conclusion; “Here’s why all those large books [on topics such as transmission, canonization, etc.] will begin with the belief that the Old Testament is the Word of God: because Jesus, the resurrected Messiah, said it was. And therefore we believe it.”
Jesus and the Greek Scriptures
Jesus told the eleven disciples that He was going to send “the Spirit of truth” who would “guide you into all truth” (Jn. 16:13). He, in turn, sent them out to make disciples using what He had taught, and what the Spirit would teach (Matt. 28:19-20). The disciples were given apostolic authority in the new entity, the Church. New Testament scholar N. B. Stonehouse addressed the topic of apostolic authority:
“[apostolic authority] which speaks forth in the New Testament is never detached from the authority of the Lord. In the Epistles there is consistent recognition that in the church there is only one absolute authority, the authority of the Lord himself. Wherever the apostles speak with authority, they do so as exercising the Lord’s authority. Thus, for example, where Paul defends his authority as an apostle, he bases his claim solely and directly upon his commission by the Lord (Gal. 1 and 2); where he assumes the right to regulate the life of the church, he claims for his word the Lord’s authority, even when no direct word of the Lord has been handed down (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 1 Cor. 7:10)…”
Jesus passed His authority to the Apostles, and Paul’s testimony is only a sampling displaying the same authority given to the others. Thus, as Paul’s writings carry the authority of Jesus Christ, so, too, the writings of the others of whom we have the written messages. Therefore, when one reads the Gospels of Matthew and John, or the letters of John and Peter, or the Revelation of Jesus Christ given to the Apostle John he may be sure that he is reading the inspired word of God with all of the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures. This is the “amazing chain of authority” that Jesus described in the aforementioned passage in John’s gospel. When an Apostle wrote under the leading of the Spirit what he wrote was God-breathed and authoritative, and therefore, must be accepted as canonical. how to handle the influx of Gentile believers (Acts 15:13-22). Further, Paul confirmed James’ apostolic authority in his letter to the Galatians (1:19). It should also be noted that both James and Jude were present in Acts when Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come upon them all (1:13-14).
That leaves the question of the Gospels of Mark and Luke, and Acts. Although neither Mark nor Luke were Apostles, both received endorsements from Paul. For instance, Paul said “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Tim. 4:11), thus commending Mark’s ministry and, by implication, his writing. Paul also affirmed Luke in the same passage when he identified Luke as the last man standing with him at the end of his ministry. Paul’s authority was directly from Jesus (Acts 9:4-6, 15-16), and it was in Paul’s warning to Timothy concerning false doctrine that he offered these commendations. At this point, one must reiterate that this is the chain of authority that had been established by Jesus, through Paul, and down to Mark and Luke.
However, there remains one book that has not been established as authoritative, and thus canonical. That is the book of Hebrews. The great difficulty lies in the fact that the author is unknown. What may be stated as fact about the author is he must have been a second-generation believer (Heb. 2:3). Many arguments have been made in attempts to promote various biblical figures as the author, but without historical confirmation, all of these arguments are merely conjecture. Beyond this point, the only argument that may legitimately be made is that the Christology and other doctrines addressed in the letter are completely in line with the other authoritative, canonical writings. Based on that fact alone may it be deemed canonical.
Peter offered an excellent example of the Church’s recognition of canonicity in his remarks concerning Paul’s letters; “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Peter clearly understood that when Paul spoke he spoke with the authority of Christ Himself. As stated in the opening remarks of this paper, in the end, the reception or rejection of the canon, and thus the testimony of Jesus, will depend on the faith, or lack thereof, of the reader. However, acceptance of the Bible is not founded on blind faith for the Bible attests to its authenticity and authority in many ways, but none more authoritative than that of the Savior Himself. Because of this, we can agree with Gilbert’s summation; “In the end,…the answer a Christian will give to the question, “Why do you trust the Bible?” is, “Because King Jesus the Resurrected endorsed the Old Testament and authorized the New.”
 F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1988), 255.
 Rene Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 215.
 All Scripture quotes from New American Standard Version, 1995 Update.
 Pache, Inspiration and Authority, 221.
 Greg Gilbert, Why Trust the Bible? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 135.
 Christopher Cone, “Old Testament Canon, Part II” unpublished lecture notes.
 Gilbert, Bible?, 138, italics in original.
 Ned B. Stonehouse, “The Authority of the New Testament.” The Infallible Word (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1946), 117-118. Quoted in Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Campus Crusade for Christ, Inc. 1972), 41.
 Gilbert, Bible?, 139.
 Ibid., 141.
For those of you who are still checking out my blog I appreciate your patience. I’ve been very busy teaching classes, pastoring the church, leading the worship, and trying to be a god honoring husband and father. I also have not had much time to write, nor have I had much about which to right. I guess I’ve experienced a kind of brain drain. What I have today grew out of past online conversations, many that I can recall from years gone by , and others that I’ve only read. I hope you find this useful.
My Dearest Friend,
It is encouraging to me that you have chosen to engage me in this conversation concerning my beliefs as a Christian. The reason being is that I believe it simply reaffirms what God has revealed in Scripture; that it is He who has placed a desire to understand life and seek out our purpose (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and also He who moves in a person to cause him to seek Him (John 6:44). I realize that you are not to the point where you can accept this point of view, yet. But I am hopeful.
I have thought much about our last discussion, and would like to address a theme or two with you based on it. First, I’d like to return to your view of what constitutes what is right, and what is wrong. If, as you say, there is no God, what, then, is your basis for even attempting to differentiate between right and wrong? If there is no one higher than man himself, then wouldn’t that mean that man is the final arbiter of right and wrong? If that is the case, then which man is the final final arbiter of right and wrong? It seems to me that the buck must stop somewhere, and if it were left up to a single individual wouldn’t that mean that somewhere there is a worldwide dictator? By the way, God has warned that a final world dictator will come on the scene eventually, and it is not going to be pretty (see the book of Revelation for an explanation of that). We actually have a historical illustration of the harm that comes when a nation allows one man to be the final arbiter of right and wrong. Germany bought into Hitler’s ideals, which not only led to World War II and the deaths of many millions of soldiers from multiple nations, but also to the deaths of six million Jews, and many millions of civilians from various countries. The reason for this is that a man is not a reliable source of absolute authority. As in the case of Hitler, he was a man whose ideals were based not on facts, but on his own biases, misunderstandings, and hate. Reality demonstrates time and time again that, when allowed, men will manipulate circumstances in such a way as to suit their own personal likes and dislikes. And what happens when those personal preferences change? Once again Hitler’s treatment of his own right hand man, Ernst Roehm, the founder and original leader of Hitler’s Storm Troopers, gives a great illustration of the, shall we say evil, things that can result. My point is that if you believe that man in general makes the decisions concerning right and wrong, then the definition is left to a finite being incapable of infinite knowledge and thus incapable of establishing a universal ethical code. You would also be subject to the changing ethical “tastes” of a finite being whose own requirements, or standards for determining right and wrong may change. The resultant consequences would be devastating. God has warned us that the human heart (the innermost part of man) is sick, and desperately wicked; it cannot be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9). In truth, in His grace, God has built-in some protection against this sort of situation in that He has created each of us with an innate knowledge of right and wrong. But I’ll come back to that.
If, then, there is no one man who is the final authority, does that mean that there is a group, or conglomeration of men and woman who make that decision? That would ultimately end in a totalitarian government of sorts, would it not? Once again history has provide for us multiple accounts of what happens when such a situation occurs. The communist regimes of Russia, and China have killed, and imprisoned untold millions of their own people based upon the government’s idea of what constitutes right and wrong; right being whatever they said at the moment, and wrong being whatever they decide on the basis of what is best for the collective. Any dissenting view is met with harsh retribution. Is that the solution for determining ethical standards? Can an authoritarian government establish universal ethical standards? The answer is no.
Another alternative, if there is no God, is to allow each individual to establish his or her own standards of ethical behavior. However, this is not realistic. If I determine my own ethical standards, and the next guy establishes his own ethical standards, and we each have differing views of what constitutes theft, then how can I keep him from taking my stuff if he believes its okay to do so? At that point we must turn to the courts, which have established their own standards that go against both of ours and determine that everything that was taken from me is actually theirs. You can see the predicament that such a situation would put the world in; there would be mass chaos.
Behind all of this discussion is another question. Perhaps it is where we should have begun our discussion. That question is, why should anyone be concerned about right and wrong to begin with? I mean, if there is no God, and we are simply the product of random chance and time, evolution, then what difference does it make what one bag of protoplasm does to another anyway? If I answer only to myself, why should I be concerned about anyone but myself, and maybe my immediate family? Why would anyone care about anyone else at all?
Yet that is not what we see around us is it? No. We see that people and societies in one part of the world have ethical standards that are identical to people, and societies in every other part of the world. We know that people in Thailand, or China, or England do not want anyone stealing their possessions, committing adultery with their spouses, killing them or their families, etc. in the same way that we don’t want any of those things to happen in our own lives here in the United States. My point is very simply that there are universal standards of right and wrong behavior that transcend the boundaries of countries, ethnic groups, communities, and even religious sects. How does a worldview (remember a worldview is, in the simplest of terms, the entire system, no matter how loosely organized, that every individual uses to understand, and interpret the world around them) that believes that the God of the Bible does not exist account for such universal ethical standards? If you will allow me to answer, such a worldview cannot account for such ethical standards, nor can it justify their existence at all. I will restate the question I asked earlier in the form of a statement: It doesn’t matter what one bag of evolved/evolving protoplasm does to another, whether good or bad, assuming there really is such things as good and bad. In a world that is the product of random chance evolution there is no room for right or wrong. There just IS. Survival of the fittest is the rule of the day.
Now, within the Christian worldview we have answers for the questions that surround the concept of ethics. We believe in the One God of Christian Scriptures who has revealed Himself in His creation, His Son, who has explained the unseen God to us (John 1:18), and through the Christian Scriptures, which He superintended in such a way that all that was written is correct, without error, and exactly what He wanted us to know. He revealed that in the beginning He created all that exists out of nothing (Genesis 1 & 2). He explained that He created man in His image, thus insuring that mankind both knows Him, and right and wrong (Genesis 1:26-31). His creation was without flaw, but Adam rebelled against God by refusing to abstain from eating from the only tree that God forbade him from eating (Genesis 3), and at that point, sin entered the world that God had created. For our purposes we can say that at that point in history the contrast between right and wrong was presented to the created order.
Adam’s sin, or rebellion, brought devastation upon the created universe to the extent that all of creation was placed under the curse of God’s impending judgment. However, God was not content to leave things in such a state, but put in motion His plan to repair the breach culminating in the entrance of His own Son into the world. He took on humanity, lived a sinless, perfect life among His creation, died to pay the penalty of man’s rebellion, rose again on the third day to be seated at His Father’s right hand where He now awaits His return to judge the world. I tell you all of this to demonstrate first that the God of the Bible created all things. Therefore, as the Creator He has the absolute authority, right, and responsibility to establish the universal ethical standards, which He has done. These standards reflect His character and reflect who He is. He has revealed His standards in the Scriptures, and He has put those same standards within the operating system of every man. The apostle Paul explained this in his letter to the Romans: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them…and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:18-19, 32). Mankind, on the basis of being created in the image of their Creator, knows right from wrong because they know Him. They cannot escape the testimony within themselves, nor can they escape the testimony found in the rest of creation.
My friend, the Christian worldview is the only worldview that can explain both the existence of the universal ethical standards, and their origin. Only the Christian worldview, with its belief in and dependence upon the God of Christian Scriptures, offers the truthful explanation of the universal ethical standards that actually exist in reality. Only the Christian worldview can explain the existence of evil, and why certain things are right, and why certain things are wrong. Only the Christian worldview has a remedy for the evil that exists in the world. In the end God will reconcile with evil, and all who have not turned to Him for forgiveness will endure His judgment.
The good news is that He has provided a way for our bad to be erased. His own Son, Jesus Christ, became a man and lived among His creation. His death on a cross paid the penalty of our sin, and made it possible for us to be forgiven for our wrong. God will judge the wrong, or evil of the world, but those who have accepted the forgiveness purchased by the death of Christ will escape that judgment. It is my prayer for you that you will come to know the God that you know by faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
I pray that you will find His saving grace.
Forever your friend,
In our last post we delved into two of the three main difficulties that a Christian faces as he/she faces in the daily challenge of living life in obedience to the Holy Spirit, otherwise known as the spiritual, or Spirit-filled life. We will look at the third aspect of this triumvirate of problems the Christian faces.
The Internal Struggle
It is this environment of maintaining the proper motivation in the Christian life, and overcoming the various impediments into which a new creation is placed (2 Cor. 5:17) and the new man is born. The inner tension that Paul warned about in Galatians 5:16-17 exists between the Spirit and the flesh, or the new creation and the sin nature of the old creation. To use different biblical terminology it is the struggle between the new man (creation) and the old man. That term, “old man,” directs our attention back to Romans 6:6. The New American Standard Bible reads, “knowing this that our old self was crucified with Him.” However, the Greek uses the exact phrase “old man” (palaios anthropos) in place of “old self.” In the act of co-crucifixion we are transferred from our natural born position in the first Adam to our new position in the Last Adam (Rom. 5:12-21, cf. Col. 1:13-14). Paul’s further testimony concerning his own struggles is helpful. The Holy Spirit found it necessary to have Paul describe these struggles in order for believers to understand that the new position in Christ does not eradicate the old man in the present. In fact, we should remember Paul’s emphatic exclamation at his own plight, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24) This statement alone illustrates the fact that the sin nature, the old man, the flesh is indeed somehow intrinsically tied to our current physical state. It is our inheritance from the first Adam and cannot be expunged from this present body, but it is the complete removal of this nature to which we look with anticipation.
With the new man born in the believer the internal struggle begins in earnest. This is not to say that we are schizophrenic or possessed of two personalities. Ryrie offers an excellent explanation of the unity of the believer:
Although man is a many-faceted being, and even though these facets of man participate in the conflict between the old and new natures when a person becomes a believer, still man is a unity and acts as one. What I do, I do, not a part of myself. . . .True, certain aspects of my being may originate an action, but that action is performed by me, not part of me. . . .
Galatians 2:20 . . . says not only that Christ lives in me but that Christ lives in me, and the life is a life which I live – to be sure by faith – but nevertheless I live it. Whatever is done, whether for good or evil, I do, for there is no other way for the old nature, the new nature, the soul, the spirit, or any other aspect of my being to express itself than through me.[i]
It is within the context of this internal battle that the following is issued: “. . .[L]ay aside the old self, . . .and put on the new self . . .” (Eph. 4:22, 24). Our new position in Christ means that positionally, the old man is put off. The everyday experience, or our experiential or progressive sanctification, is where the battle to live the Christian life takes place, and the old man will not go quietly. We must actively, and consistently strive to put off the old man, and replace him with the new man, the man who is to be transformed by the renewing of his mind (Rom. 12:2), replacing the old way of thinking with “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) to which every believer has access.
The victory of the new man over the old man is, on the part of the believer, dependent upon a positive volitional response to biblical commands such as the one just mentioned. In a word, victory for the new man over the old is through obedience. The power to make the correct decision is provided by the Spirit, “for it is God who his at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Col. 2:13). Therefore, the desire is produced by the new man in conjunction with the divine enablement of the Spirit, the positive volition belongs to the believer, but the power to overcome belongs to the Lord.
It is clear from what we’ve seen that there is a great deal for the believer to overcome. Between the various impediments that the multiple enemies place in his way and the internal struggle that is faced on a moment-by-moment basis the battle is seemingly hopeless for the believer. Yet, God has not left believers to fend for themselves. The indwelling Spirit provides the power for the believer’s victory and progress in the Christian life.
[i]Ryrie, Christian Life, 32-33.
In this He That Is Spiritual article we will continue our discussion of the spiritual life from a Dispensational, therefore Scriptural viewpoint. I don’t say that simply to poke the nose of Reformed Covenantalists who believe Dispensationalism is wrong. I say that based on points made earlier in the previous three articles. Before anyone decides to berate me for saying it, please read the three other articles in this series.
The Believer’s Problem in the Christian Life
At some juncture in the believer’s life, whether it is immediate or sometime later, he will desire to live a life pleasing to God.[i] At least three major issues immediately come into play for the new believer and they will remain a mystery to him until he is made aware that these issues exist.
The first issue is intimately tied to our position in Christ. What is it that motivates us to live the Christian life? Are we motivated by a sense of duty or fear of being cast off by God? Is it a sense of trying to do something to make ourselves acceptable to Him? Or are we motivated by the fact that we know and understand who we are in Christ and the riches to which we are privileged? Chafer describes this necessary knowledge as resulting in “intelligent motives.”[ii] “The Christian who is perfected forever, being in Christ, has, nevertheless, a life of imperfection to live so long as he is in this world.”[iii] It is the lack of this knowledge that causes some believers to live in a perpetual state of defeat and impotence in their daily lives. Because of ignorance of these truths believers become disillusioned and frustrated when they realize that they are not progressing towards maturity and continually struggle with sin. They attempt to obtain and live in holiness are based on faulty knowledge. Thus they struggle to make themselves holy and acceptable to God not knowing that based on their position in Christ they are already holy and acceptable. An excellent description of this is found in Paul’s own life:
For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate….For I know that nothing good dwells in me that is, in my flesh;…For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want….Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:15,18a,19,24,25a)
Chafer offers an excellent analysis of the predicament in which the uninformed believer finds himself:
The new problem which he confronts, …is not one of how he should live that he might be accepted and perfected before God, but rather of how he, an accepted and perfected person, should live after these stupendous realities are accomplished by the grace and power of God. Until this vital distinction is comprehended and received, there will be no progress made in the extensive field of truth which directs the Christian’s life and service. Until positional truth is recognized and received to the extent that the saved one acknowledges that he is saved and perfected in the sight of God on no other ground than that, on his part, he has believed on Christ to the saving of his soul, and on God’s part, he is justified, being both forgiven and constituted righteous through the immeasurable twofold substitution of Christ…there can be only confusion and misunderstanding about the true motivating principle in the Christian’s daily life.[iv]
Therefore, the believer’s motives for living a Christian life become a central issue. Without properly grasping these truths an immature believer will go about attempting to please God in order to become acceptable instead of living to please God because he is already acceptable in Christ. He will attempt to become holy through physical means when in truth he is already holy because of divine intervention through his union with Jesus Christ, and so on. Once again Paul describes the issue when he asks the church in Galatia, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). Thus we must assert that it is imperative that the believer know and understand his newfound position in Christ.
The world, the flesh, and the Devil are the three enemies common to all believers. Identifying and learning to do battle with these enemies is the second of the three issues. It is appropriate to begin with the world since it is in this sphere in which we conduct our physical existence.
The New Testament uses three different Greek words translated as world. The one used in the vast majority of passages is the word kosmos. Of its many meanings, one prominently featured in the New Testament is the idea of a designed, ordered, and purposeful system that has been put into action by an architect. The ruler of this system is identified variously as “the ruler” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), or the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), which is Satan. The world has its own standards by which it operates (1 Cor. 1:21; 3:19). These are in opposition to God’s standards and wisdom (1 Cor. 1:21,25), and to adopt the world’s standards is to become the enemy of God (James 4:4).
Believers are warned not to love this kosmos system (1 John 2:15-16). In fact, part of the mission of the believer is to destroy the “fortresses” containing this worlds “speculations (man-made philosophies) and every lofty (pretentious) thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought (false belief) captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:2-5). This feat is not easily accomplished since the believer must be matured in “the knowledge of God” (v.5) in order to do so. Chafer offers valuable insight into how to experience victory when he states, “The Biblical, as well as practical, cure for “worldliness” among Christians is so to fill the heart and life with the eternal blessings of God that there will be a joyous preoccupation and absent-mindedness relative to unspiritual things.”[v] In other words, to overcome the poisonous “wisdom” of this kosmos system it is absolutely necessary to avail ourselves of the “mind of Christ” that we possess because of our union with Him (1 Cor. 2:16). This may be accomplished only in the believer who knows and understands this truth, and it is made possible only through the power of the indwelling Spirit and the application of the word of God to everyday events of life (1 Cor. 2:10-13; John 17:17 cf. 2 Pet. 1:3-4).
The believer has a precarious balancing act to perform in that he must live in this world (John 17:11,15-16) without becoming tainted by it (James 1:27). Only by knowledge of the Word of God and the power of the indwelling Spirit (2 Pet. 1:3-4) and faith (1 John 5:4) will the believer overcome this world system.
The devil also presents a major impediment for the believer who desires to live the Christian life. Recall how Paul described our pre-salvation existence; “you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world” (Eph. 2:1-2). This system is governed by one who is directing its course, which is “according to the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). This ruler is Satan, the Devil, the accuser of believers (Rev. 12:10). Peter warns believers to “be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Again, Paul warns believers to be prepared with the armor of God in order to “be able to resist in the evil day,” having taken “the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:13,16). He is a formidable foe for whom the believer must be on guard. Without proper knowledge and preparation the believer will be powerless in the spiritual battle that he faces.
Finally, the third of the identified enemies that stand in the way of the believer’s successful execution of the Christian life is his own flesh. This is a somewhat controversial idea, but it should not be since it is clearly biblical. The flesh composes the inner source of our sinfulness. The Greek word sarx is translated as flesh. It can refer to human or animal flesh, the physical body, but also speaks of what is more than physical in man. It often refers to “man’s nature generally.”[vi] Chafer says that “it includes in its meaning the whole of the unregenerate person, – spirit, soul and body.”[vii] Unlike the other obstacles to the Christian life, this particular enemy is internal and its influence cannot easily be overcome. Paul makes the clearest statement concerning the fact that believers are capable of living by their flesh and thus reflecting the actions of the old man, the lost man. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:4 Paul identifies three separate types of men; natural, spiritual, and men of flesh. It is the third person that he names is of concern to us. He chastises the Corinthian church for living like “men of flesh,” which is the translation of sarkinos, a word related to sarx. Paul’s admonition is that they stop acting like infants in Christ, like mere natural or lost men, and grow to maturity as a spiritual man (2:15). Knowing the background of the Corinthian church allows us to see that it is indeed possible for a believer to live as if he is a lost man, as a carnal believer who is out of fellowship with God. It is a difficult task to overcome the flesh and not live as “men of flesh.” However, Scripture is clear that we can overcome even our flesh.
Paul declares, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). As we will see in the section dealing with progress in Christian life, walking in the power of the indwelling Spirit of God is key to living out His will in our lives. Notice how Paul describes the means of walking, or living. One instance is by the Spirit, or by means of the Spirit while the other is carrying out the desire (epithumea – craving, longing, lust) of the flesh. The inner war is seen in the competing desires as Paul explains, “For the flesh sets its desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (v.17). What Paul is describing here are two competing forces. The one of concern at this juncture is the flesh. Chafer further describes the moral use of the word flesh correctly when he wrote that it “implies that it [flesh] is still alive and includes that which makes it alive and that which expresses itself through the physical body.”[viii] Scripture attests to this in numerous places either by direct pronouncement or strong implication (2 Pet. 2:18; 1 John 2:16; Rom. 7:18; 13:14; Eph. 2:3).
[i]It seems highly improbable that a new believer will not have the desire to live pleasing to God, but typically that zeal will fade, and later at some point in his life he will face a time of upheaval that will bring the need and desire into focus more clearly.
[ii]Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1973), 6:162-65.
[vi]H. G. Liddell, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996) Logos Bible Software.
[vii]Chafer, Spiritual, 111.
In this article we will continue our discussion of the spiritual life from a Dispensational, therefore Scriptural viewpoint. I don’t say that simply to poke the nose of Reformed Covenantalists who believe Dispensationalism is wrong. I say that based on points made earlier in the previous two articles. Before anyone decides to berate me for saying it, please read the two other articles in this series.
The Believer’s Position in the Christian Life
One of the most important characteristics of our new life as believers is our new position. As previously mentioned, at the moment of saving faith the Holy Spirit places us into vital union with Christ through His baptizing ministry. We are said to be “in Christ.” At that very moment we are introduced to the indescribable place of privilege that Paul reveals. We now possess “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Every believer must understand this new position in order to have the proper perspective concerning the new creation that each has become. We will not be able to live in a manner reflecting our position in Christ if we do not understand our position in Christ.
In Ephesians alone there are some thirty-six uses of the phrase “in Christ” and various synonymous phrases.[i] Similar terminology is used an additional three times and if taken to mean the same as “in Christ” raises the number to thirty-nine.[ii] Regardless of how Paul is using these phrases the repetition alone attests to its importance.
Harold Hoehner offers a wonderful explanation of the believer’s new position in Christ in his comments on Ephesians 1:3:
…the local sense, the believer incorporated in Christ, gives the best sense in this context as also in [Ephesians 1] 1. With birth a person is identified with the human race whose head is Adam. When Adam sinned all people came under the tyranny of sin which brought death to all humans (Rom. 5:12-14). Christ who knew no sin became a human being and took on him the sin of human beings and died to pay its penalty in behalf of humankind, thus propitiating God’s wrath . . . Anyone who believers God’s provision in Christ becomes united to a new head (Rom. 5:15-6:11). Hence, the believer is “in Christ.”[iii]
When we examine the Scripture that Hoehner identifies as pertinent to this point we find that Romans 5:12-14 describes the entrance of sin into the world through Adam’s fall. Being descendants of Adam, the main idea described in these verses, all men are contaminated by sin because we descend from him on a human level. We are born in Adam. Paul speaks of the result of this natural relationship in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22; “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” The glaring identification truth, being born a natural man from the same gene pool as Adam, has as its result spiritual death. This in turn results in physical death. In contrast, all who are in Christ are spiritually and eternally “made alive.”
Our new life in Christ also has further results. They are wonderful truths that must be understood. They give the believer ammunition in the ongoing battle in the Christian life.
What are some of these resulting truths? Apart from what we have already seen in Paul’s teaching regarding our baptism into Christ there are a number of these identification truths found in Ephesians. “In Christ” believers are:
These are but a few of the truths that Paul teaches concerning the glorious riches attached to our position “in Christ.”
What we have discovered here are not mere niceties that Paul identifies and which have no purpose. These are truths that are presented in order to change the believer’s perspective from a purely natural understanding of things towards the divine perspective. They are not meant simply to make us feel good, but are to actually have an effect on the way we live. The battle cry at this point is, “Be who you are in Christ!” As Paul teaches:
Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin…Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of unrighteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you… (Rom. 6:6-7, 11-14a)
Do you get the feeling that Paul has much to say concerning how we are to live the Christian life? This information is foundational. The knowledge that our position “in Christ” unites us with Him in His death to sin should result in “considering,” or “calculating” that we are dead to sin to the end that our sin nature no longer reigns over our mortal bodies. This is the path to victory. We are no longer slaves to sin. We are not powerless against the “sin which so easily entangles us” and therefore we can “lay aside every encumbrance…and run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).
These identification truths are like neon signs in the darkness declaring to us that victory is ours for the taking. The question at this point then is what is it that hinders the believer from experiencing this victory?
We will begin our discussion here next time.
[i]Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 173.
Most people, if they know anything at all about Dispensationalism, believe that it really only affects the area of end-times prophecy, and certain books of the Bible such as Daniel and Revelation. However, it is not possible for this to be the case since each individual area of theology is inextricably connected to and intertwined with each of the other divisions of Biblical Theology, and its systematized cousin, Systematic Theology. If that is true, as I believe it is, then there should be a Dispensational view of each of the major divisions, and subdivisions of Systematic Theology. One of these subdivisions is found in the area of the Christian life, or also know as the spiritual life. I will attempt to demonstrate that truth in this series of posts.
Although the topic of the Christian life is one that generates much debate, and could easily occupy many more pages than will be used in this series of blogs, rarely do systematic theologies dedicate a specific chapter or section to it. Therefore, our goal will be to develop a general understanding of the issue in brief and to discover the basic mechanics found in Scripture concerning how to experience what Scripture teaches concerning this doctrine.
The major topic at hand is the origin and experience of the new life that begins when God’s grace is applied to the person who exercises faith in Christ. The Christian life is a quality of life that is available to all those who believe in Christ, but is not necessarily experienced by every believer. It typifies what the normal Christian life is meant to be. As Lewis Sperry Chafer declared, “(It) is a life of no regrets” that “consists of having done the will of God.”[i] That description pinpoints the outcome of the Christian life while simultaneously implying what a careful study of Scripture proves to be true, that not all believers experience living out the will of God on a consistent basis.
An important aspect of this post is the fact that it is being presented from a distinctly Dispensational viewpoint. In other words I am going to present a Dispensational view of the Christian walk, or spiritual life. That this is possible is a matter of disagreement for some. Yet, that there exists a Dispensational view of the Christian life is not only demonstrable, more importantly, it is biblical. As such it can be discovered through the hermeneutic principles commonly referred to as the grammatical-historical method of interpretation, which, simply stated, is the normal reading of Scripture. It is through the consistent implementation of this normal reading of Scripture that Dispensational theology is developed and it is through this method alone that the whole of Scripture may be properly understood including what it teaches concerning the Christian life.
Rationale for a Dispensational Theology of the Christian Life
Before we dig more deeply into the subject of the Christian life we should first briefly examine the rationale behind the assertions concerning a Dispensational view of the Christian life. Charles Ryrie has identified the sine qua non, or absolute essentials of Dispensationalism.[ii] Two of these play key roles in reaching a Dispensational view of the Christian life. As has been previously alluded, Dispensationalism is first and foremost based upon a particular system of interpretation – the literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutic, otherwise known as normal interpretation. This reflects the first of Ryrie’s essential elements. A Dispensationalist insists on using a consistent, literal or normal system of interpretation. The historical-grammatical hermeneutic system is not only the foundation of Dispensational theology it is the only way to gain a correct understanding of God’s message to man. Mal Couch has offered a clear and concise explanation of this form of interpretation: “One must take the words in their normal, literal, plain, historical sense. Literal would imply the natural or usual construction and implication, following the ordinary and apparent sense of words rather than an allegorical or metaphorical sense.”[iv] It is from the consistent use of a normal interpretation that the Dispensationalist reaches his theological conclusions. The same is true in regard to the subject of the Christian life.
There are multiple reasons that this normal hermeneutic approach holds such influence over the development of the Dispensational view of the Christian life. For our study, one reason will suffice. A major point of contention that arises when discussing the topic of the carnal Christian is easily overcome by a normal interpretation of Scripture that is untainted by a theological system. It is clear from First Corinthians 2:14-3:3 that not only are there three divisions of men, but there are two divisions of Christians: those who are “spiritual” (2:15)[v] and those who “are still fleshly” (carnal). When this passage is viewed through the strict usage of a normal historical-grammatical hermeneutic, the proper view, as seen above, becomes obvious.
The consistent distinction between Israel and the Church is the second of the sine qua non that bears influence on this subject and is a product of the first. One may question how this could possibly influence any view of the Christian life. The answer also leans heavily on a normal interpretation of Scripture particularly in the understanding of the subject of Pneumatology, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Robert Dean, Jr. describes this aspect of our discussion:
. . . because this model is based on a consistent literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutic, the conclusions will also be consistent with the dispensational distinctive – a distinction between Israel and the church. Since one of the distinguishing characteristics between Israel and the church is the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, especially in the spiritual life, we will discover that, despite protestations to the contrary, there truly is a view of the spiritual life that is dispensational.[vi]
Scripture clearly teaches that every Christian has the Holy Spirit indwelling him as part of His multifaceted ministry in our lives. Paul drives this truth home when he states, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9b). However, Scripture also presents the truth that not every individual Old Testament believer had the Spirit and those who did at times fall under the influence of the Holy Spirit could just as quickly have the Spirit depart from them. This was obviously understood by King David as is attested by Psalm 51:11. David feared that the Spirit would depart from him because of his great personal sin and he pled with God, “Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” As Couch explains, “This does not imply a loss of salvation for David but it tells us David feared the Lord would no longer be using him as before.”[vii] On the other hand Christians in the present dispensation have no fear of the Spirit’s departure for Christ Himself promised, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:16).
Therefore, by utilizing the grammatical-historical form of biblical interpretation it is discovered that there are major differences between Israel and the Church; the Spirit’s relationship with the Christian is only one. Unlike the Old Testament saint, the Holy Spirit permanently indwells each individual New Testament saint who then always has the ability to have access to the Spirit’s power and ministry. In particular, it is the ministry of the indwelling Spirit available to each individual believer that not only imparts life to the believer but also serves as the means by which the special and supernatural character of the Christian life may be experienced by every believer.
As we begin our study we must first look at God’s work in the life of the believer. He is the source of life for all creation in general (Gen. 1-2) and the source of eternal, spiritual life for those who are newly born by grace through faith in Christ (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-10). Since the Christian life begins with Him we should begin by examining His provision for the Christian life. This we will do next time.
[i]Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That Is Spiritual, rev. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967), 87.
[ii]Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 46-48.
[iv]Mal Couch, An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics: A Guide to the History and Practice of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2000),
[v]All Scripture quotations taken from the NASB unless otherwise noted.
[vi]Robert Dean, Jr., “Abiding in Christ: A Dispensational Theology of the Spiritual Life (Part 1),” CTS Journal 7, no. 1 (January-March 2001), http://chafer.edu/content.cfm?id=367#01 (accessed July 10, 2012).
[vii]Mal Couch, The Coming of the Holy Spirit (Springfield, MO: 21st Century Press, 2001), 28.