A Dispensational View of the Christian Life, Part 6

He That Is Spiritual

As we continue to look at the Dispensational view of the Christian life, we are pleased to be able to begin to look at the more positive side of the issue.  That is not to say that the content of the teaching doesn’t have negative aspects, but the outcome of those is quite positive.  Having examined the Christian’s obstacles to living the Christian life, it is necessary now to look at what are the positive steps toward actually overcoming said obstacles.  We will endeavor to do that here, and in the following post(s).

The Believer’s Progress in the Christian Life

Lewis Sperry Chafer made a bold statement when he said, “The Christian will always be filled (by the Spirit) while he is making the work of the Spirit possible in his life.”[i] Bold statement or not it is biblical and can be substantiated by careful exegesis. We will now consider this truth very briefly.

Scripture gives the believer much in the way of directives and principles by which he is able to progress in the Christian life. We will examine four main imperatives, one dealing with the first intelligent step toward growth, and three dealing with the believer’s relationship to the indwelling Spirit: 1.) Present yourself to God (Rom. 12:1), 2.) Do not grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30), 3.) Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19), 4.) Walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).

Present Yourself to God

After spending the first eight chapters of Romans developing deep doctrinal truths including the foundation of the believer’s position in Christ Paul begins chapter twelve with a command that serves to shape the remainder of the letter: “Therefore I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God (from the first eight chapters) to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1). Paul spent a great amount of the first three chapters developing the truth of man’s lost estate capping off the section with the pronouncement that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” followed immediately by the glorious news that those who are saved are so by “being justified as a gift by His grace through, the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (3:23-24). Again, the focus is on what God has accomplished on behalf of the believer and this truth is the basis upon which Paul pleads with believers to present their bodies to God.

The idea that Paul is attempting to convey is that, based on the glorious mercy of God in our salvation, we should dedicate ourselves completely to Him. The language used here is reminiscent of the animal sacrifices familiar to both Jewish worshippers and pagan ritualists. The Greek word paristemi is translated “present” in this passage. As to the technical usage of the word in this context, Marvin Vincent states, “It is the technical term for presenting the Levitical victims and offerings. . . . In the Levitical sacrifices the offerer placed his offering so as to face the Most Holy Place, thus bringing it before the Lord.”[ii] What we see then is that Paul is presenting, no pun intended, the fact that the believer has an obligation to offer himself as a real sacrifice to God, which is a total dedication in the same fashion that the Old Testament animals were set apart and dedicated for the purpose of giving their lives for the sins of Israel. The obvious differences serve to further expound the magnitude of the decision, which differences are first that unlike the sacrifices of old it is a voluntary decision, and second, it involves continued living in a state of dedication instead of immediate death of the sacrifice.

I labeled this as the first intelligent step toward growth. The reason is simple; it is a step of obedience to the Word of God. This does not necessarily mean that the believer is acting in response to Paul’s words, but it does mean that he is acting in response to God’s work in his life possibly through a series of events that God has used to bring him to the end of his own strength. In conjunction with this positive step it is without question that he will soon thereafter discover that what he has done was in obedience to God’s word.

Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). Chafer correctly expresses the truth of the matter when he described the ChristianL.S.Chafer life as one of supernatural requirements and in constant need of the empowerment of the indwelling Spirit and God’s enabling grace.[iii] With such needs and requirements it is imperative that the believer maintain a fellowship with the Spirit. It is therefore incumbent upon the believer to obey Paul’s message.

To grieve the Spirit is to tolerate known sin in our lives, to live with unconfessed sin. “Grieve” is the translation of the Greek word lupeo in its present active form which likely indicates that Paul was saying “do not go on grieving the Holy Spirit.” Sin is to miss the mark of God’s perfect righteousness or to deviate from His perfect standard. As Chafer states, “where sin is tolerated in the believer’s daily life, the Spirit, who indwells him, must then turn from His blessed ministry through him, to a pleading ministry to him.”[iv] Allowing sin in our hearts to go unchecked places us in an immediate state of carnality regardless of the length of time that we stay in that condition (Ps. 66:18). Yet, God has provided for the remedy for the sins of the believer, which provision also allows an immediate restoration of fellowship between the believer and Himself.

John addresses this subject in First John where he admits that any believer can “walk in darkness” (1:6), and thus he is not practicing the truth but that which is contrary to God’s very nature (1:5). Though still a believer, he is nonetheless living in the flesh (carnal). That walk in darkness proves that the one doing so is not in fellowship with God but out of fellowship. John continues by broadening the subject stating, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1:8). “Sin” here is in reference to the sin nature and not individual sins.[v] If we say that we do not continue to have the very source of sin, the old man, remaining in us we are deceiving ourselves. This is a sure way to live a defeated life and not progress in growth toward maturity. However, John continues: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). Therefore, understanding that we continue to have a sin nature we also understand that we continue to sin and are able to deal correctly with it. In doing so, we can maintain a consistent fellowship with the indwelling, empowering Spirit.

We can conclude that at some point in our lives as Christians we will grieve the Holy Spirit by sinning and not immediately confessing it. We may even remain in that state for some length of time. That state of broken fellowship isolates us from the Spirit’s ministries in us, particularly His work of empowering us to live the Christian life. However, God has offered the means for reestablishing fellowship by simply confessing our sins.

Do Not Quench the Spirit

Another negative command is, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). “Quench” is from the Greek meaning to put out (a fire), suppress, or stifle. In the present context Paul was telling the Thessalonians not to resist the out working of the Spirit and of the gifts He gives within the life of the Church (see vv. 12-18 and 20-22). Such resistance would stifle His work in their midst and would be tantamount to refusing to abide by and submit to the Spirit and the spiritual gifts at work. However, the quenching of the Spirit is not limited to the output of the spiritual gifts (vv. 12-18).

When the believer says no to the Spirit’s work, regardless of the form that work takes, he quenches or suppresses the Spirit and therefore limits or inhibits His work in the believer’s life. The Spirit does not abandon the believer, as seen earlier in the distinctions between Israel and the Church, but the believer’s resistance makes the Spirit’s filling impossible until the believer changes his mind (repentance) and confesses his sin. Therefore, the believer, according to Paul, must “stop quenching the Spirit” (present active imperative) by refusing to allow Him to work.

The cure to the quenching of the Spirit is to “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13). This correlates directly with one’s decision to dedicate himself to God (Rom. 12:1). Christ Himself is the perfect example of this attitude (Phil. 2:5). In Hebrews 10:7 the testimony of our Lord is found: “Then I said, Behold, I have come . . .to do your will, O God.” It is perfect submission and obedience to God’s will.

To sum up, to quench the Spirit is to refuse to obey God’s revealed will. The cure is to have a change of mind (repentance) concerning said refusal and the decision to live in obedience to His will. It is to have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) and to adopt both the knowledge and the attitude associated with it (Phil. 2:5).

Walk by the Spirit

Finally, we find a positive command from Paul. He says, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). This is the believer’s exercising positive volition in deciding live in dependence upon the indwelling Spirit’s power and guidance.

To walk by the Spirit refers to living by means of the indwelling Spirit. In other words it is a moment-by-moment dependence on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in taking every step of life by faith in God based upon the knowledge of His revealed will in Scripture. Ryrie agrees, “Actually walking is, by its very nature, a succession of dependent acts. . . .Walking can only be done successfully by successive acts of faith in the power of one’s feet. Likewise the Christian walk can be done successfully only by a constant dependence on the Holy Spirit’s control over one’s life.”[vi] Remember, the Christian life is one of supernatural requirements such as understanding God’s will and choosing to live in obedience to it. This is made possible only through reliance upon the indwelling Spirit, the one “who is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). When a believer grieves the Spirit by allowing sin to remain unchecked in his life he allows sin to interrupt the Spirit’s continued guidance. When a believer quenches the Spirit by refusing to live in obedience to what he knows the will of God to be he suppresses the Spirit’s work in his life. However, when the believer responds in obedience to God’s revealed will and chooses to depend upon the Spirit to do so he is walking by means of the Spirit.

Walking in the Spirit is living moment-by-moment under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit. It is to walk step-by-step under His guidance by not allowing personal sins to be left unconfessed and thereby not grieving the Spirit, and by choosing obedience to God’s revealed will thereby not quenching the Spirit. The positive decision to depend on the Spirit results in walking by means of the Spirit, or the Spirit’s filling. We will address the Spirit’s filling in the final section to follow.

It is therefore to the Christian’s benefit to strive to walk by means of the Spirit. Only in doing so will the believer find victory in the Christian life. However, we must not confuse this striving with the self-generated attempt to gain holiness by mere self-effort. Instead it is accomplished in the one who is being motivated by the Holy Spirit through knowledge of God’s revealed will and who is empowered to do so by the indwelling Spirit to choose to obey God.

Each of the previous subsections of the believer’s progress in the Christian life are related to the maturation progress involved in growth as a follower of Jesus Christ. In addition to these truths there must be added at least two others that have direct bearing upon a Christian’s ability to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).

The Christian life is reflective of natural life. Within the believing one is born a new man. That new man is meant to progress forward from the initial stage of birth to the final stage of full maturation. There is a definite process to this growth. The ultimate goal is to progress to the point that Christ is formed in us (Gal. 4:19). The Christian life, when healthy and normal, follows the same process as natural life. That is, just as a newborn baby must go through the stages of growth on his way to maturity, so the newborn Christian is a baby that must progress toward maturity. One of the failures of the Church is that there seems to be a mindset that believes every Christian is automatically on the course toward maturity simply because they believe in Christ for salvation. Merryman offers a clear and helpful explanation, “…[A] new Christian cannot be mature because maturity involves time plus knowledge of truth and application of truth (m = t + kot + aot). The same is true in physical life: at age 1 a person can be an absolutely healthy organism just as at age 20; but at age 1, it is impossible to be as mature as at age 20.”[vii] Sadly, there are many believers who are twenty years old in Christ but are babies in their maturity level.

[i]Chafer, Spiritual, 67.

[ii]Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), Logos Bible Software.

[iii]Chafer, Spiritual, 43.

[iv]Ibid., 70.

[v]Both Chafer and Merryman address this issue. Chafer states, “Sin is what we are by birth, while sins are the evil we do in life” (Chafer, Spiritual, 114). Merryman addresses the issue in the following: “John is not referring in this verse to “sins” (as he does in verse 9), rather to their source, the animating sin that continually resides in us. . . . It is the animating sin nature that he is focusing on.” See Ron Merryman, The Passion War: Spiritual Conflict in Every Believer (Casa Grande, AZ: Merryman Ministries, 2002), 5.

[vi]Ryrie, Christian Life, 114-15.

[vii] Ron Merryman, Spirituality…Maturation…Retrogression… (Casa Grande, AZ: Merryman Ministries, 2004), 6 (emphases in original).

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The Sufficiency of Scripture: Is God’s Word Enough? Part 3

sola scripturaI recently began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture.  I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency.  By way of introduction and reminder, the following is our definition: Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end.  It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need.  Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered.

Our last discussion ended with the historical development of the Roman Catholic standard form of hermeneutic, an allegorical method of interpreting Scripture.  A major concern with this approach is that Scripture becomes putty in the hands of the interpreter who is free to mold its “meaning” into anything that suits his/her fancy.  Added to this method is the practice of the Pope making proclamations ex cathedra regardless of whether the proclamation is in harmony with previous proclamations or not, or whether it harmonizes with the real teachings of Scripture or not.  At least one of the results prior to the Reformation was rampant superstition, which is a glaring display of the abandonment of the sufficiency of Scripture.

Reformation Hermeneutics –

By the time the Reformation came about the damage was so ingrained that even the Reformers never quite returned completely to sound biblical interpretation. Granted the hermeneutical principles established by the two most influential Reformers, Luther (1483-1546) and Calvin (1509-1564), were sound and good; in practice they did not always follow their own rules.

Luther rejected the allegorical method completely. As he said, “When I was a monk, I was an expert in allegories. I allegorized everything. But after lecturing on the Epistles of the Romans I came to have knowledge of Christ. For therein I saw that Christ is no allegory and I learned to know what Christ is.” Because of his turn from allegorical method Luther developed a form of literal, grammatical hermeneutics. Briefly, his principles were as follows:

  1. The psychological principle. Luther believed that the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit was of absolute necessity.
  2. The authority principle. Scripture is the final and supreme authority above all church authority.
  3. The literal principle. Literal (normal) interpretation is key.
  4. The sufficiency principle. Luther held to the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture and therefore believed that any devout Christian is capable of understanding them apart from the church’s authority.
  5. The Christological principle. Luther believed that the function of all of interpretation is to find Christ.
  6. The Law-Gospel principle. Luther believed that there must be a careful distinction held between Law and Gospel.

John Calvin also established sound hermeneutical practices. “Calvin stressed the Christological nature of Scripture, the grammatical, historical method, exegesis rather than eisegesis…the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit, and a balanced approach to typology.” (Quote attribution lost)

The problem that existed with both of these great scholars, and men of God, was that they each continued to hold to allegorical/spiritual interpretation when it concerned the Church, Israel, and end times prophecy propagating the Catholic Church’s teaching of amillennialism and that the Church is the Kingdom of God. Therefore, despite the great success and blessing from God that the Reformation was, its success was incomplete leaving the door open for building good doctrine on top of bad.

Regardless of the progress towards sound hermeneutic principles of the Reformers the issue remained; through all the years prior to and following the Reformation the sufficiency of Scripture was (and is) challenged.  This challenge has often been by interpreters seeking to help make Scripture plain, or by the Roman Catholic Church seeking to centralize the power of Christendom.  It may be safe to say that the situation has worsened with the addition of numerous sects and cults, and the failure of conservative churches to teach the sufficiency of Scripture.  The result can be seen in the current drift back to superstition, which includes the current tide of continually seeking new direct revelation from God for everyday guidance instead of simply living in obedience to His revealed word.

To be continued…

The Sufficiency of Scripture: Is God’s Word Enough? Part 2

Hoky BibleYesterday I began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture.  I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency.  By way of introduction I will briefly review.

Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end.  It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need.  Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered.  When it comes to Scripture, God’s Holy Word, it means that the Bible is totally adequate, and competent to meet the needs of every individual Christian in every circumstance of life (see 2 Peter 1:2-3).  Nothing else is needed to guide us in our everyday living.

Most of us would agree that the greater portion of the Church has abandoned this long-held belief in the sufficiency of Scripture.  What some of us may not know is the history of how we have arrived at this place in the life of the Church.  What follows is my attempt to trace the history of biblical interpretation and misinterpretation of Scripture that enabled and emboldened the Church to conclude that God’s word alone is not a sufficient guide for an individual Christian’s life.  I would add to the previous statement that I am by no means alone in my understanding of the history that follows.

Historical Perspective: The Battle for Authority and Sufficiency

Origen and Allegorical Interpretation –

As Philip Schaff has stated, “The question of the source and rule of Christian knowledge lies at the foundation of all theology.” Without a solid foundation all theology must rest on shifting “sand…and great (shall be) its fall” (Matt. 7:26-27). Not withstanding the original attack upon the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in the Garden, the shift from the authority and sufficiency within the Christian Church can be seen with the first formal theory of interpretation, that of Origen (A.D.185-254). His hermeneutic system was fashioned after that of Philo, a Jewish Platonist who adopted the allegorical method in approaching the Hebrew Scriptures. Likewise, Origin applied the allegorical method in his exegesis of Scripture.  Although born out of the best of intentions the problem with Origen’s s hermeneutic method is that it abandoned a normal interpretation for a fanciful, imaginative interpretation that placed the interpreter in the place of authority instead of Scripture itself being the authority. Instead of Scripture having a static meaning (although alive and active as Hebrews 4:12 states) and simply having a basic, intended meaning that anyone could understand, “(he) considered the Bible a living organism (not as Hebrews states), consisting of three elements which answer to the body, soul, and spirit of man, after Platonic psychology.” The outcome was that Origen, like Plato, would allegorize, or spiritualize vast portions of Scripture completely undermining, or destroying the plain, historical sense in which it was intended. In so doing the authority of the word of God was made to be subservient to the interpreter, thereby making it insufficient in itself to direct men into proper living.

Augustine and Dualism –

Following Origen’s lead, Augustine (A.D. 354-430), once again desiring to do good, duplicated the allegorical method, but with a twist. His system is known as dualism, and the modification that he introduced was seen in his practice of limiting allegorical interpretations to prophetic passages, while taking other passages in their normal, literal sense. This dualistic method of allegorical interpretation once again pushed the subtle shift from the sufficiency of Scripture as it tore at the foundation of the authority of Scripture. Paul Tan described the overwhelming acceptance of Augustine’s practice; “Unfortunately for the church, Augustinian dualism was accepted without much debate into the Roman Catholic church, and later also by the Protestant reformers.”  It is that last fact concerning the Protestant reformers that has led to many of the problems in the modern Church.

Arguably, one of the negative outcomes of Augustine’s dualism is the birth of Amillennialism. This view of the millennium was absorbed whole by the Roman Catholic Church and their theology. This had a devastating impact upon the Roman Catholic hermeneutic method, and, therefore, to the authority and, in turn, the sufficiency of Scripture.

Catholic Allegorism –

Directly effected by Augustine’s form of allegorical interpretation is the Catholic system of hermeneutics. The Catholic system is very closely related to Augustine’s dualism, and completely swallowed up the Amillennialist idea of prophetic Scriptures.

Bernard Ramm asserts that “[i]t would be over-simplification to assert that the only method of exegesis during the Middle Ages was the allegorical method. It would not be, however, be an exaggeration to assert that the preponderance of exegetical work was allegorical.” The Romanists divided Scripture into two categories; 1.) Literal and 2.) Spiritual, or mystical. Yet, as damaging as this aspect of their system was, it was merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The real greater damage is found in another of Ramm’s observations;

The Catholic interpreter obediently accepts whatever the Catholic Church has specifically said about matters of Biblical Introduction, and authorship of the books of the Bible…The Catholic interpreter accepts all verse which the Church has officially interpreted in the sense in which they have been interpreted.”

Here we have the logical outcome of the destruction of the authority, and therefore the sufficiency of Scripture by the introduction of the allegorical method of interpretation. When the normal sense of Scripture is not the true or deepest meaning of Scripture, then interpretation must be left up to those who have been granted the divine right of interpretation, i.e., the Church. In turn, that transition of the divine right of interpretation from the individual Christian to the Church placed the individual Christian under the authority of the Church, and since the method of interpretation placed the interpreting body in control of what Scripture means the Church became the authority, Scripture lost both its authority and sufficiency, and direction for all areas of life fell under the authority of the church; the Roman Catholic Church held the sufficiency. The Bible was taken out of the hands of the average man on the street and given only to the church to dictate to the individual what was held within its pages.

The Catholic Church’s denial of sola Scriptura was solidified at the Council of Trent in 1545. Although affirming the Bible as inspired revelation from God, as has already been established, the Church became the only competent interpreter of Scripture.

Two major errors occurred. Upon the church’s establishment of itself as the only sound interpreter of Scripture, membership in the Catholic Church became necessary for salvation. Therefore, the church and not Scripture, is sufficient for salvation.

Secondly, they established that the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church is absolutely necessary for correct understanding of the Bible. Popes and bishops are the only competent interpreters of the Scriptures; therefore, the individual cannot grow, serve or obey without the guidance of the Catholic Church. Scripture alone is not sufficient for salvation or daily living.

With the Bible taken from those who were not in authority in the church the natural progression was to drift into deep superstition and mysticism. Although mysticism came along with the allegorical interpretation, its filtering into public life in the form of superstitions and pagan practices was caused by the individual’s inability to read, let alone understand the words of Scripture, as well as by example of their “spiritual” leaders.  The results were horrific in the life of the Church in general, and devastating to individuals overall.  None had assurance of salvation.  Many lived in fear of evil spirits, or even in fear of their own religious leaders.  The Roman Church became oppressive and overbearing, and millions suffered greatly.

Praise God that the history of the Church and biblical interpretation did not end there.

To be continued.

The Words of the Gospel of Eternal Life | 1024project.com

The Words of the Gospel of Eternal Life | 1024project.com.

I would like to introduce you to the 1024project.com if you have not yet discovered it on your own.  I am one of the founding members and would like to invite you to sample some of the sites work.  The above article is by one of the other founding members, Dr. Mike Stallard.  I hope you enjoy reading it.

Below is a brief description of the 1024project:

1024projectlogo

What is the 1024 Project?

The 1024 Project is a collaboration of Christian leaders, based on Hebrews 10:24 – “and let us consider ways to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” One way we can accomplish this mandate is by working together to provide encouraging and edifying resources on issues that arise in the lives of individual believers and in corporate church life. The 1024 Project is a clearinghouse of teaching, resources and information from likeminded leaders of Biblical churches, who are committed to Two Key Distinctives:

First, the Bible (the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament) is the inspired, inerrant (in the original manuscripts), revealed word of God, and is authoritative and sufficient for the equipping of saints for every good work.

Second, the Bible provides the model for its own interpretation, and should be understood in its natural (literal grammatical-historical) sense, considering context and the progress of revelation. The 1024 Project and its members are committed to the consistent application of the literal grammatical-historical method for understanding the entire Bible.

These Two Key Distinctives have some obvious implications. One implication worth noting here is that the 1024 Project means by “considering context and the progress of revelation” that the earlier Biblical texts provide grounding and definition for later Biblical texts, and not the other way around (the OT is not to be reinterpreted by the NT, rather the NT is to be understood in light of the OT). Consequently, hermeneutic models that advocate NT primacy, like the canonical or complementary approaches, do not consider context and progress of revelation in keeping with the literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic.

Finding and Following God’s Will, or, How Cessationists May Know and Do the Will of God, Part 2

In my last post I began putting forth my understanding of and belief in the idea that the sign gifts of the first century have ceased in this dispensation, a belief known as cessationism.  This belief includes the understanding that the canon of Scripture is complete and closed.  I ended my last post with my presuppositions, which include the following:

  1. The God of the Bible exists and is knowable
  2. He has spoken
  3. The Bible is the record of His speaking
  4. In speaking He has revealed His will
  5. Since He has revealed His will He must desire that we know it
  6. Since He desires that we know His will His message must be comprehensible (He is God after all)
  7. Therefore, we can know His will
  8. His will is found in Scripture

In this post I would like to demonstrate that Scripture demands that we know God’s will, and explain how Scripture teaches us how to know and obey God’s will.

The first requirement is that one must be a believer.  God’s desire is that men be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4).  The natural man, a.k.a., the unbeliever, cannot know the will of God, cannot understand the message of Scripture, and indeed does not desire to understand the will of God or message of Scripture (1 Cor. 2:14).  Thus, the first step of knowing and doing God’s will is that you must first trust Jesus Christ alone for salvation from sin.

Secondly, believers are commanded to understand God’s will.  Paul, in Ephesians 5:17, states, “So then do not be foolish, but understand (present active imperative) what the will of the Lord is.”  We can also deduce from this verse that to not understand the will of God is to be a foolish believer.  However, in order for a believer to be able to understand the instruction of Scripture he must be one who is spiritual, i.e., not walking in darkness, but in fellowship with the Father (I Cor. 2:15; 3:1-3; 1 John 1:6-7).

Third, knowing Christ’s commands, including His further instruction found in the Apostles’ teaching, is to know His will.  Psalm 40:8 proclaims, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.”  Knowing and obeying God’s Law was to do His will.  Later in the Psalms we find the following instruction: “How can a young man keep his way pure?  By keeping it according to Your word.  With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandmentsYour word I have hid in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Ps. 119:9-11).  The clear idea is that knowing God’s word and His Law is equivalent to knowing His will.

There are several passages in the New Testament that give clear, unequivocal statements of what His revealed will for the believer is.  Such ideas as, be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), ™being sanctified (1 Thess. 4:3), ™be thankful (1 Thess. 5:18), sometimes suffering for Him (1 Peter 3:17), ™be subject to authorities (1 Peter 2:13), and ™do all without grumbling (Ph. 2:14).  These are just a few examples.

Fourth, obeying His commands is doing His will.  Jesus patterned this for us and went as far as to tell us so.  He said, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works” (John 14:10).  As a matter of fact, Jesus’ whole life of obedience was the outworking of doing God’s will: “Behold I have come to do Your will” (Heb. 10:9).  Jesus identified the fact that part of the Spirit’s ministry was to enable His disciples to obey His commandments and thereby demonstrate their love for Him (John 14:15-17).

From what I have put forth as I have found in Scripture, I believe that the clear teaching of Scripture is that we can and must know God’s will, that knowing His word is to know His will, and in doing what He commands we carry out His will.  However, there is more to this story.

There are several issues that must be addressed before we can actually know and then do God’s will.  First, there is the matter of knowing what His word says.  Our heritage is found in First Corinthians.  Paul teaches us that “we have (possess) the mind of Christ.”  I believe that what Paul is teaching here is the link between the fact that we have the indwelling Spirit as well as the Divine message of Scripture, which the Spirit enables us to understand.  Yet, before the Spirit can enlighten our minds to understand the word we must know it.  Therefore, Paul instructs Timothy to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).  Accurate handling of the word requires accurate understanding and application.  One of the main issues with believer’s who don’t know the will of God is that they do not take the time nor make the effort to know what the word teaches.  The belief that God gives direct revelation in order for individual believers to know God’s will for them is, in my opinion, an act of lazy discipleship, at least in part.

Another aspect of knowing and doing the will of God is that it takes wisdom to employ His will.  The Greek word for wisdom, sophia, may be defined as “the capacity to understand and function accordingly”.  It is this word that is used by James when he teaches us that, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).  Therefore, we see that wisdom is necessary and available for the believer who would know and do God’s will.  That wisdom is for the purpose of employing what is known of God’s will in the life of the believer.

There is also the matter of the Spirit’s ministry within the believer and our cooperation with Him.  Paul taught the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12b-13).  The Spirit’s work is accomplished fully when believers cooperate with Him by, “(being) filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).  The Spirit causes us to desire to do God’s will, enables us to do God’s will, but our obedience is required to carry out God’s will.

The final link in the chain of knowing and doing God’s will is found in adding all the 2’s together.  Here is the way I believe it all works, according to how I interpret all that we’ve seen.  The mechanics of doing His will when attempting to make a decision are as follows:

1. Know God’s revealed will
2. Obey God’s revealed will
3. Count the cost of your options, Luke 14:28-32
4. Do all for His glory – 1 Cor. 10:31
5. Do what you want to do – Psalm 37:4
This answer seems to be to “unspiritual” for some as if God doesn’t work within the mundane of the everyday life.  Too many want a mystical encounter with God, which I believe can be attributed to the Church’s refusal to accept Scripture as the only source of knowing God’s will.  The result is that many Christians remain in a perpetual state of immaturity waiting on a special message from God that never seems to come.
God bless.  I pray this helps.

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Finding and Following God’s Will, or, How Cessationists May Know and Do the Will of God, Part 1

I have been noticing an upswing in the discussion concerning how God speaks to HIs peopleImage today.  The arguments range from the idea that God still speaks to each individual believer through dreams, visions, audible voice, and other people, to those of us who are staunch cessationists.   First, allow me to explain what I mean by “cessation/cessationist”.

“Cessation” is a term used to explain that the miraculous sign gifts that existed during the first century, which God used to forward His plan and message, are no longer in effect.   This includes the belief that God is not presently granting new revelation of Himself to mankind, including His elect, His children.  A cessationist is one who holds to the aforementioned belief.  Notice that I did not say that God is not speaking today.  That is the popular and simplistic way of explaining the idea.  I believe whole heartedly that God is speaking loudly and clearly today, but believe that He is limiting His speaking to the completed canon of Scripture.  To further explain, I do not believe that God currently speaks audibly, or through dreams, or through visions, or hunches, or even through other believers.  I believe that God has spoken and that His word as recorded in the pages of Holy writ (fancy word for Scripture) is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing (penetrating) as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).  If it is capable of determining whether the thoughts and intentions of the believer are pure, or good or bad, then surely it is capable of giving me direction in every aspect of life and decision making.

The Reformers left us with several excellent phrases that explain the heart and soul of the battle during the period known as the Reformation.  One of those phrases is Sola Scriptura.  This expression of theological truth was not a doctrine they created but one they rediscovered from their study of Scripture.  I’ve been reading some of what both Luther and Calvin believed and will emphatically state that Sola
 Scriptura is 1.) Self-explanatory, and 2.) An expression resulting from their unequivocal belief that Scripture is the only means by which man receives communication from God since the close of the canon of Scripture.  Both Luther and Calvin clearly believed in Sola Scriptura in the way that I believe in Sola Scriptura, namely, that God has spoken and the record of that revelation is in the Bible alone. It is living and powerful and has need of no further additions. As Peter stated, God “has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us…” (2 Peter 1:3).  I would suggest a review of the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19ff). The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers, but Abraham told him that they had the writings of Moses and the prophets and if they wouldn’t believe those writings of Scripture they wouldn’t believe even if one rose from the dead. 
 The centrality of Scripture is one of the points of Jesus’ story.

Too many believers today are spending their waking hours waiting for God to tell them where they should go to college, what job to take, whom to marry, and so on.  The resulting impotence is staggering and sad.  How can we overcome in Christ if we are frozen in place while waiting for God to deliver His will to us by special revelation.  And don’t be fooled; if you are waiting for God to deliver His will to you it must be by special revelation and therefore must be on par with the content of Scripture.  Scripture does not teach that some contents of special revelation are greater than others.  That is not to say that one passage of Scripture can’t have more of an impact on our lives today than another, but we also must realize that even what seems to be the most insignificant passage in Scripture is of grave importance to the overall message since every word, from Genesis to Revelation, is an invaluable part of the greater story of God’s Divine Plan.  Without the most insignificant points of the story the most valuable points of the story could not exist.

So, if I believe that God no longer speaks by way of additional special revelation, how do I propose that a believer go about finding and following God’s will?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  That is what I will address in my next post.

In closing I would like to offer my presuppositions, which will help to set the stage for part 2 of this discussion.  I believe that most who read these will offer no disagreement.

  1. The God of the Bible exists and is knowable
  2. He has spoken
  3. The Bible is the record of His speaking
  4. In speaking He has revealed His will
  5. Since He has revealed His will He must desire that we know it
  6. Since He desires that we know His will His message must be comprehensible (He is God after all)
  7. Therefore, we can know His will
  8. His will is found in Scripture

I may not have all of those in proper order, but you get my meaning.

Until next time, God bless.

A Simple Warning From God’s Word and Not Necessarily Out of Context

God once delivered a message through His prophet Isaiah to His people, Israel.  It reads like this in the New American Standard Bible:

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!”  (Isaiah 5:20-21)

May I also add a few words from Paul?  What am I asking?  This is my blog.

Paul described God’s progressive discipline of men and cultures that turn away from Him choosing rather to suppress the truth of God in their unrighteousness.

“Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22)

Our government officials would do well to listen to these words.  Unfortunately, many Church leaders so-called would do well to listen to this message also.  Calling Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Bill Hybels, Brian McClaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam.

Just thinking out loud…or on the internet as it were.