The Canon According to Jesus

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.

Hoky Bible

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.

Two Expectations

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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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.”[3] 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.”[4]

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).”[5] And when using this form in His teaching Jesus “was endorsing and ratifying the authority of the entire Old Testament from start to finish.”[6] 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.”[7]

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.”[8]

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)…”[9]

 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”[10] 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.

Conclusion

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.”[11]

[1] F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1988), 255.

[2] Rene Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 215.

[3] All Scripture quotes from New American Standard Version, 1995 Update.

[4] Pache, Inspiration and Authority, 221.

[5] Greg Gilbert, Why Trust the Bible? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 135.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Christopher Cone, “Old Testament Canon, Part II” unpublished lecture notes.

[8] Gilbert, Bible?, 138, italics in original.

[9] 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.

[10] Gilbert, Bible?, 139.

[11] Ibid., 141.

 

 

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).

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.

Why Christmas? 2

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I found something that I wrote last Christmas and decided to revamp it to share again.  Please forgive the repeat, but I hope you enjoy.

I love Christmas!  Although I hate cold weather, Christmas is my favorite time of year. It brings back great childhood memories, it allows me to spend time with family and friends, we give and get presents, and so on, and so on.  However there is another reason that I love Christmas; Jesus Christ stepped into history becoming a man in order to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind.

This year our Church Christmas musical mentioned Isaiah 9:6, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; …” Notice two things: 1.) A child is born – the focus is on His humanity, and 2.) A son is given – the focus is on His deity; the very Son of God has been given.  This passage identifies the uniqueness of the One who was given to Israel and mankind as He who would pay the penalty of sin and provide salvation for those who have faith in Him.

In the book of Hebrews we find the very reason that Christ was born.  The writer of Hebrews states that Jesus Christ became a man “so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).

Think of it this way; God cannot die.  Therefore, Jesus, God the Son, took on humanity in order that in His humanity He could die.  That’s really why we celebrate Christmas.  Hebrews 2:14 and 15 state, “Therefore, since the children (Israel/humanity) share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, so that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”  Through His sufferings He became “a merciful and faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17), and now “He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (2:18).

How do we answer the question posed in the title, Why Christmas?  It can be addressed this way: We celebrate Christmas to commemorate the day that God the Father gave His Son, Jesus as a gift to mankind in order to pay the penalty for sin.  Jesus the Son became human on Christmas so He could give His life as the payment for our sin.  God the Holy Spirit is now offering the gift of freedom from the penalty of sin based upon the gift given by the Father and Son.

When His offer is accepted an array of other gifts follow.  The Spirit Himself is imparted as a gift (Acts 2:38) as He indwells, empowers us to live a life of a supernatural nature, and imparts even further gifts as ministers to us.  Justification is given as a gift (Rom. 3:23-24) as well as the gift of righteousness in Christ (Rom. 5:17).  Paul also tells us that we are granted access to every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3) and that we are granted the gift of eternal life (Rom. 6:23)

Therefore, Christmas is about gifts given from God to man, but His gift is not wrapped with a big red bow, but with a crimson stream that flowed from Calvary.  It is about the gift of Jesus Christ the Son.

Think about these things as you celebrate this Christmas.

Concerning Presuppositional Epistemology and Apologetics

I had this questioned posed by one who had read the interview with Dr. Cone: “Just read your blog…could you please define presuppostitional as it relates to epistemology and apologetics ??  This is a new term for me.”  What follows is my attempt to answer this question.  Since I am still relatively new to this subject, presuppositionalism, any correction will be welcomed, especially as it relates to my attempt to explain circular reasoning.

The term “presuppositional” refers to the idea that all belief systems begin with circular reasoning based on self-authenticating (unprovable) truths or statements of “truth.”  In apologetics it refers to the position that believers must begin with the belief in the biblical God. This is how the Bible approaches the entirety of its contents…”In the beginning God…”  There is no attempt to prove His existence, etc.  The same can be seen in the book of Ecclesiastes.  The other various approaches to apologetics depend on logic and the ability to “prove” that the biblical God exists.  There are at least two problems with this approach.  First, logic, reason, and proof or evidence clearly demonstrate that the earth and all reality has been created by an intelligent mind.  That’s as far as it goes.  It cannot bring one to the conclusion that THE Creator is the biblical God.  That takes faith and that faith is found in hearing the word of God.  Second, if God can be absolutely proven by human reason and evidence, then God Himself is subject to that evidence making Him subservient to that evidence (the evidence is greater than God) and thus He is not the God of the Bible.  Along with that, the evidence, no matter how demonstrative, has to be believed by faith.  There is no way around faith in any belief system.

The rationalist begins with the presupposition that there is such a thing as logic and reason and that they are commodities that are attainable by humanity.  Therefore, the rationalist believes that he can understand everything based on his ability to reason logically, and his ability to reason is proven by the fact that he can understand the nature of reality because logic exists.  Also, the Christian believes in the biblical God because the Bible tells me so, and believes the Bible because it is the word of God.  Both of these exhibit circular reasoning based upon presuppositions that are held.

Epistemology is a somewhat more difficult thing for me to explain, but I believe that it is something like the following: Epistemology is the study of knowledge, where does it originate, how do we have or obtain it, how do we know what we know?  A presuppositionalist believes that knowledge is from God; that truth is from God as the source of all Truth.  Or as Francis Schaeffer would say, true truth is from God.  I don’t really know how the non-believer approaches epistemology other than it is a product of evolution, environment and culture.  This idea is absolutely full of problems one of which would be the development of the first language and every subsequent language – no communication would be possible if evolution is true.

I pray this helps.