Monday, December 24, 2007

The Real Miracle of Christmas

The most important aspect of Christmas is the fact that God was incarnate in Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, and came into this world “to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Without that important fact, the Christmas season has no biblical significance. And for the believer, it should be the most precious thing and the source for our joy. It is through this miracle that demonstrates how God relates to us and how we relate to Him. It is that fact that should be the continuous joy for the believer throughout the year.

But take a moment and ponder this great miracle. God, without abdicating His divinity and sovereign role as the great “I AM”, who always was and had no beginning, came into this world as part of His creation. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, became a human being. Jesus existed from eternity past, He was not created. He was spirit without material substance until he became fully a man at what we call the incarnation. John 1:1 sums up this great mystery; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”(NASB) In speaking of His eternality in verse 2, it says “He was in the beginning with God.”

It is clear in Scripture that Jesus had a human body. John 1:14, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, He was born into this world just like human babies are born (Luke 2:7), He grew like human children grow and increased in wisdom through learning (Luke 2:40, 52), He became hungry and became physically weary (Matthew 4:2,11). Jesus also died (Luke 23:46) and had a human body after His resurrection (Luke 24:39).

The fact that Jesus became flesh is not limited to the fact that He took on a human body, but rather the entirety of what comprises a human being. This includes the mind, will and emotions. Jesus had a human soul (in other words, “spirit”) and this is made clearly evident in passages such as John 12:27 where Jesus says “Now my soul has become troubled” and also John 13:21, “He became troubled in spirit”. Hebrews 5:7 illustrates that Jesus expressed His emotion when He cried out in agony to the Father as “He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears”. Jesus also exercised his will in submitting to the divine will of the Father (John 6:38; Matthew 26:42).

All of this was necessary so that Jesus could become like us “in all things” (Hebrews 2:17, NASB) in order to save us. He became like us in all respects with the exception of the stain of human sin in order to be the perfect sacrifice to rescue us from sin (Hebrews 4:15-16). It was necessary for Jesus to become fully like us in every way (body, mind, will, emotions) except sin in order to fully save us.

All of this great mystery is summed up in the uniting of the two natures, both divine and human in what is referred to in theology as the hypostatic union. This term may sound complicated, but it is really simple, but at the same time extremely profound. The term hypostatic simply means personal, and refers to the personal union of the human and divine natures of Jesus. Jesus is only one person, not two. And this concept is profound. These two natures come together in one person, Jesus, who is to be the focus of our worship. And it is the uniting of these natures that satisfies our longings and makes possible the fellowship that we can enjoy with our heavenly Father. It is this connection between the human and the divine that enables us to connect with God and satisfies the human soul.

It is my prayer that we as believers will continue to reflect on this great miracle long after the Christmas season comes to an end, and that it will be reflected on as we approach the celebration of Easter.

Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Biblical Recipe for Discernment

One of the most detrimental flaws in contemporary evangelicalism is the lack of discernment that seems to pervade the Christian landscape. This dilemma did not take place overnight and there is a biblical remedy for this. Hebrews 5 explains the condition that renders so many with the inability to discern between truth and error.

The writer of Hebrews goes into detail describing the priestly ministry of Jesus. Verse 11 says that there is much more that could be explained, but the audience was “dull of hearing” and could not understand anything deeper.

" 11Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
13For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.
14But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil."
(Hebrews 5:11-14, NASB)

One of the key reasons that there is such a widespread lack of discernment is due to the absence of consistent solid exposition of God’s truth in a growing majority of churches all across America. The prolonged exposure to shallow teaching, and at times blatantly false teaching, has caused a growing number of Christians to become dull of hearing. This dullness of hearing makes it difficult to explain anything of much depth from the Word of God. As a result multitudes lack understanding making them vulnerable to be led captive by the whims of false teachers, who at times can make compelling arguments to peddle their errant teaching. Not only that, but when leaders in the church fall into the same trap, they become inept at handling Scripture, and inadvertently begin drifting off course so subtly in their teaching that they are barely aware that it is happening.

The Hebrews reached a point where they should have been able to be teaching others, but due to the neglect of the truth, they became unable to handle the solid meat of God’s Truth. They needed to be taught the basics once again. Within the context here, the Hebrews were not taking the step to embrace Christ and move on in their walk with Him, but were still lingering just on the verge of belief. But a similar dilemma manifests itself in the life of believers, who begin to neglect the truth in their lives. This is what happened to the Corinthians, where Paul was grieved that they were vulnerable to being deceived by false teachers, in much the same way that Eve was deceived by the serpent. (2 Corinthians 11:1-4) The Corinthians were in this position because they were becoming immature in their faith and were unable to tolerate the solid food of God’s Word.

Once embracing that faith, these Hebrews would be able to progress in their spiritual maturity, building discernment in their life through the constant exercising of their increasing knowledge of God through His Word. This is key in the life of the believer. While it may be true that there are those who possess what we would call the gift of discernment ("distinguishing of spirits", 1 Corinthians 12:10, NASB), ALL believers are exhorted to engage in some degree of discernment in their lives. To put this in perspective, just because someone does not have the gift of “helps” (1 Corinthians 12:28) does not leave them off the hook to minister to a need. All believers are to engage in these matters as a normal part of the Christian walk. And discernment does not occur in a vacuum. It must be cultivated in a believer’s life.

Hebrews 5:12 tells us that this group needed to be taught the basics of the “oracles of God”. The "oracles of God" refers to the words of God especially as it pertains to the Mosaic Law. The Hebrews were in need now of being taught the basics of the Old Testament as it pointed to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. This was the purpose of the Old Testament teaching (Galatians 3:23-25). The Hebrews were not “accustomed”, meaning that they were inexperienced in handling the Word of God. Scripture is referred to as the “word of righteousness”. The word righteousness comes from the Greek "dikaiosune", and refers to the doctrine taught in Scripture which teaches us the way in which we are approved by God. And it is the conscious effort applied to the study and application of Scripture which aids in conforming us to the image of Christ, as we continually learn how we are to live and relate to God. This is why Paul exhorted Timothy to “present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Scripture also speaks of the purifying effect of the Word of God in the life of the believer (Ephesians 5:26).

Solid food is for the “mature”(Hebrews 5:14), which is from the Greek "teleios" and means a state of completeness or perfection, and is used in context here to refer to salvation. Only those who have come to Christ and embraced saving faith will be able to understand the deeper things pertaining to His person and work. But from that point comes continued spiritual growth. A believer must be trained in the Word of God. The word translated as “trained” here is the Greek “gumnazo” and refers to vigorous training much like that of an athlete training for competition. And this is absolutely necessary in order to discern between “good and evil”. This is something that is not going to occur through the mere casual reading of Scripture. Merely having short daily devotionals comprised of a short verse of Scripture is going to be insufficient to develop any degree of sharp discernment. Our minds require consistent, vigorous study in order to develop any degree of sufficient discernment. We must be transformed by the constant renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2), where our thinking is trained to focus on the things of God. And this can only occur through the careful reading and study of God's Word and subsequent application to our lives. And this, by the way, is the only means by which believers are able to discern God's will for their lives, something all believers are commanded to do (Ephesians 5:17;Colossians 1:9).

With the void of solid Scriptural teaching prevalent in evangelicalism today, it is no wonder that many are being seduced by error. It is imperative that believers seek teaching that is solid and also learn to become skillful in their study of Scripture. It is the only defense there is in order to keep ourselves from falling prey to the various false teachings that have littered the evangelical landscape today.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Subtle Seduction of Error

This excerpt from “The Truth War” by John MacArthur describes the subtle seduction of false teachers. Sometimes error can be difficult to spot and it requires due diligence to discern truth from error.

“Now, you might think that the difference between a picayune disagreement and a serious threat to some core truth of Christianity would always be obvious and clear-cut. Usually, it is. Most of the time, it is easy enough to see the distinction between a peripheral issue and a matter of urgent and fundamental importance. But not always. And here is where mature wisdom and careful discernment become absolutely crucial for every Christian: sometimes serious threats to our faith come in subtle disguise so that they are barely noticeable. And false teachers like to surround their deadly error with some truth. Therein lies the seduction. We must never assume that things like the teacher’s reputation, the warmth of his personality, or majority opinion about him are perfectly safe barometers of whether his teaching is really dangerous or not. We also shouldn’t imagine that common sense, intuition, or first impressions are reliable ways of determining whether this or that error poses a serious threat or not. Scripture, and Scripture alone, is the only safe guide in this area.”
(John MacArthur, “The Truth War”, pg.77)