It’s To Die For!

Open Bible 03On November 1, 2016, I set out to write weekly blog posts on various aspects of the Protestant Reformation. Originally I envisioned writing about the cost the Reformers paid to restore access to the Word of God.

I’m troubled, you see, by the vast Biblical illiteracy among evangelicals in the 21st Century. The very fact that I attended a Charismatic church that allowed people to continue giving prophecies even when their prophecies obviously didn’t come true, and then a church that turned to seeker-sensitive methodologies in order to fill its pews, convinces me that present-day evangelicals simply don’t know how to rightly divide God’s Word. For the most part, even those who read the Bible daily fail to read it in context or apply proper hermeneutics. In short, I believe that professing Christians in our day and age don’t understand the incomparable value of Scripture.

We take it for granted.

And because we take Scripture for granted, we twist it, misapply it and/or make it more about us than about the Lord Jesus Christ. I’d love to cite examples of how we do so, but there are just too many to fit into a single blog post. If you’ll look through my categories list, you’ll find numerous posts I’ve written about various false teachers and movements within evangelicalism that deviate from Biblical Christianity.

Of course, part of the deviation from sound doctrine happens because Satan aggressively works to distract Christians from the truth. In Scripture, both Jesus and the apostle Paul repeatedly warn us, “Do not be deceived.” Christians must constantly wage spiritual warfare by using the Word of God, which Paul and the writer of Hebrews call the Sword of the Spirit.

Additionally, human beings are just plain obstinate. Like Old Testament Israel, we’ll follow the Lord in the excitement of revival, but when the enthusiasm wears off we look for ways to enhance the Gospel. We deceive ourselves into thinking that our little additions give us better worship experiences and/or enable us to appropriate God’s grace more accurately.

But also, we (and yes, I include myself in this indictment) fall into error so easily because we forget to cherish the Bible.

In this digital age, Christians (and non-Christians, for that matter) have access to the Bible that would have astounded the Reformers! Yet Bible illiteracy hasn’t been this high since the Middle Ages. I read one survey of teens raised in Christian homes who thought Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple.

Studying the Protestant Reformation has taught me how precious the Bible really is. Next time I write an installment in this Tuesday series on the Reformation, I intend to write about William Tyndale, an English contemporary of Martin Luther who spent years as a fugitive before being captured and executed by strangulation and burning at the stake. His crime. Translating the Bible into English. I will share his story for the same reason I’ve been blogging almost every Tuesday about the Reformation: to plead with you to recognize that God’s Word is worth our very lives!

 

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A Sinful Disagreement

Open Bible 03A woman speaking at a retreat I attended years ago shocked me by stating: “I don’t agree with Paul concerning the roles of women.” Now, it’s one thing to dislike the gender roles delineated in Paul’s epistles, and I admit to struggling with the prohibition against teaching in terms of this blog. (I don’t know how many men read it, but I try to discourage them from doing so.)

In disagreeing with Paul, this speaker was actually disagreeing with Scripture. Her comment disturbed me then, and it has continued to disturb me throughout the years. The entire Bible, whether we like it or not, is God’s Word. As such, it claims authority over us and leaves no room for dissension.

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ~~2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

If God Himself has breathed out Scripture, then the gender roles it prescribes obviously reflect His intent for men and women. For that matter, the Word of God reflects His intent in regard to a wide variety of issues. When we elevate our opinions over Scripture, daring to disagree with certain parts, we betray our arrogance.

Let me clarify why I call it arrogance. If we don’t believe the Bible to be God’s Word, then we subjectively determine our own moral and ethical standards, thereby making ourselves God. And if we claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word, then any disagreement with its human writers is actually disagreement with God. Either position makes me shudder!

A friend of mine often says, “It’s not about what we think; it’s about what God says.” His maxim doesn’t mean (as some have misinterpreted) that Christians ought to disengage our intellect. On the contrary, studying Scripture and accurately applying its teachings in practical ways (such as a woman blogging about the things of the Lord) requires discernment, and discernment is an intellectual exercise. My friend’s point is that our opinions don’t matter as much as what God clearly says.

Yes, God says many things that I, in my flesh, really don’t like. It would feel good to support gay marriage, indulge in sex outside of marriage, brag about my “accomplishments,” spend money exclusively on myself, and be a woman pastor, but all those pursuits disregard Biblical instruction. How I feel about those matters must bow to the Lord’s wisdom. He is, after all, both Creator and King, having full authority to determine how things should function. How can a Christian possibly disagree?

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Perspectives In Titus: Holding Fast To Trustworthy Doctrine

Titus 1 v 9As we move along in our study of Paul’s letter to Titus, we find that Titus 1:9 really needs to be treated in its own blog post. Please don’t misunderstand me as saying that it stands in isolation from its context. Rather, there’s simply too much in it to discuss it in the same essay with verses 5-8, and verse 10 begins a new paragraph.

As always, let’s look at verse 9 in context, just to remind ourselves of Paul’s flow of thought.

5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. ~~Titus 1:5-9 (ESV)

Paul has been instructing Titus on the qualifications of an elder, and has just outlined the type of character a man must have in order to assume this office. Now he changes gears, ever so slightly, to a prospective elder’s ability to handle God’s Word.

An elder, Paul insists, must hold firm to God’s Word, not compromising it to accommodate the ideas of others. He needs an undivided loyalty to Christ and His teaching (see Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13). Even though Paul here is talking about much more than the tension between God and money, the principle of single hearted devotion still applies. Barnes elaborates on this concept by commenting:

This means that he is to hold this fast, in opposition to one who would wrest it away, and in opposition to all false teachers, and to all systems of false philosophy. He must be a man who is firm in his belief of the doctrines of the Christian faith, and a man who can be relied on to maintain and defend those doctrines in all circumstances.

So an elder must hold firm to Scripture. This exhortation brings us to the nature of Scripture, which makes it worthy of holding firmly. Paul calls God’s Word trustworthy. Elders, and Christians in general, can absolutely rely on it!

I want you to notice the phrase, “the trustworthy word as taught.” Vincent’s Word Studies  tells us that this phrase, “as taught” literally means “according to the teaching” and therefore communicates the idea of agreement with the teaching of the apostles. Embellishments to it, such as those Paul alludes to in verse 14, dilute it, turning people away from its pure principles.

An elder must hold firm to God’s Word  for the purpose of teaching his people sound doctrine. He doesn’t teach vague ideas or worldly wisdom, but the clear teachings of Scripture. He avoids seeker-sensitive models that incorporate popular ideas of the   world into the Gospel.

He also must hold firm to God’s Word  in order to rebuke those who contradict it. In context, Paul apparently means false teachers. We’ll see the application of this clause next Monday as we look at the group of false teachers who disrupted the church in Crete.

Elders aren’t the only Christians who need to hold firm to God’s Word, however. You and I also bear a responsibility to cling tenaciously to the sound doctrine of the Bible, teaching it to our children and to other women. For that reason Titus 1:9 applies to each of us. We can join our elders in holding firmly to the trustworthy Word of God, confident that it will never fail.

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Charismatics Aren’t Like Joseph

bethlehem-dazzle-frameDuring my years as a Charismatic, I remember using all sorts of Scriptures as proof-texts to validate whatever spiritual experience I happened to be practicing at the time. Most of the Charismatics I knew did the same thing to greater or lesser degrees.

At Christmas time, Matthew’s nativity narrative gave me and my Charismatic friends excellent proof-texts to substantiate our claims that the Lord spoke to us personally. Three times in Matthew 1 and 2, the Lord sent Joseph dreams, in which He spoke very clearly to instruct Joseph. For example, look at God’s intervention when Joseph learned that his fiancee, Mary, was carrying a Child that he hadn’t fathered.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. ~~Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)

Naturally, we concluded that, since the Lord spoke to Joseph, we had good reason to expect Him to speak to us in dreams, visions, still small voices or what have you. Our conclusion certainly seemed reasonable at the time, granted, but let’s think through a few points regarding who the Lord generally spoke to in Scripture and why He spoke to them.

In the Old Testament, God spoke to prophets, or to people who would further the development of Israel (and the Messianic line). He didn’t speak to everyone in Israel, nor did He speak about inconsequential matters. He was building His nation, teaching them how to worship Him and separate themselves from those who worshiped false gods and committed abominable sins.

Likewise, in the New Testament He spoke to apostles and prophets until His Word was written down by some of those same apostles and prophets. Those apostles and prophets, according to Ephesians 4:11-16,  built the foundation of the Church by the revelations that the Holy Spirit gave them. That revelation (at least the revelation that we needed) has been preserved in the Bible’s canon.

The Lord spoke to Joseph because Joseph would serve as the legal father of Jesus, thus legitimizing His claim to David’s throne. In turn, this claim validated Jesus as the Messiah. Had Joseph divorced Mary, Jesus would not have had this legal claim. Therefore, God had to intervene by speaking directly to Joseph. Notice that His instruction that Joseph name the Child Jesus fulfilled prophecy.

God spoke two more times to Joseph  (Matthew 2:13-15 and Matthew 2:19-23), both times to protect Jesus from an early death and, again, to fulfill prophecy. The Lord spoke to Joseph for specific purposes that resulted in Jesus growing to Manhood, demonstrating Himself to be God, dying on the cross to atone for the sin of those who would believe in Him and rising from the grave to break the power of sin. God’s words to Joseph held eternal consequences.

God’s words to Joseph were vastly different from the things that present-day evangelicals (particularly Charismatics) claim to receive. Joseph, like other key figures in Scripture, played a critical role in God’s plan of redemption. That being the case, 21st Century Christians need only the Bible in order to hear everything the Lord wants us to know.

Hebrews 1:1-2 says that, in these last days, God has spoken through His Son. Praise God He spoke to Joseph back then, so that we would have His Son’s Word for all eternity!

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Hey Jude –Prophesied Judgment

Bible Mask MedievalToday’s two verses intimidated me so much that I wanted to declare a “Christmas vacation” from our study of Jude’s epistle. Really, not a mark of Christian maturity! Thankfully, the Lord encouraged me through my preparation time this morning, to the point that I now feel excited about showing you what I’ve learned (and encouraging you to dig deeper into this book for yourselves).

We’ll look at verses 14 and 15 in this week’s Bible Study, but of course I’ll quote them within their immediate context (hoping you’ll read the entire letter for overall context):

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. ~~Jude 8-16 (ESV)

As you read verse 14,  the matter of Enoch’s prophecy should jump out at you. Moses’ account of Enoch in Genesis 5:21-24 says precious little about Enoch. Yet Genesis 5:24 indicates that his holiness was so great that God took him into heaven without having him go through death. Hebrews 11:5 adds only that God commended Enoch for pleasing Him.

So where did Jude get this prophecy of Enoch? The commentaries I read all had slightly different answers, and none of them felt certain about those answers. But (and this is important) nearly all of them emphasized that, whatever the means, the  Holy Spirit revealed this prophecy to Jude and inspired him to include it in this letter. Therefore, even through Moses didn’t record the prophecy, we can trust its veracity.

The prophecy begins by declaring that the Lord comes. This statement implies that He is bringing judgment, and is strengthened by the phrase, “with ten thousands of His holy ones.” Although the “holy ones” could refer to the saints (Christians who have died) who will return with Christ as seen in 1 Thessalonians 3:13), passages like Matthew 13:49-50 and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 clearly teach that angels execute judgment.

In fact, the prophecy continues in verse 15 by stating explicitly that the  Lord comes  with His holy ones “to execute judgment on all.”  Most of the commentaries took the position that this phrase indicated universal judgment. While its true that Christians will have to account for our service for Christ (see 1 Corinthians 3:11-15), John MacArthur reminds us that Jesus promised immunity from judgment to those who would believe in Him (look at John 5:24).

Look back at Jude 14 for a second and notice the phrase, “It was also about these that Enoch…prophesied.” Jude asserts that Enoch predicted judgment specifically on the apostate teachers that this epistle denounces. Thus, in verse 15, the judgment will convict, or pass sentence on, these ungodly teachers. To be precise,  these teachers will be convicted, not merely for performing ungodly actions, but for doing so in ungodly ways (as Jude showed us in verses 8-13). Furthermore, God will convict them of their blasphemies.

Praise the Lord for His justice to deal with false teachers! But praise Him even more for His mercy on true  believers! Enoch’s prophecy should drive us to gratitude that the shed blood of Jesus Christ shields us from the consequences of our own ungodliness.

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Hey Jude –Three Unsavory Characters With Unsavory Motives

bible-and-darknessPeople who warn against popular evangelical pastors and speakers/writers who mishandle  or outright distort the Word of God typically receive the criticism that we engage in character assassination. I agree, in part, that we must be careful not to judge another person’s heart. We don’t have the Lord’s omniscience, and therefore we must temper whatever discernment we  may have with humility.

Yet the book of Jude unapologetically evaluates false teachers by pointing to their characters. Those of you who have been following these Monday Bible Studies on Jude’s epistle will remember that Jude writes with a singular purpose: he wants Christians to stand for sound doctrine. Interestingly, he spends almost his whole letter describing the characteristics of false teachers rather than than comparing their doctrinal errors to good teaching. The verse we’ll examine today certainly focuses on the motives of false teachers by holding them up against three Old Testament apostates.

We’re studying Jude 11 today, but of  course we need to read it in context.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. ~~Jude 8-13 (ESV)

In comparing apostate leaders with Cain, Balaam and Korah, Jude very deliberately comments on the motives driving their corrupted “ministries.” The notorious actions of all three men exposed their wicked hearts, and Jude attributes their evil motives to false teachers who infiltrate the Christian Church.

He begins with Cain, whose story appears in Genesis 4:5-10 (I really need you to click the links to my cross-references so you can fully appreciate Jude’s allusions). As Hebrews 11:4 explains, Cain failed to offer a sacrifice of shed  blood, preferring to come to God on his own terms. When the Lord rejected his sacrifice, Cain grew so envious of Abel that   he murdered him.

Next, Jude likens false teachers to Balaam, the mercenary “prophet” in Numbers 22-25. Balak, the king of Moab, paid Balaam to curse Israel. When that failed, Balaam undermined Israel by drawing them into sexual immorality. Balaam knew the Lord’s decrees, but he   saw that he could make money by perverting, or even flat-out denying, them.

Finally, Jude mentions Korah, who tried to usurp Moses’ leadership position, as we see in Numbers 16:1-32. Korah rebelled, ultimately,  against God’s appointment of Moses, presuming to place himself in spiritual authority over Israel.

Using these three examples, Jude asserts that false teachers exhibit envy, material greed and self-appointed authority. They are motivated to promote their aberrant teachings by these character flaws. The Holy Spirit inspired Jude to instruct believers to identify these traits. Yes, that  sounds horribly judgmental, but clearly the Lord wants Christians to cultivate that degree of discernment about false teachers.

I’d balance this point, dear sisters in Christ, by saying that we shouldn’t understand this Bible Study as giving us carte blanche to judge the motives of everyone we encounter. Before we analyze a false teacher’s motives, we must determine that he or she teaches falsely by the fruits of his or her teachings and life (see Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15-20). Jude’s point, in  verse 11 of his epistle, is that polluted character lies at the root of consistently false teaching. False teachers, consequently, should fear God’s punishment.

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Wanting To Hear Him Speak

Do you open your Bible with an attitude of excitement, anticipating that the Lord will speak to you as you read and study it (in context, of course)? When your pastor got up to preach this morning, did you listen with expectancy, knowing that he would explain God’s Word in faithfulness to the text so that it would do its work of transforming you?

We can, and should, come to the Bible with an eagerness to hear from the Lord.  Through it, the Almighty God reveals Himself. He shows His greatness, His majesty and His holiness, while also affirming His love and compassion toward us. He lets us know His standards of right and wrong, but assures us of His grace in dying as our substitute to pay for our sin. In short, whenever someone reads or preaches the Bible correctly, the Lord does speak.

This hymn by the Gettys challenges me to approach Scripture with expectancy.I pray that it will have a similar effect on you.

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