Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who do you think you are?

A little over 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson penned a statement (amid a much longer document) that stated his belief that all men are created equal. 55 other men put their signatures on the document, affirming that they, too, believed this and the accompanying statements that it supported. Do you know what was so equal about these 55 men? They were all white males who owned black people because they didn't see them as equal--which meant, in turn, they didn't see them as men.

The problem with the perspective of our founding fathers was not their self-image. They knew they were white. They knew they were males. The problem was the inherent value that they placed on these qualities.

In the last few verses of Galatians 3, we find Paul charging something very similar. His opponents, the judaisers, were not incorrect in their self assessment. They were indeed Jews. They were indeed freemen. They were indeed male. And, as an interesting tidbit of historical context, those three attributes comprised a common prayer for the Jewish member of a synagogue in the 1st century--not unlike (though not identical to) the haughty prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18.

The Judaisers were not wrong, however, in that they were Jews. They were male. They were freemen. They were wrong, however, in the ultimate relevance of these facts to the matter of their own righteousness.

However, this topic burrows far deeper into the theological and doctrinal realms than mere social justice and racial equality. In the verses that follow, the first 7 verses of Galatians 4, Paul goes on to describe exactly what sort of equal playing field "we"--both Jews and Gentiles--are all on. Paul describes all of God's sons as once being children, and as children, likened to slaves. Under the guide of masters, children are held prisoner to the most basic of rules--such as the Law.

But Christ, born of a woman under the Law, redeemed us. The language is very reminiscent of Exodus 13, where firstborn sons belong to God and must be killed, that is unless redeemed by the blood of a spotless lamb. So, then, having been redeemed in similar fashion we are spared from death and reinstated our "full rights" as sons--nay, even heirs, as if to say firstborn sons. As a deposit of this inheritance--since, after all, we are sons--God sent the Spirit of His Son.

So, up to this point you may be thinking that all this amount to the very familiar doctrine of the atonement. Where does all that "burrowing far deeper into the theological and doctrinal realms" come from? Well, ask yourself this. In the description Paul gives in this text, is there ever a moment when we are not children, even before we are redeemed and given full rights as sons? As Paul teaches his readers the right view of their humble beginnings with God, he is sure to remind them that God foreknew them and redeemed them with purpose.

Moreover, the spirit of the sonship is not just a deposit. He is not just sent to help us live as heirs. He is not just sent to give us special powers and supernatural abilities as God's children. No, it is the Spirit Himself who actually cries "abba, Father." The Spirit is not sent to those who believe, it is sent to those to believe.

So, who do you think you are? Are you the religiously pious overly confident in your own righteousness. Are you the spiritually insightful one who found God and pursued Him with all your might? Are you the loving soul mimicking Christ as you try to bring Heaven to earth? Or, are you the child, born a child of God, redeemed by His son, and even given the very Spirit by which you cry out to your Father?

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Compatibilism & Libertarianism

First, a follow-up for last week. We ended our discussion with the debate over human free will. I want to round out that discussion with a little final commentary, then I'll move on to our preview for next week's lesson in 1 Peter.

Free will that is "compatible" with God's is described like this: Man will do that which he most desires. This means that—in theory—God's will is carried forth through Man's so-called "free" will in that He knows what we desire, what we would choose given various circumstances, and thereby guides human history with this infinite knowledge. This stands in contrast to the libertarian freedom most advocated by Arminians where man's will is not imposed on in any way by God's will—compatible or otherwise.

Now, I included one key phrase "in theory" in this final commentary that (hopefully) wraps up this discussion for our class... at least for now. What I want you to realize is that neither "compatibalism" nor "libertarian" appear anywhere in my concordance, and unless you have some radical new translation of the Bible, I venture to say it's nowhere in yours either. The only authoritative word that we have to go on is the Word itself (or Himself, I could go either way there). I encourage you—nay, implore you—to seek answers FIRST in scripture and make every effort neither to add to its teaching nor dismiss any of its truths despite the understandability and/or logic of what you find.

I don't ask that everyone agree with me, nor Calvin, but only this: that you base your beliefs solely in scripture. Everything else is merely "in theory."

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

1 Peter 1:1-2 - To God's Elect

Hello all you elect people, how are you today? Ok, so that's not customary language that we use in the Church today. But, as we begin our study in 1 Peter this Sunday, we'll see that it certainly was a perfectly fine way to address believers in the early church.

Writing to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, Peter addressed his letter specifically to "God's Elect ... who have been chosen." Now, before your minds immediately begin to draft acceptable definitions of what Peter really meant by that, let's stop for a moment and ask, what's so important about election that Peter wanted to identify his audience with the term? He didn't hide from the concept or dismiss it as illogical, unpalatable, or counter to his own free will. Maybe... juuuuust maybe... his readers didn't see the concept as quite so inflammatory as we do today.

I think we can all agree that there may be something foundational to a 1st century Jew about the concept of being God's "chosen people." So then, is there something from this doctrine of election that should be foundational to us as modern-day, gentile believers? Well, if you've been around me long enough, you know my answer to that already. I want to invite you to come ready for an in-depth look at this doctrine this Sunday. There's a lot of ground to cover, so we'll start promptly at 9:15.

Oh, and if you'd like to come prepared, here's some recommended reading: Romans 8-9; Ephesians 1:3-14.

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