Thursday, November 29, 2012

Standing on the promises

Good protein in 2 Cor!
     So we‘re off to a great start in 2 Corinthians: 3 meaty posts on just one verse! At that rate, with 261 verses in 2 Cor, that leaves 780 posts to go! No, I may be a chatty Cathy (so my wife says), but even I‘m not that verbose; but seriously, in switching from Leviticus to 2 Cor, I‘ve found there is quite a difference between studying the Old and New Testaments; in the Old, you‘re digging and searching for New Covenant truth in every nook and cranny, tracking down connections, themes, and patterns. In the New, all that just jumps out at you! So all that to say we‘ll be moving a little quicker in 2 Cor.
      The next verse that got me thinking was 1:20: “For all the promises of God in Him are ‘yes‘ and in Him ‘Amen‘ unto the glory of God by us.“ So which promises exactly? I know it says “all“, but is that really an all-inclusive, 1-to-1 transfer of O.T. promises to Christians today? Arminians might say “all means all, and that‘s all all means!“; a better approach would be to remember the first 3 rules of bible interpretation: context, context, and context. And it just so happens that there is one other usage of “promises“ in 2 Cor in 7:1: “Having therefore these promises...“. And rewinding to define “these“ brings us to 6:16-18:
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty."
      It‘s reasonable to assume that since “all“ promises are fulfilled in Jesus, these are among them; what‘s more, I believe Paul uses this composite reference to sum up the essence of our inheritance in Christ in 1:20 (toward the purpose of godly separation). So briefly, what are these promises about?
      The foundational occurrence of this bedrock union is in Lev 26:12; it is an important passage forming the official terms of Israel‘s covenant relationship with God. It is not unlike the word given to Adam... in essence, if you obey, you will be blessed; if you disobey, you will be cursed. Specifically, we find our first promise at the end of the blessing section; it‘s not hard to see that Moses is saving the best for last, saying in essence: “Atop all these physical, transitory gifts and graces, the ultimate place of permanent, holistic blessedness is reserved for those who know and are known by God. That will be you!“ This concept of belonging to God as His people is peppered throughout the O.T., specifically addressed to Israel (Ex 6:7, Jer 7:23, 11:4, 30:22, 31:33, 32:38, Zech 13:9, and many more!), so when Paul uses it to express our relationship with God, what‘s he saying? How could the Church be related to God the way Israel was?
      First, it‘s evident that God relates to humanity through covenants; however you see the relationship between Israel and the Church, the manifold instances of the structure of the covenant are impossible to escape. Second, I believe the key is understanding the double imputation that's at the heart of our salvation. Yes, Christ took our sin upon Him on the Cross, and satisfied the demands of God's justice; but He also grants us the positive righteousness necessary to be acceptable in God's presence. 
God's righteousness with a bow!
Where did Jesus get this righteousness... was it His inherent divine purity/sinlessness? Or was it the practical obedience He showed as a man for 33 years, obeying God's Law in spirit and in truth? If it's the former, Jesus could've granted it to us without getting His hands dirty in a fallen world; but if it's the latter, it makes perfect sense why He would deserve to be blessed: He fulfilled the covenant Israel had with God, and so God is obligated to reward Him with all the blessings promised to His human forefathers.  
So in our union with Christ, God looks at us not as law-breakers, but law-keepers, and is fully justified in showering us with the good gifts a father would give to his children. We'll explore the connection between Christ and Israel as a nation next time.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Somewhere under the rainbow?

      One of the most beautiful features of the natural world is given to us often in the Pacific Northwest; while we may complain about the seemingly incessant dampness sometimes (I know I do!), the moisture is necessary to create rainbows. There are not many natural phenomenon we are given the divine purpose for, so Scripture‘s testimony about what a rainbow means is especially valuable. I have encapsulated the basics into 2 questions for my daughter:
What does a rainbow mean?“
A rainbow is a promise from God.“
A promise to what?“
Not to flood the whole earth again.“
      So we were enjoying a quiet Thanksgiving, and somehow, the conversation drifted to rainbows, and I took the opportunity to show off my daughter‘s biblical acumen. My godly stepfather retorted, “Yeah, that‘s not what a rainbow means now!“ It took a sec for the import of his irony to sink in, but when it did, I was stunned by the complete mess our society has made of one of the greatest displays of God‘s grace: before the Flood, Moses describes man this way...
 “And God looked and saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and the thoughts of the imagination of his heart was only evil continually.“ (Gen 6:5) 
     And after God justly wiped out the entire human race minus 8, it‘s not any better. (Gen 8:21)  Fast forward a couple thousand years and Paul gives his famous condemnation of our depravity (Rom 3:10ff).  So all that to say, if there's a people who should cling to such a sweet, generous promise of mercy, a visible, beautiful sign (the rainbow) that God delights to forgive criminals like us, it's 21st century America.
God have mercy on us...
     Instead, what does the rainbow stand for in our society?  When you see it on T-shirts, bumper stickers, billboards, what's usually the message behind it?  Now are you sharing my speechlessness?  We have turned the first, most broadly disseminated (all over the sky!) announcement that God "does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities" (Ps 103:10) into a celebration of homosexuality!  I am overwhelmed by the feeling we are living in Sodom the day before the angels arrived;  we use God's grace as a license for perversity.  Pray for our sick, sick nation.
"Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.  From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil." (Isa 1:5-6)

Friday, November 23, 2012

The end of succession

     As a humorous intro, I recently bought a new Kindle... it works great, and I should be able to write more; if I can just stop accidentally deleting documents! Most of you know how “funny“ that is; God‘s sanctification comes in many ways.
      So the focus of this last installment of this series on our connection to the apostles is necessary and must be continually refreshed in our minds. Just as Rome errs in the direction of too much and wrongly grounded authority, there is an equal and opposite mistake common to many who call themselves Protestants. I've heard it called the “just me and my Bible“ syndrome; the symptoms of this disorder include: bouncing from church to church, establishing home churches that stay pretty small (newcomers stay until they hear something they dispute, and then leave to find a new one!), and an inability to distinguish essential doctrinal truth from secondary issues believers can agree to disagree on. These folks typically think that the proper and necessary right of private interpretation gives them license to fall off the other side of the log and shun/despise all human religious authority. In the first post on this topic, I mentioned that Rome bases their claim of papal supremacy on a supposed connection to Peter as the first pope, so it‘s probably best to start the correction of the aforementioned syndrome, and the completion of our exploration of apostolic succession, with the official title he gives himself in the ecclesiastical structure of the 1st century...
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ...“ (1Pet 5:1)
      Wait a second...Peter‘s not “ Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, or Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church" (all of these titles actually are claimed by the guy with the funny hat) He‘s just an elder? And not even Head Elder, but a “fellow elder“ (I guess in Hebrew it would be “Elder of Elders“!)?  Just to be clear, I‘m not demoting Peter from apostle to elder; the goal is to realize how the apostles thought of themselves, and desired others to think of them within the church structure; see also 2 Jn 1, 3 Jn 1.
     Which leads to a second point: whom did the apostles want to succeed them? “For this cause, I left you in Crete, that you would set in order the things that are lacking, and ordain elders in every city, as I appointed you;“ (Tit 1:5). So if the chosen leader(s) to replace apostles was/were not a single, preeminent papacy, but groups of locally appointed elders, responsible only for their local fellowship, who are we to argue and set up a central figurehead, contrary to God‘s will (1 Sam 8:4)? (As a side note, if elders are responsible for the souls of 100-200 people, and that‘s considered a great charge and duty, consider the weight of judgment upon the bishop of Rome, who claims watchcare over every Christian in the world?)
      If on the other hand, like our modern-day religious anarchists, you have a tendency to belittle the power and necessity of leadership, and think yourself a sufficient judge of orthodoxy and truth, you think too much of yourself (Rom 12:3): we are not called “sheep“ without good reason! Outside the protective sheepfold of the Church, under biblically qualified elders, we are exposed to the elements of error, sin and apostasy. Left to our own devices, we quickly wander and succumb to sin, the world, and the devil. This is such a dependable constant in those who profess Christ that John equates departure from the fellowship of believers with a departure from Christ (1 Jn 2:19). As a divinely ordained counter, God gives every local body men to lead it (Eph 4:11). With the responsibility of guiding the flock, these “undershepherds“ are given the necessary authority to back it up (Acts 20:28, Heb 13:17, 1 Pet 5:2-5; it would be ludicrous otherwise!).  So the standards for leadership in Christ‘s church are high, as one would expect with the successors of the apostles, and most do not meet them (myself foremost among them!). So in summary, we could depict apostolic succession in church authority like this:
       The apostles wisely ensured Christ‘s church would be well taken care of... thank God for your local shepherds. And while you‘re at it, thank them too!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Careful when you call 911...

     My first post (a whopping 2 1/2 months ago!) was on the ironic coincidence when unbelievers are a commentary to us of God's righteousness, and one more occurrence has popped into view.  So while I finish the last post on apostolic succession, we'll play a game:  I'll give you a quote from a famous celebrity (about whom I have no reason to consider them Christian), let you ponder the question and then, once the suspense has built to a climax, I'll let the cat out of the bag and hopefully you'll see the point.

    Who said this, and what was he talking about?:
"It was very destructive to my soul and my personality...After that, I didn't think I would (insert his profession here) again."
"Hello... my name is Inigo Montoya..."
     Wow, what a drastic statement!  Gone is the tolerant, subjective blandness so prevalent in our society... this is a genuine moral judgment, coming from the depths of this man's humanity, rejecting and condemning what is clearly and overtly evil.  Stumped?  I won't drag it out:  you might know the name of Mandy Patinkin for his iconic role as Inigo Montoya, the six-finger-hating Spaniard (and if you don‘t, you should! Go rent “The Princess Bride“ today!). But what in the world caused this outrage from an actor whom I presume has no biblical basis for his moral compass, who has been in show business for decades, and is steeped in that industry‘s rejection of righteousness? Was it cruelty to animals, or someone not recycling, or the true nightmare of all actors: a shortage of Perrier on the set? No, Mr. Patinkin was inveighing against crime dramas, specifically “Criminal Minds“, the show he recently starred in for 2 seasons. He explains further:
 “I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year.“
Yes, those are name tags!
      You might be thinking: “Not every TV show and movie misuses violence like that... can't one distinguish between types of violence?“ I believe we can, simply by asking “What's the point?“; if we can categorize a scene in a book or movie as ethically necessary, like a policeman stopping a thief, or a soldier fighting during wartime, there is some degree in of profitable intake (1 Cor 6:12, 10:23). But is an incessant mental diet of pointless perversity and grotesque violence “destructive“?  Yes, it normalizes and desensitizes us to these horrors, as Mr. Patinkin found out the hard way.  God is to be thanked and praised for the inescapable witness of our conscience; it is a “law unto itself“ (Rom 2:14) and the reason why God will judge all the secrets of men (i.e. the sure internal knowledge we have about our wrongdoings; 2:16). So what happens when unbelievers see more clearly and flee such wretchedness more often than professing Christians do? “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you“ (2:24).  Our tragically enlightened unbeliever called his involvement in this travesty "his biggest public mistake".  Do you want to make the same one?  
     Or do you want to use even the TV that you watch (and won't watch) as a part of the testimony we present to a lost world (like voting according to conscience!)?  People are watching... our children are watching;  what will we show them?  One sure guide to our media intake is Php 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things pure, whatever things are lovely, whatvever things are of good report, if there is any praise or any virtue, think on these things.“

Photos courtesy of Rakka, Nacho Proy

Monday, November 19, 2012

Succcession pt 2

Imagine the depths of 2,000 years of Papal decrees!
      I must open with one more critique of the Roman view of apostolic succession, one I feel is subtle, yet persuasive: it seems characteristic of the Old Covenant, not the New. Under the Law, there was a distinct divide between those who ministered to God and those who watched from the outside; the priests and the congregation. The common folk were dependent on the priests to offer their sacrifices, declare something clean or unclean, diagnose their leprosies, and all the other really fun stuff. This is more than slightly reminiscent of the Roman system: only the priests (they even call them “priests”!) can turn the bread and the cup into the body and blood of Christ (the partaking of which is a key part of working one's way to heaven), accept confession, assign penance, and for many centuries, hold the average person's hand to help them read and "properly interpret" the Bible. Roman priests do this because of the authority delegated to them by the current Pope, who in turn received his title from the 263 men before him. This is exactly how the Hebrew priests acquired their position, through a chain of heredity under Aaron's direct descendant. So the covenantal pattern of Rome is Mosaic; but there are a whole slew of verses and passages that teach that believers under the New Covenant are individually and independently related to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit (Jer 31:33-34, 1Pet 2:9, Acts 2:17, 1 Cor 3:16, 6:19, Rom 6:12-13, 12:1-2, Rev 5:10, 7:15... whew! what a slew!). These texts either explicitly label generic Christians “priests“, or implicitly invite/command us to perform priestly activities. The Law was full of temporary, stopgap measures (like the sacrifices, Heb 10:4, or the ceremonies, Col 2:21-23), and physical descent is one of them (Rom 4:12, Heb 7:3, 12).
      So we have been introduced to apostolic succession via the errors of the Roman perspective; I pray that no one has concluded in despair the doctrine is best discarded entirely. I now hope to make clear why it is necessary to see and operate from a connection with the apostles. As with the O.T. Prophets, the apostles were official spokesmen from God, saying (in effect) “Thus saith the Lord!” They were attested to both by wonders and signs, and the life-changing transmission of the Spirit with the reception of the gospel. Even more compellingly, the message of our salvation in Christ has come to those who live after the first century only through the apostles: they recorded God's authoritative revelation to them in the N.T., and that revelation has ceased (Heb 1:2). And while each of us could (to the limits of recorded history) trace how the gospel came to us personally, we are not chained to the interpretations or idiosyncrasies of the many men and women who were faithful to transmit the gospel down through the centuries. Instead, I propose this concept of apostolic succession:

     Seems a lot simpler, huh? This graphic represents the heart of the Reformation principle of private interpretation that God's truth (revealed authoritatively in Scripture) is intended for every believer, and is not to be mediated by any present human figure or institution.  The joy of this direct transmission is that every person sits at the feet of Paul, Peter, and above all, Jesus to learn (with the help of the Spirit) exactly what God has said to man.  We are "all taught of God" (John 6:45) and "guided into all truth" (John 16:13) personally!  This is one of the key blessings (and responsibilities!) of the New Covenant... a free, open, intimate experience with God via His Word for all of His children.  We'll cover one more variation of this for the local church next time.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Are you in the line of Apostolic Succession?

     Apologies for the delay in getting this out:  I got sidetracked by the political revolution!  I've transitioned drastically in study contexts:  I just finished Leviticus, and have been struck several times by nagging questions in 2 Corinthians (my pastor is preaching through the book), which my personal studies have bypassed so far.  I'm happy to have the chance to get those questions resolved, and share any nuggets with you.
     So I was diving into 2 Cor., praying for new insight from God in verses that I struggle not to be bored with;  you know the ones... "Paul an apostle...  Grace and peace to you..." (all of his epistles open this way, and Paul bats 1000: 13/13 in following his name with wishes of grace and peace).  Don't get me wrong:  there are vital concepts that we must grasp in just those words, and I'll be the first to tell you that Paul's top priority in his introductions was not (and shouldn't have been!) originality or keeping me entertained.  So I was overjoyed when God answered my prayer and revealed something I hadn't considered before!
This is my wallpaper right now!
     Some of you may not be intimately familiar with the Roman Catholic Church;  this is likely the time of the year that awareness (to use a popular term) of the divide between that church and Christianity is at its highest, because of the fresh observance of Reformation Day (Halloween for all of you with a sugar fix!).  The primary concerns of the Reformers are embodied in the "5 Solas", which are the central concepts of true religion and areas of irreconcilable contrast between the Reformers and Rome.  But believe it or not, that's not what God brought to my mind regarding 2 Cor 1:1-2:  I was inexplicably drawn to Paul's claim of apostleship, and its implications.  Another more minor difference between Protestants and Catholics is  where we derive our authority from:  in addition to the authority of Scripture, Catholics believe that the current Pope is the most recent in an unbroken chain of bishops of Rome, straight down from Peter himself; and as such, the Pope has the keys to the kingdom of God, to bind and loose, and to definitively interpret Scripture for the rest of the Church (mistakenly drawn from Matt 16 and 18).  This line of apostolic succession is a long chain (264 men by one count) and for those who investigate a little more closely, pesky questions about feuds and squabbles between bishops and at one point, 3 different men who all claimed to be pope!  So to put it mildly, there are a few problems with this version of apostolic succession;  imagine having a question about doctrine and being required to check with 264 guys on it (that's assuming they all agreed;  there are several times when popes contradicted each other!).
Oh... is that how you're supposed to read the Bible?
     So should we throw the baby out with the bathwater and say there's no succession between the apostles and us?  I should say not;  I think there is a much more helpful way to teach this doctrine and live under apostolic authority, a way that's directly drawn from God's Word.  But we must separate the authority of 2 spheres:  biblical interpretation and church governance.  We'll spell those out next time.

The heart (and soul?!?) of atheism...

     As I grumbled about having to work so early today, God corrected and rebuked me in the most profitable way:  another educational conversation with my Friendly Neighborhood Atheist (FNA)!  I truly was blessed by this subconscious glimpse into his soul, and have renewed my prayers for his conversion;  I hope you are similarly encouraged.
     We were discussing the meaning and purpose behind it all, and I asked him if we were the products of amoebas, what possible purpose is there?  He responded that mere survival was the key and "it's all about the genes!"  I was taken aback, and waited for a break to respond:  "But you don't have any children!  How are you going to pass on your genes?"  Here's the kicker;  I should have expected FNA to say this, but after dwelling upon his answer, I felt privileged to glimpse such a profound, yet unconscious affirmation of the Scripture's teaching on our unregenerate hearts.  He said:
"No way!  If there really is a God in heaven waiting to squash us, He's only going to get me, not my kids!"
      Do you see it?  This man can not escape the awareness that there is such a God that he consciously denies, and that judgment for our crimes is forthcoming.  So in a dimly understood way, FNA had attempted to defy God and "protect" any of his possible offspring from the vengeance of God, which he feels amounts to cruel unjustified torture!  Even subconsciously, we fight against the God we deny, and express our hatred of Him in life-changing ways.  Of course, all such efforts are futile;  the eternal purposes of God are not frustrated by tiny worms like us, and all our iniquities, even our impotent, God-hating plans, are either nailed to Christ's cross, or recompensed in hell.  I hope this blesses and informs you in the subconsciousness of atheism as you and I work to win them.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Good suffering?

You gotta get up early for this one...
     I was looking at 2 Corinthians 1 and mulling over a post on suffering... the content of the chapter is pretty straightforward, and many superior expositors to me (in other words, just about everybody!) have profitably dealt with that topic.  But one nugget/connection did pop its head out of the text as I looked, and I thought it worthy of passing on to you...
     "For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation..." (2 Cor 1:5-6)  Paul's immediate meaning in context is the particular struggle/trial he had recently endured (which is unknown to us) and was a rich source of ammunition for his enemies;  their logic was that of many even today:  [good things] happen to good people, and tragedy to the wicked.  So Paul's affliction was, to them, proof positive of his counterfeit calling and authority.  In fact, the opposite was true:  God's sovereign burden of pain on Paul (and on us) only made him more qualified to minister.  He was now tailored to pass on God's comfort to all saints in pain (vss. 6-7), and more exclusively reliant on God's strength, as he was forcefully convinced of his own inadequacy (vss. 8-9).
Panning the river of God's Word
     So where's the nugget?  I was struck at the equivalency between Christ and Paul, and thus Christ and us...  Christ suffered to benefit others.  The character of His pain was sacrificial, and while He did have God's glory as His primary motivation, our "comfort and salvation" took precedence over His.  The upshot, I believe, is that as a key component of our "being transformed into the same image" (2 Cor 3:18) of Christ, God wills that we suffer for the benefit of others.  This conforming suffering can take many forms, even in our modern world:  the typical joys of parenting (placing midnight feedings and nightmares above a good night's sleep for you!), the good but hard discipling that should take place in our church body, the quiet patience displayed in the face of abuse and scorn.  It is fitting that God makes us, just like He did with Christ, perfect through suffering (Heb 2:10).  Thus if we adopt Christ's mindset as ours, and meditate on the end result of our predestined pain (our sanctification and joy in Christ supremely), then we enjoy the comfort He did, even on the Cross, namely the Person of the Holy Spirit... He isn't called "the Comforter" for nothing!  This is what Paul experienced, and what how he blessed the Corinthians;  may we be forged into beneficial sufferers.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The silver lining...

God's sovereign choice for us
     I know many of you are reeling today;  while I wasn't particularly shocked, I am deeply grieved at our nation's stubborn insistence in choosing leaders who relish (probably unconsciously, to be gracious) thumbing their nose at God and His Law.  But is Rom 8:28 still true?  Sure it is;  I was meeting with a dear brother yesterday, and he was lamenting his employment status (none!).  He commented that his unemployment compensation was running out, and joked that the selfish thing for him to do would be to open his ballot (he waited until Election Day to turn it in!  Tsk tsk!) and change his vote to Obama;  it is likely that the President will push Congress to extend unemployment benefits out to a 99 week limit.  I have every confidence that my friend didn't change his vote;  but now through the apostasy of our nation, his financial future is a tad brighter and he can rest a little easier.  Also, I have a government job (through the county);  my unionized workplace is drowning in liberal rhetoric, but as much as I grit my teeth at it, it pays the bills.  Transportation funding and the expansion of government spending is a priority in Obama's platform, so it's likely I will not be downgraded to a part-time position (again!) in the near future.  So while the overall picture is depressingly grim, even now God is using our sin to bless His people in tangible ways, just like He's always done...
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.  Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.  How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!  Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.  When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.  Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.  Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  (Ps 73:16-26)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Faith =/+/- works?

She'd never justify anybody!
     Check out these great, succinct equations for varying views of justification;  R.C. Sproul used these in his "Luther and the Reformation" series (I'd give out a link, but Ligonier no longer offers the free download... I don't want to get in trouble!).  Remember, justification is the legal declaration of righteousness.  So when does that happen?

First the Roman Catholic view:

       Faith + Works = Justification
     R.C. extensively goes into the Roman view:  briefly, a person is given faith at baptism, and the effort that person expends toward holiness accrues merit toward becoming righteous;  when a person becomes righteous (and only then!), God acknowledges it by justifying them.  Notice works are on the left side of the equation; Rome teaches they are an essential component of justification.

Then the Antinomian (now known as Free Grace) view:

       Faith = Justification - Works  

     This view holds that bare mental assent in the historic facts of the Gospel is all that God requires;  obviously, we can hope that a person's lifestyle progresses towards obedience to God's commands, but if they don't, no connection can or should be made to their conversion (or lack thereof).  Whether or not a person is justified is completely disassociated from their works.

Lastly, the biblical, Reformation view:

       Faith = Justification + Works

     So this view acknowledges there is a connection between justification and works, but not a consequential one;  works are on the right side of the equation, meaning they are a product of the divine gift of faith.  A person believes in Christ, and God justifies them AND begins to radically change their lifestyle, making a new creature.  I pray this helps you as much as it did me!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Are you "dedicated to God"?

     Don't answer too quickly....I hesitated to write this post, because I was concerned (and still am to some extent) that I was getting into deep water, into a language and theological concepts that are "too wonderful for me" (Ps. 139:6).  So by way of disclaimer, please be gentle and take these words from an uneducated, unfaithful man as a dim glimpse of the fullness of God's truth.
     The language is, of course, Hebrew, and the daunting and deep concept in Lev. 27 is (cue the suspenseful music!)... dedication, the action of setting a person or object aside solely for the Lord's use, and how that something/one could be redeemed (literally "to buy back").  This probably seems a bit anticlimactic:  even today, we have people (mostly elders/pastors), websites, radio stations and last but not least, huge buildings reserved for religious use, so it's not particularly shocking to read about the technical restrictions on redeeming something/one already dedicated to God.  So the kicker is in these verses:
Death from above?
"But no devoted thing that a man devotes to the LORD, of anything that he has, whether man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the LORD.  No one devoted, who is to be devoted for destruction from mankind, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death." (Lev. 27:28-29)
     So here we move from the wading pool to the diving board:  in ancient Israel, there were 2 purposes for persons/objects dedicated to God.  The first is well-publicized:  for worship, in a special ceremony or daily use.  But the 2nd is the shocker, offensive right from the first syllable:  God desired and commanded that His people mark out special objects and certain people for the sole, express purpose of destroying them.  No other use was permitted for these "holy" things (meaning "separated unto God and His declared use"), so no redemption was possible for these spoken-for items.
     A specific proof text is in order:  famously, the first king of Israel, Saul, is commanded to "go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." (I Sam 15:3)  Saul obeys partially, but in classic reassignment contrary to God's law, Saul decides that some of the livestock would be better dedicated to God through sacrifice (15:15;  notice Saul doesn't even try to justify keeping Agag the king alive!).  The same word in our text in Lev. is found again in vss. 21-22 ('cherem' with that Yiddish "ch" deep in the throat!): 
But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.  And Samuel said, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams."
No, the other barbarian!
     So as grotesque and barbaric as it may seem, to be consistent, we have to submit to God's right to do what He wants with what's His (Rom 9:21).  But how do we apply this for today... surely that's just in the Old Testament, right? Just for those bloodthirsty, violent Semites who butchered animals (and people) left and right?  The good news is Christians are not given license to slit throats for God's glory;  but the same brutal, violent language is found in the New Testament... with a different target:
"For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.... Put to death therefore what is earthly in you..." (Rom 8:13, Col 3:5)
     In a vivid analogy, the physical in the O.T. teaches us the spiritual reality:  while the specific people in the O.T. really did deserve what they got, the most important thing we can learn is not how bad they were, but how bad we are, and what our attitude toward sin (our sin first!) must be if we are to have the mind of Christ.  So to curb any latent self-righteousness, let's close with a favorite movie reference: 

Clint Eastwood: “It’s a helluva thing, killing a man.  You take away all he’s got, and all he’ll ever have.”    

Forgotten Extra:  “Well, at least he had it comin’.”   

Clint:  “Kid, we all got it comin.”