Saturday, March 25, 2017

Things New and Old. Part 2

[Since this is a series, I want to remind my readers of what we are covering. Therefore, the beginning paragraph here is about the same as it was for the last post.]

One issue that Christians have wrestled with has been the role of the Old Testament in our theology and our walk with Jesus. Does the Old Testament have relevance to us? Are there principles that should guide us, or is it totally out of date? Matthew 13:52 gives us insight into this question: “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” To me, the meaning of this verse is fairly obvious. A good Bible teacher uses both the New and Old Testaments. There are truths in both that apply to us in our daily lives. This is the second in a series of the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

In our previous post, we saw how one NT writer (Paul) was using the OT in a way that might seem unusual - taking an OT principle and "translating" it, so to speak, into a NT principle with the gospel and Christ taking the place of the Law and the OT commands. In this post, we will see how an Old Testament practice, fasting, is used differently in the New Testament church.

One of the reasons for fasting in OT times was to get God's attention so that He might change a bad situation. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, they produced a child. The prophet Nathan revealed David's sin and told him that the child would die. (Read the whole story here: 2 Samuel 12:1-23)

The child that Uriah’s widow bore to David ... was very sick. David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them. Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was still alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do himself harm!” But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:15-23)

David understood something that those around him did not understand. He knew that it was possible that God might spare the child if he fasted and prayed for mercy. He also lay on the ground. He did this even though God had said that the child would die. He believed that God might change His mind. Once the child was dead, there was no more reason to continue this fast. Of course, in this case, God did not relent. His judgment stood firm. Sometimes, when OT saints would fast this way, they would put on sackcloth and spread ashes on their faces. They afflicted themselves to try to get God's attention.

Esther did a similar thing when she and her people were in a very dangerous place. The Jews were about to be wiped out by their enemies at the command of the Persian king. As queen, Esther was uniquely positioned to plead for her people to the king. Unfortunately, even the queen had to be summoned to come before the king to petition him. To arrive unsummoned meant death, carried out immediately. She had not been able to speak to the king. She risked her life, going before him to plead her case. Before that, however, she and the Jews in Susa fasted for three days, eating and drinking nothing at all. The purpose of the fast was so that God would allow Esther to enter the king's presence and petition him without harm. (It was not, as some have suggested, to break the power of witchcraft. See below.*)

“Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

It worked. Esther was allowed into the king's presence without harm and she was able to save her people. This is a wonderful and powerful use of fasting under the Old Covenant, but the question is: Should we do this today? Of course, Jesus made it clear that we should fast at various times in our Christian lives. He said,

"Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:16-18)

So fasting is a New Testament practice, but it seems that Jesus changed the rules on fasting. No more sackcloth and ashes. No more getting God's attention by afflicting oneself. What about the fasting itself? Do we fast to change things in this world like Esther did and David tried to do?

We do not fast this way in the New Testament era. We do not need to fast to get God's attention. We can instantly get His attention by using the Name of Jesus in prayer. The rules have changed quite a bit with the coming of Jesus. We should not go back to the OT way of fasting.

Why, then, do we NT Christians fast? Fasting keeps the flesh under. The flesh can dominate us at times and hold us in bondage. When we constantly feed the flesh with physical food and we constantly attend to its needs, we have trouble hearing from God. Fasting allows us to pay more attention to the Holy Spirit and hear God's voice more clearly. We are more sensitive to Him and His leadings. When we pray, we can then more accurately pray what God wants us to pray. Hearing God more clearly also gives us more confidence in what He has told us to do. Then, when we face challenges, we can face them boldly.

In other words, fasting does not change God, it changes us. We are the beneficiaries of the fast. When we are called to fast and pray, either individually or corporately, it is not the fasting that moves God, but believing prayer. Prayer changes things. Fasting changes us and makes us better able to hear God and pray.

As mentioned above, fasting can be used to break fleshly bondages. I had a friend who was "addicted" to drinking coffee. She drank about 50 cups per day. (Won't that kill you or something?) She fasted for several days just from coffee and broke that fleshly "addiction". We can fast in different ways according to the need. I do not recommend, however, going on a complete fast - no water at all - as Esther did. That can be dangerous. Some have ended up in the hospital because their fasting was severe or prolonged. I personally have never fasted more than two days. The goal of NT fasting is not to afflict oneself but to simply keep the flesh from dominating us.

I have used fasting for the times when I have had to hear from the Lord about something important, like making a big decision. Before moving here, I fasted so that I could hear Him more clearly and accurately so that I would be sure to know and do His will. We sometimes need a little help in hearing from the Lord. Often we would rather get someone else to tell us what to do rather than hear from God for ourselves. We lack confidence. Fasting can help us hear and be confident.

I believe in fasting, but I do not believe in simply taking the OT practices and bringing them into the Church. We are in a different, and better, position than the OT saints were. We have the Name of Jesus to use in prayer. We do not need to get God's attention with a bleeding sacrifice or fasting with sackcloth and ashes. Jesus paid the price so that we could "get an audience with the King" any time we need to.

[*Excursus: Fasting does break the power of witchcraft or demons as has been suggested recently. In the Hebrew book of Esther, witchcraft is never mentioned at all. The fast was for Esther that she might not die when she entered the presence of the king. Besides the OT clearly teaches that "No curse can touch Jacob; no magic has any power against Israel." (Numbers 23:23) So witchcraft could have had nothing to do with it. Even when the disciples could not cast out a demon and Jesus told them that "This kind comes out only by prayer and fasting", most translations and ancient manuscripts do not say "and fasting". The problem that the disciples had was not a lack of power or authority. Jesus had given that to them. The problem was with their unbelief. Fasting would have given them the ability to overcome that unbelief by being more sensitive to what God had told them and more confident in their authority. We have authority in the Name of Jesus to cast out demons. In the OT, an anointed singer and psalmist would play and sing to relieve people from demonic attacks. They did not fast to do so.]

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Things New and Old. Part 1

One issue that Christians have wrestled with has been the role of the Old Testament in our theology and our walk with Jesus. Does the Old Testament have relevance to us? Are there principles that should guide us, or is it totally out of date? Matthew 13:52 gives us insight into this question: “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” To me, the meaning of this verse is fairly obvious. A good Bible teacher uses both the New and Old Testaments. There are truths in both that apply to us in our daily lives. This is the first in a series of the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

Of course, how we use the Old Testament, especially, can be a little confusing. We know that certain things are directly carried forward from the Old Testament to the New. Commands regarding basic morality are a good example. "You shall not murder" and "You shall not commit adultery" are as valid in the NT as the were in the OT. In fact, the NT evens expands some of these moral principles. Jesus said, "Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt. 5:28)

Then there are commands given to the Jewish nation that do not apply to the church. These are not moral laws but religious regulations. The Jews could not eat pork, for example, because it was considered 'unclean'. The NT abrogates such rules. All foods are allowed under the New Covenant.

These things are clearly laid out for us, but some things are less clear. Often a principle found in the OT applies quite differently in the NT. Here is an example from Romans 10:5-9:

Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Now this might seem like a simple quotation from the OT, but it is not. In fact, the quote from the OT has been altered to fit the point that Paul wants to make and has a meaning opposite from the OT context. Paul even changes words when it suits him. Here is the OT passage that Paul quoted. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.

The words of God that Moses is talking are His commands. The words of God that Paul is talking about is the gospel (the word of faith). Moses talks about bringing the Law from Heaven; Paul applies this to Christ, not the Law. Moses speaks of going across the sea; Paul turns this into going into the 'abyss'. Perhaps bigger than anything, Moses is telling the Israelites to keep the Law of God in the mouths and hearts so that they can do the commands so that God can bless them. Paul tells the church that we are saved by believing in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead and by confessing with our mouths the Lord Jesus.

This is really quite amazing. Paul seems to turn what Moses said on its head! But we have to look at two things here. One is the fact that the principle is the same, but that the application is quite different and it even contradicts, sometimes, its OT meaning. The principle is one about revelation. God revealed the Law to Moses and therefore the Israelites had to keep it and they could do that if they kept it in their mouths and hearts. Paul, however, applies it to the gospel. We now have the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed to us so that we have no excuse not to believe and be saved.

The second important thing to understand is that we must be careful when applying certain OT principles in the NT era. Sometimes that principle has been transformed by Christ and the gospel.

With all this in mind, let's see how we can apply what Paul has said to other OT passages. We can take two passages from the OT that say something very similar to what Moses said in Deuteronomy 30.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8)

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Both of these OT quotations talk about the same thing, meditating on the Law of Moses. Should Christians do this? We have to say that in a way we should do it, but we have to transfer this principle into NT terms. We do need to meditate on the words of God, but not just on the Law of Moses. We need to meditate in the New Testament much more than in the Old. That is a proper application of the OT and I think that most Christians would apply it this way. However, what Paul does in Romans 10 is our justification for "translating" OT principles and making them applicable to the gospel.

We do need the Old Testament as well as the New. What we also must realize is that we cannot just yank anything out of the OT and apply it the NT era. We can easily get into foolishness and error that way.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Shack is Back!

The Shack, the book that inspired me to write a blog in the first place, has come out in movie form. The book was, and is, quite controversial because of the way it depicts the Trinity - as an old woman instead of a heavenly Father; a bumbling, less than omniscient son instead of the glorious Son of God. I did not care for that despite the needed message the book sought to convey: that God is not some unapproachable being who is far above our problems and concerns, but a person (or persons) to whom we can bring our deepest wounds and who brings comfort and healing. I have heard that the movie is better in making clear that the characters who appear as the persons of the Trinity are simply ways that God shows Himself to make Himself more relatable. But I have not seen the movie so I will not comment on that. Instead, I want to focus on our view of God and the attempt of some to try to change that - often for the worse.

This book is not the only attempt to make the God of the Bible more relatable. Some theologians and scholars have tried to re-define God in such a way that He does seem more relatable. Let's face it. There are barriers to fallen people to be able to relate to a holy God. He seems so great and powerful and separate from us that it is hard for us to understand how we can come into His presence.

A recent attempt to alter the traditional, Christian view of God is called Open Theism*. According to this view, God is not completely omniscient. He is bound by time and does not perfectly know the future. He is doing the best He can and will straighten everything out in the end. In the meantime, He is comforting and healing those in need. According to Open Theism, the traditional view of God as eternal (outside of time) and completely omniscient makes it impossible for men to relate to Him. How could someone approach such a God? Open Theists claim that their view allows us access to a God we can relate to and who can relate to us. So all Christians need to do is to alter how they see God.

There is a very interesting philosophical argument here, but it is not scriptural. God is clearly outside of time since the speaks of the beginning of time. Does "In the beginning" ring a bell? If God existed before the beginning, then He must exist outside of time. That puts Him above time - seeing all of history at one glance. He does know the future perfectly because He is already there. I don't know about you, but I take much more comfort in a God who knows everything than in a God who knows a whole bunch.

No, we cannot alter our view of God to make us better able to relate to Him. I cannot, however, just write these attempts off as simply wild heresy. There has been a real problem in the church with how we represent God. Yes, we must teach that God is omniscient and holy, but we have made Him unapproachable. In the Garden of Eden, God would fellowship freely with Adam and Eve "in the cool of the day". That fellowship was broken by their sin. "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear." (Is. 59:2) So, we do have the problem of sin and that is what truly separates man from God.

In the Old Testament era, God was 'locked up', so to speak, in the Holy of Holies of the temple and nobody could approach Him except the high priest once a year with the blood of an animal. This was so he would not die. "But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; 8 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing." (Heb. 9:7-8) They could not come directly come into God's presence under the Old Covenant. Something more had to be done to restore man's lost fellowship.

That is why Jesus came. He did much more than just save us from Hell and take us to Heaven. He came to take Hell out of us and put Heaven into us. Does that sound radical to you? What about this scripture? "Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Col. 1:27) If Christ is in us, is not Heaven in us?

The people of the church have yet to realize our identity in Him. When we receive Christ, we first have our sins washed away. (Rev. 1:5) Then we receive a new nature, the nature of God Himself. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, OLD THINGS HAVE PASSED AWAY AND ALL THINGS HAVE BECOME NEW AND ALL THINGS ARE OF GOD." (2 Cor. 5:17-18) The old things are the old sinful nature you had along with all the junk that goes with it. The new things are the new nature, spiritual fruit, etc. "That we might be partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1:4) We are truly God's children, not just emotionally, but actually, since children inherit their nature from their parents. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:7)

We have the nature of God in our spirits and we can now fellowship with God and enter His presence anytime we like. Our relationship with God has been fully restored and it is even better than what Adam and Eve had in the Garden. In fact, we have received the gift of righteousness. (Romans 5:17) I learned a long time ago that you cannot earn righteousness. It is a gift. It is, in fact, God's own righteousness imparted to us. (2 Cor. 5:21)

The problem with our theology has not been because we had too high of a view of who God is, but a too low view of who He has made us to be. If we had understood that there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ, then we would have had boldness to come to the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in time of need. (Heb. 4:16) We could pour out our heart to Him and He would listen and give comfort and healing for our hurts.

So, we do need to change our view, but the answer is not to depart from what the scripture teaches about God. The answer is to dig deeper into the Bible and discover how God has completely reconciled us through Christ and how we can enter His presence without any sense of guilt or inferiority, for He is our Father. What a great and wonderful Father He is!

*Advocates of the Open Theism view includes some like Pentecostal scholar Clark Pinnock and C. Peter Wagner of the New Apostolic Reformation.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Now you've gone too far!

{I am back blogging again. It's been a couple of years, but I have some things on my heart I wish to share. I had followers in the double digits before and I hope they will come back. For those who read this, I welcome you as well as your comments.}

As I often have I am writing about one of my pet peeves. This one is an example of taking analogies and imagery in the Bible and taking them too far, thereby distorting and misapplying them. The answer to this is to ask ourselves the question, 'Does the Bible really teach that?'. At the same time, I want to get the complete revelation of what God has for us in these images.

One of the most common types of imagery is military imagery. In our own society, we talk about fighting all kinds of diseases and poverty and injustices. Our politicians, when running for office, run a "campaign". The Bible also has a lot of military imagery and, of course, actual armies as well. The pre-incarnate Christ appeared to Joshua calling Himself 'Captain of the Lord of hosts'. We read about God fighting battles on behalf of Israel, bringing down Jericho without any fighting by the Israelites at all. We have young David defeating Goliath in the name of the Lord. In Daniel, we have angels having to fight demonic powers that ruled over Persia at that time. (Daniel 10)

The New Testament is also full of military imagery, except that our enemies are not men, but demons. Jesus "spoiled principalities and powers ... triumphing over them ...". (Col 2:15) Then Paul uses similar imagery regarding the church. "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ." (2 Cor 2:14) Paul sees use in a triumphal procession, having defeated our enemies. And God is the One who led us into that victory. Again, "we are more than conquerors through Christ". (Romans 8:37)

Then there is Ephesians 6:10-17 where we are instructed to "put on the full armor of God". Indeed, those who do want to live the victorious Christian life will experience much spiritual conflict because the Devil wants to keep us in bondage. We must enforce his defeat. There is a saying in the world about freedom that applies to us here. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." The Enemy is constantly trying to keep us down. We are not ignorant of his devices and we must be ever aware of how he is trying to oppress us. We ought to take full advantage of the armor of God and the "weapons of our warfare" (2 Cor 10:4) . We certainly do need it in this demon-filled world we live in.

But can we take this military imagery too far? I have often heard Christians say, "We are the army of God". Does the Bible actually say that? Is that the conclusion we have to draw from the scriptures that use military imagery? Maybe, but I am not sure. If we are "the army of God" why does the NT not say so directly? The NT does call us a royal priesthood, a holy nation and the body of Christ. That is quite direct language. It never calls us an army. Why not?

One could point out that Paul told Timothy,"You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier." (2 Tim 2:3-4) Here it calls Timothy a soldier and speaks as if he is in an army. But read the subsequent verses as well. "And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops." (2 Tim 2:5-6) Paul then calls Timothy an athlete and a farmer! The NT has several places where athletic imagery is used, but nobody calls the church an athletic team. And farming imagery is more prominent in the NT than military imagery. Jesus used agricultural imagery in His parables and His teachings all the time. Yet, nobody that I know of has said that we were a farming cooperative!

Additionally, even the imagery of the armor of God is actually a mixed metaphor. It says that we "wrestle" against these principalities, etc. Soldiers do not wrestle, they fight. We have military and athletic imagery combined here. Wrestling is very strenuous and is one-on-one unlike the ways that armies fight. Yet we need military armor to do this wrestling. It's strange when you think about it.

I am not necessarily saying that it is wrong to call the church, 'the army of God', but I do not teach it. Also, I have seen this "army of God" saying taken too far. I know of a couple of ministers who have gone so far as to say that we not only are an army, but that we have different ranks and a kind of military order in the church. But the NT never speaks of believers as being "ranked" as such. I heard one say that there are "generals and privates" in this army and that generals give orders and privates obey them. Really? Where exactly does the NT say that? I certainly believe in authority in the church, but is it military type of authority? Of course, this minister does say that the five-fold ministry is to govern the church. That is fine, but what does that have to do with generals and privates?

Look at the imagery used when the NT talks about the five-fold ministry. The main passage is in Ephesians chapter four. You will find no military imagery here. Instead, the imagery is that of a body, an organic unit where the head is Christ. Also, we have a similar list of ministries at the end of 1 Corinthians 12. Once again, the context is one of a body and not of an army. In fact, no place in the NT where it says to submit to the elders of the local church is any military imagery used. Even the term "bishop" or "overseer" is not military.

I have seen those who have been so caught up in the church being "the army of God" that they begin to get a militant attitude and begin abusing the authority that they have. They will order people about and then rebuke anyone who does not instantly obey. It is not a question of who has authority but the manner in which they exercise it. It's often an attitude that's the real difference. "Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant." (Mark 10:42-43)

We need to use the right images in the ways that they were intended. With regard to our relationships with one another, we love one another as brothers and sisters. With regards to ministry and church life, we are to function as a body - each one contributing with their gifts and callings and taking orders from the Head. And in our facing the Enemy, we need to be vigilant and not let him kill, steal and destroy. That is where military images are appropriate. We should not get carried away with any truth in the Bible or we can distort it. Instead, we should keep all these things in balance. Then we will be successful.