Your Own Conceits

The carnal nature in us, our old man, presumes we already know all we need to know; we don’t seek truth since we think we already have enough. It often operates in a vacuum of desperate self-deception (Re 3:17); the less we know the more confident we are in our understanding: in the extreme, it’s being utterly confident while knowing virtually nothing. (Pr 26:16)

We can detect this well-known principle operating in us, called the Dunning-Kruger effect, when we find ourselves over-estimating our own ability or knowledge, or underestimating that of others. Simply ask, what do I really know about this? How well do my ideas hold up under the scrutiny of experts who disagree with me? How well do I understand their best counter-arguments? Do I have training and experience demonstrating my capability under stress? What are the true boundaries of this area? Is my confidence based on facts or presumption? Whenever we find ourselves smugly confident, unwilling to listen to and deeply consider the claims, opinions or skills of others, we’re deceiving ourselves. (Ja 1:22)

Were it not for the restraining grace of God, our sin nature here would put each of us well beyond hope (Ro 7:24), for one who thinks he already knows has closed his mind (Mt 13:15) and can’t learn. (Pr 26:12) But this presumption is simply pride rooted in lies; we can learn from anyone, we can always improve if we’re poor in spirit and love the truth. As we perceive this arrogance operating within, it’s time to humble ourselves, soften our hearts, and repent. (Ja 4:10)

Rather than thinking we’ve arrived (Php 3:13-14) and are superior to others (Ro 2:19), God tells us all to be not wise in our own conceits (Ro 12:16c): helping each other seek and find the truth (a), esteeming others better, focusing first on fundamentals, along with the lowly. (b) Generally, when we’re missing it big, we’re missing the basics. (Mt 23:23)

This isn’t to say that we can’t be confident in our knowledge of God (Je 9:24), that we must always be doubting everything. (2Ti 1:12) There is room in faith and humility for confidence and certainty. (He_10:22) While that is true, it is also true that we don’t know everything about anything. (1Co 8:2) We can be both confident and teachable, grounded in the truth while ever seeking more of it.

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A Cheerful Giver

What are the biblical principles related to raising financial support for a Christian project or ministry? We see a wide variety of approaches, from George Mueller, who never told anyone about any particular need except God, praying for everything required to care for hundreds of orphans for years, to organized religions claiming they’ve replaced Israel in some way and have a right to demand a tenth of our income, to cult leaders promising God’s blessing and favor on generous donors. Where’s the biblical balance?

If we consider the example of Christ and the Twelve, we’ve no record they ever asked anyone for money. Given that the temple was still functioning, they couldn’t pretend to merit the priestly tithes and offerings like the Church does today, and it seems contrary to their spirit of dependence on God to be asking the public or each other for money. It seems our dear brother Mueller may have got it right.

However, we do have an example of the Apostle Paul taking up a collection for the poor saints which were at Jerusalem (1Co 16:1); though he didn’t specify an amount or percentage, he expected everyone to give something in accordance with how God was blessing. (vs 2) How do we integrate this with the example of Christ and the Twelve?

In this particular instance, Paul said it was a matter of spiritual duty for these particular people to give to this particular cause, and he derives this duty from the fact that Gentile believers were indebted to the Jerusalem saints for the blessings of the Gospel. (Ro 15:26-27)

If someone has a duty to donate to a particular cause, then it’s reasonable to ask them to give accordingly. Torah provides many examples of this kind of obligation, specific instances of how we’re to care for the poor and vulnerable. (De 15: 7-8, 12-14, 16:16-17, etc.)

But apart from formal obligation, the rule of common charity must apply. Do we appreciate being asked to give to a ministry we already know about, which we have not already purposed in our hearts before God to support? Does this edify and encourage us, or do we feel pressured to give when we’d prefer not to? Does it feel intrusive, as if someone is meddling in our personal affairs? If we decide not to give, do we feel obligated to justify ourselves? Do we ever decide to give just to make ourselves feel better, or to appear generous to others?

Once we’re aware of a need, directly asking us to donate tends to put most of us on the spot and make us uncomfortable. This should tell us what kind of behavior it is: uncharitable. Unless we’re already interested in donating, most of us feel a sense of pressure in this context, a requirement imposed on us to make an immediate decision: to either decline to give and justify ourselves (as if the ask implies an obligation), or to give so we’ll feel better and appear generous to others. In either case, we perceive the act of being asked as a form of manipulation, to get us to give when we wouldn’t otherwise. This isn’t giving from a cheerful heart; it’s something neither Paul nor Christ would promote, even if it happens to increase donations.

When we desire to support a particular cause that excites us and aligns with our goals and world view, sensing God’s pleasure that we do so, we give with cheerful hearts without being asked. This is the kind of giving God loves (2Co 9:7), and it’s the only kind we should be encouraging in others, outside formal obligation.

Making someone aware of an opportunity to give, informing them of a ministry, its mission and how it’s funded, is perfectly consistent with charity: it doesn’t directly pressure anyone. As we have opportunity to spread the word and inform others of a godly cause, we should leave the commitment between them and God, as they seek His will in the stewardship of their time, money and resources.

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Rent in Twain

When Christ died, the veil of the Jerusalem temple ripped into two pieces, from the top to the bottom. (Mt 27:51) From what we know of this veil*, it is evident that this was a supernatural event: God Himself tore this veil. What does this signify?

Most Christians claim this event signifies the abolishment of Torah, the Mosaic Law, or at least the sacrificial system and the ceremonial aspects of Torah, but Christ says the entire Torah will be relevant until Heaven and Earth pass away (Mt 5:18); last I checked, both are still here, so this event must signify something else.

The veil of the temple represents the physical body of Christ (He 10:20), so on one level the tearing of the veil might signify the death of Christ, the destruction of His earthly, mortal body: the veil was torn as Christ was crucified. The breaking of His body for us (1Co 11:24), His atoning death for our sin, provides a living Way, an eternal way to God, outside time and space, always new (He 10:19-20), the only way anyone has ever connected with God, or ever will. (Jn 14:6)

We might also observe that we aren’t told which temple veil was torn; there were two (He 9:3): the most visible veil, the one most people would be more familiar with, separated the outer court from the sanctuary. (He 9:2) A torn inner inner veil, separating the Holy of Holies from the sanctuary, could easily have been concealed by the priests and never verified. Perhaps both veils were symbolic of Christ in some way, but it is perhaps the outer veil that is the most relevant, for Christ is that essence of the Father Whom we can all see. (Jn 12:45)

God destroying this outer veil in a publicly visible manner may have been a declaration of His departure from the temple. (Mt 23:38) The temple had already been destroyed twice, abandoned by God in advance (Ez 10:4, 18-19a), and it was ready to vanish away again. (He 8:13) It makes sense that God would depart from the temple well prior to it’s being destroyed, and to make this known, giving the people a sign they should repent and seek Him in the context of pending divine judgment and immanent danger.

Since God hasn’t actually yet told us explicitly what the rending of the veil of the temple means, this isn’t something we need to know. What we do know is that the veil is not obsolete; it is essential to a functioning temple, so it will return with the rest of the earthly temple of God. (Re 11:1-2) Any reasonable speculation on this point, why God tore it during the crucifixion of His Son, must be consistent with the whole of scripture.

  • See comment below.

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Lay Hold

Paul tells Timothy, an earnest Christian, to lay hold on eternal life (1Ti 6:12), and to encourage others to do the same. (vs 17-19) Why should we do this, lay hold on eternal life, if we know we already have eternal life? (1Jn 5:13) Why lay hold on what we can never lose? (2Ti 4:18)

For one, it’s exceedingly unwise to presume we have eternal salvation unless our lives are consistently reflecting this reality (He 6:9), proving it experientially (2Co 13:5), as we’re earnestly pursuing the living God (Php 3:12), to know Him more deeply, to obey Him more consistently, and to love Him more passionately. (2Pe 1:5-7) Those who are complacent in their walk with God, comfortable in this world and focused on it, are actually enemies of the cross, headed for destruction. (Php 3:18-19)

It’s good for us to intentionally and firmly grasp the salvation of God (Mt 11:12), to strive to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), to cleave to God and His redemption as our only hope, the precious anchor of our souls. (He 6:19) Our old man takes for granted the infinite mercy shown us in Christ, the incomprehensible price paid for our redemption (Ro 8:32), forgets we’ve been purged from our old sins, loses sight and perspective, and would pull us back into dullness and blindness. (2Pe 1:8-9)

Laying hold of eternal life is laying hold of Christ Himself: He is our life. (Col 3:4) It’s abiding in Him (Jn 15:4), partaking of Him (He 3:14), grounding ourselves in the promises and nature of God (Ep 3:17-19), continually reminding ourselves of His way and word. (Col 3:16) Those who won’t abide in Christ are trodden down (Ps 119:118) and cast away. (Jn 15:6)

Ultimately, laying hold of eternal life is letting go of everything else (Php 3:7-8) that we may know Him. (Jn 17:3)

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Knowledge of Sin

How do we know what sin is? How do we know what’s right and what’s wrong? We all respond as if some actions are good and some are evil, but why do we respond the way we do? How do we know?

Because we’re all made in God’s image, we can’t help but react as if good and evil exist; this is built right into our DNA. And it’s perfectly natural to make up our own definitions, to decide for ourselves what’s right and wrong.

But deciding for ourselves what’s good or evil actually contradicts the very concept of good and evil. Claiming something is good or evil means it is so regardless what anyone else thinks about it; we know this instinctively, it’s rooted in the very claim. But if we can decide for ourselves what good and evil are, then everyone else can too, and then it is all just a matter of opinion, contradicting the very essence of what we know intrinsically to be true.

So if good and evil really do exist, then it isn’t a matter of opinion, yours or mine or anyone else’s; not even governments can define morality. If an action is truly good or evil, then it can only be so because some divine Being says so. There can be no other basis for morality.

This is why Scripture says we can’t know what sin is apart from God’s Law: Torah. (Ro 7:7) It’s only through Torah that we can correctly identify sin (Ro 3:20); and any alteration of Torah corrupts the divine standard of righteousness, and thus the very definition of sin. (De 4:2)

Our old man understands Torah as God’s eternal law and rejects it (Ro 8:7), departing from the light of Torah (Is 8:20), loving darkness instead. (Jn 3:19) Those breaking any of God’s laws violate Torah as a whole (Ja 2:10), and are the least in God’s kingdom. (Mt 5:19) But our new man delights in Torah (Ro 7:22); it lights our way (Ps 119:105), for Torah is light. (Pr 6:23)

Who dares presume the right to decide which of God’s laws are no longer relevant? (Ps 119:6) What standard would they use to judge God’s Law like this? (Ja 4:11) How can a finite being prove any of God’s Laws aren’t eternally good? (Ps 119:152) Torah is timeless. (Ps 119:160)

To sin is to break Torah (1Jn 3:4a), for sin is defined as breaking Torah. (4b) We hide Torah in our heart that we might not sin against God (Ps 119:11), for all who err from Torah as a manner of life will be trodden down, exposed as deceitful and false. (Ps 119:118) The nature of God’s children is that we keep His commands. (1Jn 2:3)

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Until the Law

It’s commonly taught that God only had one law in the Garden of Eden: Thou shalt not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and evil. (Ge 2:17) The claim is that God started with just one rule to see what we’d do with it, and then added more laws as we continued breaking the ones we already had.

It’s true that God only explicitly stated one rule at the beginning, but that doesn’t mean there was only one rule.

When Cain became angry over God accepting only Abel’s sacrifice and not his own (Ge 4:4-5), God warned Cain that sin was lying in wait if he didn’t choose wisely. (7a)

When Cain murdered Abel it was sin, and God treated Cain as if he knew better, even though there was no official law against it. Clearly, there were unstated rules related to murder and loving others that were common knowledge, long before such laws were formalized at Sinai.

And long before God formally gave us any more laws, men became exceedingly evil and wicked (Ge 6:5); they were grievously violating universally understood moral law (Ro 2:15) and were judged accordingly in the Great Flood. (Ge 6:7)

And Abraham kept God’s commandments, statutes and laws long before they were officially stated at Sinai (Ge 26:5); God’s expectations were clear, even though they were not formally written down.

So, death reigned from Adam to Moses even though no one ever broke the same law Adam and Eve did (Ro 5:14); this proves God’s commandments were revealed and known long before He had them written down in Torah: sin was imputed, and men were held accountable for their sin, but this can’t happen unless God’s Law is known and understood. (13)

Torah was given at Sinai, but it wasn’t new when God revealed it; it was in play from the very beginning. (Ps 119:160) The precepts of Torah are timeless, applicable in every age — yesterday, today, and forever. (Ps 119:152)

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