The Oracles of God

The scriptures are essential to spiritual life (Ps 119:9); to depart from their precepts is to walk in darkness. (Is 8:20) They’re given by inspiration (2Ti 3:16) to make us wise unto eternal salvation (2Ti 3:15), providing more evidence of spiritual reality than any miracle ever could. (Lk 16:31)

The Red Sea Pillar

But how do we know what scripture is? What documents should we consider to be inspired of God? How do we go about validating this? What tests should we apply? Several characteristics are common to all of the books included in the Bible, giving us ample clues.

To begin, we know that Jesus Christ, the greatest figure in human history, accepted the 39 books of the Old Testament cannon as scripture (Lk 24:44); He acted as if the Jews of His day had correctly identified all scripture, and only scripture, within these texts. (Jn 5:39) This is now a well-documented, historical fact.

And Christ’s Apostles identified certain new texts penned in their own era as inspired, the 27 books of the New Testament, which recorded the details of Christ’s teaching and ministry, the history of the early church, and how to rightly understand the ways and nature of God in light of all that had already been revealed. (2Pe 3:16) This is also a well-documented, historical fact.

All of these 66 texts in the cannon of Scripture, the Bible, have several unique qualities in common, which are to be expected from scripture:

  1. All scripture is committed to the Jews, God’s chosen people (Ro 3:1-2), who have recognized each inspired text, acknowledged it as scripture, and committed themselves to preserving it for us all. Just as salvation is of the Jews (Jn 4:22), so also are the scriptures, which teach us the Way of salvation, of the Jews.
  2. Scripture does not exalt any mere mortal to spiritual prominence or importance. The authors of scripture often did not even know that they were writing scripture; they did not do so in order to promote or enrich themselves. Those who did write any details about themselves admitted faults which implicated themselves as fallen souls, much in need of grace. There is no record of any author of any biblical text proclaiming that God had perfectly inspired the text through themselves. The assertion and confirmation of inspiration was made independently, through godly men and women who were not in any kind of league with the author to promote them. (Lk 14:11, (Pr 27:2)
  3. Scripture does not contradict any truth of any kind; each text retains a perfect integrity with every other inspired text (Pr 30:5), with science (1Ti 6:20), and with history. (De 18:21)
  4. All scripture is generally received by the people of God as the Word of God. (Ps 119:105) As a pillar upholds a roof and connects it with the ground, so the church upholds the truth of God as His Spirit reveals it to her (1Jn 2:27), and teaches her how to translate that truth into godly behavior. (1Ti 3:15) As a spiritual community, the early Jewish Christians recognized the spiritual power of the Word of God in the New Testament cannon and affirmed it, piece by piece, just as their fathers had recognized the Old Testament cannon of scripture.
  5. All scripture is profitable for godly instruction (2Ti 3:16), teaching us how to walk with God. It glorifies God, not man (1Co 1:29), and feeds our spirits so that we grow up into the image of Christ. (1Pe 2:2)

All scripture is sacred: add not unto His words, and neglect them at your peril. (He 2:1-4) It is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword. (He 4:12) Let’s delight in God’s engrafted Word, as a perfect gift, hiding it in our hearts and meditating in it day and night, so that it might quicken us (Ps 119:50), and enable us to rightly divide it. (2Ti 2:15)

writings     blog

I Hope In Thy Judgments

There are only two orientations from which we might view God and His Law: distrust and hope. We either believe God is good, and therefore that His decisions, evaluations, ways, laws and judgments are perfectly righteous and just (Ps 119:128), and thus we delight in God’s laws, and expect perfect goodness to come from obeying them, regardless of appearance (Ps 119:75), or we distrust God in some way, and expect His ways might be less than optimal, that we might do better.

The former view aligns us with reality, the latter postures us as ultimate judges of God and of His Word (Ja 4:11), of Being itself, and thus aligns us with lies, darkness and deception.

So, the Psalmist can ask God to keep him in the way of truth because he has maintained a posture of hopeful expectation in God’s judgments (Ps 119:43); he is trusting God in the face of suffering and injustice, hoping in God’s Word (Ps 119:147), trusting God will reconcile all things, and hasn’t set himself up as the judge of Being.

The corollary to this is that if we do yield to the temptation to posture ourselves as judges of Being, disdaining God’s purpose in Creation, questioning God’s wisdom in allowing evil and suffering in this world, we forfeit our access to and alignment with the truth, and we do so entirely.

There’s no middle ground here, no partial trust in the goodness and love of God. The required state is, in fact, supernatural: God must do this in us. (Jn 6:29)

Casting ourselves on God, let’s be asking Him to give us this understanding (Ps 119:34), making us understand the way of His precepts (Ps 119:27), and inclining our hearts unto His ways. (Ps 119:36) And let’s ask in faith, nothing wavering (Ja 1:6), knowing God is pleased to satisfy those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. (Mt 5:6)

writings     blog

He Is Precious

Our capacity for delight has a singular purpose: to enable us to enjoy a single Person — Jesus Christ. This is what we’re made for. (Re 4:11) As we discover Him, we’re willing to give up anything and everything for Him. (Php 3:8)

Christ is precious to those who believe on Him (1Pe 2:7); in other words, those who don’t find Him precious haven’t yet found Him … they aren’t believers. Very few do find Him (Mt 7:14); these are the chosen of God. (Jn 6:44)

Christ Himself likens the disposition of the elect to a merchant seeking the finest pearls; trained to prize those of immense worth, he finds a single pearl of such incomparable value that he sells everything he owns to acquire it. (Mt 13:45-46)

We see the extreme intensity and degree of such passion illustrated in a sinful woman’s discovery of Christ; we’re told she loved much (Lk 7:47), and find her kissing His feet, anointing Him with extravagantly expensive ointment, weeping upon Him, washing His feet with tears and wiping them with her hair. (Lk 7:37-38) She is simply overwhelmed by Him; as are all who begin to truly apprehend the living God. (Php 3:12) Nothing compares to Him.

Of course, such love for Christ involves our sentiments, our emotions, the passion of our hearts, but it isn’t limited to this; such love engages our entire being: our wills, in obeying Him at all times and at all costs (Jn 14:21), our minds, in serving His Law (Ro 7:25) as it reveals His heart to us, meditating on Him and His ways day and night (Ps 1:2), and our bodies, as we spend ourselves in pleasing and glorifying Him. (1Co 6:20)

There’s a vast difference as well between cherishing Christ for what He’s done for us, and adoring Him for Who He actually is and what He’s like. A stranger’s generosity might bring forth passionate gratitude, but this is immensely different than finding unfathomable delight in another’s very nature. The former is merely self-interest in disguise, the latter a true cherishing of another soul. How might we distinguish between the two, if not in how we respond to God in our affliction? Are we after Him, or merely His gifts?

And how can we worship Him as He is if we misapprehend Him? If we’re not careful to understand Him, if we’re mistaken about His values, His nature and His ways? The enemy is constantly misrepresenting the divine Way and twisting His message to hide His true nature from us. (Jn 8:44) If we receive these lies about Christ, how can He be rightly precious to us? How do we rid ourselves of every false way (Ps 119:104), such that we’re free of these lying impressions and misrepresentations so we can value Jesus Christ as He truly is?

The documented life of Christ, His Words and ways as offered us in the Gospel narratives, provides a sweeping, panoramic view of His character, and we do well to ponder every detail. Yet a cursory, hit-and-miss sampling of His ways, dismissing parts we don’t understand or dislike, is misleading, incomplete, corrupting the word. We may easily misrepresent His heart if we aren’t deeply familiar with the context of His actions, and in the end receive another Jesus, a false one.

To know Him as He is, to find Him precious, we must perceive this revelation of the nature of God in its rightful context; to see the fullness of Christ, we must turn to Mosaic Law, considering all His commandments, and observe that Christ loved this Law with His whole heart (Ps 119:97), delighting in the wondrous revelation of His Father (Ps 119:18) with unspeakable intensity. (Ps 119:20) We must interpret His behavior through this lens, or we will miss Him. (Mt 5:17-19)

It is impossible, ultimately, to decouple love for Christ with what He values. If He’s precious to us, we’ll be rejoicing in His heart, beholding His beauty, obeying His commands (Jn 14:21), cherishing His words (Jn 14:23), and seeking His face.

writings     blog

Jesus Stooped Down

As Jesus is teaching in the temple early one morning, the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman to Him that they’ve captured in the very act of adultery. (Jn 8:2-3a) They set her down before the crowd, and start asking Christ if He’ll honor the Mosaic Law (Jn 8:4-5), which requires her to be stoned to death. (De 22:22)

Their motive in doing so is to accuse Him (Jn 8:6a); they’re setting a trap: if He sides with the woman, then the people will recognize He can’t be their Messiah (Is 8:20); yet if He sides with Moses, He’ll be in trouble with Rome. (Jn 18:31) No matter what Christ does, they think they have Him.

But Christ doesn’t answer them; He stoops down, ignoring their question, and begins writing with His finger in the dust on the temple pavement. (Jn 8:6b) His enemies, evidently energized by the thought of finally stumping Him, begin pressing Him for an answer (Jn 8:7a)

But then Christ does something striking: He rises up, publicly invites anyone who is sinless to go ahead and throw the first stone, and then He returns to writing in the dust. (Jn 8:7b-8)

Christ honors the Law, but in a way that’s fitting for their circumstance: lawful subjects of a foreign civil power. God gave the Law to Israel to enforce as a sovereign community, not as individuals living under pagan rule. But a sinless person acting on God’s behalf should be able to call on God to rescue them when the Roman soldiers storm the place. So, Christ effectively says, “If you feel you’ve got God on your side enough to defy Roman law, be My guest: go for it.”

As the accusers begin contemplating what He’s just invited them to do, and also noticing what kinds of things He’s writing in the dust, they scatter, every last one of them, being convicted by their own conscience. (Jn 8:9)

Exactly what Christ writes on the ground is a mystery, but the narrative suggests that He’s exposing the sins of the accusers, how they’re all presumptuously breaking God’s Law, and are worthy of death. (Nu 15:30) After all, they aren’t even following this particular law that they’re asking Christ to honor: in their ploy, they hadn’t incriminated the adulterous man, as the Law requires. (De 22:22)

The fact that Christ doesn’t enforce Mosaic Law here tempts many to claim this as evidence that He came to abolish it and give us a better one. Nothing could be farther from the truth: He Himself says so, explicitly. (Mt 5:17-19) Court is adjourned, not because God’s Law is obsolete, but because the community has opted out: there’s no one left to carry out the sentence. (Jn 8:10-11a)

Christ’s wisdom here lies in the fact that lawful punishment must only be carried out by recognized civil authority. Christ Himself is not obligated, as a single individual under Roman civil law, to enforce it, and He chooses not to. (Jn 8:11b) It’s the prudent choice, a testament to His infinite wisdom and discernment.

writings     blog

Be Content

The key to living in contentment, free of covetousness (Ep 5:3) and lust, lies in a promise: God has said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” (He 13:5)

This promise is found in multiple places, as a promise to His people as an holy nation (De 31:6) comprising all of God’s children (1Pe 2:9), and to individuals (Jos 1:5) called according to His purpose. (Ro 8:28) How does this great and precious promise enable us to partake of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4), curing us of covetousness?

Covetousness is an unholy wanting, seeking after that which is forbidden us in Torah (Ro 7:7), pursuing what is contrary to God’s purpose and will for us. (Ro 12:2) It’s ultimately a form of idolatry (Col 3:5), creating a god of our own liking, a fundamental denial of the infinitude of God, an attack upon His goodness and faithfulness, rooted in that primal lie that God’s Law is keeping something good from us. (Ge 3:5) Lust is the desperate heart cry of one who fails of the grace of God (He 12:15), who’s forgotten the power and wisdom of God. (1Co 1:24)

Knowing that God is with us, that He is sufficient to supply all our need (Php 4:19), frees us from all unholy desire: if God has forbidden it we don’t need it, and it would ultimately harm us and dishonor Him. Trusting God is knowing His pleasure is ultimately for our welfare and His glory, that He’s sovereign, and that He’s perfectly good.

Being content with such things as we have, in having our basic physical needs met (1Ti 6:8), is not merely a reference to the material things of life; it extends beyond to all that we need. By His Word through His Spirit, God is equipping us with everything we need to live for Him. (2Ti 3:16-17) We aren’t perfect, for sure, and while we should ever be striving to add more virtue and knowledge to our faith (2Pe 1:5), we can be content that God is our sufficiency (2Co 3:5), that He has designed us with the gifts, experiences and temperaments that are perfectly suited to His unique and glorious purpose in each of us. (1Co 12:18).

Grasping the infinite treasure that is ours in God leaves no room for unholy passion; the cure for our covetousness is found in His promises. Contentment is an enabling grace that’s learned (Php 4:11), a soul discipline, a pillar of spiritual health.

Let’s ask God to incline our hearts away from covetousness towards His testimonies (Ps 119:36), and then apply ourselves to root out every trace of lust with the very nature of God, by letting the truth of His Way penetrate every crevasse of our mind and soul. Every step toward godliness and contentment is great gain. (1Ti 6:6)

writings     blog

That I May Know Him

Knowing God, like we know a friend, is different than knowing about God. We may study theology and acquire a lot of religious knowledge, but it’s not worth much if that’s all we have. (2Ti 3:7) If we’re wise, knowing God and walking with Him will be our top priority (Php 3:8), the only thing we find noteworthy about ourselves. (Je 9:23-24) With all the deception about us, how can we tell if we know God, and how well we know Him?

Well, are we earnestly obeying Him, the best we know how? (1Jn 2:4) Are we loving God with all our being and our neighbors as ourselves? If we think God doesn’t mind disobedience, selfishness, lukewarmness (Re 3:16), or doublemindness (Ja 1:8), if we aren’t afraid of displeasing Him (He 10:31), then we don’t know Him at all; we’ve simply made an idol for ourselves after our own likeness, another Jesus. (2Co 11:4)

And are we rejoicing in Him? Is He precious to us? (1Pe 2:7) Does meditating on His nature and His ways, on all that He does, bring a constant stream of delight to our souls? (Ps 119:97)

As God’s Law, Torah, reveals His nature and His way, the godly delight in the law of God (Ro 7:22), we serve the law of God. (Ro 7:25) We’re earnestly and consistently longing to understand and obey God’s Law more and more (Ps 119:20); that’s what it means to walk in the light with Him (Ps 119:45), the very definition of the New Covenant. (He 8:10)

Do we understand that God’s utterly sovereign? That He does as He pleases in Heaven and on Earth, and that nothing frustrates or worries Him? (Da 4:35)

Are we content in knowing the goodness and faithfulness of God (He 13:5), secure, unafraid (He 13:6), at rest in God? (He 4:3) Or are we lusting to envy, cleaving to dust?

Are we satisfied with the religion of our parents, accepting without question what we were taught as children, or what our culture and those about us claim? If we want God to leave us alone with our idols … He will (Pr 1:29-31) … to be trodden down in His fury. (2Co 5:11)

But if we want to know God, and ask Him to show us where we’re missing Him, seeking Him until He reveals Himself to us, He will. (He 11:6)

writings     blog

Salvation Is of the Jews

When Jesus Christ challenges Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee, in  relating with God, He says, “Ye must be born again.” (Jn 3:7)

Since this is in the New Testament, and we never hear it taught from the Old, it’s easy to think that being born again is relatively novel, something Moses, David and Abraham knew nothing about.

But Christ is speaking before the Cross, before He dies and rises again, so nothing has actually changed since Mount Sinai, when God revealed His Law, or really even since Adam. There’s no New Testament scripture at this point in time, yet Christ acts as if Nicodemus should already know about being born again, as if it’s obvious from the Old Testament. (Jn 3:10) How significant! If we don’t see being born again in the Old Testament like Jesus expects, what makes us think we understand it?

In a similar encounter, Christ challenges a woman and says something just as striking. “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” (Jn 4:22) He’s saying that if we don’t understand the salvation presented in the Old Testament, the oracles of God committed to the Jews (Ro 3:1-2), then we don’t understand salvation at all; we’re worshiping in ignorance. Not a good place to be.

In a third encounter, Christ tells an equivalently insightful story of a rich man suffering in Hell, concerned that his family will follow after him into its flames. He asks Abraham to send an acquaintance back from the dead to warn them. Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” (Lk 16:29) The claim is that Old Testament scriptures are a sufficient witness of the gospel. But the rich man pleads, convinced that the Old Testament is insufficient; if someone they knew rose from the dead to warn them, then they would repent and be saved. But Abraham is firm: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

Not only is the Old Testament a sufficient witness of the gospel, it is so overwhelmingly sufficient that if one isn’t convinced through it, then nothing will convince them.

Salvation is of the Jews: accomplished by Christ, a Jew, and revealed by and through Jews, God’s chosen people, in the scriptures God has transmitted to us all through them. This doesn’t mean we have to become Jewish in order to be right with God (1Co 7:18-20), but it does mean that the gospel of the New Testament is exactly the same as the gospel of the Old Testament. If the gospel we believe in isn’t an Old Testament gospel, then it’s a false one. (Ga 1:8)

writings     blog

Married to Another

Being married is being joined for life, two souls knitted together into a single living organism ’till death do us part. (Ge 2:24) Most of us, I think, are designed for this in earthly life, yet it’s a picture of God’s ultimate ideal for everyone: to be married to Christ. (Ro 7:4)

However, we all start out with a big problem here: any claim to marriage with Christ is illegitimate so long as justice has a claim on us through the Law. It’s like we’re born into life married to a man who doesn’t care for us, and the law of marriage means we’re stuck in that broken relationship with no way out. (Ro 7:2) If we act like we’re married to anyone else while this first marriage is still valid, then we’re committing adultery. (Ro 7:3a)

It’s an illustration of the fact that we’ve all broken God’s Law, so we’re not free to be married to God, to be joined to Him and in fellowship with Him, until that first relationship with sin is dealt with — justice must first be served. (Ro 7:3b)

Many think God solves our problem by putting the Law to death, as if the old husband we’ve been married to is the Law, keeping us in bondage while we’re trying to keep God’s rules in order to be accepted by Him. Since we can’t keep God’s Law well enough to please Him, they presume Christ’s work frees us from our obligation to obey it. They’re thinking God forgives us of all of our sins no matter what kind of life we are living, that no repentance or change of heart is necessary, so long as we’re willing to be forgiven and accepted by God. It’s a partial truth, the most dangerous kind of lie. (2Ti 3:5)

The full picture is that, in our natural state, inclined to and joined to our sinful ways, we aren’t at all fit to be married to God. It’s not that we’re married to the Law; we’re still hooked up with our carnal nature, our old man. (Ro 7:5) The law of sin, that relentless tendency toward disobedience and rebellion within us, has dominion over us as long as we serve it (Ro 6:16); we must die, become dead to the law, dead as far as the law is concerned, having satisfied its just demands, before we’re free to marry God. (Ro 7:4)

So, it isn’t the Law that God must deal with, it’s us. Our sin nature must be dealt with for good; our alignment with it and our commitment to it must end, before we can walk with God. Though we are required to break off this relationship with sin, this isn’t something we’re willing to do. (Ro 3:11) We need God to intervene; we need a new heart.

Christ solves the problem by crucifying our old nature in and with Himself (Ro 6:6), applying the death penalty to that part of us through His innocent death on our behalf. (1Pe 3:18) Through His resurrection (1Pe 1:3) He actually gives us a new kind of divine life (Ro 8:2), and begins to destroy our sin nature (Ro  6:14), creating a new nature within us that is aligned with Him. (2Co 5:17) It’s a work in progress, to be sure, but in those that belong to God, the life pattern of sin gets progressively weaker, less influential, less potent, less dominant over time. It’s a supernatural work, a transformation from within by the Spirit of God.

In being our sin (2Co 5:21), our propitiation with God (1Jn 2:2), Christ serves justice for us, submitting Himself to endure the death penalty on our behalf, and taking our sinful tendencies to the grave with Himself. This frees us from the dominion of our old nature; we no longer have to obey it or act as if we’re married to it – because we aren’t: it’s dead. (Ro 7:4) We’re free to obey God and be intimate with Him without violating the demands of justice (Ro 8:12), as Christ creates us anew in Himself unto good works. (Ep 2:10)

There’s no assurance of salvation for those who aren’t experiencing this supernatural transformation into a life of holiness (He 12:14); Christ not only saves His own from the penalty of sin, He also saves us from it’s power (1Jn 2:4), purifying a Bride for Himself in us. (Ep 5:25-27)

writings     blog

Serve the Law

Regarding the place of Torah (the law of Moses) in our lives, would it be appropriate to say that we “serve the law?” Do you … serve the law?

I suppose most claiming Christ today would passionately object, finding such a mindset legalistic, perhaps even dangerous, opposed to a life of faith and living by the Spirit. Yet Paul says exactly this: “With the mind I myself serve the law of God.” (Ro 7:25) What does he mean?

To serve something is to live our lives in alignment with it, to obey and respect its intent. The law of God would be any precepts, instructions or commands revealed by God, which would certainly include all of Torah. Paul is thus intending to understand and obey Torah as well as he’s able; he observes it with his whole heart (Ps 119:34), so this mindset must be perfectly aligned with living by faith in the Spirit; they go together.

Everything about us that isn’t physical is spiritual, including our ability to think and reason, which is our mind, and also Torah itself. (Ro 7:14) Matter and energy are unconscious, so any conscious choice is by definition a spiritual act, and any act opposed to Torah is a sinful one (1Jn 3:4); it can only be a life pattern in those who don’t know God. (1Jn 2:4)

We may choose to act based on our own will, or defer to someone else’s, and this is where I think most get confused — thinking that unless we’re being guided by another spirit than our own, that we aren’t spiritual. The problem here is that there are unholy spirits constantly trying to deceive us, and it isn’t easy to tell the difference.

But God tells us to be constantly ready for strenuous mental activity (1Pe 1:13) in our obedience to Him. (1Pe 1:14-16) When the Holy Spirit leads us, He doesn’t generally direct us from outside of our will, but works within us to will and to do as His pleases. (Php 2:13) This activity is through our own wills and minds, something we’re not consciously aware of. When He does speak to us outside our wills, as an external voice, which is the rare exception, there will be no mistaking it: we will be able to stake our lives on the fact that God is speaking directly to us; there will be no doubt whatsoever.

Apart from this rare exception, walking in the Spirit in the life of faith is seeking to obey Torah as well as we can in our gifts and calling for the glory of God. He commands us to study it diligently so that we will rightly interpret and apply it. (2Ti 2:15)

writings     blog

Examine Yourselves

The questions we ask reveal our hearts. Are we asking, “Which of God’s law must I obey?” Or are we asking, “Which of God’s laws am I allowed/permitted to obey?”

As God writes Torah into the minds and hearts of His own (He 8:10), He’s revealing that Torah is holy and just and good (Ro 7:12), such that we “delight in the law of God after the inward man.” (Ro 7:22) As He transforms us we’ll be obeying every law that we’re able to obey as well as we can, and continually asking Him to help us obey Torah better, more perfectly. (Ps 119:35)

But if we don’t delight in Torah, we’ll be looking for excuses and explanations that relieve us of any sense of duty (Ec 12:13), and most any deception will do. (2Ti 4:3) This is the posture of the carnal mind (Ro 8:7), enmity against Torah, and ultimately against the heart of God. (Ps 119:136)

So, ask yourself the question: “What kinds of questions am I asking? What does this reveal about my heart?” Examine yourself (2Co 13:5): does your life reflect the things that accompany salvation? (He 6:9) If our questions don’t reveal a delight in Torah, then something’s wrong with our inward man.

writings     blog