Born Again

When Christ explains how to obtain eternal life, He compares it with how we obtain physical life; as we’re conceived and born physically, so we must be conceived and born spiritually. (Jn 3:6-7) Apart from being born of the Spirit we can’t enter into God’s kingdom (5); we can’t even see the kingdom. (3)

To most of us, this sounds like a New Testament concept, something new Christ introduced as part of the current dispensation, unique to Christianity the Age of Grace. The problem with this idea is that Christ expected Nicodemus, a Jew living in the Old Testament era (before Christ’s atoning sacrifice) to already understand this. (10) Christ was telling Nicodemus and all his colleagues they were missing the boat since they weren’t born again. (7) So, being born again isn’t a New Testament principle: it’s timeless. (Re 13:8)

The seed which brings this spiritual life into us is the Word of God (1Pe 1:23), the eternal Word of Truth. (Ja 1:18) We’re born of God Himself as we receive and believe on Christ the Word (Jn 1:12-13), and become new creations in God. (2Co 5:17)

This new creation concept isn’t new at all; it’s woven all through the Old Testament (2Ti 3:15), the idea of having a new heart, a new inner being created by God. (Eze 36:26)

Abraham believes in God and is justified by faith (Ro 4:3), a faith that rests in God’s future provision of a divine sacrifice to atone for his sin. (Jn 8:56) We’re saved the same way. (Ro 4:23-25)

David prays for this clean, new heart (Ps 51:10), the kind of heart that hears, perceives and obeys God (De 29:4), and ultimately receives this gift of God. (Ps 21:1-2)

Carried by Angels

The Bible describes what occurs as we die, and there’s no hint that it’s going to be different for anyone, same for all of us: angels appear and carry us away to our eternal home. (Lk 16:22-23)

Yes, as we speak, angelic beings are evidently escorting eternal souls departing this world, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Da 12:2) Some are soaring through the celestial wonders of the universe (Ep 4:8), others plummeting into the fiery bowels of the earth. (9) It makes all the difference in the world where we’re headed, but the means of transportation appears to be shared in the nether world.

Why such a conveyance system? Well, stating the obvious, we might not know the way to our eternal home, and it isn’t clear that we’d be able to travel there on our own even if we did know how to get there; we do appear to be stuck wherever the angels drop us off, unable to visit other places. (Lk 16:26) And the damned inevitably evade and resist; a secure escort is appropriate.

Yet for those of us in Christ, of course, evasion isn’t a consideration; there’s no better place to be than with Him. (Php 1:23) As we’re abiding in Him here, we’ll be ever closer to Him each instant of our journey home, with a singular delightful focus on Him (Ps 72:25), the most beautiful Being in the universe. (Ps 45:2)

Since each elect soul has at least one angel attending them throughout their entire life (He 1:13-14), it stands to reason they’ll be present with us as we die, and it may in fact be their responsibility to get us all the way home.

It also seems reasonable to think that these personal angelic attendants might grow fond of the saints over time, watching over us day and night, knowing us inside out, and have some personal affection for us since our common Master loves us uniquely, and so very much. Their joy in our homecoming will certainly be evident; perhaps they’ll engage us in some worshipful conversation as we journey into the immediate presence of our Savior (2Co 5:8), enquiring about our walk with Christ (1Pe 1:12) before they depart for their next assignment.

For the lost, however, the journey may not be so pleasant; the fear and dread of eternal destruction (Pr 1:27) evidently comes upon the wicked quite suddenly at death. (Ps 73:18-19)

Angels meeting an unsuspecting soul departing this life might intimidate unto dread (Mt 28:4), and introduce their victim to a sample of God’s eternal hatred. (Ps 139:21) They will surely accomplish His mission for them, unmoved by the cries of the damned; their grip firm and unyielding, their faces — if bewraying honestly — will surely brim with the terror of God. (2Co 5:11)

The secret things belong to God, but those things which are revealed belong to us. (De 29:29) God has revealed mysterious things to those who seek Him (1Co 2:9-10), and we do well to cherish everything He shows us about His way, imagining as well as we can what this final journey home will be like.

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Faith Comes by Hearing

Faith is required to please God (He 11:6), so, what is faith, and how do we get it?

It’s easy to mistake presumption for faith, blocking other possibilities out of our minds and hearts, willfully determining for ourselves what must be, refusing to consider contradictory evidence. This is darkness, the flesh, lacking the deep assurance of the revealed Word and Will of God, and will eventually be exposed as willful blindness and arrogance.

Faith is supernatural assurance, the divine impartation of knowing with absolute confidence and certainty, a knowing which doesn’t require further proof or evidence. It’s the gift of God (Ep 2:8), which comes by hearing God with a trusting, believing heart (Ro 10:17a), and this kind of hearing with this kind of heart comes by the decree of God. (17b)

Faith doesn’t come by hearing the Word of God. It’s necessary to hear the truth to grow in faith, but this in itself is insufficient. What the text says is: “hearing (comes) by the word of God.” (Ro 10:17)

We tend to hear what we want to hear, not what’s actually said. (Jn 8:43) So, God must not only send us the message of truth, He must also give us hearts to perceive, eyes to recognize and ears to receive and accept the truth. (De 29:4)

Submitting to God is a prerequisite for understanding and knowing Him (Mt 13:15), and this requires a new nature; our old nature is incapable of submitting to God. (Ro 8:6) God chooses the poor in spirit rich in faith, electing us to be heirs of His kingdom. (Ja 2:5)

This may seem unreasonable, that faith in God comes only by the decree of God, as if we have no choice or chance in faith, at pleasing God without His aid. It’s as if we think God’s choosing who will have faith is the same as Him choosing who won’t have it, and accuse God of being unrighteous (Ro 9:14), wondering why He finds fault when no one resists His will. (19)

God does choose who has faith (2Th 2:13), but He does not cause anyone to not have faith: rather He commands all men everywhere to repent and believe. (Ac 17:30)

God makes no one distrust Him; in fact, anything other than trusting God and taking Him at His Word is insane wickedness. How can God lie, or be unfaithful, or malicious? Not trusting God is accusing Him of being evil, and God never promotes or encourages this: we do this all on our own, when He leaves us to ourselves. And, of course, no one can please God while accusing Him of malevolence.

The election of God isn’t the arbitrary choice among good, ignorant but well-meaning people, but among the wicked, those who hate Him. (Jn 15:18-19) It’s an election of pure mercy and compassion (Ro 9:15) in which God transforms some wicked souls into saints – vessels of mercy. (23) God quickens the disobedient, those dead to Him in trespasses and sins, children of wrath. (Ep 2:1-3) God’s intervention in our headlong dash away from Him is entirely undeserved, total mercy. (4)

The mercy God shows us in salvation is remarkable indeed, infinite in every respect. He doesn’t need to save anyone; He doesn’t owe us anything: none of us deserve it in the least. Let us glory in the salvation of God and be thankful for His mercy. (Ro 15:9)

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The Only Begotten

When pondering the mystery of the Trinity, one might ask: Is Christ eternally pre-existent, one with God the Father from eternity past, or was He created at a moment in time?

Since we have no concept of time or sequence apart from Creation, there’s no way to describe “before” Creation, or to fathom what “eternity past” actually means, though Christ Himself declares He was there, having glory with the Father before Creation. (Jn 17:5)

So, unless we ignore the Word and propose Christ was created at or after the beginning of time and space, the question requires speculation where words are inadequate, so we might dismiss this as a foolish or unlearned question (2Ti 2:23), one which cannot be rightly articulated if Christ actually had a beginning.

Yet Christ was already God at the instant of the beginning. (Jn 1:1-2) Since all was made by Christ (Col 1:16), and  nothing was created apart from Him, (Jn 1:3), Christ Himself cannot be created.

God is perfect, complete, and therefore immutable (Ja 1:17): God’s essential nature cannot change or improve. (Mal 3:6) Christ being divine yet not pre-existing along with the Father outside time and space implies a fundamental change in God’s nature when Christ arrives, proving (by contradiction) Christ has no beginning.

Christ is begotten, brought forth from the Father, revealing Him. (Mt 11:27) This does not imply Christ had a beginning any more than God the Father had a beginning. The Father has always been one with the Son, part of the same nature and being (De 6:4), having neither beginning nor end. (He 7:3)

The eternal Father ever emanates Christ; they cannot be distinguished or separated from one another (Jn 14:9), and we’re to honor them both together in the same way, as One. (Jn 5:23)

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Defraud Not

When Christ is discussing salvation with the rich young ruler, elaborating upon which commands to keep to secure eternal life, He lists several from the Decalogue yet mixes in, “Defraud not” (Mk 10:19), which is unexpected.

Torah does contain this command (Le 19:13), but it isn’t one we’d expect Christ to highlight. From context, since Christ is evidently listing commands which relate to how we treat our fellow Man, this might be a reference to the 10th commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” But if so, why does He reference it this way?

Interestingly, when Luke recounts this same story there’s no reference to this concept at all (Lk 18:20), and Matthew (Mt 19:18-19) replaces it with the 2nd Great Command (Mk 12:31), summarizing the entire horizontal dimension of Torah.  (Ro 13:9) What do we make of this?

If we ponder Thou shalt not covet, we might find it includes Defraud not: coveting leads to defrauding – inappropriate wanting tends to wrongful dispossession. Both concepts violate the law of Love, so including love thy neighbor as thyself as a capstone is reasonable. Perhaps Christ hints that this man’s wealth was fraudulently obtained (Ja 5:4), hence the remedy in returning it. (Mk 10:21) Such a cure for the burden of wealth is by no means universal (1Ti 6:16-8), so we’d expect circumstance to motivate His invitation here.

What the variations of this story reinforce is that covetousness and lust are necessarily a matter of defrauding another, violating the law of love. It isn’t wrong to strongly desire what’s lawfully obtained (De 14:26), or to enjoy the inherent goodness of God’s design in Creation. (Tit 1:15) But if we leave another unjustly the worse in obtaining our desire, we should prayerfully reconsider.

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God Worketh in You

The brilliance and wisdom of God is seen in His commanding us to do things which we ought to do, yet which we’re unable to do without His aid. He doesn’t command us in ignorance, unaware of our weakness, but as a way to engage His image in us, and work through us to achieve His purposes.

The fact that God is sovereign, in total control of all things, including us (Ep 1:11), suggests to some that we’re excused from engaging our will in obeying Him, as if to say, “I can’t do anything without Christ anyway (Jn 15:5), so why try?” The error produces passivity, an idleness of the mind and will, which turns out to be the chief basis of demon possession (Ep 4:27); if we don’t resist the devil he will retake in us the ground he used to have (Ep 2:2) and more. (2Ti 2:26)

So, though God is able to sanctify us without engaging our cooperation, He is pleased to work in and through us (Php 2:13), inviting us into our sanctification as participants and enablers, workers together with Him. (2Co 6:1) This doesn’t jeopardize His plan in any sense, it magnifies His omnipotence, but it does reveal something amazing in His agenda.

God is about making us, all of His elect (Mt 24:31), like Himself, training us up as saints such that we think and act like He does. (Ep 5:25-27) He engages His image within us with the very life and mind of Christ to conform us to Christ (Ro 8:29), reincarnating Himself in us (Col 1:27), calling us to act and strive and then working through our will: our willingness and intent to obey Him becomes the vehicle through which He manifests Himself.

God is putting us through the mill down here, through the ringer, so to speak, sort of like boot camp, refining us and sanctifying us, preparing us to rule and reign with Him. (Re 20:4) He will eventually give us unfathomable responsibility – like passing eternal judgement on the angels. (1Co 6:3) He wouldn’t let us participate with Him like this without utmost confidence that we’d call each situation correctly (Ro 15:14), exactly like He would. (1Co 2:16) He is capable of doing this in us, and He will, for His glory. (Ep 2:10)

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Worthy of His Reward

The appeal of Communism and Socialism ultimately boils down to one thing – a willingness to trade personal freedom for free stuff, things we haven’t worked for. Whether driven by envy, fear or compassion, those who fall for shallow Marxian promises enable societal corruption and eventually suffer for it. The reason is simple: we’re motivated primarily by compensation for our own work, and this is by divine design. (1Ti 5:18)

The appeal of free stuff isn’t new; even when Christ was here we tried to use Him this way (Jn 6:26), yet God has benevolently designed us to work (2Th 3:10) and to be rewarded for it: He’s set up the entire spiritual and physical ecosystem around this principle. (1Co 3:8)

When governments engage in forced wealth re-distribution, they’re violating this basic life principle. Expecting people to act in a manner that’s inconsistent with how they’re compensated is to violate Nature itself. As we cease to reward people for their own labor, and let bureaucrats choose how we’re compensated and for what, we introduce incompetence and corruption on a massive scale. People simply can’t produce the same quality or quantity of value in such a system.

Best case, when those in power are wise, benign and just, and people are willing to work hard without regard to how they’re paid, we simply have an inefficient society — decreased productivity due to leveraging suboptimal competence and skill. Yet to the degree that those in control are corrupt, or people give in to irresponsibility and selfishness, such cultures degenerate into deception, alienation and slavery, crushing the human spirit.

The biblical model establishes a controlled free enterprise (monopoly prevention), enabling all to better themselves while providing a safety net which doesn’t reward irresponsibility and laziness; value creation opportunity is maximized while respecting human dignity and design. The basic means of production (in agricultural society it’s land ownership) is periodically (once in a lifetime) restored to a balanced equilibrium and crushing debt is forgiven. The tithe is set aside for the dispossessed who are unable to care for themselves, and able-bodied men who fall on hard times may indenture themselves for a season to pay debts, learn how to work efficiently and profitability, and get a fresh start.

God’s design works best because healthy individuals know their own skills and needs better than anyone else does, and are also in the best position to satisfy them given the needs and capabilities of those in their community. This positions everyone to work most efficiently and productively to generate value and improve everyone’s lot as a whole, creating a prosperous and sustainable society. Secondarily, it enables us to be charitable toward our neighbors (Ep 4:28), those in our community who we know to be conscientious, to assist them as needed without enabling laziness or irresponsibility. God’s design is best for everyone, yet only works well for a God-fearing people; no society works well for a wicked people.

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Thou Shalt Not Covet

Lust, especially for men, can be an uncomfortable topic. Finding a woman attractive and giving her more than a passing glance is commonly understood to be sin, equivalent to adultery. As men are primarily visually oriented, it’s no surprise that men struggle here; it’s the focus of many an accountability session.

Women, on the other hand, don’t seem to find the topic troublesome at all and seldom discuss it, other than perhaps in confronting men. Evidently, most of us have bought into the lie that it’s primarily a masculine concern.

But what if, as in so many other ways, we’ve made up our own definition of lust, cherry-picking verses out of context to suit ourselves, and overlooking the heart of scripture?

God clearly defines lust in the 10th commandment – Thou shalt not covet (Ro 7:7): we’re forbidden to desire what belongs to another, such that we’d wrongly dispossess them if given opportunity.

This is different than thinking it might be nice to have what our neighbor does. Clearly, if we like our neighbor’s boat and offer him a reasonable sum — this isn’t lust, it’s basic economics: there’s nothing unholy or unloving here.

The definition of lust implies it violates the law of love in some way. (Ro 13:9) So, if a man finds a woman attractive, enjoys her beauty as he would a sunset, and seeks her welfare, where’s the harm? But in entertaining a plan to entice her, knowing she’s married, he’s crossed a forbidden line. (Pr 5:20)

We must define lust in the context of God’s Law (Ro 7:7), not in the context of common sentiment. Changing the definition of sin is harmful on so many levels. Finding a woman attractive is perfectly natural and wholesome, but seeking to use or defile her definitely is: it violates Torah. (Pr 6:29)

And we must not focus simply on sexual desire; the precept relates to any unwholesome appetite: inappropriate diet (De 14:3), worldly attention and praise (Jn 12:43), materialism, the abuse or perversion of most any good thing. (Ep 2:3)

God has created us to enjoy beauty and pleasure, designing us specifically for this, and providing Himself as our ultimate satisfaction. (Ps 16:11) Unto the pure, all things are pure, but unto the defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure, but even their mind and conscience is defiled. (Tit 1:15) Yet some are weak by design, some through a soul wound, some taken by false teaching. Torah enables us to sort out what’s lawful from what’s merely taboo, and Christ offers us the wisdom to know how to build up and encourage others in joyful living for God without becoming overly focused on mechanics. (Ro 14:17)

God has given us richly all things to enjoy (1Ti 6:17), yet it’s better to forego than to encourage others to violate their conscience (1Co 8:12), or to bring a reproach on the name of Christ.

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Add to Your Faith

In drawing us toward Himself, God tells us to add a number of personal traits to our faith, and to do so in a particular sequence, or with a given precedence or priority: first virtue, then knowledge, then temperance, then patience, then godliness, then brotherly kindness, and finally charity. (2Pe 1:5-7)

He says that with this interlocking foundation solidly in place we’ll be successful and productive in our spiritual life (8), but without this entire footprint in our character we’re blind, ignorant of the basics of our salvation. (9)

The implication is that if we’re missing one or more of these building blocks, or get them out of sort in some way, then we have an incomplete, improper foundation: we’re building on sand, and the result won’t play out well. (Mt 7:26-27) Perhaps it’s good to focus on each of these qualities and see how they interrelate to faith and to each other.

Virtue is moral excellence, Christ-like character, a willingness and intent to pursue the highest possible standard. Having virtue in faith keeps us from pride as we add knowledge (1Co 8:1) – not to impress but to enable us in worship (Ps 119:7) and service. (105) Apart from virtue we’re oblivious (Jn 1:5), ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2Ti 3:7) To presume we can rightly comprehend the very first principles of the Kingdom without deep, practical reverence for God is deception. (Pr 1:7) Without virtue firmly in place, adding anything else to our faith is pointless.

Knowledge is critical as a next step; ignorance of God, of ourselves, of our enemy, of the first principles of our faith, it alienates us from the life of God (Ep 4:18), incapacitates us and wastes our virtuous passion and skill on distractions and dead ends. (Ho 6:4) The enemy is quick to exploit our ignorance and capitalize on it to sideline us. (2Co 2:11) Faith and virtue in themselves are insufficient for the journey ahead; we must diligently pursue truth, to understand and apply it, to show ourselves approved of God. (2Ti 2:15)

Temperance keeps us balanced as we walk out our faith. It’s so tempting to become overly obsessed with minutia and lose the big picture in our walk. Even with all confidence, virtue and knowledge, it’s self-control, self-mastery (Pr 25:28), the ability to moderate and adjust our behavior (Php 4:5), to re-focus, re-calibrate, re-align and continually fine tune our motives as we learn and mature, this keeps us out of the ditch. (1Co 9:27)

Patience, cherishing God’s goodness through trial, keeps us from bitterness and equips us with endurance and tenacity, so we’re perfect and entire, lacking nothing for the long journey home. (Ja 1:4)

Godliness, a faithful orientation towards God and His testimonies (Ps 119:24, 31, 36, 59, 99, 111, 129) in this journey orders our steps in holiness such that we’re ever growing more and more into the likeness of Christ along the Way.

Brotherly kindness bears with others (Ga 6:2) in the confines and abrasions of close community with the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2Co 10:1), maintaining the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. (Ep 4:2-3) Without this we may ultimately do more harm than good, causing others to stumble and making their journey much more difficult. (1Co 8:12)

And finally Charity, the unconditional benevolence of God, is the capstone, the greatest of all (1Co 13:13), coloring and accentuating all our activity (1Co 16:14), keeping our motives rightly aligned with God’s heart. Without this, we are nothing. (1Co 13:2-3)

Each of these additions to our faith are the fruit of the Spirit working in us; they compliment faith to complete us in our maturity in Christ. Which piece can we afford to omit or neglect without the whole edifice collapsing? None? Let us then attend to this with all diligence, dig deep, and build on the rock as the Master bids. (Mt 7:24-25)

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God’s Ministers

When should we resist civil authority? Under what conditions is God pleased with civil disobedience? When governments become corrupt (and which government isn’t corrupt at some level?), when should citizens revolt to try to improve their lot?

God says those having authority to enforce civil law are His ministers (Ro 13:4), He has given them a kind of higher, spiritual, moral power to define appropriate behavior in a society and to enforce an extended moral code (1) in addition to God’s Law, and we should support them financially to enable them to do this. (6) Anyone who resists these civil authorities will be justly condemned, as if they were resisting God Himself. (2)

Yet there’s an important distinction between resisting and disobeying: when ungodly authority demands that we violate God’s Law, then we must obey God as well as we can and suffer the consequences (Ac 5:29); yet we can disobey without fighting back (resisting), which is where God draws the line. (Mt 25:6)

For example, King David was anointed to be king of Israel by Samuel, but as long as Saul — also anointed by God as a rightful king — was alive David was not to resist Saul, to fight against or harm him. (1Sa 26:9) David didn’t obey Saul — he evaded and hid — but he also didn’t resist him, even though Saul was an ungodly man.

Further, Christ recognized the authority of the Roman government (Jn 19:11), even though it was ungodly. Neither Christ, nor Paul, nor any of the Apostles ever hinted at taking up arms against civil authority, as bad as it was. God eventually dealt with the empire and used it’s unbridled wickedness to spread the gospel and infallibly prove the Resurrection of His Son.

The Nazi government was exceedingly wicked, normalizing genocide and other horrible atrocities, moving godly Christians to resist (not just disobey), plotting to overthrow Hitler. Yet God also dealt with this nation in His time, and through it’s persecution of His people moved the world to resurrect the nation of Israel and enable millions of His people to re-settle there.

We cannot know how God will judge believers who feel called to resist ungodly authority, and we can certainly sympathize, but it’s evidently not God’s way for us; He tells us to pray for our leaders that we may live in honest, peaceable quietness and godliness. (1Ti 2:2)

God tells us to submit to civil authority for God’s sake (1Pe 2:13-14), and makes no qualifications as to how fully the government is aligned with His Way.

During periods of revolution and political chaos, when military coups or stolen elections are in play, it may not be clear what constitutes proper civil authority, or when it’s reasonable to defend ourselves from those claiming to be in control, especially if they intend to harm us.

God help us, as He sends us forth as sheep among wolves, to be wise as serpents, harmless as doves (Mt 10:16), and strong in the faith. As hopeless as it may seem at times, God is in control of all things, and has a glorious purpose in all He allows. (1Pe 1:7)

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