Sunday, October 31, 2010

Words Called Out

God's plans, the ones he's revealed in Scripture, are not fodder for Bible Trivia or the Bible category on Jeopardy. His plans are more like words called out over a strong wind, words you've shruggingly neglected until your house starts to break up and blow away; then you realize that the syllables you've heard have been the plan to survive this wind, which has turned out to be a deadly tornado, after all. His plan suddenly is understood to be the most important message in the world to pay attention to.

"Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will" (Hebrews 2:1-4).

This plan, it turns out, is everything.

Illustration copyright © 2009 by Michael Wimmer. The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come (Crossway 2009), p. 129.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Scary Story--Stalked By A Corpse

What if you found out that a corpse is stalking you? I mean a real corpse... a bone-a-fide (pun intended), verified dead person; and not just any old dead person, but one who was, when alive, a vile, immoral, impure, evil and covetousness person. A corpse who has no love for you or anyone else and in fact would just as soon see you dead, too. A stinking, rotting, decayed mass of sinful pride, jealousy, false love, disobedience and gossipy envy. I have news for you: there may be such a being stalking you right now. The Bible tells all about it, and even identifies it. It's your old self.

If you have been born from above, made alive in Christ by God's gracious gift of salvation, then you've definitely experienced the dilemma of being stalked by the "corpse" of your old self. "We know that our old self was crucified with him..." (Romans 6:6a). The old self of the believer, nailed to the Cross of Christ, is indeed dead as dead as can be. The old self was killed "in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin" (Romans 6:6b). That means that we have been legally freed from the old self's control. The problem is that this sinful old self refuses to admit he's dead! He's like the battlefield enemy who heard that the war is over and that his side lost, but is bitterly determined to fight on to the very end, taking down any enemy he can. And you're the enemy. Though defeated, the old self still stalks you, trying to entice you back into the old life of sin and misery.

And if you don't understand that the new you--the you who was raised to new life in Christ--has been freed by the Cross from obligation to him (Romans 8:12-13), then the old self has won a temporary victory! That stinking, rotting body of death will draw you in at every opportunity, luring you into all manner of earthly deeds--jealousy, covetousness, gossip, strife, and a host of others. That oozing corpse will try to attach itself around your affections and tempt you to neglect God and his word, to avoid prayer, and to isolate yourself from the body of Christ. Your old self--that grinning, hideous corpse of death--can be very persuasive.

What to do? Why, as John Owen said, you must "be killing sin or it will kill you." Though the old self is legally dead we find must keep killing it, as it were (Ephesians 4:22, Romans 13:14). Though that law of sin was decisively dealt with on the Cross, God has ordained that these vicious, intensive skirmishes will continue until the day we die or the Lord returns. But learning to glory in the truths of Romans 6:6 and Romans 8:12-13 encourages us to reckon ourselves "dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11). Knowing these truths gives us the strength to overcome this "law of sin... this body of death" (Romans 7:23, 24)-- to deal with by faith with this un-alive corpse that rises up to wreck our Christian walk. The gospel, the good news of what Christ accomplished on the Cross, is the truth that enables us to fight the good fight of faith. God is for us in this fight.

Being stalked by a rotten, defeated corpse isn't really the scary thing. The really scary thing would be not to know or care what the Scriptures say about these things! The most scary thing of all would be to refuse to do this: "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming" (Colossians 3:5-6).

Don't be scared of a corpse this Halloween. Learn to fear the Lord!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Lord Will Give You Understanding

In 2 Timothy 2:1-6 Paul, nearing the end of his life, gives Timothy three illustrations that will help him in faithfully living out his charge. The three brief illustrations involve a soldier, an athlete, and a hard-working farmer. Paul tells Timothy, "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything."

"Think Over What I Say"

We must think over many things the Scriptures say. In our time and culture, we want to "get it" immediately, or at least fairly quickly. We have short attention spans, and have lost our taste and tolerance for riddles. But in the opening verses of Proverbs, which introduce the book's goals and purpose, the writer exhorts, "Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles" (Proverbs 1:5-6). Proverbs is a great collection of sayings and riddles designed to give greater wisdom to the wise.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul imparted wisdom to his young son in the faith in a form that Timothy, "trained in the words of the faith" and having been brought up from childhood "acquainted with the sacred writings" (i.e. the Old Testament, including Proverbs) would be very familiar with--a riddle. In keeping with Proverbs 1:5, Paul's riddle (or proverb, or saying) is for the purpose of Timothy's obtaining understanding. God wanted Timothy to use his mind and his sanctified reasoning, and so be helped.

"The Lord Will Give You Understanding"

This is a thrilling and hopeful promise. Like Timothy, we're called to prayerfully think and ponder on the words of Scripture, knowing God is able to give us understanding of what the writer meant (that is to say, what the Holy Spirit meant, and means for us to understand). The ESV Study notes on this text say that "Paul exhorts Timothy to make the effort to think and meditate on what Paul has written; as he does so, God will give him understanding in everything about which Paul has instructed him. The believer's efforts and God's empowering work together" (italics mine).

The whole Bible is certainly not written as a riddle. A riddle (or a proverb or a saying), as mentioned above, is a literary device, and where such things are used in Scripture is obvious. But there are plenty of passages in the Bible that require this kind of "thinking over."

In a blog article (recommended) entitled "When the Bible Gets Too Hard" the author quotes John Piper and Philip Jensen:

If you only read things [in the Bible] after which you said “duh!” you'd stop reading in a hurry, because you already know and feel the way you should. But if you start bumping into things that are weird or strange, then you'd better live there. You'd better camp there until your brain and your heart get shaped by the strange things.1

I love puzzling over difficult parts of the Bible. I love it, for the difficulty is in my head, not on the page, and puzzling over these difficulties gives me an opportunity to change the way I think.2

May we learn more and more to think over what the Bible says, asking and trusting that the Lord will, in his time, give us understanding.

1 From the audio version of John Piper's sermon Thinking and feeling with God: A broken and contrite heart God will not despise.

2 Phillip Jensen's ‘Problems With the Text’ from So Long And Thanks For All the Fellowship.