Bible

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The “Works” debate

Published May 24, 2017 by thinkinbout

Hi all, lately I have been learning EXPONENTIALLY more than I ever dreamed about the Bible. I am doing this by listening to podcasts on iTunes (Cornerstone Sermons, Leading the Way Radio, The Bible Answer Man Broadcast) and reading books such as How to Read the Bible for all It’s Worth, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, and any and all books and articles from the website reasons.org.  I am going to start a series of blog posts about what I’ve learned that have changed my mind about certain things that I was either taught or thought were correct that I’ve learned aren’t. You’ll see what I mean when I write the entries, but tonight I wanted to give some clarity to the “works” debate.

As a Protestant, I have always been taught that we do not work FOR salvation but FROM salvation.  Good works are an important part of a Christian’s life to bring glory to God and, obviously, to help people, as Christ taught in Matthew 25:35-45. It wasn’t really a “teaching” exactly, or a command, it’s more of an expectation. I cannot speak to the Catholic point of view, but I have the impression that “good works” help in salvation. If I am wrong, please do let me know!

The book of James seems to be a point of confusion, since it seems to say that works have a part in salvation, although elsewhere in the Bible it is clear they don’t (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16). However, James 2:14-26 states:

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but dose not have works?       Can his faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food,           and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you don’t give       them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have           works, is dead by itself.  But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show     me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. You believe           that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe-and they shudder.  Foolish man!     Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless?  Wasn’t Abraham our               father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  You see that faith     was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected.  So the                     Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for     righteousness, and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a man is justified by works     and not by faith alone.  And in the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified     by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by a different route?         For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

Now here comes the part where it’s is imperative that we read this and the entire Bible in context. I have blogged about understand context and history before with my entries on:

“Should Christian women avoid wearing jewelry or braids?” (blog 8 of Lent)

“Tattoos” (blog 5 of Lent)

Why sacrificing a child wasn’t odd in Old Testament times (blog 3 of Lent)

Why Paul “prohibited” women from speaking in church (“This is why understanding the context, history, and language of the Bible is important”)

And thankfully my Bible explains what we may not understand regarding this issue. (I use The Apologetics Study Bible, if you’re interested) The foot note in James says this: “Many skeptics argue that a contradiction exists between Paul’s statement that ‘a man is justified by faith apart from works’ (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16) and the teaching of James that ‘a man is justified by works and not by faith alone’ (James 2:24). However, these positions actually complement each other.

First, Paul and James addressed different situations. On the one hand, Paul refuted a Jewish legalism holding that one must observe the [Jewish] Law’s requirements in order to be saved. On the other hand, James opposed an antinomianism that was twisting faith in Christ so much that no expression of works was necessary.

Second, when Paul used the word ‘justified,’ he meant ‘saved’ or ‘declared righteous,’ whereas James meant ‘vindicated’ or ‘authenticated.’ By “works,’ Paul meant ‘works of the Law,’ whereas James meant works that faith produces.

In light of the above, Paul was saying that one is declared righteous by God apart from the works of the Law. James, by contrast, was saying that a person’s faith produces works that vindicate his faith in Christ as genuine. James used Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac and Rahab’s protection of the spies as examples to show that their works authenticated the reality of their faith in God. For James, faith without works was clearly worthless; it must be more than words. Authentic faith will bear the fruit of good works.

Blog three of Lent, and Why you need to understand the culture of the day to understand the Bible.

Published February 14, 2016 by thinkinbout

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Ever hear of a “Sunday Christian”? That’s what today’s reading in Jeremiah reminded me of. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means someone who attends church on Sunday but does not live a Christian life, or someone who doesn’t adhere to the faith, the rest of the week. I could rightfully be called the worst of the bunch.

Jeremiah 7:9-11 asks the following questions (CSB): “Do you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known? Then do you come and stand before Me in this house called by My name and insist: We are safe? As a result, you are free to continue doing all the detestable acts! Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your view? Yes, I too have seen it.”

Regardless of whether or not you murder or burn incense to idols, the point is, every time you (I) break one of the 10 Commandments or any of God’s law, we are acting like these ancient Judeans.  This is particularly true when it’s an habitual problem, a lifestyle. The verses above describe everyday living for non-believers,  but this is not to be- must not be– the lifestyle of a Christian. We are called to live a different lifestyle than the world. Does “being in the world, not of the world” ring a bell?

I also wanted to address some later verses from chapter 7 that can be applied to Genesis 22, where Abraham is told to sacrifice his son Isaac on an alter for God. First,  Jeremiah 7:31: “They (Judeans) have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Hinnom in order to burn their sons and daughters in the fire, a thing I did not command; I never entertained the thought.”

Now, Genesis 22:2: “‘Take your son,’ He (God) said, ‘your only son, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.'”

First, this is shocking. Maybe not to people who grew up in the church, because it’s a familiar story, and we’re taught it was to test Abraham’s love for God. Ok, yeah, but that doesn’t make it any less shocking to someone hearing this for the first time.

Second, Abraham obeys, but he also tells his son that “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering…” (v. 8). While God commands Isaac as a sacrifice, Abraham tells his son that God will provide a lamb-as if he had enough faith in his God to provide an animal instead of his actual son as the sacrifice. Sacrifices in ancient times were a sign of a deeper relationship with God, not just a sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake. It was a precursor to Christ’s all-atoning sacrifice later on.

Third, while this is shocking to a modern person’s ears, if you read the Old Testament, all throughout, God speaks of His utter horror at people killing their children as sacrifices for false gods (demons, really). Reading through the OT, you may wonder at the amount of prohibitions on child sacrifice, and the amount of times God says He loathes it. Child sacrifice, and adult sacrifice too, is found in many cultures of the ancient world: the middle east, the America’s, ancient Europe…and God detests it. What a horror. But to an ancient, child sacrifice would not have been out of the ordinary. So God commanding that Abraham sacrifice his child would not have been shocking to him. Remember, Abraham was called out from a pagan culture to be God’s own, so human sacrifice would not have been out of the ordinary for him. But Abraham trusted God to provide an alternative sacrifice since Isaac was his promised son.

And He did.

 

 

 

Blog two of Lent

Published February 13, 2016 by thinkinbout

12696965_942685445827617_5707193932045678603_oOk, so  missed yesterday. Uff da. Well, I’ll be blogging most days of Lent, how ’bout that.

Let me start off by apologizing: this blog entry will likely be short and straightforward. I had a very long day and I’m exhausted, so there will probably be no great insight or anything like that.

Today I read Jeremiah 5. It is all about Jerusalem’s depravity and coming judgement. Though written thousands of years ago, what the chapter describes sounds like any city in any nation today. It’s amazing how things stay the same generation after generation. Sad, really. But I will focus most on the last part of the chapter, verses 26-31(CSB): “…for wicked men live among My people. They watch like fowlers lying in wait. They set a trap; they catch men. Like a cage full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit. Therefore they have grown powerful and rich.

They have become fat and sleek. They have also excelled in evil matters. They have not taken up cases, such as the case of orphans, so they might prosper, and they have not defended the rights of the needy. Should I not punish them for these things? This is the LORD’s declaration. Should I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?

A horrible, terrible thing has taken place in the land. The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own authority. My people love it like this…”

Um…doesn’t this sound like today’s world?? People lie in wait for others to set a trap; houses the world over are full of deceit to grow powerful and rich, fat and sleek; too  many people excel in matters of evil; folks wanna make a buck so they ignore the needy/widows/orphans, and on and on. Seems we haven’t learned from our ancient forebears. Or else we just don’t care. I think it’s both. Both are scary. Wake up, world, before judgement befalls you! Repent while there is still time. Thank God He has made a way, and gives us as much time as He has already.

We have our warning. Now it’s time to take action.

Blog 1 for Lent-Ash Wednesday

Published February 10, 2016 by thinkinbout

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I have a daunting goal: I want to blog each day between Ash Wednesday through Easter about spiritual things. Of course, having an 11 month old at home may render this impossible, but I’m still going to try.

I, at least right now, think I will mainly be blogging about my thoughts and reflections on what I’m reading in Scripture. That happens to be the book of Jeremiah…not very Easter-y or Lent-y, or Ash Wednesday-y, but hey, it’s where I’m at.

Today I read chapter three of Jeremiah, and a portion of the chapter deals with “true repentance.”  3:19-22 says, “I thought: How I long to make you My sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of all the nations. I thought: You will call Me, my Father, and never turn away from Me. However, as a woman may betray her lover, so you have betrayed Me, house of Israel. This is the LORD’s declaration. A sound is heard on the barren heights, the children of Israel weeping and begging for mercy, for they have perverted their way; they have forgotten the LORD their God. Return, you faithless children. I will heal your unfaithfulness. ‘Here we are, coming to You, for You are the LORD our God…’

And, verse 25: “Let us lie down in our shame; let our disgrace cover us. We have sinned against the LORD our God, both we and our fathers, from the time of our youth even to this day. We have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.”

Can you not feel the emotion in God’s voice?? He wants to give His children good gifts, but they (we) constantly turn away. He, as the text says, longs, for us!! Have you ever felt that longing for someone?  Of course. Can you imagine God feeling that way for YOU and then turning away from Him?  Yes, I bet you can. Can you imagine longing for someone only to have them reject you? Isn’t it the absolute worst feeling in the world? That’s what we do to God all the time. Thankfully there is that one line that in verse 22 that promises if we return to Him He will heal us.

Contrary to what I have heard time and time again, Christians don’t believe that if you simply say you’re “sorry” about some sin or other, we can be sure that God will forgive us, and we can go on our merry way. That holds true ONLY if it is done with a contrite spirit, true repentance. Attrition is what most non-Christians seem to think we believe. They think we believe that a couple Hail Mary’s here, a simple, Oh, sorry I cheated on that test, there, will suffice. NO WAY. That is not true repentance, a sorrowful, deep, deep “sorry-ness” for your sin. Recognizing sin is the first step. One must understand that sin is a turning away from a perfect, holy, and just God to do what is deliberately contrary to His Word. And He only accepts a turning away from sin, a profound desire to leave it behind, as true repentance. Verse 25 describes true repentance succinctly.

So, in a way, this actually does tie in nicely with Ash Wednesday. In the days of the Bible, people would show their sorrow and repentance by putting ashes on their heads. Think Job or King David. It was a sign of deep, deep sorrow, but also of a truly repentant heart. That’s the sign we convey when we have ashes placed on our foreheads this holy day.

 

Healing in our Land

Published November 2, 2015 by thinkinbout

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So, if you haven’t noticed, the world has gone crazy. I mean, I really feel like it’s on the verge of collapse or implosion.  I don’t even want to rehash it, it’s so depressing and terrifying.  Suffice it to say, this must be the bloodiest era since time began.

And that got me thinking.  Everyone seems to have their own agenda, their own self-righteous opinions, their own seething hatred and intolerance for others who do not feel or think the same way. Everyone vies for their voice to be heard while not reciprocating to those whose opinions differ.  Even praying is cause for job dismissal. (Obviously, that only applies to certain religions while not to others)

Beyond that, immorality is rampant.  There always seem so be a new headline about child porn. The most recent story about Jared Fogle, who has children of his own, is disturbing. As a new mom, this is very alarming.  Other abuse, whether physical, verbal, even bullying, are also regular headlines in the news.

Daily, there are stories of muggings, maimings, murders, just for the thrill of it.  It’s like I can’t even walk down the street anymore without the possibility of someone out to attack me for fun.  And I certainly can’t go to school, church, the movies, the mall, a restaurant, etc., without possibly getting shot by a suicidal maniac who wants to take as many people with him as possible.

Sometimes I cry for the world.

Things aren’t getting better. In fact, they won’t unless there is a healing in our land.  People hold on to resentments and bitterness far longer than they should; they don’t understand the power of forgiveness to heal them.  Of course, many don’t want healing, they revel in their victimhood and want everyone to know it.  And if you have a different opinion you’ll be shut up by being called a racist, a bigot, or threatened.  Truth is the new hate speech, y’all.

I’m reminded of 2 Chronicles 7:14 which says (the verse begins in the middle of a sentence), “[if] My people who are called by My Name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” Humbling oneself (opposite of pride!!) is not easy, but isn’t it worth it to heal our land? Isn’t it worth it to seek out God and turn from evil?