Friday, April 8, 2016

Two ways

Last Friday on my way to a women's retreat I drove through a small town and passed two young men standing on a street corner, each man holding a placard with a Bible verse written across. I don't recall the exact Scripture references but one sign referenced the sure destiny awaiting the wicked, the other the righteous.

Two placards, two ways, two destinies. This sort of polarity is throughout the Bible. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus warns of two gates:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Later in that same chapter Jesus tells the parable of the two houses:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matt. 7:24-27)
In John 15:4-6, we see the contrast of the two kinds of branches:

Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear bruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine you are the branches. Who ever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gather, thrown in the fire, and burned.
This same polarity is evident in the Old Testament as well. Psalm 1, for instance, contrasts the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. After describing the blessedness of the man who delights in the law of the Lord and who meditates on it day and night, the psalmist compares the righteous to a tree planted by streams of water and the wicked to chaff blowing in the wind. Finally, he concludes,
the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Ps. 1:6)
Two ways to live, two destinies. Like the signs the two young men were holding on the street corner, there is the way of the righteous and there is the way of the wicked. There is no middle road. There are true disciples and untrue disciples. There is the true vine and there are fruitless branches, the wide gate and the narrow gate. The house on the sand and the house on the rock. The tree and the chaff.

Which are you? Which am I?

If I'm honest, I have to admit I like this sort of dichotomy when we speak of others. But when it comes to me and my own self-examination and I am forced to think soberly about whether or not I abide in Christ and bear fruit vine like the vine of John 15 or if I delight in the Word of God and meditate on it day and night as does the righteous of Psalm 1, I have to confess that sometimes I do, maybe, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I do just as Psalm 1 warns: I walk in the way of the wicked and maybe I even sit in the seat of scoffers.

What then? How do I reconcile my compromise with the demands of true discipleship?

The answer is, always, Jesus. He is all my righteousness. He completely and perfectly fulfilled all obligations of life and godliness and He bore the wrath of God for sin in my place. Because He died and rose again, He took my sin and I get His righteousness. The true blessedness (Ps. 1:1) that marks the true believer is this unmerited favor, the amazing grace, of God. There is therefore no condemnation for those of us in Christ Jesus!

So to abide, then, as a true disciple doesn't mean I follow Him perfectly but rather faithfully. It means I persevere and in my perseverance I fail but I confess and I repent and I seek and I follow, again and again and again and again, in the strength and sufficiency of the Spirit. This is the way of the righteous and it ends with glory.

The warnings to the wicked are real and true. If you do not know Christ, please, heed them. Turn to the Lord, acknowledging your sin and your rebellion against Him, believe His promise to save you and forgive you and give you life in Him, and you will be saved. You will be righteous and the sure hope of glory with Him is yours forever.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

When Christians Disagree

Growing up, I was very compliant for the most part. I did not make waves, and I did not ask questions, unlike Question Quigley. It may have been part of my ethnic culture or just my personality, but I never doubted what I was taught, whether it was in the classroom or from the pulpit. It also made life easier. In school, I was a model student who dutifully regurgitated the material for the sake of the grade. (Whether that was really learning is another matter.) In the church, I was a model sheep who went along with the rest of the herd, so there were no awkward conversations over doctrinal disagreements.

But the time came when I had to ask some hard questions. Circumstances forced me to examine what I believed and why I believed it, and my belief system was found wanting. This resulted in a shift from my previous theological position, and for the first time in my life, I found myself at odds with other believers.

This was extremely uncomfortable. I was so used to accepting pretty much everything from any authority figure in my life that it almost felt like treason to disagree with people who I had looked to as spiritual mentors. But like Martin Luther, my conscience was bound by the Word of God, so several awkward and difficult conversations followed. Some of my friends were glad I had not abandoned the faith and was part of a local church even with the differences in doctrine. But for others, the disagreements were deal-breakers. Fellowship was broken, and this hurt.

This led me to wonder, is it possible to disagree and still be in fellowship?

Well, I learned this is possible through the church I began attending. One of the first Sunday school topics was eschatology. I was only familiar with one view come to find out there were four?! And each view was represented in this little church?! How could this be? The teacher was upfront about his personal conviction, but his goal was not to sway us to his side. He took great pains to use primary sources and let each position speak for itself. We were encouraged to examine the views in the light of Scripture, but our teacher would not tell us what to believe, which was a huge eyeopener for me. There was spirited discussion between the opposing views, but when class was over, we were still one, just not necessarily in our eschatology. Even a few weeks ago, after a lively debate about the meaning of a verse in 1 Peter 3, our Sunday school teacher mentioned that we were going to celebrate the Lord's supper in the service to follow. He encouraged us to remember that our unity isn't based on the translation of a particular Greek word, but in the Gospel and what Christ has done on our behalf.

I need to take the example of these brothers to heart. They encouraged give-and-take and acknowledged differences in interpretation, but they did not lose sight of the source of our oneness. I am more than likely to jump into the fray, make waves, and ask questions than in former days. There are doctrines and issues that I hold dear, so it is tempting to look for oneness in agreement on these specifics. But I need to remember that unity with fellow believers flows first and foremost from our union with Christ. A day is coming when all will be made clear, and there will be no disagreements. But until then and even amidst the healthy process of iron sharpening iron, I want to hold fast to the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity. - Rupertus Meldenius
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Eph. 4:1-5

Update: For further reading - Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us by Roger Nicole

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Bathsheba’s Legacy- the Woman Behind Proverbs 31

When we think of David’s sin with Bathsheba we  usually consider the events surrounding the incident  (2 Samuel 11:1-26), the horrible consequences (2 Sam. 12:10-15),   David’s agonizing repentance (Psalm 51),  and  maybe the subject of  babies going to Heaven (2 Sam. 12:23).     But we seldom ponder the valuable lessons to be gleaned from the life of Bathsheba herself.
Bathsheba, meaning “daughter of the oath”, was a beautiful and reputable woman from a prominent patriotic family.     Her father, grandfather, and husband were  part of David’s  mighty men  “who gave him strong support in his kingdom,  together with all Israel,  to make him king.”  (I Chron. 11:10).   Her grandfather Ahitophel was one of David’s advisors at the time.    Uriah, her husband, was a Hittite whose Hebrew name meant  “The Lord is my light”,  and  Nathan’s prophetic parable reveals  that they had  enjoyed a blessed and monogamous marriage  prior to these tragic events  (2 Sam. 12:3).   We also know that Bathsheba followed the Hebrew cleansing ceremonies  (2 Sam. 11:4) and that she mourned her husband’s death (2 Sam. 11:26) .

To recap the story, it happened in the springtime when David’s men were off to war,  but for reasons  unknown David stayed home.   Arising from his couch, David walked out onto his roof  overlooking Jerusalem and his eyes landed on Bathsheba bathing.    The  Bible doesn’t say whether she was bathing inside with an open window or door,  or if she was outside.    And so David inquired and sent for her,  lay with her,  and she became pregnant.   The only recorded words of Bathsheba during this whole period were, “I am pregnant”  (2 Sam. 11:5).    To cover his sin, David arranged to have Uriah sent to the frontline of battle where he was killed.

Speculations abound about both David and Bathsheba that are not clearly backed in Scripture.   Some blame Bathsheba for deliberate enticement and collusion in her husband’s death, while others have accused David of coercion, and even rape.   
Bathsheba’s indiscretion in bathing  where she could be seen is no proof that she had ulterior motives.   It is equally presumptuous to say that David  took her by coercion or force.    Rape was a heinous crime in Israel punishable by death   (Dt. 22:25-26) and when this was committed against Jacob’s daughter Dinah  (Gen. 34) and David’s daughter Tamar (2 Sam. 13:12-13), it was plainly stated.    But when Nathan confronted David he leveled no such charge.     
Others have suggested that Bathsheba was pressured into this relationship by David’s powerful position and by cultural views regarding women. Given our modern sensitivities concerning women’s rights, I think we need to be careful not to read more into this account than is actually there.
In the expression “he took her, and she came to him,” there is no intimation whatever that David brought Bathsheba into his palace through craft or violence,  but rather that she came at his request without any hesitation, and offered no resistance to his desires. Consequently Bathsheba is not to be regarded as free from blame.” 1.
Though David bore the responsibility, it appears the adulterous relationship was entirely consensual. 

Nathan’s prophecy included the death of their baby, family scandal, and national insurrection, which drove David to repentance.   But God’s  mercy soon followed.
  “David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him.”   2 Sam. 12:24 
 “Bath-sheba, no doubt, was greatly afflicted with the sense of her sin and the tokens of God's displeasure.  But, God having restored to David the joys of his salvation,  he comforted her with the same comforts with which he himself was comforted of God.  ...[God] gave them a son… They called him Solomon - peaceful, because his birth was a token of God's being at peace with them” 2
Bypassing his other sons, David promised Bathsheba,
“’Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,' even so will I do this day.”  Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground and paid homage to the king and said, “May my lord King David live forever!”   (I Kings 1:30) 

Most Jewish and Christian scholars agree that King Lemuel, the author of Proverbs 31, was  Solomon.

“The words of King Lemuel.  An oracle that his mother taught him”
The chapter tells of Bathsheba’s teachings as a mother but also as the wife of a king.   There’s so much more here than just providing a list of suggestions for “how to be a good wife”.   

The chapter begins by saying the King was “taught” these oracles by his mother.  The Hebrew word  for “taught” isn’t as genteel as it sounds in English,  but means “to discipline, chasten, admonish”.    So we can sense Bathsheba’s emotion when she gets up in her son’s business:
     "WHAT are you doing, my son?” x 3! 

She begins by giving him some royal advice.
The Wise King - vs. 3-9
  1. Don’t give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings”.  Perhaps Bathsheba had already witnessed her son’s proclivity for choosing the wrong kind of women (I Kings 11:1-2)   
  2. Watch out for the booze—it will make a King do stupid things.
  3. Advocate for the defenseless and downtrodden.   
The Excellent Wife - vs. 10-31
The remaining verses describe godly traits of an outstanding wife and the rewards she and her family will reap.   In light of Bathsheba's background, these three stood out. 
  • Vs.11. “The heart of her husband trusts in her…she does him good and not harm all the days of her life”.    This statement was packed with painful personal experience.  What regrets Bathsheba must have had!   In a moment of foolishness she betrayed her godly husband leading to his demise and ending a beautiful monogamous marriage.  
  • Vs. 30. “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain”.  Living in a polygamous household with concubines,  Bathsheba certainly knew a thing or two about beauty and vanity—not to mention it was her own beauty that had tempted the king.
  • Vs. 31. “But the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised”.   Who would understand the redeeming power contained in these words  any better than Bathsheba!   Solomon also wrote, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight”  (Proverbs 9:10),  and I’ll bet  he learned that from his mother too.
The sorrowful lessons Bathsheba learned through a time of rebellion helped train this extraordinary son God had given her.   It is written that Solomon’s “wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.” I Kings 4:30.    
Bathsheba’s life beautifully illustrates how God’s abundant mercy is greater than our worst failings.   Whom the Lord loves He chastens, but He does not stop there.  The rod produces in us the peaceful fruit of righteousness and blessings  we would never have imagined.    Because of Christ we have been pardoned, our shame has been removed, and He has guaranteed “a hope laid up for us in Heaven”.
1. Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament;  Vol.2; pg. 383,  Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1985
2. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible;  2 Samuel 12
Painting:  Bathsheba makes an appeal to David by Govert Flinck 1615 – 1660

Friday, April 1, 2016

Test Yourself : Justification

Here's a short multiple choice quiz on the doctrine of justification that I put together a few years ago. 
For each question, choose the one option that is most correct. The correct answers correspond with the historic reformed protestant position. There's a link to the answer key at the end.
1. Justification is
  • a. an act of God’s grace.
  • b. a legal or judicial act of God.
  • c. a progressive work of the Spirit.
  • da and b.
  • e. all of the above.
2. Justification includes
  • a. the forgiveness of our sin. 
  • b. the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us.
  • c. the declaration that we are righteous in God’s sight.
  • da and c.
  • e. all of the above.
3. Justification changes
  • a. our moral condition
  • b. our natures. 
  • c. our legal status.
  • db and c above.
  • e. none of the above.
4. The grounds for our justification is/are
  • a. The good works produced by the Spirit within us.
  • b. Our faith.
  • c. Christ’s righteous life and obedient death.
  • db and c
  • e. all of the above.
5. We are justified when we
  • a. believe.
  • b. are baptised.
  • c. produce a certain level of good works. 
  • d. a and b.
  • e. none of the above.
6. Which of the statements below describe faith’s role in our justification?
  • a. It produces the good works that are the basis for our justification.
  • b. It receives Christ’s full satisfaction of the penalty for our sin and his perfect fulfillment of God’s law on our behalf.
  • c. It is accepted by God as a form of righteousness upon which we can be justified.
  • da and c.
  • e. none of the above.