WELCOME to the Baldwin Hall Bible study blog! This is the place to review and go in-depth on topics already covered. Feel free to ask questions and leave comments!

Asian Dining

Where: Arirang

When: Sunday, December 14 ~noon

Cost: $8-13 depending on dish selection

Why: In order to help you become refreshed and ready for finals. Word of God + amazing Asian food + fellowship = awesomeness

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Christmas – family, love, peace, snow, presents. Isn’t Christmas such a joyful time? Isn’t this a time to be cheery, happy, and loving? Let’s be honest, some of us are not feeling all that joyful – rather, a heaviness of heart and despair are looming. Despite all the warm feelings often associated with Christmas, some of us are trying to nurse wounds that extend deep into our hearts. What are we to do in such circumstances? Should we put on a happy face and cover the grief inside in order to please those around us, or do we mope about in gloom and sorrow?

This dichotomy of joy and sorrow is an ever-present reality for Christians who will be honest with themselves. Do not be discouraged by this apparent paradox of affections. The Christian himself is paradoxical in that though he is fallen, he is eternally saved by grace. Though born a son of wrath and disobedience, he is adopted as a fellow heir with Christ, clothed in His righteousness. It is not out-of-the-ordinary for the Christian’s affections to be both joyful and sorrowful.

C.H. Spurgeon likened this seeming contradiction to the ocean. In a volume of water, it is possible to have furious surface currents flowing in one direction while forceful, steady deep-water currents flow in the opposite direction. So is the Christian: the dark, dangerous waves of despair crash at the surface while the steady, powerful under-current of joy carries in the opposite direction.

This intermingling of joy and sorrow is seen explicitly in Peter’s first epistle:

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.”
1 Peter 1:6

The original word for distressed is λυπέω which means to make sorrowful; affect with sadness. This is what the verse is addressing. Yes, there is a necessity (a reason for) “various trials;” however, this verse is not dealing with that. Rather, it is dealing with the necessity of λυπέω, the sorrow and sadness involved in the trials.

Have you thought about this before? We seem to be quite good at rationalizing our troubles into submission, but have you wondered if there is a purpose, a reason for the grief itself? Why is it that we must endure such terrible sadness? Is it some twisted, cruel joke?

Man is not that important. This, however, is not reflected in much of our daily thoughts, actions, deeds, or words. When we get a high view of ourselves, we tend to think we are not deserving of hardship or trial. We become bloated with pride and reliant on ourselves rather than God. Grief is sometimes used as a means to empty us of ourselves, a way to strip us of our pride. Spurgeon said it like this:

“Lest we should be satisfied from ourselves, and forget that all our own springs must be in him, the Lord sometimes seems to sap the springs of life, to drain the heart of all its spirits, and to leave us without soul or strength for mirth, so that the noise of tabret [tambourine] and of viol [stringed instrument] would be unto us as but the funeral dirge, without joy or gladness. Then it is that we discover what we are made of, and out of the depths we cry unto God, humbled by our adversities.”
C. H. Spurgeon

We need to unlearn this idea of the supremacy of man and his supposed self-sufficiency, and learn the supremacy of Christ above all things. John the Baptist gave us quite the example when he said “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). We must see ourselves as less significant, and Jesus and increasingly precious and valuable.

One other plausible reason for heaviness of heart is to teach us to better love others. Pain and misery are common in our world. How are we to truly connect with these people if we have not endured such things ourselves? “There are none so tender as those who have been skinned themselves. Those who have been in the chamber of affliction know how to comfort those who are there” (Spurgeon). If we are to become encouragers, we must know what affliction is like.

If these are reasons for the experience of grief, what reason have we to rejoice? What reasons indeed! First, we must realize that we are the elect, the chosen of God! Not only did He know us before we were born, but He poured out His gracious and merciful love on us before the foundation of the world! Isaiah 46:4 delivers a promise the God’s elect:

“And even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you."
Isaiah 46:4

Oh, child of God, know that your Father is never changing. His love for you is unfailing and unfading. He has promised to carry you throughout your life. He will lift you up and take your burdens upon Himself. He has made you, He will lift you up, He will carry you and carry your burdens, and He will deliver you! Know that this life is not about you and your performance, but about Him accomplishing His purposes in your life (46:10).

Why else should we rejoice? We are saved! According to 1 Peter 1:2, God’s elect are justified by the blood of Christ and are sanctified by the Holy Spirit. What a comforting thought to know that no matter the despair you find yourself in, if you are a child of the King, you are forever justified before God. The shame of your sins is wiped away and you are clothed in the righteousness of Christ! Rejoice! Not only are His children justified, but they are changed (sanctified). They are made increasingly holy, increasingly like Christ. Do not be dismayed, grief is part of our existence. Even Christ experienced it! In the garden of Gethsemane, He was so tormented, He began to sweat blood.

Is there anything else that we might rejoice in? Yes! Peter proclaims in verse 4 that God’s children have an “inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away” that awaits them in heaven. No matter the suffering you endure now, know that it is but momentary, light affliction in comparison to the weight of glory you will experience in heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17). Be assured that awaiting you in heaven is an “inheritance incorruptible” (Spurgeon).

Finally, know that if you belong to God you are, “protected by the power of God through faith…” (1 Peter 1:5). You are kept by the hand of the sovereign God of the universe! Who could possibly snatch you away from Him? Who could rip you from His omnipotent hand? Those who are truly His, and truly His forever! No matter how desperate your situation, know that God Almighty has you in His loving, gracious, and merciful hands.

Sorrow is a very real affection in the lives of Christians. It has a purpose. It causes us to run to God and brings us to our knees in humility. Grief also gives us a ministry to those who are also hurting. It allows us to be sympathetic and love others to an extent not otherwise possible. But in the midst of grief, take heart that you can, and must, rejoice. It is not a mere empty intellectualization of your circumstances, but it is a true affection of the soul. Rejoice in God because He chose you before the foundation of the world, and not based on your merit (as we have none), but out of His sovereign grace. Rejoice because you are justified by Jesus’ death and are sanctified by the Spirit. Rejoice because you have an eternal, unfading inheritance awaiting you in heaven. Rejoice, child of God, because your Father keeps you. No person, thing, or circumstance can ever pluck you from His hand. You will never be separated from His love.

All of this must be said with a word of warning. All of this applies only to those who have received Jesus Christ. Hope is only found in Him; apart from Christ there is only infinite, eternal despair. The afflictions and sufferings of this life are only but a taste of the torment that is awaiting those who reject Christ. But for those who have fallen on their faces before Him, for those who have faith in the Son of God, there is reason to rejoice in the midst of grief.

Monday, December 8, 2008


[I apologize for the tardiness of this post. We discussed this December 2, 2008]

“My soul followeth hard after Thee, Thy right hand upholdeth me.”
Psalm 63:8

Often times Scripture uses the word “walk” to describe our relationship with the Lord. This word merely means to “live;” it by no means intends to convey the message that “living” with Jesus Christ is a stroll in the park. On the contrary, it is described here as following hard after God. This then begs the question, what does it mean to follow hard after God?

The original text for “followeth hard” is דבק (dabaq) which means to “pursue with the intent to catch.” The imagery used here is far from a casual walk – we are to run hard after God, as hard as if we were trying to catch Him!

This concept was brought to life for me this summer while working at IGA Quality Foods. We were experiencing a dramatic increase in shoplifting, so the management recruited one of the stockers to act as “security.” If ever there was a shoplifter that was trying to run off with goods, this man was to chase them down, tackle them, and bring them back to the store. It was his job to pursue people and catch them. If in the midst of his pursuit an obstacle arose, he hurdled it. If he stumbled and fell, he’d rise and continue the pursuit even harder. No person or obstacle would deter him from chasing this person down. In the same way, when we are in “pursuit to catch” God, we must not allow obstacles to slow us down! We must not allow our attention to wander and stray lest we trip and fall, or become enticed to run after something else. And even if we do stumble, we must not resign ourselves to defeat, rather we must pick ourselves up and continue to run! “Living” with God is not a mere stroll in the park, it is an all-out sprint!

One problem quickly arises. If in our analogy, the stocker was chasing after someone, but did not really care about his job, would he run with all his might? If he did not care about the good of the store, would he sprint as hard as he could? Pursuit to catch for an extended period of time is really only possible if you truly treasure the object which you are running after. If you do not see it as precious and valuable, if you do not delight in it, will you run as hard as you can after it? And so I remind us once more that the “object” which we are in pursuit of is God. We are to be sprinting after Him. Thus, we must treasure Him, we must see Him as infinitely valuable lest we suddenly decide the pursuit is not worth our while.

You might say, “Well, I’m with you so far, Barry. Indeed, I see that my relationship with Christ is one of vigor and fervor. However, do you truly expect me to sprint after God for my entire life? I cannot sprint for 80 years!” It is remarkable that God always seems to ask of us the impossible. Why? So that we might trust Him to do it. We are able to pursue God “as if to catch” because of the second half of Psalm 63:8. “Thy right hand upholdeth me.” Indeed, if we were left to our own strength, we would quickly falter, we are not capable of running at a dead-sprint for very long. However, it is the very strength of God which maintains those who would sprint after Him.

Paul affirms this in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 when he states:

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

This is amazing when we consider the life Paul lived. He had people mocking and scorning him, he was beaten, bruised, stoned, shipwrecked, and thrown in jail. Paul’s ministry was physically killing him. Day by day, nearly each choice he made to follow hard after God resulted in his physical body being beaten and broken. Yet in the midst of this, he says that he does “not lose heart. Though [his] outer self is wasting away, [his] inner self is being renewed day by day.” Though he underwent this harsh persecution, though his body was being slowly broken, he says his “inner self is being renewed day by day.” How is this possible? Paul realized that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” His focus was not on the pain of this world, but on the massive inheritance awaiting him in heaven. The suffering we undergo now is truly only for a brief time, and it fades in comparison to the enormity of the everlasting glory awaiting us.

So, run hard after God. Pursue as if to catch. Let no obstacle hinder you. If you fall, get up and keep running. Keep your eyes focused on the Lord of glory and run!

Friday, November 28, 2008


Bible study this past week was rather relaxed. We did not really dig into a specific topic, rather we discussed the importance of comprehending Scripture. Personally, I find it quite easy to gloss over text and not retain anything. This seems to be especially true in early morning quiet times when I am still half-asleep. Obviously, this does us no good. We need a systematic way of reading Scripture to extract the meaning.

I shared one such method on Tuesday, Bible arcing. This method breaks text down into propositions, or phrases. A proposition is defined as a complete thought; a subject and verb are present. One common way of identifying propositions is to pay careful attention to the punctuation. Commas, semicolons, and periods give clues as to where ideas end and begin.

Once a passage is broken down into separate propositions, one must figure out how the propositions are related to one another. There are several logical ways propositions can be related: grounds, idea & explanation, comparison, action & purpose, etc. It takes practice to get accustomed to identifying such relationships; however, once one becomes proficient in doing so, it becomes much easier to comprehend text.

Here is an example of someone doing an arc of John 3:16-17. Don't worry if it seems confusing, this arc uses several different logical relationships. If it seems interesting, I suggest you check out the website. They have an online tutorial to walk you through the process of arcing.

I realize this might seem tedious to some. Picking apart grammar might seem too nit-picky. However, when one comes across difficult or complex passages, having a methodical way of interpreting Scripture will most certainly be beneficial.

I desire that you would be equipped to dig into Scripture. If arcing does not work for you, that is fine. Just know that it is imperative to find something. It's not worth wasting countless quiet times simply giving Scripture a cursory overview rather than deeply engaging with it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Do Christians Need to Love God?

We’re busy people. Between jobs, school, sports, volunteer positions, and whatever else may be going on we seem to have a shortage of time. Some of us try to maintain a certain level of orderliness to our lives by creating schedules to manage our time better. As we invariably take on more projects, duties, or responsibilities we simply fill them into whatever free time we have left until our planners can no longer hold any more scribbles. Enter sticky notes.

Nonetheless, we have a habit of treating things as another “to-do” on our list, another item to check off by the end of the day. Is this a bad thing? After all, it keeps us organized and structures our lives. Efficiency is not bad. The danger is treating God like just another item to be checked off our to-do list.

Do Christians need to love God? The Bible makes it quite clear. "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:36-40). Loving God is our foremost responsibility.

If we are to love God, how am I suppose to know what that looks like? The apostle John tells us “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And His commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). So obeying God is loving Him? Simple enough! Go to church, read your Bible, don’t be an egregious law-breaker, be nice. That’s it, right? Unfortunately, I think that’s the mentality of some people. Christianity somehow gets boiled down to a checklist of things to do or be (or not do and not be). Be sure to check off everything from the list and you’re a good Christian. This isn’t what John is teaching, is it?

Let’s take a closer look at what some of these commands we are to obey actually are. “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matt. 5:21-22a). “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). “Do not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks lustfully at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). We are to not be angry, bitter, slanderous, and malicious, but kind, compassionate, and forgiving. We are to not commit adultery. Simple enough, but Jesus said that even looking at a woman lustfully is committing adultery with her.

If we are honest with ourselves just trying to uphold these things is incredibly difficult. These are but a few of the commands we are to obey. You might notice that this has yet to resolve the issue of love being simple obedience. The key is found in 1 John 5:3b “And His commands are not burdensome.” What?! So John is saying it is not burdensome to never look lustfully at a woman in skimpy clothes in the middle of the summer? It isn’t burdensome to not become angry and hostile when someone “pushes our buttons” and provokes a heated argument? Seriously John, it’s not burdensome? What world are you living in?

John is not crazy. He’s absolutely right, these things should not be burdensome. It should not be a burden to not lust to not become angry or bitter. It should not be a burden to pour over the Bible every day. It should not be a burden to go to church on Sunday. Rather, it should be our joy to do these things! It has to do with our heart! If Jesus Christ is your supreme joy, why would it be a burden to read the Bible? It's His love letter to you! Seeing Jesus as precious is not possible unless you’ve experienced the new birth. Everybody is born with a veil over their eyes. As we grow up, there might be people who try to tell us how marvelous creation is, that God is good. However, that blindfold keeps us from seeing anything but darkness. “God is good? All I see is darkness.” This idea of God seems foolish. Our senses tell us there is no great, magnificent God, only the blackness of existence. If this is where you are, I pray Jesus Christ would come and remove that blindfold so that your eyes might open and truly see. I pray that you’d perceive and experience the glory of God, and see His beauty. Taste and see that God is good (Psalm 34:8)! When someone sees the glory of God, their heart becomes inclined toward Him, and their affections are made full in Him. Life change happens (2 Corinthians 3:14-18).

Are you struggling with something in your life? Pornography? Anger? Jealousy? Bitterness? Whatever it may be, know that “...everyone born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). The power to overcome is through having your eyes opened to the beauty of Jesus by faith (v. 5) and seeing Him as infinitely valuable. Treasure Him above all else, and those areas you struggle in will begin to seem less appealing. When we see Christ for who He is, we see the world for what it is.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Itching Ears

Postmodernism has become a very fashionable phrase as of late, but what does it mean? It is a mind-set determined on questioning the validity of any body of knowledge which claims to be absolute. "Can there be such an entity? Is not everything dependent upon one’s background and individuality?" This “belief system” is characterized by utter tolerance.

As you might imagine, such views have spread into religion. Postmodernism’s reach has extended into Christianity, and is evidenced by movements such as the emerging/emergent church. What has resulted is a diluting of Biblical truth. What is designed to be deeply penetrating, capable of splitting bone and marrow, soul and spirit, has become softened in fear of offending anyone. Here are two examples of softened truth coming from a prominent figure in the emerging church:

“I can’t find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners. Now this doesn’t mean we don’t sin; that’s obvious. In the book of James it’s written like this: ‘We all stumble in many ways.’ Once again, the greatest truth of the story of Adam and Even isn’t that it happened, but that it happens. We all make choices to live outside of how God created us to live. We have all come up short.”

“Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God’s.”

Before we continue further, we must first clarify as to what truth is. John 17:17 is the Lord’s prayer in which He lifts up His apostles and future believers. He asks the Father to “Sanctify them in truth; Your Word is truth.” Jesus states that God’s Word is truth. Not only this, but it has a purpose. Truth is not merely sought after to be acquired, but should be sought to bring about change (sanctification). Truth is important not in that we know it, but that it has changed us. These ultimately go hand-in-hand. If one has actually encountered truth, he must be changed. Oswald Chambers has stated that when a man is faced with truth, he only has two paths to choose from. He can either yield and humbly obey it and grow closer to God, or he rejects it and falls further away. This rejection might be an explicit act, or it might manifest itself in a passive attitude toward the truth. Either form is characterized by disobedience or inaction.

Earlier in the Gospel of John, we find out that “…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This is perhaps one of the biggest news stories of all time: the eternal Son of God took on flesh and dwelt among us! Know that Jesus did not empty Himself of His divine nature to take on flesh. He was fully God and perfectly human. Paul reassures us that “…in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Jesus’ divine nature includes His infinitude. Recall the final phrase of John 1:14: “full of grace and truth” (emphasis mine). How unfathomable it is that an infinite being be made full! And that He is full of grace and truth. If ever there be any doubt as to what truth looks like, one need only look to the Son of God!

How is this viewed through the contemporary postmodern lens? “It is divisive, hurtful, nonsensical, fallacious, and scientifically ignorant. Jesus Christ is truth? Are you joking?”

There is a war for truth going on all around us and within us. This world would have us concede ground and compromise truth for the sake of getting along with one another, but to do so would be to compromise the very foundation of our salvation. There are many things that try to persuade us to abandon Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul warns us in Colossians 2:8,

"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8

This passage characterizes the methods of those who try to lead the followers of Christ astray. They use philosophy and empty deceit, tradition (ritualism), and elemental principles (also translated “spirits”) of the world. What are these things?

  • Philosophy and empty deceit: in the times this passage was originally penned, philosophy was thought of highly. The Greeks valued knowledge greatly, and therefore constantly sought it. They believed philosophy to be the ultimate effort of our intellect, and hence a worthy endeavor. It is tempting to separate “philosophy” and “empty deceit,” but I think we must be careful not to. In doing so, we might think philosophy inherently bad. We should take note Paul combines it with empty deceit. What can we gather from this? Philosophy in-and-of itself is not necessarily bad. However, when it is used for the purpose of leading someone away from Christ, it most certainly is.
  • Human tradition: ritualism, legalism. The focus here is on works which takes the focus away from Christ and places it on man’s ability to perform “good” works.
  • Elemental spirits/principles: science. Of all the methods in which people choose to explain their rejection of Christ, I believe science and philosophy are the most popular. “It seems so basic; how can anyone possibly have faith in Jesus Christ and His teaching when science so clearly contradicts it?” This is persuasive to people in that it inherently assumes the sovereignty of man’s intellect. If it does not make sense to us, it must not be. This mind-set gets bloated with each new scientific discovery, every advance in technology. Each new occurrence only feeds man’s self-assuredness and belief in his own capabilities. Man has assumed the role of supreme being in his own little world; no problem is too great for the mighty intellect of man. This has become ridiculously prominent in our age. The apostle Paul saw it in his day too, and had this to say: “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

We have not only been given a list of methods people use to persuade us away from Christ, but we’ve been warned about the characteristics of those who go astray:

"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:3-5).

Here Paul tell us about those who sway from truth. They…

  • Have already heard the truth.
  • Willfully reject it (“...turn away from listening to the truth").
  • Do not “hold up” the truth (“…people will not endure sound teaching”).
  • “Wander off into myths.” Note that the original Greek word for “myth” is μυ̃θος. This word “primarily signifies speech, conversation” (it is often translated as “fable”). As an aside, turn again to the emerging church. “Proponents of this movement call it a ‘conversation’ to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature.” Weird.

This begs the question: “Why have they rejected the truth?” The answer is four-fold.

1. The truth is piercing. It hits soft spots in our lives that we’ve tried covering up. “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

2. Because the truth pierces, it causes discomfort. Living and fighting for truth results in having people around you in discomfort because they are forced to address the problems and their own lives. People have a tendency to fight such discomfort.

3. This results in one having to endure people’s attacks on one’s beliefs. There is certainly hardship associated with living and fighting for the truth.

4. In response, these people have crumbled under the pressure. Instead of holding up the truth, they seek “softer” teachings that will not offend others. These teachings are easier to hear and digest.

At the heart of it, these people who turn away desire to hear things they want to hear. They want to hear a message that is less offensive, less divisive. All they want is something to give them warm-fuzzies. The truth isn’t like that. The truth is offensive and divisive. A clear line is drawn in the sand: you obey Christ or you don’t, you have eternal life or you don’t. It can be hard for people to hear it, but that does not mean they do not need to hear it.

Lastly, Paul shows us how to endure, or hold up, sound teaching. Be “sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). Be morally alert, watchful. Know the truth so you can detect falsities when they bombard you. Endure suffering; it will come. People will call you intolerant or divisive. Endure. You must, you will if you belong to Christ. Do the work of an evangelist; live the Gospel, spread it to everyone around you. Fulfill your ministry. Persevere to the end, be faithful to the One who chose you.

Truth is worth fighting for.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Who is He?

"When they heard these words, some of the people said, 'This really is the Prophet.' Others said, 'This is the Christ.' But some said, 'Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?' So there was a division among the people over Him. Some of them wanted to arrest Him, but no one laid hands on Him."
John 7:40-44

We dug into John 7:40-44 this past Tuesday (10/28/08). We arrived at one key question: Who do we say Jesus Christ is?

Right away we see that people are debating amongst themselves as to who Jesus is, but why is He so controversial? What makes Jesus so different from the other Rabbis? John 7:40 tells us it was "When they heard these words," they began to discuss. The teachings of Jesus were so different, they immediately grabbed the attention of the public. Even the officers sent to arrest him confessed that "No one ever spoke like," Jesus (v. 46). The other teachers at this time spoke with authority because they used Scripture as their basis. Their teachings were explanations of Scripture; they'd tell people about God according to Scripture, they'd tell people about various aspects of life according to Scripture. But Jesus was different. Instead of saying "Scripture says this about God," or "Scripture says this about life," He said things like "I say this about God" or "I say this about life." This was foreign to the people at this time. For instance, if we back up to 7:37 we see Jesus at the feast saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water" (emphasis mine). Jesus spoke with authority unlike any other teacher.

Because of this, people began to question who Jesus is. They couldn't decide if He was the Prophet, Christ, or neither. People still wonder such things. Was Jesus just a man? Just a prophet? Or is He the Christ?

How did people present their arguments? We see in verse 41-42 that some tried to use Scripture as their basis for their denying that Jesus is Messiah. However, their argument shows they didn't understand all the facts. They claim Scripture says Jesus must be a son of David and come from Bethlehem, but try to point out that Jesus doesn't fit these requirements...

This sort of thing certainly happens even today. Though instead of using Scripture, the common thing now is to use scientific reasoning to deny Jesus as Christ. Today, it's common to hear one say it is intellectual suicide to believe such things, or that it is a logical fallacy to buy into it. In other words, belief in Jesus Christ is seen as merely a crutch for the weak minded. We are told if only we would further our understanding of science or philosophy we would see the folly behind Christianity...

So who do you say Jesus is?

Do you really believe that, or is it just an empty, automatic answer? We are so accustomed to answering certain questions in a certain manner, yet often times the answer carries very little weight; religion tends to be one of those types of responses. Catholic. Lutheran. Baptist. Mormon. Muslim. Hindu. But are these responses actually what we truly believe, or are they responses that we give as a knee-jerk response? Perhaps they are given to merely satiate the curiosity of someone in order to get them to stop their pestering?

We see in verse 44 that peoples' belief about who Jesus is caused some to want to arrest Him. They were moved to want to act (but since it was not His time to be arrested, He was not touched) in a hostile manner. If we believe Jesus is Christ, are we moved to such strong actions? Does this belief in Jesus have any affect on who we are or what we do? It should. It must.

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."
1 Corinthians 15:10

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Frapping in the Storm

This past week we discussed the sovereign, sustaining grace of God. We defined grace as an undeserved gift. Ephesians 2:8-9 showed us that grace saves.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

However, if grace's purpose is to save (through faith), do we, as born again believers, need grace today? Why or why not?

We clarified the issue with Romans 6:14 which informs us that we are indeed under grace today.

"For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law, but [are] under grace."

Paul assures believers that sin has no mastery over us. Why? Because we are not under the burden of being perfect under the law, but are under the free gift of grace. Instead of having to be perfect according to the law, we are justified as a result of God's free, sovereign grace toward us through faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross. Note Paul did not say "you were not under law," but used the present "you are not under law, but under grace." This statement was true when it was first penned, and it is true today. Believers are under grace this very moment.

So if we are always under grace, what's its purpose?

One of the verses we looked at to answer this question was 1 Corinthians 15:10.

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain [or empty]. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them [the other Apostles], though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me." 1 Corinthians 15:10

Grace does not connotate passivity! Paul is making that clear with this passage. He states that God's grace did not come to him in vain, it was not empty, it did not come without effect. Rather, it caused and empowered him to work hard in his ministry. God's grace actively changes us and empowers us. The Gospel never grows old; we never out-grow our need for it.

Finally, we looked at Hebrews 4:16.

"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

Why are we told to confidently draw near? The answer: Jesus Christ, our high priest and sufficient sacrifice. The book of Hebrews was written primarily to a Jewish audience. With this context in mind, this passage will perhaps become clearer. In the Jewish culture, the people worshipped and sacrificed at the tabernacle. The following is a basic layout of the tabernacle:

Upon entering through the gates, a worshipper would bring his offering to the bronze alter and slaughter it. The priests would wash themselves and the animal sacrifices clean with water from the laver. Blood from the animal sacrifice would be taken into the Holy Place to be sprinkled. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would offer a sin offering for himself and on behalf of Israel. This was a significant day because it called for the high priest to enter beyond the Holy Place, through the veil, and into the Holy of Holies (or Most Holy Place). It was in the Holy of Holies that the Ark of the Covenant was placed. Above the Mercy Seat and between the Cherubim, the Shekinah glory of God was present. Yahweh made His presence manifest in the this place for His people.

But how does this tie into Hebrews 4:16? We are told to confidently draw near to the throne of grace. The throne of grace is symbolized by the Mercy Seat atop the Ark of the Covenant. Drawing near to the throne of grace would sound absurd to someone from a Jewish background; no man aside from the high priest could do that! The veil was a symbol of separation between man and God. However, when Christ yielded His spirit on the cross, this veil was torn in two (Matthew 27:50-51). The sacrifice of bulls and goats was never sufficient to atone for sins forever, but the sacrifice of the Son of God is sufficient. The barrier separating man and God was removed by the fully sufficient atoning death of Jesus Christ. Not only does Christ serve as the sin sacrifice for those who believe in Him, but He also acts as the High Priest, making way to the Holy of Holies. It is because of this, Christians can confidently draw near to the throne of grace.

One last interesting point to make is the word help. We are told to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. At first, this seemed rather straight-forward. Mercy and grace sustain us and allow us to endure trials, temptations, and hardships. However, looking deeper at this word help brought something else to light. The original greek word for help is boētheia. This word means to "help; succour," but additional insight can be gained from looking at other passages including this word. Boētheia is also used in Acts 27:17. Paul was sailing while a great storm arose. The sailors were trying to boētheia to undergird the ship. That is, they were trying to secure the ship. Literally, it means "to frap [secure by lashing]."

So imagine yourself in a boat by the coast. Suddenly, the winds pick up, and waves begin to crash over your boat. As the storm becomes increasingly harsh, the waves crash harder and harder against you. Your boat nearly capsizes, the waves have turned your boat around several times so you've become disoriented, and you've been pushed so far into the deep waters you can no longer see land. Isn't that how life sometimes feels? We feel like we've been victimized by life's cruel circumstances. We feel helpless. Hardships have rocked us and nearly sunk us in despair. We've become so unsure of things we don't know what to do or where to go; it seems as if we're all alone. Yet God is there. For those who have trusted Christ for salvation, mercy and grace are available in these tempests. Instead of being beaten by the waves and taken away to isolation in the deep, the grace of God secures us in place. A rope has been tied to our boat to secure us so we do not drift away in the storm. We are helpless on our own, but the grace of God keeps us from sinking or wandering away. His grace does not promise that the storms will not come, only that He sovereignly keeps us through them.