The Testing of Jesus

At the stoning of the woman caught in adultery, did Jesus teach that the Law was gone, or did He criticize because the Law was not followed? Did Jesus eliminate the Law as popular church teaching suggests, or did He disapprove of the mishandling of God’s living oracles? I think in each question it is the latter. When Jesus was tested, He stayed with the Law while His opponents stuck with their own interpretations and traditions. His opponents were wrong in nearly every case.

Jesus never tells us that “we all sin” so none of us can judge. What He tells us is that to judge properly we need to stay within the whole of His Law. The people testing Jesus wanted permission to sin. They wanted certification for their self-appointed authority. But they didn’t want God’s Law. See the video for more details.

Shalom
Bruce

Temptation to Give Up His Law

Accepting the whole of God’s Word as a lifestyle and discipleship method has its drawbacks. On the one hand I’ve got everything I need to pursue His living oracles and achieve perfection as Jesus directs in Matthew 5:48. In fact, since “perfect” means mature or lacking in nothing, then I am already perfect. On the other hand I find myself falling short on a regular basis. On any given hour or day or week I’ll do 98% of what I think God requires, working hard at trying not to do what I think is okay and instead doing what He thinks is okay. I wear my tassels. I rest on Sabbath. Pork is a distant memory. I don’t react in anger when insulted or cut off in traffic. Or at least not as angry as I used to be.

But there’s that 2% (my wife or kids might say it’s a little higher than that) where I blow it. I have patience 29 times out of 30, but at the 30th I falter and lose it. (It used to be perhaps 15 out of 30, but the improvement doesn’t seem to matter.) Or I might have to do a little work on the Sabbath. I get closer to actually living out the perfection for which God equips me day by day and minute by minute, only to fold at the weakest bluff from the enemy at the oddest times. It’s like dialing a phone number that is a hundred digits long only to enter the wrong value on the last one.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Romans 7:21–23, ESV)

This is, I think, one of the things that make people re-interpret the Word to downplay the importance of most of the Law. His Law looks like a mountain that is hard to climb, and one misstep will send you into the abyss. The temptation is to comfort ourselves with the “nobody’s perfect” mantra and not even try. We change His Word to mean something different so we don’t really look like we’re not doing what He says. After all,” the enemy whispers, “why try if you can never get it right? Just give up and do what you want. Jesus covers all your sins, so you’ll be fine.” It’s definitely tempting to reduce the standard so it doesn’t challenge me as much. I start to reason that the usual church teaching of “we can’t be perfect” is very attractive. I almost succumb at times to the siren song.

In athletics, we practice and practice and practice. We might lose a game, but the following day we are right back at practice trying to correct mistakes and get better for the next game. We study hard for an employment test, or certification, and if we don’t pass we go back to studying and take the test again. A musician learns her instrument, conditions her body to form the notes in time and arrange them so they make an appealing song. If the song does not come together right away she keeps trying until her thoughts and feelings flow out as she wishes.

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. (1 Corinthians 9:25–26, ESV)

The athlete has everything he needs for athleticism (arms, legs, brain). He is “perfect” in the physical sense. He doesn’t need more arms or legs. Or more brains. He has everything he needs to get the job done. Same with a job seeker or musician. Does he hit every single pitch? Catch every pass? Throw right on the mark every time? Does the musician write hit songs with every stroke of the pencil, or a job seeker pass an employment test the first time? No, they don’t. But they don’t give up or stop trying. Why is a walk with God any different?

An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Timothy 2:5, ESV)

How come a life with Him and His Law as the center is the only place where we get a steady diet of people telling us we “can’t be perfect?” The coach or band director or employer who wouldn’t accept less than perfect practice goes to church and calmly buys the idea that in his walk with God he won’t ever measure up? Can you imagine a coach who tells the pole vault athlete “You’ll never get over the rail?” A teacher of music who tells the student “You’ll never play that note perfect?” How frustrating that would be! How depressing! How much like slavery!

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (Galatians 4:3, ESV)

We wouldn’t put up with it in the fields of athletics or music or anywhere else, but the church gets away with it on a regular basis. And directly against what the Bible teaches, too. No wonder the church has the same suicide, divorce, and drug use rates as those outside the church. Whole Bible Christians try to avoid the two extremes of making up tons of new laws or deciding that the blood of Jesus covers everything so I can do whatever I want.

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11–12, ESV)

When I falter, or am less than 100% doing what God wants, it’s because I do it on my own. It’s not that I lack something, or cannot be perfect. God has given me all I need. I have a new heart of flesh, the Holy Spirit, and His Word. I am perfect (complete, mature), though I don’t do everything perfectly. When I choose my own way, I don’t have to go very far down that path before I realize that I don’t want to keep going, either. I may have made a misstep, but God has granted me grace to try, try again, as opposed to sitting on my hands afraid to do anything or become better. Temporarily I might feel bad that I chose to go my own way, but as long as the bad feelings move me to repentance and renewed effort they don’t have to be permanent. I don’t have to get rid of the Law to help me feel better. It’s the other way around. Practice, practice, practice. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Though I choose wrongly on occasion, His Word will perfect me.

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:4–6, ESV)

Shalom,
Bruce

Perfect

Not long ago I had an exchange on Facebook with a man who posted this little tidbit.

“WWJD. We can’t be perfect like Jesus so in addition to ‘What Would Jesus Do,’ we need to be like ‘what would Jesus have me do given my current situation and given what He did for on the cross'”.

It’s a fairly typical comment coming from a fairly typical church educated person. Not unusual at all, really. But I have a little different view of the subject so I asked him, “So what then do you do with the words of Jesus?”

“Your therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, ESV).

His response was “We strive to be perfect like Him but never can because of sin. At least not here and now.”

It went on from there with him getting typically more and more upset as I presented more and more biblical evidence to support Jesus’ statement, and equally typically ended with him removing me as a friend. This happens a lot when church Christians are confronted with the Bible they claim to follow. Give ’em some truth and they fold up their tents and run away. Instead of practicing the love they claim, they practice anger and pride and cut themselves off from the truth.

The standard church teaching is that we cannot be perfect. The Bible teaching is that we can. How do we resolve this conflict? Either Jesus was telling us to do something well within our grasp, or He is a harsh taskmaster asking us to do something beyond our ability. He clearly tells us to be perfect like God. There is no ambiguity. Seemingly it’s a tall order. But perhaps not so hard when we realize exactly what biblical perfection really means.

The word perfect literally means lacking in nothing. It also means “complete.” (Compare 2 Timothy 3:17 in both the AV and the ESV for instance.) Sometimes it can mean mature (compare Ephesians 4:13 in the AV and ESV). So when Jesus says be perfect as God is perfect, He means exactly what He says. We have the Word, the Spirit, and a new heart of flesh. What else do we lack? We are complete, lacking in nothing.

“And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:4, ESV)

So here’s the difference. The church says we cannot be perfect, which is a hopeless state of affairs. According to this teaching, we are locked into permanently displeasing God. They are saying that we cannot do better. We will never be able to please God. It is a subtle difference, and depressing, but it is also counter to what the Bible teaches. Jesus says that we certainly can do better. He is optimistic and encouraging. We have power in the Spirit. We have a love of God, and His Word to guide us. We can confess and repent and be forgiven. We can indeed be perfect.

We may not be “mature” all the time, but it is not because we CANNOT be mature. It is because we WILL NOT. We have it within our ability to perfectly follow everything God says, but we do not always choose to follow. This is the big difference. If we do not do something perfect, it is because we choose not to. We don’t like this, because our pride gets in the way.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:7–10, ESV)

But it really isn’t a big deal, because we can rectify it as soon as we realize what we did. We can humble ourselves, confess and repent. We also keep working on taking in God’s Words and moving toward greater maturity. The standard church teaching of “cannot” robs us of motivation. It is a hopeless teaching. Jesus on the other hand is hopeful. His teaching encourages us; His Word provides all that we need. Thank Him that we have what we need to be “perfect,” and can get out of the rat race of imperfection easily. We just have to want it with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12, ESV)

This is a sobering thought. It doesn’t make the average human very happy, because instead of sitting in our comfortable mud pen of complacency we have to move out of the pen and wash ourselves clean with His Word. We “cannot” use the excuse of “cannot” to stay comfortable and complacent. Well we CAN, it’s just not really an excuse that God will buy. We have a goal. We can do better. We can bear more fruit, and practice the fruit of the Spirit better than we do. It is not comfortable, but it is doable. Of course it is doable. Jesus said we could do it.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20–23, ESV)

Shalom
Bruce

Passover 2014

We are getting ready for our lamb barbecue tomorrow night, looking forward to spending time showing love for God by doing as He commands His people to do. We touch God and touch each other in an intimate fellowship that goes way past the physical markers and deep into a spiritual connection. His love flows to us, and our love flows back and between. We remember what God has done for His people, is doing, and will do. Remember means to speak or act on behalf of someone, which is why we can “remember” the future promises of God.

Some are speaking of the “blood moons” that will appear on this Passover and the Tabernacles celebration this year, as well as the same two holidays next year. I’m not big into that stuff, but it probably has some significance. Coupled with the increase in earthquakes, volcanic activity, and cultural degradation, we can definitely see that labor pains for the world are increasing. Maintaining our love for God through His commands is coming under attack at a greater intensity, but He said a “falling away” would happen before the end. Therefore be encouraged and keep your faith strong, standing on the Rock of His Word and our Savior Jesus the Christ.

I feel sorry for those who do not participate in God’s holidays, either because they just don’t follow God or because they classify His living oracles as “old” or “outdated” or for another group besides believers. Paradise awaits a change from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, sensitive and trembling at His Word. All it takes is humble obedience to find out the nature of real love and spiritual renewal and refreshment. I feel sorry for those who choose their own way, like Cain, substituting their own understanding for God’s Word and offering slovenly disobedience through physical symbols such as ham and bunnies. The symbols show the disobedience in the balance of their lives, corrupt and unclean and spurning the love that is waiting. Compromise shows its fruit in sexual immorality and unfruitfulness through acceptance of behavior God said would cause death. No wonder they are known for hypocrisy. One cannot practice hate for God in trashing His commands and expect God to accept the resulting uncleanness using the cosmic eraser of Jesus. If we harbor iniquity in our hearts, our offerings mean nothing. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7)

Rejoice, children of God. Look up for our redemption draweth nigh. Stand strong in the Lord and the power of His might. Pursue righteousness through humble submission to every word of His glorious instructions. Hold fast to the hope He has given, practicing as best we can every tiny utterance from our loving God and Savior Jesus our Messiah. Eat His body and drink His blood, taking in every breath from God through His Word and breathing it back to Him. Rejoice as our meager offerings of obedience gain His regard and we find acceptance in Him because of our love and practice of His Word.

Shalom
Bruce

Lessons for Taking the Word of God Literally

A lot of people have a hard time accepting all of the Bible as God’s Word to be taken literally. Those of us who see it just fine are getting attacked left and right by those such as atheists who focus on a verse out of context or a concept like capital punishment that they personally find abhorrent. So through this short post I’m going to give out a couple clues that solve the problems of defending the Word for many believers. We’re lacking in clues I think because of our own teachings such as splitting the Word into “old” and “new” testaments, “church” replacing “Israel,” an “age of grace” as opposed to an “age of law” (or whatever other ages we make up) and “Jesus died so we could eat a ham sandwich.” Two clues in particular are balance and continuity.

Balance means that all of the words from God are considered together. God (and His Word) is perfectly balanced between judgment and mercy, grace and law, love and holiness. He doesn’t stop being loving to judge wrongdoers. When He gives a Law, He is not diminishing grace. A penalty such as stoning given for the breaking of a Law is just as gracious as the offer of forgiveness if one repents of sin (not leading to death). The grace is in warning others that similar behavior results in death. Stoning is like a sign post telling other people not to drive off a cliff. People have plenty of warning that certain behavior will result in capital punishment. Usually people just bull ahead knowing that it is wrong in the first place. God-given conscience tells them it is wrong, but hard hearts won’t listen. When they cease listening, that is when they are truly “stoned.”

He doesn’t stop being gracious in order to tread the winepress of His wrath. How is this so? Would you believe that treading out the winepress of His wrath IS grace? In order to have cleanliness, you have to take out the trash! If He wants a perfect kingdom with tons of blessings and no death (and He does) God must insist on removing the rot.

Continuity means that He (or His Words) are always the same. What is holy is always holy. What is not holy is always not holy. False problems are created when we try to explain His Law any other way. If we manufacture a grace that excludes Law, then we have a problem explaining judgment. If we (falsely) say that Law is “old” and grace is “new” then we have to reconcile what happens to people who don’t accept it (usually turning to the mystic lie of universalism).

It’s not God’s Word that has the problems. It is people who look at only part of it, like the blind guys trying to figure out an elephant. Remember, we started out in perfection in the Garden. If you want to find a comparison to use for where we should be, use that one.

Distractions Part Five, A Split God

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NASB95)

 

We have to talk about God being One because a main tool used to distract from, eliminate or severely prune the Law is to cast it as a different message from another God. It’s as if Jesus and the Father were two separate gods kind of at loggerheads with each other. If a person wants to dodge the Law he can pretend it came from someone who either changed His mind or didn’t mean what He said in the first place. We also have to talk about this because there is a big group of people who advocate for the Law in a believer’s life yet deny the deity of Jesus.

 

You may already accept that God and Jesus are one, but you may not realize exactly what it means. The church tends to skip over that part. For instance, if God and Jesus are one, then Jesus gave the Law at Sinai. So when He tells us in Matthew 28 to teach the disciples “all I commanded,” it includes the Law that He “filled up full” or fulfilled.

 

guernica

 

A cubist painting looks like it has been cut up and put back together out of order. You know, the nose is where the ear is supposed to be, and the eyes are not lined up. Every part is out of place (Like Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” pictured above). The picture of God painted by the modern church now looks sort of cubist. God is variously described as a fierce, distant and unfriendly god, or a buddy from out of town who winks at sin. He’s either a god of cloud and flame and lightening, or a pacifist hippie flower child who spouts one-liners about peace and love.

 

We use artistic license like cubism to interpret the patterns in the Word and make a picture that doesn’t even resemble the original. One pattern is for Jews and another is for the church. This part is for me and that part is for you. There are “old” and “new” god models. The old god is supposed to be a severe, demanding god of bloody sacrifices and death. The new god is a sweet guy who looks the other way when we sin. The old god beat us up with rules we couldn’t obey and restricts what we eat. The new god came to change all the stuff the old god gave us, and died so we could eat a ham sandwich. We have created, as Dr. Michael Brown says, a “worldly, cultural Christianity” with a “Jesus who radically empowers us” rather that a “Jesus who radically changes us.” I agree with him that “that’s why we have ‘Christian’ lingerie models and ‘Christian’ rappers who frequent strip clubs.”

 

The picture of God is critical to faith. When we paint Him as capricious, powerful and judgmental, giving us laws we could never obey, we can’t trust Him or do what He says. On the other hand when we paint Him with the color of sentiment (without justice or holiness) our false picture might let us do what we want even if it kills us. But it isn’t love.

 

From the book Whole Bible Christianity a draft of which is available to read at www.wholebible.com/Whole_Bible_Christianity.htm

The Promise is the Unity

It’s easy to say the Bible is written around the unifying theme of Jesus, but it might be a little difficult to see exactly where He is sometimes. Words are used such as “promise” and “covenant” (essentially a promise too). But sometimes even those key words are absent such as in Genesis 3:15 when God promises (without using that word) a descendant who will crush the head of the serpent. Abraham was “promised” (using the word “covenant” instead) that this descendant would be from a child born to Sarah, who would “bless the nations.” Later on Isaac was called the “son of the promise” by Paul in places such as Romans 9:9 and that thought is tied with the “seed of Eve” all through the Bible. David was included in the promise. God said he would have a son who would sit on his throne in a kingdom that would last forever. This promised son and blessing was part of the gospel (good news) preached to Israel at Sinai (Hebrews 4:2). The Law was part of the promise because it lays out behavior expected by God as He takes up residence according to the promise. He took up residence in Israel and expected certain actions, and as He takes up residence now in believers those expectations have not changed.

 

If the Bible really is “one faith” (chapter 4) delivered to “one body” (chapter 3) by “one God” and “one Lord” (chapter 2) as Paul says in Ephesians 4 then the next question is “Why aren’t we (the church) following it?” If the New Covenant is the Law written on a heart of flesh, then it seems some biblical practices are being ignored by those who are supposed to have this covenant as their operating document. If the Bible really is one continuous, unified message (and it is) with no breaks or stops and starts or new bodies created then the next step is to grab hold and put it into every area of life. Not just as a novelty or for some chuckles once in a while but hungering and thirsting for it as if His Word was a treasure hidden in a field or a pearl of great price. I know I’m mixing metaphors but you get my drift.

 

All the books of the Bible were written by people who understood the continuity of this promise from God and included continuous revelation from God as to how this promise would be realized. All the believers throughout the ages who accepted God’s Word looked forward to the delivery of the promise and its full implementation. The first century church lived all of it. When we throw out parts of the Word, whether we dismiss them as merely “civil” or “ceremonial” shadows or “fulfill” them and terminate them, we destroy the unity and continuity of His living oracles. The promise (or promises since there are other parts to the promise) cannot be seen, hoped for, or realized as well as it could. Like a guitar with a string missing, or a violin without a bow, if we remove any part of His Word the gospel and the promises of God are reduced to a limited discordant series of feel-good proverbs lacking the power to move us as they are intended.

Childbearing salvation

One of the more puzzling verses in the Word is directed at Timothy by Paul in what some refer to as a pastoral epistle.

 

Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:15, ESV)

 

It seems that Paul is saying that women can be saved through having kids. I’ve heard a lot of teaching connected with this, mostly focusing on the second part of the verse (faith, love, holiness, self-control) but also trying to work in how women are saved by having kids. I’ve tried to understand it myself by going with that teaching and thinking that perhaps the discipline of actually having kids (it is very difficult to bear children in case you didn’t know) was somehow helpful for learning salvation. Sort of going along with “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). But I could never really make it fit with my understanding of other parts of the Word, such as that salvation is by grace through faith.

 

I recently read a different take on this by Dr. Walter Kaiser in the book The Promise Plan of God. He says that we should think of this as the act of childbearing as in the fact that the Son of God was birthed by a woman. Salvation came to the world because a woman bore a child. Paul was trying to elevate women because of the gift of bearing children, contrasting their poor treatment at the time (which continues to the present time) with the godly point that they should be honored instead. Yes, Eve was deceived, but a woman was given the privilege of birthing our Messiah Jesus.

 

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. (1 Corinthians 11:11–12, ESV)

 

Paul is encouraging godliness by acknowledging faults in both genders and at the same time pointing out equal blessings from God. We are not independent; we are interdependent. We each have different jobs, we are made differently (thank you Jesus!) but one gender is not inferior to the other. Women are not property, they are sisters in the household of God and have equal standing with men before God. The childbearing gift was how God chose to bring the Messiah to us, and should not be discounted. Women are saved through the act or gift of childbearing, because our salvation Jesus came to us by way of a woman.

 

An interesting proposition, and one that fits better with the rest of Scripture than any others I’ve heard so far. It’s probably an old teaching in some places, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it.

 

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4–5, ESV)

Women and Clothing

Nowadays, some think that a woman should wear only long skirts, while it is okay for men to wear pants. The problem is, I couldn’t find any Scriptural reason for this. If it is wrong for women to wear pants (and I don’t think that it is) then it is wrong for men also. If it’s okay for men, ergo, it’s okay for women. It seems rather arbitrary to teach otherwise, and I hesitate to tell husbands that we get the luxury of picking and choosing what is modest and what is not according to our own limited sensibilities. If we are arbitrary in this, we come up with all sorts of inconsistent rules having no biblical basis whatsoever. Then we expect those rules to be binding on others, when only the Word of God is binding.

Think back to the time of Mt. Sinai, and the giving of the instructions on how to run a godly community (the Law). What were the people wearing? All of them, men and women, wore, as near as I can tell, robes. So in a sense, everyone wore long skirts. When we were given the command not to wear clothing of the opposite gender (Deuteronomy 22:5), how could people tell what belonged to one gender or the other? One way, I suggest, to tell genders apart was long hair on the women, and beards with shorter hair for men. But this is not legislated for us anywhere. Another way to tell must have been style or maybe even color differences which were clearly masculine and feminine. The mere presence of long skirts (since everybody wore them) did not serve to differentiate between the genders. There is no Scriptural warrant for teaching that pants are related to morality or modesty one way or the other.

People Husbandry through the Word article from Whole Bible dot com