Of Law and Grace

Sometimes, Christians disagree over the importance of God’s law and his grace in the lives of believers. Some look to the law as God’s unchanging standard for mankind, and some would argue that Christ’s redemptive work has freed us from keeping the law. Others even find it important to keep some of the law while admitting that not all of its principals are still necessary in the life of a believer. What is the purpose of God’s law? Why did he give the law, and why are there some precepts that seem so strange? Has the law been replaced by grace? Is the believer exempt from God’s commandments, or should we live our lives in a manner that is unmistakably Hebrew? These are the questions I hope to address by reflecting on God’s Law and his grace.

Moses and the Decalogue

The Law

While encamped in the desert, at the base of Mount Sinai the newly freed Hebrew were first presented God’s law. God shared the law through his chosen leader, Moses. The law would serve many purposes for the future nation. First God wished to unite them by explaining that it was he who created the universe, he gave their life significance in explaining that all of mankind was made in his image, and they were given purpose in knowing that they and their ancestors were his chosen people. God presented Moses with the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) and over a period of time God expanded his law to Moses. The Law of Moses (as it is often referred) has three main purposes; to provide a special revelation to mankind of God’s holiness, to separate the people of Israel from the rest of mankind, and to demonstrate mankind’s sinfulness and need of a savior.

Much of the law details ceremonial rituals that were mostly for the priesthood (a tribe of Israel that was set aside to care for the tabernacle/temple and the ceremonial relics) and some for the people. These rituals, relics, and even holidays were to remind Israel of where God had brought them from, they explained how to regain a good standing with God, they created a religion to separate Israel from neighboring people, and disclosed the future works of God through the Messiah. These laws include requirements for offerings to God, ceremonies for the priests, instructions for ritual cleanliness and holiness, and convocation of holy ceremonies and celebrations. The ceremonial laws gave a clear depiction of the holiness of God, and revealed his desire for his followers to be different from the rest of mankind.

The law also consists of social law or moral law. Again, these laws were designed to separate the Hebrew from their pagan neighbors. Many of these laws such as the dietary and garment requirements seem strange to us today, but that is because we may not understand the context of which they were written. Many of the oddest laws are not there simply to be a heavy burden but to keep the Hebrew from participating in pagan forms of idolatry and worship. The moral areas of the law also shaped the Hebrew society (not just their religion). In these laws God demands that his people take care of the poor (through practices like gleaning), punish disobedience, live justly with one another, respect human life, and even remain sexually pure.

The third purpose of the law was to be a measuring device for the sinfulness of mankind. The law functions like a mirror, allowing its readers to understand how short we fall from God’s call to holiness. The law represents God’s desires for our lives and how we are to live with him and one another. Despite the knowledge that God is our creator and knows what is best for us, we choose to rebel against his commands just as Adam and Eve did in the garden. We realize by the law that we are not just being held accountable for their crime, but that we ourselves are guilty. It is this revelation of the law that is most beneficial for mankind. It is this knowledge that allows us to see our need for God’s intervention. The law is not evil, it was written by God, but the law condemns each and every one of us. It is in this realization that mankind has the opportunity to understand the importance of God’s grace in his pursuit of those who would love him.

 

The Law In the Bible

Moses first received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai and this is recorded by Moses in Exodus chapter 20. These ten commands are a summary of the 613 commands to come that are found in the Old Testament Law.  Only the Ten Commandments are structured as rules. The rest of the law is spread among four of the five books (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) believed to be penned by Moses. The Ten Commandments were the only section of the law that God presented laws in this fashion. The rest of the law seems to be given on a need to know basis, and as Moses was given the law he wrote it down to pass along to the Hebrew people. This further enforces the law as a guideline to lead mankind to God and not as a requirement for salvation. The law teaches about God’s holiness, mankind’s sinful heart, and God’s plan for redemption.

When Jesus was asked which of the commandments were the most important to keep, he explained that all of the law can be simplified into two commands that are of equal importance; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:5)” and “… love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).” Jesus explained that these two principals were the basis for all of the law and all of the teachings of God’s prophets.

For the present day Christian the law can sometimes be a topic of heated debate. Some believe  that being grafted into the family of God means we are now required to keep the law, some would go and separate the law into parts that we are still required to keep (like the ten commandments) and others that hold no place (like dietary laws and temple worship). I believe the third option is the one Jesus meant when he explained that he came not to do away with the law but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). Paul wrote to Timothy that the law was useful and all of it was inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16).

 

Practical Application

So if the law is useful and yet we are not bound to it; what place does the law have in the Christian’s life? The point of the law was not to provide a means of salvation but to reveal God’s holiness, man’s wickedness, and God’s grace in providing redemption for mankind. The law reveals to us our rebellion against God, and our inability to be holy on our own. There is no other tool necessary for evangelism than the Law of Moses. Before someone can understand their need for a savior, they must realize they are in peril. That is exactly what the law accomplishes (Romans 3:20). The law paints a picture of God’s design for mankind’s redemption. The law explains the need for blood to purify sinfulness (Leviticus 17:11). So when Jesus shows up at the Jordan River, John the Baptist recognizes that he is the sacrificial lamb provided to be our sacrifice and our redemption (John 1:9). It is the law that leads mankind to the realization that we need Jesus’ sacrifice to justify us before God.

Secondly, if the law is pleasing before God than it should be our hearts desire to do what pleases him. But how do we determine which laws are necessary? Does God really care how we trim our beards? What about the laws against eating unclean animals? (Personally, I love to eat bacon and shrimp). I believe we are not required to go through the law and choose what is required and what can be thrown out. The freedom that we have been granted by Christ’s fulfillment of the law has brought us to a new relationship with the law; one where more emphasis is on the purpose of the law (growing closer to God), and less on the details of the law. This is why Jesus summed the law in two statements; “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 (Matthew 22:37-40).

 

Grace

God’s grace has been with mankind since the day Adam and Eve first rebelled against God’s command to never eat from The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God could have killed Adam and Eve right then just as he had warned them, but instead he allowed them to live until they died at a later time. Instead of justly killing them, God met their needs and continued to bless them. They had broken the only rule God gave them, and yet he still showed them the grace they did not deserve. Grace is God’s favor and kindness that is undeserved. Later, God would spare Noah and his family from judgment not because they deserved to be saved, but because of God’s grace. And after the world was repopulated, God’s grace led him to choose Abraham as the beginning of God’s people who would bring the ultimate expression of his grace, Jesus Christ. In Jesus the full extent of God’s grace is made manifest. Because of mankind’s sinful heart we have never been able to repair our relationship with God. God’s love for mankind is so great that he sent his son to suffer and die, so that the requirement for our salvation would be met. It is by this act of sacrifice that God has offered us redemption from our sins and he has justified us to a right standing with him. This is not accomplished by any act of our own, only a belief in the power of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection for our salvation. This is God’s gift to mankind, a gift that we do not deserve. Grace.

 

Grace In the Bible

God’s grace is the agent that provides his favor and kindness to the people of Israel throughout their history despite their inability to follow God’s commands. The law, the judges, and the prophets were guardrails to guide Israel to one point in history; the birth of Jesus Christ. The Messiah was the instrument in which God fulfilled his promise of an ultimate blessing on mankind. By sending his son to die for mankind’s sins, God’s grace is offered to all of humanity. Paul wrote in Ephesians that it is “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (1:7) that we are redeemed by the blood of Christ. Our forgiveness is the result of the work that Christ accomplished by dying on the Roman cross. There is nothing that we can do to deserve this grace, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not form yourselves, it is the gift of God- Not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8).” It is God’s unmerited blessing that has redeemed us, justified us, is sanctifying us, and one day will glorify us.

 

Practical Application

God’s grace is the greatest gift he can give mankind. From our very beginning we have rebelled against his plan for us, but still he persists to pursue us. It is only his determination to make a way for our redemption that we have the ability to come to him. And after this we continually renew our desire to be pleasing before him. We can never become righteous by our own works, but out of thankfulness we should pursue lives that are pleasing to our redeemer. We cannot do this by following rules, that is why the law does not save, we can only do this through gratitude for God’s grace. We need to be reminded daily that we enjoy God’s unmerited favor.

 

God’s law and his grace were undeserved gifts to mankind. We are sinful and rebellious creatures that are underserving of our benevolent God. Without his intervention we hide from our sinfulness and would be lost to hiding in darkness. But God in his grace desired something greater for us, so he sent the light of the law to humanity. So that darkness would be evident. But the law was just a glimpse of what was to come in the person of Jesus. God’s grace has shown on man, and although we are undeserving God has chosen to redeem us.

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God is Sovereign Despite Our Faults

The account of Isaac and his family found in Genesis 25-27 is very interesting when discussing the importance of God’s sovereignty, man’s free will, and man’s sinfulness.

We read very little about Isaac in the Genesis account of the Hebrew patriarchs. We know he is the promise given by God to Abraham (Genesis 21). We see that God tests Abraham by requiring that he sacrifice Isaac , and how God provides a substitute when Abraham is faithful (Genesis 22). We read the account of Abraham sending his servant to find Isaac a bride (Genesis 24), we read about his dysfunctional family, and some of his poor decisions in Genesis 25-27.

In the account of the birth of Isaac’s sons, we briefly see that Rebekah has been without child and Isaac is petitioning God to bless them with a child (Genesis 25:21). This seems like a common occurrence with the early patriarchs. God wanted them to understand that he was building this family and the future nation of Israel was by his work.

God is faithful to his promise, and Rebekah becomes pregnant with twins! I am sure Isaac and Rebekah felt like they may have prayed a little too hard. Of course this was before ultra sound and I am uncertain if they were able to distinguish two heart beats, but the twins movements alarm Rebekah. And God comforts them with the news of twins (Genesis 25:22).

With this news there is also revelation of what will take place in the boys future. God actually chooses one of the boys, before birth, to continue his covenant with and also shares his plans with the expecting couple. No mystery here, God’s sovereign plan is clear, the second born will be used by God to bring about his promises to mankind (Genesis 25:23).

We often discuss (and sometimes argue) the roles of God’s sovereignty and our own free will. I think this account is an excellent example of how God’s sovereignty is supreme despite the fact we have free will.

The author of Genesis wrote that Isaac favors Esau (the first born) over God’s chosen twin, Jacob. We also see that Rebekah favors Jacob (Genesis 25:28). This favoritism creates a lot of resentment within the home and should be a warning to all parents on the impact we can make on our children’s futures both positive and negative.

It is apparent that Isaac attempts to give Esau the eldest son’s birth right despite God’s revelation. However, Jacob manages to swindle the birth right from his brother with what must have been the best bowl of soup, ever (Genesis 25:34). Then, Jacob tricks his father, with his mothers insistence, to giving him Esau’s blessing as well (Genesis 27).

From the account in Genesis it is clear that Isaac favored Esau so greatly that he was willing to defy God’s will. Twice Jacob manages to secure what was ordained by God as his, through deception. Despite Isaac’s unfaithfulness in this matter, God was faithful to his promise and again we are left in awe of his ability to orchestrate the outcomes of history.

 

How Can the Church Impact Our Communities

In his book “Core Christianity: What is Christianity All About?” Elmer Towns utilizes chapter nine to teach us about the purpose of the church. The church was created to continue the ministry of Jesus Christ on earth. The Holy Spirit was sent to the believers to aid them in spreading the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The church exists to create a community of believers who are reaching the lost and discipling new believers. Unfortunately, the church has not always been successful at the task. There have been many times throughout its history where the church has succeeded at freeing those in bondage, feeding those who were hungry, protecting those being abused, and sharing the good news of God’s forgiveness of sin. Today, the church in North America finds itself dealing with an identity crisis. We became so consumed with creating an alternative culture to our society that we convinced the world we were irrelevant. And now the church is faced with the dilemma of breaking back into the culture. But how do we convince our society that we are here to help?

I believe the first task at hand will be dealing with our differences and our disagreements. Christianity is a reasonable religion, and because of this we do often find ourselves in debate and discussion over some points. These discussions are important and even healthy for our faith, but we cannot allow secondary arguments to become dividers. By this I do not mean we must all agree on everything, but that those things of which we disagree cannot become greater than the things that unite us. Of this I am not speaking of primary things. There are foundational principles of Christianity that believers must not waiver on, but it is the secondary (and sometimes even tertiary) things that we must not allow to create divisions of animosity and anger between believers. Jesus said the world would know us by our love for one another. But what the world sees is a divided religion that cannot agree on the small things. The truth is we need to accept that the teachings of Jesus allow for a great diversity within the body of Christ. The words we read in our Bibles are not as important as the accuracy of the message, our styles of music are not as significant as the praise that it should encourage, and we have not all been called to champion the same causes. We all have differing gifts, abilities, and passions that are to be used in ministering the gospel of Jesus. It is ok that some prefer an organ playing our music, there is nothing wrong with praising God with a rock band, and many have found themselves led to the feet of the Father while listening to a praise team. The Bible does not speak against these things, and within the covers of scripture Christ’s church is allowed to be diverse. Elmer Towns writes, “The glue that bonds them as a community is their transformation by Christ – Christ indwells each one, and they share this common experience with one another (102).” When we unite, not under the same roof but under the same message, we will reach the world.

Once we unite against the enemies of the gospel, and by that I mean Satan and his minions, we would begin to experience a revival in North America. Why is it that our society continues to degrade into immoral behavior? Why do we see depravity all around us, despite our pleas? Why do they not hear our screams and threatening of God’s coming judgment? The simple truth is because they do not understand that we care. The world only sees a group of people who want everyone else to conform to their way of life. And for the most part that is our fault. Instead of love we have leveraged our power, our numbers, and our governmental system to keep so-called Christian values in a position of prominence. And now, we have lost all of those things. America may have been founded on Christian principles, but the America of today is a long way from a Christian nation. Jesus did not instruct his followers to impose him on their society and they were never encouraged to enforce his teachings on those who did not believe. Jesus taught that all of his followers are to live life openly and seek those who are in desperate need of God’s love. Towns writes, “To Christianize a nation is not to pass Christian laws, or force Christian baptism on everyone. Christianization does not start at the top and move down. Rather when Jesus Christ transforms individuals, they begin living for Christ in their homes and in their churches; then they begin to influence the larger society (124).” We are to teach God’s laws, humanity’s need for redemption, and Jesus’ success as our salvation. We do this by earning an audience with those around us. The church has been equipped to meet the needs of the abandoned, the hungry, the abused, and the lost. When we stop focusing our time and effort on enforcing our belief, we will see that the world is very open to the idea of Jesus followers. Jesus followers not only share the good news of Jesus, but meet the needs of society. It was not often in Jesus’ ministry that he had a receptive audience without first meeting someone’s physical needs. If we want the world to hear what we have to say, we must first make sure they realize our motive is love.

In closing, the church has become very misunderstood but much of the problem is our own doing. I spent this post talking about our shortcomings, but the church has been successful on many fronts. I believe on these two things we are in need of repentance and revival. We cannot allow our differences to make us opponents and we cannot view the world as our enemy, it is our mission. Through loving each other and those around us, we can find opportunities to meet the needs of those who are destitute. And in those moments of love, the gospel shines the brightest.

Reference:
Towns, Elmer. “Core Christianity: What is Christianity All About?” 2007. AMG Publishers. Chattanooga, TN.

Cosmological and Anthropological Arguments For The Existence of God

Introduction
The Bible begins in the book of Genesis with these words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Bible does not begin by arguing for the reality of God, but assumes His existence. The people of Israel accepted the truth of an eternal God, so the biblical authors rarely spent time dealing with an argument for His existence. However, today in our humanistic society it is often necessary to begin explaining the gospel by establishing a foundation with an argument for God’s existence. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs believers to, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” For the believer it is good to have an understanding of the arguments for God’s existence. It is important to note that we cannot prove God’s existence, but we can make a good argument that is supported by both scripture and reason. For this paper we will look at the Cosmological and the Anthropological arguments for God’s existence, and how they explain the necessity of a greater being.

Part One
The Cosmological Argument
The cosmological argument for God’s existence is an ancient philosophy that has been contemplated for centuries. The argument attempts to prove God’s existence by observation of the world around us. It begins with the acknowledgement that in order for things to exist they must have a beginning and all things with a beginning must have a cause. Today it is accepted by many within the scientific community that the universe must have had a beginning. When we peer into the reaches of space it is evident that the universe is expanding and this means everything is moving away from a single point in time and space, that point was the beginning. If the universe had a beginning, it had a cause. It is rational to determine that if the universe had a cause that cause must either be a something or someone. However, further scrutiny will reveal that the cause cannot be a something or you are simply adding to the chain of events and that something would require a cause. This is best illustrated in the example of a tree. A tree is a plant that comes from a seed, and that seed is produced by a tree. To get a tree you must have a seed and to get a seed you must have a tree. However, we know this sequence must be finite. At some point trees came into existence and the series started, a series by definition has a beginning and end. So the universe had a first cause, and that first cause must be an infinite, eternal, and powerful someone who exists outside of our space and time otherwise that someone would just be another cause demanding a cause.

A second aspect of the cosmological argument is a bit more complicated and becomes very philosophical, but it is very powerful because it not only explains that God created the universe but that He must also be causing it to continue to exist. Going back to the concept that things exist, we must further analyze what it means for something to exist. If I described a creature to you that had the body of a woman but instead of legs the creature had a tail like a fish, you would likely guess that I was describing a mermaid, however mermaids do not exist. The fact they are definable does not grant mermaids existence.

Let’s try another example but with something that can exist. If I were to describe a two-dimensional shape, constructed of line segments connecting three points, that are not in a straight line; I have rightly described a triangle. But that description does not require the triangle to exist. Triangles by nature do not require existence; triangles are actually caused to exist by something else that already exists. And that thing would require something to make it exist, and so on and so on. Just as the cosmological argument concludes there must be a beginning and therefore a cause, so it demands a source that continues to cause things to exist. And in order to end the loop, that cause must be without cause. Meaning its existence cannot be determined by the existence of something else. It must exist to give existence to everything else. So not only did the universe require a cause to begin, but it requires a cause to continue being. That thing would be existence itself, it would always exist, it would have no beginnings and no cause, and to be that it must be outside of the world as we know it. The next question is, does the God of the Bible fit that description?

Biblical Foundation
The purpose of world religions is to provide man a purpose in life. Christianity is different from all the world religions because it goes beyond our necessity for purpose and explains the cause of our existence as well as our purpose. No other religion, other than Judaism (which God used to provide the messiah of Christianity) and Christianity, bothers to provide a detailed account of the history of the universe and mankind. The Old Testament account of Genesis begins with God’s creation of the universe. He created time and space, and filled them with the earth, the sun, moon, and the stars. The God of Christianity is no small God who was unhappy with the world around Him and reshaped it to his liking. No, the God of Christianity spoke and created the entire universe from nothing.

One of the Hebrew poems attributed to Israel’s King David says in Psalm 19:1-4, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The God of the Bible claims to have displayed his glory in the mysteries of the universe. Another of the psalms reads, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Psalm 90:2).” There is no mistake, the Bible claims God to have existed eternally and in order for that to be He must be without cause.

In fact, one of the writers of the New Testament, Paul, wrote in his letter to the Romans that, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Romans 1:20).” Paul was saying that what we cannot see in this life is revealed to us in what we can see. That for the universe to come into being and to continue, it must have been caused by a great and mighty God. The Bible ends with the book of John’s revelation of Jesus Christ. In this letter to the church, John (one of Jesus’ disciples and closest friends) describes a scene in heaven where a multitude can be seen worshiping God and declaring, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being (Revelation 4:11).” No other religion declares their deity to be so powerful to be the very existence of the universe. Such a claim would demand the most amazing feats such as changing the very molecular composition of water into wine, defying the physical laws of gravity to walk on water, and raising the dead to life. No other “god” has claimed to be so powerful and proven themselves to be true. Only the God of Christianity can be our Cause.

Practical Application
What does the existence of a Creator who simply spoke the universe into existence and who alone causes all things to exist mean for mankind? If the universe had a beginning, than the universe had a cause, and that cause must exist outside of our space and time. Our response to this truth is to acknowledge that we are not alone. There is something greater than mankind, and it doesn’t come from the stars, but beyond them. Once we have come to belief in a creator, scrutiny of the Christian bible will further reveal the cause as not only our creator, but our God. We are the workmanship of a God who has chosen to pursue us, and if He has chosen to reach out to us our response should be to pursue Him. Our response should be complete devotion and worship.

Part Two

Anthropological Argument
The second argument for the existence of God that we are going to explore is the Anthropological argument. Anthropology is the study of mankind, and the subject of this argument are the qualities that separates us from other forms of life. We must ask ourselves why we are different from the rest of our planets inhabitants. Are we, as evolutionists propose, simply the highest evolved animal on our planet? Or is it possible that we are the dominant species because we are in fact different from the animals? This question deals with who we are and how we relate to God. Humanity differs from earth’s other occupants because we are self-aware, we think rationally, and we are imaginative. No other species on earth displays our level of intelligence, creativity, and emotion. So this raises the question, are we the dominant form of life because we possess these qualities? Or do we possess them because we were created to be dominant? How could mankind have evolved into a rational, creative, and emotional being from the chaotic process of microbe to man evolution?

One aspect of the anthropological argument reveals that mankind is so widely different from our world because our creation was different from that of the rest of the universe. We were created in the image of God, and because of this we have been given certain attributes that separates us from all other forms of life. We were not made in God’s likeness in appearance, for scripture tells us that God is spirit and we should not infer that God’s physical appearance is that of a man’s. It is our non-physical attributes that were granted to us by being made in the image of our Creator. Our intelligence, imagination, emotion, creativity, and morality are many of the attributes of God that He has blessed us with.

A second aspect of the Anthropological argument demonstrates that it is impossible for mankind to be a personal beings made from an impersonal universe. We are beings that desire to be free, we long for intimacy, we acknowledge morality, and we seek significance. This is what it means to be human. But this world does not feed our desires, and they cannot come from the universe. Allow me to explain, we hunger for food and thirst for drink. The universe in which we live includes an environment that supplies the necessities to satisfy these desires. But our environment is not personal; it is not rational, loving, moral, or purposeful. Our environment does not meet these needs. They are only met by a personal, rational, loving, moral, and significant Creator. It is these desires that lead us to the truth that satisfaction can only be found in God. And again we must ask ourselves, does the God of the Bible satisfy this argument.

Biblical Foundation
To find why mankind differs so greatly from the animals that we co-populate the earth with, we must look no further than the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Genesis 1:27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” It is this belief that mankind was created by his creator to be different that best explains why we are the dominant species and why there is no competition from other animals. In the account of creation we see that God gave man many of his attributes and placed him in a position of dominance over the animals. Also in the Genesis account we see how God satisfies man’s desires. In Genesis 2:18 we read, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” This is indication that in God’s perfect creation (before man’s rebellion and his fall from paradise) man’s environment and God himself were able to meet all of man’s desires. Man is a foreign creature that differs greatly from all other life in his environment. Those attributes that separate us also lead us to question if we have a creator. It is these qualities and their existence in man alone that argue for a creator who modeled man after himself.

Practical Application
The anthropological argument is convincing in that humanity has always searched for other intelligent, emotional, and hopefully moral beings. The thought that we could be one of a kind seems foreign to us. Man’s desire for such a relationship is further proof of the existence of a creator who is seeking to have a relationship with his creation. Who we are, how we think, how we love, and how we create are all reflections of a personal God who is looking to have a personal relationship with us. If this creator has reached out to us our response must be to run to Him. It is clear that this is what we were created for.

Conclusion
It is true that we cannot prove the existence of God, but the cosmological argument provides us with very convincing evidence that He exists. God has chosen to reveal himself in a way that requires faith but He has provided many “proofs” of his existence; such as the expanding of the universe, the need for the universe to have a cause, the miracle of life itself, His involvement in the lives of the Israelites, in the life of Jesus our Messiah, and the creation and divine protection of His Church. Often times people ask for proof in God outside of the text of the Bible, and both the cosmological and an anthropological arguments provide a great deal of reason to the discussion.

Summary of the Book of Ruth

The book of Ruth is one of the greatest ancient narratives known today, and focuses much of the story on one Jewish family during Israel‘s time of the judges. This is after the Joshua’s conquest of God‘s promised land, and before the nation demanded a king. When The nation would begin to fall away from God’s desire for them, He would send a judge to put them back on course. Important themes and events of The Book of Ruth include God’s sovereignty over Israel and the Messiah’s ancestry, application of God’s commands in the Law and how they can positively impact lives and the nation, and that God’s redemptive plan includes the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Harbin 209).

The Book of Ruth begins with the family of Elimelek, Naomi, and their two sons leaving Bethlehem in Judah to live in Moab during a famine. After Elimelek dies in Moab, their two sons marry Moabite women. One of the brides is named Ruth. After they had lived together for about ten years both of the sons die, leaving Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws. Naomi hears the Lord has provided food for her home and plans to leave Moab. She offers for her daughters-in-law to return to their families, but Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi and states she has accepted Naomi’s God as her own. Ruth and Naomi arrive in Bethlehem at the time of the harvest and Ruth proposes she will pick through the leftover grains in a nearby field. This was in accordance with the Law given by the Jewish prophet Moses as a means to feed the poor and starving. The field belongs to a relative of Elimelech, Boaz. He notices Ruth and her to dedication to her mother-in-law and makes sure she is able to collect all that she is capable of carrying. When Ruth tells Naomi where she acquired all the grain Naomi realizes Boaz is an eligible kinsman redeemer, and plots a plan for Naomi to ask Boaz to marry her. God’s Law to the Jews included a means to keep family land from changing hands to a new owner. A close relative was allowed to take the land for the deceased. The Law also allowed for a close relative who is not married to take as his wife the widow of his relative in order to provide children for the deceased lineage. There was one redeemer, who was more closely related to Elimelech, but he refused to take Ruth because she was a Moabite, and Boaz redeems both the property and Ruth. Ruth and Boaz have a child named Obed who is the grandfather of Israel’s King David. This means Ruth, a Moabite, is an ancestor to Jesus the Messiah (Harbin 210).

We should not confuse the Book of Ruth to be an allegory of God’s love for Israel or the Church. The events in the Book of Ruth took place, and they are recorded so that we may better understand God’s ability to create an outcome. Make no mistake, God would fulfill his promise of a Messiah and he would orchestrate history to provide a lineage for mankind’s savior. This Old Testament gem has been preserved so that we might marvel at God’s faithfulness through history.

 

Interpreting the Epistles

The New Testament epistles provide much of our understanding of new covenant living. They were written by early church leaders to believers around the world as Christianity spread. The epistles seem easy to read, but can be difficult to interpret without a good contextual understanding of the writing. It is important to interpret the epistles within their historical context. “The first thing one must try to do with any of the epistles is to form a tentative but informed reconstruction of the situation that the author is speaking to.” (Fee & Stuart p.59) For this, a Bible dictionary or commentary would be beneficial to learn as much of the setting of the epistle as possible. You are not looking to learn every little detail, but you must grasp the big picture to understand what was being said.

The next principle involved in interpreting the epistles is reading the work within its literary context. Where the historical context wanted to know who the writing was from, who it was to, and what was going on; the literary context is concerned with what is said and why it was said (Fee p.65). Literary context allows us to trace the arguments being presented to understand the answer (Fee p. 64). An important technique to remember when looking at the literary context is to read and think about the writings in paragraphs. This will more easily allow you to break down the context and understand the flow of the writing (Fee p.64).

The third principle of our study consists of the hermeneutical principles of the epistles. Hermeneutics is the understanding of what is important to the reader. We all exercise hermeneutic reasoning even though we may not recognize that we are. “Very simply, we bring our enlightened common sense to the text and apply what we can to our own situation. What does not seem to apply is simply left in the first century” (Fee p.72). This principle causes many of or disagreements on scripture, and we must choose to be consistent in our interpretation if we are to properly understand what was being said. There are two rules when it comes to hermeneutics. The first rule, referred to as the basic rule, is that the text can never mean what it could not have meant to its authors or readers (Fee p.74). This rule does not add a great deal of insight into what a passage does mean for us, but it should prevent us from imposing a thought process that was never intended. The Second Rule supports our understanding of scripture that speaks to all believers. “Whenever we share comparable particulars (i.e., similar specific life situations) with the first-century hearers, God’s Word to us is the same as His Word to them.” (Fee p.75) When we properly understand our situation to match the situation written about in the epistle we have clear and definitive instruction from the text.

 

Secular Humanism and Christianity

What is Secular Humanism?

There is something universal about humanity. All across the globe no matter how isolated, we want to believe there is something greater than ourselves. This desire within us represents the natural belief in God, although many choose to deny his existence and instead choose to put their faith in something other than a creator. Secular humanists are not different. Secular humanism is the belief that all life developed by a series of cosmic accidents. Secular humanism is the belief that all matter has existed infinitely and that life was allowed to form over time as combinations of building blocks formed more complex systems (Weider p.55). Secular humanists believe this same evolutionary process eventually led to mankind’s evolution.

In secular humanism our character and consciousness is the product of chemical and biological exchanges and there is no other driving force creating individuality than these combinations and life experience (Secularism: A Religious Profile from International Students p.2). Secular humanist believe mankind to be a more highly evolved animal that holds no greater value than the rest of earth’s inhabitants (Weider  p.57). And so a humanist’s faith must be placed in mankind and their hope is that by becoming more enlightened we can create paradise in this life.

Secular humanists believe that mankind’s existence holds no purpose and that it is left up to the individual to create value in their own life (Weider p.59). From a secular humanist point-of-view it is only by our desire to leave a legacy and lasting impact that our lives are given meaning. They believe we exist simply due to evolutionary chance and other than the desire to survive and leave a legacy we have no purpose.

Secular humanism rejects the idea of God and of an absolute moral standard. To the secular humanist morality is relative to the individual or society and can change based on many factors (Weider p.61). Secular humanists believe mankind is morally good, and would pursue goodness if it is properly taught (Secularism: A Religious Profile from International Students p.3). However by this belief is it difficult to determine how a person should live. Some believe morality is up to the person, and some might argue it is up to the society. Secular humanism’s rejection of absolute morality makes it very difficult to determine right from wrong.

For secular humanist the answers to questions about life after death are simple, when you die life is over. They believe there is no life after death. The humanist belief is that the only thing that comes after death is your legacy (Weider p.63). Secular humanists believe the only judge of a person will be those left behind and how they will remember them. For this very reason many secular humanists put much effort in meaningful activities they can be remembered for.

What does Christianity Teach About Mankind?

Christians believe God existed before anything else. He created our world from nothing (Genesis 1:1). The matter that makes up all physical things did not exist before God began creation (Weider p.56). Life did not evolve over millions of years, but was spoken into existence in the span of six days (Genesis 1:31). Man was created by God on the sixth day after He had created the land animals. The Christian Bible says mankind was made in God’s image, he was formed from the ground, and God breathed life into him (Genesis 2:7).

Christians believe God created mankind different from the animals (Weider p.58). The first man, Adam, was not spoken into existence like the rest of the living creatures. He was shaped after his creator and given life from the Creator’s own breath. Christianity teaches that the earth and all life were created for mankind to enjoy. God instructed Adam to work the ground and gave him responsibility over the animals (Genesis 1:28). Christian’s believe human attributes, that make us different from the animals, are attributed to our Creator making us like Himself. Christians believe we have a God-given responsibility to take care of His creation (Weider p.58).

Christians believe we were created for the sole purpose of relationship; specifically, a relationship with God (2 Corinthians 5:15). Christians reject the notion of life being an accident and instead embrace that God created us for this purpose (Jeremiah 29:11). Christians believe life to be something special created by God and nurtured so that we would pursue our maker and that is why we exist (Weider p.60).

To the Christian God has chosen right from wrong, and the distinction is absolute (Weider p.62). Christians believe man is inherently evil, due to the fall of mankind, and corrupted by a sin nature that separates us from God. Christians believe God has taught the difference between right and wrong by both natural (Romans 2:14-15) and special revelation (Exodus 20:1-17), but we choose to rebel against Him because of our sin nature (Matthew 15:18-19). Christians believe it is impossible for mankind to overcome our sinfulness, and it is only by the redeeming work of Christ Jesus that we are able to be restored to God. After this restoration, our desires begin to change and we want to live more like Jesus. Only after a new birth, we begin to seek living a life that is pleasing to God (Galatians 5:22-25).

Christians believe God has promised an existence after this life. Jesus taught that he would leave his followers to return to God and that he would prepare a place for them to live for eternity (John 14:2-3). Christians believe those who put their trust in the redeeming work of Jesus, will spend eternity living in the presence of God in his heavenly home. However, for those who reject the work of Jesus there will be eternal punishment separated from God. Those who reject God will be sentenced with the fallen angels in the eternal prison known as Hell (Hebrews 9:27-28). Christians believe they will be held to answer for their lives at the Judgment Seat of Christ. It is there that all believers will give account of their lives and be rewarded for their faithfulness to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:4-27). However, Christians believe the unbeliever will face condemnation at the Great White Thrown Judgment for their unbelief. The point here is that a Christian believes they have been given a desire by God to live a righteous life and there are rewards for doing so. The desire to please God only comes from salvation (Weider p.64).

References:

Weider, L. and Gutierrez, B. (2011). Consider. Bel Air, MD: Acedemx.

Halverson, D. (2005). Secularism: A Religious Profile from International Students. Colorado Springs, CO: International Students, Inc.

A Summary of the OT Book of Leviticus

The Old Testament book of Leviticus has been a pain in my daily devotions for years. I struggled through its pages many times trying to understand all the rules and why they were important to me to no avail. Leviticus has honestly been the butt to more than one of my sermon jokes about struggling with the Old Testament as a Christian. 

I am very thankful that as my Bible course is wrapping up I took the time to read through Leviticus with a new understanding of the OT book of Law. I was tremendously blessed through its pages as I saw more clearly what God was orchestrating by giving these precepts to His people. I hope you enjoy, and I pray this summary encourages you to take a closer look at some of the more difficult texts of the OT.

Leviticus

The book of Leviticus is one of the five Jewish books known as the Pentateuch and is mostly a book of law. The writer is not named, but most believe the author to be Moses. The instructions contained in Leviticus were given to the writer directly from God with instructions to be given to His people. Since Moses was established as God’s voice to the people at this time, Moses is the most plausible author.

Leviticus begins one month after the instructions for the Tabernacle in Exodus. By now the Hebrew have completed the holy place where God will dwell among them, and they will be required to keep themselves holy for God to remain in their presence.  Leviticus provides the priests with instructions for the five major offerings, it establishes the priesthood, instructs rules of cleanness and uncleanness, details rituals for the Day of Atonement, instructs how Hebrews are to handle blood and why it is important, contains a call to holiness by the people, establishes holy holidays and festivals, explains blessings for obedience and punishments for disobedience, and instructs the proper way to offer vows and dedications to God.

Leviticus contains mostly instructions for the Tabernacle priests, but also includes commands for the people. Leviticus begins by explaining God’s requirements for offerings. Then the writer tells of the ordination of Aaron (Moses brother) and his sons as the priests of Israel. A couple of chapters are dedicated to narratives about a pleasing offering to God by Aaron and the time his sons’, Nadab and Abihu, carelessly offered an unauthorized burnt offering and were instantly killed. Next the book establishes the notion of ritual uncleanness, cleanness, and holiness. It is important to note, ritual states are for ritual purposes and do not indict moral holiness. The priests were required to remain ceremonially holy to perform their duties, the people were expected to strive for ritual cleanness, but God provides provisions for uncleanness. No doubt the ritual states served the purpose to guide Israel to moral holiness, but these must not be confused. Next God instructs the priests on how to perform the Day of Atonement Ritual. This is the most important of all offerings and is to be performed once a year for all of Israel’s sins. After instructions for the Atonement Ritual, God explains the necessity and significance of blood in the offerings. There are guidelines for both priests and the people on how to handle sacrifices for offerings. Proceeding God’s instructions on the handling of blood, God calls all of Israel’s camp to pursue holiness. To remind the people, God creates the Hebrew calendar around harvest times. He presents holy celebrations and ceremonies to remind His people of their history and of His presence. As the book is beginning to wrap up, God offers conditions of blessings for compliance to the Law and punishments for disobedience. The book of Leviticus ends instructing the people how they should offer vows and dedications to God and emphasize the significance of funding the tabernacle and priests.

The book of Leviticus is important to the Christian because of its emphasis on God’s demands for wholehearted devotion. The people could not keep the laws found in Leviticus without the desire to keep God in their presence. Leviticus also underscores the fact that spiritual leaders have a greater responsibility to striving for inner holiness than do laypeople. The most important section of Leviticus for the Christian can be found in God’s instructions for the Day of Atonement ritual. The ritual requires the complete cleansing of sins and uncleanness by purifying the innermost part of the tent of meeting. The significance for the Christian is that atonement is impossible without the God’s gracious atonement that cleanses us of our sin.

Reading The Prophets

To the average Bible reader, reading the prophetic books can become a challenging task. Many find it difficult to comprehend them because of an inaccurate understanding of the word “prophecy”, an inadequate awareness regarding the purpose of the prophets, and a large disconnect created by the historical distance of ancient Israel. The prophetic books require a degree of previous knowledge to fully appreciate what God has protected.

The very word “prophecy” can be a hurdle for contemporary readers of the Bible. We often think of prophecies as being events that will unfold in the future, and then assume they are future still. However, most of the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in Israel’s past, and many within a short period of time of their expression. We must not lose sight of God’s message to the people of that day, or try to create a new meaning in our own lives.

Another difficult aspect of the prophetic books can be found in their spoken nature. The prophets functioned as God’s representatives and served as enforcers of the His Law that had originally been given through Moses. “To see the prophets as primarily predicators of future events is to miss their primary function, which was to speak for God to their own contemporaries.” (Fee p.182) These writings are the chronicles of ancient “street preachers” whose message of God’s blessings and curses were intended for an audience including the rulers and inhabitants of Israel and Judah.

A third characteristic of the prophetic books that often creates problems for contemporary readers can be summed up in the term “context.” When reading the prophetic books, it is imperative that we have a solid understanding of the historical, religious, political, and cultural life of ancient Israel. When we read these passages from the context of their historical events we are able to better understand what was going wrong and how God was attempting to direct Israel back on course. “The prophets can serve constantly as reminders to us of God’s determination to enforce his covenant” (Fee p.204). In that sense, the prophetic books offer contemporary readers a picture into the importance of obedience to God’s commands.

Bible Essay: The Biblical Narrative

A narrative is a historical story that provides an account of events that took place in the past so that the reader may gain knowledge and direction in the present. Much of the Bible is composed of narratives accurately depicting events in the history of God’s chosen people. Narratives serve a very distinct purpose in Christianity. “If you are a Christian, the Old Testament is your spiritual history. The promises and calling of God to Israel are your historical promises and calling (Fee, 89).”

The narratives contained in the Bible were written to teach the readers about events in the past, and it is important to realize we should never allegorize the OT narratives looking for hidden meanings. These events took place in history just as they are recorded. The OT narratives are not stories to better illustrate something about Jesus (Fee, 92), and neither should they be viewed as fables that teach moral lessons. The characters are real historical figures with many flaws and they sometimes make poor decisions. The description of their life events are what actually happened and not necessarily what should have happened (Fee, 92). The narratives purpose is to inform the reader of how God has orchestrated events throughout history to achieve his desired outcome. Sometimes the OT narratives illustrate what is taught clearly and firmly elsewhere in scripture. A truth is not taught in the narrative, but the narrative may be used to further support or illustrate a truth from another section of scripture (Fee, 106).

The OT narratives are a vital resource for Christians. We may easily read how God, the biblical hero, has orchestrated events through history, independent of those who follow him, to guide history to where we are today. “Narratives are precious to us because they so vividly demonstrate God’s involvement in the world and illustrate his principles and calling (Fee, 105).” The narratives offer great insight into the past, but we should never abuse them to try and teach directives they do not contain.

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