How Does a Hard Heart Become Soft?

TODAY’S READING: HEBREWS 1-4

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4.12)

In Hebrews 3 and 4, the writer quotes from Psalm 95.7-11 in some way on five separate occasions. There is one particular portion that gets quoted three times. It says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Two of the three quotes include the additional phrase “as in the rebellion.” And, one of the three quotes adds “on the day of testing in the wilderness.”

What was the rebellion and the day of testing in the wilderness?

While the Septuagint, which is where the quotation of Psalm 94.7-11 (psalms are numbered differently in the Septuagint) comes from, does not clearly tell us, the Hebrew version of Psalm 95.7-11 does. In the Hebrew version, we learn that the rebellion was at Meribah and Massah in the wilderness. I wrote about this in Jesus: The Rock that Was Struck.

Israel had been led to a place in the desert where there was no water. They quarreled with Moses and demanded water to drink. Moses asked why they were testing God. But, the people thirsted and grumbled against Moses saying that he had brought them out of Egypt to kill them with thirst.

This is a picture of Israel hardening their hearts even though they had heard God’s voice. The Greek word for harden often refers to hard heartedness but more literally means dry, stiff, inflexible, or rigid. Israel was in a dry place in the desert and this symbolized the conditions of their hearts – dry, hard, inflexible.

So, God told Moses, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike that rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” (Exodus 17.6) Therefore, in the rebellion in the desert, where Israel’s hearts had become dry, hard, and inflexible, God provided water from a rock. But, Israel still did not listen. God said of them, “They always go astray in their heart,” and “They shall not enter my rest.”

The writer of Hebrews is warning us not to be like Israel, making our hearts hard – dry and inflexible – by refusing to listen to God’s voice.

So, how does a hard heart become soft?

The rock God was standing on was called Horeb. Horeb means to dry up, be dried, to be in ruins, to lay waste.

When Jesus was struck by Satan on the cross, what did he say?

John 19.28 says, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.”

Jesus is the rock at Horeb that was dried up when he was struck on the cross. Further, in John 19.34, we are told that when Jesus was struck on the cross that water came out of his side.

In John 4.10, 13-14, Jesus said to the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

What is the one thing that soften hard ground, even rock hard ground?

Water.

Water can penetrate even the smallest of cracks to soften the hardest of ground.

And, what does water symbolize in the Bible?

The Holy Spirit.

Like water, the Holy Spirit can penetrate even the smallest of cracks in the hardest of hearts.

So, the writer of Hebrews is encouraging his readers to enter God’s rest by allowing his voice, living water, the Holy Spirit to keep their hearts from becoming hard.

“For the word of God is living and active.”

The word of God is Jesus.

How is Jesus living and active in us?

Through the Holy Spirit, the living water that wells up inside of us.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”

Sometimes ground is so hard that the sharpest tool cannot break it. You have to wait until some water falls on it that ground before any tool will work.

Therefore, Jesus through the Holy Spirit in your heart is sharper than a two-edged sword. In other words, Jesus through the Holy Spirit can soften the hardest of hearts.

What does the softening of the heart look like?

“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.”

Jesus through the Holy Spirit pierces through quarreling and complaining against God that leads to disobedience and sin. Jesus through the Holy Spirit pierces through our dry, rigid, and inflexible views and attitudes toward God. Jesus through the Holy Spirit softens our hearts toward God so that we can see God for who he really is.

Therefore, in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul says we need to read scripture by the Spirit, moistened with water, instead of by the letter, dry, inflexible, and rigid.

Scripture moistened with the Spirit can soften our hearts and allow us to see God as good and only good, giving life to all things.

Scripture read by the letter remains dry, hard, rigid, inflexible, causing us to see God as good and evil, perhaps giving life on the one hand but also giving death on the other.

So, to keep our hearts soft we need to hear the voice of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, the word of God living and active, living water welling up like a spring inside of us.

Then, we can enter God’s rest, stopping our works just as he stopped his.

When Did God Promise Eternal Life?

TODAY’S READING: TITUS, PHILEMON

“In hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.” (Titus 1.2-3)

Paul, as usual, starts this his letter to Titus with a statement that he is a servant of God and apostle of Jesus.

Why is Paul a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus?

“In hope of eternal life.”

We to get very focused on the hope of eternal life for ourselves. But, Paul was not hoping for eternal life for a few select individuals. For Paul, the “hope of eternal life,” was a hope for the restoration of all creation.

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8.19-25)

The creation is waiting and groaning to be set free from its bondage to death. Therefore, for the creation to be set free from its bondage to death means that the creation would have eternal life, which is “the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” For, the Spirit is life where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.

The creation was originally created with eternal life, God’s life. This is why God said

  • “And God saw that the light was good.” (Genesis 1.4)
  • “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1.10)
  • “And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1.12)
  • “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1.18)
  • “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1.21)
  • “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1.25)
  • “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1.31)

Seven times God said that what he made was good. Seven symbolizes spiritual perfection.

So, God originally made his creation good, spiritually perfect, with eternal life. This is not eternal life in the sense of life that goes on forever, but eternal life in the sense of God’s very own life. The life of God was in creation.

But, the fall of man resulted in the loss of eternal life for the entire creation. Therefore, the whole creation is eagerly waiting and groaning inwardly for the sons of God to appear, for eternal life, God’s life, to come to mankind so that the whole creation can be restored to its original state.

Why is the creation, including you and me, eagerly waiting and groaning inwardly for this restoration?

Because “God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.” God promised eternal life, his very own life, for his entire creation before time even began. God’s plan has always been that everything he made would have his own life in it.

Can God keep this promise of eternal life for all creation, everything ever created?

Romans 4.21 says that Abraham “fully convinced that God was able to to what he had promised.”

Hebrews 10.23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

When will God make good on this promise of eternal life for all creation, everything ever created?

He already has.

“And at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching.”

A more literal, and perhaps better, translation of this would be, “and in his own time manifested his word in preaching.”

What is Paul referring to here?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1.1)

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1.14)

The word of God is a person, Jesus. The word of God was manifested, made visible, when he took on flesh.

Notice that John says, “In the beginning…” In wasn’t by accident that he started his gospel with the same words as Genesis. John is telling us about the new creation, the restoration of creation back to eternal life, God’s life, through the manifestation of “his word.”

When Paul says “his word,” he is not talking about the Bible. God did manifest eternal life in the Bible. In John 5.39-40, Jesus said, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

The eternal life, God’s life, was manifested in “his word,” Jesus Christ. Therefore, John 1.4 says, “In him was life.” Therefore, 1 John 5.11 says, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”

The fulfillment of God’s promise of eternal life has begun. But, it is not complete. Hence, Paul is still a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus “in hope of eternal life.” But, we can be sure of the complete fulfillment of God’s promise.

How so?

According to 1 Corinthians 1.22, God “has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”

Further, “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

We are in our earthly tents of bodies. Therefore, we groan, just like all of creation is groaning, for eternal life, God’s life. We groan for what is mortal, our present bodies of that corrupt and die, to be swallowed up by life, God’s life. God has prepared and promised this very thing to us and creation. And, God has given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of that his promise, the fulfillment of which has begun, will be completely fulfilled.

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1.13-14)

We heard the word of truth and believed in him. See how the word of truth is called him. The word of truth is Jesus. When we heard the word of truth and believed in him, Jesus, we were sealed with the Holy Spirit. The Holy is a guarantee of our inheritance. And, our inheritance is eternal life.

Our inheritance was promised by God even before time began.

And, if eternal life was promised before time began, before creation was begun, then there is nothing that we can do to alter that promise. We can make this promise be fulfilled. Nor, can we stop this promise from being fulfilled.

We are simply to serve God in hope that he will restore all creation to eternal life.

Jesus, the Word of God, Is Not Bound

TODAY’S READING: 2 TIMOTHY

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2.8-10)

John 1 boldly declares that Jesus is the word of God. And, he took on flesh and dwelt among us. Despite this shocking declaration by John, when we say “the word of God” our minds immediately think “the Bible.” In addition to directly saying the Bible is the word of God, we make the unconscious association that the Bible is the word of God so often that the Bible and the word of God have become one and the same thing. Even Christians who know that the word of God is Jesus and not the Bible casually slip into saying “the word of God” when they really mean the Bible.

Today’s scripture helps to see that the word of God and the Bible are not the same thing.

Paul says, “The word of God is not bound!”

Can we therefore say, “The Bible is not bound!”?

We only need to look at the context of the verse to know that we cannot equate the word of God and the Bible. These two things are not interchangeable.

The actual structure, or pattern, of what Paul is saying reveals this. In this passage of scripture there are five basic points with five subjects of those five points.

The five subjects are

  1. Jesus
  2. Paul
  3. Word of God
  4. Paul
  5. Jesus

The five points are

  1. Raised from the dead
  2. Suffering under chains (bound)
  3. Not bound
  4. Suffering everything
  5. Eternal glory

Listing the five subjects and five points without all the other wording, helps to see the essence of what is being said. There is a symmetry and flow to what Paul is saying that makes it clear Jesus is the word of God.

  1. Jesus is risen.
  2. Paul is suffering under chains (bound).
  3. Jesus is not bound!
  4. Paul suffers everything.
  5. Jesus is amid eternal glory.

The essence of what Paul is saying is, “Jesus is risen from the dead, no longer bound by death but living in eternal glory, and I will suffer everything, including being bound, for you so that you can obtain salvation.”

But, if we combine these subjects and points with the Bible as the word of God, then we lose the essence of Paul’s statement.

  1. Jesus is risen.
  2. Paul is suffering under chains (bound).
  3. The Bible is not bound!
  4. Paul suffers everything.
  5. Jesus is amid eternal glory.

Frankly, it is patently absurd to think that is the message Paul is trying to convey.

Further, Peter’s first sermon makes reference to Jesus being raised to life and not being bound to death.

“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2.24)

The Greek word translated loosing almost means untying or releasing. If something is untied or released, then it is no longer bound. God raised Jesus, and Jesus having been untied from the birth pains of death. The word of God was raised and is no longer bound.

Why is it so important to see Jesus as the word of God and not the Bible?

When say the Bible is the word of God, then we must believe that the every statement – every jot and tittle – in the Bible is perfectly true for God never lies. Therefore, those that believe the Bible is the word of God typically read the Bible very literally.

But, Jesus said the scriptures, which for us is basically the Bible, are merely are witness to him. (John 5.39-40). The scriptures witness to Jesus, the word of God.

Jesus said, “I am the truth.” The scriptures witness to the truth, Jesus. The scriptures, the Bible, themselves are not the truth.

“Do you best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2.15)

Is Paul talking about Jesus or the Bible there?

The Greek word translated “rightly handling” more literally means “guiding along a straight path.”

In addition to saying “I am the truth,” Jesus said, “I am the way.” Jesus is the path of life to follow. Hence, Christians were initially known as The Way. They followed the way, Jesus.

Therefore, the essence of what Paul is saying that we should strive to present ourselves to God as one approved by following along the straight path of Jesus. That straight path involves picking up our cross and suffering just as Jesus did.

When we make the word of God the Bible instead of Jesus, then

  • We worship the Bible instead of Jesus.
  • We imitate the Bible instead of Jesus.
  • We follow the way of the Bible instead of the way of Jesus.
  • We make the Bible our truth instead of Jesus.
  • We seek life from the Bible instead of Jesus.

But, all of this makes the Bible an idol. And, it is this idolatry, this bibliolatry, that ha caused Christians to do, endorse, sanction, and allow all sorts of things that Jesus would never have done.

With the Bible as our way, truth, and life instead of Jesus, then

  • We can go to war, justifying the killing and destruction of our enemies.
  • We can enslave, demean, beat, brutalize and treat like cattle our enemies enemies.
  • We can cast out of our very presence our enemies.
  • We can commit genocide against our enemies.
  • We can rape the women of our enemies.
  • We can destroy the children of our enemies.
  • We can take revenge on our enemies.

Because, in the Bible, Israel, God’s people, did all of these things because they believed God told them to do all of these things. And, if in the Bible God told them to do it, then God could tell us to do it too.

However, when Jesus is the word of God, when Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, then we only to listen to Jesus. We are guided on the straight that Jesus walked. We can’t do any of the things Israel, God’s people, did to their enemies in the Bible.

Instead, we love our enemies as Jesus loved us.

Do this and you will be raised from the dead, no longer bound, and amid eternal glory just like Jesus.

Why Should You Live Expecting God to Save All People?

TODAY’S READING: 1 TIMOTHY

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1.15)

Why did Jesus come into the world?

To save sinners.

Simple. Clear. Direct.

This is exactly what Jesus said about himself. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3.17) To condemn the world would be to put it to death. However, to save the world would be to give it life. Also, we should note that Jesus came to save the world not a small group of people.

Everyone in the world is a sinner “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3.23) But, read carefully the end of 1 Timothy 1.15, which says, “to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Paul is saying that he is chief of sinners, first in the line of sinners, the worst of sinners, the most prominent of sinners, the prototype of sinners. But, God saved Paul. Therefore, if God saved Paul, then he will save all other sinners, which again is everyone, too.

Because of hard hearts, many don’t desire all sinners to be saved. For the hard-hearted, only those that believe the right things, the things they believe, should be saved. But, this is not God’s desire.

“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2.4)

God “desires all people to be saved.” Therefore, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” which is all people.

Desires is the Greek word theleo. According to Strong’s, theleo is apparently strengthened from the alternate form of haireomai, which means to take for oneself, to prefer. But, theleo is stronger than God preferring all people to be saved. Therefore, theleo means to determine as an active option from a subjective impulse. God determines, he actively chooses, that all people be saved.

This is in contrast to the Greek word boulemai, which means to be willing, be disposed, intend. Boulemai denotes a passive acquiescence in objective considerations. In other words, I will open to the idea and will allow it to happen, but I’m not going to do anything to make it happen.  This is to prefer, to wish, something would happen.

God is not acquiescing, passively wishing, that all be people be saved. No, God is actively determining, purposing, desiring, that all people be saved. That’s why he sent Jesus into the world.

Many Christians love to quote Isaiah 55.11, which says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

But, I don’t ever previous verse quoted, which tells us how the word that goes out of God’s mouth should be.

Isaiah 55.10 says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater.”

The rain and snow are sent from heaven to bring life upon the earth and provide for all people. So, is the word that goes out from the mouth of God. It too is sent from heaven to bring life upon the earth and provide for all people.

Jesus is the word sent by God from heaven into the world to save sinners. First Timothy 1.15 says, “The saying,” which is ho logos. So, we could actually translate this verse as “The word is faithful and deserving of full acceptance because Christ Jesus [the word of God] came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

Yet, some will still say there are those that hate God so much that these haters of God can outlast God’s desire to save them.

But, in a roundabout way, later in the letter Paul reiterates that all people will be saved. “For to this end will toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

God “desires all people to be saved.” Therefore, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” which is all people. Because Jesus is the “living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

“Especially of those who believe” implies that believers are one class or type of person among others. Therefore, to say that Jesus is “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” means that he will save people that don’t believe. It may happen in a different manner. The unbeliever may go through a different process. But, Jesus saves them nonetheless.

Of course, they will not always remain unbelievers. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2.9-11)

Why will God save all people?

Because he is a God “who gives life to all things.” (1 Timothy 6.13)

“Gives life” is the Greek word zoogoneo.

According to the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, zoogoneo has two meanings. One of these meanings is to leave alive as opposed to kill.

To give life to all things means that you give death to nothing.

According to Strong’s zoogoneo means to engender (beget, procreated, cause to exist) alive and by analogy means to rescue from death. Jesus was sent into the world to rescue all people from death not send them to an eternal death.

Hebrews 2.14-15 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15.26)

If death is defeated, then can anything be dead?

If anything is still dead, then death has not been defeated.

But, until death is finally defeated we are to have faith and live in the expectation that:

God “desires all people to be saved.” Therefore, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” which is all people. Because Jesus is the “living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” For, God “gives life to all things.”

To live in the expectation that God will save all people is the only way we can truly fulfill Jesus’ command to love our neighbor, which includes our enemies, as he loved us.

How Does God Grant Vengeance in Flaming Fire?

TODAY’S READING: 2 THESSALONIANS

“Since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thessalonians 1.6-9)

Here again we find a passage of scripture that is used as proof that God is going to punish unbelievers with eternal conscious torment in a burning lake of fire. However, when you examine the actual Greek in the light of the life of Jesus, you find that this translation has been influenced by a belief in hell and eternal conscious torment of unbelievers.

Ironically, this translation and this understanding of the passage reveal those that do not know God and do not obey the gospel.

Jesus revealed God as the one who suffers and dies for and forgives his enemies in the midst of his own suffering and dying. This is the gospel. And, you know God when you see him in Jesus on the cross.

Jesus, and therefore God, suffered the greatest affliction ever on the cross. Yet, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23.34)

This statement from Jesus shows that until our Father in heaven reveals himself to us, until we understand by the spirit instead of the carnal mind, we know nothing of how God repays anyone and God’s “vengeance.”

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.” (Matthew 5.38-39)

The Old Testament law was based on retributive justice. You were punished with the same thing you did to someone else. If you caused someone to lose their, then you lost their eye too. According to the law, justice was served.

If we believe that style of justice to be the truth about God, then 2 Thessalonians 1.6-9 would prove God to be far more evil and monstrous that even retributive justice.

Why?

Because he would be repaying an individual with eternal, as in forever, conscious torment in a burning lake of fire for an evil, an affliction, they caused to another that was merely temporal. A punishment that lasts forever does not equally pay back a crime that was momentary. This would be a punishment that grossly outweighs the crime. It would be like electrocuting someone for jaywalking on an empty street.

Further, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5.43-44)

Paul and Peter pick up on these two statements from Jesus in their letters. Romans 12.17 says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” First Thessalonians 5.15 says, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” First Peter 3.9 says, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

We would not be called to respond this way if this was not how God himself responds to evil. For, if we are to follow Christ, then we are to pick up our own cross, suffering and dying to bring new life.

So, how would I read 1 Thessalonians 1.6-9?

Since with a just God to repay affliction to those afflicting you and rest to you, as well as us, being afflicted in the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his mighty angels, granting vengeance in flaming fire to those not knowing God and to those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus, who will pay justice, eternal destruction, from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

While I believe this is a better understanding of what Paul said, we still need to dig a little deeper.

Let’s start with eternal destruction.

The Greek word for eternal, aionios, does not mean lasting forever. It was said to be coined by Plato to mean that which only can be of or from God. The word has to do with the nature of a thing and nothing to do with time. Therefore, whatever this destruction is, it is something that only can be of and from God.

The Greek word for destruction is olethros. This is not the more common word for destruction in the New Testament, apollymi. Apollymi means to destroy fully, to destroy utterly, to kill, to demolish, to lay waste. So, whatever olethros means, it does mean exactly the same thing as apollymi.

Olethros is means ruin, punishment, or death. It is found just four times in the New Testament.

First Timothy 6.9 says, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin [olethros] and destruction.” Here we see that is our own harmful desires that bring about our ruin.

First Corinthians 5.5 says, “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction [olethros] of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Here we see that destruction comes to the flesh, but for the purpose of saving the individual at Jesus’ return.

First Thessalonians 5.3 says, “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction [olethros] will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” I wrote about sudden destruction yesterday. Here we see that sudden destruction is compared with birth pains, which ultimately result in new life.

Therefore, in 2 Thessalonians 1.9, we know that eternal destruction is meant for the flesh for the purpose of saving the spirit to bring about new life. This eternal destruction is equated to justice.

Who pays it?

Those that are causing affliction pay eternal destruction, pay justice.

God merely repays. God grants, not inflicts as several translations say, vengeance. While it is subtle there is a difference. Note the actual definitions of inflict and grant.

To inflict means

  1. to give by or as if by striking
  2. to cause (something unpleasant) to be endured.

To grant means

  1. to consent to carry out for a person: allow fulfillment of (grant a request)
  2. to permit as right, privilege, or favor (luggage allowances granted to passengers)
  3. to bestow or transfer formally (grant a scholarship to a student)
  4. to be willing to concede
  5. to assume to be true (granting that you are correct)

When God grants vengeance he becomes willing to concede. But, he does not cause it. This is because sin contains within it its own punishment. As I wrote yesterday, our own snares and evil plans come back on our heads. We reap what we sow. God need not do anything but concede to this. So God’s granting vengeance is us paying eternal destruction, justice.

In 2 Thessalonians 1.9, it says “eternal destruction, away from [apo] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

Other translations translate the Greek apo as “shut out from,” “separated from,” and “forever separated from.” Apo means none of those things. Apo is used 628 times in the New Testament. Of those uses, it is translated from 413 times, of 61 times, and by 20 times. Given that the destruction that is to be paid is eternal, of the nature of God and only God, it makes far more sense to say “eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord.” From is describing the origin of the eternal destruction not where it sends you.

Indeed, even to say “from the presence of the Lord” does not give us the best understanding of where eternal destruction comes from. The Greek word translated presence is prosopon. It used 75 times in the New Testament and is translated face 44 of those times. Interestingly, it is translated “before your eyes” one time.

Why is “before your eyes” interesting, and why should it be translated “face” in 2 Thessalonians 1.9?

Well, how is God granting vengeance?

“In flaming fire?”

Where do we see “flaming fire” in regards to Jesus?

Revelation 1.14 says, “His eyes were like a flame of fire.”

Revelation 2.18 says, “The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire.”

Revelation 19.12 says, “His eyes are like a flame of fire.”

God grants, concedes to, vengeance, eternal destruction, “in flaming fire.” This vengeance, this eternal destruction, comes from the face, from the eyes, of Jesus. When Jesus returns it will be the look in his eyes, the flaming fire, that destroys all of our false eyes ideas in him. That look, those eyes of flaming fire, will destroy our flesh but save our spirit. That look, those eyes of flaming fire, will destroy us suddenly but give us new life ultimately.

Do we see an example of this in scripture?

Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked to sift Peter like wheat. Peter told Jesus that he was ready to go prison and to death with him. But, Jesus told Peter that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed.

“But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22.60-62)

Peter said he would follow Jesus to death but instead denied he even knew Jesus three times, just as Jesus said he would. In those denials, Peter consented to afflicting Jesus.

What do you think Peter saw when the Lord turned and looked at him after the third denial?

I think Peter saw those eyes of flaming fire from which come eternal destruction, sudden destruction that brings new life, destruction of the flesh but saving of the spirit.

Do you think that was painful for Peter?

“He went out and wept bitterly.”

Just from that one look of Jesus.

Jesus’ eyes of flaming fire destroyed Peter. To say that you would follow the Lord to death and not even a day later deny even knowing him three times. How crushing that must have been to Peter.

But, the result wasn’t eternal conscious torment forever for Peter. No, his flesh was destroyed, but his spirit was saved. He received new life. He delivered the first sermon in church history that saved 3,000 people.

See, God doesn’t repay evil for evil.

God’s vengeance, God’s justice is not retributive. God is not trying to get even with anyone, even his enemies.

God’s vengeance, God’s justice, Jesus’ eyes of flaming fire, restore.

This eternal destruction does not send us away from God or forever separate us from God or shut us out from God’s presence.

God’s eternal destruction, Jesus’ eyes of flaming fire, destroys our flesh to draws us towards and into God’s presence.

“That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Corinthians 5.19)

Why Is the Sudden Destruction of the Wicked Like Birth Pains?

TODAY’S READING: 1 THESSALONIANS

“For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5.2-3)

This is a cherished passage of scripture for those who believe that Jesus is coming back to destroy and condemn to hell, eternal burning fire, every person that did not believe in him. You’ve got the day of the Lord, Jesus’ return, and sudden destruction right there together.

So, why does Paul say sudden destruction is like the birth pains of a pregnant woman?

First, let’s see who causes the sudden destruction.

Let’s start with the word sudden. This is the Greek word aiphnidios. It literally means not lightened. This literal meaning becomes non-apparent, unexpected, unforeseen, and sudden.

The only other use of aiphnidios in the New Testament is in Luke 21.34. “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly [aiphnidios] like a trap.” Notice that the context of Luke 21.34 is very much the same as the context of 1 Thessalonians 5.3.

Jesus says if we do not watch over our hearts but let them get weighed down by the cares of this world then that day, the appearing of the kingdom of God, will hit us suddenly like a trap. The Greek word for trap is used five times in the New Testament. Every other time it is translated snare. You will see why this is important shortly.

Interestingly, in the Septuagint, aiphnidios is used only twice, both times in reference to sudden and unexpected fear and the sudden and terrifying arrival of enemies. Therefore, we can understand Jesus as saying that for those who caught up in the cares of this world, the day of the Lord, the appearing of the kingdom of God, comes suddenly and unexpectedly like an enemy that we fear to trap or snare us.

This is why Paul says “that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

But, who knows this?

The Thessalonian believers.

Paul says that they themselves fully, completely, accurately, exactly, or precisely know “that the day of the Lord will comes like a thief in the night.”

Why do the Thessalonian believers know this?

“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” (1 Thessalonians 5.4-5)

Therefore, the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night, like the sudden and unexpected snare of an enemy, to those who are “of the night and of the darkness.” Children of the night and darkness are evil and wicked people.

Who sets the snare for them?

God?

Not at all.

They set a snare for themselves.

“Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant [interesting word choice there] with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull.” (Psalm 7.14-16)

“The wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.” (Psalm 9.16)

“They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, ‘Who can see them?’…They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them.” (Psalm 64.5, 8)

“If you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth.” (Proverbs 6.2)

“A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.” (Proverbs 18.7)

“Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooks; whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.” (Proverbs 22.5) Sort of sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it?

“Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” (Proverbs 22.24-25)

“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” (Proverbs 29.25)

The evil and wicked man lays snares. He does this with his own mouth out of his own anger and wrath. Man fears there he lays snares for others. But, the snares the evil and wicked man lays actually end up trapping himself.

As Psalm 7.14-16 says, our own evil and wickedness come back upon us and descend upon our skull.

Where was Jesus crucified?

Golgotha.

The place of the skull.

Selah.

For those of the night and of the darkness, those that are evil and wicked, those caught up in the cares of this world, the day of the Lord, the coming of a kingdom of God, is like a sudden and unexpected snare, but it is a snare laid by themselves.

Therefore, sudden destruction is the result of our own evil and wicked desires and plans.

Sudden destruction is caused by man.

Sudden destruction is not caused by God.

The day of the Lord, the coming of the kingdom of God, will reveal the sudden destruction that we have created for ourselves. But, God does not cause it.

Now that we know who causes sudden destruction, what is sudden destruction like?

What can we compare sudden destruction to?

“While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman.” (1 Thessalonians 5.3)

Sudden destruction is like the birth pains of a pregnant woman?

The end result of the birth pains of a woman is new life.

Comparing sudden destruction to the birth pains of woman, which result in new life, would be really odd if you were trying to say that sudden destruction results in the eternal destruction, the eternal burning and torment in a lake of fire, of the unbeliever.

If you were trying to communicate that sudden destruction would result in eternal death and torment, then wouldn’t you compare to sudden destruction to army laying siege to a city or the destruction an army brings to its enemies?

This is precisely the point Paul is trying to make.

He uses this confounding metaphor of sudden destruction coming like the birth pains of woman in stark contrast with what we would expect.

The key to seeing this is Paul’s statement “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security.'”

Where did Paul get that?

“Let their own table before them became a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.” (Psalm 69.22)

When people are at peace, when they say peace and security, the table that they prepared for themselves becomes their own trap. The people that are saying this are enemies, the evil and wicked, those of the night and of the darkness.

See how Paul is weaving together everything I have written above?

Psalm 69 is clearly about Jesus. Several different verses are quoted in the New Testament in direct reference to Jesus.

In the psalm, David writes how he is sinking in the mire, being made a reproach, is dishonored, and is a stranger even to his brothers. This is all done by his enemies. So, David asks to be delivered from his enemies.

“Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me.” (Psalm 69.14-15)

So, David asks that everything his enemies have prepared for themselves becomes their own snare and trap even though they think they are at peace.

Listen to what David wishes for his enemies.

“Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually. Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them. May their camp be desolation; let no one dwell in their tents. For they persecute him whom you have struck down, and they recount the pain of those you have wounded. Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out from the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.”

David is wishing that his enemies, who speak they are at peace, would have the snare they laid for David come back upon such that God would pour out his indignation and burning anger on them, such that God would bring punishment on top of punishment upon them, such that God would never acquit, never forgive, them, such that God would blot them out of the book of the book of the living, or totally and completely destroy them forever.

Are you getting what David wants?

He wants his enemy totally destroyed. Forever. Eternally.

But, Paul says that “sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman.”

Those that say peace and security, those that are evil and wicked, those that are of the night and of darkness, have set a snare for themselves. The snare will bring sudden destruction.

But, the sudden destruction is like birth pains of a pregnant woman. Birth pains a painful, even very painful, for a moment. But, the end result of those pains is new life.

David wished for his enemies to suffer a sudden destruction that “blotted [them] out of the book of living.”

Paul said that those of the night and of darkness, the enemies, would suffer a sudden destruction that would produce new life.

Jesus’ crucifixion, the beginning of the manifestation of the day of the Lord, the kingdom of God, took every evil and wicked plan that produced death and turned into new life, new creation.

Therefore, on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

So, when Jesus returns, when the kingdom is fully and completely manifested, then the new life, the new creation that Jesus started in his death and resurrection will be fully and completely manifested.

Death will be defeated. The birth pains will be over.

New life will be here.

The new creation will be here.

The new Jerusalem will come down from heaven.

Even for those that were of the night and of the darkness.

Even for the evil and wicked.

Even for the enemy.

Even for the whole creation.

Everything single thing ever created – in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. (Colossians 1.16)

Could you ever say this and leave one single person out?

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8.18-23)

Who Is Paul Presenting Mature in Christ?

TODAY’S READING: COLOSSIANS

“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1.28)

This letter was written “to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae.” (Colossians 1.2) Therefore, when Paul says he warns and teaches everyone to present everyone mature in Christ, everyone means all the saints and faithful brothers in the church of Colossae.

Except that is not what Paul said.

Throughout the New Testament, behind the English word everyone is the Greek word pas. Pas simply means all or every. In the New Testament, pas is a very common word, being used 1,238 times.

Paul uses it 25 times in the book of Colossians.

In Colossians 1.4, Paul says, “Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all [pas] the saints.”

In Colossians 3.11, Paul says, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all [pas], and in all [pas].”

But, in Colossians 1.28, Paul does not use the word pas alone. He does not use the general word for everyone. Instead, behind each English everyone, Paul very specifically says “pas anthropos.”

What is “pas anthropos?”

All man. Or, all mankind.

“Him we proclaim, warning all mankind and teaching all mankind with all wisdom that we may present all mankind mature in Christ.”

Who is Paul presenting mature in Christ?

All mankind.

The Greek word for mature is telos, which means mature, perfect, complete. Perfect as when Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5.48)

Paul proclaims Christ so that all mankind may be presented perfect in Christ before God just as God is perfect. “For this I toil, struggling with all his [Christ’s] energy that he [Christ] powerfully works within me.

As best I can tell in my brief study this morning, pas anthropos is used just five other times in the New Testament. In the following verses, I have changed the translation of everyone to all mankind.

“The true light, which gives light to all mankind, was coming into the world.” (John 1.9)

“The master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘All mankind serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.'” (John 2.9-10)

Perhaps that seems an odd place for John to use pas anthropos, but “this, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2.11)

Ananias told Paul, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to all mankind of what you have seen and heard.” (Acts 22.14-15)

“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to all mankind’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4.2)

“Let your reasonableness [gentleness or kindness] be known to all mankind. The Lord is at hand.” (Philippians 4.5)

Jesus is the true light that came into the world to give light to all mankind.

The first of Jesus’ miracles that caused the disciples to believe was saving the best wine, abundant life, for last, which is contrary to what all mankind does.

Paul was to be a witness of what he had seen and heard, the one thing he was occupied with, to all mankind.

By manifesting, making visible, this truth, what he had seen and hear, Paul would commend himself in the conscience of all mankind.

Therefore, Paul instructed the Philippians to let their gentleness or kindness be known to all mankind just as he had done.

In this way, “Him we proclaim, warning all mankind and teaching all mankind with all wisdom, that we may present all mankind mature in Christ.”

When you realize just who Paul’s everyone is, all mankind, and that Paul desires to present all mankind mature in Christ, it is pretty difficult to imagine him preaching, “Believe in Jesus or you are going to burn in hell forever.”

How Are We to Be the Same Imitators of Paul?

TODAY’S READING: PHILIPPIANS

“Brothers, join in imitating me.” (Philippians 3.17)

What does Paul mean that we should join in imitating him?

“Join in imitating” is two words – a noun and a verb – in the Greek.

The verb is ginomai, which basically means be or become. The verb is in the imperative mood. It is a command or instruction from Paul. Paul is not asking the Philippians to join in him in something. Rather, Paul is commanding the Philippians to be or become something.

The noun is symmimetes. Mimetes means a mimic or imitator. The Greek prefix sym means same or together. As we will see, Paul is not instructing the Philippians to become imitators together. Rather, Paul is telling them to become the same imitators.

The Greek word me is in the genitive case. This is the case of possession. Therefore, we would say “of me.”

What is Paul commanding or instructing the Philippians?

“Brothers, become the same imitators of me.”

To do this, we have to know what Paul imitated. Only then can we know how to become the same imitators of Paul.

Paul gives an incredible description of Jesus in Philippians 2.5-9.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”

Jesus was in the form of God. But, he took seven steps “down.”

  1. He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.
  2. He made himself nothing.
  3. He took the form of a servant.
  4. He was born in the likeness of men.
  5. He was found in human form.
  6. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.
  7. He died on a cross.

Jesus was God. He was life. But, he didn’t count, or regard, that as something he had to hold on to.

So, Jesus gave up being life and died. But, Jesus didn’t just die. He died the most shameful death the world has ever devised. Jesus died on a cross. He was crucified.

In other words, Jesus suffered and died.

But, God highly exalted him. This is another way of saying that Jesus rose from the dead.

In Luke 24.46, Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” Jesus said that his was everything that the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms were about.

In Philippians 3.4-11, Paul tells us how he imitated Christ.

“Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ ad be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ [literally, faith of Christ], the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Do you see how Paul imitated Jesus?

Paul was a Jew. But, like Jesus, he took his own seven steps “down.”

  1. He gave up being circumcised on the eighth day.
  2. He gave up being of the people of Israel.
  3. He gave up being of the tribe of Benjamin.
  4. He gave up being a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
  5. He gave up being a Pharisee.
  6. He gave up his zeal for God as a persecutor of the church.
  7. He gave up his righteousness under the law in which he was blameless.

All of these things were points of gain or pride for Paul. But, he counted them all as loss for the sake of Christ. He counted everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. This word count is the same Greek word Paul used of Christ not counting equality with God as something to be grasped.

Jesus was God and became a man. Paul was a Jew through and through but gave it all up to take the form of a Greek, to become a Greek. This was Paul suffering the loss of all things. Not because Greeks were something less than Jews, but because the pride Paul had in being a Jew was being put to death, even death on a cross. Paul’s Jewishness and his pride in that was being crucified, dying a shameful death.

Why would Paul willingly go through such a death to everything that made him who he was?

“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection.”

Paul was imitating Jesus in his suffering and dying so that he could also imitate Jesus in his being exalted by God and rising from the dead.

Remember Acts 18.5, “Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.” Once Paul was literally knocked off his high horse on the way to Damascus to persecute the church, which was actually persecuting Christ, Paul’s entire life was about one thing – knowing the necessity of Jesus suffering, dying, and rising from the dead.

Paul said he did this that he “may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3.10-11)

“Share in his sufferings.”

The Greek word share is koinonia. That is the Greek word for fellowship. Christians have such warm, fuzzy feelings of fellowship. Eat together, Hang out. Talk. Have coffee. Have fun. That’s generally what fellowship has become to us.

Literally, Paul says, “That I may know…fellowship of his sufferings.”

Why?

“Becoming like him in his death.”

Literally, this says “being the same form of him by death.”

Paul wants to share, fellowship, of Jesus’ sufferings so that he can be the same form, or be conformed, by death so that he can be resurrected from the dead.

Do you, do I, really consider that this is everything Jesus taught?

Do you, do I, desire to be occupied with this one thing – suffering like Jesus, dying like Jesus, to be raise like Jesus – like Paul?

Just the thought is humbling.

“Brothers, become the same imitators of me.”

Follow Jesus.

What Is the Unity of the Faith that We Must Attain?

TODAY’S READING: EPHESIANS 4-6

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4.11-14)

Every group of Christians – church, institution, organization, ministry, etc. – writes a statement of faith. These statements are meant to define “the unity of the faith” that Paul says we are to attain to.

So, I googled “statement of faith” to see how some of these Christians groups define “the unity of the faith” that their group should attain to. Let’s just examine the first five search results for “statement of faith.”

One would presume that the very first statement in a statement of faith would be the most important thing you must believe to attain the unity of the faith. Here is the very first statement in four of the five.

  • The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible, God’s infallible written Word, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. We believe that it was uniquely, verbally and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it was written without error (inerrant) in the original manuscripts. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks.
  • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  • We believe in the Holy Scriptures as originally given by God, divinely inspired, infallible, entirely trustworthy; and the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.
  • We believe the Bible to be the only inspired, trustworthy and true, without error, Word of God. (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Therefore, the most important thing to believe for these groups of Christians is that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible word of God, the only source of inspiration, the only source we can trust, and the supreme authority in everything.

What’s wrong the fifth group of Christians that didn’t put the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible as the very first statement in their statement of faith?

Well, it was their second statement.

  • WE BELIEVE that God has revealed Himself and His truth in the created order, in the Scriptures, and supremely in Jesus Christ; and that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing, so that they are fully trustworthy and of supreme and final authority in all they say.

The seventh search result is an article from www.theologydegrees.org title “How to Write an Effective Statement of Faith.” According to this article,

“In your statement of faith, everything depends on what you believe about the Bible. If you don’t believe it’s the Word of God, everything else you believe will need some basis for belief. For example, if you think the Bible is a collection of fairy tales, yet you believe in heaven, you’ll need to have a solid reason for your belief in the afterlife other than wishful thinking.

“Deciding to believe the Bible as it’s plainly written makes it much easier to settle on what is objectively true, not just what you hope is true. After all, a statement of faith without any logical starting point is just an exercise in creative writing.”

Clearly, from these statements of faith and this article, what you believe about the Bible is the most important thing in attaining the unity of the faith.
And, it’s not just these five statements of faith. I have heard this over and over from many, many Christians.

Four of the first five search results for “statement of faith” says something about the eternal state of believers and unbelievers. Let’s look at what they say about unbelievers.

  • At physical death the unbeliever enters immediately into eternal, conscious separation from the Lord and awaits the resurrection of the body to everlasting judgment and condemnation.
  • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • The Resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life, they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • WE BELIEVE in the bodily resurrection of the just and unjust, the everlasting punishment of the lost, and the everlasting blessedness of the saved.

Clearly, to maintain the unity of the faith you must believe that those who do not believe in Jesus are going to hell to be eternally damned, burning in a lake of fire and torment.

These statements of faith include many other points and lots and lots of words. Everyone of the thousands of Christian denominations has their own statement of faith. Even if they don’t explicitly say it, these groups believe that to have the unity of the faith you must keep the Sabbath, eat certain foods and not other foods, not use instruments in worship, maintain certain views on creation, hold to certain views on the end of the world, and on and on.

Indeed, the article from www.theologydegrees.org gives you a list of questions to answer to help construct your statement of faith. The questions include:

  • What do you believe about baptism?
  • What do you believe about the Lord’s Supper?
  • What do you believe about the will of God?
  • What do you believe about the rapture, the great tribulation, and the Second Coming?
  • What do you believe about heaven and hell?

But, do you know that Jesus gave us a statement of faith?

Do you know that Jesus told us everything that the his life and the witness of the scriptures was about?

Do you know that he told us this plainly and not in a parable so that we wouldn’t miss what he was saying?

Are you ready to read Jesus’ statement of faith?

Here is what Jesus said we must believe to maintain the unity of the faith.

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and the repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” (Luke 24.46-47)

Jesus didn’t go on for point after point, paragraph after paragraph, page after page.

Jesus said nothing about the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible.

But, he did say all scripture points to one thing though – the Christ should suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.

Jesus said nothing about the resurrection of the dead, the damned, condemnation, hell, a burning lake of fire, and eternal conscious torment.

But, he did tell us why the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead three days later – so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations.

This statement from Jesus is what we must believe to “attain to the unity of the faith.”

Jesus’ one statement is the “knowledge of the Son of God.”

Jesus’ one statement is “mature manhood.”

Jesus’ one statement is “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

He gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers so that we would know in the depths of our beings one thing – that the Christ suffered and rose from the dead three days later so that we could proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations.

Any other belief that must be held is a wind of doctrine, human cunning, and craftiness in deceitful schemes.

We speak the truth in love when we hold to Jesus’ statement of faith and proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins.

Did you get that?

Speaking the truth in love has to do with the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus spoke the forgiveness of sins all the time and the religious leaders, those that thought they knew the scriptures the best and could find life in them, crucified Jesus for it.

And, that’s why all these statements of faith that start with the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible never once mention repentance and the forgiveness of sins. But, they sure do mention the un-forgiveness of sins, the damnation and condemnation of the unbeliever.

Therefore, many Christians today believe and act like speaking the truth in love is kindly telling someone that what they are doing is going to cause them to go to hell and be burned alive forever.

“Turn or burn. But, I love you.”

Smiley face.

Hugs.

So, let’s stick to the true unity of the faith.

Let’s stick to the short, simple, clear statement that Jesus gave.

Let’s stick the one thing that Jesus said his entire life and ministry was about.

Let’s stick to the truth, the reality that Jesus said the scriptures witnessed to.

“The Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and the repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”

Faith starts and ends with Jesus.

Jesus, not the Bible, is the author and finisher, the founder and perfecter of the faith.

How Is the Mystery of Christ Made Known?

TODAY’S READING: EPHESIANS 1-3

“How the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.” (Ephesians 3.3-4)

Jesus used the Greek word for mystery, mysterion, one time, although it is record in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew 13.11, Jesus said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets [mysteries] of the kingdom of heaven.” Mysterion is used a few times in Revelation, but, for the most part, mysterion is exclusive to Paul’s writing.

Here is a sampling of what Paul says about mystery.

  • “I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers.” (Romans 11.25)
  • “The mystery that was kept secret for long ages.” (Romans 16.25)
  • “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Corinthians 4.1)
  • “This mystery is profound.” (Ephesians 5.32)
  • “Of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” (Colossians 1.25-26)
  • “To reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.” (Colossians 2.2)

The mystery is Christ.

The mystery is the word of God, Jesus, not the Bible, which was hidden for ages but can now be fully known.

What exactly is this mystery that is Christ?

Jesus told us himself in Luke 24.46-47, saying, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”

It should be no surprise that Paul writes so much about this mystery since it is the one thing he was occupied with.

It is quite interesting to know that the Greek word for mystery, mysterion, is derived from  the Greek word muo, which means to shut the mouth. Perhaps this is why Paul said, “Now we know that whatever the law speaks it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” (Romans 3.19)

What does the law speak?

According to Jesus in Luke 24, the law speaks that he had to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. This mystery of Christ was meant to shut every mouth. The mystery of Christ crucified, God suffering and dying, was meant to shut us up so that we behold God in utter amazement that he would do such a thing.

How is such a mystery made known?

Luke 24.27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Luke 24.45 says, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

A mystery cannot be known through effort, hard work, reading, study. The mystery of Christ cannot be seen and understood no matter how much time and effort you put into reading and studying the Bible. The mystery can only be shown to by Jesus. He has to interpret and open up the scriptures so that you can know the mystery.

Paul says “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” According to Merriam-Webster’s, this is the very definition of the word mystery – something profound and inexplicable, something beyond understanding, a religious truth that one can know only by revelation but cannot be fully understood.

So, what is revelation?

The Greek word for revelation is apokalypsis, which literally means the act of uncovering. A mystery is covered. Revelation uncovers it. Jesus opens it.

The holy of holies, the place of God’s presence, was covered by a veil. When Jesus was crucified, the veil that covered God’s presence, God’s true character and nature, was torn. Through the crucifixion of Christ, God was uncovered.

In Ephesians 3.4-5, Paul says. “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”

The sons of men in other generations had the Bible, scriptures, writing, letters. But, none of these made the mystery of Christ known to anyone. But, the mystery has known been revealed, uncovered, opened, by the Spirit. More literally, Paul says it has been revealed “in spirit.”

Therefore, in 2 Corinthians 3.6, Paul says he is a minister “of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.” He literally says “not of letter but of spirit.” Again, the new covenant, the mystery of Christ, cannot be known by letter, writing, scripture, the Bible. It can only be known, only be revealed, by spirit. This is why God caused the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts. It is  our only hope for knowing him. The Bible is useless, a collection of dead letters, without the Spirit revealing, opening, and interpreting the true meaning of the mystery of Christ to us.

In 2 Corinthians 4.3-4, Paul says. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Here Paul alludes to the veil in the temple that covered the true nature and character of God from us. And, again, it was Christ’s crucifixion, which is shorthand for his suffering, death, and rising from the dead, that removed the veil and uncovered, revealed, who God really is.

We must keep in mind that we are not talking about knowing about God. We are talking about knowing God, experiencing God in a practical way. The deepest knowing of anything is always by experience.

And, we must never forget the one writing to us that says the true knowledge of God could not be known by the literal letter of scripture. Paul was a Pharisee. I would venture that he spent more time studying, memorizing, and practicing the scriptures than anyone of us could ever dream of. Surely, his understanding of the scripture was far greater than any of ours.

So, if Paul says that you cannot know God by a literal reading of scripture by the letter, through effort, hard work, diligent study, but that you can only know God, the mystery of Christ, by revelation through the Spirit who dwells in our hearts, then we probably should take him at his word.