Monday, October 24, 2016

The Good Shepherd Is Not to Be Spiritualized

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
John 10:10-15
The Gospel context and the cultural intertexts show that Jesus' use of the good shepherd image contests the leadership of those who administer the imperial system. The image is not to be spiritualized, as Kanagaraj does in claiming that the bad shepherds "steal people away from the path of obedience to Christ possibly by offering wrong teaching and theology." It is not primarily a matter of teaching and theology but rather societal injustice and exploitative leadership practices. These leaders cannot be good shepherds because they rule to benefit themselves materially and harm the people materially. No matter what they claim, they do not provide life and are not willing to give their lives for the life of society. They steal food, shelter, clothing, health, and safety from the people. They are illegitimate and violent rulers. Jesus-believers in Ephesus, urges the Gospel, cannot follow such violent "strangers." Violence is forbidden to Jesus' followers (John 18:36). They must "flee from" them and follow the good shepherd, whose voice they know (John 10:4-5). Happy accommodation with a thieving, illegitimate, violent, destructive, and life-threatening imperial system is not possible. They are called to an alternative allegiance in an antisociety, with a different set of practices. The title "good shepherd" as a descriptor of Jesus in contrast to imperial and allied leaders forms part of the Gospel's rhetoric of distance.

--Warren Carter, John and Empire: Initial Explorations, p.187-188

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Red and Yellow, Black and White...

...they are precious in His sight.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
Galatians 4:8-9

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Beware Over-Spiritualizing the Cross

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
Matthew 16:24
The cross utilizes a political image of shame, humiliation, pain, social rejection, marginalization, condemnation, and death. Crucifixion, as employed by Rome, was a cruel means of execution (Tacitus, Ann 15.44.4; Seneca, De Ira 1.2.2; Josephus, JW 7.203 [“ most pitiable of deaths”]). It was not used for Roman citizens (Cicero, Pro Rabirio 9-17, except for treason), but for sociopolitical marginals such as “rebellious” foreigners (Josephus, JW 2.306, 308; 5.449-53; Philo, In Flaccum 72, 84), violent criminals and robbers (Martial, On the Spectacles 9), and slaves (Cicero, In Verr 2.5.162; Juvenal, Sat 6.219-224; Tacitus, Ann 13.32.1). Crucifixion in public places was intended to deter noncompliant behavior (Josephus, JW 5.550). Carrying the cross-beam (patibulum) to the place of execution could be part of the precrucifixion torture and humiliation (Plutarch, “On the Delay of Divine Vengeance,” Moralia 554B). For some Jews, crucifixion could be associated with the curse on those hung on a tree (Deut 23: 21;
Gal 3: 13; 11QTemple 64: 6-13).

Jesus' scandalous call, then, to take up the cross and follow (cf. 4: 18-22) is a call to martyrdom, to die as Jesus does (9: 15; 10: 4, 21, 28, 29; 16: 21). Such is the risk of continuing Jesus' countercultural work of proclaiming and demonstrating God's empire (10: 7-8). On another level, it is a call to a life of marginalization, to identify with the nobodies like slaves, foreigners, criminals, and those understood to be cursed by God. It is also to identify with those who resist the empire's control, who contest its version of reality, and who are vulnerable to its reprisals. It is to identify with a sign of the empire's violent and humiliating attempt to dispose of all who threaten or challenge its interests. To so identify is not to endorse the symbol but to counter and reframe its violence. As the end of the gospel shows, it is to identify with a sign that ironically indicates the empire's limits. The empire does its worst in crucifying Jesus. But God raises Jesus from death to thwart the empire's efforts and to reveal the limits of its power.

--Carter, Warren. Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Bible and Liberation) (Kindle Locations 10421-10439). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Corrupting the Well-Adjusted in a Sick Society

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.
Matthew 13:33
The small beginning effects a massive impact. The yeast/ leaven has worked quietly, invisibly, hidden away, over time. Rome and the religious elite do not see it at all. Disciples could wonder if it was there at all, or achieving anything. But inevitably all of it was leavened. The passive indicates God's action. The yeast/ leaven has done corrupting work in transforming the flour.

By comparison, God's reign works over time. In a similar way, it attacks the status quo. In doing transformative work, it shows that conventional life under imperial rule is unacceptable. God's ways are not human ways. God's empire is not the same as oppressive political, socioeconomic, and religious control. So Jesus heals the sick, casts out demons, eats with tax collectors and sinners, urges mercy, promotes access to shared resources, and constitutes alternative households. This is corrupting work in relation to the empire's status quo because it replaces an unjust hierarchical system which furthers the interests of the elite at the expense of the rest. But if a person is well adjusted in a sick society, corrupting is the only path to wholeness. In such a context, to be corrupted is to be transformed, saved, in encountering God's empire, in anticipation of its eventual completion in establishing God's life-giving reign over all things.

--Carter, Warren. Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Bible and Liberation) (Kindle Locations 8914-8924). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Self: The Whole Evil of the Fallen Nature

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Matthew 16:24
“We need to know two things: (1) Our salvation consists wholly in being saved from ourselves, or that which we are by nature; (2) In the whole nature of things, nothing could be salvation or savior to us but the humility of God beyond all expression. Hence the first unalterable term of ‘Savior’ of fallen man: ‘Except a man deny himself he cannot be my disciple.’ Self is the whole evil of the fallen nature. Self-denial is our capacity for being saved. Humility is our savior.... Self is the root, the branches, the tree, of all the evil of our fallen state. All the evil of fallen angels and of men has its birth in the pride of self. On the other hand, all the virtues of the heavenly life stem from humility. It is humility alone that makes the impassable gulf between heaven and hell. What is then, or in what lies, the great struggle for eternal life? It all lies in the strife between pride and humility. Pride and humility are the two master powers, the two kingdoms at war for the eternal possession of man. There never was or ever will be but one humility, and that is the humility of Christ. Pride and self have the “all” of man, until man has his all in Christ. He only fights the good fight whose desire is that the self-idolatrous nature that he has from Adam may be put to death by the supernatural humility of Christ brought to life in him.” Adapted from William Law, Address to the Clergy, n.d., 52.

--Murray, Andrew. Humility: The Journey Toward Holiness (Kindle Locations 865-875). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Bible is Alive!

Traditional apologists tell us the Bible must be tested to prove that it is true. Biblical apologetics says we use the Bible to test all things to see if they are true. Traditionalists tell us the laws of logic are absolute; God says His Word is absolute (Psalm 119: 89). Traditionalists tell us that we cannot know truth with certainty; God tells us we can know truth with certitude as we search the Scriptures (1 John 5: 13). Sproul says logic is preeminent, God says His Word is preeminent (Psalm 138: 2). Craig says Scripture’s authority is secondary and “derivative”; God says Scripture’s authority is primary and inherent and that they are the very breath of God (2 Timothy 3: 16), the very incarnation of God’s thoughts and will. Traditionalists tell us the Bible must pass the test of historiography; God says His Word determines history, and the future (Isaiah 46: 8-11). Traditionalists tell us the Bible stands on equal footing with all other literature to be tested; God says His Word is eternal! (Psalm 19: 9)

Traditionalists tell us that unbelievers must first accept the Bible before it does its work; God says Scripture does its work despite human resistance and ignorance for it is living and active. Scripture is dynamically creating (Psalm 33: 6), convicting (James 2: 9), judging (Hebrews 4: 12), piercing (Hebrews 4: 12), being feared (Exodus 9: 20), being fulfilled (Isaiah 55: 11), being obeyed (Psalm 103: 20), saving (1 Peter 1: 23), sanctifying (Psalm 105: 19; 119: 9), residing in believers (Psalm 119: 11), healing (Psalm 107: 20), illuminating (Psalm 119: 18), counseling (Psalm 119: 24), feeding (Isaiah 55: 1-3), reviving (Psalm 119: 50), sustaining (Psalm 119: 116), guiding (Psalm 119), consoling (Psalm 119: 28), imparting joy (Psalm 119: 35), and teaching (Psalm 119: 71). The Bible is alive!

--Clifford B. McManis. Biblical Apologetics: Advancing and Defending the Gospel of Christ (Kindle Locations 2742-2755). 9781483623498. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Human Government and the Kingdoms of the World

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.”
Daniel 2:44-45
None can doubt that the final end will be the destruction of all earthly kingdoms, that they may give place to the reign of the Divine kingdom.  How can this be when the children of the Divine kingdom give their lives to uphold the earthly kingdoms?  As things now go, every individual in the world might be converted to Christ and yet the earthly kingdoms would remain in all their present strength and vigor, and the spirit of the world would be cherished in the church of God.  But if every man converted to Christ withdrew from the support of the earthly kingdoms, these kingdoms would weaken and fall to pieces, for lack of supporters; "little by little" giving way before the increase and spread of the kingdom of God.  It would no more do to destroy them suddenly, lest the wild beasts of ruin and destruction and anarchy possess the land, than it would have done to suddenly destroy the inhabitants of Canaan on the advent of the children of Israel lest the wild beasts multiply in that land against the people of God.  God must in the police regulations of the world retain his institutions ordained to execute wrath until his own children possess the earth.

God has two processes continually going forward, by which the world is to become the possession of the "saints of the most high."
  1. The work of conversion goes forward taking men, one by one, out of service of the earthly kingdoms and transferring them to the service of the Divine kingdom.
  2. He uses one wicked nation, one earthly government to destroy another nation or people, hopelessly given over to sin and rebellion.
The compromises of the children of God with the human governments, that obtain now, thwart both these processes.
  1. Conversion to Christ does not take the person out of the kingdoms of the evil one.  It does not weaken the kingdoms of this world.  It does not consecrate the talents, the means, the strength, the life of the converts to support and spread the kingdom of God.  It does not separate them from the kingdoms of the world, it does not bring them under the guidance of the kingdom of Christ.  Conversion to Christ now does not weaken the kingdoms of the devil.  It does not strengthen the church of God, but oftener, by bringing in an evil spirit, weakens it.
  2. The children of God are so mixed and mingled with the kingdoms of the world, that God cannot destroy the wicked kingdoms, without destroying his own children.  Hence the call of God is: "Come out of her my people that ye be not partakers of her sins and that ye receive not her plagues" (Revelation 18:4).
This is spoken of the Babylon of human government.  We cannot find one word of ground, in all the New Testament, for the children of God participating in the kingdoms of the evil one.  The practice weakens the church of God; deprives it of the service, the talent, time and devotion of its children, gives it strength to the building up of what God proposes to destroy.  It brings the spirit of the world kingdoms into the church of God, corrupts the church, drives out the spirit of God, destroys the sense of dependence upon God, causes the children of God to depend upon their own wisdom and devices, and the arm of violence, and the institutions of earth rather than upon God and his appointments; weans them from trust and faith in God, and from service in his kingdom, diverts their minds, means and service from the church to the kingdoms of the world, and so defiles and corrupts the church that God cannot bless that church.

What the church needs now is a consecrated membership that will sanctify the man -- soul, mind and body -- to the service of God.  That will consecrate the talent, the time, the means of God's people to the service and advancement of God's kingdom; that will cause every Christian father and mother, like Hannah of old, to accept children as the gifts of the Lord, to be consecrated to his service from childhood.  Now the mothers and fathers in Christ, oftener than otherwise, object to their children devoting themselves to the service of God.  They prefer that they should do service and gain honor in the earthly governments.  It is all folly and delusion to think of converting the world to God, with the present affiliation between the church of God and the kingdoms of the devil, and this giving the means and service due the church, to strengthen and upbuild her enemy.  There can be no hope for the conversion of the world, until these two kingdoms be recognized in their true, antagonistic spirit, mission, and destiny.

--David Lipscomb, Civil Government: Its Origin, Mission, and Destiny, and the Christian's Relation To It, p. 81-83

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Against Such Things There Is No Law

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, defines love as being kind. Is true love always kind? Yes. Can true love be anything other than kind? No. If you made a law that forbids kindness, would true love disobey that law and show kindness? Yes. That is precisely Paul's point in Galatians 5:22-23 as he describes the fruit of the Spirit and concludes that there are no (nor can there be) laws against these things. There are (and must be) laws against the desires of the flesh, but the nature of the desires of the Spirit precludes them from laws against them. Why is love always kind? Why must love be kind? Does the law and its just threats have anything at all to do with why love is kind? None at all! Love is kind just because it is the nature of love to be kind! True love does not need law in any sense. However, sinners need law to keep them from abusing love and turning it into lust. If we could desire, feel, and practice love as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13, we could indeed "do as we please." Since that is impossible because of indwelling sin, we need clear objective standards describing love for us. We can know that love is the right thing to do, but we do not always know what is the loving thing to do. The Holy Spirit informs us through the Scripture, transforming us thereby so that we become more like Jesus, who always loved God with all his being and his neighbor as himself.

--John Reisinger, Studies in Galatians, p. 430

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Ministry of Death

[God] has made us ... ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.  For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone ... was being brought to an end...
2 Corinthians 3:6-7
To "hear" the law is to understand clearly the law's terms of perfect obedience and to realize you can never satisfy those terms and are therefore without hope of ever seeing, apart from sovereign electing grace, the face of God in peace.

It is tragic that neither the Judaizers in Paul's day nor many Christians today understand what it means to hear the law.  The Scriptures are replete with statements that a person can "hear" without ever "hearing" (Matt. 13:10-17).  This is true of the law as well as the gospel.  If all you ever heard was, "Thou shalt not steal," you have not heard the law.  All you heard was a commandment.  You have not heard the law until you hear it say, "Thou shalt not steal and if you do I will have you stoned to death."  Now you have heard the law.  If all you heard was, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy," all you heard was a commandment.  If you heard, "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, and if you so much as pick up a few sticks you are a dead man," then you heard the law.  It is the penalty aspect that gives law its status and authority.  You could post a sign saying "50 mile-an-hour speed limit" every hundred yards on every highway in America, but without a fine for breaking that speed limit, police officers to arrest speeders, and judges to collect the fines, you do not have a law--you only have good advice.

In Galatians, Paul uses the term the law to refer to the old covenant in its entirety, including the Ten Commandments.  He states that this law cannot provide help in the fight against sin--either in justification or in sanctification.  The purpose of the old covenant was to expose sin and to drive a sinner to the only viable solution in the battle against sin--the Lord Jesus Christ.  To view the old covenant in any other ways is to misunderstand and misuse it.  The ultimate goal of the old covenant was to do its killing work job and then pass out of existence.

--John Reisinger, Studies in Galatians, p.283-284

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Christ Is Dead for You

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ... For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son...
Romans 5:6-8, 10
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.

What conditions were met in us in order for God to send his only Son into the world to die for sinners?  None.  Indeed there can be none.  This is what [Thomas] Boston found valuable in the expression "Christ is dead for you."  For Boston meant this: "I do not offer Christ to you on the grounds that you have repented.  Indeed I offer him to men and women who are dead in their trespasses and sins.  This gospel offer of Jesus Christ himself is for you, whoever and whatever you are."

--Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, page 65

Monday, February 08, 2016

Till You Feel this Same Power...

Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?
Ecclesiastes 7:16 
My dear brethren, I speak of these things, these innocent diversions, as the polite part of the world calls them, by experience; perhaps none, for my age, hath read or seen more plays than I have: I took delight in, and was pleased with them. It is true, I went to church frequently, received the sacrament, and was diligent in the use of the forms of religion, but I was all this while ignorant of the power of God on my heart, and unacquainted with the work of grace; but when God was pleased to shine with power upon my soul, I could no longer be contented to feed on husks, or what the swine die eating; the Bible then was my food; there, and there only I took delight: and till you feel this same power, you will not abstain from the earthly delights of this age, you will take no comfort in God’s ways, nor receive any comfort from him; for you are void of the love of God, having only the form of godliness, while you are denying the power of it; you are nominal Christians, when you have not the power of Christianity.

The polite gentlemen say, “Are we to be always upon our knees? Would you have us be always at prayer, and reading or hearing the word of God?” My dear brethren, the fashionable ones, who take delight in hunting, are not tired of being continually on horseback after their hounds; and when once you are renewed by the Spirit of God, it will be a continual pleasure to be walking with, and talking of God, and telling what great things Jesus Christ hath done for your souls; and till you can find as much pleasure in conversing with God, as these men do of their hounds, you have no share in him; but when you have tasted how good the Lord is, you will show forth his praise; out of the abundance of your heart your mouth will speak.

--Whitefield, G. (1999). Selected Sermons of George Whitefield. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Lord Our Righteousness (Jehovah Tsidkenu)

In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.'
Jeremiah 23:6 
I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger; and felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.

I oft read with pleasure, to soothe or engage,
Isaiah’s wild measure and John’s simple page;
But even when they pictured the blood-sprinkled tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu seemed nothing to me.

Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,
I wept when the waters went over His soul,
Yet thought not that my sins had nailed to the tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu — ’twas nothing to me.

When free grace awoke me by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see —
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.

My terrors all vanished before the sweet name;
My guilty fear banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life-giving and free—
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.

Jehovah Tsidkenu! My treasure and boast,
Jehovah Tsidkenu! I ne’er can be lost;
In Thee shall I conquer by flood and by field—
My cable, my anchor, my breastplate and shield!

Even treading the valley; the shadow of death,
This “watchword” shall rally my faltering breath;
For when from life’s fever my God sets me free,
Jehovah Tsidkenu my death-song shall be.

--Robert Murray M'Cheyne