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Posts Tagged ‘sin’

Signs of Hope in Genesis 3-11

While many of us are familiar with the stories contained in the first 11 chapters of Genesis, many of us may miss that a main goal of these chapters, particularly 3-11, is to show the spread of sin and its consequences from the Garden of Eden to the nations of the world.  So while we can often retell the stories of Adam & Eve’s sin, Cain murdering Abel, Noah and the ark and the Tower of Babel, we might not know how they all fit together into a cohesive unit, setting the stage for what follows.

Sin and evil spread.  It spreads quickly, with the acceptance, and even the celebration, of evil happening soon after the Garden of Eden (see here on Genesis 4).  Adam’s legacy of death is recorded in chapter 5, while the story of the flood (6-9) is not a cute bedtime tale for children but an account of punishment as a result of the unrelenting evil in the hearts of people.  After that, while we see the spread of Noah’s descendants into the nations (Gen 10), we see it’s also partially a result of their sin in trying to ‘make a name for themselves’ (Gen 11).

There is a dark cloud that hovers over the first 11 chapters.  The call to be fruitful and multiply is partially fulfilled by the end of chapter 11, but evil, sin and death have multiplied with it.  Given the severity of God’s response to Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

But there are signs of hope sprinkled throughout these chapters, and I want to call attention to them.  I’ll organize these in reference to Noah (Pre-Noah, Noah, Post-Noah), mainly because the Noah narrative takes up the largest amount of space in these chapters and has quite a few promises of God’s salvation despite the harsh judgment depicted.

Pre-Noah

The biggest promise in these chapters is, of course, regarding the seed/offspring of the woman.  If we keep this in mind while we read the following chapters, indeed the rest of the Bible, we’ll be looking for this ‘seed.’

  • “And I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (3:15)

Even in chapter 4, immediately following the fall in the garden and the expulsion from Eden, we see that God still honors offerings given to him.

  • “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering.” (4:4b)

Instead of God wiping Cain from the face of the earth after his horrific crime, God still protects the murderer, showing undeserved grace toward him.

  • “But the Lord said to him, ‘Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.’  Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” (4:15)

And even after the reference to the murder-celebrating Lamech, the Bible still notes,

  • “At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.” (4:26)

In chapter 5 we find the genealogy, which not only gives us a record of Adam’s descendants all the way to Noah, but shows us the reality of death in a world designed to know nothing of it.  But in the middle of it, there’s this guy:

  • “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” (5:24)

And at the end of the genealogy, there’s a quick break that links us to the subsequent story and back to chapter 3:

  • “He [Lamech, not the same from chapter 4] named him Noah and said, ‘He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.'” (5:29)

Noah

Noah’s appearance- and expression of hope at his birth- bridges us to the flood story, along with the salvation of Noah and his family.  Noah is a bright light of hope in the midst of an evil world that rejects God.

  • “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (6:8)
  • “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (6:9b)

Noah’s obedience is specifically highlighted as God commanded him to build an ark.

  • “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” (6:22; see also 7:5)

And in the middle of the flood narrative is this little gem, highlighting God’s grace in the midst of judgment.

  • “But God remembered Noah…” (8:1)

After Noah makes an offering to the Lord, God promises:

  • “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans… and never again will I destroy all living creatures.” (8:21)

The narrative also highlights God establishing a covenant once again (as promised before the flood in 6:18), as God says,

  • “I now establish my covenant with you, and your descendants after you.” (9:8)
  • And he set the “rainbow in the clouds… whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth…” (9:12-17).

So in the midst of the spread of sin, and the judgment of the flood, Noah and his family (even despite their own flaws, see chapter 9) stand as a ray of hope for mankind.

Post-Noah

In chapters 10-11, the only obviously positive statement is a somewhat off-handed remark about Nimrod:

  • “He was a mighty hunter before the Lord…” (10:9)

But, the end of chapter 11 leads us up to Abram.  While there’s not necessarily any sign of this being a positive turn of events up to this juncture, chapter 12 clearly functions as a turning point in the narrative: While the descendants of Noah have spread throughout the nations, and brought their evil inclinations with them, God has a plan to bless them all.  After all, Abram is the one to whom God ‘announced the gospel beforehand’ (Galatians 3:8).  But even before Abraham, there were rays of hope in the midst of darkness, teaching us that even though he kicked them out of Eden, God did not abandon his people in their sin and self-destruction.

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The Rapid Decline of Genesis 4

In a few verses the writer is able to convey a sense of the catastrophic descent of the human race from covering up killing to boasting in bloodletting.  Cain’s nonchalant words and his great-great grandson’s boast frame this genealogy and mark its spirit and its descent into a moral and spiritual abyss.  The irresponsible ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ attempts to deny murder (Gen. 4:9); ‘I have killed a man for wounding me’ glories in it (Gen. 4:23).  This is certainly not the dominion intended for humanity in Genesis 1-2.

Stephen Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, pages 70-71

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It’s been roughly a month now, but my mind keeps wandering back to a post I read by R C Sproul Jr. called “Five Evangelical Myths or Half Truths.”  In it, as you can imagine, Sproul writes about 5 sayings commonly heard in the evangelical world that either aren’t true at all, or aren’t completely true and thus potentially dangerous.  I agree, for the most part, with his disagreements on 4 of the 5, but the middle one is something he botches pretty badly, in my opinion.  I’ll quote it here:

3. “Jesus saves us from our sins.”

Well, no. It is absolutely true that Jesus saves us. When we face trouble, He is the one we should be crying out to for deliverance. But the great problem with our sins isn’t our sins, but the wrath of God. The trouble I need to be delivered from is the wrath of God. Hell is not my sins, but the wrath of God. We don’t need to be saved from our sins. We need to be saved from the wrath due for our sins.

Now, I can see what he’s thinking here.  He’s worried that if we focus too much on sin, we miss the fact that sin itself is an offense to God and justifiably incurs his wrath and punishment.  The wrath of God is a topic rarely addressed and taken seriously, and perhaps the precise wording he quotes – ‘Jesus saves us from our sins’- contributes to that neglect (although I’m not convinced).

But his approach is just as bad than the one he opposes.  ‘Jesus saves us from our sins’ is 100% true.  The problem is not in the saying itself, but in the fact that we don’t know just how true it is.

Sproul misdiagnoses the problem to begin with.  He wants to focus more on our salvation from the consequences of our sin (God’s wrath) rather than sin itself.  In my experience most evangelicals share that focus with him.  That is, when evangelicals talk about salvation, we are really referring to eternal salvation/salvation from hell/etc.  So while Sproul disagrees with wording of the above phrase (and I’ll agree wording is important), the basic intention is the same as what he means.

But Jesus actually does save us from our sins.  We have been set free from ‘the law of sin and death’ and sin has been condemned (Rom 8:2-3).  We have been set free from sin (Rom 6:7), are dead to sin (6:11) and are no longer under the rule of our old master, sin (6:14).  We used to be slaves to sin, but have been freed (6:17-18, 22).

So let’s get this straight: we used to be enslaved to sin, but Jesus has freed us from sin and bound us to himself.  Isn’t that, by its very definition, saving us from our sin?  How can Sproul respond to this statement with “well, no”?  Is he not perpetuating a half-truth himself?

Many Christians don’t take seriously enough that Jesus has actually saved us from our sins.  We are (rightfully) grateful for salvation from the consequences of our sin, but forget that there is a ‘here and now’ victory over sin that is made possible by the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ and the gift of the indwelling Spirit of God (Rom 8:3-4).

The best way to fight a half-truth is not to replace it with another one.  The best approach is to teach the whole truth, and in this case, not only to teach it, but to live it.  We have been saved from our sins and are no longer slaves to what once bound us.  Now, by the power of the Spirit, let’s live that truth out in our daily lives.

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Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4:16)

I recently watched a sermon by Matt Chandler that has caught me in some interesting tensions.  In his sermon, Chandler offers a “test” by which one can know that they have really grasped the Gospel (my words, not his; and to be fair, the following loosely paraphrases his point, which was not the main point of his message).  The test boils down to this:  Do you approach God any differently on a good day versus a bad day?

Consider the bad day:  You wake in the morning with a complaining, ungrateful heart, skip your morning devotions, back slide into one of your recurring sin patterns, wimp out when you feel like you should share with the stranger sitting next to you on the bus, and short change your family in favor of watching the Bruins game, eventually falling asleep discouraged and convicted by your sin.  In every regard, you blow it.  Now, consider the good day:  Your morning is marked by a powerful encounter with God through His Word, you meet a friend in need and bring them encouragement and truth to help them through their hard time, you lead that stranger on the bus to Christ and plan to meet them at church that week, and you skip the Bruins game to finish your translation work for the sermon series in Hebrews, but only after you’ve spent another hour in deep, soul-satisfying prayer, and have given a month’s pay to a missionary couple heading to Bhutan.  In every regard, you “nail it” (to use Chandler’s language).

After either of these days, do you approach the Lord in prayer with any more or less confidence that He hears you?  Loves you?  Delights in you?  The short way of presenting this “test” might be: “How does your performance affect your posture to God?”  If you get the Gospel, Chandler says, it doesn’t.  You know that it is not by your righteousness that you have God’s ear, but by Christ’s, and you know that your righteous works “are as filthy rags” anyway, so on either day, you are equally confident and aware of God’s love, acceptance and attention.

On the surface, I like this “test.”   I think it illustrates the point of being saved by grace through faith quite clearly.  While I do take it as a mere illustration (i.e., not a systematic, precise, delicately nuanced description of our lives in Christ), it leaves me dealing with all sorts of tensions, some of which are quite  illuminating.  To throw out two:

(1)  Confidence and humility.  While we may approach God with confidence (on the basis of what Jesus has done for us), scripture testifies that we must also do so humbly (e.g., Lk.18:9-14, 1 Pet. 5:6, and about a million other places).  I think this is a tension for me because I’m not used to being confident without being prideful, or at best, confidence is often the slippery slope that leads me to pride.  Perhaps the reason here is that my confidence is often misplaced.  After all, one usually has a basis for one’s confidence.  Mine too often falls on my own ability or performance.  Don’t blink, because we’re right back at the Gospel again:  It’s about Jesus; who He is and what He’s done, not me.

(2)  Pleasure and displeasure.  Certainly God does not delight in my sin.  Yet, even though I still sin, in Christ, I’m white as snow.  So God takes pleasure in me as I’m in Christ, yet displeasure when I sin (which is quite often).  This tension can probably be filed in the (bulging) “already/not yet” folder, but for now it leaves me in an interesting place:  Do I not feel guilt and shame when I sin?  Am I not overjoyed when I experience victory over my sin?  So how could my good and bad days look the same with respect to my posture towards God?  Here, I think my tendency is to confuse emotions with reality.  I can feel ashamed and guilty as I approach God on my bad day, yet I remember that in reality I’m free of all guilt and shame.  I can feel joyous on my good day, yet I remember that in reality I’ve nothing good in myself; it’s all thanks to God.

Here are two examples of how the gospel changes everything.  To point (1), Confidence and humility can co-exist because the confidence is placed in someone other than ourselves.  For point (2), our standing before God doesn’t require us to trivialize sin, nor does it require us to exalt ourselves.   We can be simultaneously sorrowful (“I’m a sinner!  Forgive me!”) and joyful (“Praise be to God that I’m forgiven!”), or, joyful (“I spent my entire day helping the poor!”) and humble (“Thank you God for giving me a heart for the poor!”)

In all, I’d say Chandler’s “test” probably does require plenty of explanation and refining if we want to carry it beyond illustrative purposes; It’s certainly not meant to answer the question of one’s personal salvation (i.e., “I failed the test!  I must not be saved!”).  But as a point of meditation, or a question to ask yourself, it can be helpful, revealing, convicting and encouraging all at once, much like the Gospel itself.

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Scattered Thoughts on 1 John

I’ve done this type of post here and there, where I’ve been working through a book of the Bible (usually for teaching purposes) and have some thoughts, but don’t have time to work them out into full posts.  This time I’ll hit 1 John.

The Opposite of Self Deception Is…

1 John 1:8-9 presents an interesting antithesis.  V8 tells us about the person who claims to be without sin- those who do so are self-deceived.  We would, perhaps, expect the antithesis to be someone who knows they sin.  But that isn’t where John goes with it.

Instead, the antithesis of the deceived person is the person who confesses their sin.  For those of us familiar with these verses, we might not even catch something important; I know I didn’t until a couple weeks ago.  There are really only two options: either claim to be without sin, or confess your sin.  I can’t help but wonder if John is not-so-subtly saying this: if you are aware of your sin but don’t confess it, you’re basically denying your sin.  If you are truly aware of your sin, you’ll confess it.

Convicting.  I spend more time acknowledging my sin rather than confessing it, and living in the truth of v9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Assurance

1 John is mainly about assurance.  The letter is, in many ways, a “confidence boost” for Christians.  The wording “this is how we know…” shows up in quite a few places, and tells us that John’s goal is to assure his readers that they are on the right path (5:13f). 

But what’s interesting is that the confidence comes externally- from God himself.  After all, the author himself knew and heard Christ himself (1:1-4), who was sent by God (4:9).  Our sins have been atoned for as proof that God loves us (2:2, 4:7-21).  And ultimately, even if we feel “our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (3:20).  As John says in 4:16, “we know and rely on the love God has for us.”  Next time I’m in a spiritual rut and need a reminder of what God has done, I’m heading to 1 John.

Echoes of Genesis?

The only direct reference to the OT in 1 John comes in 3:12, when John mentions Cain (from Genesis 4).  But as I recently reread vv7-10, I couldn’t help but wonder if John was alluding to the earlier chapters of Genesis.  John refers to the devil, who has been “sinning from the beginning,” God’s seed remains in them (Gen 3:15, though I acknowledge that technically there it’s Eve’s seed), and John pits the children of God vs. the children of the devil (also Gen 3:15).  Mind you, I’m not sure what to do with this, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s an allusion.

I checked D A Carson’s section on 1 John in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, but he didn’t even mention it as a possibility.  So am I crazy for seeing this?

John and James: Different Language, Same Basic Point

For John, there is no love if there is no obedience, specifically in loving our brothers and sisters in Christ (3:16-18).  In other words, Christians can’t say “I love you” without demonstrating it through their actions.  In James, Christians can’t say “I believe” without demonstrating it through their actions.  I’m not saying their addressing exactly the same issue, but pretty darn close.  Check it out:

1 John 3:17-18

James 2:15-17

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

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See Part 1 of my reminiscent ramblings here.

I didn’t plan on my nostalgia turning into more than 1 post, but that’s what happens when I get going.  This post focuses on a handful of Christian albums from my youth (think, mid-to-late 90’s) that I still listen to somewhat regularly (except for the first) but have probably been forgotten or never known by the majority of people.  So, you won’t find the most popular bands here, but perhaps those I consider the best.  I’ll provide links (for MP3 download, except the first two) and track listings.  Bonus points for picking out the two bands with names inspired by C S Lewis.

Five O’Clock People, The Nothing Venture

Lunar
Sorry
Blame
So Far Gone
Glass
Now I Sing
Remain
Same Old Line
This Day
Living Water
Fall Silent

Admission: I don’t actually own this album any more.  It was stolen out of my car some time ago, and it’s been hard to find a replacement.  I pretty much refuse to buy physical cds anymore, but maybe I’ll make an exception here since I can’t find it for download.  So I’m going off memory here.

These guys were really folky, relying on mostly acoustic guitars (with a touch of mandolin) and good vocals.  In a sense, they road the wave created by Jars of Clay and their acoustic rock, but were a bit more melancholy lyrically (if memory serves).  Anyway, find it and enjoy it.

Curious Fools, Read

Con Con
(You're) Dangerous
Angel
Love (Is Believing)
Heaven
Se7en
Gold
Slow
Magic
Stone
Mess
Take Me Back
Pull
Murder

Once you get over the fact that the lead singer is trying to sound like Bono (listen to se7en, you’ll get the idea), this is a really good album.  This was Curious Fools’ second album, normally a band’s worst but their best.  They had a pretty decent debut album, but I think the wheels began to fall off with their third, where every song sounded like it was trying to be a radio hit, down to the fact that every song fits into a radio-friendly 3:– rather than some of the extended songs from Read.  At any rate, Read’s pretty straight forward rock, with some good guitar work, tight playing and memorable songs. 

Sixpence None the Richer, This Beautiful Mess 

Angeltread
Love, Salvation, The Fear of Death
Bleeding
Within a Room Somewhere
Melting Alone
Circle of Error
The Garden
Disconnect
Thought Menagerie
Maybe Tomorrow
Drifting
I Can't Explain

I know, I know.  Sixpence ended up becoming super popular.  Not only that, they became popular for Kiss Me, which ended becoming something of a teen-pop sensation when it was included in She’s All That.  Having your song featured in a Freddie Prinze Jr movie is pretty much the kiss of death to your street cred.

But before that song became big, they were known to a smaller group of fans for Matt Slocum’s unique music and lyrics.  Even Kiss Me feels entirely different when you listen to it in the context of it’s album.  Anyway, my favorite album is This Beautiful Mess.  It’s aggressive but mellow, quirky and just all around cool.  I have to admit that I’ve never been big on bands with female lead singers, but this is one of my all time favorite albums.  Listen to this album and you’ll never understand how they became famous they way they did. 

Waterdeep, Sink or Swim 

Sink or Swim
No One Told You
Not Enough Time
I Know the Plans
Lonely Sometimes
And
Go
Both of Us'll Feel the Blast
Legend of Vertigo
18 Bullet Holes
I'm Afraid I'm Not Supposed to Be Like This
You Knew
Down at the Riverside
I Am
[Hidden Track]

Like Sixpence, Waterdeep is actually fairly well known to people listening to Christian music about a decade ago.  Unfortunately, most people only know their two albums released on a label, Everyone’s Beautiful and You Are So Good to Me.  It’s not they are bad albums (although You Are So Good to Me is my least favorite, even if it did give the world a pretty good worship song by that name), they just aren’t their best. 

I don’t know a single long time Waterdeep fan that wouldn’t say that Sink or Swim is their best studio album.  Good music, great lyrics.  The husband-wife duo of Don & Lori Chaffer will always hold a special place in my heart.  In fact, I’ll just go ahead and say it.  If I could only take one band’s music with me on a desert island, Waterdeep would be it.  They capture something of the ebb and flow of life- the joys and the heartache- better than just about anyone. 

Waterdeep was, in my opinion, always a better live band than a studio band- and that’s saying something.  In light of that, I was tempted to put Live at the New Earth on this list instead of Sink or Swim.  If you insist on having perfect production quality, then Live is not for you.  But if you’re like me and you prefer the feel of a live show at the expense of perfection, then you must get it.  This is especially true if you like extended rock jams with a dose of funk.  And if you really like live bootlegs, I’ve got a few I’m willing to spread around (for the record, Waterdeep encourages bootlegging).

Poor Old Lu, Sin

Complain
Bones Are Breaking
My World Falls Down
Slow
I Am No Good
Thoughtless
Hope for Always
Where Were All of You
Bliss Is
Cannon-Fire Orange
Ring True
Sickly
Come to Me
Necklace

For the life of me, I’ll never understand why this band wasn’t more popular.  When I’d bring them up in college, I felt like there were two responses: most people had no idea who they were, those that did thought they were amazing.  Everyone who did like them seemed to have a different favorite album, but Sin is mine (go here for more stuff on them). 

It’s hard to describe this album.  They’re definitely in the alternative genre, but there are a few different influences going on here: a Western themed (think: Rawhide) Hope for Always, a Spanish themed Cannon-Fire Orange, and a lot of hopeful angst (if that makes sense).  Ring True and Sickly will go down as a couple of my favorite songs, but I never skip a song on this album.  So why didn’t they garner more attention?  Perhaps it’s because CCM wasn’t ready for a group of young guys (they started together as high schoolers) who didn’t fit the boy band profile.  They were a little grungy, definitely moody.  I think they sounded more jilted than they really were.  Even when they have a happy song like Ring True, it’s “ugly” enough that some might not notice.  Sickly has some pretty inspired lyrics about dealing with pain, but it ends up (like the lamenting psalmists) in a place where it’s given over the God.  Besides all this, I never thought they got the credit they deserved for their musical abilities.  Great band, great album. 

Dryve, Thrifty Mr. Kickstar

Whirly Wheel
Nervous
Stay
Thrifty Mr. Kickstar
She Ain't Ready
It's My Fault
Rain
Television
Heart of This
Manifold

Dryve is the best band you’ve never heard of.  I promise.  Three guitars, drummer, bassist, hammond organ.  Throw in an occasional harmonica and accordian and what you get is a wall of sound.  I can’t think of another Christian band like them, which is probably why they never made it big.  This is the only release on a label, although they did have a previous one called Hum.  If you’re looking for your standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-instrumentation-chorus arrangement, go somewhere else.  Great guitar work?  Cool organ action?  This is your place.

This album is the most listened to album on my iTunes.  There isn’t a song I don’t like.  From the angry (Television) to the worshipful (Rain, which I’ve heard played as a worship song, minus the harmonica, organ and extended guitar solo), I love it all.  I love the organ, cascading in some places (Manifold) and fun in others (Whirly Wheel).  Pretty much every song makes me wish I were a lead guitarist in a rock band.  But they broke up roughly a year after this album came out, and that was it.  This cd was one of those stolen from my car many years ago, but I had to go out and download the album on MP3.  It was every bit as good as I remembered it.

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It is certainly no accident that with his [the Holy Spirit] entry, there is no further talk of defeat.  In Romans 7:14-25, a rough count that I made indicates that the words “I,” “me” and “my” (in the RSV anyway) were used over 40 times. In that context there was no reference to the Holy Spirit, and thus, defeat.  In chapter 8 where the Holy Spirit’s presence is all pervasive, confidence and assurance are set forth.  The warfare between the two natures goes on, but where the Holy Spirit is in control, the old nature is compelled to give way.  And as long as Christians seek to carry on the warfare at their own charges, they fight a losing battle.  But when the avail themselves of the resources of life and power that are their’s in Christ Jesus, they are more than conquerers. 

From Peter O’Brien, Freedom from Death Talk 1 (on Romans 8:1-4)

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