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Posts Tagged ‘sin’

Keener on Romans 7:7-25

It’s Craig Keener Week here at BBG!  Or, more accurately, it’s Craig Keener-Related Link Week.  CKRL Week, as the kids call it.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago Marcus at Seeking the Truth… (ellipsis original, though unexplained) posted a review of Keener’s (apparently) excellent commentary on Romans.  In this review he refers to a table used to explain Keener’s understanding of Romans 7.  Marcus wrote:

There he showed 10 statements from Romans 7:7-25 that would contradict what Paul says elsewhere if we were to understand them as referring to Paul’s present struggle with sin.

So, in the comments, I asked Marcus if he’d reproduce the chart for those of us unlucky enough not to own the book.  He has kindly done so.  I found it quite helpful, and now has me searching for an excuse to get Keener’s commentary.

Go check out Marcus’ post and see what you think.  And while you’re at it, add his blog to your reader.  Other than a couple oddities (he’s a Mets fan- no, seriously) and downright craziness (the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is only the 3rd biggest in sports?  Puh-lease), it’s quite good.

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To Err Is Human… or Is It?

It’s an agreed upon assumption by pretty much every person alive that no human is perfect.  Even the non-religious have some view of sin, not just that people make mistakes (like providing an incorrect answer on a math test) but that they make moral errors as well (I realize this could lead into a number of debates, but for the sake of brevity I’ll pass them by).  In Christian theology, this belief is in many ways central to our understanding of who we are (anthropology) and how we relate to God (sinners in need of forgiveness). 

Along with this belief, I’ve heard expressed many times that “if we were perfect (morally speaking), we’d be God.”  The correct assumption behind this sentiment is that God alone is perfect.  What makes humans not-God is that they are sinful.  Christian orthodoxy has always held that people are inherently sinful, even if there is not always perfect agreement on the particulars (or, more specifically, how God overcomes that sinful nature in His saving grace is seen slightly differently between Calvinists and Arminians).  All this to say, in the minds of many, what makes us human is that we, unlike God, sin.

But is this really what makes us human?  Are we ultimately defined by our sin that separates us from God?  I tread lightly here for fear that I’ll end up sounding heretical, so hear me out before you travel to Boston with a load of stones in your trunk.  I firmly believe in the inherent sinfulness of all people, and we are desperately in need of God’s grace.  But let me ask a couple questions to demonstrate where I’m going with this:

Were Adam and Eve human before the Fall?

Will we cease to be human in the New Heavens & New Earth, when sin shall no longer exist?

I think the answer to the questions are ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ respectively.  In other words, humans were human before the first sin, and will continue to be human after sin is long gone.  I’m not disagreeing that all people sin; it’s a fact of living between the Fall and the Consummation of the Kingdom.  What I’m saying is that sin is not the primary thing that makes us distinct from God.  If it were, then I’d have to wonder if we believe we will become God when our bodies are raised, creation is restored and all evil and sin are abolished.  I doubt any of us will go that far.

My point is this: to be created is human.  What separates us, and everything else, from God is that He is Creator and we are creatures.  Humans have always been created beings and will always exist as created beings. 

Let me go one step further.  If human beings are defined primarily as created beings, then what separates us from the rest of creation?  The answer is found in the very first chapter of the Bible: “So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).  What makes us human, and not some other creature, is the we alone were created in the image of God.  The Fall may have tarnished that image, but it does not remove it entirely.  When sin is completely eradicated, and “death itself turned backwards” (to borrow from C S Lewis), we will not cease to be human, but conformed to the image of Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God.

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Most of us understand that the book of Revelation predicts and expects persecution for its readers.  The assumption is that John’s readers were under the constant threat of death for their testimony of Jesus Christ.  Basically, this viewpoint goes something like this: if you don’t worship the emperor, you will be killed.

Ian Boxall, in his commentary on Revelation, takes a slightly different route.  He doesn’t deny that there is some persecution going on, but he sees it strictly as local and not really involving Roman authorities.  “The internal evidence of the messages to the seven congregations (Revelation 2-3) suggests a rather mixed picture.  …actual or impending hostility is referred to for some (e.g. 2:9, 13; 3:9)… there is no clear indication that suffering is at the hands of Roman authorities, or involves formal legal precedings” (p12).

Instead, Boxall, and many others, note that the call not to compromise is just as strong in Revelation.  Within the messages to the seven churches, we see condemnations of “Balaam” and “Jezebel”- OT figures who caused God’s people to stray.  In other words, John’s message is for them not to fall into the trap that these false teachers are laying.

This, of course, has implications for persecution:  “If Revelation is not primarily written to comfort the persecuted, it nevertheless represents a rallying cry to Christians to place themselves in a position in which they might find themselves being persecuted” (p13, Boxall).  If John’s readers are able not to stray, they should expect persecution.

I appreciate Boxall’s attempt to balance, though I have to wonder if he’s overstated his case.  I’m not sure what the Beast of chapter 13 represents if not the powerful oppressor standing against God’s people- making war and conquering them, according to 13:7.  Even the harlot of chapter 17, the seductive power of the comfort the Roman Empire provides, drinks the blood of the saints (17:6). And when Rome is judged, she is judged “with the judgment she imposed on you [the saints]” (18:20).

But the connection with bearing testimony for God and the threat of death is undeniable in Revelation.  Jesus himself is the faithful witness who was put to death (1:5).  Keeping in mind that “testimony” and “witness” are from the same root in Greek, we see how Jesus sets the stage for God’s people in this way.  Read 2:13, 6:9, 11:7, 12:11, 12:17, 17:6 and 20:4- all of them combine the notions of faithful and enduring testimony and the reality of death for that testimony.

John’s original readers dealt with the reality that they were called to compromise their testimony (side note: I’ve noticed that we always word it “compromise our faith,” which indicates to me that we’ve internalized something that was intended to be a public evidence, but that’s another post for another day).  For many, if they did not denounce their exclusive devotion to Jesus Christ, they could lose work, be imprisoned or end up in a colosseum face-to-face with a lion.

But they were also tempted to compromise by enjoying the pleasures that Rome offered- this is especially strong in chapters 17-18.  Why “rock the boat” and cause problems?  Why not keep your mouth shut and enjoy a peaceful and prosperous life like everyone else in the Roman Empire?  When she is destroyed, “the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury… will weep and mourn over her” (18:9).  Would John’s readers be among those who mourn her destruction and the comfort that came with her, or would they rejoice in God’s judgment of her wickedness (18:20)?

So both of these realities- persecution and compromise- are undeniably present in Revelation; Boxall states their connection well.  If one chooses not to compromise, they may face brutal persecution.  John is calling his readers to remain faithful in their witness, even if it means death, in the face of these twin realities.

Does this have anything to do with us?  I think it does.  I mentioned this in teaching the other night, and I keep coming back to it.  I have to wonder if we (by “we” I mean American Christians, since that’s where the vast majority of my experience comes in) focus on the persecution apparent in Revelation because it enables us not to face the compromising aspect of Revelation.  The fact is that we are inundated with temptations to compromise in our culture.  We live in an affluent society where you can pretty much have what you want when you want it. We tend not to notice these temptations (do we not have ears to hear and eyes to see?).

There’s a certain wicked wisdom in using pleasurable temptation rather than persecution to make God’s people ineffective.  It is a powerful tool.  The truth is that you can put a gun to my head and threaten to take my life if I don’t deny Jesus, and I will stand firm, I’m sure of it.  But if you parade by me, day after day after day, the siren call of comfort- power, acceptance, money, home, sex, cars, etc- I am much more likely to compromise my witness.

Perhaps the American church isn’t facing the beast, but we are facing the harlot.  The question remains, will we be a faithful witness?  May we hear the message of Revelation and overcome.

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On Easter Sunday, many pastors around this country will preach about new beginnings.  They’ll draw analogies with the coming of Spring; the budding flowers and chirping birds show us that life begins anew and we can start a new phase of life.  Christ’s resurrection will be spiritualized and said to be significant because it shows us that our lives can be refreshed.

And they’ll all miss the point.

You see, Easter Sunday is the time to deal with the ultimate problem of our existence: death.  Death is the great equalizer.  No matter who you are, rich or poor, strong or weak, you will face death.  Death is the one thing no one can avoid, no matter how many anti-aging creams you buy or how many vitamin supplements you take.  All these things accomplish is prolonging the inevitable.

Death, as we know from Romans 6:23, is intimately connected to sin.  In the same way, Easter Sunday is intimately connected to Good Friday.  You can’t have one without the other; they are inseparable.  Just as Christ died in our place and paid for our sins, Christ is our forerunner in His resurrection.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s victory over death.  Not in some sentimental sense, but in a hard reality.  In His death, Christ experienced the ultimate problem of humanity.  But death, like all other enemies before the Almighty God, is defeated.  Death has been our enemy since the time of Adam, but it is an enemy that has its days numbered.  “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man” (1 Cor 15:21).  To put it another way, Easter isn’t about new beginnings, it’s about victory.

Jesus’ resurrection points forward to the day when His people will also be raised from the dead.  We know that death is not the end of our story because it wasn’t the end of Christ’s story.  Death was, in a real and true sense, defeated on that first Easter Sunday.  And because death was defeated in Christ, all those who belong to Christ will participate in that victory, both now (see the beginning of Romans 6) and fully when He comes back.

So, on Easter Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s victory, but we also look forward in anticipation of the day when Christ returns and we will participate in the ultimate victory over death.  As Paul says, “The last enemy to be defeated is death” (1 Cor 15:26).  Christ’s resurrection points towards the final resurrection, which means the restoration and redemption of what our sin has destroyed.  The final resurrection is the death of death.

Come soon, Lord Jesus.

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Why did Jesus have to die?  As we observe Good Friday, and enter in to Easter weekend, this is an appropriate question.  The stock answer, of course, is that Christ died for our sins;  Jesus died to forgive us from our sins.  While I find nothing wrong about these common answers, I believe that they often assume too much of the one asking the question.

First, the answer assumes an understanding of sin, and humankind’s slavery thereto.  Christ’s death is meaningless and useless if one does not believe in the sinfulness of all humankind, and our inability to be free from it.   The hard fact of our existence is that we consistently “miss the mark” in terms of living out the life for which God created us.  We fall short of God’s moral standard through a depressingly vast, and ever increasing array of thoughts, words and deeds.

Even worse, history has shown that no amount of philosophical or technological progress, and no measure of human effort, no matter how noble, has ever been able to fix it.   If Christ died for our sins, but there is no such thing as sin, Christ died for nothing.  Moreover, if Christ died for our sin, but there is some other way for us to know freedom from sin, whether by deed, word, or personal sacrifice, Christ died for nothing (c.f., Gal. 2:21).

Secondly, the answer assumes an understanding of God’s justice.  Some years ago, I was listening to a debate some between a Muslim and a Christian about God.  When the topic of Christ’s death came up, the Muslim asked the question point blank:  Why did Jesus have to die to forgive us for our sins?  God is almighty and all-powerful; could He not just forgive us?  God can do anything and everything that He wants.  Why is Christ’s death necessary?

The answer is that Christ died because God is just.  If God were simply to let our sins go, to let us slide, then He is not a god of justice.  I’ve met people who chafe on this idea, which they (erroneously) assume paints a picture of a wrathful, angry, sadist of a god.  What we forget is that, if we’re honest about it, we all want a god of justice.  Do we not want evildoers to be punished?  Even the worst sinners among us inherently want justice when we are wronged.  A liar lied to is eager for his deceiver to be brought to justice.  If God lets us slide, then He lets Hitler, Manson and Pol Pot slide, too.  We all want evil to be brought to justice, but the hard consequence of that desire is that we too, are evil, and therefore deserve punishment.

Christ died because God is just, and God cannot do anything contrary to His nature.  As such, there must be punishment for sin; a reckoning for what humanity has done.  So, in a horrible irony, God Himself endures the punishment, which is the worst injustice the world has ever known:  God became man in Christ, and made history by being the first and only human ever to walk the earth entirely without sin.  He came to heal, to teach, to bring life and restoration to the world.  This one, this perfect God-man, was mocked, beaten, and tortured to death by the very ones He came to save.  In executing His justice, God endured history’s most egregious injustice.

Christ died to restore and redeem that which was lost due to human sinfulness.  He died for our sins.  As we reflect on this today, let’s not forget the truths that make this statement meaningful.  Moreover, as God avails us the opportunity to share the hope we have in Christ with others, let us not assume too much.  In America, sin is often a matter of human preference.  Even more, unmerited faith is placed upon our own abilities to solve deep problems, and justice is wrongly subject to our own biassed whim.  Let’s lovingly and carefully proclaim the bad news, that we are sinners answerable to a God of justice, as we joyfully proclaim the good, that “while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), and “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”  (Jn. 3:16).

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Jobes on 1 Peter & Suffering

Even those Christians who do not suffer persecution for the faith are called to the suffering of self-denial.  Sin is often thought of as being motivated by the temptation for pleasure.  But perhaps the real power of sin lies in the avoidance of pain and suffering.  It is better to suffer unfulfilled needs and desires than to sin.  Is this not what self-denial means?  Jesus linked self-denial with following in his footsteps when he said, “Those who would be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34 TNIV).  For instance, isn’t the temptation to lie often an attempt to save face rather than face the consequences of the truth?  Isn’t the temptation to cheat on an exam an unwillingness to suffer the loss of reputation or other consequences that failure might bring?  Isn’t sexual sin often the alternative to suffering by living with deep emotional and physical needs unmet?  According to Peter, the pain and suffering that self-denial brings is a godly suffering that is better than yielding to sin (1 Pet. 4:1-2).

Karen H Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, p5.

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This post is part of the continuing series known as Resource of the Month, where we highlight one particular resource for Christians and churches and show how it can help us in our walks with the Lord and ministry.  This month Brian and I have chosen to highlight the church, specifically the local church, as a resource.  This post focuses on one particular way the church (the gathering of Christians) can help each other.

In our circles, where not only the Sunday meeting is attended but smaller groups (which we call “Faithgroups”) are also emphasized, you won’t have to wait long before you hear someone quote Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (TNIV).

We apply this in any number of ways, moving beyond the “official” church gatherings (the aforementioned Sunday meeting and Faithgroups), and include meeting together in homes for dinner, discipling others, accountability, etc (many of which happen in our Faithgroups).  All of these fall under the application of the verse above.

But why was the author of Hebrews so intent on his readers meeting together regularly and purposefully? 

I think it’s easy to miss the connection with the verses around Hebrews 10:24-25, specifically what comes after it.  When you read verses 26-31, it seems like the author switches gears and begins a new topic, the problem of believers falling away.  But, the writer didn’t simply move on, these verses are connected.  If you are reading a more dynamic equivalent translation (TNIV, NLT), you might miss this connection (fans of the NASB & ESV cheer loudly). 

In fact, the writer gives us a clue that he is about to tell us why it’s important to continue meeting together when he uses the little word “for” (gar in Greek).  I’ll give verse 26 from the NASB translation: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…”  You can read the rest of the section for yourself to get an idea just how bad this “falling away” or “deliberate sinning” can be.  (Note: I’m well aware of the theological debates around these verses and the issue of someone “losing their salvation”, but I’m not going to address this here, since the point of this post stays the same.)

The author of Hebrews lets us know that regularly meeting together to encourage each other to live faithfully is vital in keeping us from falling away from our faith.  He knows, and we should too, that there is a day (or “Day” if you prefer) when God will judge us all, and you do not want to be on the side of those who “trample the Son of God underfoot” or “treat as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them” or “insult the Spirit of grace.”  Such people need to hear the warning in verse 31: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

But God has not left us alone to fight against sin and temptation.  He has given us each other.  He tells us to assemble together, not to meet a requirement or get a star on our Sunday School attendance chart.  He tells us to meet together so we can build each other up and keep each other from sinning.  We are given the responsibility to restore each other when we do sin (Gal 6:1, I deal with that verse here).

We were not saved so that we could become an “army of one.”  We were saved into a community, bound with other believers by the empowering presence of God, His Holy Spirit.  While this is not the only reason, we do need to continue meeting together so that we do not fall away, so that we can live out the words in Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

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