Revisiting the New Birth

Everyone who believes that l Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John 5:1).

In an earlier article, we discussed major waves and undercurrents that occur in John’s letter.  One large wave that occurs regularly is the new birth.  The new birth connects a number of major currents throughout his letter.  The illustration below identifies these connections.

 

New Birth Passage Connecting Practice
1 John 2:29 Righteous/Righteousness
1 John 3:9 (2 times) Does not sin
1 John 4:7 Love
1 John 5:1 Believe
1 John 5:4 Overcomes
1 John 5:18 Does not sin

 

Notice that the sum of the Christian life in the family of God arises from the new birth.  Each time John begins a new line of thought, he starts out with the truth of the new birth.  Upon viewing how he discusses and applies the new birth, a pattern emerges.  The chiasmus defines this pattern.  A chiasmus defines the structure of a written work.  That written work can be in the form of a song or poem.  In the case of John, it appears in this letter.

The chiasmus refers to an inversion structure as shown in the illustration below:

 

1 John 2:29 – Righteous

            1 John 3:9 – Does not sin

                        1 John 4:7 – Love

                        1 John 5:1 – Believe

            1 John 5:4 – Overcomes (Righteousness implied)

1 John 5:18 – Does not sin

 

Notice two structural elements about John’s letter.  First, he reverses the beginning at the conclusion.  When he first addresses the new birth at the beginning, he highlights “righteousness” followed by “does not sin.”  At his conclusion, he reverses the order, placing “does not sin” at the conclusion at 1 John 5:18.  In arranging his message in such a manner, John emphasizes that living life pleasing to God is one in which one does not practice sin.  Not only does he make this statement twice but he also concludes his chiasmus with it for giving greater attention to the believer’s separation from sin.

In the middle of the chiasmus (1 John 4:7; 5:1) where he again refers to the new birth, John cites the two major themes in his letter: love and believe.  Righteousness and not sinning, in essence, refer to the same practice of the Christian life.  Love and the verb form of faith, believe, come as gifts from God through the new birth.  Their close proximity to one another in the letter illustrate that Christians cannot truly love without faith.  That faith gives evidence that one knows God (5:8-12).  Since both love and faith derive from the new birth (4:7; 5:1), they work together in demonstrating that one truly knows God.  That knowledge works its way out on the horizontal plane toward others.

We must realize that there were no chapter and verse divisions in the original letter.  These divisions did not arise until the 15th century.  Given this as the case, the flow of John’s thought process in his letter naturally followed from the various mentions of the new birth.  In other words, statements about the new birth acted as lynchpins for connecting the practices of life before God.  The new birth connects righteousness to love and love to faith.  Together the life of God shines through in the believer through the expressions of God’s nature and character.

Notice how John treats each practice.  They are always in reference to the character and nature of God.  In his first mention, John states,

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (1 John 2:29).

The reason we can practice righteousness in the first place is because God is righteous.  He showed His righteousness to us in Christ.  John just finished discussing another theme of abiding (2:24-28).  Righteousness is the practice of abiding or not practicing sin.  All three truths refer to the same way of living: abiding (2:24-28), righteousness (2:29), not continuing in sin (3:1-9).  The practice of abiding flows naturally into John’s thought of righteousness.  The practice of righteousness encompasses the practice of not continuing in sin.  All three focus on horizontal relationships within God’s family, leading to the practice of love (3:11-4:12).

This practice of love also arises from the character and nature of God just as righteousness does.  Notice how He points to God as the source of love.  He must necessarily reveal His love to us for us to learn how to practice it (4:7).  As creatures alienated from God, love is not natural to us nor do we truly know how to love.  Rather, we pervert it and make it into something it is not – a romantic or emotional notion or something predominately sexual.  Not only must He reveal love to us, He must teach us how to love.  Jesus revealed God’s love (4:9), and the Holy Spirit teaches us how to love (4:14-17).  For this reason, John makes love the core of the new birth.  Love reveals the nature and character of God in the new life He gave us.  It expresses itself in righteous living toward God and others.  It gives us confidence before Him, because it reflects back to Him the essence of who He is.

Although God reveals both righteousness and love, they do not come to fruition until one believes.  Knowing God’s righteousness and love arises from faith (5:1-3).  However, even this faith has its source in the new birth (5:1).  The grammatical tense John uses with his mention of the new birth is the same for every occurrence.  He writes with the perfect tense each time he refers to the new birth.  The perfect tense in both the Greek and English indicate a past action that continues into the present.  John indicates that this action is the new birth.  That is, the new birth gives rise not only to righteousness and love but also to faith.  We believe as a result of the new birth.  Therefore, all the expressions of living the Christian life come from God.

What we are and what we do must arise from God.  We would never know how to live life the way God ordained it unless He revealed the characteristics of that life to us.  The life of God in us through the provision of Christ’s death and the work of the Holy Spirit gives all we need to live righteously, to love God and others, and to have victory over the evil one.  As it works its way from us, the Holy Spirit gives assurance that we belong to God (5:6-8) and grants confidence when we see Him face to face when He comes again.  Think on these gifts of God and consider how they show up in your life.

Resurrection and Freedom

More often than not, Easter messages focus on the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, and rightly so.  These are historical accounts narrating the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  Less frequently do messages arise from the various New Testament letters and the Acts of the Apostles.  Luke, Paul, Peter, James, and John take up the historical event of the resurrection and bring its significance to bear on the life of faith.

One cannot read these letters without recognizing the resurrection’s strong strand.  It weaves through the message of the authors as they show how this historical event proclaims liberty to the captives and “the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1) as Jesus announced (Luke 4:18).

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The Empty Tomb

One of the great truths of the resurrection is freedom.  Before the resurrection of Jesus, His disciples failed to understand such freedom.  They viewed it in terms of a material kingdom rather than spiritual life.  Tradition dictated their view of the external rather than the internal.  However, afterwards, they could not hold back this lofty truth.

Historical Basis for Freedom

A walk through the New Testament reveals narration of the historic event of the resurrection and its application to a life of faith.  Truth stands on history and not fiction.  History builds a mountain of evidence on which biblical faith rests.  Without historical evidence, faith would be futile and freedom would be a mirage or relative to how one defines it.  Biblical faith leads to freedom because God intervened in history, interacted with humanity through Jesus, and brought Jesus from death to life through His unsurpassed power.  Freedom stands on this mountain of evidence.

What then is this freedom?  The gospels narrate the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  Jesus also left traces of the meaning of freedom through His sermons (Luke 4:18-19).  However, the apostles expanded at length on this freedom arising from Jesus’ resurrection.  Throughout their letters, resurrection dominates.  It is the center of their messages.  However, how does resurrection link to and bring freedom?

In the middle of presenting the gospel to the Church at Rome, Paul gives a sublime example.  He takes the reader from an intentional self focused to a resurrection focused excursion. This self focus serves to make a point at the conclusion of the chapter,

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

What death?  The death to which Paul refers is that which prevents him from living upright, good, and pleasing to God.  This body of death is that which sin rules.  Notice the number of times Paul uses “I” and “me” prior to crying out this statement and question.  Immediately following these, he pivots from the “I” and “me” to gratitude for the resurrection.  He boldly pens,

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).

He crowns his declaration of freedom with the following statement,

If the Spirit of a him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (8:11).

Resurrection is the pinnacle of the argument Paul applies and the foundational doctrine for living the Christian life.  The resurrection means no longer being in debt to the flesh but living by the  teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Resurrection life now is a mere taste of the glory reserved for us when we meet our Savior face to face.  The song “Blessed Assurance” highlights this taste in its lyrics:

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!  Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!

The resurrected Jesus imparts to us the resurrected life to whet our appetite for all God has prepared for us in His presence.

Beginnings of True Freedom: Resurrection and Salvation

Resurrection brings life and liberty.  Easter is an everyday occurrence and not just once yearly.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead brings about a different life than the self-focused one.  The old life bound us to the disdainful beatings we may give ourselves of hopelessness, despair, shame, dread, and trash talk under which we bury others and ourselves.  At times, the old life also attempts to elevate us above our peers through boasting, smugness, strife, anger, envy, greed, and division.  This, too, is bondage to fantasy and self.  However, Paul claims that the same power that raised Jesus from death enables us to be free from those things that hold us in bondage.

When we cry out like Paul, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” the answer immediately registers, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ out Lord!” (7:25).  The answer does not stop there, just as the Easter message does not stop with one day,

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (8:1-3).

How often do we live under self-condemnation, ripping others and ourselves apart when others or we fail, fall, or falter?  Christ’s resurrection took care of this condemnation and corresponding way of life.  While in this present body, we continue to struggle with these burdens of our existence.  However, hope in the Easter message illustrates faith in Him for continued deliverance and assurance that Christ paid the price for all our sin.  The Easter message proclaims that through the new birth we possess resurrected spiritual life from God.  Consequently, the power of resurrection and its corresponding new life increasingly energizes and spurs us to live for Him.  “Increasingly” suggests missteps along the way, but these missteps do not stop God from conforming us to the image of His resurrected Son.

Freedom begins with salvation.  Salvation is almost a lost word, because many have lost sight of what precedes it: the gravity of the human condition.  Humanity is in bondage.  We understand bondage from looking out on our world.  It exists visibly in human slavery that still prevails in many nations.  People take others into captivity and strip them of everything they have.

A more insidious bondage survives that of human slavery: bondage to internal evil we afflict on ourselves and others resulting from spiritual death due to natural rebellion against God.   This natural rebellion results in known and seen characteristics in everyone throughout the world: hatred, greed, rebellion, immorality, murder, strife, deceit, and maliciousness.  The Bible calls this sin.  It all begins from within us.

Salvation is deliverance from all this sin and the power to live right with God.  This is a liberty greater than freedom from human slavery, because it is spiritual freedom exceeding the material and lasts for an eternity.  The power God gives to live in freedom is the same power God exercised for raising Jesus from death.  When God imparts a new spiritual life (resurrection) from spiritual death within us, He gives the power to live that new life.  Freedom begins for us with that power.

The Good and Freedom

Good Friday precedes the resurrection, just as our good God existed from eternity before He pronounced His created works good.  Goodness in God precedes the greatness of His works, especially the grand finale of the resurrection.  The Apostle Paul declared this resurrection arrived at the proper time, in the proper place, and through the proper Person – Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  Goodness does not stand alone, but it is bound to our good God.

On that first Good Friday, the tragic circumstances of the death of Jesus left the disciples in deep despair.  All they could think about immediately following Jesus’ death was themselves, their predicament of being a dead man’s disciples, and their own prospects of death.  That despair festered like an ulcer.  They initially saw no good in Jesus’ death but certain bondage to chains and ultimately the grave.  They forgot their good God and His sovereign hand.  They cast aside all they heard from Jesus.  Fear ransacked their spirits.  They could not fathom how Jesus’ words could ring true: His return, His Father’s house, His kingdom.  Good Friday was not good for them.  They later discovered the truth of resurrection.

God’s goodness transcends despair, tragedy, hopelessness, weakness, tears, fear, failure, and frailty.  Just as God raised Jesus from the dead the third day, His power also raises us up from the bondage of emotional turmoil, doubt, dismay, and unbelief.  Liberty means God refocusing our eyes off ourselves and on the resurrected life He gives when He raises us from spiritual death to new life He promised in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Easter celebrates the resurrection life and turns despair and dismay into hope and joy:

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5)

Easter is that morning that took the disciples ( and us with them) from mourning to joy.  God wakes us up through a new life to smell the freedom air of the resurrection.

Did Jesus Come Back to Life?

While some assert that Christianity stole the idea of resurrection from various mystery religions featuring a dying and rising figure, the Gospel accounts breathe a far different air – the air of factual actuality, of datable, verifiable history” (Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics).

Consider the claim of theft.  Someone in the distant past develops a religious teaching about people coming back to life.  Another religious teacher elsewhere at a different time or concurrently speaks of people returning to life.  Still another guru or religious master passes on what he heard from another about  a cycle of death and life then death again and life in another form.  Today, we refer to this type of teaching as reincarnation.  As oral traditions arise from the past from a number of sources, the stories in those traditions change through secondary and tertiary retelling of the stories.

Inseparable Essentials: God and Resurrection

cropped-2016-02-24-10-12-12.jpgWhile these secondary sources arise from an original, the primary thought of someone returning to life is a common theme.  Is the theme just as false as the stories surrounding the theme?  Is there any evidence for the original claim although details change over time through a variety of sources?  Was there an actual event that gave rise to the various stories?  If not, how did the idea of someone returning to life enter individual thoughts?

These questions about resurrection from death is similar to the question, “If God did not exist, would we have to invent Him?”  That is, if the idea of resurrection did not have its source in reality or history, would someone have to imagine it and spin it into a legend, fable, or myth?  If nothing existed to give rise to the idea of resurrection, how could one spin a legend, fable, or myth around non-existence?  The same thinking arises concerning God.  If someone invented God, as atheists claim, how did the notion of God even arise in our thoughts if He were simply an invention and not part of existence?  The parallel between an actual resurrection and the existence of God are worth exploring for arriving at the truth about them, especially the resurrection of Jesus.  They are two indispensable claims underlying the Christian faith.

If they can be shown to be valid, then such faith has solid and sure support.  If no evidence exists for either, then the Christian faith would be vain as Paul noted (1 Corinthians 15:13-17).  Both claims depend on history and not imagination or fiction.  Truth cannot arise from fiction.  Such foundations are unlike other world religions because historicity is not so instrumental to them.  One could remove the idea of reincarnation (fiction) from the religions that claim it, and those religions would not necessarily fall.  They would simply revise their teachings to accommodate another idea and integrate this idea with existing beliefs.  That occurs frequently in religions over the span of time as religious teaching change over time.  Their tenets change to integrate current philosophies.

On the other hand, the teachings of God and resurrection have never departed from biblical faith.  Granted, many who bear the name Christian have ceased to believe in the historical resurrection (i.e., Paul Tillich (1886-1965, John Hick (1922-2012), John Shelby Spong (1931-)).  However, it does not depart altogether.  Resurrection echoes from the beginning of time.  This article will later explore this fact.  In many Christian segments that reject the historical resurrection, it still remains as a symbol and attaches to a belief system within those Christian segments.  However, does such symbolic attachment discount or rule out God’s existence and the resurrection?

God, Resurrection, and Naturalism

Let us consider these two claims.  One, the resurrection, depends on the other, God’s existence.  According to naturalists, both seemingly defy the way the natural world works.  Notice the disclaimer in the previous statement: “seemingly.”  Does the material order refute God and the resurrection?  Do the laws of the natural order rule out God and resurrection?  Douglas Groothuis does not believe the natural order rules them out.  He makes the following statement:

But miracles do not break natural laws. The day Christ raised Lazarus, people all over the world were still dying and staying dead. The law of nature had not changed. But natural laws speak only to natural events. Supernatural events are outside of their purview” (Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, IVP Academic, 1988, Kindle, Location 5764-5765).

C. S. Lewis expands on the issue of miracles of which the resurrection of Jesus is one,

“The divine art of miracles is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into the patterns” (C. S. Lewis, Miracles, Harper, 1974, Kindle, p. 95).

Lewis provides the example of natural law’s pattern of cause and effect to support his claim. That is, one of the laws of nature is cause and effect (If A then B).  He claims that a miracle does not suspend this law but rather has a cause with a corresponding effect and therefore abides by it.  The “new event” is not A in this case but A2, that is God as the cause with the corresponding event as the miracle (B2).  This miracle occurs “according to Natural law,” Lewis claimed.  However, he goes on to say,

Its peculiarity is that it is not in that way interlocked backwards, interlocked with the previous history of Nature” (p. 95).

He adds that naturalists have a problem with and cannot tolerate such logic.  The reason why is that they begin with rejecting God as the Creator and believe that Nature is the sum of existence.  In rejecting His existence, they refuse to accept that this God they consider non-existent could intervene in Nature with an event consistent with Nature (birth, death, and life).  Consequently, they lock themselves into a closed system that excludes anything that does not fit their materialist worldview.  That is, material is the sum of all existence, and there is nothing beyond the material.  That means the supernatural.

What About Resurrection?

Let us consider the question, “How did the idea of someone returning to life enter individual thoughts?”  We know that ideas of resurrection came about prior to Jesus.  Religious leaders (Pharisees) of His time believed in it.  Did the resurrection of Jesus arise from myth or was it a true historical event given the preexistence of the idea of resurrection?  We need only return to the beginning of creation to discover seeds of resurrection.  Consider the creation.  God created life from nothing (lifelessness) by speaking (Genesis 1-2).  We read of a parallel when Jesus spoke and raised Lazarus from death (John 11).  Abel presents a motif of resurrection.  The letter of Hebrews reads,

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).

We also discover the theme of resurrection in the historical account of Abraham of which the letter of Hebrews also testifies,

Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore” (Hebrews 11:12).

Again, the author writes of Abraham,

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Hebrews 11:17-19).

Elijah brought a widow’s son back to life (1 Kings 17:17-24).  The creation was not myth.  Abel, Abraham, and Elijah were not myths.  History left traces of resurrection that all pointed to the single historic event of Jesus rising from death.  Individuals embraced the resurrection because God Himself left traces of it in His own works and through actual events.   Creation, Abel, and Abraham represent God’s works while Elijah exhibits an actual ancient biblical event.  Jesus’ resurrection did not depend on myths, fables, or legends.  God intervened in events prior to Jesus’ resurrection.  The history of the resurrection of Jesus rested on God and His intervention in historical events.  This intervention confirms that God works in history to demonstrate His power not only in events that preceded Jesus but also with the resurrection of Jesus..

God and Nature

We may ask those who reject God to explain chance and accidents and how the principle of these events is any different from explaining miracles.  Are “accidents of nature” and chance just as inexplicable as a miracle from their perspective?  Many new occurrences today baffle scientists and doctors just as others did centuries ago.  However, new discoveries explain the inexplicable of a century or two ago, but today’s undiscovered or unknowns remain just as puzzling as unknowns did to those in the past.  However, one variable could always exist: there may never be a discovery that explains all unknowns due to the temporal restraints of our finite being and the limitations of the tools available now or in the future. Speculation rules over unknowns among the finite.  Just because the resurrection cannot be explained today by known natural laws does not mean that it can never be explained by any existing laws.  God’s laws of all existence exceed natural laws.  If scientists cannot explain chance and accidents they consider within the the natural world, how then can they explain laws beyond the natural existence?  To reject God is just as irrational as believing in chance or accidents.

His intervening acts with us are of a supernatural sort that requires a different kind of explanation, the supernatural, just as those beyond our grasp as so-called accidents or chance does to the naturalist.  By the very definition of accident and chance, naturalists seem to suspend cause and effect, whereas miracles do not.  Chance cannot cause anything unless it has intelligence to give direction and will things to happen.  An accident is its corollary.  Neither can cause anything.  Yet naturalists want us to believe that chance prompted (caused) an evolutionary outburst (effect).

All the while, they reject the source (God) that gives way to the natural law of cause and effect.  They reject Him while calling Him to mind and making mention of him.  One cannot think or speak of that which does not exist.  Thinking assumes knowledge.  There is no knowledge in non-existence.  However, when those who reject God think of Him, they affirm what they deny.

The rejection of God in favor of chance places those who reject Him in the precarious position of also rejecting and suspending the laws of nature (that is, cause and effect).  God does not suspend the laws of nature with the resurrection of Christ from death.  Rather, He worked within those laws.  Douglas Groothuis asserts that people still die.  That law remains the same.  God (the supernatural Cause) intervened to raise Jesus from death.  On the other hand, chance remains chance regardless what naturalists desire to impute to it – some sort of causal agent.  We must ask ourselves which is the most rational, the causal agent of God or an event lacking cause and effect – chance.

Since God is the Creator, He is beyond the entire created order.  As the Creator, He then holds sway over the created (natural) order and its corresponding laws.  He created those laws.  Therefore, the natural order and the supernatural order both exist.  God consists of the supernatural order .  With such a scenario, chance and accidents are not options.  Cause assumes a determinant, which is an agent that places something in motion for the desired effect.  God has not endowed some event called chance with directional capacity.  Accidents do not just happen, because all things are within God’s purview and control.

God and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

God is not only the Creator but also the Redeemer.  What is a Redeemer?  Redeem means to purchase back.  The Law of Moses revealed the meaning of this kind of purchase (Exodus 13:13; 34:20; Leviticus 25:25-26; Numbers 18:15).  Why redemption?  The human condition called for it. All chose to go their own way, away from God.  God took the initiative to intervene and revealed His redemptive hand in the Law of Moses.  He also revealed the way through a Redeemer, His only Son, whom He sent into the world to purchase back those sold to slavery to rebellion and their waywardness.  Their penchant for rebellion and condition prevented them from coming to God on their own.  They needed a Redeemer.  Jesus came and lived in the form of man, was executed, and came back to life.

The resurrection affirms two truths for those who believe in Jesus.  First, death has died.  Jesus showed He had life in Himself by rising from death (John 5:26).  Death had no hold on Him.  This truth is a “far different air,” as Groothuis claims, than mythical stories of resurrection.  No material being has life in itself.  All life derives from God.  All other so-called stories of resurrections were myth while having their roots in historical reality.  There was no theft from other religions.  Rather other religions distorted the truth and created fiction.  That truth resided in historical events with the grandest truth being Jesus’ resurrection.

Second, Jesus’ resurrection was the true life from death, the historical event that changed all history.  Given His resurrection as a true historical event God determined from all eternity, what weight does that carry with us?  Faith in Jesus means all the world and eternity for us, for that faith also transports us to new life from spiritual death and after death.  Chance has no basis in history.  There would be no history by chance.  The living God controls history and set the course of redemption in motion with its fulfillment in Jesus’ resurrection.  The living God and the resurrection are inseparable essentials.  Are you willing to bet the rest of your life and eternity on chance?  Paul wrote,

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

Paul discusses two outcomes resulting from the resurrection of Jesus: judgment for those who reject Him and assurance of life for those who believe Him.  Place your wager.

Taking Advice, Giving Consent, Embracing

Three steps in decision making lead toward adopting a philosophy of life.  We adopt a philosophy piece by piece, segment by segment, thought by thought, and action by action.  As we engage these steps, our intents and commitments become more pronounced toward a direction for our life.  There are numerous advice givers for information in making a decision.  Each of these advice givers may or may not have taken the same advice they give.  For example, some will give advice on a diet plan but never use it themselves.  The adage, “Take my advice, I am not using it,” becomes true for them.  Just watch television, read newspapers, or flip through magazines and you will find articles and advertisements advising you on every aspect of living.  Each has a philosophy about how one should look, smell, see, talk, hear, dress, present oneself, vote, worship, argue a point, or even think about issues.  They want you to embrace their viewpoint and philosophy and shame you if you do not embrace it.

Generally speaking, a lot of people become influenced by their own advice and follow it.  When giving such advice they deem important, they consider it valuable.  The more valuable they find it, the more they consent to it and embrace it.  Even if they half-heartedly believe in their own advice, they follow it because they do not want to be exposed as being inconsistent when giving advice.  Eventually, they adopt a philosophy of life and advise people from that philosophy after taking it themselves and giving consent to it through action.

There are two ways to take or give advice, consenting to it, and embracing it: a positive way and a negative way.  Parents tell a child, “Don’t touch the stove top because it is hot!”  A financial advisor recommends that his clients engage in budgeting.  The child consents to parental advice by staying away from the stove top.  As time passes and the child grows into adulthood, he embraces the lifestyle that hot stoves should not be touched with a bare hand.  The same applies to those who listen to a financial advisor’s advice.  They consent and eventually join the group of people who exercise budgeting as a lifestyle.  Wisdom grows for those who take sound advice.  However, those who take unsound advise suffer its consequences.

Psalm 1 announces the above three step process of adopting a philosophy of life and a sound lifestyle.  It dispenses this process in negative form preceded by a positive outcome,

How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers!” (v. 1, The Apologetics Study Bible.

The psalm tells its readers not to take the advice of the wicked, assent (consent) to sinners or join (embrace) a “group of mockers.”  In other words, there are certain types of people we should avoid and with whom we should not keep company (embrace): the wicked, sinners, and mockers.  They will make us unhappy.  Avoiding them and embracing God’s instruction will make us happy.  Other Bible versions use the word “blessed.”  Being blessed means favorable (not necessarily an emotional response).  Within the context of this psalm, we understand that this favor comes from God.

The psalm expands on this favorable outcome with the illustration of a sturdy tree.  Prior to this illustration, it expands on the meaning of happiness or blessing: delight.  That is, the person delights “in the LORD’s instruction.  This delight compels him to give continuous thought (meditation) to the results of the LORD’s instruction: sturdiness as a tree, fruitfulness in life, and prosperity.  Spiritual thinking through the word of God results in these outcomes.  These outcomes are not necessarily material well-being and external success.  They could be, but God does not promise them.  Prosperity does not mean material riches but reaching specific successes God designs for our lives.

The other side of this favorable outcome are results of opposite decisions, decisions that avoid the advice and result in embracing that which the psalm warned: chaff and disappearance of all that is good.  These decisions ultimately lead to the rejection of the source of all blessings, God Himself.  This psalm gives stark images that heighten the urgency of following sound advice, consenting to it, and embracing it.  Unhappiness is not the ultimate result to avoid.  Rather, it is God’s judgment and destruction.  Those who delight in the LORD and commit their ways to Him find security in Him and not judgment just as a sturdy tree that rises confidently to the heavens.

Advice can be warnings.  This psalm gives warnings about giving consent to certain life characteristics and embracing those who follow them.  Warnings are like street signs.  We see them all the time.  Not following them could lead to disaster.  Consenting to them and embracing them leads us to a favorable destination, God’s destiny for our lives.

Who is God? Part 3

Those who worship the God of the Bible in spirit and in truth need to be careful not to reduce the Most High to nature, being, evolution, process, humanity, or even religious experiences…No church can long serve the God of truth with an untrue and diminished view of who He is.”

– Gordon R. Lewis & Bruce A. Demarest, “Integrative Theology”

If you conducted an on-the-street survey with the question “Who is God?” how many different answers do you think you would receive?  Given the number of gods that inhabit the minds of individuals, countless gods could outnumber a single nation.  The survey could not offer a list.  The New Age borrows from the old age of ancient Greece and Rome.  The Pantheons would be a meager bunch compared to the number one could count today.

Many gods have arisen because people have sought to imagine God according to the elements of creation. They then depart from the path of knowing the one true God onto another dark, dangerous, and destructive road of idolatry. The study and knowledge of God is a thoughtful lifelong process requiring dependence on Him and what He reveals to us in the Bible.

No one can know God rightly without God first revealing Himself to that person. A corollary to this truth is that no one can then seek after Him unless God first not only reveals Himself but also draws the heart to Him (Romans 3:10). For unless God takes the initiative with each act, everyone in his or her human condition will seek another path.  Many have claimed that people across the world cry out for God and seek after Him.  If we are to believe Paul the Apostle in his statement in Romans 3:10, these many cry out for that which is greater than themselves but one like them.  They want a savior much like Israel wanted a king like the other nations.  Corruption brings about such perverted desires.  Albert Mohler refers to these perverted religious desires as making God into a “therapeutic category” (The Eclipse of God at Century’s End: Evangelicals Attempt Theology with Theism).  Paul quotes from the Psalms of the Old Testament:

The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside…” (Psalm 14:2-3)

When the real God shows up, people exclaim,

“That’s not God, not the god I desire, one I can see, feel, and hear, one who pats me on my back and consoles me in my predicaments, one who gives me wealth, health, lots of toys, recognition, and popularity (instead of ridicule).”

C. S. Lewis wrote,

A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads— better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap— best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband— that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God!’) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?

– Lewis, C. S., A Year with C. S. Lewis (p. 3). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

As people reject the true biblical God, they create Him according to their imagination, raising in their minds what they want Him to be according to their own desires and their alienation from God. They then design an entire worldview around this god or these gods, projecting on these deities an authority that actually shifts this authority away from God to themselves. Note, it is not to another god to which they shift authority but to themselves. Once they have established their own authority, they can then project on themselves their present condition and include it into their worldview (“I’m OK, you’re OK, but others outside of our circle are downright nasty.”). As a remedy, they offer their own solutions from human-centered philosophy, religion, and psychology.

Seeking?  Yes.  Spiritual?  Yes.  Religious zeal?  Yes.  Seeking after God?  No, that is until He finds us and gives us a willing heart and mind.  All the rest of our seeking, according to Lewis, is dabbling in religion.  God is not at all what we make Him to be.  However, He is everything we need Him to be given our current state of affairs in this destructive, unenviable, hopeless, and violent environment in which we find ourselves.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17)

God loved.  He gave.  He sent.  He saved (delivered from destruction).  In His matchless initiative, He reached out to us in our religious dabbling, philosophizing, and therapeutic machinations.  No initiative on our part comes infinitely close to His strong hand of mercy and grace.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!