Thursday, March 16, 2017

Q&A: What does it mean when it says to work out your own salvation?

Q&A: What does it mean when it says to work out your own salvation?

Good question. Let's look at the actual quote from God's Word:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV) 

Working out one's salvation does not mean working FOR salvation. Rather it speaks of making one's salvation functional in all areas of life. Quite honestly it speaks of inviting Jesus to be Lord in more and more areas of everyday living.

You've probably noticed that when we come to Christ we have only begun to walk with God. From there the Holy Spirit encourages us to go deeper and deeper into the life of Christ — as far as we are willing to go. To do this He speaks to us about new and different areas where we can surrender control to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Our marriage, our work, our daily speech and even our thoughts — nothing is off limits. And as we concede more and more of these areas of the self-life and turn them over to Jesus, we are said to be working (i.e. walking) out our own salvation.

So think of Philippians 2:12-13 as an exhortation to go deeper into Christ, and to allow Him to have a greater place from which to rule and reign in our hearts.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Thoughts on The Shack

I was asked recently about my thoughts on The Shack, both the book and the movie.

Actually, I've never read the book and I have no plans to see the movie. I guess Christian fiction has never appealed to me personally.

What I do know is that there is a lot of controversy and dialog about both the book and the movie, and I have to confess it befuddles me a bit. But consider me befuddled on two fronts:

First off I'm befuddled by the anger of Christians toward the book and movie. I hear them saying that it's unbiblical and therefore dangerous. From what I've learned of The Shack I have no doubt that those claims are true, but then IT'S A NOVEL, after all. I guess I just don't have the expectation that a novel which includes concepts and imagery about God is going to be biblical. I pretty much expect them to be rife with inaccuracies and fanciful inventions. (The 2014 film Noah starring Russell Crowe is a classic example.)

What's interesting is that those why cry the loudest about the inaccuracies (read: heresies) of The Shack are the very ones who obviously know better. I mean, they believe it's inaccurate because they KNOW what the Bible really says. That means The Shack isn't a danger to them personally. I assume, therefore, they must be concerned about others who possess less discernment and understanding than themselves. If that's the case, wouldn't these folks be better served spending their time actually TEACHING the Bible so that others are better equipped to spot inaccuracies when they see them?

The second thing that befuddles me is how genuine followers of Jesus become enamored and flock to such books and movies like The Shack. One of the hallmarks of our Christian faith is that we embrace the Bible as the unique and authoritative written Word of God. As such, it provides the only standard of determining truth and discerning error. And yet, I would venture to say that the majority of believers have yet to even scratch the surface of the things God has communicated to us through His Word. That being the case, what in the world are we doing looking to novels and movies for truth and spiritual insight?

What would the prophet Isaiah say about this discussion? Probably something like this:

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:8 (ESV)

And that pretty much sums it up. After the book and movie version of The Shack is long forgotten, the Word of God will continue to provide the only real light and truth we will ever need.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Q&A: I come from a Christian culture that teaches that wearing Jewelry is sinful mostly quoting 1 Peter 3: 1-5 and Galatians 6:14. What does the Bible really say on this topic?

Question: I come from a Christian culture that teaches that wearing Jewelry is sinful mostly quoting 1 Peter 3: 1-5 and Galatians 6:14.  What does the Bible really say on this topic?

Answer: The first passage you listed (1 Peter 3) is one which is often used to impose upon women the prohibition of wearing jewelry or anything else that might be considered "outward adornment" including make-up. But if you really look at this passage you'll see that the subject of Peter's exhortation is inward —or real beauty. He's challenging women to refuse to cave in to whatever the world considers "beauty" (which is always external).

The passage goes like this:

1 Peter 3:3-5a (NIV2011) 
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.

Rather than forbidding the wearing of jewelry and fine clothes or elaborate hairstyles for women; Peter is simply saying, "Don't let those things become the definition of beauty." Instead, he encourages women to consider the example of Sarah, whose beauty came from within—characterized by a "gentle and quiet spirit."

There is always a tendency among some groups to read the New Testament with an Old Testament mindset. They read a passage like 1 Peter 3 :3-5 and see nothing but prohibitions and rules. But what they neglect is the heart. Peter's message is meant to appeal to the heart — not a dress code!

You also said that Galatians 6:14 was used to emphasize that women ought not wear jewelry and such. That passage says:

Galatians 6:14 (NIV2011) 
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 

The legalist assumes this passage is forbidding the possession of anything that might cause boasting. Since some boast in their riches by displaying their fine jewelry, the conclusion is made that the use of such things is worldly and must be forsaken. But what if someone owned and even wore fine jewelry but in her heart cared nothing for it. She could either take it or leave it, and jewelry for her was never a cause or temptation for boasting. Would having and wearing jewelry still be forbidden for such a person?

The legalist is forced to answer yes! And that's what's wrong with legalistic rules...they almost never take into consideration the condition of the heart. Instead they make general rules that everyone must conform to, or else be shunned. But they forget that its possible to never wear jewelry or makeup or fine clothing and still have a heart that is boastful and proud.

That's why God communicates to us repeatedly throughout the Scriptures that He is primarily concerned with our hearts — not our appearance. Man is concerned with the outside but God considers the heart. (See 1 Samuel 16:7)

Q&A: I have been taught that upon receiving water baptism, the Holy Spirit comes upon you, but you must wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or you can't go to heaven. Is this true?

Question: I have been taught that upon receiving water baptism, the Holy Spirit comes upon you, but you must wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or you can't go to heaven. Is this true?

Answer: No, it is positively not true.

Before we talk about water and Holy Spirit baptism, it's vital to re-establish how a person is saved. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that salvation is obtained by placing our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. (See John 1:12-13; Romans 10:9; Ephesians 2:8-9) Jesus paid IN FULL the penalty of our sin, and by placing our faith in his death on our behalf we are saved from bearing our own penalty. When Jesus uttered the words "It is finished" from the cross, He was declaring that the penalty of our sin was paid in full. When we accept by faith that He accomplished all this for us, the Bible declares that our sins are blotted out and we are made children of God.

Water baptism and Spirit baptism come into view after salvation — they do not secure it. In other words, we baptize people who are already saved. It's the same with Spirit baptism. This work referred to as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is designed to empower believers for service, not to save them.

For further information on these topics check out the following blog posts:

Q&A: How do I know if I've been baptized by the Spirit?

Q&A: Are there verses that show that water baptism is not required for salvation?

Also here is a link to a teaching I did that may help to clear some of the confusion:

Water Baptism and the Resurrection

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Q&A: Was heaven always a perfect place?

Question: Was heaven always a perfect place? If the devil had evil intentions to overthrow God and eventually convinced one-third of the angels to follow him, how was he able to do so if heaven was a perfect place? If it wasn't always perfect, at what point did it become a place where sin could no longer live?

Answer: The assumption built into your questions is that if something is perfect it cannot at the same time contain any sin or evil intention. And your assumptions are not without biblical warrant since we read in the Psalms:
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. Psalm 5:4 (ESV)

Yours is a challenging question, but, such don't stop there. There are many other equally challenging ideas. Try this one on for size: If God is pure and without sin how could He possibly create a being such as Lucifer (Satan) who could choose to become the very definition of evil? From that starting point other questions ensue, such as: If God originally created mankind pure and without a sinful nature, how could the first man and woman possibly choose rebellion and disobedience?

Is your head spinning yet? There are a great many things we don't understand about the origin of evil and probably won't understand until we find ourselves in God's never-removed presence. At that time the Apostle Paul promises that we will know even as we are now known. (1 Cor. 13:12) Until then, what we do know is that God is, in Himself, pure and entirely without the stain of sin. We also know that He created beings (angels and humans) who possess the freedom to reject His truth and therefore become sinful and evil — something He Himself can never become. How that is possible is a total mystery and extends into realities that transcend the plane of our experience or knowledge.

I wish I could give a more satisfying answer, but I'm afraid there is none at this time, except to say that somewhere in the sovereignty of an all-powerful and completely perfect God, an allowance was made for the creation of free-will within angels and human beings—the kind of freewill that is powerful enough to actually create evil. Satan not only became the creator of evil, he apparently drew a fair number of the angelic host into his dark heart. And not stopping there, he was allowed to spread his influence even to mankind, where that which was created in God's own image has now become marred and polluted with a nature that is bent and twisted toward sin and selfishness all the time. How these things could come from a perfect God who dwells in unapproachable light is truly beyond our comprehension. We simply know that they did, and trust that His ultimate plan is perfect. (See Isaiah 55: 8-9)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Q&A: Who wrote the Bible? Did it just appear?

Question: Who wrote the Bible? Did it just appear?

Answer: The Bible was written by some 40 different authors, spread out over a period of about 1,500+ years. Many of the books of the Bible reveal their authorship, but others do not. This is true for the Old and the New Testaments. The authors we know of include Kings, Prophets, Church Leaders and even a doctor.

The Bible didn’t just magically appear. It was written by individuals, some whom were just setting out to record historical events. Others took up the pen because they were conscious of the Holy Spirit moving them to write down what they believed was a message from heaven.

The Old Testament writings are those which were (and still are) accepted by both Jews and Christians as authoritative and divinely inspired by God. Our best claim to the authority of the Old Testament is that Jesus Himself often quoted from these writings and clearly accepted them as having a divine origin.

The New Testament books are largely the writings of the original Apostles or those who lived and served with them. These letters circulated among the early churches and were accepted early on to be of equal weight with the Old Testament.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Q&A: In Mathew 21:22 where Jesus says " will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." —can you explain the correct meaning of "ask" here?

QUESTION: In Mathew 21:22 where Jesus says " will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." —can you explain the correct meaning of ask here?

Answer: Although this verse has been challenging for many people, there's nothing mysterious or difficult about the word ask. It's the Greek word aiteƓ and it simply means to ask or request.

The verse actually goes like this:

"And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Matthew 21:22 (ESV) 

I think what challenges some believers is that this verse sounds a bit like a blank check promise. In other words, all it takes is faith and you can have anything. And believe me, some people have believed that very thing. But wait a second. Our understanding God's Word can't rest on any one single verse. Christians need to have a fuller, more complete understanding of the revelation of Scripture, and that includes the following passage:

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 1 John 5:14 (ESV) 

John gives us an important insight that adds to our understanding of prayer, faith and receiving what we ask for. He reminds us that our requests need to fall in line with God's own will. So the real key is discovering God's will.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Q&A: What is Ezekiel 16:44 trying to say?

QUESTION: What is Ezekiel 16:44 trying to say?

“Behold, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you: ‘Like mother, like daughter.’” Ezekiel 16:44 (ESV) 

Answer: I have to confess when I first read your question I wondered if you gave me the right passage. But assuming it’s correct, the context of the passage (in verse 1 of the chapter) tells us this is a message from the Lord to the city of Jerusalem. During the chapter the Lord likens Jerusalem to a woman and other corrupt cities (Samaria and Sodom) as her “sisters.” Then, in verse 44 the Lord speaks of the evil and pagan-corrupted Canaanite cities that had taught Jerusalem how to abandon God and sacrifice her own children — likening those cities to Jerusalem’s “mother.” This “proverb” of “Like mother, like daughter” is a way of accusing Jerusalem for being just as guilty of pagan idolatry as her non-Jewish neighbors.

This passage is NOT stating that a daughter is going to be exactly like her mother, or is destined to repeat her mother’s mistakes in life. If you have heard such a thing, you have been exposed to a very unfortunate interpretation of God’s Word and I would personally steer clear of anyone who took such liberties with God’s Word.