Posts for December 2011
5 Posts found

2 Kings 1-13 – Evil and God’s holiness
Posted: 16 December 2011 in 2 Kings

Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD said, In Jerusalem will I put my name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD…. And the LORD spake by his servants the prophets, saying, Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations, and hath done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, which were before him, and hath made Judah also to sin with his idols: Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab: and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down.

Manasseh, of course, was one of the bad boys of the Old Testament, unlike his grandson whom the biblical writers could hardly praise highly enough. But the thing I notice here is that it is not just Manasseh who has to bear the consequences of his actions – so does the entire population of Judah. It might seem that the wider population of Judah would be able to plead mitigating circumstances, if an absolute ruler gave them no choice but to take part in the worship of pagan deities. The Bible seems to imply, however, that it is not just a matter of immoral deeds being punished by God, and perhaps not even primarily that, but that evil simply cannot be allowed to exist in the presence of God – no matter what the circumstances.

In the New Testament it might seem that Judas Iscariot had the ultimate plea in mitigation; namely that his treachery had been preordained by God as part of his wider plan of salvation. But he too stands condemned, because his deeds were objectively evil, whether preordained by God or not, and the objectively evil cannot be allowed to exist in the presence of God’s holiness.

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John 3.17-19, 36 – Christ as the only way to salvation
Posted: 14 December 2011 in John

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil…..  He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

John 16.4 is perhaps the most famous example, but the Bible says more than once that nobody can come to God, except through Christ. Here it is again. Of course that makes Christianity unfashionably exclusivist, but if Christians are to take the Bible at all seriously, they have no option to accept what it says. In the light of biblical revelation, universalism is untenable. Another passage fatal to universalism is Matt 7.13-14, which could hardly say more clearly that not all will be saved:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

What perhaps makes John 3.17-19 different from (say) Acts 4.12 is that it gives a reason for the exclusiveness. It is needless to say that the authority of the Bible would still be absolute, even if no reason were given. We are not to question God, his righteousness, or his word. Nevertheless, on this occasion we are given a reason. Jesus is God Incarnate, so to reject him is implicitly to reject God. The reason for the rejection typically being that men are too wedded to their own deeds, and perhaps also arrogance, to care too much for God’s rule over them. The foolishness of such an attitude could hardly escape people’s notice, if God exists, so there is here one of the motives for atheism. Not the only possible motive, but one of them. You only have to listen to the new atheists to know that it is a motive which applies to many of them.

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Acts 19.13-17 – Calling and God’s will
Posted: 12 December 2011 in Acts

Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the LORD Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.

 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.

A priest friend of mine once sounded slightly shocked at the idea that Christian spirituality should involve fear of God. That was the Old Testament, not the New Testament. Well, I suppose the above passage is one of the New Testament passages which should give Christians, just as much as Jews in Old Testament times, reason to fear God. This is not fear in the negative sense, but in the positive sense of a deep respect and reverence for God – such as that which Isaiah presumably experienced during his vision of God, described in Isaiah 6.

One thing which is clear from the above passage is that we have no right to go grabbing after any spiritual gift or vocation unless God sees fit to bestow it upon us, and that he will choose whom he will.

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James 1.5-7 and Hebrews 11.6 – Doubt and the gifts of God
Posted: 9 December 2011 in Hebrews, James

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”

“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

I used to read those verses from James as meaning that nobody who has any doubts will receive anything from God, but I am not sure that is what it does mean. I doubt if there is anybody today who is completely without doubts, because we are surrounded by a secular culture (especially in Europe) which we can hardly fail to be influenced by. We do, nevertheless, have a duty to be faithful to our calling, and I think that is what James is getting at. We cannot expect to receive anything from God unless we first have the intention of using what we are given wholly in his service. He will not bestow his gifts only to see them wasted, and himself dishonoured. In fact, if we were given the means to dishonour him in that way, and we actually did so, we would only bring judgment upon ourselves. Even if they don’t always see it that way, God is merciful to his children.

Similarly with the verse from Hebrews. Few, if any of us, can come to God without doubts, but we can implead him for his mercy – if only we are conscious of our poverty. As Paul has it, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Only when we are aware of our weakness will we have the motive (in fact necessity) of relying upon him. Not that we won’t repeatedly fall into self reliance even then.

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Act 16.23-32 and Galatians 4.3-7 – The mercy of God in salvation
Posted: 8 December 2011 in Acts, Galatians

” And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”

“Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

I must admit that this is largely continuing the theme of the previous post.

Although the first thought of the jailor in the above passage was to commit suicide, when he thought that Paul and the other prisoners had escaped, the will of God was otherwise for him. He was able to perceive the significance of what had just happened, and to respond appropriately when the word of God was preached to him. By way of contrast, an earlier chapter in Acts tells of Peter’s escape from prison through the intervention of an angel, and on that occasion there was no opportunity for repentance given to the jailor. Instead he was soon afterwards put to death by a much displeased Herod Antipas.

In the second passage it is again God who takes the initiative in sending forth his Spirit to remake the Galatians’ hearts; thus ensuring that they respond to Jesus and come to the Father through him. The Galatians had previously been worshippers of pagan gods, so they could in no sense claim that they had earned God’s favour, or that they were deserving of their salvation. We, like the jailors, are dependent upon the mercy of a sovereignly free God, who can bestow his salvation as and when he wishes, and without being under obligation to any of us.

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