Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How Do We Approach the Father?

“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26–27)

I have for years questioned how some view Christ interceding for us.  Perhaps one of the most used verses is Hebrews 7:25, Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.  I am not sure I have ever heard anyone refer to Christ’s intercession in any other way than he speaks to the Father on our behalf, or he pleads our case or perhaps asks the Father to answer our prayers because he died for us.  It is usually explained in some way like that.  I have read some commentators like Calvin who seem to support what I am about to say which is reassuring since I would be hesitant to teach something if I couldn’t find some good theologians who didn’t also agree. 

My main problem with viewing Christ’s intercession like that is that it seems as if the Father needs a little more convincing by the Son before he will take care of us.  But if Christ made a perfect propitiation, then the Father’s wrath toward us has been removed and he loves us perfectly in the Son and there is peace.  The Father can’t be any more favorably disposed toward us than he has been since we were born again and united to the work of Christ.

I have always seen his intercession, then, as referring to his one time work of redemption and Heb. 7:25 above is a good example.  I don’t take it to mean that he is always living to plead our case before the Father but that as long as he is alive his cross work will always be sufficient to save us.  As long as he lives, we will be accepted by the Father.  Vs. 24 I think shows this, Heb 7:24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.  The strength of his intercessory work is that he is risen and lives forever.

I quoted John 16:26-27 above because I recently read it for the “first time”.  Have you ever come across a passage and it hits you like a ton of bricks and you wonder how you had never noticed it before?  When I read it my first thought was, “Hey, that is what I have always thought the passages on intercession were to be taken.  Here Jesus says that under the New Covenant, when we pray, we don’t pray to Jesus and ask him to go to the Father because he doesn’t have to.  The Father loves us.  Jesus’s death fully reconciled us to God and nothing more needs to be done.  So he says that he doesn’t have to ask the Father on our behalf because we can go to him ourselves.

Perhaps you might be thinking of the several passages that refer to his interceding for us like Rom 8:34  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  But the context is not us praying but in our continuous, never ending justification; go read the context.  This would support what I have been saying.  Earlier in that chapter we read of the Holy Spirit interceding in our prayers, Rom 8:26  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  But here again I don’t think we are being told that the Holy Spirit is pleading our case but that we often don’t know what the Lord’s will is for us and don’t know what to pray for or sometimes we pray for things that are not good for us but not to worry because the Holy Spirit does know and the Godhead is taking care of it for us.  That is a quick synopsis but I think it gets the point across.

What about other places like 1Jn 2:1  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1Jn 2:2  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  Again, the context is when we sin; how do we know our sins won’t condemn us?  Because Jesus Christ is righteous and his blood has full atonement made.  It is propitious, it has removed God’s wrath once for all.  We don’t ask forgiveness when we sin so that he might forgive the guilt of our sins but to restore fellowship through confession.  1Jn 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Now let me try to show why this isn’t merely splitting hairs but there is some practical value to get this right.  First of all, Christians are told to pray to the Father, not the Son.  The whole point of Jesus telling us to pray in his name is because he has paved the way for us to come to the Father.  One of the ways we are priests is that we can approach God on our own.  Christ is the Mediator in that the cross work has provided access to the throne of God both in justification and in praying.  We are never told to ask Jesus to go to the Father on our behalf. 

This isn’t to say that the Holy Spirit and the Son don’t work with the Father to help us but there is never any hint that the Father needs further pacification or needs to be prodded by the Son, Heb 2:17  Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Heb 2:18  For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.   All members of the Trinity come to our aid because Christ has removed all obstacles.

Secondly, this truth undermines much of Roman Catholicism’s teaching on intercession which sees our sins never quite fully paid for and the Father’s disposition toward us never quite what it should be and so we must approach the Father through Jesus or Mary or some “Saint” and then they go the Father and try and get things done.  I once read from a Catholic source that if someone prays to Mary, one way she would entice Jesus to do what she asks is by revealing one of her breasts to remind him how she used to nurse him and that would gain his favor.  Of course, all that does is undermine the cross because we can’t be loved and cared for any more than we already are.  Mary certainly can’t make the Godhead any more favorable to us than they already are. 

Personally I am glad the Father doesn’t need any more convincing to answer my prayers and do me good.  Christ’s life and death has done all that can be done and all that needs to be done.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Christ in the Old Testament

Gen 45:4  So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, please." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.
Gen 45:5  And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…
Gen 45:9  Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry.
Gen 45:10  You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.
Gen 45:11  There I will provide for you.

The account of Joseph is one of the clearest accounts of the person and work of Jesus Christ in the OT; albeit through typology.  Let me point out just a few in this article.

Verses 4 and 5 above remind us that Joseph got to the position of second to Pharaoh by being betrayed by his brothers.  Similarly we read in John 1 that “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”  But it was through his mistreatment by crucifixion that he becomes our Savior and King just like Joseph becomes for his family.  Through his wisdom and faithfulness he is exalted to the right hand of the King of Egypt where he secures food (life) for a world that is starving.  This work of Christ is what Paul is referring to in Php 2:8  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Php 2:9  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.

Before his brothers can enter into this kingdom and be reunited with their brother they have to face their sin of betrayal.  (Betrayal is a good way to understand what happened in the Garden of Eden when Adam fell).  So there are roughly three chapters where Joseph works on them until they have faced their sin and demonstrate that they are not the men they used to be.  Once they have proven this, and not until, Joseph reveals himself to them and there is a restoration of fellowship. 

While all this is going on Joseph keeps returning their money to them.  I see this as a reminder that salvation is all of grace and there is nothing we have that God needs and so it only insults him when we try to earn his grace. 

Finally his brothers are told to go back home and proclaim the good news.  Basically they say, “Joseph is not dead but he lives and not only that but he reigns and invites us to come into his kingdom and he will provide for us beyond our wildest dreams!”  But the first benefit is that they will be near Joseph, vs. 10.  What primarily causes Jacob to go to Egypt was that Joseph was there and Heaven is where Jesus is and that will be what makes Heaven, Heaven. 

It is the gospel in a nut shell.  Behold, today is the day of salvation, do not tarry.  The One we sinned against has gained the victory over the death that hangs over us.  Do not tarry but believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.  Hasten to him and you will be near him and he shall be your God and you will be his child and there will be peace and fellowship and he will provide for us eternally.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Be Not Deceived

Jas 1:14  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
Jas 1:15  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Jas 1:16  Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Jas 1:17  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Christians have from the beginning understood that there is what is sometimes called an unholy trinity of powers that work against us to cause us to sin; the world, the flesh and the Devil.  There is in our flesh a remaining principle of sin that wants to put self above God and everything else.  The world is full of tempting things that the flesh wants to make idols of and the Devil tries to bring these two things together in any way he can.  While they work in an almost perfect harmony of temptation I think sometimes it is good for us to delineate between the areas each of these have so we know how to battle them. 

For instance, the well-known Flip Wilson phrase, “The Devil made me do it” is poor theology at best.  Satan can’t make us do anything and generally this is understood that Satan can put thoughts in our minds independent of whether we want him to do so or not and so in some way he, not us, is to blame for our sin.  This is something that I have rejected early on in my Christian life and I hope with biblical merit.  It assumes that the Holy Spirit and Satan (or his demons, since most would believe that Satan is not omnipresent) both indwell us in some way.  I reject that out of hand and neither do I think that Satan can plant thoughts in my mind or speak to me in some way internally.  There is no way to battle evil thoughts if he can put them there independently of our will.

I do believe the Devil’s primary area of attack is in our minds but it is from without, not within.  He is the mind and power behind the worldly system, the prince and power of the air.  It is interesting that he is mentioned very little in the OT.  Gen. 3, Job, once in the Psalms, as Lucifer in Ezekiel and in Zechariah.  In almost all cases he is seen as the accuser of man.  But once we get to the NT he is seen as a liar and a deceiver which is what the name devil means.

How do these three things work together?  To build on what I said above, the flesh is remaining sin in us that is full of pride and desires to please self.  The world is constantly displaying things that play to our sinful desires.  In part Satan uses the world to tempt us to give ourselves over to the flesh.  His danger, then, isn’t so much that he tries to get us to do wrong things but tries to get us to want to do wrong things.  Our flesh is quite good at doing that which is why the old saying, “The Devil made me do it” really misses the mark.

James 1:14-15 above says we fall to temptation because we want to.  If we want to sin less then purify your heart, don’t tell Satan to leave you alone.  The Bible never tells us to speak to Satan but to love the Lord with all our heart and to grow in the knowledge of him.  The way to sin less is to not find the things of this world as attractive as Christ; to see them for what they are destructive to us and dishonoring to the Lord.  And this is where Satan’s tactics come into play.

I think James 1:16-17 speaks more to Satan’s work, Jas 1:16  Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Jas 1:17  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  He wants to get us to believe the world when it tells us that it has what we need.  No, every good thing comes from above, not below.  Notice how James starts off with do not be deceived.  Through the philosophies of the world and the perversion of biblical doctrine, he tries to get us to believe the same lie he told Eve.  Once she believed that the fruit could offer her something God couldn’t she was lost.  The best way to stop committing acts of sin is to realize where they lead and the damage they do to the kingdom of God.  It is to believe God and not the lies all around us. 

Sure Satan is happy when we commit sinful actions but what he is really after is for us to love Christ little and this world much.  Then we will happily commit sinful acts.  And this is what really dishonors the Lord.  When a saint hates the sin in his life and does all he can to honor the Lord, then God is honored even though we are still sinners.  But when someone who professes Christ lives in such a way that it seems he loves himself more than Christ then God is dishonored in a far more fundamental way.

One of my favorite passages on this subject is 2Co 10:3  For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 2Co 10:4  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 2Co 10:5  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.  Our battle with sin isn’t so much to try and stop committing sinful acts, but to transform our minds so that sin is no longer attractive.  Notice the strongholds we are to destroy are any argument or prideful opinion that is contrary to God or Truth.  So we guard every thought by making sure that Christ is central to all we do and only the Bible teaches us why this is true. 

So I don’t just tell myself not to steal but I seek to love others and do them good because I believe what the Bible says about life and death and judgment, etc.  This is why the NT reserves some of its harshest condemnations for those who try to reduce godliness to "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch"; because it is merely external but doesn’t examine why we are doing what we do.  There was nothing sinful about the fruit in the Garden of Eden.  The sin was in thinking it was as important as the Lord and this led Eve to commit an outward act of rebellion.  Paul goes on to say as much in Col 2:23  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

In other words, not indulging the flesh can still be indulging the flesh!  Because the flesh can only do what the heart wants it to do.  One can still be proud while he is outwardly denying himself something.  Godliness is always first a matter of the heart and mind and Satan’s directs his attention at trying to get us to believe that in one way or another the Bible isn’t true.  I think as we read through the NT we begin to see this throughout, but I will leave you with just one more passage that I think is one of the great statements of godliness in the NT: 

1Ti 4:1  Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 1Ti 4:2  through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 1Ti 4:3  who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 1Ti 4:4  For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 1Ti 4:5  for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.