Friday, May 29, 2015

Top 10 Posts

There are a lot of posts on this website... where should you begin? What are some of the most important posts that will help you get a feel for Timothy Ministry? What are some posts that I think would be the most challenging and encouraging to my readers?

Here are the top 10 posts that you should check out. If you appreciate them and are challenged by them, keep browsing around on the site; there are lots more things to explore and study!

May God bless you as you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.


THE TOP 10 POSTS

1. True Christianity
An examination of the conversion of Paul and his revelation of the cross of Christ, and how that changed his views on religion and God's law.

2. Antinomianism
A reexamination of the concept of antinomianism, which I believe has been greatly misunderstood in the Christian church.

3. The True Nature of the Law
What exactly does the law of God say? A true understanding of the law is essential for understanding the Lord Jesus Christ.

4. The Great Meaning of Metanoia
A synopsis of the book "The Great Meaning of Metanoia" by Treadwell Walden, which explores the Biblical definition of the word "repentance."

5. Dennis or Jesus: How Do You Understand Your Relationship with the Father?
A study of what--as Christians--our relationship with the Father is like. What are the practical effects of justification upon our walk with God? What does it mean that we are disciplined by the Father?

6. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 - The Unrighteous Will Not Inherit the Kingdom of God
A study of an important passage which confuses many readers. This article offers fresh light upon the text, and I also share my own personal experience with the passage.

7. No Longer a Slave to Sin
An explanation of Romans 6, 7 and 8 and the doctrine of sanctification.

8. Counterfeit Grace
A fresh look at Jude 1:4. What does it mean to turn the grace of God in lasciviousness?

9. The Power of the Son of Man
A study of Christ's teaching on forgiveness in the Gospels, which challenges us to reexamine how we think about the Lord's Prayer.

10. How Grace and Works Fit Together
A fresh look at how justification through faith relates to good works, and a warning about putting the cart before the horse.

"On the Freedom of a Christian" by Martin Luther

Although early in his career--and so there are lots of things that were not yet worked out properly--this little volume shows that Luther possessed the seeds of Biblical theology and truth.

Luther challenges those who think that believing is a little and easy thing to consider how great and miraculous faith actually is. Today we too need a revived understanding of the incomparable treasure of faith. It is common to hear people say that believing is not a big deal, but that how we act is really the important thing. This is false, and Luther raises his voice against it, pointing us back to the Bible where faith is spoken of as that which is crucial--for it glorifies God and justifies the ungodly.

Luther also underscores the high status of Christians, another Biblical truth that needs to be reevaluated by Christians today. Believers are in a better condition than they can even imagine. In Christ they are above the dominion of the law, sin and death. They are God's kings and priests. They share in the victory and life of their Savior. If we would only understand and acknowledge our amazing condition as Christians, depression would flee away and joy and peace would flood in.

One other outstanding observation made by Luther that I'd like to mention, though he doesn't develop it, is that he understands the New Covenant promise that God will write the law upon our hearts as meaning that God's people will be taught by God the truth about the law and gospel. This is a brilliant observation missed by many who think that the writing of the law on the heart has to do with a new mystical desire to obey the law. A careful comparison of Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16 will show that Luther was on the right track.

"On the Freedom of a Christian," while by no means a flawless work, is nevertheless a classic, drawing attention to some of the most crucially important truths for Christians of all times.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Word About Assurance

In most things I stand in agreement with my brothers in the Protestant Reformed tradition. On the issue of assurance of salvation I do not agree. I'd like to briefly share my point of disagreement with my brothers.

Luther and Calvin believed, and the Protestant tradition believes, that a person is completely righteous and blameless before God through nothing but faith alone in Christ alone and not by any good works that a person does. They also believed that the proof that one was righteous through faith was that his moral behavior was improved (I say improved, because no one is sinless). This improved moral behavior is not the persons righteousness before God. It just proves the person is a believer, but righteousness before God is fully obtained by faith alone apart from any good works whatsoever.

I also believe that righteousness before God is through faith alone in Christ alone apart from any good works that we do, but I disagree with the Reformers that we prove we are believers by improved moral behavior. I see the Scriptures teaching that we prove we are believers, not by improved moral behavior, but by the words of our mouth (since we speak spiritual things that non-Christians cannot speak: Matt. 12:33-37,1 Cor. 2:13, 12:3, etc.), and by our love of the brethren, which, according to John, is our non-Cainishness (1 John 3:12), meaning that we do not hate a person for being a disciple of Jesus (i.e. for believing and speaking the truth about God's righteousness: that all people are unrighteous and that righteousness is obtained only through faith alone in Christ alone. The world hates Christians for this). Through these clear manifestations of faith we can understand who is a Christian and who is not. Improved moral behavior is not a good indicator of who is and is not a Christian because moral improvement is not automatic for Christians, since they are exhorted in Scripture to pursue it diligently. I believe that improved moral behavior actually depends upon assurance of salvation, since love, joy, peace and thanksgiving make up the fertile ground in which true good works grow. The source of our good works should be love for God, whom we can only love when we are at rest in His salvation. Therefore I believe that it is more Biblical and accurate to say that our assurance is not based upon our good works, but that our good works are based upon our assurance.

Just to put this into perspective: Mormonism, on the other hand, disagrees with both me and the Reformers, since it rejects the idea of righteousness through faith alone altogether. In Mormonism, a person is righteous before God only insofar as that person is righteous by his moral behavior. Thus Mormonism fails to understand the mystery of the Gospel of Christ found in the Bible, which both I and the Reformers embrace. This difference of views on assurance is an in-house debate among Protestants, who understand the mystery of the Gospel.

I write this to clarify my main point of disagreement with my brothers. There are other factors that play a part in this discussion, but the overarching issue has to do with the question of assurance. In my opinion there is a glaring lack of clarity in this area.

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Light" in the Gospel of John

The following is a short study of all the uses of the word "light" in the Gospel of John. Since the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John are interconnected, understanding "light" in the Gospel will shed important light upon the meaning of "light" in the epistles; upon such critical verses as "God is light" (1 John 1:5), "walk in the light" (1 John 1:7), and "whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling." (1 John 2:9-10) Meditate upon these verses, and may God grant us all wisdom to understand His rich words.

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John 1:4-9
“In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”
>the light is connected with life
>the light enlightens

John 3:19-21
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
>the light is hated
>the light is something you come to
>the light exposes
>the light is connected with truth

John 5:35
“He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.”
>John the Baptist was a voice of truth in the wilderness

John 8:12
“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’”
>the light is connected with life
>following Jesus is possessing the life-light

John 9:5
“‘While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.’”
>What was Jesus doing when He was ministering in the world? He was teaching us about God.

John 11:9-10
“Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’”
>a general principle: having light = not stumbling. Stumbling = not having light.

John 12:35-36
“So Jesus said to them, ‘For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.’”
>walking in the light means knowing where you are going (i.e. not stumbling)
>the light is something to believe
>we are sons of light by believing in the light

John 12:44-46
“And Jesus cried out and said, ‘He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.’”
>the light is connected with the true knowledge of God
>if you believe in the light you are not in darkness

Summary

Stumbling around in darkness without light is a scenario we can all relate to. We know what that is like physically, and we must realize that is what things are like spiritually. The Christ-less world is in darkness, not knowing the truth about God. Men stumble around, not knowing what they are doing and will eventually end up destroying themselves.

Jesus Christ came into the world as the light, to give to this world the true knowledge of God. The true knowledge of God is the life (health, well-being, joy) of this world. With this knowledge we are saved and possess true joy. It is the knowledge of God as He is: the God of true righteousness (other than man’s idea of righteousness) and true love (other than man’s ideas of love). Believing in Jesus and what He taught us makes us the sons of light who know God and who possess eternal life.

But men hate the light because the light exposes them to be sinners. Men prefer self-righteousness and their false gods rather than true righteousness and the true God. Men reject the light and seek to extinguish it forcibly (i.e. killing the light-bearers) because they cannot overcome the truth.

The light, then, is the truth—the truth about God (His righteousness and love) which brings life.

These four things are inseparably connected, linked one after another as a chain: Light—Truth—Righteousness—Life. If you have one of them you have them all.

Mysteriously, God Himself is all of these things by nature. He doesn't merely possess them, but they are qualities of His eternal Being. “God is light” means God is truth, God is righteousness, God is life. In Him is no lies, no unrighteousness, no death. “God is light” captures all these things.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Joel Belz on Starting Our Day with Scripture

Writing in WORLD magazine, Joel Belz offers three good reasons why, if possible, we should start our days by reading the Word of God:

1) It's a daily symbolic statement of what is most important.
2) In practical terms, what you do first tends to get done; what you put off competes with other obligations and is often bumped from the schedule.
3) What you do first tends to define the rest of the day.

Sound advice, which I think good to pass on.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How Should Christians View Alcohol?

Hello J---,

As I told you yesterday, for a while I was anti-alcohol. Although I grew up in a home where my parents modeled how to enjoy wine without abusing it, when I was a teenager I started listening to certain teetotaler preachers which made me, for a time, hostile to drinking. Ultimately all I could say to my dad was: "Why do you need to drink anyway? What's the point? Can't you enjoy yourself without it? And since it can lead to drunkenness--and many lives have been destroyed by alcoholism--why should we partake in it? The world is really into drinking, so it just feels worldly", etc. I came to see that these were bad arguments, spawned more from naivety and superstition than from God's Word. What I was saying could not ultimately be supported by the Bible, nor by common sense.

When I was 20 I was at a friend's wedding and champagne was being served, and everything finally came into focus for me. No one was getting drunk, and I saw that the special-ness of the champagne was a way of celebrating the special-ness of the momentous marriage. It then made sense to me why Jesus made wine at the wedding in Cana and not grape juice. There is something rich, refined and rare about alcoholic drinks that puts them in a class above water, fruit punch and sparking apple cider. The process to make them is longer and more costly, and therefore they are more celebratory and meaningful.

On top of that, the Bible shows how God designed alcohol to be a blessing and an encouragement to man. It helps us relax and enjoy ourselves and one another in our uptight and sorrowful world. Seen rightly, it is a gift. For those who drink alcohol, they know what a blessing it is. It's a revelation of God's goodness to mankind. Benjamin Franklin didn't actually say this famous saying, but he did say something like it, and it has become a classic: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

For these reasons, alcohol has always been a major part of both Judaism and Christianity, which recognize and give thanks to God for His blessings of creation. Judaism and Christianity are not aesthetic religions that despise the human body and the physical world, but that rejoice in God's works and seek to enjoy them as they were meant to be enjoyed. The Jews have many prayers of blessings for alcohol and use wine in many of their rituals, and Christians likewise have celebrated the Lord's Supper with wine for two millennia.

I'm quite convinced that modeling the moderate use of alcohol is one of the major keys to combating alcoholism, since abuse often happens because we tend to have extreme reactions to that which is forbidden, and because people often don't know how to drink moderately, or even realize that moderate drinking is an option. Just because something can be abused doesn't mean we should avoid it altogether. I encourage drinking for the simple fact that it is a blessing from God. It also helps us be less stuffy in the eyes of non-Christians. Just because the world enjoys something doesn't automatically mean that it is wrong and worldly. The world enjoys sex--and food, too!

Here are some verses on alcohol:

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"You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart." (Ps. 104:14-15)

"But the vine said to them, 'Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?'" (Judges 9:13)

"And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household." (Deut. 14:24-26)

"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)" (Gen. 14:18)

"May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine." (Gen. 27:28)

"Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins. All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy... And after that the Nazirite may drink wine." (Num. 6:2-5, 20)

"All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the LORD, I give to you. The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the LORD, shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it." (Num. 18:12-13)

"He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you." (Deut. 7:13)

"And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil." (Deut. 11:13-14)

"So Israel lived in safety, Jacob lived alone, in a land of grain and wine, whose heavens drop down dew." (Deut. 33:28)

"Then he said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." (Neh. 8:10)

"Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine." (Prov. 3:9-10)

"Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do." (Eccl. 9:7)

"Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything." (Eccl. 10:19)

"I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!" (Song of Solomon 5:1)

"And your mouth like the best wine." (Song of Sol. 7:9)

"Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water." (Is. 1:22)

"On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined." (Is. 25:6)

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." (Is. 55:1)

"The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: "I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine for which you have labored; but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary." (Is. 62:8)

"Thus says the LORD: "As the new wine is found in the cluster, and they say, 'Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,' so I will do for my servants' sake, and not destroy them all." (Is. 65:8)

"They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the LORD." (Jer. 31:12-14)

"More than for Jazer I weep for you, O vine of Sibmah! Your branches passed over the sea, reached to the Sea of Jazer; on your summer fruits and your grapes the destroyer has fallen. Gladness and joy have been taken away from the fruitful land of Moab; I have made the wine cease from the winepresses; no one treads them with shouts of joy; the shouting is not the shout of joy." (Jer. 48:32-33)

"For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, 'I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.' Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, 'I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.' And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal. Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness." (Hosea 2:5-9)

"The LORD answered and said to his people, "Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations." (Joel 2:19)

"For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women." (Zech. 9:17)

"I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matt. 26:29)

"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins." (Mark 2:22)

"And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'" (Luke 5:39)

"For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by all her children." (Luke 7:33-35)

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There are many more verses, but this is a big enough sampling to get the idea. Here are some quotes on alcohol from outside the Bible:

"Wine was created from the beginning to make men joyful, and not to make them drunk. Wine drunken with moderation is the joy of the soul and the heart. Sober drinking is health to soul and body." - Sirach 31:35-37

"G-d creates the grapes from which wine is pressed and when drunk in sensible proportions, wine gladdens the heart and drives away melancholy. It heightens the intellect and even prepares the mind for prophecy." - Rabbi Kimchi

"He [Augustine] always had wine because he knew and taught, as the Apostle says, that 'every creature of God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it be received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified through the Word of God and prayer.'" - Possidius

"It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotalers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who can’t drink at all without drinking too much, or because he wants to give the money to the poor. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he can’t give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That isn’t the Christian way." - C.S. Lewis

"This means that a bishop should be sober. He may drink wine, but he should not be given over to wine." - Martin Luther

"He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long." - Martin Luther

"Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read." - Francis Bacon

"Wine...is one of the noblest cordials in nature." - John Wesley

I don't expect you to be convinced overnight, but give this some thought. Of course, no one should drink if it can't be done with a good conscience.

Love to you, J---,
-Eli

Friday, May 15, 2015

Acts 15:19 - Troubling Those Who are Turning

I recently watched mega church pastor Andy Stanley state that Acts 15:19 was his core ministry slogan and his all-consuming passion. It is mounted up in his office so he can see it every day. He cited it from the NIV:

"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God."

From this verse Andy has justified his seeker-sensitive church. According to Stanley, everything we do in ministry must make it easy, and not difficult, for people who are coming to God. This means not being offensive, not preaching difficult and unpalatable things, making church savvy and fun for everybody, having good coffee, dim lights, fog machines and catchy praise bands--basically, a church that anyone and everyone would have a good time and feel at ease in. This is the first rule of ministry: Ease at all costs.

Stanley has grossly mistaken this Scripture. When James said this, he wasn't thinking about making coming to God easy for people in every imaginable way. In the context, he was making a statement regarding justification through faith alone apart from the law. The council at Jerusalem was called to decide whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved. The apostles unanimously declared that justification through law-keeping was an unbearable impossibility and that Gentiles should not be burdened with that which even the Jews could never bear. When James said what he said, he meant this and this only. He didn't mean that churches should serve high-end coffee, and should have catchy music, and shouldn't preach offensive things. The NASB provides a better translation of this verse: "Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles." The idea that they had to keep the law to be saved was scary and unsettling for the believers. Let them not be troubled: it is through faith alone that we are justified.

We must not forget that this very message of justification through faith alone is the most offensive and hateful doctrine imaginable to the non-Christian world. It is not easy for people to believe that they are hell-deserving sinners, that their good works are filthy rags, and that there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved but the name of Jesus Christ. If we continue to preach this we shall drive away most people just as Jesus did by His preaching of these things. Those whom God is drawing and who are broken over their sins will hear these things as good news and life-giving water, but for the majority of the world, this message is a savor of death, and it makes them angry.

Broad and easy is the road to destruction. Narrow and uneasy is the road to life. This is solely because of the truth, the content of the gospel. I beg Andy Stanley and my fellow pastors to stop mistaking this saying of James to justify their unChristian ministry practices, and instead to focus their energies on preaching the Word of God, "for the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth." (2 Tim. 4:3-4)