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Paul’s Magna Carta of Christian Liberty

(July 4, 2020) 8:15 AM Good morning, and Happy Independence Day! What better way to spend the morning than by reading and meditating upon Paul’s Magna Carta of Christian Liberty, the book of Galatians! My study focused on the letter’s second paragraph, namely 1:6-10. This morning I chose as my base English text the Good News Bible, comparing it carefully it with my Greek New Testament.

I was again reminded of just how difficult it is to translate from one language into another. Choices, choices, choices! The GNB’s “I am surprised” could have also been rendered “I am shocked” or “I am amazed.” The GNB’s “you are deserting” could have also been rendered “you are turning away from” or “you are transferring your allegiance from.” The GNB’s “there are some people who are upsetting you” could have also been rendered “there are some people who are agitating you” or “there are some people who are troubling you.” The GNB’s “trying to change the gospel of Christ” could have also been rendered “trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” or even “trying to reverse the gospel of Christ.” The GNB’s “may he be condemned to hell” could have also been rendered “may he be accursed” or even “may he be anathema.”

The list goes on and on. How does one decide which meaning is correct or best suits the context? That, alas, is the question of the ages for anyone seeking to exegete a biblical text! That’s how this works, ladies and gentlemen, that’s how this works. You labor and struggle and ponder and compare and review options until you come to your own understanding of what this or that passage is actually saying. That said, Paul’s point here is clear:

To turn away from Christ and embrace another gospel is to desert the only true gospel. We cannot finish, by our obedience, what Christ has begun. We cannot add our works to the work of Christ. Salvation is by grace alone. To add human works to the finished work of Christ is to introduce confusion and error into the church. But God will not stand for that. The Greek word translated “accursed” is anathema. Paul wants God’s eternal judgment to fall upon the false teachers. Why, to imply that Christ’s work was somehow incomplete is to make his cross redundant! There’s only one gospel and it must be kept pure at any cost. This is the message of Galatians in a nutshell.

Friend, whenever I think of Christianity as a set of external actions, as a way I have to look or act, I tend to fall into the trap of legalism. But I can’t push and shove my way closer to God. True spirituality isn’t primarily a matter of works and human willpower. It is all God’s grace. He simply draws us to himself and we’re overcome by a sense of awe and reverence, gratitude and humility. Legalism, on the other hand, is a game nobody ever wins.

I don’t know why I’ll telling you this, dear reader. Nothing I just wrote is new to any of you. I think Gal. 1:6-10 just reminds me of how Paul seems to be saying, “Dave, on this Fourth of July, do not forget what was purchased for you on the cross of Calvary. Stand fast in that liberty from both legalism and license by which Christ has set you free. God did not pay such a price merely to shine you up a bit and add his righteousness to your own. It is by God’s grace, his unmerited favor, that you are saved. As you live looking to him for every need of body, mind, and spirit, enjoy the freedom from fear and worry and all the evils that would enslave you.” I think it was Phillips Brooks who said, “Grace stands for Great Redemption at Christ’s Expense.” Whoever it was, that’s what it is.

Independence Day is a beautiful day for the people of the USA. Let us celebrate every year with grateful hearts, beautiful fireworks, and food aplenty. Happy Fourth of July!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

On Critical Scholarship

(June 29, 2020) 8:10 PM Hello bloggers and bloggerettes! I was humbled to have been invited to speak to the Christian student organization at Princeton University in May. Obviously the trip had to be postponed to next year. There is a beautiful grassroots movement arising among the university students of our land. Thousands of young people are abandoning the Christendom paradigm of the church in order to become more authentic followers of Jesus. The irony is that, just as millions of American evangelicals are running away from science, many non-evangelicals are running away from it too. There are many reasons for this. One is the professionalization of the academy, beginning in the late 19th century. Biblical scholarship became the exclusive domain of graduate schools and seminaries. Another issue that divided evangelicals concerned the “scientific” approach to the Bible. Many evangelicals of the 20th century objected to methods that had originated in German scholarship. These methods were thought to call the authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture into question. However, believing critics began to accept these newer methods without their underlying presuppositions. They found both insights and errors in biblical scholarship. They called for renewed honesty in dealing with critical issues in the biblical text and began to integrate their findings into their faith journey. I believe that if evangelical Christianity is to shed its anti-intellectual and anti-scientific trappings, it also has to shed its isolated and divisive politics, since the former is the direct consequence of the latter. My professors in Basel combined heartfelt devotion to Christ with a love of theology. They practiced a rigorous intellectual life and embraced cutting edge science. I believe it is indeed possible to enter the intellectual centers of society (like Princeton) without compromising the Gospel and the authority of Scripture. God, after all, is the author of both science and the Bible. I’m not advocating for an intellectual elite or arguing that the life of the mind is more important than that of the heart. The effort to think Christianly is simply an effort to take the sovereignty and providence of God over the world seriously. By contrast, the trend of political activism moves people to shut down their minds, to reject public discourse, and to drive a wedge between Christian thinking and Christian doing. As Christians, we are called to love the Lord our God with all our minds. At the very least, this would involve an effort to think across the whole spectrum of modern academia (history, philosophy, science, linguistics, politics, medicine, ethics) within a specific Christian framework.

All this and more is what I would have spoken about at Princeton. The mind, the arts, the sciences — all these spheres are created by God and sustained by his glory. A vision of education that pits Christian intellectual inquiry against “secular” intellectual inquiry will only deepen the chasm between the church and the world. 

Blessings on you all, and keep growing, thinking, and loving!

Dave

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of a number of Energion Titles including The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul.)

Two Things We Must Do

(Monday, June 15) 8:38 AM My reading this morning was in one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, Hebrews 13.

There are two things we must do as followers of Jesus, and the church must lead out in this matter (see verse 16):

Do not neglect to do good and to share with others who are in need, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Being a Christian consists of more than loving God with our entire heart, soul, strength, and mind. It also consists of loving our neighbor as ourselves. The earliest believers in Jerusalem illustrated their love for God through (Acts 2:37-47):

  • Evangelistic preaching
  • Christian baptism
  • Apostolic teaching
  • Genuine relationships
  • Christ-centered gatherings
  • Fervent prayer

But they also showed their love for God through showing love for their brothers and sisters by sharing whatever they had. In fact, “All the believers met together constantly and shared everything with each other, selling their possessions and dividing with those in need” (Acts 2:44). Thus the 7th mark of a New Testament church is sacrificial living. Love for God is always matched by love for others. They are two sides of the same coin. They always go hand in hand. So if we say that we love God and see a brother or sister in need and then don’t help them, how can God’s love be within us? “Little children,” writes John (1 John 3:18), “let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.” This is what the impoverished Macedonians did. Writes Paul (2 Cor. 8:3-4):

They gave not only what they could afford, but far more; and I can testify that they did it because they wanted to, and not because of nagging on my part. They begged us to take the money so that they could share in the joy of helping the Christians in Jerusalem.

Fellow saints, how easy it is to praise God in the Sunday service and neglect our ministry to the needy. Praise must be put into practice by relieving the needs of the poor. In fact, the author of Hebrews sees our deeds of mercy and love as sacrifices of praise. Y’all, we need so many things today, but perhaps most of all we need a afresh awakening of social responsibility. We need to be people who do a lotta listening, a lotta learning, a lotta loving, a lotta living out the Gospel we proclaim.

Lord God, come and make us givers, not takers. For when the needy are helped and the oppressed are defended and the blind see and the deaf hear, will not many have to marvel and confess that Jesus the Nazarene is surely among us in all his saving power?

From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and many other books.

Why do I Suffer?

Saturday, May 30

7:35 AM “Why? Why me? Why this?” Ah, the questions we ask when we are suffering. But God has the answer to each. Notice the three occurrences of “so that” in 2 Cor. 1:3-11 (NASB):

Verse 4: ” … so that we are able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted by God.”

Verse 9: ” … so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”

Verse 11: ” … so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

As usual, Paul combines simplicity and depth. When we invite God into our world of suffering, he walks right in. He brings a host of gifts — resilience, hope, patience, joy — but also understanding. He wraps us in his arms and says, “My dear child, here is why I allow you to suffer affliction. That you might be prepared to comfort others. That you might not trust in yourself. And that you might learn to give thanks in everything.”

Simple? Yes. Easy? No. If we are suffering, this is a time to examine ourselves, as Paul suggested in 1 Cor. 11:28. In the first place, suffering brings us closer to reflecting God’s own empathy. Who best knows how to comfort a man who’s lost his wife than someone who has lost his own? Who better knows how to comfort a couple who has lost their infant child than another couple who has lost a baby? Who understands cancer better than someone with cancer? Think of dominos bumping against each other: God comforts us, we comfort others, they comfort still others, and the domino effect goes on and on.

Then too, when we suffer we’re forced to look up. We abandon reliance on ourselves and become utterly dependent on God alone. We have to surrender. We have to give in. And when we do, God wonderfully comforts us. “I’m right here,” he says. “I never left. Just lean on me. Let me comfort you. The One who pulled off the resurrection will see you through.” He may not bring back the wife or baby you lost, but he will being back your soul, your hope.

Finally, maybe it’s time we gave thanks for the situation we find ourselves in. To be honest, it took me years to give thanks after Becky’s passing. Years. No one and nothing could bring thanksgiving out of my mouth. Finally, God brought it out. The silence had lingered for 5 years. Four Christmases had come and gone. Then one day, it was like a light broke into my life. Finally I was able to say, “Thank you, Lord, for what you have taught me in the midst of all this pain. I would never have gotten so close to you. In the mystery of your will, it’s not only what you give us but what you take that is a vital part of the plan. You lovingly and sovereignly rule over me, shaping me into the image of your Son. Thank you for your comfort, your grace, your mercies. Thank you.”

The three lessons of suffering?

  • Empathy.
  • Humility.
  • Gratitude.

We aren’t victims of circumstance. In fact, the very suffering that Satan intends for evil, God intends for good.

Believe that today.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of a number of Energion titles including Running My Race and The Jesus Paradigm.)

Chuck Swindoll on Prayer

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

4:58 PM Been rummaging through my old sermon notebooks and stumbled on the wise words of Chuck Swindoll in one of his messages on prayer. He concluded with “Four relevant reminders”:

1) Prayer is to be continuous. It’s not limited to Sunday, or to when we go to bed, or to when we eat.

2) Prayer is designed for every part of the Christian life. Prayer fits — no matter what the situation. You’re walking into a business meeting? Pray. You’re making a decision? Pray. Nothing is too insignificant or too overwhelming for God. He cares about it all.

3) Prayer is not a substitute for our responsibility. It’s not an excuse for laziness or passivity. It’s okay to pray, “Lord, give us safety through the night,” but you still have to lock the door and turn on the burglar alarm. Every night. Otherwise you’re being irresponsible. Yes, you should pray for good health — but are you eating properly, exercising properly, listening to your doctor? “Prayer in place of those things is wrong,” said Chuck. 

4) Prayer is not for perfect people, but for the imperfect, needy person. The only perfect person is the Savior, and he’s praying for us! Prayer is simply remembering you’re nothing and calling on the one who is everything, and then getting out of the way.

I’m glad I found those notes today. I needed these four reminders. Everyone has an “insurmountable obstacle” in their lives. It’s got “impossible” written all over it. I know I do. So I’ll make a deal with you. For the next two weeks, I’ll pray about my obstacles every day. Preferably several times a day. I’m going to take the obstacle and give it to the living God and leave it in his hands, trusting him with it. Will you do the same? I’ve got a feeling that within a week or two, we’re all going to have some pretty wonderful things to share with each other.

From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Dave Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm and Seven Marks of a New Testament Church.

Paul’s Core Convictions about Christianity

Monday, May 18

10:32 AM It’s become clear to me that Paul’s letter to the Philippians (which I have the privilege of teaching every year) summarizes many of Paul’s core convictions about Christianity. These include:

1) Christians aren’t just to study theology but are to follow the example of Jesus and live the way he lived — in selflessness and humility.

2) Followers of Jesus are to put the needs of others before their own needs.

3) Christianity is a matter of ethics as much as theology.

4) Suffering is a normal part of the Christian life.

5) Believers are called to pursue a kingdom that is radically different from all versions of the kingdoms of this world. This kingdom is always cross-centered and countercultural.

Perhaps this pandemic is giving us the opportunity to reexamine our priorities, to learn humility the hard way, and to choose to help one another as we pursue Christ’s upside-down kingdom.

From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Dave Black is the author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm, Why Four Gospels, and many others, as well as co-editor of our Areopagus Critical Christian Issues series.

Ordinary People

Sunday, May 17

7:48 AM While reading through Mark’s Gospel this morning I was again impressed with the way Jesus chose ordinary people to follow him. He sees Simon and his brother Andrew, commercial fishermen, and says, “Come, follow me! I will make you fish for the souls of people!” A little farther up the beach he sees Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat mending their nets. He calls them, too. It’s easy to forget that two of these plain fishermen later wrote two of our Gospels. With God there are no ordinary people. Think about that when you meet (vicariously) with your church family today. Most of us are ordinary folk. But God specializes in taking “nobodies” and making them “somebodies.” The only question is: Are we willing to be used by him?  I am, though I am keenly aware of how short I fall of loving and serving him as I ought. I come to him daily asking for a renewed heart and a renewed desire to follow him as his disciple.

This is a challenge each of us must face daily.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)