Sunday, October 11, 2009

Did father Abraham really have many sons?

Well, if you grew up in a Sunday School like I did, you probably already have an answer for that. Of course he did, and many sons had Father Abraham, too. But, being the antagonist that I am, I have to ask: what does Scripture say?

In our study of Galatians, we find ourselves this week in the latter half of chapter 3 where Paul makes a startling statement about this Abrahamic lineage. Whereas Paul's Jewish opponents in the church would have been firmly rooted in their belief that their descent from Abraham warranted their higher importance in God's view, Paul has a new revelation for them. "The Scripture does not say 'and to seeds,' meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ" (Galatians 3:16).

The promise, specifically that of inheriting the aptly deemed "Promised Land," was given not to many children of Abraham, but to one. In the words of the Apostle Paul, God had in view just one of Abraham's seed that would inherit the land as promised. Now, Paul was no amateur Bible scholar, either. The Hebrew does indeed support the singular use of this term. So what do we make of it?

By contrast, of course, the Jews would quickly recall Moses' words in Deuteronomy 32:46-47. At this second reading of the Law, the young nation was promised that if they obeyed fully they "will live long in the land." That was the promise, after all. God swore on oath to give Abraham's seed the land of Canaan. Now, here they are at the border of the land and God promises them that it will indeed be theirs... on one condition. Obey fully.

But this kind of agreement, Paul points out, is not consistent with the idea of a promise. It's two-sided and conditional, and put in place by a Mediator. "A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one" (Galatians 3:20). God is one and in His promise it was He alone who would ensure the inheritance. So, is there conflict here? Does the Law as stated above contradict the promise?

"Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not!" (Galatians 3:21). In fact, there was one person who pulled it all off. By the Law, one man did obey fully. He did fulfill the Law--every letter. He did earn His inheritance just as God had promised. Christ, the God-man! Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham and begotten of the Father, inherited the land according to the promise.

"Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham" (Galatians 3:7). By faith, we are not only adopted, saved, forgiven, justified, and made pure for presentation to God. We're made into the very image of Christ. We are "clothed" in Him. All the perfection that He accomplished is imputed to us, and in so multiplying the person of Christ by imputing Himself onto His people, God is making Abraham's one seed as numerous as the sands on the seashore.

As the song goes: "Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them..." Are you?

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Inscriptions for Your Doorposts: Intro to the 10 Commandments

This Sunday I'll be starting a new series for the quarter on the 10 commandments. Being a marketer by trade, however, I'm always thinking of creative names for classes. We've chosen to title this "Inscriptions for Your Doorposts"--a reflection of Deuteronomy 6:9, where God tells Israel just how close these commands should be to their everyday life.

Over the next 12 weeks, you'll see me writing and posting Mp3 Lectures on the 10 Commandments. But, this week is the introductory class. What many Christians struggle to understand as they look at the commands is how they apply to our lives today.

Sure, we should behave well. We should follow a moral standard. We should obey God. But once anyone starts contemplating the Law on a theological level, it can get to be a sticking point of legalism vs. justification by faith. Why do I follow these laws? Why do I observe religious code in obedience to God? What do I write them on my doorposts? Aren't I forgiven--freed from the Law?

As we'll discuss in detail this Sunday (and my readers can enjoy via Mp3 when it's uploaded by Monday) the Law of the Old Covenant was a covenant of identity. So often, we focus on the justification and forgiveness of sin as the sole end of God's covenant with Man, we forget that Christ died to set us apart; to make us holy and worthy of serving God.

God introduces the 10 commandments in Exodus 19:4-6 describing how He'd freed them from bondage in Egypt. He turned a helpless tribe into a great nation by His power so they might be His treasured possession. The correlation, then, should be very clear as He later speaks through Peter to the church under the New Covenant saying,
"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God" (1 Peter 2:9-10).

So, as we consider our identity--the Church chosen by God to be His people and declare His praises on earth--we should study with great interest the holy standards by which God commanded His covenant nation Israel to live.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

The Religion and Relationship of the Atonement

As I think about the people I've talked to, heard speak, or read their writings on Christ's atoning works, I realize that there are distinctly two approaches to the cross, and most of us are dominated in our thinking by one or the other. Even when we hear one perspective dripping all over a message, we may filter it through our lens on the cross and apply totally different points. Neither perspective is wrong, and neither is fully right, but they're two sides to the same coin.

First, there is the religious thinker. Theologically minded and committed to analyzing doctrinal nuances, the religious thinker is quick to identify the liturgical beauty of Christ's death. Typically this is flows from a modern mindset, very scientific and ordered. We see definite links being built between the sacrificial requirements and Christ's death. We find significance in the semantics of God's holiness, righteousness, justification, imputation, propitiation, etc. The religious thinker is able to explain the unquestionable validity of our justification by faith according to the religious codes that God Himself has established. And he's right.

Next, however, is the relational thinker. Emotionally guided and driven by the reality and impact of God's love, the emotional thinker finds solace in the wonderful act of mercy and grace that God bestowed on us in order to adopt us as His children. Typically this flows from a post-modern mindset, very compassionate and socially minded. We see emphasis placed on the suffering of Christ, the magnificent sacrifice of God to send His only son, and the heart-melting love story that the Gospel narrative unfolds. The relational thinker finds it impossible to contain his passionate response of love to the Father who first loved us. And he's right.

I've heard it said that "Christianity is not about religion." That's a relational (post-modern) fallacy. As our society swings more and more toward an outright hatred of religion and absolutes, I want to emphasize that Christ died to satisfy the very absolute realities that God had set up in His religious Law delivered through Moses. The substitutionary and sacrificial aspects of the atonement are meaningless without the context of the Law.

Yet, the power of the Gospel doesn't end there. In fact, we must remember why the Law itself was ever bestowed upon Israel, "it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers" (Deut. 7:8, emphasis mine). God is not bashful of the fact that He wants to relate to men and women at the deepest level of emotion. He shares His emotions with us in His word—love, joy, anger, and sadness. There is deep emotion and desire for relationship (note, His desire is not a need born out of weakness as the human desire often is) that surrounds Christ's atoning death. Without the expiation and reconciliation that comes through the cross, the religious context of the atonement is also meaningless.

Doctrine is nothing without grace, and grace is nothing without doctrine.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Courtroom Christianity

Not long ago, I appeared in court over a small claims suit. Lucky for me, I grew up on Matlock and Law & Order... I knew the lingo and walked into the courtroom quite confident. I entered exhibits A, B, and C, just like they do in the movies. I called the judge "Your Honor" and resisted the urge from time to time to scream "Objection" just for good measure. In the end, however, it was not my courtroom savvy that won the case. The truth is, I was RIGHTEOUS already, the Judge merely confirmed it.

The same will be true when we approach the judgement seat of Christ, though my defense will be much different. This Sunday, we'll be discussing the legal jargon that was thrown around in courts that Moses judged. As believers in Christ, we are declared tsaddiyq (righteous), but not as a result of our own tsadaq (justify; to make righteous).

In your understanding and use of the word, what would you say it means to be a righteous person? Is it a state of being, or a state of behavior? A status or a striving?

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