Theology

How Old Testament Saints Related to God: Faith

In the car lately I’ve been listening to a series of lectures by Paul House on the theology of the Old Testament. Here are some of the things that I’ve been learning:

What does it mean to be a covenant keeper?

For a long time, I’ve thought that Israel was meant to keep the law perfectly. I suppose the reason I thought this was because people often talk about Jesus fulfilling the law perfectly, and especially “doing what Israel could never do.” That part about Jesus is true (he did do that). The first part about Israel is not (they weren’t called to be perfect). House makes a compelling case from one simple fact: the presence of the sacrificial system in OT law.

The presence of the sacrificial system as part of the law ought to eliminate any notion of Israelite-law-perfection. The sacrificial system is there, it exists, to deal with sin. It assumes the presence of sin. You could put it this way: in order to keep the law perfectly, you have to observe laws that God himself wrote about what to do when you stray from the covenant. If you’re going to keep the law perfectly, you have to observe sacrifices for your own sin. Unless you’re Jesus, who simply doesn’t sin, and therefore does not need to make any provision for sin (since it’s not there, and since his fellowship with his Father is never broken).

The OT’s sacrificial laws, take the annual day of atonement for example, are based on the continual (at least annual) presence of sin. It assumes that restoration between covenant partners (God and Israel) must be made. You do not have to keep the law perfectly to be a covenant keeper. You don’t. What then does it mean to be a covenant keeper?

Seeking forgiveness in God’s way

In order to live a life pleasing to God, Israel was called to seek forgiveness in the way God prescribed. This call rests on the assumption that Israel will, in fact, recognize that it has sin in the first place. And then, once people realize that, they seek God’s means.

Obviously, a reading of just about any OT book proves that Israel was not aware of this — let alone the need to pursue it in God’s way. But this is, nonetheless, what God wants: for his redeemed but still sinful people to seek forgiveness in the way he prescribes. This is what it means to be a covenant keeper.

“Seeking forgiveness in God’s way” is language that prepares us for one of the most important New Testament words: faith.

Pointing forward to faith

This idea, that you can be a covenant keeper (even though you sin) as long as you are seeking forgiveness in God’s way, is in line with New Testament teaching that justification is always by faith.

Paul makes a big deal in Romans 4 about Abraham being justified by faith. In essence, Abraham trusted. That is what faith is — trusting (and it’s always faith in something, faith always has an object). This faith – trust that God can and will do what he promises – is how Abraham stood justified before God. Paul says it was credited to him as righteousness. And it is also how Israel, later, was justified. Individual Israelites had faith, as they laid hands on that animal before the altar, that what God said was true. Imagine a worshipper saying this to the priest who was helping him, “God says that if I seek forgiveness for my sins by doing [this sacrifical act], then I’ll be restored to fellowship with him. I have faith that God is true to his word. I trust that this act, accompanied by belief in God’s word, is what he desires.” The animal is sacrificed. And person has sought forgiveness in God’s way. They are a covenant keeper.

Why this matters

I had always thought that there was a tectonic shift, from OT to NT, in how God related to his people. And there are, to be sure, huge changes from OT to NT. But this is not one of them. The people of God have always have always had one answer to the question: what do I do, now that I’ve broken covenant with God? How can I be reconciled to him? The one answer to that question, for covenant keepers, is this: seek forgiveness in the way God prescribes.

For whatever reason, I would have answered the OT version of this question with: “well, observe the law. In the OT, you are a covenant keeper if you keep the law.” And that is simply backwards: OT saints kept the law because they were already in a covenant bond with God. They knew that their sins were dealt with through the sacrificial system, and that they could, therefore, draw near to God in love and with obedience.

But what about the law’s relation to covenant breakers? That’s a topic for another blog post I think.

Are You Intellectually Humble? 13 Searching Questions

13 questions that aim to answer, “Are you intellectually humble?” Here are some of the more searching ones for me:

  • Even when you feel strongly about something, are you still aware that you could be wrong?
  • Do you trust that truth has nothing to fear from investigation?
  • When someone disagrees with your beliefs, do you view it as a personal attack? If so, why?
  • Is it difficult to respect people whose beliefs differ from your own?
  • What is a specific step you can take to better understand someone who disagrees with you on an important issue?
  • Do you feel insecure when others disagree with you?
  • Do you approach others with the idea that you might have something to learn from them?

HT Tim Challies.

Will Christians Love Their Spouses In Heaven?

Long distance relationship.

That’s what my wife and I were in for over a year before we got married. I lived in Southern California. She lived in Arizona. And it was terrible. It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s not the way a relationship is supposed to be.

I remember how much I would miss her; how I’d look forward to holidays like Spring break and Christmas. Just to see her. And to get rid of Skype! (Which we were both thankful for and ready to never use again)

After we got engaged, I remember thinking, “I can’t stand the long distance factor in our relationship now — I want to be with her more than anything. Will there ever be a time, in heaven for example, when I’ll have to be parted from her again? Will marriage, and the love that it creates [which I was anticipating], be done away with in heaven?” I was hoping that heaven would be some kind of continuation of that blissful longing and loving.

What bliss marriage has been! But I think now, after being married for just a few months, I’m in a better space to hear C.S. Lewis’ answer to my question, “will I love Anna in heaven the same way that I do now?”

If you’re a married Christian, or hope to be married someday, will you love your spouse in heaven? In his discussion of “Charity,” the fourth love, in his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes,

Theologians have sometimes asked whether we shall “know one another” in Heaven, and whether the particular love-relations worked out on earth would then continue to have any significance.

It seems reasonable to reply: “It may depend what kind of love it had become, or was becoming, on earth.”

For, surely, to meet in the eternal world someone for whom your love in this, however strong, had been merely natural, would not be (on that ground) even interesting. Would it not be like meeting in adult life someone who had seemed to be a great friend at your preparatory school solely because of common interests and occupations? If there was nothing more, if he was not a kindred soul, he will now be a total stranger. Neither of you now plays conkers. You no longer want to swop your help with his French exercise for his help with your arithmetic. In Heaven I suspect, a love that had never embodied Love Himself would be equally irrelevant. For Nature has passed away. All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.

We were made for God. Only by being in some respect like Him, only by being a manifestation of His beauty, loving-kindness, wisdom or goodness, has any earthly Beloved excited our love.

It is not that we have loved them too much, but that we did not quite understand what we were loving. It is not that we shall be asked to turn from them, so dearly familiar, to a Stranger. When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it.

He has been a party to, has made, sustained and moved moment by moment within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more His than ours, and ours only because His.

In Heaven there will be no anguish and no duty of turning away from our earthly Beloveds. First, because we shall have turned already; from the portraits to the Original, from the rivulets to the Fountain, from the creatures He made lovable to Love Himself. But secondly, because we shall find them all in Him. By loving Him more than them we shall love them more than we do now.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, pp 137-139

The New Testament & Old Testament in 10 Minutes

These two videos has been making their rounds across the Christian blogosphere. In them you’ll see two trustworthy and articulate thinkers presenting the essence of each Testament. The essence. See, for yourself, if the Bible is an amazingly unified whole:

The Old Testament in 10 Minutes

The New Testament in 10 Minutes

Was Jesus’ Self-Centered? John Stott Answers

stottJohn Stott helping us to understand what Jesus thought about himself.

This self-centeredness of the teaching of Jesus immediately sets him apart from the other great religious teachers of the world. They tend to be self-effacing. He is self-advancing. They point people away from themselves, saying, “That is the truth, so far as I understand it; follow that.” Jesus says “I am the truth; follow me.” No other religious founder who dared to say such a thing would be taken seriously. The personal pronoun forces itself repeatedly on our attention as we read his words. For example:

[John 6:35 ESV] 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

[John 8:12 ESV] 12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

[John 11:25-26 ESV] 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

[Matthew 11:28-29 ESV] 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Basic Christianity, John Stott, pg 34.

The Unforgivable Sin: Is It Really Unforgivable?

(This is the second installment of two posts on the “unforgivable sin.” The first post answers the question, “what is it?” This second post answers the question, “Can I repent of the unforgivable sin?”)

This post is going to be less interesting to most people, and that’s okay with me. It’s going to answer a question that you could phrase several ways:

  • Can I repent of the unforgivable sin?
  • If I think I’ve committed the unforgivable sin, can I ask for God’s forgiveness?
  • Is there any way to “take back” blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?

A few people are at least a little bit curious about what the unforgivable sin is. Fewer still are convinced that they’ve done it, and now need to deal with the consequences. That smaller group of people is, I assume, the kind of people whose consciences are sensitive to their state before God. And for that reason there’s no way I can make light of this question. For some, even if it is a select few, the question is real: “How can I repent of the unforgivable sin if I think I’ve committed it?”

So, Can You Be Forgiven?

Here’s my answer: As long as you want to be forgiven, you can be assured that you haven’t even committed the “unforgivable sin.”

I come to that conclusion based on these things:

  1. The context (before and after material) of the passage
  2. A definition of the “unforgivable sin” based on that context
  3. A basic theological framework

1. The Context

It’s really unfair, you might even say irresponsible, to try and lift the passage up and out of it’s context. So remember the conclusions drawn from the the previous post: The situation is the Jewish Religious Leadership’s repeated, repeated, repeated, dismissal and denunciation of Jesus’ work. They saw what Jesus did on a regular basis and persisted, to the very end, to denounce his work as coming from Satan and not God. The four Gospels give us no reason to believe that they ever turned away from their unbelief and toward Christ in faith. We’re dealing with people who are Jesus’ enemies. They are not crawling at his feet for mercy. They are attacking him every chance they get.

2. A Definition Based on the Context

If you want a definition that’s both nuanced and sensitive to the context, then you can’t do much better than Craig Blomberg’s from Jesus and the Gospels (pg 280), which I referred to last time.

“In context, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit means the persistent equation of Christ’s power with the demonic by those who refuse to believe him.”

3. A Basic Theological Framework

“Theology” is a word that means “the study of God.” So a theological framework is a way of viewing the Bible that’s based on the rest of the Bible. If you see one verse that seems to say something different than the rest, you try to interpret it in light of the other truths you know about God.

So what does the whole Bible have to say about repentance? As long as a person wants to repent, they can. Sometimes (and this is getting into some deeper waters) God will, in his sovereign justice, let a person experience the results of their sin. As a result, they won’t want to. But God also, in his sovereign mercy, can show a person how they have sinned against him, and keep them faithful to him through repentance. Often, like David in Psalm 51, this will lead to an honest plea for forgiveness. As long as this person wants to (that is, God has sustained them in his mercy), they can ask for forgiveness and receive it freely.

Once again, Craig Blomberg’s comments are really helpful, “There is no evidence anywhere in Scripture that an individual who genuinely desired to repent and turn back to God is denied the opportunity. Indeed, the very consternation that causes some believers to wonder if they have committed the unforgivable sin by definition demonstrates that they have not.” Jesus and the Gospels, pg 281. John, the writer of the 4th Gospel, says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV)

A Conclusion

The right question is not so much, “Can I be forgiven of the unforgivable sin?” so much as “Did I ever really actually commit it?” And unless, 1) you’re dead, and really did persist in it, or 2) God has sovereignly allowed you to experience the consequences of you sin, (unless one of those is true) you can still ask for forgiveness.

If either one of those things is true, you won’t want forgiveness.

Blomberg’s point (in the above quote), and mine (in these 2 short posts), is that as long as there is godly sorrow and grief over “the persistent equation of Christ’s power with the demonic by those who refuse to believe him…” then there will be forgiveness. As long as you want forgiveness for misunderstanding Jesus’ message, mission, and identity, you can have it.