Ask Me Aanything

“In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. ”
John 16:23, 24

I have always assumed that when Jesus told His apostles that they can ask anything in His name it would be granted that this applied to ‘anything,’ such as healing someone, or performing other such miracles. But I now read these verses in the context of what Jesus is telling the disciples starting at the beginning of the 16th chapter. And from 16:16 through to 16:28 Jesus is telling them a lot of “strange” things about Himself, the Father, and where He is going. He’s telling them so much that they are confused (see 16:17-18 as well as before this in 15:8 and 22) and they question Him about all this new and curious information. Jesus tells them “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12) Kind of an information overload. But the truth is they do not yet have the spiritual capacity to understand these things. Even when the disciples reply to Him, “Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech. Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.” (John 16:29-30) Jesus knows they really don’t fully comprehend all that is going on that night.

So in light of this 16th chapter, Jesus is trying to advise His disciples that there are so many things about the character, behavior, and plan of God that very soon they will be able to comprehend it all. And thus He tells them that “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf.” (John 16:24 and 26) Soon the “Helper” He has promised will help them in a very many things in ways they can’t begin to understand, but soon a time will come when figurative language will no longer be necessary. Just ask the Father and understanding will be given to you. After all, Jesus does not want Apostles preaching the Gospel using defective information about God, the Gospel, and the Church. In the book of Acts they are able to correct mistaken notions about what being a Christian entails, like in the fate of Ananias and his wife, and dealing with the magician Bar-Jesus or ministering to those who only incompletely understood the Gospel. Accurately handling the Word of Truth is paramount to the spread of the Good News.

So I think that the things Jesus referred to are all the things that would help them in administering the Gospel to the fallen world. And God can be depended upon to stand beside them in their task because of His promises and that He has overcome the world.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Romans 7: Paul’s Two Natures Comment

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.”
Romans 7:18-21

There it is, clear as day, right? The “Two Natures” battle in the Christian. If we isolate the Apostle’s statement it would be obvious that he means that as a Christian (because he is a Christian at the time of writing this) Paul struggles with doing what God desires him to do as a Born Again believer, and instead does Evil.

I’d like to take a closer look at this statement, since almost every commentator takes these words to mean just that, the “Two Natures of the Christian” claim. 1

These verses are embedded in a chapter that gives us very good clues to Paul’s meaning. And in turn chapter 7 is embedded in a letter that is different from all Paul’s other letters. And this information helps us to understand what he means in these verses. Is he talking from a pre-Christian perspective or a post-conversion perspective, i.e., as a Believer?

First, chapter 7 starts out with Paul discussing the purpose and effectiveness of the Law on Mankind’s behavior, and that Mankind remains under the Law until Christ’s coming, and that through Him we have been released from the Law and its power (7:5,6). But he asks the question — since the Law produced sin in him, is the Law sin? Of course not, he answers, we wouldn’t have known sin without it! But the Law was powerless to help us resist sin. So he states in verse 14 that for this reason he is in bondage to sin (v. 14), and he can’t help but sin even though he does not want to (v. 15). We have all been there; there is still in the unsaved man a spark of conscience to want to do good. This conscience is a gift from God. But being in slavery to sin he is unable to always do good. This is “Total Depravity,” being a slave to sin, not that one can’t do a good deed on occasion, only that mankind is a slave to sin and can’t save himself from his fallen, sinful nature. Now this bondage to sin is so strong Paul says that it is the sin in him that is the cause, not him (v. 17). “But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me”, verse 20. An interesting way of putting it! But he is frustrated and adds that sin is “waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” v.23. He finally ends, in v .24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”.

So if we pause here before looking at the last verse of chapter 7, let’s ask the question: Can a Christian make the following statements:

  1. “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.”
  2. “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.” v. 18
  3. “I practice the very evil that I do not want.”
  4. “Who will set me free from the body of this death?”

Actually Paul hints, actually, more than hints, at the answers in chapter 6. Consider these 7 verses:

“our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” 6:6
“for he who has died is freed from sin.” 6:7

“consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” 6:11
“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient” to Christ (6:17)
“and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (6:18)
“But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (6:22)

So how does Paul at the end of chapter 7 get to the point of utter despair? “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (7:24)

Well, he gets there by using a literary device 2 using the personal pronoun “I” Present Tense, and by detailing the key limitation of the Law; the Jews thought the Mosaic Law would be their salvation, as if it had to power to give them the righteousness they mistakenly believed that it would. Chapter 7 is Paul’s explanation that we are slaves of sin and even the Law that God gave Israel could not give them righteousness, but could only show them their utter sinfulness. This is why all the Old Testament sacrifices could only “cover” their sin, not forgive them. Leviticus 4:20–35 and Hebrews 10:4–11. And more to his point in 7:19 “For the good that I want”, he speaks as a Jew who loves the Law. Probably most Jews loved the Law as it was God’s main communication to them. They just couldn’t KEEP the Law and thus the conflict.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is his Systematic Theology of Righteousness, that Righteousness comes by Faith, not by Law. He even says so in the very first chapter of this letter by actually quoting the Prophets: “as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”Romans 1:17 quoting Habakkuk 2:4)>

The first half of the book of Romans is a treatise on the wretchedness of man because of his open rebellion against God and culminates in the last verse of chapter 7, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (7:24) This is why the very first verse of chapter 8 is “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Followed by verse 2: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Paul starts verse 21 with the word “So.” This is a way of saying, “the results of what I just said is . . . .” It is a continuation of the preceding three paragraphs, which detail the power of sin in the unregenerate. The New American Standard translates the beginning of v. 21 as “I find then.” the “then” does the same thing as “So.” It could say “Therefore” which does the same thing: summarize what came before.

Paul now continues with chapter 8 the glorious part of the treatise and explains how God’s plan of salvation is implemented in the life of a Believer, once he becomes a Believer. Romans is an awesome systematic dissertation on the fall and restoration of mankind, describing in minute detail the plan of salvation that was hidden in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament.

So now we see that what Paul did in his writing Rom 7:18 – 24 is a literary device, using the first person to bring force to the plight of mankind that there is no way out of sinfulness but through the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and His Resurrection.

But just to be clear, this exegesis does not in any way mean that the Believer has no struggle with sin, we all indeed fall into sin at times. But these verses in Romans 7 are not about the Christian’s sanctification. If that was what Paul meant then he would be suddenly interrupting a carefully thought out presentation of his thesis: how mankind sins, and can’t break free of his slavery to it, why the Law was given–to point out that he is acting in sin, and that God is offering a way out. The after-effects of living a life saved by Faith in Jesus Christ are detailed by Paul in many other places, most notably in Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” in Philippians 1:27 “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,” and Colossians 2:6, and Ephesians 4:22-24 “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” However, in Romans 7 he writes that “he” can do none of these things. And that is because he’s speaking as a pre-saved person.

Perhaps the most powerful proof of the pre-regenerated Paul in 7:14-23 is what Paul says in chapter 6:9-14:
Rom 6:9 ‘knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.
Rom 6:10 ‘For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
Rom 6:11 ‘Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Rom 6:12 ‘Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts,
Rom 6:13 ‘and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
Rom 6:14 ‘For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.’

In other words, before Christ: slaves to sin, sin is master over you. But born again: “dead to sin,” “do not let sin reign,” “sin shall not be master over you.” Compare that with Paul’s description of himself in 7:14-23 and decide which Paul he’s describing.

One final note in closing. This explanation is my own opinion and I claim no infallibility nor inerrancy. So I could be wrong. It is, after all, just my opinion. But if we are to understand what is written in the Scriptures we must be able to properly interpret what is written, and consider the context. This is why “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) is so must fun and worthwhile.

================================

NOTES:

1   At least all the commentaries I’ve read hold this view, that Paul is speaking of his battle with sin after becoming a Christian. An example is the commentary by F.F. Bruce, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (1976, 7th printing), Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids Michigan. This book is an excellent exegetical study of Romans. However, after rightly discussing the first part of chapter 7, that the Law was the great revealer of Sin, leaving Paul and all mankind powerless to resist, Bruce abruptly leaves this train of thought and shifts Paul into the Saved state. This is a shift that is incongruous with the thought stream that the power of the Law is specifically to point out sin, not give power to resist, which is the point of all of chapter 7. That power to resist sin only comes as the Apostle moves to chapter 8 as he details the conquering Christian in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is my take on the process anyway.

Of interest though is that in the Logos Bible Software, free version, the Lexham Bible Dictionary article about Paul, which is included, lists three schools of thought on verses 7:14-23:

• Packer argues that Paul was referring to his own experience as a Christian who continued to struggle with sin (see Packer, “Wretched Man Revisited,” 70–81).
• Moo asserts that Paul refers to his previous life in Judaism without Christ (see Moo, Epistle to the Romans, 441–67).
• Dunn argues that Paul is referring to the common human experience under the sin of Adam (Dunn, Romans 1–8, 374–412). He speaks for all Jews and Gentiles, and then moves toward saying something about his own struggles.

2   Paul uses the same style of device in chapter 2:1 ff.   Note that at the end of chapter 1 while decrying the perversity of man he refers to the reprobate as “them” and “they.” But starting chapter 2 he suddenly switches to “you” as if he is describing the Romans to whom he writes. And this clearly is not the case but is a device to continue the previous chapter but now with a heightened sense of declaration.

One of Paul’s notable uses of style of heightened sense is 2 Corinthians 12:2-9, discussing his visit to Heaven. Note his use of “I know a man in Christ” where he seems not to refer to himself but someone else except that he is truly talking about his own experience, only he doesn’t want to be seen as bragging about the experience.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Righteous Lot?


For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.” 2 Peter 4-10

Back in 2010 I wrote about Lot, the nephew of Abraham’s – then called Abram – and how I was perplexed that he was called righteous by the New Testament writer Peter (see http://word.johnjschneider.com/2010/08/28/righteous-lot/ ). I want to revisit that passage as the chapter, Genesis chapter 19, dealing with the event in question, was read in church last Sunday without comment and if you read it now, which I hope you do, I think you may have the same level of discomfort about the character of Lot as the head of his house and a close relation of Abram, the Father of God’s chosen nation, Israel.

The basics of the story are, 1) Abram and Lot must create space between their huge families and Abram gives Lot first choice of where to go, 2) Lot chooses the Sodom metroplex which includes Gomorrah, an area notorious for the most reprobate social deviancy known to God, 3) God soon visits Abe to advise him He plans to wipe off the face of the Earth this entire region and will extract Lot’s family from it to safety.

I realize that there are many things about God and His plan I don’t understand. That is reasonable since that is kind of like expecting the ants and bugs you played with as a child to comprehend the way you mess with them while they are peacefully going about with their daily existence. But here’s what I don’t understand about Lot’s character especially him being called righteous:

1. Allowed the choice he takes the best for himself he leaves second best to the person who gave him all his opportunities in life – namely his uncle Abram. (The was “best” because it was a very fertile and lush region and Lot has lots of cattle, he needed to maintain and grow his wealth.
2. He chooses an area known for its extreme ungodliness, hardly the decision one would expect of the God seeking and emulating individual, at least in my opinion. I mean I wouldn’t want my kids family hanging out with this kind of a role model.
3. When the destroying angels visit Lot and the dark, evil citizenry try to break down Lot’s door demanding the visitors be brought out so that everyone can “have relations with them” Lot generously offers to give them his young daughters instead, as they have “who have not had relations with man”! And adds, “please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like.” How were his daughters to feel about their father making such an offer in order to save a couple of strangers? What other kinds of parenting skills did he exhibit in this family?
4. After the angels abort this absurd plan of Lot’s they tell him to gather all his people and follow them out of the city to an area where they will be safe from the blast zone (as it will be like a nuclear detonation in effect). But Lot tries to negotiate a different location, someplace closer, to a more local town because he would be more safe there than where the angels are suggesting! Right, Lot is going to know much better than the angels about what is best for him and his family! A closer location to the fire and brimstone will be safer than away in the mountains! But the angels agree to this demand, just to get him moving and out the door!
5. Finally Lot gets to where the angels originally told him they would be going. And the first news we hear about is how Lot is made drunk by his daughter so she could have sex with him to get a child. And not once but his other daughter does the same thing the next night! They have sex with their father on two nights supposedly without him knowing about it.

So these are the five points that make me wonder what it was that Peter could call Lot Righteous while these things were happening.

I’m sure there is a really good explanation, and some day, when I’m in the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, and am in one of His Old Testament classes, where He teaches everything there is that can possibly be known about every verse of the Bible, this will all be made known.

But as for now, if the only thing I can get out of this story is that if someone can make so many really bad decisions and make such a mess of not only his life but the lives of his family (remember Lot’s wife), and can come out of it being known by God as being righteous, well then there is hope for someone like me who has caused enough trouble of my own. And really, that is just what the accomplishment of Jesus life, death, and resurrection from the dead has done for us. That Jesus our indictment for our sin, accepted the guilty verdict, subjected Himself to the sentence of the court, death on a cross, for every human being; and then physically rose from the death to give us the promise of life eternal; the gift is freely ours.  God implores us: repent and believe the Good News.

That after all the rebellion in the world, from the beginning to the end, against God, which is what sin is, all the negative thoughts toward other, all the harm caused toward others, all the hate, violence, subjugation of individuals and races, all the shady dealings done from one person to another, it is all had to be atoned, as the conscience we all were given told us things were to be this way.

So what was to have been the way what is the opposite of that kind of behavior described above? Just read what Jesus taught the crowd when He gave His Sermon on the Mount. It is a highly detailed explanation of kind of behavior that comes from the heart, behaviors that pleases God, but is also good for mankind. It isn’t just the Beatitudes, though they are important. They are the concepts detailed in three full chapters, Matthew 5, 6 and 7. And the Sermon is saying it isn’t about following a list of laws, but life of the heart. Here is what is what is expected, what was originally intended, impossible with man, but now possible with God (Luke 18:23-27). Thanks to Jesus’ work on the cross. “It is finished.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Looking Down from Heaven

Who wouldn’t agree one of the most emotional events in a person’s life is the death of a family member or friend. It is one of the hallmarks of the human experience indicating a level above that of mere animal. My Dad died in 2005 and Mom 9 years later and still today I really miss them, thinking so may things I should have said to them while alive but didn’t.

So believe me when I write this short note I do understand how the heart can longingly look back on those who have meant the most to us, but it has occurred to me there is one aspect of society’s thoughts of the departed that has intrigued me. Often a phrase is used to impart comfort and kindness, or sometimes not. Example: “so and so is looking down from heaven at you and would be so proud,” or conversely: “so and so would be very disappointed in you to see you doing that.”

But how would they be looking down at us all in any fashion to observe us behaving in any manner? Too be sure I speak from pure conjecture on this topic, but I’ve never seen or read any substantiating validity for the “Looking Down from Heaven” concept. Certainly it would be a view over an awful long distance. Well, maybe not “awful” since the viewee would be there in heaven, right?

And what exactly would that mechanism be to telescope one’s vision from heaven to Earth? How would you even pinpoint this blue marble out of all the rocks circling the billions of stars in the billions of galaxies? And then you’d have to know exactly where a person would be on the planet at a particular second in time and space to be able to focus on them.

Unless of course heaven had some contraption such that you’d key in some data points, and a valid reason, of course, as a security check against any nefarious peeking, and hit a green button and stand back to face the giant flat screen and see if your request was approved. Frankly, I don’t know about you, but there are way too many things I do, and have done I wouldn’t want others to witness or know about. That’s why doors have latches!

I don’t know, but there are just too many considerations that indicate to me that when someone is gone they won’t be able to stalk us any longer. So I just can’t see it. Maybe it is one of those mysteries we will understand on the other side. Unless Heaven is not the destination of that final train! In that case read any number of other posts on this blog for help.

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Sin or Society: Man’s Social Dilemma

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper,  a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table.  But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste?  “For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”  But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.  “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.  “For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.  “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”  Matthew 26:6-13

Reportedly one reason leveled at Christianity in general and Jesus Christ in particular by detractors concerns Jesus’ lack of focus on social injustices. Since He came to save the world why didn’t He eradicate poverty? Why not deal with slavery? Or the cruelty of government? Since He clearly had phenomenal power at His disposal, the myriad reports of these are amazing, surely He could have turned His miraculous gifts in the direction of society’s more crucial issues.

I believe the reason that He did not was that there were more pressing problems facing mankind than those manifesting as the social ills of the day. The problem of the sickness of the heart is the one crucial issue that has plagued mankind that was the real cause of the cancers manifesting in societies worldwide.

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.  Mark 7:21,22

Humans have grown very adept at hiding this fact and inoculating himself from the real poison and trying a multitude of failed methods attempted to eradicate this curse of a sick heart. But as it was brought about by disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden, the only cure is obedience by God’s perfect Son, and our accepting of the gift of life through Him, Jesus Christ. And His resurrection from the dead is our only hope; an event occurring in the corner of the world 2000 years ago has been believed on by millions and celebrated up to today. Thanks You Lord for such an awesome gift.

“nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” John 11:50

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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