Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Joy of Learning



Learning is an amazing part of life. When we were children in school we couldn’t wait until summer break, and ultimately graduation, because we wanted to be finished with learning. Sitting still and listening to the teacher was often a tough task, and we just wanted to go to the playground. As we age, we learn that we still learn. 


Learning is a good thing. It is not simply the acquisition knowledge, but the process of learning that adds flavor to life. We may enjoy learning in different ways; some are more hands on while others enjoy a lecture or reading, but we all should enjoy learning. Martin Luther once said, “If God had all the answers in His right hand, and the struggle to reach those answers in His left, I would choose God’s left hand.”  


Wouldn’t it be nice to just have our heads automatically filled with everything we need to know? When our operating systems need an update, they seemingly magically are given all the new data they once lacked. But we do not acquire knowledge that way. As Luther stated, we receive it through struggling, often through experience and trial and error. We learn by putting in some work. We need some skin in the game. The joy of learning something should be equal parts learning what we now know, and the process of finding it out. 


There is so much about God that we don’t know, but spending our lives trying to learn about Him makes life enjoyable. I learn something new about God when I see a flower or butterfly I didn’t know existed. I learn something new about God when I feel His presence during difficult times. I learn something new about God when I hear a person give a testimony to a miracle that took place in their life. 


In Psalm 25:5 David sang, “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” If we are open to it, God is always teaching us. We do not sit in a classroom, but if we opened our eyes we would notice there are little lessons being taught every day. 


We learn in bite sized chunks. It takes twelve years to make it through each grade in school, and several more for any higher learning. We learn the alphabet before we learn to read, and we learn how to add and subtract before we learn algebra. In the same way, God doesn’t fill our head with all there is to know about Him because we learn a little at a time, the way it should be. When the finite tries to understand the infinite, this is the best we can hope for.   

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Blessed be God



If you spend much time in church or listening to Christian radio, you will no doubt hear the phrase “blessed be the Lord” or “blessed be God.” The word blessed, in this context, means to be praised (this is a different word than in the beatitudes). The Greek word for blessed gives us our English word eulogy, which we use to refer to the message at a funeral when one speaks well of the deceased. In fact, Kenneth Wuest’s Greek translation of the New Testament says, “Eulogized be God.” 


God should be praised. And yet this key phrase is only found three times in the New Testament. We might expect to see it more often, but I believe those three occurrences are just enough. Here is why:


Ephesians 1:3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” This usage of the phrase speaks of what God has done for us in the past, when He chose us before the foundation of the world. 


II Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” This passage speaks of our present; when we need comfort, God provides it.  


I Peter 1:3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” This speaks of the future when we receive our eternal inheritance in the eternal state. 


Although the phrase “blessed be God” only appears three times, it is the perfect amount because it covers the past, present, and future. We praise God because of what He has done, what He currently does, and what He will do. Let God be praised for our salvation, our comfort when we are struggling, and our future home in heaven. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!


Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Clarity of the Bible


One of the great, yet often overlooked doctrines to arise from the Protestant Reformation was the belief in the clarity of Scripture (known as the doctrine of perspicuity among theologians). The world into which Martin Luther cut his teeth theologically was one in which only the religious elite were allowed to discus the meaning of the Bible. This elevation of scholasticism over the commoners in society created two class of believers: the clergy, who were permitted to talk about God, and the laity, who could only hope to be fed spoonfuls of the Gospel during the weekly service. 


Luther rebelled against this heresy. Being a highly educated man himself, Luther believed that the more people read the Bible for themselves, the better off they would be. He detested those who lived in their spiritual ivory towers, who turned the message of salvation into a secret reserved for those in their exclusive club. Luther was greatly aided by the advent of the printing press, and he published and distributed pamphlets as quickly as he could. One such work was given the rather lengthy title “Defense of all the Articles of M. Luther Condemned by the Latest Bull of [Pope] Leo X.” The very thought of publishing a “defense” that the common man could read was an outrage to the religious ruling class. Especially infuriated by this pamphlet was Desiderius Erasmus, a Roman Catholic scholar. 


Erasmus put out his own pamphlet condemning Luther. In his words, the pope and bishops were responsible for having doctrinal discussions, and it was not “proper to prostitute them before common ears,” as Luther had done. Now five hundred years later, Luther has been decided as the winner in this debate. The clarity of Scripture is an important doctrine. Brad Klassen has defined clarity as, “that quality of the biblical text that, as God’s communicative act, ensures its meaning is accessible to all who come to it in faith.” Clarity is tied to inspiration; just as we believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible to give us a flawless instruction manual, we also believe that He has given us a text that we can all understand. The Bible is clear. 


As Christians, we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and He illuminates the text so that we can understand it, but even the unbeliever not yet filled with the Spirit can read John 3:16 and be led to salvation. There are certainly passages that are a little more difficult than others; some are plain on their face, while some require a little bit of digging. But those so-called problem passages do not negate the doctrine of clarity.


Some still argue against clarity today, taking the side of Erasmus of old. This creates a problem, for if the Bible is not clear, then we need an outside source to shine light on it. Critics of the Bible are essentially ascribing greater clarity to something else. They will say that the opinion of the learned carries more weight than a blue collar believer. Luther’s position is that the Average Joe can understand Scripture just as well as Reverend Joe. Many in this class of clergy will say that they have special understanding of Scripture, so you might thinkyou know what the Bible says, but they actually know, so at the end of the day, they are to be trusted, not you. 


I believe Peter settled the debate between Luther and Erasmus, and between the clergy and laity, when he wrote, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Peter 2:9).” 


Did you get that? The church—whether clergy or lay, is part of a royal priesthood. Luther called this the priesthood of all believers. The Bible was given to us so that we can all understand it, whether young or old, educated or not. If you are a skeptic, open the Bible to the book of John and begin to read. If you are a believer, make sure you are reading too. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t comprehend the Bible, because it is a book of clarity. 



Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Bible as Foundation



As a Bible believer, I make my decisions based on God’s Word. I believe the Bible is completely true and free from error. The Bible is inspired, it is living and active, it is profitable, and it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. 


Because of this biblical worldview, the Bible is the place to start when making decisions or when telling someone about the Lord. But some object to this on the grounds that, since unbelievers don’t believe the Bible, then we should use other sources to convince them when we are talking about God. I understand that sentiment, but I reject it. 


I realize that it might sound like circular logic to tell someone that Jesus is the Son of God “because the Bible says so,” and they should believe the Bible because “the Bible says it is God’s Word.” But here are two things to consider. First, when making a defense of what we believe, we always start with that which holds the most authority. If you start with personal experience, common sense, scientific data, quotes from philosophers, or anything else, that becomes your authority. Starting with the Bible communicates to the other person how much weight the Bible holds in your life. If the Bible is the third or fourth source you cite, you are showing that it isn’t that important to you.  


I like how Michael Vlach once put it: “But if another source [besides the Bible] becomes the standard for determining whether the Bible is true, then the battle is lost at step one…The unbeliever is called to obey the Word of the Creator, not sit in judgment over it.” 


But the second reason I believe in using the Bible to reach unbelievers is that it is exactly what Paul did. In the city of Lystra the people tried to worship Paul and Barnabas, believing the missionaries were incarnations of their gods. In Acts 14 we read, “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them (v.14-15).’”


Paul’s first instinct was to appeal to the living as God, who was the creator of heaven and earth, an obvious reference to Genesis 1:1. These pagans were not familiar with the Old Testament scrolls, yet that is where Paul began his defense. For the record, I am a firm believer in apologetics. Things mentioned above—science, philosophy, common sense, and even personal experience—can all be used to defend what we believe, but I urge you to always begin with the Scriptures, which should be our highest authority. 


It is not philosophy that is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword. That is the Bible (Hebrews 4:12).

It is not science that is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction. That is the Bible (II Timothy 3:16).

It is not personal experience that is “God-breathed.” That is the Bible (II Timothy 3:16).

It is not common sense that is the power of God that brings salvation. That, too, is the Bible (Romans 1:16). 


It was never more simple than when as children we sang, 

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me. 

I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!



Saturday, July 3, 2021

How Much Did Jesus Learn?


Did Jesus have an unfair advantage over us? We sometimes speculate as to what it was like for Jesus when He was being raised by Mary and Joseph. Even the concept of Jesus being raised is hard to grasp; did the one who raised the dead need to be raised? 


We know He was perfect. Scripture makes that clear, for He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).” But did Jesus emerge from the womb with divine awareness of all things, or was He closer to ordinary? When talking about his Christmas hit song “Mary Did You Know?” Mark Lowry said, “The one who spoke the world into existence was now uttering unintelligible baby noises.” As much fun as it is to daydream about God in the flesh using his divine abilities in His adolescence, we have no reason to believe that Jesus was anything other than a normal child developmentally as He learned to crawl, then walk, then run. He fell and cried, He skinned His knee, and sometimes He didn’t like His dinner. 


We get the impression sometimes that if Jesus played baseball with the neighborhood kids in Nazareth, He only hit home runs, when in reality, He would have struck out at times too. As a young carpenter, He probably hit His thumb with a hammer, and made a chair that wobbled. 


We might think Jesus had an unfair advantage over us because He knew Scripture perfectly. He is the Word, after all. Quoting Scripture to the devil? Piece of cake. Those were His own words spoken 4,000 years earlier. If we were Jesus we could do that too. 


But not so fast. In his essay titled “Jesus’ Submission to Holy Scripture,” Ian Hamilton wrote, “We must guard against thinking Jesus short-circuited the normal human process of maturation…Jesus’ understanding of the content of Scripture, and the inherent authority embedded in the content of Scripture, did not come to Him all at once. His knowledge of God’s Word was not supernaturally implanted in His DNA in the womb of the Virgin Mary.” 


Think about it: Luke tells us Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (2:52).” Jesus increased in wisdom? Doesn’t this necessarily imply that there was some wisdom He initially lacked? The author of Hebrews wrote in 5:8 that Jesus “learned obedience” (this does not mean He was ever disobedient, but that He had to learn the rules of right and wrong). 

Please don’t think I am trying to strip Jesus of His divinity. But in truth He beat me to it as He willingly laid aside some aspects of His God-ness. Paul wrote that Jesus “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7).” Just a year ago I wrote a column titled “God Can’t Learn” where I argued that it is impossible for an omniscient God to learn anything, and yet now I argue that Jesus had to do exactly that. Jesus laid aside aspects of His divine nature in order to save us. The substitution demanded that Jesus be like us. A God is too far away to save us, and a man is too close to save us, so Jesus became the God-Man.  


As Hamilton concluded in his essay, if Jesus did not have to learn, then “His humanity would not be our humanity.” If Jesus had an unfair leg up on us, then He didn’t truly become like us, and would not have been an eligible substitute. 


Jesus knew Scripture because He put in the work to commit it to memory, and there is no reason we cannot do the same.