Paul on the Deity of Christ

Divorcing Paul’s message from the message of the Gospels is strange. Mark worked with Paul and Barnabas and there are some arguments that he actually records the testimony of Peter; Luke was a historian who traveled with Paul and compiled stories to present to Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4).

Besides that, Paul actually gives us the earliest Christian writings. In Paul we get a peek into the early Church—be it in prayer (1 Cor 16:22 praying to Jesus as YHWH) or the formulations of what they believed. From a historical perspective, Paul is just as critical as the Gospels for understanding what Christians confessed.

It also appears that at least portions of Luke’s compilation of Scripture was available at least by Paul’s later years when we read Paul quoting from it:

For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads the grain,’ and, ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages (1 Tim 5:18)

In Paul and Luke, we might even have some mingling of cross-purposes. Luke was a gentile; Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul traveled throughout the Gentile world; Luke accompanied him on many of these journeys. Paul argued with Jews but spent his time spreading the Gospel to Gentiles; Luke’s Writings (Luke and Acts) deals with the Jews but makes a point of expanding out to the Gentiles (and towards Theophilus).

Just like John, Paul sees Christ as King. He outright says in Romans 2 that the resurrected Jesus is the Son of David and the Son of God with power. And some of the argumentation in Acts recalls Peter’s words in Acts 2 where Jesus functions as the Messiah of God, David’s rightful heir, ruling and waiting for his enemies to be made his footstool.

The idea is littered throughout Paul’s writings so that it is impossible to miss it. One doesn’t have to look further than 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul theologically argues for the necessity of a physical resurrection by pointing to the need of the human race to have a human ruler who is under God—and that this will finally happen where all things are put in subjection to Christ and even Christ is put in subjection to God.

In fact, what we find in Paul (just like we find in John) is a rich multifaceted view of Christ. He is not only son of David, he’s the second Adam, he’s the mercy seat, he’s the point of creation—etc.

So the question “Does Paul see Christ as King?” is just as superfluous as the question “Did John the Evangelist see Christ as King?” Of course he did. The question I want to deal with is “Did Paul see Christ as God?”

But before getting there, one must remember that there are several names for God in the Old Testament, but two in particular were of major importance to this discussion.

First the word Elohim which we see in Genesis 1. This word, translated, means God. The Greeks would translate this word into Theos.

There is another word that comes up often enough, Yahweh translated Lord. With our medieval influenced mind, we think that the terms “Yes, my Lord” is really only one of respect but in the Old Testament, the name Yahweh was for the Sovereign Master Personal God. In Koine Greek, this word would translate into Kurios.

But Greek, like English, used this term Kurios for titles of respect as well as for the Jewish usage as a name of God. Textually there’s no clue to indicate if this is Kurios-Lord-God or Kurios-Lord-Sir.

Except for the Jewish background.

So you would find that in the New Testament, although John likes to use the word “Father” for referring to God, many of the other writers liked to use the word Theos/God to refer to God-the-Father. That being the case, they didn’t usually equate Jesus with God because they didn’t want us thinking that Jesus is identical to the Father.

By identical I mean statements of identity that summarize the entirety of a person. So if you say that Tato (my nickname) is identical to Rey, you’re not saying that Tato is Rey’s twin; you’re saying that Tato is Rey. Biblical writers saw an identity difference between the Father and the Son. Jesus is not the Father.

John, who uses Father to differentiate between the Word/Son and the Father had no problem referring to both as God in John 1:1 since it isn’t an identity statement. The other writers have that identity issue that they’re careful with so they wound up referring to Jesus as Lord.

So Paul says in Romans 10:13


But he’s quoting from the Old Testament in Joel 2:23 where the prophet receives from Yahweh that some people will survive the impending wrath: those who call on the name of YHWH and trust on Him.

And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Will be delivered; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem There will be those who escape, As the LORD has said, Even among the survivors whom the LORD calls

That’s huge. That’s no king who is calling people; that’s the Sovereign God Himself.

Now, note this passage where the YHWH is speaking in the first person (Isa. 45:23) and says:

“I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

Rom 14:11, Paul points out quoting the passage that Jesus winds up being both the Lord of the Living and the dead (Rom 14:9-10)

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.”

Elsewhere, Paul alludes to the same passage by showing that every knee shall bow and confess Jesus as Lord:

so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:10-11)

But then, Paul loses all restraint and sometimes outright confesses that Jesus Christ is Theos:

whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Rom 9:5)

looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, (Titus 2:13)

But it doesn’t end there. Just like John, Paul readily sees Jesus not merely functioning as God, but actually doing things that only God does. God creates, and we find that Paul thinks Jesus that everything was created through Jesus and for Jesus (Col 1:16). Apparently this wasn’t restricted to Paul since the writer to the Hebrews says the same thing (Heb 1:2). God followed the Israelites in the wilderness, but that was Jesus (1 Cor 10:4); Grace and shalom from God and Jesus in Paul’s greetings (Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Rom 1:7); forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38; Col. 3:13); upholding everything (Col 1:17); equal with God (Phil 2:6); fullness of deity dwelling in Him (Col 2:9); people living for Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15); and transformer of our bodies (Phil 3:20-21).

So did Paul see Christ as God?  The answer must be yes.

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John On the Deity of Christ

Now that we’ve been brought back to the very point of the Apostles, it would be helpful to look at the writings of the last remaining apostle by the time of the early church fathers: John.  The evidence seems clear that his Gospel account was written after the Synoptic accounts were circulating so they bear indication that John didn’t intend his account to be read in a vacuum. In regards to literature then, it is interesting to see which stories the Synoptic accounts include and which John feels important enough to bring up once again.

John is the only writer to mention the resurrection of Lazarus and yet, he has no problem repeating the story of the Feeding of the 5000 and the walking on water event. He’s the only writer that takes us to Christ’s first miracle in a very common location while simultaneously not repeating the story of Christ’s temptation by Satan in the wilderness. Even Christ’s baptism is generally ignored in the story save for the character speech of John the Baptist—a peripheral detail which all the Synoptic accounts treat as important.

So whatever John was dealing with in the publishing of his account had to be refuted by the issues John raised—not in addition to history, but in nature of importance within history. In other words, it’s not that John was overlaying his later theological developments on the past, but that John felt it necessary to underscore details of the past to use in his then current theological discussions. Interestingly enough, this is exactly what the Early Church Fathers wound up doing and what the Council of Nicaea was deciding on. Christ’s divinity wasn’t up for vote; the Scripture’s impact on the corporate life had to be admitted.

Be that as it may, we note that John 1 is probably one of the strongest chapters in Scripture regarding the divinity of Christ. He is listed as Creator with God, in a structural format that follows Genesis 1 where we see God creating. John goes out of his way to show that not only is Christ is with God: He is God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen 1:1)

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Then John repeats the point by jumping to John the Baptist who is making straight the way of the Lord. Not the Lord King. But the call to clear the way for the Lord Yahweh.

He said, “I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (John 1:23)

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)

This Word-Made-Flesh is so divine that he is on the one hand baptized by God’s Spirit but on the other goes and baptizes others using God’s Spirit. Not that he’s functioning in that capacity but just as the Baptist uses the medium of water to baptize, this One is using the medium of God’s Spirit to baptize people. This is no mere kingly prerogative.  This is God acting like God.

John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’  I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

Of course, John the Baptist himself didn’t seem to understand the importance of his own words. In the Synoptic accounts we find out that John goes to prison and goes through a period of sorrow as he wonders if Christ really is who he thought he was (Matt 11:1-19). He expected the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world in a way that probably looked more like his Jewish expectations (whatever that was). But the point of John the Evangelist using the Baptist’s words are not to underscore that what the Baptist thought was right, but that he spoke better than he know.

The Writer goes back in time to a point where John once again spoke better, and it was before he was imprisoned (John 3:24).

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.

Which all recalls the Baptist’s testimony that the Evangelist uses in the introduction:

John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” (John 1:15)

And it is recalled again by Christ himself:

You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me. (John 5:34-36)

The repeated message is that although Christ is fully man, he is much more than anyone thought he would be, even when they speak better than they know in proclaiming him. After all, it is in that very chapter where Christ uses the Baptist’s testimony as a witness of who Christ is that Christ equates his activity with the Father God.

But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17)

Something the Jews understood perfectly well not merely to be a statement of kingly activity but rather to something they considered outright blasphemy:

For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

This testimony of his God-ness doesn’t end there. It is throughout John’s Gospel account. Christ is offered up as one who knows what is within man (John 2:25) so he refuses to entrust himself to some people (John 2:24); as one who speaks what God wants because he was sent by God into the world (John 3:31-34; 7:28); as the one allowed to work on the Sabbath because of familial responsibilities (John 5:16-17); as God who teaches (John 6:44-46) as the Father teaches; as the Lord God who provides God’s Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39; 14:16-17; 15:26-27;16:5-11); as existent God before Abraham (John 8:58); as one who properly receives worship (John 9:38;); as one with the Father (John 10:30); as having the right of giving eternal life (John 10:28; 11:25); as the revelation of the Lord Yahweh’s power (John 12:37-38); as the very image of God (John 12:44); as the Lord God that Isaiah say (John 12:41); as one who you could trust as God (John 14:1); and indeed as one who is confessed as both Lord and God (John 20:28)

Note even the fear of the Roman Gentile Pilate (John 19:7-10). He hears from the Jews the charge that this one made himself out to be the Son of God and he’s afraid. Once again, the writer’s recording of this fact isn’t in a historical vacuum. We know from Matthew that apparently Pilate’s wife sent him a message saying to be careful with this man Jesus because of troubled dreams she had (Matthew 27:19). So here’s a Gentile, steeped in his Greco-Roman Religion, his wife having dreams and the people are calling him Son of God.

Did he have an understanding of the Jewish expectations? Did he see the Son of God language in the Bible and piece together what this all meant? If that is the case, why did he then proceed to ask absolutely no questions about Christ’s kingdom or his heritage but rather his origin—when it is patently true that he already knew he was a Jew from Nazareth (John 19:19)? Christ’s answers leave him more convinced to let him go since he talks about having authority from above and this is what provokes Pilate to try to release Jesus.

Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate *said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him…(John 19:8-12)

Now mind you, in John’s Gospel account there are several themes tying together; I’m not dealing with all that. I wouldn’t want to suggest that the idea of some Demi-God who is the Son of Zeus is what John has in mind and is trying to get across. My point has been that the people John records speak better than they know but when Jesus speaks he is speaking about what he actually does know.

So if you take a step back and look at say John 3, you’ll see that Jesus is speaking about the expectation of the Kingdom of God. Here it would be a mistake to make it solely about a spiritual kingdom (as when people become regenerate and are made part of the Church) or solely about a millennial kingdom (as when the Jews finally receive Christ reigning on a throne here on Earth). Whatever he is speaking is from heaven and speaking the Words of God (John 3:31-34). The fact that it is God who has sent the message about the kingdom is integral to the story John records when we finally see the placard that Pilate places over Jesus.

Jesus the Nazarene the King of the Jews.

We probably shouldn’t be looking solely to the Jewish expectation of a King, or solely to the fact that Israel hadn’t had a king in years, or not even to the fact that Jesus will be King of a spiritual people; but we probably should be looking back to the expanded and repeated claim in Scripture that Israel’s first rejected King wasn’t a man: it was their own God.

And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (1 Sam 8:7)

But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’—even though the LORD your God was your king. (1 Sam 12:12)

Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. (Psalm 5:2)

For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. (Psalm 95:3)

The fact that Israel was waiting for a man who had to be God (Ezekiel 34) doesn’t negate the conclusion John the Evangelist is pointing to with the Synoptic Writings in circulation. This Jesus was really a man. He was really God in the flesh. He was really a rejected King. He was really Israel’s first King. He was really a temple. He was really the temple Israel was to worship in truth. He was really the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. He did so by dying for the sin of the world. John then requests that people believe this Jesus, based on these few written things, as being the Christ (the Messianic claim), the Son of God so that one might have life—going back to the point of John 3.

These ideas are all repeated in his letters as well. John has no qualms about speaking about the manifested life not as King but actually as something necessary for having fellowship with God Himself (1 John 1:1-3), as the means of purification from all sin (1 John 1:7); as a sacrifice for sins for the entire world (1 John 2:2); as expander of God’s family (1 John 3:1-3; cf .John 20:17); giver of God’s Spirit (1 John 3:24); as the Incarnate God (1 John 4:1-3);  Jesus as Son of God (1 John 5:12); as understanding that Christ is the means for eternal life (1 John 5:13); and that in fact Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life (John 5:20).

John’s admonition then of keeping ourselves from idols is pretty impressive. Jesus is to be worshiped. Jesus functions in this capacity. Jesus is God and eternal life. But he’s the real thing. He’s no idol. Keep away from idols.

So at this point, I think it’s pretty safe to say that John as an apostle and recorder of a Gospel account presents the King, Jesus Christ, as God.

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Jesus, God and the Gospel of Men

The idea reads something like this: obviously, the Church at Nicaea believed Jesus was the Son of God in terms of deity, but the authors of the Bible didn’t think in that category. They believed Jesus to be Son of God in terms of Israel’s King. Theology progressed—that is unsurprising; but first and foremost the Gospel is a presentation of Jesus as Israel’s King.

Here’s a few quotes that bear markings of the proposition above. Some outright deny the claim that Jesus is God and should not be taken as representative of Christianity.

Dan Brown’s Teabing , a character in the Davinci Code, referring to the council at Nicaea:

“At this gathering,” Teabing said, “many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon—the date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of sacraments, and, of course, the divinity of Jesus.” “I don’t follow. His divinity?” “My dear,” Teabing declared, “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.” “Not the Son of God?” “Right,” Teabing said. “Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea.” “Hold on. You’re saying Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?” “A relatively close vote at that,” Teabing added. “Nonetheless, establishing Christ’s divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman empire and to the new Vatican power base. By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable. This not only precluded further pagan challenges to Christianity, but now the followers of Christ were able to redeem themselves only via the established sacred channel-the Roman Catholic Church.” Sophie glanced at Langdon, and he gave her a soft nod of concurrence. “It was all about power,” Teabing continued. “Christ as Messiah was critical to the functioning of Church and state. Many scholars claim that the early Church literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power.

Scot McKnight on what is the Gospel:

The gospel is to announce that the Story of Jesus, who is Messiah/King, Lord and Savior, fulfills or completes the Story of Israel. It is the good news that God’s promises have now been realized in Jesus Messiah, Lord and Savior.

…Our evangelism would be declaring what Peter declares in Acts 2, 3, 10-11 and what Paul declares in Acts 13, 14 and 17. And it would see that every passage in the Gospels is pure gospel. It would show how Romans explains how Gentiles now join Jews in God’s Story in this world, and it would show how they are both accepted on the same basis: in Christ. And they respond to that message by faith and by faith alone.

NT Wright on the clues to Gospel christology:

I suggest, in short, that the return of YHWH to Zion, and the Temple theology which it brings into focus, are the deepest keys and clues to gospel christology. Forget the ‘titles’ of Jesus, at least for a moment; forget the pseudo-orthodox attempts to make Jesus of Nazareth conscious of being the second person of the Trinity; forget the arid reductionism that is the mirror image of that unthinking would-be orthodoxy. Focus, instead, on a young Jewish prophet telling a story about YHWH returning to Zion as judge and redeemer, and then embodying it by riding into the city in tears, symbolizing the Temple’s destruction and celebrating the final exodus. I propose, as a matter of history, that Jesus of Nazareth was conscious of a vocation: a vocation, given him by the one he knew as ‘father’, to enact in himself what, in Israel’s scriptures, God had promised to accomplish all by himself. He would be the pillar of cloud and fire for the people of the new exodus. He would embody in himself the returning and redeeming action of the covenant God. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 653.

Andrew Perriman’s non-Nicene creedal statement:

We believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, Israel’s king;

Born under Augustus, executed under Tiberius;

Who died to save his rebellious people from destruction;

Who was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures and was exalted to the right hand of the Father;

Who was given the name which was above every name, for the sake of the glory of Israel’s God in the ancient world;

Who was made judge and ruler of the nations;

And through whom his persecuted followers came to inherit the empire and then the world.

Here’s a quote from myself regarding the Son of God language in regard to Christ:

Whereas you have a King being declared a functional son of God in regards to ruling and anointed, we now have Christ who was the sent Son with all these other entailments tied into His position. Whereas you have Adam, the Son of God, to be God’s vice-gerent over the created order yet fails dramatically bringing it all down with him, we now have Christ, the Son of God who dramatically obeys before the incarnation (setting aside what He didn’t have to steal: his divinity) becoming a servant obedient to death on the cross, raising again and bringing all of creation up with Him. Whereas you have Israel, the Son of God, as a nation of priests; we now have Jesus Christ, who is both priest and king.

Here’s William Kellly, a classic dispensational writer, on the Jewish expectation:

It would appear that, in John the Baptist’s preaching it, we have no ground for supposing that either he believed at this time, or that any other men till afterwards were led into the under­standing of the form which it was to assume through Christ’s rejection and going on high as now. This our Lord divulged more particularly in Matthew 13. I understand, then, by this expression, what might be gathered justly from Old Testament prophecies; and that John, at this time, had no other thought but that the king­dom was about to be introduced according to expec­tations thus formed. They had long looked for the time when the earth should no longer be left to itself, but heaven should be the governing power; when the Son of man should control the earth; when the power of hell should be banished from the world; when the earth should be put into association with the heavens, and the heavens, of course, therefore, be changed, so as to govern the earth directly through the Son of man, who should be also King of restored Israel. This, substantially, I think, was in the mind of the Baptist.

I don’t mean that all the above quotes are teaching the same thing. Indeed, you’ll find William Kelly quickly affirming that Christ is God—you won’t find the same thing occurring with Andrew Perriman. And in all cases, Dan Brown’s character resides in a world of fiction while speaking from a position of pseudo-history that is actively being pushed on the masses.

It is simply impossible to trace the reasons how or why these positions are being put forward, or even if they’re correct in doing so, but one must look at their claims in light of Scripture. In other words: there is a lot being said but very little substantiation from the text.

That is not to say that there isn’t substantiation. For example, NT Wright uses the same exact texts everyone else uses but gives a historical milieu that changes the reading of the text. The trick is to hover above the text stating what the text says then dropping some casual information (as if established fact) to then deny what later theologians (and possibly everyone) have understood it to be saying. Lest you point that out, they quickly grant that there is no doubt that later theologians interpreted things in such a way, but that is not how the writers themselves understood those very same things.

For my own mind, I intend to examine this in several points. First a historical scan; second an overview of John’s Christology; third a look at Paul’s theological thinking; and finally an examination of the Synoptic writers.

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How To Prepare For Change

Remember the beginning of T2? A dark road running into the distance; Sarah Connor’s voiceover speaking about the inevitable an impending future? The movie ends the same way but this time she’s talking about the openness of the future since things have changed. Instead of depression she’s speaking in hope.

Good thing Sarah Connor didn’t survive until Judgment Day. Sure things changed, but not by much. The machines still took over. Connor still wound up being a military leader. Her fears were realized, even if she wasn’t there to see it happen.

But she had hope because of change.

It was actually President Obama’s campaign promise. Things will be different. All we need is a change. Hope in change because we can make things happen. We can do it; yes we can.

Change comes in various forms. There’s fool’s gold change. Like Sarah Connor’s change. Or Obama’s. It has a spurious glitter that promises so much but then doesn’t deliver. When you’re caught in the doldrums and things are looking glum we turn to some nice shiny change for a solution. But then, the change happens, and we find out that things aren’t what we’d hoped they would be.

Last year I’ve had several friends destroy their marriages by running off with someone else. No one could convince them that they’ve done wrong. “I’m happy now,” is all they would say.

Then you have catastrophic change. When it just happens when things, you thought, were going good. It doesn’t have any of the shine; just this black hovering shadow ready to crush everything in its way.

I’m also friends with the spouses of these people. They would each say that things were going fine and then suddenly this change happened.

Indeed, this last year I was happily working from home in the place of my dreams and things changed. My house is now sold. I live in a smaller place, away from all but my immediate family and in a state that I never planned to be in. I find myself dreading and asking, just like these other people, “what other change should I expect?”

Therein lies two extremes: either hoping for change or dreading it. And being humans who have no access to omniscience, we find ourselves potentially tossed in a sea of uncertainty.

But we can’t properly be happy in that state. Happiness winds up being this tenuous balancing act which is tipped by the merest breeze. What we need is a sort of foundational fulcrum of happiness—something we can bank on even in the midst of change. Something to ground ourselves in which supersedes change and properly satisfies our deepest needs of being happy, of being safe, of being confident, and of feeling success.

I think that would be the historical revelation of God in His Son: in his life, death, burial and resurrection. The unchanging God took on change so as to identify with those who suffer shipwreck within the waves of change. The unchanging God bore the marks of that change and with those stripes those who trust in Him are satisfied and properly happy.

But we’re so finite. So blind. And we find that, even now, we hope and fear change. We’re not perfect. We fail. We’re not what we will be. So although I can speak confidently about my foundational fulcrum I can also acknowledge the reality of my own fears and the shedding of my friends’ tears.

We wind up having to constantly redound back to our hope as revealed in the Gospel. It’s in the Gospel where we find ourselves as properly conquering. Doesn’t matter what storms may come. Nothing (spouses leaving, children dying, jobs changing, cars breaking, wars, demons, life, death—nothing) will separate us from God’s love (Romans 8).

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Increase Not Decrease: God Grants the Role

“You Yourselves bear me witness that I said ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him’.” (John 3:28)

Of course John’s comment is in light of his ministry. For he says that he was to announce the Christ because he is not the Christ: his role was to prepare the way. John sees that his own life isn’t purposeless but is actually tied up in the work of God by the presentation of the Lamb of God.

He was sent to preach repentance and when he saw the Lamb of God he pointed him out, openly acknowledging that this is the provision that God had made. (John 1:19-34)

To John’s mind, this probably meant something else. He probably thought as Jesus as the Lamb ruler who would forcefully take away the sins of the World. After all, it was only a short time later that he would be imprisoned, still waiting for the Christ to reboot this entire world, and wondering why it hadn’t happened yet.

In Matthew 11, John, seeing that Herod is still in power (and he’s still in jail) sends a message to Jesus via disciples: “Are you the Christ that we’re waiting for?” He spent his life pointing out this person, he could’ve sworn that this was the very thing he was called to do, but things had turned out so differently and dire: could he have been wrong?

Christ responds neither yes nor no but pointing out the work of God. The Lame walk. The blind see. The Gospel is being preached.

The next historical note we have about John is that he’s beheaded at a party for a cruel mother and her daughter. (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9).

You see, Christ explains, John wasn’t merely some spectacle in soft clothes out in the wild—some oddity to ogle. This John was God’s prophet: the very Elijah who was supposed to come (if they would have had him) before the end of the age: the one who prepared the way of the coming of the Lord Himself. This John, in prison who eventually died of beheading, was the greatest of the prophets (Matt 11:11a).

Without a miracle. Without a sign. With a backwater ministry in the Jewish outback. John functioned where he was supposed to function doing what all the prophets before him did, but better. Point to Christ.

Every single prophet in the Old Testament pointed forward to Christ via the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes fuzzily. Sometimes explicitly. But always predicated upon God’s revelation and looking forward to God’s distant promises. John alone, out of all the prophets, announced Him within days, inaugurated him via baptism, and witnessed the descending Holy Spirit upon Him. None of the prophets were given that position (Heb 11:39).

But John didn’t see everything. He was still an Old Testament prophet. He didn’t see  the crowds cheering around the one who comes in the name of the Lord (Mark 11:9; John 12). To him wasn’t given the horror of seeing the Messiah rejected and pinned to a tree (John 19). He would never witness the wonder of the risen Messiah (John 20). To him wasn’t given the chance of listening to the risen Lord for several days before he was taken up into heaven (Acts 1). To him wasn’t given the chance of participating in the prophesying in tongues which was a witness of the Holy Spirit being poured out in the last days (Acts 2).

None of those things were given to him; God didn’t grant John that role.

And he knew that at this point.

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Infographic on 1 Corinthians 2:2

I enjoy making graphics and every now and then I have some sort of chart or graphic that makes sense to me, though rarely I share them. One of my favorites is the one on Psalm 110. Here’s one I had made on 1 Cor 2:2 but without highlighting other verse connections. I should probably go back and do that. I’ve included two: one with the intro part of the verse and one which focuses on what Paul might have meant by Jesus Christ and Him Crucified and how that really isn’t a small thing (in other words, it’s not Nothing vs. A Little Something; It’s Nothing–the Wisdom of the World–versus A Whole Lot of Something Encapsulated in Three Words).

Click on the images for biggie sized versions.

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The Gospel In Songs

We all like music. The most tone-deaf of us enjoy music. You can sometimes hear them, in the shower or in their car, dissonantly barking out a tune. We might not like a particular style (like rap or rock) but we all seem to enjoy music.

You know, I think that it might be something built into people. We take what moves us emotionally, or even just what is important, and put it into song. Knowing the truth of the alphabet is important: we put it into song. Our country is pretty important: we put that it into song. I really love my wife, my kids and my dog and have dreams of a mini-van: I better make a song. And if we want to get really serious, we sing about ideals which we cherish: like freedom, hope, goodness or love. Ooh: good songs. We sing what we believe in. What we think is important. What we hope for.

Animals just don’t do this.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know we have other songs. Silly things like “Let’s Do the Twist” or “Can You Mash Potato”. But I think all that does is bring out the problem.

Many of our songs suffer from a fatal flaw which, I think, points to our main problem. The Twist isn’t only fun, it’s funny—remember when people actually did the Twist? Not anymore. Singing about my dead minivan or my last dog is sad but—hey, you don’t know them.

In fact, don’t we sing national anthems with an unstated concern in the back of our minds? Something we just don’t say aloud? We know that there have been other countries, and other anthems, that are no longer sung since those countries are long gone. No one sings the national anthem of ancient Assyria, anymore. Can this happen to our country?

All our music, we realize, falls short in what it praises. What is the praise of love if those meant to be loved are gone? What is the point of singing about Jane, if Jane loves someone else? What is the purpose of singing about a dance move if dances come and go?

Scripture says that God has placed eternity in the hearts of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11) but with our main problem, we have a relative sense of the sheer abruptness of life. We know that relationships break. Nations fail. Life ends. And what we sing about just fades into the past.

Our songs must fail. They ground themselves on what fades away. We’re people who mess up, who purposefully do wrong, who do things that ultimately don’t stand in a world that is always changing, and who add insult to injury by praising things that aren’t permanent.

Relationships fail for tons of reasons often bound in selfishness. Nations burn in war and poverty. Lives end in ruin. Scripture tells us that everyone has sinned; everyone has messed up, and has fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) and that the payback for sin is death (Rom 6:23) —a life that ends—and that one day, the world will change drastically. We mess up, we fall short, and the temporariness of it all reflects that reality.

And yet our songs keep striving and hoping without the right focus. They want to reach outward and hold onto love. They want to sing of countries that really stand as a bulwark for something. They want to sing about something that you can bank on, forever.

Enter God.

God, unlike us, is perfect. He is great. He is awesome. He doesn’t change. His love never fails. He’s forever constant.  God is the one subject that can rightly ground all songs. You can’t sing about that time when God broke down. You can’t sing about that time that God failed. You can’t even sing about that time when God once, upon a time, loved you.

So you’ll find in Scripture that songs pointt to one who is always there, who always loves, who can never be conquered. Large swathes of scripture devoted to singing about, and to, God. The Scriptures say that the stars themselves sing out the glory of God (Psalm 19). As Christ entered a city, the people had to sing out praising Him—and if they didn’t, the rocks would (Luke 19:28-40).

Then, in Revelation 5 we hear a new song.

“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”


“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”


“To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”  (Rev 5:9–13).

A Song, rightly grounded in God, sung to a lamb who was killed. And yet lives.

Songs like this can only be sung by those who have bent the knee to him alone who is rightly found song-worthy. Every single tune, every single song, every single whistle falls short and screams for a need to be permanent—but the songs that are sung to Him are the only songs that are grounded in unchanging truth and unfailing love.

You can’t properly sing songs like this without trusting that He is in fact Lord, that He in fact reigns, that He really died, that He in fact bled for you, that one day you will bow to Him in his very presence. Yet some of us sing along without really believing. These songs point outward at a reality that demands to be wrestled with; demands allegiance to the one has died, gave himself for you, and has risen again victoriously—according to the Scriptures— to receive all glory, honor, power and praise.

So what will you do with this? Will you continue on, humming along with songs you don’t really believe, or will you dare to wrestle with the reality on which these songs are permanently grounded: the second person of the Godhead, the Lord Jesus Christ? Trust is rightly placed in Him. Hope is rightly placed in Him. Acclamation is rightly heaped on him. And songs are rightly sung to him.

But can you rightly sing to him? Do you really trust him and his work? Do you really hope in what he did on a cross when he died and when he rose again? Can you really sing out that “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS” (Rev 19:1-2) while crying out “Jesus is Lord God who died and bosily rose again”?

Can you?

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Teaching Children The Gospel and Moral Responsibility

I have several posts about teaching children doctrine (here about the image of God and here about the meaning of the mistreatment of God’s image and here some messages). Each example is used to give the fundamental Biblical and theological point without all the extra stuff that you or I might believe–by that I mean interpretative conclusions that have very little bearing on the fundamental truth of the Doctrine.

Anyway, I wanted to post about something that came up in Summer Camp last year which doesn’t only apply to Summer Camp.

First some context: this is a camp that has children from eight to fifteen (?) as campers and Junior Counselors In Training (JCITS) starting at around seventeen (sixteen?). So it’s a pretty broad range of kids–all boys. In an effort at hitting all the kids with some straight up Biblical teaching, the directors have decided to have several teaching sessions that are comprised of the entire group. So you’ll have a teaching session in the morning, one in the evening, and some days another in the afternoon focused on how to study or something like that.

BUT. Even with this context, this is not the first time I’ve witnessed the following problem.

The Problem:
After reading the context, at least some of the problems might be obvious to the reader but I want to make it clear what each individual teacher is concerned about: that the older saved Christian boys live moral lives and that those who aren’t believers are saved. So each teacher is concerned enough to make sure the Gospel is in each lesson coupled with a call for moral living. It’s a proper concern.

The first problem, the one I think most would pick up on, is that understanding range is too broad. You can’t possibly warn the fifteen year olds with their moral activity without exposing the young with unnecessary information; and it is exceedingly difficult to speak to the young in such a way that the teens will tune in, sift the points, and apply to themselves.

The second problem is that most of the teachers were not ready. There were maybe two (and not even the main speaker) who had a history of dealing with a broad age range.

The third problem is the teachers’ understanding of what the Gospel is accomplishing. People usually have a habit of divide these two teaching targets (pre-Gospel and post-Gospel) because they rightly know that there is a difference but incorrectly assume the difference is one between Salvation and Sanctification that must be dealt with differently. These teachers generally did the same.

Let me give you an example to make it clear. At one of the sessions, one of the preachers was speaking about the necessity of believing Christ and what He did and confessing Him as savior and being at peac with God. Further down the talk, the teacher quoted 1 Corinthians 15:33 about the necessity of having the right friends. Then he did something horrifying: he pointed out what happens if we have the wrong friends that we turn to God and are rejecting him and his ways we have no more peace.

Now mind you, in the speaker’s mind he had clearly delineated salvation (believing the Gospel) and sanctification (the daily walk) and he was no longer talking about salvation (you must believe to get peace) but requesting believers to keep trusting Christ in their daily behavior else the relationship is strained (lacking peace). My problem is not so much with the theology (though, yes, I have a problem with it) but with the connection of thought that makes this lesson necessary and thus throws the non-Christianized else into a tailspin.

One of my campers wondered if being friends with people who aren’t Christians would make you not go to heaven.  Mind you, my campers were nine and ten so the question likely passed in and out of their mind even though I quickly addressed it to the entire cabin.

The Solution:
On the practical level to the first problem, I think that the age groups need to be divided. Maybe eight to eleven year olds go in one building and the rest go into the other. This way you can really speak at their level and not be worried about missing part of the target audience

As to the second problem, effectively speaking to a mixed crowd is something that takes many long hours of dealing with that problem under guidance and shouldn’t be relegated to a week (or two if you’re lucky) in a camp where kids might come through once. For young kids, get an older experienced guy to teach them. For the teens, the younger guys are fine. The exception is if these younger teachers have been working, under guidance, with kids. I frankly don’t understand why it’s all the rage to get hip-young teachers for little kids when what little kids need (and want, though they don’t say it) is an older, confident, knowledgeable adult.

And the solution to the third problem is this: Preach the Gospel! Stop trying to preach about getting the right friends or the importance of bible study or the need to fight the world. Look, those things are important but you have one week so why waste an hour on them when the Gospel is infinitely more important.

But furthermore, the Gospel is the solution. Clever solutions about “Life after we’re saved” are wrongheaded.  The Gospel is not something that we must get beyond to figure out what we must do now in this time After The Gospel. The Gospel is not merely the door to salvation, it is the fundamental aspect of our theology. Christ, demanding moral living, tells his disciples to crucify their own lives daily or to take up their cross and follow him to Calvary. Paul, speaking about the necessity to stop sin in our members reminds believers that they have died in Christ and have risen again to walk in newness of life. This is based on a Christian-life long theology that Paul (and anyone who believes) has been crucified in Christ and yet lives: therefore it is Christ living in me. When noting the moral problems in a Church at Corinth, Paul doesn’t help them out by offering moral platitudes: it is a constant call to return to the Gospel. Get the leaven out of your house because we’re living in a perpetual feast of Unleavened Bread! Don’t eat meats offered to idols because we are partakes of the Body of Christ! Don’t divorce because we’ve been called and saved where we are! Don’t’ divide because we have trusted God’s Gospel of Stupidity which empties our wisdom.

Indeed, that bit where Paul speaks about friends is a sidebar after he said something stupid: if Christ hasn’t been resurrected (which is fundamental to the Gospel) then we might as well eat and drink because tomorrow we die. Then he quickly jumps in: don’t listen to that stupidity–and quotes a platitude in passing to slap some sense into these silly ADULTS.

Children can get the Gospel. They get it by the droves. What they also need to get is what the Gospel means to them. That although they are kids, they are children of a new family that looks like Christ.

Teens can get the Gospel too. That although they are teens, they can actually look at God and say DAD! That although they struggle from day to day, the ruler of this world has been robbed of his power. That Christ reigns, right now, seated in heavenly places and they are seated with him–and therefore they must look like the young Kings they are.

And so on. The Gospel should not be taken lightly and we must always go back to it. So, Camp staff, if you want to teach kids remember: target your speaking to the age group, keep it simple by not conflating your message, and there’s no such thing as Beyond The Gospel by dealing with moral do’s and do-not’s. We won’t get beyond The Gospel in eternity, so why do it now?

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Hell? Yeah.

I’ve touched on lots of Scripture (in both Testaments) but I needed to bring up some broad theological points. I didn’t want to make this a book, I just wanted to put up a few posts that pointed out that the Scriptures are fraught with the doctrine of hell and Christians should believe it. This second to last post is to affirm that the answer to the question “Do you seriously believe in hell?” should not be no, but yes (for all the reasons I’ve already stated but also) because:

God really is saving people from Something. It’s strange to posit that God’s salvation is merely a matter of everyone Going to be with Him. If annihilation was true, then one can still argue that God is saving people from Something but with the preponderance of texts, and some of the further reasons I give in this post, that solution is just as wrong as universalism.

God is love. Yes God is sovereign. Yes, he’s not willing that any should perish. But people are still going there because they have rejected God. This isn’t merely the ruin of poor choices. This is people in active rebellion against a loving God.  Like CS Lewis, I like to think that Hell is barred from the inside.

God is consistent. Folk might also want to say is that this doctrine is inconsistent with a loving God who has been revealed by Christ. I encourage these folk to read the Gospel accounts again to see Christ on his own terms. Clearing a temple with a whip. Calling people white-washed tombs and vipers. I encourage reading of the Revelation of Christ to see a Christ who is stamping his enemies down. As CS Lewis said in the Chronicles of Narnia about the gentle, loving, and kind Aslan: he is not a tame lion. He is powerful. He acts how he wants. You take him on his own terms. And one must be careful with telling him he must act a certain way.

Justice Demands It. Folk might raise a charge that we wouldn’t punish our own children forever—why would God do worse? Look, the concept that is more predominant throughout the entire book of Psalms is the idea of justice. The righting of scales. The setting things back in order. The fact is that God stands ultimately against all sin. If you get rid of hell, and the eternality of judgment, you wind up with disbarred justice.

God is right. The people who haven’t heard of Christ have already rejected God. They don’t only reject him upon hearing the Gospel. They reject the very revelation of God wherever they are. Romans 1 gives a long explanation of people who have been exposed to God’s illumination and who reject it forthwith experiencing God’s wrath in the present. This is why Christ can say that the folk who don’t believe him are condemned already (John 3:18).

Scripture is fraught with the Seriousness. Scripture is fraught with the fact that there is a condemnation in the now and the hereafter. Saying things like Heaven and Hell are here on earth reaching outwards is fine, but that shouldn’t blur the line that there is in fact a Heaven and a Hell—even if this series didn’t bother drawing out what we hear about Heaven. The book of Proverbs goes as far as having a person beat a fool with a rod so as to save him from Sheol and that wasn’t even with all the information that Christ decided to reveal.

Jesus took it seriously. Jesus  took the place seriously and painted some graphic images of people sawing off their arms to ensure that they don’t head there.  If he thought it was this serious, so should those who follow him.

God Knows what He’s talking About. Folk might want to say is that Scripture and Christ are both wrong on this point. I don’t know how someone would go about proving that since we don’t have many hell-travelers coming back and letting us know that “it was all a mess of bunk. Not even there.”

We take God on His terms. I didn’t go over the numerous texts that establish that God is both holy and loving but they’re there. How we put those things together in our mind can raise some questions, but the fact is that Scripture presents it as fact. We shouldn’t shy away from that. The same God that was concerned with how the Egyptians were treating Hebrew children is the God who wound up pouring plague after plague on the Egyptians. We can’t just throw out the Biblical Concept of God into the purifying flames of reason and pull out whatever is right in our own eyes and call it “The God that Saved Us.”

So when asked “Do you seriously believe a loving God, the Christian God, the God of the Bible, will send people to Hell? The answer will have to be: unabashedly Yes.

In the next (and last) post, I’ll post some questions and misgivings that I think are justified but shouldn’t detract from preaching the doctrine of hell.

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