Friday, May 30, 2008

Dead, Part 3 of 3

The second condition Paul states only in Ephesians 2:1: “dead in trespasses and sins.” “Sins” (ἁμαρτία) is the most general word for sin in the Greek and therefore it is difficult to find any critical distinction with παραπτωμασιν. Lincoln argues that παραπτωμασιν and ἁμαρτία are in hendiadys as plural synonyms and that it “helps to convey an impression of the immensity and variety of the sinfulness of the readers’ past.” Best agrees stating “there is no reason to doubt that the words are synonyms.” MacArthur gives helpful meaning to the hendiadys, “Paul does not use the two terms here to point up different kinds of wrongdoing but simply to emphasize the breadth of the sinfulness that results from spiritual deadness.” Ephesians 2:2 continues the singular idea from the previous verse with “in which you once walked…” This would seem to remove the possibility of the second condition stated in the introduction, but a distinction must be made between the hendiadys here and Paul’s use of “dead in trespasses” in Colossians 2:13 where no hendiadys is found.

The final condition in Colossians 2:13 translated “uncircumcision of your flesh” is very unique in the New Testament. Many commentators, such as John MacArthur and Matthew Henry , see this phrase as indicating the physical state of uncircumcision as either literal (MacArthur) or symbolic of being outside the covenant people (Henry). However, a number of observations indicate a different conclusion. A metaphorical understanding of circumcision is common in the Old Testament where the Israelites were often accused of an uncircumcised heart. This Old Testament use is carried over into Acts 7:51 and Colossians 2:13. Just prior to making this statement, Paul reminds the reader that they were “circumcised in Christ with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ (2:11).” Paul is clearly speaking in a spiritual sense, applying physical terms to a spiritual reality. Despite its irregularity in the New Testament, the context weighs heavily on the meaning favoring a non-physical circumcision. What, then, does it mean to be uncircumcised in the flesh? Zemek helpfully concludes σαρκὸς (flesh) is a reference to the unregenerate human nature. Additionally, Paul describes our circumcision in Christ as “putting off the body of the flesh (2:11b).” Therefore, “uncircumcision of your flesh” means to have the mechanism of our unregenerate sinful nature attached. Put another way it is the natural state of sinfulness prior to experiencing the regenerating work of God.

Paul wrote the darkest picture of the unbeliever. They are not influenced by sin, merely inclined to it, not even highly prone to it. Paul teaches in these two verses that the unbeliever is spiritually dead because of the sinful nature of their soul which is manifested in acts of sin. Paul adds to the bleak picture by preceding his descriptions of man with a glorious picture of Jesus as the living and reigning One. The sinner is left hopeless and in complete dependence on God to do a saving work, which is exactly what the Apostle Paul intends the reader to understand.


As a reminder, this series is taken from a paper I wrote for theology class. Thankfully the professor thought I did really well!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dead, Part 2 of 3

In examining the phrase translated “dead in your trespasses,” we find the Greek text having “dead” (νεκρους) as an adverb to οντας (stative verb), which means that deadness here is the defining characteristic of the state of being. Scripture teaches that death is not limited to bodily existence, but is a way of describing the relationship between one state of being and its opposite. In the parable of the prodigal son the father exclaims, “my son was dead, and is alive again (Luke 15:24),” meaning that his absence was death, but his presence was life. Jesus told a hesitant disciple, “leave the dead to bury their own dead (Matthew 8:22),” indicating that to follow Him was life and to stay behind was death. Paul exhorts believers to “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11)” because Jesus “died to sin (v. 10)” so that believers would no longer be enslaved to it (v. 18). Each context defines death not by the absence of physical life, but by the worst possible condition compared to the desired state of being. Therefore when Paul uses this term in our primary texts, he depicts the worst possible condition the unbeliever could be in due to his trespasses, sins, and the uncircumcision of his flesh.

Paul states the first condition of the unbeliever in Colossians 2:13 and Ephesians 2:1 (the latter in hendiadys) that the unbeliever is “dead in trespasses.” According to Bauder, παραπτωμασιν (trespasses) “emphasizes strongly the deliberate act … with its fateful consequences.” Many passages substantiate this by inferring intentional sins such as Matthew 6:14, 15 and Romans 5:15-21. This second passage is worth considering. In it Paul makes the direct correlation of “one man’s [Adam’s] trespass [παραπτωμασιν]” to the result that “many died.” Put another way, “by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners (5:19).” The end result is that “sin reigned in death (5:21).” Yet Adam’s sin perpetuated to all people such that none could blame Adam for their own death: “death spread to all men because all sinned (5:12).” Therefore Adam’s παραπτωμασιν began the cycle of death, but each person’s own παραπτωμασιν continues the cycle of death. This is what it means to be “dead in trespasses.” The question then becomes “how does παραπτωμασιν (trespasses) relate to ἁμαρτία (sins) in Ephesians 2:1?”

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dead, Part 1 of 3

I haven't received the grade on it yet, but I'll post in a series format a paper I wrote on the condition of the unbeliever.

In the Apostle Paul’s letters to the Christians of Ephesus and Colosse he reminded them of their spiritual state before experiencing new life in Christ. Their former separation from God was due not only to their sinful behavior, but also to their very nature as sinners. Paul chose particularly vivid phrases to ensure his readers would understand the degree of their depravity and the extent and effectiveness of God’s grace. This essay will examine the unique phrases Paul used to demonstrate the condition of the sinner before God. Every unbeliever has an unregenerate sinful nature which is expressed by active sinful behavior.

Both Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 2:13 are significant in this discussion because of their similar wording and equivalent meaning. In Ephesians 1:15-23 Paul verbalizes his prayer for the believers, concluding it by extolling God’s power in what He has done in Christ giving Him authority over all things (vv. 20-23). Colossians 2:8-12 begins with Paul exhorting the believers to stand firm in the truth because of who Christ is and who we are in Christ. When the reader arrives at our texts, there is a striking contrast between Jesus and the unbeliever. Jesus is above “all rule and authority (Eph. 1:21; Col. 2:10)” and in whom the “immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power” was demonstrated in Christ (Eph. 1:19-20; Col. 2:12). The unbeliever is “dead in the trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1),” and in “the uncircumcision of [their] flesh (Col. 2:13).” These passages contain three phrases that define former condition of believers: (1) dead in trespasses, (2) dead in sins, and (3) dead in the uncircumcision of their flesh. Before looking at those phrases, it is important to ask, “what is death,” which will be tomorrow's post.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Something to boast about

Ephesians 2:8-9 is a popular verse for people who believe in election. According to the verse the purpose of making it not the result of works, is so that no one may boast.

What is interesting is that those on the other side of the issue maintain that their own free will choice which brought about their salvation is no basis for boasting. I have never met anyone on any side of the issue who was proud of their ability be saved because of their own decision. However that doesn't mean that pride isn't there.

I have met several who, when challenged with the idea of election, display their pride in full force because they made the decision to be saved. True, God gave the grace, but they made the decision. God saved them because of their decision.

Another display of pride in salvation is displayed in one's attitude to the unresponsiveness of others to the gospel. Often people pray and witness faithfully to friends, family, and co-workers, but wonder why don't they get it?, or why can't they see it? The underlying assumption is that the gospel is simple truth (which it is) which people should be able to undertand. However they forget Romans 8:7-8 which says, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." As believers, we did not "get it" or "understand" the gospel. It was not our uninfluenced rationality that led us to believe in Christ. It was God's enablement and grace that caused us to believe.

Pride doesn't mean walking around gloating that one is saved. Pride in salvation is the refusal to ascribe to God the full extent of the work He has done, and take undue credit for oneself.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Which came first?

The most common view regarding election in American Christianity today is that God foresaw who would accept the gospel, and then choose them. The order being man's choice led to God's choice.

Yet there are two passages that seem to contradict that view:

Acts 13:48 "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed."

Notice the order, it does not say those who believed were appointed, but the opposite.

John 10:26 "but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock"

This time on the negative side, those who are not part of the flock, do not believe, not the other way around.

Something to think about and study if you hold to the popular view. Thoughts?

Friday, May 16, 2008

The First Sin

When preaching on Genesis 3, I have always heard preachers condemn Eve for "adding" to God's word. God said, "do not eat of the fruit", Eve said, "Do not eat or even touch it".

The problem with that is this: if Eve added to God's word saying something He didn't say, nor intended to mean, then Eve sinned. And if Eve sinned, then that was the first sin, not disobedience in eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The implications of that are huge. That would mean sin was possible before the fall (the fall universally attributed to eating the fruit). If sin in the world before the fall, then Romans 5:12 (mouse over to read) if wrong.

What really happened in that garden that day?

The best solution is simply this. Eve understood the meaning of God's command, and was not a literalist. She understood God didn't mean that they could touch it, play with it, etc. God intended for them to stay away from the tree. Have nothing to do with it! This is not to say that touching the fruit necessarily broke the command. Eve simply employed the principle of "how far from the line can I stand" instead of "how close to the line can I get without crossing over".

Therefore rather than condemning Eve for "adding" to God's command, we should commend her for understanding the force of it, and follow her example to not be literalists saying, "God didn't say I couldn't do this...", but rather take the position of "what can I do (or not do) to please God the most?"

God's Sovereignty

Here is a good definition of God's sovereignty:

This is the essence of God’s sovereignty; His absolute independence to do as He pleases and His absolute control over the actions of all His creatures. No creature, person, or empire can either thwart His will or act outside the bounds of His will.

Jerry Bridges, Trusting God, page 36

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Sermon Mis-match

I've begun to pay attention to sermon titles. Sometimes it tells you something about the philosophy of ministry, sometimes it doesn't. Othertimes it just makes you wonder what the pastor was thinking.

One example would be a pastor I know (love and respect as a friend). If you look at the listing of his sermons on the website, you notice two oft-repeated words: "How to". The comforting part to me is that if you listen to the sermons, they are not the typical "how to" sermons you think of. They are generally good expository sermons... it just happens to be that he titles his messages quite often with "how to".

Another example would be my pastor, whose sermon titles read like the section headings in your Bible, usually with a "Part #" attached to the end. Nothing wrong with that either... just the way it is.

Yet there are many who feel that they have to title their sermons like you would a newspaper story, hoping that the title itself will make someone interested in listening. Personally I find this a bit odd since no one is likely to leave if they don't like the title of your sermon, nor are they more likely to stay if they know it. I seriously doubt people check the title of the sermon before deciding whether to go to church.

Today I listened to a sermon with this title "Cleaver vs. Simpson". The subtitle is "Busting the Myth of the Perfect Family." While many churches would offer sermons where the content would largely reflect the main title (with many illustrations of the Cleavers and the Simpson), this one did no such thing, thankfully. Instead, after a few introductory remarks the speaker (I have a hard time calling some people pastors or preachers when they don't preach the Word) said almost verbatim, "The Bible says that God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love." Then he went on about how we need to be like God and gave a number of illustrative examples of what the means in our lives.

To some degree the practical aspect of the sermon was fine, but I was highly disturbed by the fact that the did not tell the listener: 1) where in the Bible it says that, and 2) why it says that.

The where is very important because almost everyone thinks that in the Old Testament God is mean, wrathful, quick to judge, kills everybody, doesn't forgive, etc. But in the New Testament God is gracious and merciful and loving and all the good fluffy stuff. What people need to know is that when God described Himself in the Old Testament, He said, "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation" (Exodus 34:6-7). What is amazing is that this is literally within minute of almost wiping out the nation of Israel and starting over with Moses. Therefore when God describes Himself that way, we need to ask how can he say that, and be right?

There is an answer, and people need to be shown. This is the why that I mentioned before. People need to be shown because they don't have a mental picture of a gracious Old Testament God. Telling someone that in the Old Testament God is merciful and gracious is like telling a three year old right after he has been spanked that daddy loves him! If that three year old's recollection is limited to the moment of discipline he will not accept the love of the father. People need to know what God does in the Old Testament that qualifies Him as compassionate.

Another issue is that in the New Testament we find many passages that go something like God did this, so you must do that. Case in point would be 1 John 4:19 (hover over to read). If you just say God is love, so you should love, there is no experiential backbone to that command. It is a legitimate command, but it has less power than if you say, "God has forgiven you all your sins, therefore you ought to forgive others."

This particular speaker didn't give any Biblical examples of what makes God compassionate, merciful, full of love. I left the sermon without any reason to thank God for who He is, and felt very uncompelled to do anything myself because God was not put on display.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Reflections on Grace

I would like to spend a few posts reflecting on what I have learned this semester, and even this year. It is a bit surreal to consider that at this point I have completed one year of seminary. Just one year ago, though we were living here, I had no idea what to expect. Having only heard stories of "this will be the hardest thing you've ever done" and "I got really tired of averaging four hours of sleep", I assumed those were universal experiences. And while it must be kept in mind that I purposefully made sure I did not over burden myself, I have not found either of those statements to be true for my experience thus far.

There is something to be said for going from vaguely knowing what Hebrew looks like, to being able to coherently translate and read it. Yesterday I recited Psalm 23 to my professor in Hebrew, which at the beginning of the semester seemed nearly impossible. But in the grand scheme of things that has very little importance when gauged against the backdrop of what the Lord has done in my life.

From one perspective you could say that I know more than I did one year ago, even a lot more. Yet the reality is that I know less because I have learned that there is a vastly greater amount that I don't know.

Many have said that seminary is a spiritual life killer. That focusing so much on the academics will frustrate you spiritually. I suppose that would be true at most seminaries where the academics are the highest prize. But you know you're in a good place when your professors encourage you to place grades several rungs down on the priority list. The Lord, family, ministry, perhaps then grades.

If I had to pick one thing that has been unexpected, it would be the reality and extent of the gospel. Consider Colossians 2:13-14, "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your heart, God made alive together with Him having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross."

I memorized this passage about a month ago, and I can't seem to get it out of the forefront of my mind. I was laying in bed the other night unable to sleep and this passage popped in my mind. Have you stopped recently to consider how much God has forgiven you? Did you notice in that passage that God nailed the record of debt with its legal demands on the cross? If He nailed it (passed tense) on the cross (past, completed, never to be repeated event), what does that mean for the sin you committed yesterday? This morning? Tomorrow?

We often think of God forgiving us of our "big" sins. Perhaps things people know about or perhaps not, but sins that by some measure are relatively large. Yet even the sin we commit when we speak with a harsh tone out of frustration, a fleeting thought of anger, a moment of pride, the words we speak when our mouth is driving faster than our minds, the times when we should be tapping someone on the shoulder and encouraging them to walk away from a situation, and we don't. These and many more sins that we sometimes awkwardly pass off, Jesus paid for with His blood.

This is not a revival of guilt, this is the context of God's sovereign grace.

Indeed the question is not how could a loving God let people go to hell?, but rather how could a holy God let me live and not punish me for what I have done?

So in this moment of reflection, I stand in awe of God's grace in my life to save me, make me alive in Christ by having forgiven me of not only my debt, but also the penalty for my debt.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.