The Certainty of The Christian Faith

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Just this Saturday, 18th August, 2018, I was at the funeral of a youngman in my neighbourhood who sadly passed on after a short illness. In this same Saturday, the death of the former UN secretary General Kofi Annan was announced. Now during this funeral, 1Corinthians 15 was read and portions of it made a profound impression upon me concerning the certainty of the Christian faith and especially the resurrection of the dead as that was primarily what Paul was addressing. The text was read in Twi¹ and I supposse that may have contributed to its effect on me such as hearing a biblical passage  in words so strong in my own mother tongue. Robert Kwasi Aboagye-Mensah’s words perhaps will throw more light on the power of the word in the mother tongue. He says,

God speaks to our hearts, minds and innermost being in a way that another language can only do in approximation. We we hear the Bible read in our mother tongue, suddenly we realise that God speaks our language too…To understand this excitement one must turn to Acts 2 and the account of the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to the people who had gathered ‘from every nation under heaven.’ The crowd was bewildered ‘because each one heard them speaking in his own language

I will now attempt to express the profoundity in the words I experienced through the points that follow in the rest of the article ( Please note I will quote biblical texts in Twi and English).

The Certainty of The Preached Word.

Firstly, as I have already said, the main defense Paul was putting up in this text was the resurrection of Christ. He says a lot of things from verse 1. But from verse 14 where my attention was piqued at the funeral, Paul says “na sɛ wɔannyane Kristo a, na yɛn asɛnka yɛ ɔkwa, na mo gyidie nso yɛ hunu” (And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.) (v.14).  What he is saying is that, if Christ was not raised from the dead, then their preaching of the gospel is in vain likewise the faith of the people. The gospel, the good news of Christ is the hope by which every sinner will be saved. And the basis of the gospel and the faith we hold is in the certainty of the resurrection.

The Certainty of The Resurrection

The Christian message, following from the first point  is not a make belief; but a message grounded in historical events. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are authentic events and hence we can trust the events as they are recorded in Scripture. The resurrection is the reference point upon which all our hope hinges. Paul says that “Na wɔbɛhu yɛn sɛ Nyankopɔn ho adansekurumfoɔ, ɛfiri sɛ yɛdii Onyankopɔn adanseɛ sɛ, ɔnyanee Kristo a sɛ awufoɔ nnyane a, anka wannyane no (We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.”(v.15). That word “adansekurumfoɔ” in English can be translated as false witnesses or liars who testify that God raised Christ from the dead when he didn’t.

Here the Apostle Paul puts his neck out and that of the other apostles and says if Christ was not raised from the dead but we say he was, then we are liars—false witnesses. These are very strong words indeed. The Apostle puts his intergrity on the line and says if Christ was not raised from the dead then we are liars. Considering all we know about Paul, how he, prior to his conversion hated Christians and persecuted them, it is unlikely this same man will testify about something he hated so much if it were not true. Of course we know what happened to him. He encountred Christ on one of his journeys to persecute Christians. He gave his own testimony in Acts 26:10-18 while he stood trial for what he believed:

I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you , Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles— to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from  the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

If a man who once persecuted people for believing in Jesus Christ now embraces the faith, I think he deserves a hearing and what he says in favour of what he once persecuted ought to be listened to.

The Certainty of Eternal Life

Another part of the text which piqued my interest was the verse 19: “Sɛ nkwa yi mu nko ara na yɛwɔ Kristo mu anidasoɔ a, ɛnneɛ na yɛne nnipa nyinaa mu mmɔborɔfoɔ.” (If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”) This text speaks of hopelesness for those who believe in Christ if indeed all their hope is earthly–this side of eternity only. The word “mmɔborɔfoɔ” depicts people who are hopeless and to be “pitied.”

Here is a certainty of eternal life and of the resurrection. Our hope in Christ transcends this life. As believers, we have hope that one day we will see our loved ones who have gone ahead to be with the Lord and most importantly, we shall see our Lord; the One who though we have not seen, we love and believe (1Pet. 1:8). If all these are lies, then we might as well cast off our hope and join the world in living to please ourselves. But as Christians, we have certainty in the Scriptures that its teachings are the very words of God and in those words we have hope of eternal life. Our loved ones who died in Christ have not died in vain because Christ’s resurrection gives us a certainty of hope that one day we shall see our loved one. So with confidence we can say to all those who have departed this world as Christians that “Rest in Peace” for indeed “…whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his labour” (Hebrews 4:10).

If you are mourning any departed soul who was a Christian, be encouraged that one day at the resurrection we shall see our loved ones and be united together. Be assured also that they are at a better place in the presence of God. If you are reading this and not a believer, know that the certainty of these things puts you in enmity with God through unbelief. Seek Christ now and be united with him in faith. The gamble is risky. You will wake up one day out your body faced with the reality of what the bible teaches and then you realise you have squandered all opportunities to reconcile with God (Hebrews 9:27).

Notes:

1. Twi is a dialect of Akan language (Asante, Akuapem and Fante) spoken by people in southern and central Ghana.

2. Robert Kwasi Aboagye-Mensah, Dynamics of Preaching The Word: God still Speaks ( Legon:Accra, Adwinsa Publications, 2013), 5

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Basic Hermeneutics

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Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling word of truth (2Timothy 2:15).

The underlined phrase was the theme for a seminar titled Basic Hermeneutics I spoke at. In the text before us, Paul writes to young Timothy instructing him on several doctrinal issues in his role as a pastor and particularly in this verse; Timothy is instructed on rightly handling the word of truth. Now though a pastoral letter, the charge nonetheless holds true for every believer. As Christians, we are all called upon to engage in a right handling of the word of truth. The question therefore is what is the meaning of rightly handling the word of truth? The Greek word ὀρθοτομοῦντα (orthotomounta) translated as rightly handing the word of truth comes from the field of engineering which simply means to cut straight. The idea therefore means cutting straight the word of God that is, accurately teaching the word of God. And before we can teach the word of God accurately, we obviously have to interpret it accurately. So correct interpretation and correct teaching go together. Charles Spurgeon in a sermon on this text noted that:

Timothy was neither to mutilate, nor twist, nor torture, nor break in pieces the Word of God, nor keep on the outside of it, as those do who never touch the soul of a text, but rightly to divide it, as one taught of God to teach others.

Now many of the false doctrines in Christianity are simply problems of wrong interpretations and we will do well to grasp some basics of proper interpretation.

Hermeneutics

When we speak of hermeneutics, we are simply speaking of the science of the correct interpretation of any document or literature. So it is a big word with a straight forward meaning: correct interpretation. The purpose of hermeneutics, according to Sproul “is to establish guidelines and rules for interpretation…Any written document is subject to misinterpretation, and thus we have developed rules to safeguard us from such misunderstanding” Before I say anything further. Let’s establish a few things about the Bible that will guide us in our interpretation of it. These are presuppositions we must come to the Bible with. Without them we are not going to get any far with Scripture

1. The Bible is the Word of God.
2. The Bible is inerrant; that is, it contains no errors in what it teaches
3. The Bible has authority over our lives.

If the Bible is the word of God and it is, then you and I have a responsibility not to misinterpret God’s word. If the Bible is inerrant in all it teaches, then you and I can trust it. If the Bible has authority over us, then you and I must allow it to correct us and not way correct the Bible.

Interpretation is hard work

The phrase “Do your best” in the text gives us a picture of effort, preparation and diligence. Prior to vs 15 of 2 Timothy, Paul had drawn certain analogies from the life of a soldier (v.4), athlete (v.5) and farmer (6). These analogies help us understand well the phrase “Do your best”. The soldier seeks to please his superiors, the athlete competes according to the rules and a farmer works hard. According to John MacArthur “The phrase “Do Your Best”, in the Greek–Spoudaźo, speaks of zeal or being zealous. To “Do your best” therefore speaks of zeal in presenting ourselves as one approved–that is people who please God. And one of the many ways in pleasing God is handling His word accurately.

Rightly Handling The Word

If Paul says : “rightly handling the word”, it means the word can be wrongly handled. Suppose you are to engage the services of any professional, what will be your standard for selection? For example, if you are to engage the services of a tailor/seamstress ( fashion designer), would you engage one who cuts clothes indiscriminately without precision and accuracy? Would you engage an architect whose drawings are inaccurate. And who would live in a house that tilts to its side? I doubt if anyone would. But if these are important, why do people leave their lives and eternal destiny into the hands of people who “wrongly handle the word of truth” and teach their followers same? “Rightly handling the word of truth” speaks of accuracy, precision, exactness and straightness.

Precision and accuracy are required in biblical interpretation, beyond all other enterprises, because the interpreter is handling God’s Word. Anything less is shameful [3]

At this point we will consider Exegesis and Eisegesis. These two words almost sound the same but they are different words both in spelling and pronunciation.

Exegesis.

Exegesis is the correct way of handling a text or interpreting a text. It simply means bringing an understanding of a text out of the text itself. So in exegesis we look at the text, its immediate context and the larger context of the bible to bring an understanding. The meaning that comes out of the text must be true to the whole teachings of Scripture. You cannot bring from a text what is not there. We are to bring out only what is true in a text. In engaging in exegesis, you look at all there is in the text.

Eisegesis

Have you ever encountered someone say this to you about a biblical text? “That’s your opinion” “I have my own opinion”. “That’s how you choose to interpret the text, I choose to interpret it differently”. You probably may have spoken those words yourself to someone who disagreed with you on a biblical text. In a world of subjectivity, this might sound appealing. The problem however is that the bible is not left to our subjective interpretation and “opinionising”. The Bible has an objective meaning in its context.

Though it is God’s word, it is written in human language and all the rules of reading, comprehension and interpretation of literature or any written document applies.
When we speak of Eisegesis, we are simply speaking of reading meaning into a text, that is, a meaning that is not there.

Now let’s attempt to answer “how can we handle the word of truth with accuracy and precision?” I will offer some points here.

Read Your Bible

First and foremost you must read the Bible if you will come any close to rightly handling the word of truth. Many believers don’t know what the Bible teaches simply because they don’t read it. They believe the Bible is God’s word, but they can’t even tell of the last time they read the Bible. Writing about why people don’t study their Bible, R.C. Sproul in his book Knowing Scripture nailed it to one reason–laziness: “We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy” [4]

Read It Orderly

“…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught”(Luke 1:3-4)

Luke tells us something about his gospel account which is true of every book of the Bible. The Bible is an “orderly account” of events. It is not a disorderly, haphazard, magical words appearing on a paper.

Study Your Bible

Reading and studying are two different things. “There is a great deal of difference between reading and studying. Reading is something we can do in a leisurely way, something that can be done strictly for entertainment in a casual manner. But study suggests labor, serious and diligent work“[4].
There is a level of seriousness that comes with studying that is not required of reading. Again we turn to Luke’s gospel. He said to Theophilus:
…having followed all things closely.
This statement indicates an attention to detail and facts concerning gospel truth. This same disposition of mind is required in studying the Bible. Luke poured over– examined, investigated, scrutinised, paid attention, analysed and engaged–the facts of what was handed over by the eye witnesses of Christ’s life, i.e. the apostles (Luke 1:2).

As believers, our regenerated minds have been empowered with the capacity to “spiritually discern” God’s word in contrast to the unregenerated man who can’t discern or receive spiritual things. So dear believer, do just that! Engage the text! Take note of phrases, meaning of words, figurative expressions, grammatical constructions and pray the Holy Spirit to illuminate your mind.

Present Yourself To God As one Approved

As believers we need to grow in sanctification and mature in holiness. Our effort in cooperation with the Spirit of God towards sanctification as believers is not what secures our salvation, yet it is necessary for our spiritual growth and usefulness. See the result or the objective Luke hoped to achieve with his orderly presentation of his gospel to Theophilus: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught”.

This is important for us Bible readers. An orderly presentation of truth brings clarity. It gives roots to faith. It solidifies ones beliefs. Paul tells Timothy something similar to the impact Luke hopes his gospel would have on Theophilus (2Timothy 3:14-15).
When we rightly handle the word, it makes us wise in our faith walk and saves us from error of false teachers: But avoid irreverent babble , for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.”(2Timothy 2:16- 18).

Basic Tools Of Hermeneutics

To rightly handle the word of truth we need tools to help us. At this point I will share three basic tools of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics “…is the study of the principles and methods of interpreting the text of the Bible…The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to help us to know how to properly interpret, understand, and apply the Bible” .

Analogy Of Faith/Synthesis Principle
This rule holds that Scripture is its own interpreter: “Sacra Scriptura sui interpres“. What this teaches basically is that no interpretation of a Scripture or Scriptures must contradict any other Scripture. Since God doesn’t contradict Himself, we must expect His word to also be in harmony as a whole. Biblical interpretation therefore must be approached with the whole body of biblical revelation in mind. When we interpret a Scripture, we must be sure that our interpretation agrees with other Scriptures rather than contradict. Where a Scripture is contradicting another, we must solve the contradiction or throw away our interpretation.

Literal Interpretation

It has been said already that the Bible is a book and as such must be read as a book. When we are told to read the Bible literally, what is being spoken of here is that we must “…interpret the Bible literally… as literature. That is, the natural meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to the normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax and context” . So the next time you approach the Bible, take notice of the words you are reading

Genre Analysis

Bible is a Greek word biblio which means book. So the Bible is a book. It is not only a book but a book made up of different collection of books of different genres. The genres of the Bible includes historical narratives, wisdom literature, Psalms, Letters (epistles), Gospel, Prophetic writings, Apocalyptic writings and each of these genre must be identified and read with the rules governing a particular genre. Now genre analysis involves the study of figures of speech and style, literary devices and any other literature forms. This tool goes hand in hand with literal translation. So in genre analysis, we consider the literary style of every particular genre and how to interpret it.

Grammatical-Historical Principle

The Bible is written in human words and we must not read beyond the meaning of words. Linking this to the Literal interpretation, we must not spiritualise where there is no spiritualisation. We must also consider the history of the bible when interpreting.

God’s Secret And Revealed Will

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The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29)

“The book of Deuteronomy records Moses’ words to the Israelites as they waited on the plains of Moab to enter Canaan. Moses begins by reviewing the events of Israel’s last journey from Mount Sinai to the plains of Moab.” [1] In the previous Chapters, God set forth commandments for the Israelites with its commensurate promises when obeyed and threats of punishments for disobedience.

In this verse, there are at least three important things to consider. The secret things of God contrasted with the Revealed things of God and the end of God’s revealed will; that is, obedience

The Secret Things.

The Hebrew word translated as secret is hannistārōṯ ;[2] meaning to hide or conceal. This teaches there are some things God has hidden or concealed from humankind. Scripture teaches clearly that God has revealed Himself to humankind in two distinct ways: general revelation and special revelation (Ps. 19:1-3; Rom 1:19-20; Heb. 1:1-2).

However, though God has revealed Himself to humankind and can be known and related with, He has not revealed everything there is to know about himself, his ways and his will to us. There are things that have been held back from us. Some commentators have argued that, Moses, not knowing what lies ahead in their sojourning calls the people to trust in God for that uncertain future:

The reference to “secret things” may suggest that Moses anticipates the uncertain future of the nation, remembering their waywardness and how they turned to the golden calf at Horeb (Ex. 32). In his uncertainty, Moses trusts the hidden future to his trust worthy God. [3]

Throughout the Bible, we see many instances that speaks of God having a hidden or concealed “things” which humans do not have the capacity to comprehend. One of the first instances we see this is the call of Abraham. The Bible tells us when God called him, he went not knowing where he was going (Heb. 11:8). This indicates Abraham had no road map so to speak, yet he obeyed God. God also provided Abraham with no plan; his ways were kept secret from Abraham. Concerning salvation and the oft debated doctrine of election; Paul argues that God works all things according to His will (Eph. 1:5; 11; Rom 9:11). When speaking to his disciples about the end time or when God will restore the Kingdom to Israel, Jesus spoke of these things in terms of a secret or hidden plan of God (Matt. 24:36; Acts 1:6-7).

Apart from these, there are many other aspects of life God has told us nothing about. For example nobody knows with certainty what will happen the next hour or day or even week. All of these things have been held back from us. Unfortunately, some people have made it their aim to know beyond things God has revealed. This has caused many people unnecessary heartaches for in the long run; they are unable to figure out many of the things they seek out for.

The Revealed Things

As has already been said, there is a contrast between the secret things of God and the things that has been revealed. And that contrast is done with the word “but”: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” (Emphasis mine). This contrast brings us into what can be termed God’s revealed will. Though there are things hidden by God from us, there are those things that have been clearly revealed to us in God’s laws and commandments. In Deuteronomy, Moses continues to pronounce God’s laws and commandments to the people. And it is in these that God has revealed things to the Israelites. In God’s laws, we find what God wants and requires of us. The Christian’s marching order or rule of life is the Bible that tells us how to live for God and please him:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture. [4]

One clear example of God’s revealed will in Scripture is found in 1Thessalonian 4:3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” God’s commandments are not hidden from us because in them we are able to know God and know what pleases Him. God in his laws sets forth promises and threats of punishments when his laws are broken (Deut. 28). Another truth taught about the revealed will of God is its timelessness; the word is relevant for all generations—“the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” (see vv. 14-15)

Obedience

There is a purpose for which God reveals His will, that he may be obeyed: “that we may do all the words of this law.” The law of God is not revealed to be only known. It is revealed to be, most importantly, obeyed. What God has revealed is to bring us to the saving knowledge of Christ and of his ways. Scripture is given so we may know, believe and observe what is written. Beyond this, there is no other reason for the word. The word is to be obeyed to keep us from sinning against God. Now to obey is to live in conformity to God’s revealed will (Rom. 12:1-2).

Repeatedly, while giving out the commandments of God, Moses reiterates the importance of obedience to that command: “Therefore keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do” (v.9; cf 18). The prove of our love for God is obedience to his revealed will. Jesus said if we love him, we should keep his commandment, which is his word (1 Jn. 5:3). It is not enough to know God’s will; we must also obey and do it.

We may not know all of God’s ways but He has revealed enough in his word to bring us into a fruitful relationship with Him. Often, we ignore what God has revealed and pursue after things we have no business or right to pursue. This Scripture, Deuteronomy 29:29 therefore teaches us very vital lessons in our walk with God. There are things hidden we cannot know however we try. That should bring us peace. Also, there are things God has made plain and those things must necessarily guide us in our walk with God and in obedience to his word.

Notes
1. Paul Barker, “Introduction To Deuteronomy” in The Global ESV Study Bible, (ed. Parker J.I. et al.; Introduction to Deuteronomy, Crossway 2012
2. Strong’s Concordance 5641
3. Study notes on Deuteronomy 29:29, in The Reformation Study Bible ESV (ed. R.C. Sproul et al; Reformation Trust Publishing, 2015) ebook edition.
4 Westminster Confession of faith 1.6

Salvation According To Peter, Paul and Jesus.

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1Peter 1:3 ESV).

This week, as part of my personal devotional time, I commenced reading of the first epistle of Peter to the exiled believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (v.1). This morning, while reading over again, I paused on 1 Peter 1:3 and thought to myself; “that sounds Pauline”. And what I had in mind was Ephesians 1:3.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

See the similarities in doxology? That prompted me to read the introduction to the book (which I should have done before starting the book). I guess most of us take for granted that part of our study of the word. We ignore the introduction which gives information about authorship, timelines, purpose and recipients of a biblical book. Going back to read the introduction, I found I wasn’t alone in thinking Pauline authorship or seeing similarities in Peter and Paul. The epistle is thought of, among some scholars, to be pseudonymous (falsely ascribed to Peter).¹ Five points against Petrine authorship are listed as below;

(1) the cultivated Greek of the letter could not have been written by a Galilean fisherman,  (2) the theology is too much like Paul’s to be ascribed to Peter, (3) the OT citations come from the Greek OT(septuagint), but the genuine Peter would have cited the Hebrew OT; (4) the background of the letter reflects the reign of the Roman emperors Domitian (A.D. 81-96) or Trajan (98-117), both of whom reigned after Peter’s death and (5) the genuine Peter would have referred more to the historical Jesus.²

Despite these objections to Petrine authorship, six arguments for Petrine authorship are also advanced:

(1) Peter was a middle-class fisherman who very likely knew Greek from his youth, (2) Although the common elements in the theology of Peter and Paul should not be exaggerated (for there are distinctive themes in Peter; e.g the particular emphasis on suffering), it should not be surprising that Peter and Paul shared the same theology, (3) It is hardly unexpected that that Peter would cite the Greek OT in writing to Greek readers, (4) There is no clear evidence that the letter was written under the reign of Domitian or Trajan, (5) the reader must be careful of saying what an author “must do”; i.e., although one cannot demand that Peter refer to the historical Jesus in a short letter written for a specific purpose, therr is significant evidence that Peter alludes to some of the sayings of Jesus (e.g Luke 12:35 in 1Pet 1:13; Matt.5:16 in 1Pet. 2:12; Matt.5:10 in 1Pet 3:14). (6) Finally there is no historical evidence in early church history that pseudonymous books, especially letters, were accepted as authoritative and inspired. Indeed, writing in someone else’s name was considered deceptive…”³

Having said all these, this article is not to argue Petrine authorship though I have no doubt about it. I will leave that to New Testament textual critics of which I am no expert. What struck me however between 1 Peter 1:3 and Ephesians 1:3 is that for both Paul and Peter, salvation proceeds from God.

The Doctrine of Election

Firstly, in Peter’s theology, it is God who “caused us to be born again.” For Paul also, it is God who “chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” In Peter’s opening words, he clearly identified who he was writing to: “To those who are elect “(v.1). That is the doctrine of election. Paul also spoke of this same doctrine using words such as “chose, predestined before the foundation of the earth.” The doctrine of election is one of the hotly debated topics among Christians. Has God determined before hand those who will be saved (Calvinism) or God knew those who will have faith in him and based on that, he chose them (Arminianism). I am of the Calvinistic view.

However, regardless of where one stands on the subject, election as a doctrine must be upheld for Scripture teaches the doctrine of election. Our interpretations might differ, but the final decision for salvation is God. Again, Peter in his epistle speaks of how this election occured: “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (v.2). Paul speaks of this as done “according to the counsel of [God’s] will” (Eph. 1:11). Clearly, God has a people he calls his elect. The Bible does teach about election and we must not run away from the subject. J. C. Ryle says this better: “Is Election in the Bible, or is it not? Does the Bible speak of certain people as God’s Elect, or not?”

Salvation Is Trinitarian

As you read Paul and Peter, one fact of the Christian faith emerges and that is, salvation is Trinitarian in that it is a work done by the truine God. Peter says: “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.”(v.2). This is to say our salvation is a work done by God the Father, through Jesus the Son and the faith to believe applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Paul says same identifying Father, Son and Holy Spirit as involved in our salvation (Eph 1:2-14). Again, in salvation; we are kept by the power of God through the Holy Spirit (1Pet 1:4; Eph. 1:14).

Jesus is God’s only way of salvation

Salvation comes to the sinner only through faith in the work of Christ: his death and resurrection. Peter says the salvation of the elect is “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (v.3). Of course he has to die before he can resurrect and the resurrection is a fundamental Christian doctrine which anyone who denys cannot be a Christian. Paul also speaks of salvation been through Christ: “adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph.1:5). He also speaks of Christ’s resurrection (Eph 1:20)

The Gospel Is One

It is no wonder Paul and Peter have the same themes running through their message. This points us to only one gospel message hence Paul and Peter couldn’t be contradicting themselves in the same message about the same person– Jesus Christ. Indeed, when Christ spoke; he spoke of these same themes of God having an elect people. In his High Priestly prayer, Jesus spoke of a people the Father has given him: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”  (John 17:6; c.f John 6:44). Christ also spoke of our salvation in a Trinitarian sense that The Father sent the Son to die so that whoever will believe will have life (John 3:16). Prior to this, he had spoken of how the Spirit is behind our regeneration. Just as it is in the natural world that we have no power to be born, in the spiritual world we equally have no power to be born again. God must change our hearts: “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6).

In concluding, if you are a Christian, it is all a work of the Sovereign grace of God. Peter taught this. Paul taught same. And of course they got their message from their Lord and our Lord — Jesus Christ.

Notes

1. Thomas R. Schreiner, “The First Letter of Peter” in The ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version, ed. Wayne Grudem (Wheaton:Illinois, Crossway, 2008), 2401

2. Schreiner, “The First Letter of Peter”, 2401

3. Schreiner, “The First Letter of Peter”, 2401

To Dance or Not To In Church: A Brief Examination

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I worship in a Reformed Baptist church—-Truth Missionary Baptist Church— and praise and worship which includes dancing and clapping is not an element of worship when we meet for corporate worship. We sing hymns and the psalter played to the tune of an organ. We adhere to The Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) which primarily teaches that “the corporate worship of God is to be founded upon specific directions of Scripture.” This can be expanded by looking at the words in the Westminster Confession of faith which states that

…the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” Dt 12:32; Mt 15:9,10; Dt 15:1-20; Ex 20:4,5,6; (WCF 21.1)

Simply, the elements of corporate worship must be those things that are explicitly taught in Scripture or can be inferred directly or indirectly from Holy Scripture. What isn’t explicitly taught in Scripture, or by inference can be deduced, we reject as  an element of worship. Throughout Scripture, God has indeed “regulated worship” and not just anything was allowed in worship. The worship of God is not to be profaned. Paul says all things must be done decently and in order. What then are the elements that can be present in a corporate worship one may ask?

The confession again answers this:

The reading of Scriptures with godly fear;the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of Psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: besides religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner. (WCF 21.5).

Now corporate Christian worship is not a trifling moment to show all kinds of dancing skills. Can you pause perharps to examine whether the dancing you engage in or observe in church is indeed God glorifying?

On 15th June, 2018, I was at a retreat with my colleague seminary students who are from all denominational backgrounds–Pentecostals, Charismatics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and I was the only Reformed and Calvinist amongst them. Now, common to all the denominations gathered (apart from myself) was the element of dancing during what is popularly called praise and worship.

So it was time for praise and worship and the leader announced “we are going to dance to the Lord“. As is to be expected, because of my beliefs; I did not participate in “the dance to the Lord”. I found a place at the back while praise and worship goes on.

Now a friend, who knows my stance about dancing in corporate worship, stepped onto the dancing floor with insinuating moves directed at me (note they were doing this to the Lord). He was dancing and at the same time looking and pointing towards my direction while gleefuly laughing. He was obviously dancing to spite me. While dancing, he also prompted another colleague, then pointing to me, he told him “in his[my] church they don’t dance”. He was clearly enjoying himself while teasing me in his dancing. Having gotten a teasing accomplice, they will dance towards my direction mockingly while giggling. What surprised me was the playful manner this was been carried out while at the same time it was suppossed to be a dance unto the Lord. It was a heart-breaking moment for me. Even if my friend has a problem with my theological stance, this, the period of praise and worship, which was suppossedly to God, was not the time to prove me wrong. He should, as it were, give it all to the Lord. But no, in the “dancing to the Lord”, he found a place to tease me.

Right in that meeting, my convictions about dancing not being an element of corporate worship was strengthened. There was no reverence. I tried getting the attention of the two when they danced towards me by asking; “are you dancing to spite me or you are indeed dancing to God?” The “accomplice” got the message and backed off (or so I thought). Afterwards, I went to this friend privately and asked “what were you doing, dancing to God or spiting me?”. To my shock; he answered “both”. Here is a Christian, a seminary student, a friend and one of the sharpest brains in the class (he was once applauded by our Christian doctrine professor for a Christology paper he submitted) who steps foward to dance to God and at the same time dance to spite another believer.

Sadly so, many people dance suppossedly to God but the true motive for their dance is far from pleasing God. I have heard people after dancing and sweating in church remark that “this is my only disco where I can can dance and be happy.” So for such a person, dancing in church is nothing but entertainment; a substitute for a night club. Before a praise and worship session sometimes worshippers are told to dance their problems away. Some people, especially the youth will dance with all kinds of dancing skills— borrowed from the world of course. No wonder, every dance form that shows up in the world, finds expression in corporate worship. Dancing cannot be controlled, its motives cannot be determined and it is not found as an element of corporate worship:

The elements of New Testament worship are prayer (Mat. 6:9; Phil. 4:6; 1 Tim 2:1-2; 1 John 5:14), Scripture reading and hearing (Neh. 8:8; Acts 15:21; Rev 1:3), preaching and hearing of the Word (Neh. 8:8; Mat. 28:19-20; Luke 24:47; 2 Tim. 4:2), singing of psalms (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; James 5:13), administration and receiving the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Mat 28:19; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 11:23-29), as well as occasional oaths (Deut 6:13 with Neh 10:29) and vows (Isa 19:21 with Ecc 5:4-5) 1and “upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people” (2 Chron. 20:2-3; Ezra 10; Neh. 9; Joel 1:14, 2:15; Zeph. 2:1-3; Matt. 9:15).2

A careful observer will recognise how dancing has flung open the door of irreverence into the gathering of God’s people. At this point, I will make no conclusions about whether to dance or not. I leave that to the reader to assess their position. I will here end this article with words from John Calvin’s book, The Necessity of Reforming The Church.

…when we are left at liberty [without regulation], all we are able to do is go astray. And then when we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings  until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions” [3]

Notes

1: https://purelypresbyterian.com/2017/01/31/what-is-the-regulative-principle-of-worship/#ft7

2:https://purelypresbyterian.com/2017/01/31/what-is-the-regulative-principle-of-worship/#ft8

3: John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming The Church (Linn:Monergism Books, 2018), ebook

Saved By Grace

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For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God  (Ephesians 2:8).

This little phrase “by grace are ye saved” is undoubtedly the favourite of many believers. There is no denying the fact that the Christian life is all of grace from start to finish. Even if you do not know this text, as a Christian, you know or must know that your salvation is all of grace to which you added nothing or contributed nothing and the text is clear in that sense: “and that not of yourselves.” If you don’t know this fact, perhaps I will ask you “how did you become a Christian?” B. B. Warfield, a theologian in the 19th century said that: “The whole gospel turns as upon its hinge on this fact,that salvation is of pure grace.” The text under consideration therefore is one of the glorious truth of the Christian faith that salvation is all of grace.

What Is Grace?

In the world, there are only two religions. There is a religion of grace and a religion of human effort: a religion of faith and a religion of works; True religion and false religion. And Christianity apart from all religions is a religion of grace through faith alone for salvation. Now before we can have a good appreciation of the grace of God, we need to have have a good appreciation of what our problem as human beings is. Grace has become a normal language so perhaps many often lose the true significance of grace. You ask someone how are you and whether they are a Christian or not, you are likely to hear them responding “fine by grace.” Grace is not lost on us I believe, but often many people interpret grace in very shallow and materialistic way. Listen to the words of this contemporary gospel music:

From the planes I fly, the cars I drive, the money I have
Ebe God e dey bless me
Food on my table, houses I’ve built, family I’ve got
Ebe God e dey bless me,
It’s not by power, it’s not by strength, just by the Holy Ghost
And I’m not ashamed to tell the world, my blessings dey come from God

You see what people call blessings out there? Money, cars, houses, food… Not that these are not important. But if these are what we want to point out to the world as God’s blessings, then we are doomed. Our understanding of blessing is very shallow and materialistic indeed. To have a good understanding of grace therefore, we need a good understanding of our condition as human beings. Contrast and compare the words of the song we just looked at with the words of this hymn and the difference will be clear:

Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see

Here is a true reflection of what grace really is and it reveals the condition of the sinner and everyone before they came to Christ: They were wretched, lost and blind. Wretched because we lacked the love of God. Lost because we are distanced from God and blind without an appreciation of the truth of God. Sinners are blinded to the truth of God. Grace, is commonly described as God’s unmerited favour. Others have described it as God’s Redemption at Christ’s Expense using the letters that spells grace.

All these are true. But I want us to look at the text and get our own understanding from the text about what grace is and what Paul is talking about. As we attempt to do that, we will also answer the question.

What Have We Been Saved From?

The text speaks of been saved by grace. Now to be saved means one was previously in a dangerous or precarious situation. And as we look at the Scriptures; what we have been saved from becomes clear.

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

Dead in trespasses and sins

The whole text we are looking at paints a picture of gloom and hopelessness from vv.1-3. Paul here contrasts the life of the Ephesian believers when they were unbelievers with their lives when they became believers. And in this contrast, we learn something true of all humanity before they come to Christ.All of us and all human beings have different personalities. We come from different backgrounds. Different parts of the world. In our own country we come from different tribes. We are different in so many ways. But all of us, despite our different background have one thing in common; we are sinners. We come into his world as sinners. One theologian has said that “we come into this world, dead on arrival” And our sin has actually separated us from God.

Hopelesness

Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world (vv 11-12).

To be hopeless is simply to be without Christ and without God. The world’s greatest problem is not poverty or sickness. The world’s greatest problem is separation from God. As Gentiles, the Ephesians, before they came to faith were hopeless. They had no hope.
Not only that, as Gentiles, the Ephesians were outside of God’s family: they were aliens and strangers from the covenants of promise. When God’s people are counted, they didn’t belong. The Jews had a national pride for being the people of God and everyone else was outside of the covenant of God. Remember David’s description of Goliath? “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine?” Circumcision then was a mark of covenant relationship. In simple terms Gentiles did not fit in. They didn’t belong to God’s family. They were far off (v.13).

Enemies of God

For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (vv. 14-16).

Because sinners are dead in sin living their lives contrary to God’s commands, they have set themselves up against God. Sinners are enemies of God, they will have nothing to do with God. We hate God. Naturally of our ownselves we will have nothing to do with God. Paul used an actual historical event to illustrate this. There is evidence that in the second temple of Jewish worship, there was an inscription barring Gentiles from entering the temple. Any Gentile who goes against this will suffer death. The inscription reads:

No foreigner is to enter the barriers surrounding the sanctuary. He who is caught will have himself to blame for his death which will follow
So both from the natural point of view and the spiritual, man is lost and helpless without God.
that not of yourselves

The very first three verses of Ephesians as you can see is full of gloom and hopelessness. Natural man is depicted as not having the ability in themselves. to respond to God: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day”(John 6:44). In fact, if left on her own, the sinner would not come to God. To be dead in sin is comparable to a corpse. A corpse cannot give life to itself can it? It is in this sense Paul say “not of yourselves”. You cannot save yourself. You have no power over your life. In Matthew 6 Jesus said you cant even add a cubit to your height. How much more salvation?

But God
Having spoken of how gloomy our situation was, a light of hope is shown through our hopelessness with the words in vv.4-5“But God”. This juxtaposes God’s ability with our inability: what we couldn’t do with what God did in our regeneration. Out of our despondent, desperate, hopeless situation as sinners, hope sprung from God. From v4 onwards, we see the love and mercy of God at display towards the sinner. And that’s what grace is about:

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us (v.4)

Grace is about God’s richness in mercy towards sinners. Grace is God’s great love towards his people.

A New Life

When God intervenes in our deadness, He gives us eternal life. He makes us alive to be able to relate with him. He also grants us eternal life and draws us to himself through Christ. The sinner who once had no hope is now given hope in this life because he is now united with Christ and reconciled to God (v5). We are seated in the heavenly places that means we are now citizens of heaven. We have hope now and hope in the life to come. God has purposed to show us “in the coming ages…the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus “(v7).
This new life is not a result of anything good or meritorious work in us. It is a new life that springs from the love, mercy and grace–unmerited favour– of God

What Must You Do?

If you have not come to faith in Christ Jesus, all that has been said of the former life of the believer is true of you. You are dead in sin, hopeless without God, you are an enemy of God and his wrath is upon you. This is a fearful thing and this very day, God offers you life in his Son Jesus. You have to turn to him in faith and repent of your sins. He makes a call: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

 

Dashed Hopes In Christ

Hopelessness

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21a).

These words were spoken by the men taking a journey to Emmaus whom Jesus approached and started asking questions of. Apparantly, they were discussing the events that had happened; i.e. Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Jesus joined them and asked a question. Scripture says somehow, they couldn’t recognise him:

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus , about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them . But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” (Luke 24:13-17a).

The first response to that question Scripture tells us was sadness: “And they stood still, looking sad” (Luke 24:17b). These words are not encouraging since it showed a sense of disappointment. Now what better explains all of this is that these were people with misplaced hopes of the ministry of Jesus Christ. They had defined Christ’s ministry according to their most immediate felt needs. During Jesus’ lifetime on earth, the Jewish nation was under Roman rule and hence the Messiah, in their understanding was going to deliver them from that rule. Another of such misplaced hopes is seen in Acts 1:6 before Christ’s ascension: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” the disciples asked.

You see, one thing is clear here. Their agenda differed from God’s. While they looked to the restoration of Israel from Roman rule; God’s agenda was on a global scale gathering a “great multitude…from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev 7:9). Many people in the same sense come to Christ with wrong hopes. Some come with the hope of an improved life, better life prospects, looking for a spouse, seeking healing for a disease etc. In the gospels, we see a group of people who sought Christ for the wrong reasons. And Christ rejected them:

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus f on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:23-25).

Clearly, these people didn’t have a true heart in seeking after Christ. And Christ knowing what is in man (speaking of his divinity) rejected them. Now it is one thing to come genuinely to Christ for salvation and another thing to come with our expectations rather than his will. In such situations, you are likely to have your hopes dashed and blame Jesus or say Christianity doesn’t offer what it promises. No, in actual fact, Christianity doesn’t promise some of the things people hold so dearly like prosperity and a good health.

So we are not disappointed in our walk with Christ, let’s bear in mind the only thing guaranteed and promised in Christ is the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life if we come to him by faith and turn from our old ways. All other things apart from these are not guaranteed and will lead to dashed hopes.