Romans 8:1-17 – Life in Step with the Spirit

21 of 35 instances of the word “spirit” in Romans occur in chapter 8. Some have taught that the Holy Spirit is not active today. There are two extremes that have caused a rejection of the Spirit’s operating in the life of the believer today. The first extreme are those who have made a big deal out of spiritual gifts, prophesy, and speaking in tongues. We have seen that so abused that we wonder if it is even real. The other extreme is that the Holy Spirit is hard to pin down and the modern mindset likes things cut, dry, and quantified. The Holy Spirit is an unknown quantity. The funny thing is so is God the Father. We readily accept his role and yet somehow we think we can nail him down because we limit him to the words in the Bible. We dissect his words, translate them, interpret them, and memorize them to gain mastery over them, as if that was possible! We learn in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and that we better understand the crucial role of the Spirit in our lives because without it not only are we mistaken, we are dead (Rom 8:9).

Romans 8:1-4 – What Jesus Came to Do:

Romans 7 concludes with that famous passage of the struggle that we face in life with the flesh and how the answer to our problem comes through Jesus Christ (7:25). Romans 8 continues talking about the deliverance that is found through Christ. Paul writes, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” This points back to what Paul was saying in Romans 6 about dying to self and sin and being raise to walk with Christ in newness of life. It also points back to Romans 7:1-4 that death brings freedom from past obligations. Then in 8:3-4 Paul adds on to something he brought up back in 7:7-13 – that the law served a purpose but ultimatly the law did not have enough power on its own to bring an end to sin and death. The law was incapable of bringing transformation to our lives. So what do we say? Do we say that the law was left unfilfilled? No. Christ fulfilled the law in us through his death on the cross (8:4).

There is something that has to be pointed out in verses 3,-4 “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in human flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” Jesus came in the flesh and died in the flesh in order to fulfill the requirement of the law perfectly. Christ didn’t come as a divine spirit and do battle with sin and death to fulfill the law. He came just like us, in flesh. And in that flesh he met every obligation and requirement of righteousness that was found in the law and in doing so he accomplished two things. He fulfilled the law and through his death he freed us of our obligation to live driven by the desires of the flesh. He could only do that as a man, like us.

Romans 8:5-17 we have contrasted life by the Spirit and life by the sinful nature:
I find it helpful to list the things Paul says about life by the Spirit and what Paul says about life by the sinful nature

Life by the Spirit:

  • Life (8:6)
  • Peace (8:6)
  • Submission to God (8:9) – controlled by the Spirit
  • Children of God (8:15)

Sinful nature:

  • Death (8:6)
  • Hostility (8:7)
  • Unable to submit to God (8:7)
  • Slaves (8:15)

Fear and Security:

These two ways of living are diametrically opposed to each other. It is important that we realize that Paul is not saying that one sin means you are no longer living life by the Spirit. He is talking about being controlled by the Spirit or being controlled by the sinful nature. It is not a one sin and if you die before you confess it you are out! No. He said in 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and just one unconfessed sin is not big enough to seperate us from the love of God! (We will talk more about that in a minute). Many of us have grown up in our faith with real fear issues. Are we in or are we out? For Paul our salvation is not as tenuous as that because it is based upon God’s faithfulness that we are saved. It is not a in one day and out the next. If God were that fickel we should all just give up. But we have better promises than that! Verse 11 gives ms so much hope, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”

Imagine you were going to wire your house for surround sound. You get the speakers, the wire and all the necessary equipment. You get up in the attic and run the wire. You drill holes in your walls and ceiling. You read through instruction manual after instruction manual on how to wire your receiver, DVD, TV, etc. After you have done all that hard work and gotten yourself covered in insulation, bought expensive equipment and got the job done there was one final thing that had to be done for it to work. You had to press the “on” button. Would you press it? Of course! You wouldn’t leave it off after going through all that trouble and paying a high price for the equipment to make it work. You wouldn’t let a silly button keep you from your desired goal. That is how it is with what Christ has done for us. Paul is saying that if God was willing to send his own Son to die for us in order to redeem us he is certainly willing to sweat the small stuff that comes after. If he was willing to send his Son to suffer, die and be risen again we can have hope that he will also raise us from the dead at the proper time and give us life. That gives us a certain assurance that God is going to make good on his promises because we see how much he has already done for us!

Adopted as Children of God (8:14-17):
What gives us even more assurance is that we have been adopted by God into sonship. That means we are heirs and that there are things in store for us that have not yet occurred. Witherington and others point out in 8:16 that you have two witnesses  God’s Spirit and ours that testify and based on Deuteronomy 19 two witnesses make a valid testimony. He is saying that it is certain that we have become God’s children and heirs to the promise. In verse 17 he ties suffering to glory. He will explain that more in 18-30. And so we are the children of God and because we are God’s children we don’t need to live with a spirit of fear, rather we live in the light of the fact that our father has made some powerful promises to us that we know will be made right because he has already opened the way through Jesus Christ. We have already caught a glimpse of what is to come and because of that we can withstand whatever this world has to throw at us.

Studying Romans – 2:1-29

Who is Paul addressing here?

As I read this chapter I cannot help but think Paul is writing to Gentile Christians within the Roman church who have been in sin and yet condemn their fellow Christians for the very acts they themselves are doing unashamedly. I just don’t see how Paul would be writing to people who wouldn’t be reading this letter (e.g. non-Christian Gentiles). It would seem by default that his audience would be a Christian one and yet his words in Romans 1 seem to be toward people who do not know God. It would appear that those he addresses in chapter 1 are not Christians, or at least one would hope, because of the seriousness of their sin condition and total rebellion (including the exchanging of natural sexual relations for unnatural ones – 1:27). Why would he bring all of this up? Probably because the Gentile Christians at Rome have come out of exactly this type of background and thinking before coming to Christ.

In 2:1 he writes, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever pint you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” Maybe Witherington gets this right when he writes, “V. 5 seems to reaffirm the conclusion that Paul in the main is addressing non-Christian Gentiles here (but with an implicit warning to Christian Gentiles who act the same way). (BWIII, Romans, 81). This would make Paul hypothetically addressing people not in his audience in order that those who are listening might perk their ears at Paul’s warning. I am not sure that I buy that. It seems to me the reason they are without excuse when they judge others is because they have struggled with the same things (e.g. the list in 1:28-32).

Hypocrisy and the Judgment of God
Much of the content of the remaining verses have to do with the failure of the Gentiles and the Jews to do an adequate self-examination prior to examining the lives of others. The Gentiles are pointing fingers at immorality when the reality is they are condoning those very acts by the way they live (2:1-5). The Jews are guilty of hypocrisy because they hold up the standard of the law and find the Gentiles guilty for failing to keep it when they never have kept it in its entirety (2:12-24). The last word is that both the Jews and the Gentiles have placed the emphasis in the wrong place. God is not desiring people who are self-righteous and not in need of the love and mercy of God. God wants us to recognize our own failure at doing what is right so that we will understand our need for Him and result in having circumcised hearts (2:25-29). Have a look at the story Steve Furtick tells about two ministers that goes well with this point and the standards we use to judge.

What We Do Actually Matters
Another valuable take home point in this chapter is that our actions do have consequences. We often get so caught up in talking about the grace of God and the evils of works righteousness that we don’t give a fair shake to the whole of Paul’s theology on this point. How about this verse, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Rom 2:7-8). That is a difficult passage to reconcile with many other parts of Paul’s theology. But to me the point is our actions matter. Don’t think you can abuse the grace of God because it will find you out. Don’t think that you have checked the box of circumcision or baptism or taking the Lord’s Supper each week and so you can go along your merry way scott free. It doesn’t work like that. You are baptized? Great. How is your heart today? Are you seeking self or God? Oh, but God will forgive…sure he will when you do what Paul said in verse 4-5 – “Repent.” Paul is talking to unrepentant Christians here. They have done all the right things. They have checked all the boxes and yet they are still warned of God’s wrath.

I want to share a particularly spot on quote by BWIII in his Romans commentary – “The message is, then, not only about the impartiality of God, though that is emphasized, but also about the fact that all humans are equally in need of mercy in view of their sin, including particularly those Jews who should have been teachers to the blind but in fact proved to be less than good exemplars of what the Law required. Having the Law is no guarantee of doing the Law, and merely having it is no protection against God’s judgment on disobedience, for all human behavior will be judged by God. Even being a Jewish teacher does not exempt one from God’s righteous judgment on sin and so from the need to hear and heed the gospel proclamation,” 85

Those are powerful words for those of us who have been in the church for decades. We have no claim to moral superiority over others because we have to recognize our own need for grace and mercy from God. When you understand that it is impossible to hold sin over the head of a brother or sister in Christ. Those are also powerful words because we live in a culture that says do whatever you want and don’t even worry about the consequences. If it makes you happy, do it. Don’t think about anyone else. Just do what you want. Be your own standard. You set the rules. God has been left hanging.

Why circumcision?
Again, we are hearing one side of the conversation and so we make assumptions about what Paul must have been addressing to have written what he did. If you heard me say on the phone “Well, it’s about 65 degrees and sunny.” you could imply that I had been asked the question, “How is the weather.” When Paul writes, “Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised (there were Jews, by the way, who underwent an “uncircumcision” process in order to blend in with the broader society better – See Fergusson’s Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 405 or 1 Macc. 1:13-15, 2 Macc 4:10-17). We infer that the Jews must have been holding circumcision as a trump card over the Gentile Christians, perhaps in order to reestablish their roles as leaders in the church (for more on the background of this see this post). Why circumcision? In Genesis 17:9-14 God established circumcision as an everlasting sign of his covenant with Abraham. So when did God say his people no longer had to be circumcised? God doesn’t. Paul comes to the conclusion (after the council at Jerusalem and their decision not to bind circumcision on the Gentiles in Acts 15) that what God was really after was the heart all along and so the Gentiles who turn to God, even though not circumcised, will be made righteous by God through the Gospel of Christ even though the outward sign of the covenant with Abraham is not made evident in their flesh. Now how the whole “circumcision, of the heart, by the Spirit” works I am clueless. The only guess I have is that Paul’s theology of the indwelling of the Spirit is such that he sees the Holy Spirit as a commonality between Jewish and Gentile Christians and as such unites them all even though they are from diverse backgrounds because God doesn’t show favoritism (2:11). See also Gal 3:14 & 5:18

Gospel of Mark – Theological Use of Location

In Mark and in the other synoptic Gospels, a large portion of Jesus’ ministry is spent in Galilee. The Galilean section of Mark spans 1:14-8:27 ending at the hinge of the Gospel with Peter’s confession and the journey toward the end (Jerusalem and the events that will unfold there). This is significantly different from John’s Gospel which places Jesus in Jerusalem over and over again to fulfill various Feast days with significant theological overtones. This difference in location between the synoptics and John has underlying theological reasons. The synoptics, Mark in particular, are probably trying to show a fulfillment of Isaiah 8:23 (or 9:1 depending on your translation). “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-” which is written just prior to the famous passage,

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.”
Isaiah 9:6-7

Many believe first century Jews thought this passage taught the “end times” would start in the north (Galilee) [See McKnight Dictionary of the Gospels, 253] and so Mark is pointing out this connection.

Luke also has a Galilean ministry but he fine tunes it even more and bridges Luke with Acts with the key being in Acts 1:8 –But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We have the order: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Blomberg (Jesus and the Gospels, 143) believes this mirrors the locations in Acts and is the inverse of the locations in Luke:

Gospel of Luke:
A – The birth of Jesus in the context of the Roman world
B – Jesus’ ministry in Galilee
C – Jesus’ ministry in Samaria and Judea
D – Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem
Resurrection & Ascension links Luke/Acts
Acts of the Apostles:
D’ – Operation of the apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem
C’ – Operation of the apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit in Judea and Samaria
B’ – Operation of the apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Gentile world
A’ – Operation of the apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit all the way to Rome

It is not an exact match but it warrants consideration.

Mark shows us many parallels with the Exodus experience by his use of location. One of the reasons Mark does that is because he is highlighting the theme of liberation. Similar to how God was present with his people in the Exodus we find Jesus in the wilderness, on the sea, and on the mountain top as he is initiating people into a new promised land (the kingdom of God – notice his first preaching in Mark 1:15). These three types of location are mentioned repeatedly in Mark to more fully define who Jesus is based on their understanding of their previous nation-building experience in the Exodus. Jesus walks on the water, he goes up the mountain to be transfigured, and he seeks out wilderness places for time with God and his disciples. More of these will be pointed out as we work through the Gospel of Mark here at K.L.

For some great information on Mark’s use of location see Mark as Story by Rhodes, Dewey, and Michie (Thanks to Frank for reminding me of that book!).

Gospel of Mark – Authoritative Witness to Who Jesus Is (1:1-15)

Mark begins his Gospel by laying out a series of witnesses who testify to Jesus’ true identity:

  1. The first witness is Mark himself who tells the reader who Jesus really is, “the Son of God.” That title bookends the Gospel of Mark as it will not be said by another human in the Gospel until the soldier at the foot of the cross says it in response to what he witnessed that day on Golgotha (1:1, 15:39). The only other testimony using that phrase will come from the mouth of demons (3:11 & 5:7). Mark calls him the Christ. This title will not be spoken again until Peter says it in the hinge verse of the Gospel of Mark half way through the Gospel! (8:29). The only other two times this word is used in the Gospel of Mark it comes as a question during his trial and as an insult when he is on the cross (14:61 & 15:32).
  2. The second witness to the events that are unfolding is the prophet Malachi (Mark 1:2/Mal 3:1).
  3. The third is the prophet Isaiah (Mark 1:3, Isa 40:3).
  4. Next comes John the Baptist who begins the message of the coming kingdom and the need for God’s people to repent in preparation for it (Mark 1:4-8).
  5. Fifth comes the Holy Spirit who descends on Jesus (1:10).
  6. The sixth witness to who Jesus is is God the Father (1:11).

In Mark’s characteristic style of action packed narrative he gives us six witnesses to the true identity of Jesus in just eleven verses. What is even more striking is how divinely initiated these events are:

  1. God inspires the prophets Malachi and Isaiah hundreds of years prior
  2. God sends John the Baptist
  3. God rips open the heavens (a violent action)
  4. the Spirit descend on Jesus
  5. God speaks his approval of Jesus
  6. The Spirit leads him into the wilderness to be tested

Christianity has often been very Christ-centered (Christocentric) but the New Testament is very much more God-centered (theocentric) than it is Christ-centered. God’s people had been expecting Him to act for hundreds of years and now to release them from Roman oppression. Mark begins his Gospel by recounting how God was acting in sending Jesus. The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is going to focus on liberation (a topic for another post). With all this leading up to it you can imagine the anticipation by the original audience for Jesus to say something! And he does in 1:15). “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Not a lot of content but what he did say is loaded with meaning. By the time Jesus actually speaks you can be sure the original audience was ready for him to say something! With all these voices of authoritative witness behind him he is going to set something new in motion that is going to generate a lot of controversy.

Before we move on to Jesus calling his disciples there are a few things we have to get under our belts first in order to understand what Mark is doing here: why he structures things the way he does, why he keeps his stories centered in Galilee (Mark 1-10) and finally in Jerusalem (chapters 11ff), why he repeats geographical features (such as mountains, deserts, and the sea), and the reason Mark is so repetitious in using key words and phrases (except for the ones we expect! like Messiah and Christ). After we spend a post or two on that we will work back through the John the Baptist narrative, the baptism and temptation and on to calling his first disciples.

Jesus Fulfills the Feast of Tabernacles – John 7

When the woman at the well ran to town to tell about the man who told her “everything [she] ever did,” she brought back a crowd of people Jesus referred to as a field ripe for harvest (John 4:35-39). The harvest was an important component of ancient life. The need for harvest was the reason the people of Ugarit developed their Baal and Asherah mythology, which vividly depicted annual cosmic warfare that resulted in the seasons and the fall harvest. The Israelites had their own fall festival of the harvest. It was called in the Feast of Tabernacles. In Leviticus 23 they are given the reason for their celebration – “So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days…Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.‘ “” (Lev 23:39,42-43). They recognized that the harvest did not come from Baal or Asherah. It came from the Lord. He was the one who brought them out of Egypt. He was the one who led them through the wilderness. He was the one who gave them the promised land. He is also the one who brings the harvest. As God provided food for them in the wilderness he also provided the harvest after they were in the promised land.

You have to remember the Israelites were not farmers. They survived by raising animals. Remember the reports from the spies who reported on what they saw in Canaan? They saw a huge amount of produce. Who better to ask how to farm the land than someone who was able to grow HUGE clusters of grapes and other crops? What instructions would a Canaanite have given on how to grow crops? You sacrifice to Baal because he is god of the storm and the rain. You plant your seed and pray and do more sacrifice and low and behold, a huge crop sprouts from the earth. God did not want his people falling into idolatry. Instead he wanted them to remember that he is the source of blessing. He provided a festival for them to remember where the crops really come from, the Feast of Tabernacles. This festival also pointed toward a time God would again dwell with his people through his Messiah.

In John 7 we find Jesus faced with a decision of whether or not to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus in Jerusalem at the Feast for some would have been like singing, “Here Comes Santa Claus” in the living room when all of a sudden Santa himself comes down the chimney for all to see. They talked about it, thought about it, wished it…but how do you respond when it actually happens (of course you know I am not putting Jesus on level with Santa Claus!). Jesus presumably spends a day or more addressing their concerns about why Jesus could not be the messiah (healing on the Sabbath, apparent blasphemy, and their knowledge of where he had come from). We are not exactly sure of the time line but we do know he was there multiple days because on the last and greatest day of the Festival Jesus made an earth-shattering proclamation, “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38). Presumably Jesus had been sitting as he taught. Here he stands and in a loud voice declares that he is the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles.

When the messiah came the Jews believed that streams of water would flow from the temple and fill the valleys. It would run into the Jordan and fill the Dead Sea, which would become vibrant and fresh. New life would come. And so for generations at the Feast a priest would leave the temple at dawn with a procession of people. They would go through the Water gate to the Pool of Siloam. There he would take a golden pitcher and fill it from the pool while the people sang Isaiah 12. They would return to the temple where trumpets would sound three times. The priest would walk around the altar while the people sang the Hallel Psalms (113-118). He would then go up a ramp at the side of the altar, raise the pitcher and pour out the water into a funnel next to the altar. As the water fell to the ground another priest would pour out wine on the opposite side of the altar. The people held a lulab (branch) in their right hand and held a piece of its fruit in their left. At the last word of the psalm they would shake the branch and once the water and wine were poured they would shout, “Lift your hands!” It was a very exciting time as the people looked back on a good harvest from God and looked ahead to a better harvest of new life and the messiah which was to come.

This time he was there among them. He watched the ceremonies. On the final day he declared that it was fulfilled. No longer would the streams of water need to flow from the altar and down from the temple. Jesus was the sacrifice and as he said in John 2, he was the temple. He was the one who would be on the altar of the cross and have blood and water flow from his side and run down the hill to bring new life. Jesus brings a whole new meaning to their understanding of the Feast. Those who believe in Jesus will be sustained by the power of God and his Holy Spirit. It was not really about the Dead Sea or physical streams of water or the valleys growing crops. This harvest would come from the inside out. As with the Samaritans in John 4 this harvest would be a harvest of people for God’s kingdom.

We can ask the application question, “What harvest have you seen God bring in your life?” but that really doesn’t capture what Jesus is saying. Realize, Christian, that there is a harvest growing in your life that comes only from God. It does not result in new cars or fancy clothes. It results in something far greater – new life. When we reduce the Gospel to a dollar amount we miss what God is really trying to offer and we sell it out for something far cheaper and short sighted. Our pockets may at times be empty but it doesn’t matter if the Holy Spirit dwells in you and brings new life.

In the next post we will discuss how Jesus fulfilled another aspect of the Feast of Tabernacles – Jesus, the light of the world.

Jesus and Nicodemus – John 3

“Rabbi, We know that you are a teacher who has come from God.
For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

From the title of this post you probably already know who said this. It was not one of Jesus’ disciples (at least not yet!-19:39? ). It is not someone Jesus has just healed. John introduces us to this man by saying, “Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.” (John 3:1). The Jewish ruling council is another name for the Sanhedrin. For the text of John 3 click here.

Nicodemus surely had tension regarding what had just taken place. In the previous chapter Jesus had thrown the money changers out of the temple with a homemade whip (John 2:12-22). A few days later still in Jerusalem John says that, “many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.” (John 2:23-24). This is the same conflict and tension that John mentioned in the prologue to the gospel, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:10-12).

If there was anyone who would should have recognized him it should have been a Pharisee. For as many hours as the studied the scriptures and committed so much to memory it is amazing that they did not recognize him when he showed up in the neighborhood. At the same time Jesus didn’t make it easy on them. He didn’t try to ease them into the idea that he was the Messiah, his teachings, signs, and wonders were confusing and did not fit the matrix of what a Messiah was supposed to look like and which rules he was supposed to comply with.

Then there is the issue of Jesus’ confusing speech. He replied to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” (3:3). We toss that phrase around today but think about how confusing that would sound to the uninitiated. Nicodemus was certainly confused. His conception of the requirements of seeing the kingdom of God was that you were born into the Jewish lineage, a “child of Abraham.” Jesus said there is another birth that must take place. When a child goes from the womb into the room things will never be the same again. So it is with the kingdom of God. When you are born you go from the darkness of the womb to the light of the world. The sounds that you once heard in the womb that told you there was something more to life than being in a tightly confined womb come to reality when you meet those who had been talking to you even though you had never met them. So it is with the new birth. In it you find life and light and freedom that can only come through Christ.

Jesus clarified – this new birth comes by water and the spirit. It is not as some have suggested that water is our first birth (the water of the womb) and the spirit the second birth (receiving the Holy Spirit). Water and the Spirit both describe the new birth. The second birth comes by the waters of baptism and the gift of the Spirit (both again linked in Acts 2 and both experienced by Christians in the conversions in Acts). Jesus then uses a play on words as “wind” and “Spirit” are the same word in Greek – “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (3:8). You cannot control the wind. It does what it is going to do. God is going to do with his kingdom what he wants to. He will eventually even include Gentiles who are not born of the correct physical lineage from the Jewish perspective. If they have faith in Christ and are “born again” by water and the Spirit they are of the correct spiritual lineage to be the people of God.

Nicodemus response to all of this…”How can this be?” Still confused 🙂

Jesus rebukes Nicodemus and launches into language that is even more confusing than the first. He references something in addition to the new birth – his being lifted up like the bronze snake Moses lifted up in the wilderness (3:14-15 – See Number 21). There were three ways Jesus was lifted up – on the cross, from the grave and from the earth. Each of these builds faith in who he is that leads to eternal life. Then come those favorite words recited by millions – “For God so loved the world that he actually gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish by have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). [See Raymond Brown, ABC, 134 for “actually gave”].

How did God give Jesus? He gave him first in the incarnation that we will be celebrating in a couple of weeks at Christmas. The second way God gave us Jesus is through his crucifixion. Jesus didn’t have to do either of these things but freely chose both. It is a little unclear if this is John speaking about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, a teaching of Jesus at another time, or if Jesus actually said all of this to Nicodemus (the red letters aren’t inspired you know! Jesus probably spoke through 3:21). It is not unusual for Jesus to speak of himself in the third person as he did that on occasion. What is even more strange is that Nicodemus referred to him in the third person at the beginning of the chapter and to his face (3:2). Either way the message of the remaining verses are clear – Jesus came to save the world for those who understand the “light.” Those who do not are in darkness and have no fellowship with the light.

One last point that has an implication on how we deal with our sin. Jesus said those in the darkness hate the light and will not come into it for “fear that their deeds will be exposed. But those who live by the truth come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” There is a fundamental difference between those who live in darkness and those who are in the light – trust. Those in darkness fear their secrets will be exposed. They do not trust God enough to stand exposed. Those who walk in the light are honest with their shortcomings. Christians should rather their shortcomings be exposed rather than the alternative – to walk in the darkness.

We need better outlets for this within the church without getting into a big accountability mess that some churches have experienced in the past. This can only come through offering people a safe environment to be themselves and express their honest concerns and struggles. This can only come through time where we don’t feel like we have to smile if we aren’t smiling on the inside and don’t have to say everything is fine if it really isn’t. In one word – Authentic.

More Glenn Patterson – Filled With the Spirit

Here is another one for you…

What Does Paul refer to as “Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:14-17

I recently received this email from a friend of mine,

Matt,

I have a question about 2 Timothy 3:14-17, which reads:

“14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become
convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and
how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to
make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All
Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking,
correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God
may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

First, what is the original word used for “scripture” and
“scriptures,” and what does it mean (more fully)?

Second, assuming the word means Biblical writings, how do we know what
is included as “all Scripture” — just Old Testament writings, or does
it include the Gospels, too?

Third, can this passage possibly be referring to itself? Or to
“scriptures” that may not have been written yet as of the composition
date of that letter? Like, if John and Acts were written later, do
they count?

I’d like to know your thoughts, or if you have some references you
could point me to.

M.

These are some really good questions and I appreciate your desire to learn more about it. I hope this helps.

1) The word used in the New Testament for “scripture” is the greek word γραφη (graphe) which is normally defined as “writing” and is the root for many English words – autograph, stenograph, grapheme, etc. When used in the New Testament it always refers to inspired scripture (hence its translation as “scripture” and not “writings”).

2) The possibilities of what “scripture” can refer to in the New Testament does depend on what has been written to that point. Obviously you cannot make reference to something that does not yet exist. So the Gospels can only reference the Old Testament (Mtt 21:42, Mtt 22:29, Mtt 26:54, Mark 12:10, etc) usually to remind people that certain scriptures were to be fulfilled and Jesus often says that he has fulfilled them.

Timothy had a mother who was a Jew and a father who was a Gentile (Acts 16:1). The scriptures he was raised on “from infancy” would have almost certainly been the Old Testament. It should be noted that the word translated here “scriptures” is not the same as the word in 3:16 (grammata in 3:15 vs. graphe in 3:16) but Paul’s meaning is almost certainly the same. Some could argue that Paul must have meant something different in these two verses since he used two different words (Old Testament vs Old + Some of the New?) but that is unfounded and not very likely. Paul says that these scriptures are “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (3:15). Is Paul referencing the fulfillment of OT scripture that could build our faith in Jesus being the Christ or does this mean he is referencing some NT material as well? I don’t know that we can get a solid answer but we do have some clues.

  • In 1 Cor 7 Paul seems to make a distinction between what his opinion is and the parts of what he is writing that are from God (esp 7:10). That might indicate that Paul understood some of what he wrote to be inspired scripture even as he was writing it. 1 Corinthians was probably written between 54-56. 2 Timothy was probably written around 65-66. If Paul believed what he wrote in 1 Corinthians and other letters prior to 2 Timothy (basically all of Paul’s other letters since he was executed in 67) were inspired then 2 Tim 3:14-17 could reference his own writings as inspired and useful for correcting, rebuking, etc.
  • In 2 Peter 3:14-16 Peter almost certainly references the writings of Paul as on the level with other inspired scriptures. This would mean the apostles viewed Paul’s writings as inspired scripture.

So when Paul says “all scripture” in 66 AD he is definitely referring at a minimum to the OT (as that is what Timothy’s mother and grandmother had taught him) and there is the potential that he is making reference to any of the NT writings to that time because Paul and the apostles probably viewed those writings as inspired.

3) This would not be a reference to anything written after that point but that does not mean that this passage does not apply to them. Paul didn’t know Revelation would be written by John 25 years after Paul’s death but because Revelation is inspired it would certainly fall in the category of that which is useful for teaching, rebuking, etc.

I hope my thoughts have not been too jumbled up. I have had a couple of trains of thought running through my head all at once. Let me sum it up. There is a very good possibility that what Paul is referring to in 2 Timothy is more than the Old Testament because it appears that at least Paul and Peter viewed the epistles as inspired. It also can apply to what is written after 2 Timothy, although Paul couldn’t have known it because it wasn’t yet written. What makes it applicable is that God inspired all of it and if it is inspired, it is useful.

Living Out Jesus’ Mission (Luke 4)

In Luke 4 we find the following story,

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[e]

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The reading Jesus reads from Isa 61:1-2 starts by mentioning anointing. When someone in the ancient world was anointed it was to set them apart for a specific task or purpose. In the verses the follow that purpose is laid out very succinctly:

  • Preach good news to the poor
  • Proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • the recovery of sight for the blind
  • to release the oppressed
  • to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

Good news to the poor:

As Christians we know that Jesus’ mission is now our mission. We are also set aside for a purpose. We also have the Spirit of the Lord in our lives (does that mean we also have an anointing of sorts? Probably.). Jesus said he was to preach good news to the poor. What kind of good news? No more bills? Free money? No…not that kind of poor. Jesus has good news for those who are poor in spirit. In the beatitudes of Matthew 5 he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The good news is that the poor no longer have to be poor. They will be filled with an abundance of spiritual blessings. Eph 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” How do we treat those who have poor spiritual nutrition? Do we try to feed them like Jesus would?

Freedom for the Prisoners:

Is Jesus’ promise here only for those who are locked up and don’t have the key? Of course not. He is talking about those who appear free but on the inside are captive to a variety of things that dominate their lives and thinking. Galatians 4:8 says, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.” Far too often we forget just how good the good news is. We are free from sin and death. I challenge you to say that with a smirk on your face or with a shrug of your shoulders. Let people know you are excited to be a Christian!

Recovery of sight for the blind:

Once again, not just those who are physically blind. Jesus came to help us see life and decisions for what they really are. He helps us see sin for sin, death for death, life for life, and righteousness for righteousness. Without Christ we are blind. Once you have seen clearly for a long time you forget how much a blessing it is to be able to do so and take for granted the blessing of spiritual vision.

To release the oppressed:

See above but see also the gospel of Luke in which Jesus reaches out to those who are social outcasts, victims, and the downtrodden. Jesus has a special interest in those society is least interested in.

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor:

Once again the mission requires proclamation. It requires action. Jesus could have sat in a dark room all by himself and spoke the most profound teachings but he didn’t he went out among the people and took action. Christians who are not committed to some form of action or involvement in kingdom business and kingdom living really just don’t get it. When you really understand what God has done for you, you will want to respond with action – sharing, proclaiming, giving, and serving.

How has your life been lived in response to the good news about Jesus? Have you made his mission your mission? Or are you still on the sidelines waiting for the right moment to act? James says our faith is made complete when it is paired with action. Why? Because a complete faith is one that expresses a loving response to the message of Christ through action rather than just mental assent. We can agree that Christ is good all day long and stay in our comfort zones and get fed in our Bible classes. But until we respond to the good news with action we just really don’t get it. Not because action is required or merits our salvation but because action is the natural response of a heart that is owned by God. Mission requires action. Aren’t we glad Jesus didn’t spend his time on the sidelines!

God’s Providence in Acts 1-10

The more experience I have as a child of God the more I come to the conclusion that there are few accidents in the world. I am not saying that God gives us that first parking spot at Wal-Mart, unless of course you get out of the car and have an encounter with someone that advances the kingdom. I do think that God has a plan for our lives (as he did with Jeremiah in 29:11) and that God is actively involved in carrying out that plan on a day-by-day basis.

When God started the church in the book of Acts it totally depended on God’s working to take place. Let’s have a look at a couple of events in Acts where God left little to chance.

Jesus appears to the disciples (Acts 1) – Jesus increases their faith and gives them instructions to ready them for the harvest that would take place in the following chapter.

Matthias Chosen (Acts 1) – While Peter’s exegesis wouldn’t make a good grade on a term paper today he clearly understood some things that we would have missed from the Old Testament. In 1:26 they cast lots, which was a process that allowed God to determine the outcome, and the lot fell to Matthias.

Pentecost (Acts 2) – A story that starts with some men in a room waiting ends with over 3000 Jews becoming Christians.

Prayer for boldness (Acts 4) – Upon their release from prison they are reminded that the authorities had crucified and persecuted Jesus but only because that was allowed by the plan and authority of God (4:27-28). Notice what follows in their prayer for boldness, “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (4:30-31). Notice they attribute their power to heal by the power and provision of God. If God did not intercede with his power they would not be able to heal.

Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) – Here the power of God is clearly displayed through his punishment of those who would seek to abuse the church and lie to God. Notice how the story concludes, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” (5:11).

Apostles released from prison (Acts 5) – The high priest and Sadducees have the apostles thrown in jail. This is something that had escaped my attention. I normally think of Peter, Paul, and Silas in prison but in Acts 5 it appears that many or even all of the apostles are in prison. Notice how God intercedes – “But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. ‘Go, stand in the temple courts…and tell the people the full message of this new life.” (5:20). The apostles couldn’t be kept in prison because God was actively working to advance his kingdom.

Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7) – It is harder to see where God’s hand is actively involved in this speech. But we are reminded of Jesus’ words in Luke 21:12-19 where he promises to provide them words and wisdom to defend themselves in the midst of persecution,

12“But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13This will result in your being witnesses to them. 14But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17All men will hate you because of me. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By standing firm you will gain life.

Jesus’ words held true – by standing firm Stephen gained life (Acts 7:54-60).

Philip & the Ethiopian (Acts 8 ) – God prepares Philip for an encounter with the Ethiopian by sending an angel to tell him which road to take but the angel doesn’t tell him why. It is important to remember that God doesn’t alway give us the why of everything but expects us to trust him and to walk by faith. God prepared this Ethiopian for the encounter by the scroll he was reading from while riding in his chariot. He was reading about the suffering servant in Isa 53. This sparks a conversation that results in the Ethiopian’s conversion. Do you ever wonder if we will meet him in heaven and say, ”

Saul & Ananias (Acts 9) – Jesus confronts Saul on the road to Damascus. Jesus calls out to Ananias to use him to find and restore Saul physically and spiritually.

Peter & Cornelius (Acts 10) – We have the story of the sheet being let down from heaven and Peter commanded to kill and eat unclean animals. Peter is told not to call anything impure that God has made clean. Now realizing that the dietary laws of the law were no longer in effect Peter’s mind is being readied by God to accept Cornelius. Just prior to this vision an angel appears to Cornelius and sends him to find Peter. Once again, God is lining up the pieces to establish the church and accomplish his plans. This story comes to a climax with these Gentile believers receiving the Holy Spirit, again the providence of God at work, and Peter baptizing them. If God wasn’t at work none of these things would have lined up.

We are also a part of God’s church and his kingdom. God has not stopped working through the Holy Spirit. God has not lost interest in his church. God is still protective of his church. There is not a force in the world powerful enough to stop it. I love knowing that I am a part of something that is important to God and that God is actively involved in. God may not be interested that we get the best parking spot or that we had hotdogs for lunch. God is concerned for his church and he is concerned for us and it is reassuring to know that the same God who did all of these mighty things is still at work today.