Destroying the Straw Man…

Surely the God of yesteryear is not the God of today!

No…I would not agree.

The God of yesteryear is the God of today.

J.I. Packer* sets up a logical strategy called the straw man fallacy.  He begins Chapter 7 arguing that our God of the Middle-Eastern world is a God who functioned only in that context; surely He does not operate the same way outside of the Middle-East.  Surely God’s commandments need to be relaxed because look how life has changed so much today; as a society we are accepting of things that twenty years ago we would have condemned.   Surely God’s life has changed, His character has changed and His truth has changed.

No… no… no… to all three…

Now we come to God’s ways.   Surely the way God dealt with man and woman thousands of years ago is not the way God deals with man and woman today. 

People love to make excuses about why they don’t read God’s word [Old and New Testament] but can we use the excuse that the world has changed and the God of yesteryear has ways that are not relevant today?  We can’t relate to Him anymore, so we don’t get much from His word. 

We can try, but Packer thinks this excuse is not valid.

God is the same God as the God of Bible times.  His ways have not changed.  The way he dealt with man thousands of years ago is the way He deals with man today. 

Some love to point to Genesis as proof that God’s ways are capable of change.  When God was “grieved” about man and woman’s major error in the Garden of Eden, He promised to destroy man and woman but He relented.  Does that show some flexibility, some willingness to have some “wiggle room”?  Does this prove that God changes?  Also, some pinpoint the story of Jonah.   God promised to destroy Nineveh in forty days.  The Assyrians repented and God did not destroy the city.   Surely that proves that God can change and maybe since he altered his intentions about Nineveh, He can change with today’s times.  He can alter those “rules” about sin.

No God’s ways have not changed.  We think He has because we practice anthropopathism. That’s a big word but it means that in order for man to understand God, we give God human qualities.  We should not do that because God is not like us.  He does not have human finite thought processes.  Using the Garden of Eden example, He obviously did not reverse His thinking on creating man; he planned to show Adam and Eve grace by forgiving them and promising them a Savior, one whose job it is to restore the Kingdom of God.  That restoration process would be costly because the Savior’s blood would prove to be substitutionary.  Jesus’ blood was shed for the sins of man, going back to the original sins of Adam and Eve.  God’s did not waffle; He is working his plan for restoration. Why can’t we see that?   God has that infinite view, not man’s short-term view.  God is not changing.  He never intended to destroy man after the original sins of Adam and Eve.

In regards to Nineveh, there is no evidence that God changes his ways in dealing with the Assyrians.  He tells them to repent and they do.  “If that nation I warned repents…then I will relent.”  From the their king on down, the Ninevites all put on sackcloth; they repented.   They all heeded God’s warning and changed.  That’s what God wants from us today.  He wants us to change and He will reward that.

This is not evidence that His ways have changed.

Today, He continues to act toward sinful men and women in the way that He did in the Bible.  Instead of making it harder to understand our Lord, this should make it easier.  He’s consistent.

Packer agrees that our excuses about not reading His word based on the need for Him to change His ways are not valid.  “He shows His freedom and lordship by discriminating between sinners, causing some to hear the Gospel while others do not hear it, and moving some of those who hear it to repentance while leaving others in their unbelief, thus teaching His saints that He owes mercy to none and that it is entirely of His grace, not at all through their own effort, that they themselves have found life” [Packer, 79].

Packer argues that this is not new.   God has always operated like this.  God hates the sins of His people and uses all kinds of “inward and outward pains and griefs” to capture their hearts from this world where compromise and disobedience rule.  He wants his love to cause us to detach from the things of this world and attach to Him.

Adam and Eve were not a lost cause for God.  The people of Nineveh were not a lost cause.  God was in the business of change in those situations; He still is.  Today it is our change that He is interested in, He is not interested in changing His ways for us.  Does our change of heart mean that God changes?  Of course not. If anything, our own salvation points to the fact that God has never changed. 

We are not a lost cause.  I believe this about Him and I don’t believe I am practicing anthropopathism.  His Word is full of love for us.  Read the Bible and discover that.

Packer’s argument in Chapter 7 that there are valid reasons for not reading God’s word due to us not understanding God’s behavior in Middle-Eastern Bible times is not valid.  He makes the argument and then destroys it; it was never really his actual view.  That’s the way the straw man strategy works. We can understand God and His word because God’s life has not changed, His character has not changed and His truth has not changed.

Now we can add to the list: God’s ways have not changed.

*from his book Knowing God

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Walking Back the Bible?

Since we are drawing closer to another national election you see it almost every day.  Some politician says something extreme or inaccurate and they have to take great pains to “walk it back” [a contemporary term to denote an apology or at least some clarification].  Ordinary people put things on social media and after considerable thought they decide they should be embarrassed about the post.  They realize their expression does not reflect how they really feel.   Have you ever experienced a time when you had to adjust your thinking because someone presented you with factual information that contradicted your opinion?  You just did not have the whole picture so you began to revise your attitude.

What are we talking about here?

The words that human beings use are very unstable but when it comes to God, His words are not unstable.  Packer writes “The words of God…stand forever, as abidingly valid expressions of His mind and thought.”*

In the previous post, I wrote of the dilemma of the contemporary Bible reader.  Bible times seem so distant that how can one understand the Bible?   As readers we are on the outside, looking in on a middle-eastern world where life seems so strange.  Add to that the timeframe of the Bible; everything happened thousands of years ago.

However, God’s life does not change and God’s character does not change.  Those two factors help us connect to the Bible. 

A third “connection” that helps our understanding is God’s truth does not change.  God’s word in this distant land and distant time is the same word that is being read today.  “No circumstances prompt Him to recall them; no changes in His own thinking require Him to amend them” [Packer, 78].  Isaiah writes “All flesh is grass….the grass withers….But the word of our God will stand for ever” [Isaiah 40: 6-8].  The psalmist says “Your word, O Lord is eternal, it stands firm in the heavens….All your commands are true….You established them to last forever” [Psalms 119:89, 151-52].

There are many Christians who don’t agree with Packer’s stand on God’s word.  Their utmost concern is that Christianity should be used to right the wrong of society, that social justice is a natural application of God’s word.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself” means that contemporary Christians should take the concerns of the downtrodden to heart.  That neighbor needs to be loved, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, social standing etc.  They may take it even further. 

Here’s how…

As society changes, it seems like the Bible should change along with society.   Sins that were sins in Bible times are no longer sins for example.  Because they are generally acceptable today, the Bible should change.   Detractors of this position like to throw around some heavy-duty words like “humanistic reinterpretation.”  They may even say that “social justice” Christians feel that Bible believing Christians are “mired in rigid, unenlightened, antiquated thinking….times have changed, society has progressed and the church [and God’s word] must evolve to keep up.”**  They point to words from the Bible like those in Hebrews 4:12 that say “The word of God is alive and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  Martin Luther once said “The Bible is alive; it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”

Sounds like a document that is in flux, wouldn’t you say?

Let’s meditate on the words of the psalmist quoted above: “Your commands are true….You established them to last forever.”

I am sorry but I don’t hear flux.

I hear stability.

I am not going to take pot shots at social justice Christians [often referred to as liberal Christians].  I am glad for these brothers and sisters who are in the world trying to make it a better place, trying to right some wrongs, cure some ills and bring Christianity to those who have the greatest needs.  I am that type of person also in my walk with Jesus.  I am convinced God and His Son Jesus want us to be that type of Christian.

But when it comes to God’s word, I believe that word of Bible times is the word we should believe today.  Instead of us changing God’s word to fit our times, God’s word should change us. 

I am concerned about Bible-believing Christians [of which I am one] who love to say things like “the church is being led into apostasy and error, while the nation is being led into secularism, moral relativism and depravity….The church can only be destroyed from within if we stray from the Scriptures and contaminate God’s truth with world ideas” [Youssef].   Yes, the Bible is a book that speaks out about some practices that are common today, but rather than handwringing and judging our world, let’s try to bring it back in line with Bible practices, because God’s standards are not outdated.  “We need to remember that God still stands behind all the promises, demands, statements of purpose and words of warning that are there addressed to New Testament believers.  These are not relics of a bygone age, but an eternally valid revelation of the mind of God toward His people in all generations, so long as this world lasts” [Packer, 79].

When I write something or say something, it may not be the last statement I make on a subject.  I change and grow with my experiences; I mature as the months and years go by; I learn new ideas as I encounter new material.  That is the nature of a human being.   What I felt twenty years ago may not be what I feel today.

But it does not work that way with God.   His words had meaning thousands of years ago and they retain that meaning today.  That is another bridge to our God, our Father.   Yes, the Bible may have been written about a distant land and thousands of years ago but “The Scripture cannot be broken” [John 10: 35]. 

It is pretty clear…

“Nothing can annul God’s eternal truth” [Packer, 79].

From his book Knowing God 

From the blog post “God’s Word Does Not Change” Dr. Michael Youssef

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When You Get Puzzled…

You are convinced that you will encounter God when you read your Bible.  Your pastor preaches on that frequently.  Your Sunday school class has just finished a Christian living book that encourages Bible reading.  You have decided to dedicate yourself to the Sojourners Bible reading plan that you have downloaded from their website.  You have a plan.

You are ready to go…

Then you open your Bible and you begin to read steadily and thoughtfully.

Soon you begin to get puzzled.

Packer writes “It was thousands of years ago, [in a time that was] primitive and barbaric, agricultural and unmechanized.  It is in that world that the action of the Bible story is played out.  In that world, we meet Abraham, Moses and David and the rest, and we watch God dealing with them.  We hear the Man of Galilee, doing miracles, arguing with the Jews, dying for sinners, rising from death and ascending to heaven.  We read letters from Christian teachers directed against strange errors which, so far as we know, do not exist now.”*

It all seems so remote.   Circumstances described may have been relevant to that world but maybe not to this world.  I have been there.  There have been times when it seemed to me like I was on the outside looking in, especially as I bogged down in Leviticus and Numbers.  I had such a hard time understanding why the Jewish people had so many rules!  My attitude is common among Christians today. “Christians seem to resign themselves to following afar off, believing the Bible record, indeed, but neither seeking nor expecting for themselves such intimacy and direct dealing with God as men and women of the Bible knew.  Such an attitude, all too common today, is in effect a confession of failure to see a way through this problem” [Packer, 76].

This raises the sincere question, how do we bridge the gap between Bible times and today?  How do we find a way to connect to our Bibles?   How can we find the intimacy with God that we seek as we read His Word?

Packer says the key is God Himself.  The God they had to deal with in Old Testament and New Testament times is the same God we deal with today: “we could sharpen the point by saying exactly the same God; for God does not change in the least particular.”  What we are talking about is the fact that we believe in an immutable God.

One can find references to this in Psalms, Jeremiah, Romans and Timothy; God “is from all eternity, the eternal King, the immortal God, [He] alone is immortal”  Psalms 90: 2 says “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth from the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”  Psalms 102: 26-27 states “Earth and heaven will perish, but You remain; they will all wear out like a garment.  Like clothing You will change them and they will be discarded.  But You remain the same, and your years will never end.”  Indeed God is the first and God is the last.

God’s life does not change.  “The God with whom they had to do is the same God with whom we have to do” [Packer 76].

Along with God’s existence not changing, God’s character has not changed.  I [unlike God] can suffer from extreme stress and I can buckle under stress.  I can do something “out of character.”   Life events can shock me into doing something strange for me.  Packer even points to a lobotomy as a means to change our character; certainly brain surgery can alter our character, but nothing can change the character of God.   I am sure I am not the same person I was years ago, and I have seen friends grow bitter as they have been dealt hard life circumstances.  I have seen friends become curmudgeons as they seem to have less control over changes in their lives.  People can grow cynical as their belief systems are challenged.  None of this happens to our Creator.  He is always truthful, always merciful, always just, always good.  

The character of the God we deal with today is exactly like it was in Bible times. 

Packer thinks the name of God reveals so much to us about His character.  In Exodus, Moses encounters a God who says He is “I am who I am,” Yahweh, Jehovah.   This name is a declaration of God’s self-existence and his eternal changelessness, that what He is now, He was and will be.  The God of Exodus 34 is the God we have today: slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  That God does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children [from verses 5-7].

Three thousand years ago He told Moses who He was, so it is no wonder that James describes the same God as one “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” [James 1: 17].

As we read our Bibles today, the bridge to Bible times is God. As we read our Bibles,  God’s life has not changed and his character has not changed.  As we deal with what seems to be an “unbridgeable gulf” between the men and women of Bible times and the men and women of today, our focus should be on God.

Meditate on the meaning of words.  In reading through a Bible reading plan we get so obsessed with trying to cover so many pages in our daily work.  If the Sojourners Bible reading plan says we have to cover three chapters, we have to cover three chapters and we feel guilty if we fail our daily assignment.   Instead of pushing through “x” number of words, meditate on the meaning of words, especially words which convey special meaning.

Here are five that may merit serious meditation…

“I am WHO I am.”   

From his book Knowing God…   

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What Would We Lose?

J.I. Packer* has the impression that the “ordinary” Christian does not have much knowledge of the Holy Spirit.  He comments that many excellent books have been written about God and about His Son Jesus Christ, but few good books have been devoted to the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.**  “The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is the “Cinderella” of Christian doctrines.  Comparatively few seem interested in it” [Packer, 68].

Let’s just say that Packer is right.  Maybe this is an element of the Christian faith that is so unpopular that we can do without it.  Let’s take it further.  Let’s just get rid of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit altogether, imagining what the Christian faith would be without It.

Ok, if the Holy Spirit was gone…

What would we lose?

Really…

Packer lays it all out for us.  There would be no Gospel.  There would be no New Testament. 

When Christ left this world, He made a pledge to His Disciples.  He felt He had done His part to bring His Father’s teachings to this world, but His time on earth was over and He had to go to be with His Father again.  He told them to make disciples of all nations; in John 15:27 He says “You will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.”  Here is what Packer says about the Disciples: “They had never been good pupils, they had consistently failed to understand Christ and missed the point of His teaching throughout His earthly ministry; how could they be expected to do better now that He was gone?” [69].

How could they spread a coherent message to the world?  How could their witness be more than a “twisted, garbled, hopeless muddle?”

The answer is the Holy Spirit.  Christ sent the Holy Spirit to save them from error, to remind them of what He had already taught them and to reveal to them the conclusions about what He intended them to learn.  “The Spirit of truth comes; He will guide you into all truth.  He will not speak on His own.  He will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” [from the Scriptures in the book of John].

They Disciples relied on the Holy Spirit so much that they became the mouths of Christ.  Packer relates “The Spirit testified to the Apostles by revealing to them all truth and inspiring them to communicate it with all truthfulness.”   From their mouths, from their lives, from their writings, we have the Gospel; we have the New Testament.

Ok, we would not have the New Testament if we did not have the Holy Spirit.  What else would we not have?  Packer says Christians would not have any faith without the Holy Spirit.  Christ told Nicodemus “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” [John 3:3]. 

The Gospel shines a light on the world, but it says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers.”  Is that still going on today?

You bet it is…

What happens to unbelievers to make them “see the light?”  If the Gospel is not enough, what will help people see the truth as put forth in the Word of God? 

It is the Holy Spirit. 

The Gospel by itself will not produce results in changing people: “You do not accept our testimony” [John 3: 11].  Packer says it like this: “The Gospel produces no conviction in them; unbelief holds them fast” [71].  What conclusion can we draw from this?  Is the preaching of the Gospel a waste of time?   Is evangelism a fruitless task? 

The answer is no. 

The Holy Spirit illuminates our blinded eyes, restores our spiritual vision and enables sinners to read God’s Word with a newfound sense of truth.

Packer writes “It is not for us to imagine that we can prove the truth of Christianity by our own arguments; nobody can prove the truth of Christianity except the Holy Spirit” [71].  As Christians we think we have to “save” others with our clever presentation of truth, but it is beyond our ability to do this.  The power behind any presentation of God’s truth comes from the Holy Spirit.   The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians “My speech and my message…were in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”  The Spirit bears witness in this way.  People do come to the Gospel when it is preached, when the Bible is read, when an individual is witnessing to an unbeliever. 

Have you ever been around a “mature” Christian who says the best thing, does the best thing and gets an unbeliever to respond to Christ Jesus?  I have queried them about their power and the response is always the same: “It was not me.”

That means one thing…

It was God working through me…

It was the Holy Spirit…

Let me close this post by summarizing the main points that we give up if we don’t have the Holy Spirit.  We don’t have the New Testament and we don’t have faith.  The Holy Spirit inspired the Disciples to spread the Gospel and write the Gospel.  The Holy Spirit inspires believers and unbelievers alike to have faith in that Gospel by illuminating the meaning of the words.

 In our lives, do we acknowledge the authority of the Bible?  If we do, we honor the power of the Holy Spirit to get the Bible written.

In our lives do we apply the authority of the Bible and try to live our lives according to the Word?  If we do, we honor the Holy Spirit which gave us the Bible.

In our lives do we witness, drawing on the power of the Holy Spirit?  If we do that, our witness will sound authentic, sound powerful.

What would we lose if we did not have the Holy Spirit?

Christians, we would lose all we hold dear.

Embrace the Holy Spirit; draw upon the Holy Spirit; let the Holy Spirit grow you in your faith.

*Knowing God

**For an extensive discussion of a book devoted to the Holy Spirit, see post starting on June 15, 2018, the posts were devoted to Billy Graham’s book  The Holy Spirit

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And Our Work Matters…

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth;

and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, dead, and buried;

the third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

There is never a Sunday that I don’t recite the Apostolic Creed in worship in my Church.*  Note the focus on not only the Father and the Son but also the Holy Spirit.  This is not unusual; Packer says “Christians worship the triune Jehovah…Christianity rests on the doctrine of trinitas, the Threeness, the tripersonality of God.”

But Packer’s comments on church practice and layman knowledge point to a lack of focus on the third element of the Trinity, The Holy Spirit, The Holy Ghost, “The Comforter”.  “The average non-liturgical, minister who does not observe Trinity Sunday; never preaches on it.”   “Liturgical ministers devote one Sunday to the Holy Ghost, Trinity Sunday.”  “The average Christian, deep down is in a complete fog as to what work the Holy Spirit does….most, perhaps, do not think of the Holy Spirit at all, and have no positive ideas of any sort about what He does.”

John makes it clear in the first lines of his Gospel that “In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  That one line of scripture sets the tone for two Divinities at the head of his Gospel.  Follow-up Scriptures make it clear that Jesus is on par with God, but what about The Holy Spirit?

The New Testament refers to the Holy Spirit numerous times.  Jesus (in His last talk to his Disciples) says that He is going to prepare a place for them in God’s house, but there would be a gift of The Comforter [John 14: 16] that would come and help them in their work on earth [He knew He would be gone soon].    This Spirit is the “Spirit of Truth,” “The Holy Spirit.”  John’s Gospel further relates that the Spirit is coming in Jesus’ name, that is as Christ’s deputy.  Just as Jesus came in the name of God, The Holy Spirit comes in the name of God.   Later in John’s Gospel we learn that as the Father sent the Son into this world, the Son is also sending the Spirit into this world. 

Packer says the information that is shared in the Bible makes clear that the Holy Spirit is extremely important and the following relationships are established.  First, the Son is subject to the Father, for the Son is sent by the Father in His (the Father’s) name.  Secondly, the Spirit is subject to the Father, for the Spirit is sent by the Father in the Son’s name.  Thirdly, the Spirit is subject to the Son as well as to the father for the Spirit is sent by the Son as well as by the Father “He breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

All this is a “setup”.

It is a prelude to saying that all Christians should know how important the Holy Spirit is for their life.  Many of us “profess” trying to lead righteous lives.  Indeed, when we are born again, we are made “right” with Christ; we learn that our sins of the past are forgiven; our present and future sins are covered by Christ’s atonement on the cross.  We are ready to forge ahead in a new life in Christ.

The problem is our efforts to forge ahead can be likened to getting into a boat and trying to make our journey over water toward God.   We should not anticipate an easy trip.  There will horrible moments [storms if you will] and wonderful  moments [smooth sailing].  That is just life.  But on this trip, we need a rudder in that boat, some guiding spiritual principle to help us progress toward our goal.   That rudder is the Holy Spirit, nudging us in a better direction as we move forward.  The Holy Spirit helps us avoid temptation.  The Holy Spirit inspires us to share what we own with those less fortunate.  The Holy Spirit gives us the words we need to speak in those times when we are in the company of seekers and we need to explain our faith.  The Holy Spirit encourages us to take chances with our lives, as we step out by doing God’s work.

If only we would listen.

Sadly the message of the Holy Spirit can be drowned out by the din of the pressures of everyday life.   Sometimes it is our own selfish nature that keeps us from hearing His message.  Maybe our social group is the most important part of our life so we are more intent to “fit in” than we are to follow the guidance of The Holy Spirit. 

In this post, I hope I have expressed the idea that The Holy Spirit is an aspect of Christian faith that all Christians should know about.  Maybe we are sorely lacking in our knowledge of this element of the Triune God.  Once we learn the role of The Holy Spirit in our lives, what Packer says about it will be more meaningful:

“If…the ministry of Christ the Comforter was important, the ministry of the Holy Spirit the Comforter can scarcely be less important.  If the work that Christ did matters to the church, the work that the Spirit does must matter also.”

Much of that work is done through us as the Holy Spirit leads, guides and inspires us every day that we are alive on this earth.

That is our work…

Your work and my work…

And our work matters… 

*This post and the next will deal with Chapter 6 of J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God.  They will deal with the third element of the Triune Jehovah, the Holy Spirit.

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Enlarge My Heart…

If belief in the incarnation is the most difficult aspect of Christianity for unbelievers to accept, that is one thing [see previous post, “The Greatest Difficulty”]. But J.I. Packer* looks at the event of the incarnation from another angle.  How difficult was it for God to become man?

It was difficult…

First of all, in the process of becoming man, God took on all the qualities of humanity. [Packer devotes three pages to the theory of kenosis, that Jesus gave up some of His divinity, but our focus will not be on that theory].  Our focus is that God did not give up anything; He added human elements to His divine nature. 

One of the most troubling aspects of His new life is the fact that now He has to deal with the angel who became the devil.   As a human, He had to deal with temptation.   Think about it; in Jesus we have a divine Man who is able to lead a perfect life.   Let’s turn to Hebrews to see what the Bible has to say about this: “He had to be made like his brothers in every way….Because He suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted….For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

For me the key word in Hebrews is the word suffered, just like I suffer when I am tempted.  Jesus did not take His temptation to the next steps, acting on His temptation and then experiencing shame and guilt.   He was strong enough or powerful enough to stop the devil; therefore setting a standard that we can aspire to in our lives on this earth.  However, His standard is so high that we have to admit we all fail [we don’t have divine powers in our makeup].  We turn to Him for grace; He gives it to us because He understands our human weakness and He also understands our aspiration for a better life.  Jesus encourages that with his role model.

Jesus adds humility and obedience to his existence.  Paul writes “Jesus did not cling to His privileges as God’s equal, but stripped Himself of every advantage by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born a man. And plainly seen as a human being, He humbled Himself by living a life of utter obedience to the point of death, and the death He died was the death of a common criminal [Philippians 2: 6-8].

He became the “second” person of the Trinity, and totally submitted to the pleasure of His God the Father.  Packer says He is coequal with His Father in eternity, power and glory; as a man it is natural for Him to find joy in doing His Father’s will.   It goes even further than that.  “In heaven, so on earth, the Son was utterly dependent upon the Father’s will” [Packer, 62].

Could Jesus have acted independently of God?  He obviously had supernatural powers, not ascribed to normal man [e.g. knowing the Samaritan woman’s shady past, multiplying fishes, raising Lazarus from the dead etc.] but He was a man on a mission, a mission that God has ascribed for Him.   Like His ability to conquer temptation, His obedience sends a clear message to manhood.  He willingly did not know when He would return to His father although He could have.  God kept that information from Him and when He asked for a different fate toward the end of His life, He thought that He would have a chance to get that request.  God said no and Jesus accepted “the cup.”  “He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will’” [Matthew 26: 39].

Key phrase in this Scripture for me is “not as I will, but as You will.”

The last aspect of humanity that Jesus added to His divinity is poverty.  Packer writes He had “a voluntary restraint of power, an acceptance of hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and misunderstanding; finally, a death that involved such agony—spiritual even more than physical—that His mind nearly broke under the prospect of it [Packer, 63].

His acceptance of poverty sends a clear message that we are to love “to the uttermost….unlovely human beings.”  He provides hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because of the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable [Packer, 63].  Many of us miss this point; that our life could [should?] be a life of love, for the downtrodden, the less fortunate in life.  Truly one does not have to look far to see dire human needs all around us.  Packer provides a stinging rebuke when he comments that most Christians spend their lives trying to build nice middle-class Christian homes, with nice middle-class Christian friends, hoping to raise nice middle-class Christian children.

Jesus spent His life accepting the cloak of poverty so He could enrich the lives of the poor.  He gave them time.  He took on their troubles.  He had care and concern for the less fortunate.  

This is an aspect of the life of Christ that so many of us just can’t seem to adopt.  He intends for us to, but we prefer our comfort.  We don’t want to sacrifice to help others.  We just don’t accept the admonition of 2nd Corinthians 8:9 “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

Why would anyone have a chance to be born a man and add deficits to His existence?  All powerful becomes tempted.  Divine becomes humble and obedient.  Omnipotence becomes poor.

To send a message.

“I am human and understand what is like to be a human; but I don’t want humanity to focus on its humanity.  I want humanity to try to be more…”

Psalms 119:32 “I will run the way of thy commandments, when though shalt enlarge my heart.”    

From his book Knowing God

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The Greatest Difficulty

“Thoughtful people find the gospel of Jesus Christ hard to believe, for the realities with which it deals pass our understanding”[J.I. Packer, 52].*

One might think that one of the real stumbling blocks is that Jesus hung on the cross and bore man’s sins.  How did He do that and that act impact our sins today?

If that is not it, maybe it is the resurrection.  Jesus rose physically from the dead.  I have read numerous theories calling the resurrection into question—resuscitation after a faint or perhaps someone stole the body of Jesus from the tomb.  There are several rational explanations that do not require faith.

Possibly the virgin birth is a problem for intelligent doubters; they just can’t believe that such a biological event could have occurred.  It is too far from science. 

The miracles seem too hard for many, the walking on water, feeding five thousand or raising the dead.  These are incredible stories for many, too incredible for belief.

But no, the biggest mystery that people cannot accept is not any of the above, it the incarnation.  Christians claim that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man; the second person of the Godhead was born a human without loss of His deity. 

This makes two mysteries that people struggle with, “the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus” [53].  In John 1:14, it says the “Word became flesh” and that means that there was no deception about this: there was a real baby in that manger, staring, wiggling, making noises, needing to be fed and taught to talk like any other human child.  “Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.”

John says four times in the first three chapters of his gospel that the Baby in the manger was “the Son,” not “a” son.  He is trying to make a point that this Baby was unique, the only begotten, the one and only Son of God. 

Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses are groups that take this idea and posit that the birth of Jesus means that there are two Gods, instead of one.  Packer digs into the Gospel of John to explain this problem and how John confronts it.  The writer John knew that the phrase “Son of God” would cause misleading associations within the minds of contemporary readers.  Jewish theology predicted that the Messiah would be a “Son of God.”  Greek mythology told of many “sons of gods” born between a god and a human.  Neither the Jews nor the Greeks attributed deity to the offspring between a God [for the Jews] and god [for the Greeks] and a human woman.

The famous first eighteen verses of John 1 are written the way they are to solidify the idea that the baby in the manger was God.  “In the beginning was the Word” is a clear statement that when things began, Jesus was there.  “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made”. 

There is a lot in those words, when you stop and meditate on them.  “The Word was with God” means that the Word has a personality, a power that fulfills God’s purposes and stands in eternal relation to God.

The “Word was God” highlights the deity of Jesus, not only being a human, but also possessing divinity, as God the Father has. 

“Through Him all things were made” is a creating phrase.  Everything His Father has made, Jesus was there creating also.  “All that was made was made through Him” [Packer, 56]. 

“In Him was life” is a phrase pinpointing that Jesus was part of animating life.  Not only was Jesus there when things were made originally, but in the continuing of life in all its forms, Jesus will be there also. He will be involved in future life.

That life was the “light of men” reveals that in giving life, Jesus is giving light to the world.  People who are alive in this world have “intimations of God” and those intimations are due to the work of the Word in their lives, the work of Jesus in their lives.  “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

It is not until verse fourteen that John expresses “the Word became flesh.”  That baby in the manger was none other than the eternal Word of God.  Now as Packer writes, John “has now made it clear what is meant by calling Jesus the Son of God.  The Son of God is the Word of God.  We see what the Word is; well, that is what the Son is.”  Such is the message of the first eighteen verses of the book of John. 

The biggest mystery that people cannot accept may be the incarnation, but as Packer says “once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties [atonement, resurrection, virgin birth and miracles] dissolve.”

Once that reality is grasped, one can experience the Light, the brightness that emanates from that little Baby in the manger.

From his book Knowing God

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