Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

Month: July, 2015

The Truth about LUST

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The word “Lust” is used numerous times in the New Testament.  It is basically a word that means a strong desire or craving.  It is similar to the word “covetousness” in the 10 commandments.  And it is extremely dangerous.  Lust created Gollum.  Sure, you can lust for good things (Luke 22:15; Phil. 1:23; 1 Thess. 2:17), but in Scripture, overwhelmingly the word for “lust” is used in a negative way.  It is either a sin (Matthew 5:28), or it leads to sin (James 1:15).  Whether it is lust for money, possessions, another person’s life, or another person’s wife, lust has the potential to kill you.  So, before giving in, remember the truth about LUST.

Lie:  Lust lies to you.  Lust promises far more than it can deliver.  Lust told Adam and Eve that they will “not” surely die when they ate the fruit.  Lust told them that it will make them wise like God.  It told them that the beautiful garden and provision from God was not enough.  And it tells us the same things.  Lust tells us we don’t have enough to be content, we need more.  It tells us our house is not big enough, our spouse is not good enough, and our car is not fast enough.  It tells us the lie that satisfaction and “the good life” is always just out of arms reach.  We always need a little bit more money, sex, entertainment, and stuff to reach it.

Unsatisfying:  Lust is unsatisfying.  You might enjoy the momentary pleasure of that video on the internet, that evening with a woman that you’re not married to, or that recent impulse purchase at Sam’s Club.  But soon enough, buyer’s remorse begins to arise.  Guilt and regret spread throughout your soul.  You do not see yourself as the person you want to be.  You return to the empty, shallowness that you tried to fill with some forbidden fruit.  And your lust returns stronger than ever.  You begin chasing the high that you so desperately long for, only to be disappointed every time.  It steals your satisfaction (and gratitude) with what you already have, and replaces it with an unsatisfied craving for more.

Selfish:  Lust is not about satisfying or helping others.  People usually don’t sit at home and crave mowing a widow’s lawn, or helping their spouse clean the bedroom.  Lust is all about us.  Jesus said that lusting after a woman is the same as committing adultery with her in the heart (Matthew 5:28).  This is the ultimate way to devalue a person.  A Princeton psychologist conducted an interesting study that showed men view scantily clad women as objects rather than humans.  When you are in lust mode, you are not seeing a human being with goals, purpose, and intrinsic worth.  You are seeing a means to satisfy your craving.  You are seeing a tool that you can use to accomplish a task.  A selfish, demeaning task.

Terrible:  Lust does terrible things to you and others.  How many people have been raped, killed, dehumanized, insulted, cheated, abandoned, impoverished, evicted, fired, and used because of lust?  Lust devalues others and leaves you feeling empty, regretful, and dissatisfied.  It harms your heart (Matthew 5:28), and it leads to your death (James 1:14-15).  Over time it robs you of your humanity and decency.  It is a terrible plague that is destroying the entire world (1 John 2:15-17).

The next time you begin to feel strong sinful cravings arising in your body and mind, change your environment.  Fill that craving with something else.  Give a friend a phone call, go for a run, stand outside, build a chair, read your Bible, do gymnastics, go to the store, put an ax through your computer, pray, give thanks for the blessings you already have, do something!  Find hobbies, find help, and strive for satisfaction and contentment.  Leave lust behind, because the truth is, lust is a terrible, selfish, unsatisfying, lie.

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Names that Remain: Marcion

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Marcion’s Life Story:

Marcion was born in the first century, around AD 85.  He was born in Sinope, Pontus (modern day Sinop, Turkey).  This city is on an isthmus in the Black Sea.  With this location and his organizational prowess, Marcion was able to become a wealthy ship owner.  He was intelligent, successful, wealthy, and very benevolent.  He also was reared in the church.  His father was an elder of the church of Pontus, referred to by Hippolytus as the Bishop of Sinope.

In about AD 138 he moved to Rome and was instantly influential.  He contributed a large sum of money to the church in Rome.  His wealth, generosity, and prominence in the church gave him a platform among Christians.  However, his warm reception did not last long.  His teaching angered the leaders of the church in Rome resulting in his excommunication in AD 144.  His money was returned to him and he traveled back to Asia Minor.  He started his own religious movement and his followers were called Marcionites.  They were viewed by orthodox Christianity as heretics.  Marcion is remembered today as one of the most influential heretics in the early church.

Marcion’s Heretical Teaching:                         

The reason that Marcion fell out of favor with the Roman church was because of his teaching.  He grew despondent with what he perceived to be a cold, law-focused gospel.  In his efforts to revitalize and restore a proper understanding to the church, he fought against “Law” in favor of “gospel” and “spirit.”  He also developed a strong anti-Semitic disposition.   He became so extreme in his separation of “Law” from “Gospel” that he rejected the entire Hebrew Scriptures, eventually claiming that the “God” of the Hebrew Bible was completely separate from the Father of Jesus.

He saw the Jews and Christians to be serving two separate gods.  There was the jealous, petty, violent, tribal, creator, war-God of the Hebrews (the Demiurge), and the loving, compassionate, forgiving God; the universal Heavenly Father of Jesus.  He understood Jesus to be the appearance (not the incarnation) of this Heavenly Father, a belief known as docetism.  Basically, he believed that it only “seemed” like Jesus was in the flesh, but was not actually flesh.

He also advocated a strong asceticism.  He rejected earthly pleasures and comforts.  He replaced the wine of the Lord’s Supper with water.  He refused baptism for the married (sexually active), except for when they were very advanced in years.  This created two classes of his followers: the perfect (celibate and baptized) and the imperfect.

Marcion’s Canon:

To support his teachings, Marcion needed Scriptural support.  In his day the set 27 book New Testament had not been collected yet.  Marcion, in fact, provides the earliest list of New Testament books ever discovered: the first “Christian canon.”  He believed that all of the 12 apostles had been influenced by false Jewish teaching.  Only Paul truly understood the gospel.  So in his canon he accepted only the books written by Paul.  He included 10 of Paul’s letters (not 1 or 2 Timothy, Titus).  He also included the Gospel of Luke (the only book of the Bible probably not written by a Jew).

Marcion obviously rejected the entire Hebrew Scriptures.  He believed instead of the 66 books that we have in our Protestant Bibles, Christians should only have 11 books.  The Gospel of Luke, and ten letters of Paul.  He also perpetuated the idea that these books had been tainted, so he sought to “restore” them to their original condition.  He removed portions that interfered with his teachings.  For example, he was a Docetic.  He did not believe that Jesus had a fleshly body.  Therefore, the virgin birth is a difficult doctrine.  So Marcion rejected the virgin birth, and his Gospel of Luke started in chapter 3.

Result of Marcion’s Work:

There were several long lasting results of what Marcion did and taught.  One of those results was a new schism in Christianity.  The Marcionite church was zealous, evangelistic, and growing.  It drew away many believers, and remained active for hundreds of years (until the 5th century).

Marcion’s teaching also resulted in many writings against him and his followers.  Tertullian wrote five books entitled Against Marcion.  Irenaeus addressed Marcion in his Against Heresies.  Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Epiphanius, and others condemned the teachings and followers of Marcion.  It is mostly through these writings that we can reconstruct what Marcion taught.

Marcion’s separation of the Creator God from Jesus no doubt played a role in the church seeking to nail down a more precise definition of a Triune God.  He drove the church to attempt a better understanding of the continuity between the revelation of God in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.

Perhaps what Marcion is most recognized for is his canon.  The church relied heavily on oral teaching, and where apostolic Scripture was available it was used.  However, Marcion brought about a great need for the church to collect and define its Scripture.  Marcion rejected many of the books that Christians were using.   In response the church was forced to begin listing what books were to be used in worship and the formulation of Christian doctrine.  Marcion was a catalyst for the church to more precisely define its canon; books that were inspired by God and appropriate as Christian authority.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper Speak Louder than Words

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Christians are called to be vocal.  Confession, evangelism, preaching, and teaching are all examples of vocal Christianity.  But the Bible also speaks of silent actions.  These silent actions can say an awful lot.  Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two examples of loud, public proclamations that we make as Christians, without even opening our mouths.

Proclaiming the Lord’s Death:

Communion, the Eucharist, the Master’s Dinner, or whatever term you use to describe it, this is a proclamation made by Christians.  When Christians gather on the Lord’s Day to share in the Lord’s Meal, we are really saying something.  We are saying that we are all united through the death of the Messiah.  We are saying thank you for our forgiveness through the death of our Savior.  We are saying that Jesus is Lord.  Every time that we gather and take the Lord’s Supper, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Appealing to God:

In baptism, without even opening our mouths, we are speaking to God.  We are making “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21).  We all have a need for forgiveness, cleansing, healing, and the ability to move forward.  When we are baptized, we are asking God to forgive us and cleanse our conscience.

Sometimes we need a healthy reminder that God has cleansed our conscience.  We have no reason to continue feeling the strain of guilt from sins previously committed.  At baptism, they are washed away and God gives you a good and clear conscience.

Calling on the Name of the Lord:

The splash caused by immersion into water is not that loud.  However, the message proclaimed is deafening.  In baptism we are not only requesting a good conscience, but we are “calling on the name of the Lord.”  Peter preached, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).  In that same sermon he preached, “God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

When the crowds heard Peter say they must call on the name of the Lord, and that Jesus is the Lord, they asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  You might be thinking, “He already told you.  Call on His name.”  But clearly something deeper is meant.

We don’t call on Him simply by saying “Lord” or the name “Jesus” (Matthew 7:21; Mark 1:24).  Peter described how to call on the name of the Lord when he said, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Later on when Paul was instructed to be baptized, he was told, “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).

When you are baptized in His name, you are calling on His name.  That is not something you do with words, or a prayer, but by actions.  By your actions you are declaring that Jesus is Lord, and the Lord of your life.  At baptism Jesus becomes your Lord and Master, the Ruler of your life.

In the Lord’s Supper and baptism, your silence says more than words ever could.  By your actions you are proclaiming, appealing, and calling.  And God is listening.

Failures of a Works-Based Righteousness

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The more I pour over the book of Romans the more amazed I am at the grace and mercy of God.  The more thankful I am for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And the more challenged I am to grow in faith and obedience.

Romans discusses God’s offer of righteousness to mankind.  God is righteous and He wants to give His righteousness to us.  This righteousness is obtained in one of two possible ways: through our works of law or through our faith in Christ.  “Works of Law” describes a system of meriting God’s righteousness by our flawless check-list obedience of all of God’s demands.  “Faith” describes a system of receiving God’s righteousness as a gift based on trust in the gospel.  (We will be sticking with Paul’s definition for now. Leave James in James as you study Romans.  Otherwise things get confusing.  Just ask Martin Luther).

Paul’s conclusion is that “apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested…through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).  Paul chooses “faith,” because he sees some major problems with “works.”  So, what is the problem with a works-based system of obtaining righteous?

Works Render Faith Meaningless: Faith is the idea of total commitment, love, and submission to God.  We obey God because we love Him, not because it earns us salvation.  If “works” were our method of obtaining salvation, then our faith and love would be obsolete. As long as I did everything commanded, I could earn salvation, regardless of my trust or faith in God.  Going through the motions is all that would be necessary.  I would need to place my faith in myself and my own abilities.

Works Put Us in God’s Place: If I am only putting my faith in myself and my abilities, then I am taking God’s proper role.  I am relegating God to the sidelines to be the audience in my salvation, rather than the source of my salvation.  “Works” says I can do this on my own, and I don’t need God’s gift.  I just need my goodness, integrity, hard work, strength, and might.

Works Make us Boast: If my goodness, integrity, hard work, strength, and might, earn me salvation, then I have reason to feel pretty good about myself. When we think that the “good news” is about our power to save ourselves, rather than “God’s power to save” (Romans 1:16), then we can boast.  Instead of thanking God, we thank ourselves.  “I am strong and righteous enough to save myself! I am a great Christian!”

Works Make us Divisive: When we boast in our righteousness we look down on those who are not as “righteous” as us.  Isn’t it odd how we think that people should “grow” in their faith, but we look down on those who are not on our level? I like to think I am more faithful now than I was 10 years ago, but does that mean I was lost 10 years ago?  Would I judge another Christian for being where I was?  Grace levels the playing field.  “All have sinned…being justified as a gift by His grace” (Romans 3:23-24).  The amount of times I have read the Bible, attended a worship service, or gone on mission trips does not earn me an ounce more of salvation than the person who has not done as much as me.  This is a HUGE point in Romans.

Works Can’t Bring Justification:  While works based righteousness brings division, it certainly does not bring justification.  “Justification” and “righteousness” in Greek are the exact same word.  So, really, everything I’ve written so far becomes moot when we realize that we actually cannot make ourselves righteous by our works.  Works aren’t even a real option in obtaining righteousness.  Only God is righteous.  Our righteousness would require a sinless life.  Can you live as morally pure as God? If not, then you need His righteousness to be given to you.  You need to be justified by Him.  Paul is crystal clear, “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”

Works Can’t Bring Forgiveness:  Since you cannot justify yourself because of sin, you need some way to take care of the sin problem.  Sorry, works cannot help you here either.  Works cannot take away sins.  Say I rob a bank on Friday, and then do hundreds of good works on Saturday.  On Sunday, when the police track me down and arrest me, my good works will have done nothing for me.  I still have to pay for the crime.  In the same way, if you sin, but do thousands of good works, your sin still remains.  You don’t get to forgive yourself on God’s behalf.  He needs to be the one who forgives you.  He does this based on your faith in Jesus Christ.

Our obedience to God is the greatest way we can show our love for Him.  If we want to honor our baptism and live for the Lord, then we should never turn our back on obedience.  Paul’s goal in preaching was to bring people to “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26).  We put our faith into action by obedience.  “Works” on the other hand, is our way to telling God, “No thanks, I got this thing.”  “Obedience” and “works” might look similar in some ways, but the motivation is completely different.  Works are the opposite of faith, while obedience is the result of faith.  Righteousness is the result of faith and unmeritorious obedience (Romans 1:17; 3:22; 6:16), and can never come by works (Romans 3:20).

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