CHECKLISTS AND CHECKLISTS

1.Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, be Baptized (check). 2. Acapella Singing (check). 3. Congregational Autonomy (check). 4. Elders (check). 5. That Which Every Joint Supplies, the Proper Working of Each Individual Part (       ).

Ephesians as the “church” epistle supports the 5th identification on our checklist above (Ephesians 4:16). You and I will decide if there will be a check and, if so, how big a check Jesus will place in the box. The elementary matters of 1-4 are fairly easy to affirm (though there really is more to them than is sometimes understood),however the fifth consideration on the list asks for more; relates to how well we practice connected, united, common purpose body/family service.

A question is then what are my niches? Hopefully, we all have more than one. With my involvement in mind, if the level of my church commitment to service were transferred to a spot with the Hilltoppers, what would the sports writers say and how well would the team fare considering the value of my contribution to the whole? Looking at this participation principle from a spiritual point of view, how fittingly am I described by Paul’s statement regarding my ability to suffer and rejoice with other members of the body (I Cor. 12:26)?

Okay, I understand that you and I are human and thus saddled with limitations hindering us from perfect performance. However, Jesus, the builder of the church, did not have the Spirit speak of expected relationships without His having some expectation that these relationships would be more than puny.

I also know that Rome was not built in a day. We are all works in progress; improvement comes with time. Also, progress involving a group can be messy at times. Therefore, the question isn’t whether or not we have arrived at perfection, rather it is a question asked about if we are consistently taking the next step. Is there movement? What tangible progress is evident in my life and in the life of the congregation?

A local congregation is expected by God to provide an environment conducive to growth. Individual Christians are expected to take advantage of this and grow. Even if the congregation’s environment is not helping me as much as I think it should, my responsibility before God remains. There is no way to escape my duty and privilege as a Christian to do the best I can to make things better in the Kingdom.

How does my “checklist” look? Is is just a checklist of outward behaviors or does it address my spirit and its ongoing quest for Christ-likeness? Who has made my checklist, me and my selfish, unambitious attempts to place my “commitments” in a rather small box, or Jesus who wants to own me?

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Old Covenant Apologetics, What If?

Regarding Old Covenant apologetics, what if the covenant were layered from pure justice moving up to justice tempered by mercy; bare law-keeping moving up to obedience of faith?
As a covenant serving a nation often characterized by barbarity who lived among people who sacrificed their children to idols, the covenant would begin to address matters from the lowest common denominator. This would not be the end all by any means, rather this would primarily serve to keep an incredibly dysfunctional people in some semblance of order.
Beyond this, while not abandoning principles/laws in keeping with God’s nature or types and shadows or laws in keeping with the nature of humankind, the covenant would allow men and women to rise to amazing spiritual heights.
Considering that, unlike the New Covenant, the Old served all facets of national life, how else could it be constructed? If this be true, common objections to the Old Covenant are largely removed.

In The World, But Not Of The World

Jesus is our perfect model for being in the world, but not of the world.
He was found where people were found, ate what people ate, lived in a political world without being absorbed in politics, surrounded by a wide gamut of social issues yet never lost sight of His Father’s balanced agenda, always put God first while remaining amazingly approachable.

We need to examine carefully His example lest our good intentions distort the priorities of the Kingdom. God is not the God of our cause; He has his on agenda. Christ-likeness, therefore, is not just the best way to go, it is the only way.

The Torah of Moses

The Torah of Moses

A Closer Look at the Law of Moses

Deuteronomy 1:5; 4:5-8

            Most tend to view the Bible more as a book of independent truths or facts – a rulebook consulted for the appropriate answer. While the Bible certainly does have rules, its message is designed to be understood as a complete, connected, holistic revelation concerning God, His will, and His plan. With this in mind, we will have a look at some “connect-the-dots” understandings relative to the Torah of Moses.

It is the “Torah,” not the “Pentateuch”

  •        “Torah” is the proper Hebrew word for this section of Hebrew                 Scripture.
  •        The Torah of Moses refers to the first five books of the Old Covenant.
  •         The word “torah” should be defined as “instruction” or “teaching” rather than“law.”

The Torah of Moses served as the law library for Israel.

  •           Priests taught and made decisions based on its teachings (Lev. 10:8-11; Deut.  17:8-10; 31:24-36)
  •          Kings, likewise, were to know Torah and rule under its authority (Deut.

           17:19-20; II Kgs. 22:8-13; 23:1-3).

  •       Prophets were Torah-centered covenant lawyers (Jer. 6:16).
  •       The people of Israel were to affirm and live by Torah (Deut. 30:15-16; cf. I I Kgs. 23:1-3; Neh. 8:1-8).
  •       Wisdom Literature is based on its principles.
  •       Biblical narratives in the Old Covenant illustrate Torah as it is lived out

                   among the people.

  •          The Writing Prophets present God’s Torah cases and speak of His fidelity to covenant and ultimate Torah promises.

Torah Breakdown

  •           Genesis 1-11, Universal Beginnings.
  •           Genesis 12-50, Israel’s Beginnings.
  •           Exodus 1-14, Release from Egyptian Slavery.
  •           Exodus 15- Leviticus, Laws for the Nation
  •           Numbers, The Wilderness Wandering.
  •           Deuteronomy, Making Things Clear.

Levels of Torah Instruction

  •           Management of the nation by civil law (note Gal. 3:24; 4:1-2).
  •           Religious “types” for Israel and pointing to Jesus (Heb. 8:4-6; 10:1-            2).
  •           Principles grounded in God’s nature (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:4-8).

                  o     Faith was always the key (Deut. 30:11-14).

                  o     Law alone led to death (Rom. 5:20-21; Jas. 2:10).

                  o     Paul put the pieces together (Rom. 10:5-8; Rom. 2:28-29).

Torah and Atonement

  •           There were limitations.

                   o     An altar 7 1/2 by 7 ½ in surface area (Ex. 27:1).

                   o     The blood of the altar could not remove sin (Heb. 10:4).

                   o     There was only one acceptable place for the Bronze Altar (Deut.               12:5, 11; I Kgs. 8:27-30).

  •           Nevertheless, there were additional factors to consider.

                   o     The Day of Atonement for the nation (Lev. 16).

                   o     Praying toward Jerusalem (I Kgs.8:27-30; cf. Dan. 6:10).

                   o     A Covenant People (Gen. 17:17; II Sam. 12:13; Ps. 51; remember the thief on the cross, Lk. 23:39-43).

                   o     Forgiveness was promised by God in the Old Covenant (Lev. 4:20, 26, 31, 35;5:10, 13, 16, 18).

                   o     Paul, again, explains (Rom. 3:21-31).

  •           Interesting Considerations

                   o     Aliens had a place at the Bronze Altar (Lev. 17:8-9).

                   o     Women could also approach the Bronze Altar (Lev. 12:1-8; 15:25-30; Lk.  2:21-38).

                   o     Jesus’ cleansing the temple reacted to the Jews creation of a Court of the Gentiles, not found in the Old

                             Covenant, to keep them distant from the temple and then corrupting that area with merchandising (Mk. 1  1:17-18; Isa. 56:6-8; Jer. 7:11; Eph. 2:11-22).

Deuteronomy

  •          A Special role (29;1).
  •           Less than 50% of previous legislation.
  •           A “key” to understanding the focus and implementation of the law (1:5).
  •           A greater emphasis on love, faith, and the heart.
  •           Emphasis and Function.

                   o     Israel’s Potential (4:5-8; cf. Rom. 2:24).

                   o     Israel’s Loyalty (6:4-9, 20-25)

                   o     Israel’s Holiness (7:6; 14:2; I Pet. 2:9; Matt. 5:48).

            The Torah of Moses is an amazing testimony to God’s holiness, wisdom, and love. The Torah managed rebellious Israel as a civil state, constructed their religion to point forward to the fullness of Christ, and gave a holy model of spiritual conduct as high and unchangeable as God Himself!

THE BALANCE OF GRACE IN AN UNBALANCED WORLD

THE BALANCE OF GRACE IN AN UNBALANCED WORLD

            Some subjects that are supposed to bring peace and comfort wind up being twisted into controversy. One such subject is grace. There is one extreme involving a hyper-grace predestination that informs God about the limits of His sovereignty. In this humans are but pawns in a predetermined game. I find this lacking in biblical reason and ultimately self-defeating. At the other end of the discussion is a checklist proudly paraded while grace becomes but a perfunctory whisper.  In this the attention comes to be focused on our actions rather than on God’s goodness. This, too, has no Scriptural support.

            I seriously suspect an unbiased Bible student would find neither of these extreme positions a fair representation of the complete discussion. Extremes are easy; they demand little thinking and require a closed mind. Unbiased searchers would find such prerequisites insulting and unsatisfying.

Consider the following combination of grace, faith and works as a balanced alternative to the extremes just mentioned. A seasonal illustration may help.

            Your shopping has finally located the much sought after gift. The gift, wrapping paper, tag, ribbon, and stickers have all been purchased. The gift is positioned under the tree until the day for unwrapping arrives. But, what if the gift remains unwrapped? The answer is simple; the gift cannot be enjoyed.

Now consider a variation of the story. All the details remain the same, but this time the gift is opened and enjoyed. Did the person who unwrapped the gift supply a penny of its cost? This also allows for an easy answer, no.

             Another illustration may also contribute to the point I wish to make. Blinds are opened in a dark room on a sunny day. The room is filled with light. The same blinds are opened at midnight. The room remains dark.

            In both illustrations, the work of enjoying either the present or the light did in no way purchase or create the thing enjoyed. Presents unopened are not enjoyed. Light blocked does not light a room. For that matter, opening the blinds if there is no light is useless. The sun gives the light, not the blinds.

            I suggest a balanced, biblical view allows for the gift of grace apart from any human merit while providing a place for human reception. Therefore, any work that seeks to earn salvation cannot succeed. Grace is a gift. However, a work of faith is to be understood in a different context. The positive, biblical context of works is merely receptive in nature, never deserving.

            Therefore, rather than seeing Romans 4 and James 2 in conflict or developing convoluted “harmonizations” may we not see them as expressing different aspects or contexts of the place of faith and works. The faith that saves puts no trust in the purchasing power of our works. The faith that does not act, however, is dead.

            Let us glory in grace, God’s incomprehensible gift! Let us also appreciate that the obedience of faith, though always flawed and never deserving, is nevertheless part of the conversation (Rom. 1:5; 16:26; I Jn. 1:7).

God’s Purpose for His People

Christianity and the Purposes of God

            A vital part of being transformed in our heart to be more like Jesus is found in knowing God’s purposes. In short, there is a plan. It is also true that an initial determination to be Christ-like may not result in discovering God’s plan. There are side roads and cul-de-sacs the evil one has created to take us off course.

            One of Satan’s most effective strategies is to have us accept some form of substitute Christianity. Substitutions often have a partial, though distorted representation of Jesus. Substitutions may do many good deeds and hold to various biblical positions; however, only Jesus’ church follows God’s purposes. God expects us to grow in our Christ-likeness to understand what Christianity truly means. This cannot be achieved apart from understanding God’s purposes for His people.

            Ephesians 4:11-16 is very instructive at this point. In just a few verses, a broad overview is given of how Christianity is designed to work. Applied to our day, teachers are to equip Christians with the tools they need to build up the body of Christ. The completed New Testament is the source of this equipping and it informs us fully relative to a mature understanding of Christ and His will.

            All Christians are charged with growing up individually and working together collectively. We are a body (I Cor. 12:12-27). Our identity is the identity of Jesus. We are to conduct the Father’s plan in the way of the Christ. In oneness and through love the church grows into a captivating, challenging body of believers (Jn. 13:34-35; 17:21-23). If we do not seek and employ God’s purposes, we will fall short of our Father’s expectations.