Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Can We Do Good Apart From God?

Biblegems # 107
Question: Is it true that man can do no good apart from God? Even the humanistic worldview proclaims the importance of selflessness. On the other hand, the heart of man is wicked… So is it true that, apart from Christ’s love, even “good” actions have an underlying intention that ultimately makes them selfish acts?

The Bible text that immediately comes to mind is the apostle Paul’s quote from the OT that no one does anything good:
         Rom. 3:10, 12 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; …All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

But then you have Jesus saying:
         Luke 11:13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

So which is it—people can do good, such as giving good gifts to their children—or people are incapable of doing good, as Paul seems to say in Romans? Actually, Romans 3:12 does not say we are incapable of doing good; it simply says no one does good.

Both Jesus and Paul are completely agreed that mankind is wicked at heart, corrupted by sin from birth, and shaped in iniquity throughout life. This is a solidly biblical portrait of the human condition, one that is strikingly at odds with the contemporary worldview that sees mankind as inherently good, or at least morally neutral at birth.
         Eccl. 7:20 There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.
         A truly “righteous man,” according to Bible, is someone “who does what is right and never sins”—not someone who never does what is right. We are all unrighteous because we are all sinners; but even sinners can do the right thing.

The sinful nature is inherited at conception:
         Ps. 51:5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
However, as sinful and totally corrupt as man is, people are still capable of acting in accordance with God’s will, showing that “the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness” (Rom. 2:15).

This is why people without Christ are quite capable of doing good things and of recognizing good that others do. That’s why, in the words of this week’s Biblegems reader, “even the humanistic worldview proclaims the importance of selflessness.” In fact, the apostle Paul was counting on the non-Christian’s appreciation for selflessness when he contrasted the high human standard of being willing to die for a good person with the even higher standard set by God:
         Rom. 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

So, is it possible for unsaved people to do good without hidden selfish motives? Certainly. But it is the very fact that we know what is good but don’t do it that condemns us.

Rom. 7:24-25 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Is Sheol Purgatory?

Biblegems #106
What is the difference, if any, between Sheol and purgatory?

The doctrine of purgatory is a predominantly Catholic church doctrine:
“Purgatory (Lat., "purgare", to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God's grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.”1

According to Catholicism, punishment for sins still awaits deceased believers:
“That temporal punishment is due to sin, even after the sin itself has been pardoned by God, is clearly the teaching of Scripture.”2

Purgatory is seen as purifying a person of any uncleanness to make them acceptable for eternal life in God’s holy presence.

This is NOT the same as the realm of the dead (Hebrew: Sheol; Greek: Hades), which is reserved for those awaiting God’s Final Judgment, whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life:
         Rev. 20:11-15 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it …and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

There are two principal Scripture references used to defend the teaching of purgatory:
         Matt. 12:32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
         Nothing is said here concerning sin being purged or paid for in purgatory. Finding purgatory in these words is eisogesis (reading into the text what is not already there), rather than exegesis (explaining the meaning of the text).

         1 Cor. 3:11-13 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.
         The “fire” spoken of here has nothing to do with punishment, but only of separating out those “works” that have eternal value from those that do not.

When a person dies who has in this life truly surrendered his life to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, that person’s sins are already paid for on the cross and that person has been made holy and acceptable to God. There is no purgatory:
         1 Pet. 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
Heb. 10:10 …we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (see Rom. 6:10; Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 26).

1. The Catholic Encyclopedia (online edition)
2. Ibid.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Duplicated Bible Chapters

Biblegems # 105
Question: Many chapters in OT books are duplicated, or nearly duplicated, in other OT books. I heard that repetition is caused by one passage being a history while the other is poetic. How can I best understand this repetition, and thus understand the Bible better?

Actually, this duplication of material between books of the Bible extends to the New Testament as well, notably the Gospels. One of the benefits of this is that multiple witnesses add to the strength of any testimony. So when an event recorded in the Scriptures is repeated elsewhere in Scripture, the duplication actually adds weight to the claim that the event is historically accurate. But—let’s look at some examples in both the Old and New testaments.

The books of 1 & 2 Chronicles, perhaps composed by Ezra around 400 B.C., contain a record of God’s dealings with the Hebrew people from Adam to the captivity—and release—of the Jews under Cyrus—a period paralleling biblical history from Genesis to Ezra and Nehemiah. Some of the historical content in Chronicles was intended to fill in some gaps in other “official records” of the kings of Israel:
         1 Chr. 27:24 Joab son of Zeruiah began to count the men but did not finish. Wrath came on Israel on account of this numbering, and the number was not entered in the book of the annals of King David.

For the most part, however, the purpose of Chronicles is not to give a chronological timeline of events, but to demonstrate through examples in history of how God blesses obedience and disciplines disobedience in His people.

The books of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings on the other hand, many portions of which show up in the Chronicles, are intended to demonstrate God’s control, His absolute sovereignty, over the people of Israel in the fulfillment of His plan of salvation. So, king Josiah is commended in 2 Kings for eradicating idolatry from Israel:
         2 Kings 22:2 He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.
         Josiah’s actions are also recorded in 2 Chronicles 34-35. The difference is not so much in the details but in the purposes of the two accounts. The books of Kings highlight God’s sovereignty; Chronicles highlights God’s guidance through blessing and discipline. The result is like looking at the same event through binoculars.

The same principle is at work in the Gospels. Four Gospels represent four perspectives on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy; Luke emphasizes the Holy Spirit and healing; Mark highlights Jesus’ sinless humanity; John exalts Jesus’ divine nature in human flesh.

We are fortunate indeed to have such a full account of biblical history, for—unlike human history recounted by a meaningless maze of dates and events—this is HIS-story:
         Heb. 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Homosexuality—3: Who Am I To Judge?

Biblegems # 104
Question: I don't want to think that God would fault me for associating with people who are homosexual because God wants us to love everyone. Who am I to judge?

This is the third and final installment on this series dealing with homosexuality, focusing this time on how God would have His people interact with those who have adopted a homosexual lifestyle. The answer to this begins with the question, “who am I to judge?”

Usually, what we mean by that question is “who am I to condemn?” Listen to what Jesus taught about that:
         John 3:17-18 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

According to Jesus, then, the entire human race is already condemned. Humanity is contaminated by sin—we are born into it, like an AIDS baby is born into a deadly disease. The Bible puts it this way:
         Rom. 5:12sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned

The sins we choose to commit—lying, adultery, homosexuality, etc.—come from the sin nature we have inherited from our ancestors. We are all born into an environment of sin, of disobedience to God, and of a slavish desire to satisfy our animal desires and determine our own path through life. As Jesus said,
         John 3:19-20 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

But—you ask—why should we be condemned for a sin nature we inherited? It’s not fair!

You’re right, it’s not fair, any more than a baby condemned to die of AIDS because of a parent’s choice is fair. In fact it’s outrageous! And if you could do something to rescue that baby, to save that baby from the consequences of a parent’s sinful choice, would you not do it? Of course you would!

This is precisely what God has done in sending His Son Jesus to die in our place, taking the disease of our sin upon Himself and offering the transfusion of His life into ours for our salvation. You have heard the verse and seen the reference at baseball and football stadiums every year:
         John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

No, it is not our place to condemn those who choose a life of sin, whether homosexuality or stealing or whatever. Sin cuts us off from God, and God IS Life. Apart from life in Jesus, we are all condemned (John 14:6). But for us who have put their faith in Jesus and have been vaccinated against the effects of sin, who have been given the free gift of eternal life, our role is to get this Good News out to the rest of humanity.

One final thought: for those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, yet choose to maintain a lifestyle that belongs to the old sinful nature…
         Rom. 6:1-2 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?