Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Half-Way Saved?

Biblegems #138
Question: How is it that the new believers who were baptized in Acts 8: 14-16 had not yet received the Holy Spirit? How can someone be a new believer without the Holy Spirit?

The book of Acts records how the Gospel spread from Jerusalem to Judea (1-7), Samaria (8-9), and then on to uttermost parts of the earth (10-28). This is important in understanding the context of Acts 8:14-17, because Acts chapter 8 opens a new phase in the advance of the Gospel: reaching Samaritans for Jesus.  

The Samaritans were considered outcasts by the Jews in New Testament times, and the Samaritans had similar feelings about the Jews:
         Luke 9:51-53  As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.

God chose Philip, a Gentile believer in Jesus who had also grown up knowing social exclusion from the Jewish culture, to be the first to bring the Gospel to Samaria (Acts 8:5-13).

The conversion of Samaritans would pose a serious problem for many Jewish Christians. Racial and social prejudice breeds distrust between people. God had to deliver the apostle Peter from his prejudice against Gentiles as people who were considered “unclean” (Acts 10:28). In a similar way, Jewish Christians would typically find it very difficult to interact with Samaritans who now claimed to be Christians.

To overcome this prejudice, God used Peter and John, sent by the apostles in Jerusalem, to verify the conversion of the Samaritans (v.14).  The apostles clearly expected these new Samaritan believers to experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in power, and that had not yet been the case (v.16). God used Peter and John to pray for these first Samaritan believers and lay hands on them (a cultural no-no). The result was so obvious that an onlooker named Simon offered to pay the apostles for the ability to lay hands on people to experience the filling of the Holy Spirit (vv. 18-19).

The Samaritan Christians were saved—born again of the Spirit—the moment they believed. But the “receiving of the Spirit” (v. 15) in this context refers to receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit in a demonstration of power. This was the Samaritan’s “Pentecost.” A similar Pentecost-style experience would take place in the home of Cornelius as the Gospel later penetrated the Gentile world (Acts 10). The experience would build unity between the Jewish, Samaritan and Gentile believers as they all shared in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as the apostles had experienced at Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit was poured out in demonstrations of power upon new converts at the three most prominent thresholds for fulfilling Jesus’ command to bring the Gospel to the whole world (Jerusalem and Judea [one region], Samaria, and the Gentile world):
         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 (i.e., Gentiles).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Gap In Time?

Biblegems #137
Question: Is there a significant gap in time between the creation of the heavens and earth in Genesis 1:1 and a re-creation of the universe in verse 2 following some kind of devastating judgment or cataclysmic event?

This question represents a view of creation known as the “Gap Theory.” This theory was made popular in the late 1800’s and on into the 20th century by Rev. C.I. Scofield.

In commenting on Genesis 1:1, Scofield writes: “The first creative act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for all the geologic ages.”[i] Then, in reference to Genesis 1:2, he says: “Jer. 4:23-26, Is. 24:1 and 45:18, clearly indicate that the earth had undergone a cataclysmic change as the result of a divine judgment.”[ii] He goes on to suggest that the fall of Lucifer from heaven (Ezek. 28;12-15; Is. 14:9-14) likely happened during this ‘Gap,’ accounting for the destruction of God’s original pristine creation.

The first question we need to ask is: does Genesis 1:1-2 teach a gap in time during which God’s original creation was destroyed and then re-created? In answering this question, use this fundamental principle of biblical interpretation: ‘The Scripture is clear when the interpreter follows basic grammatical rules.’ The answer, then, is “No,” Genesis 1:1-2 does not teach this gap in time. In fact, it is not even implied.

The clear interpretation of the passages Scofield refers to in Jeremiah 4 and Isaiah 24 speak prophetically of God’s future judgment on the nations at the return of the Lord, and give no indication of referring to some gap in time in Genesis. And Scofield’s reference in Isaiah 45:18 speaks to the purpose of creation, not to any supposed re-creation.

So then what is the clear teaching of Genesis 1:1-2?

Simply this: verse 1 tells us about God. He is the Creator. All that exists (“the heavens and the earth”) exists by His will.  

Verse 2 begins the account of creation with a description of the raw materials brought into existence at the moment of its conception. “The earth” (Heb. eretz, Lit., “land,” or “ground”) in this context does not refer to the globe we call earth because in verse 2 the “earth” has no shape. It is “formless.” Rather, earth in this context is equivalent to “matter,” the material stuff the universe is composed of. This earth, or matter, is also described as “empty,” (Heb. tohu)—a word that indicates “chaos.”  Also, at the very moment of creation there was no light whatsoever, and among the chaotic material floating in the darkness was a shapeless body of water (“the deep”).

That is the clear, straightforward meaning of the passage. But beyond its surface meaning there is another important, theological, consideration. If there had been a Gap in time that caused the fossil record (a record of death) of geological ages before Adam and Eve, then the statement in Romans 5:12 would be false:
         …sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—

But in fact:
         Rom. 5:21 … just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord!

[i] The Scofield Reference Bible, edited by Rev. C.I.Scofield, D.D., Oxford University Press, NY. 1945 edition. In loc.
[ii] Ibid.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Righteous Contradiction?

Biblegems #136
Question: Genesis 7:1 and Romans 3:10 seem to contradict each other. Noah is called “righteous” in Genesis, yet Romans says “no one is righteous.” Can man be righteous in God’s eyes or not?

To be fair to the question, it must also be pointed out that there are others in the Bible besides Noah whom God has described as “righteous,” including Job (Job 2:3) and Zechariah and Elizabeth (Lk. 1:6). In addition, the Bible also teaches that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Ja. 5:16b), and “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Jesus] is righteous” (1Jn. 3:7b).

In the light of these very specific examples of human righteousness, how can it be accurately said that “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10)?

As is so often the case in apparent Bible contradictions, context is everything. The apostle Paul is arguing in Romans 3 that God alone is so purely righteous that He alone is qualified to judge the world (Rom. 3:1-6). In comparison to God, Paul is arguing “no one is righteous, not even one.”

The examples of Noah, Job, Zechariah and Elizabeth on the other hand are people God Himself elevates in comparison to other people as being righteous. In the case of Job, for example, “the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him…” (Job 2:3a). Likewise, God says of Noah and his family: “I have found you righteous in this generation (Gen. 7:1a). And the same can be said of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

When Paul, a highly educated, biblically literate Jew, quoted from the Old Testament “no one is righteous,” he was not ignorant of the examples of righteous people in Scripture. He was making the point that even the most righteous among men, such as Noah and Job, are still unrighteous in comparison to God and in need of His saving grace that comes through faith alone. It is that salvation in Jesus Christ that gives us a righteousness we do not possess in ourselves:
         Rom. 3:22-23a “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

So the apostle John could accurately say, He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Jesus] is righteous” (1Jn.3:7).  John is talking to people who have been saved by faith in Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 3:2). As Christians, we are “in Him” (i.e., in Christ”), who is sinless (1Jn. 3:5). Consequently, “he who is doing what is right”[i] is acting out of the righteous nature of Jesus Christ who indwells those who believe in Him. Therefore, because we are “in Him,” our actions flow from Jesus’ righteousness, not our own.

Compared to other people, one person might be considered more righteous than another. But compared to God…? Not so much!

[i]  The Greek in 1Jn. 3:7 is a present active participle

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Completely Forgiven

Biblegems #135
Question: If you sincerely forgave someone in the past who hurt you deeply, yet still harbor the pain that was inflicted years before, is that forgiveness genuine? 

To understand the connection between forgiveness and the pain caused by hurts that have already been forgiven it is important to understand the nature of forgiveness and what it actually accomplishes.

Forgiveness, biblically, means: 1) “to cover” or “atone for” (2) “to lift” or “carry away” (3) “to pardon,” with the connotation of completely removing or cancelling.

So when Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12 ), He is instructing us to ask God to completely cancel our sins in the same way we cancel the sins of others against us.

Let’s say that a friend asks to borrow three hundred dollars from you with a promise to repay once he is able. You loan him the money, even though it means sacrificing a trip to a much anticipated family reunion. A year later your friend has a new job, and you know he is able to repay. The repayment of the loan doesn’t come and you begin to feel your friendship has been abused. Reluctantly, you mention the loan, your friend apologizes and promises to get you the money soon, but it never comes. Finally, you choose, for the sake of your friendship, to forgive the loan. You tell your friend the loan is cancelled, and that you no longer want the payment because the loan is cancelled.

Regardless of your friend’s response, is the loan cancelled? Is the forgiveness of the debt genuine? Of course it is. Neither your feelings nor your friend’s response has any bearing on the cancelled debt.

But now there is another issue. Cancelling the debt has not really saved the friendship, has it? You are still feeling hurt, and you distrust your friend’s integrity—and you feel badly about that! And because you feel bad, you wonder if your forgiveness was genuine.

Listen: your feelings do not cancel out forgiveness. A cancelled debt remains cancelled; a forgiven sin remains forgiven:
John 20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 BUT, you now have to protect your heart against bitterness:
         Heb. 12:14-15  Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

You cancelled the debt in order to “live in peace” with your friend. Good. Now you confess your hurt feelings to God and ask Him to cleanse your heart of any bitterness toward your friend, because bitterness is also sin. Don’t “miss this grace” God longs to give you.
         1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Oh, and one more thing…

The next time your friend asks for a loan…  :)