Gospel – what and why

In response to a recent presentation of the gospel, someone responded, “That was good, but I’ve never heard it explained that way before.” You might find it surprising that on the one hand I value presenting nothing more than the original message, while on the other hand his comment did not surprise me.

The typical gospel presentation is clear, concise and accurate. We learn Jesus can save us. It instructs us how we need to respond to Christ. People need to hear this message.

What it might lack, however, is explanatory power. When Jesus established a memorial for his death, why did he speak of a covenant? What does Jesus’ story have to do with the rest of scripture? Why are we called to respond to Christ with baptism?

Continue reading “Gospel – what and why”

Wonderful differences

After God completed his creation having made humanity both male and female, God saw it was very good. The differences between men and women range from our psychological make up down to our physiology.

When comedians highlight the stark contrasts in how we think, perceive and interact with our world, audiences break forth in hearty laughter. Why? Because they recognize the truth in these stereotypes. We are different.

Expressions like, “Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them,” give voice to spousal tension and frustrations. Yet, God saw all these differences as being very good! In fact, it is because of these differences that marriage can be a tool promoting spiritual development.    Continue reading “Wonderful differences”

Gravity of Grace: concluding suggestions

I remember an occasion when a person quoted, “there should be no division in the body” (1 Corinthians 12:25) as evidence that small groups are unbiblical. We recognize, however, that with these words Paul affirmed the need for spiritual cohesiveness, not geographical unity. Accordingly, we rightfully reject the misappropriation of this verse to condemn the practice of groups meeting in various locations.

This realization should also cause us to recognize a general interpretation principle. It is a principle we need to remember when considering what it means for Christians to be saved by grace, as well as what it means to live under grace. Continue reading “Gravity of Grace: concluding suggestions”

Gravity of grace (5): Overview of Romans 9-11

Previously, Paul had announced he was not ashamed of the gospel because it is God’s power to save all those who believe, whether Jew or Greek. Furthermore, he asserted that this gospel reveals God’s righteousness. Subsequently, Paul proceeded to demonstrate God is righteous whether it be in judging people or how God justifies people “from faith to faith.” Chapter 8 ended with a crescendo emphasizing the security and confidence those in Christ possess.

Ironically, Paul begins to address the ramifications of this gospel that had elevated God’s fairness in making “no distinction” (Rom. 3:22,29; 4:16). If the Law cannot provide life or if ethnic Israel is not coextensive with God’s people, has God’s word failed? It is toward hard questions such as these that Paul now turns. Continue reading “Gravity of grace (5): Overview of Romans 9-11”

The gravity of grace (4): Overview of Romans 6-8

Within Romans, Paul addressed an ancient human urge that can be captured by the expression, “I want to have.”  In chapter 1 such desires erupted as idolatrous rebellion against God. For Paul, sin is not merely an activity that a person might step into and then out of, rather he treats it as an enslaved spiritual identity.

Grace figures predominantly in how God righteously saves us. An illustration can help us review while also preparing us to survey the next few chapters. Continue reading “The gravity of grace (4): Overview of Romans 6-8”

The gravity of grace (3): Overview of Romans 1-5

Luther quipped that he hated the commonly accepted idea of “the righteousness of God” within Romans. Accordingly, he discovered a new definition that created a whole new way to interpret Romans.

We need to be aware that what we do not want to be true as well as what we value can exert powerful influences on how we interpret. I call this the hermeneutic of desire.

My goal in summarizing Romans below is neither to conform to nor reject popular understanding. I neither seek to stand in Luther’s shadow nor run from it. Using your Bible, you will have to decide to what extent the following represents Paul’s thoughts.

Whatever message we understand embedded within Romans will greatly influence how we interpret grace. This in turn will shape our Christian behaviors, values and teachings. Continue reading “The gravity of grace (3): Overview of Romans 1-5”

The Gravity of Grace: proof texts (2)

Satan quoted scripture: “For he will command his angels concerning you … On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Matthew 4:6). So does the text teach this or not? It does (Psalm 91:11-12). Satan was right that scripture taught this concept.

Yet Jesus’ response reveals Satan’s usage of this verse violated scripture’s message, namely the principle that we are to abstain from testing God (Matthew 4:7). Context matters.

If we are going to understand God’s message to us, we need to seek an objectivity anchored in what the inspired biblical author sought to communicate. Conversely, we will want to avoid the subjectivity of “what does this text mean to me?”

Continue reading “The Gravity of Grace: proof texts (2)”

To live is Christ. To die is gain.

This past Monday morning around 11 a.m., E. Jeannette Newton, my mom, graduated from this life.  I find myself reflecting upon the life of this farm girl.

Some of the milestones strewn throughout her life included the beginnings of The Herald of Truth, an Exodus movement, a school teacher, a preacher’s wife, a new wife adopting two kids from New York City and then having two of her own, a missionary, as well as a Bible school curriculum developer.

The Dust Bowl and its aftermath seems like an unlikely contributing catalyst for such a life. But as she told it, it was one of the dominoes setting in motion a series of events.

Continue reading “To live is Christ. To die is gain.”

The Gravity of Grace: Definitions and Results (1)

Whatever a person understands scripture to teach about grace has enormous repercussions on Christian teaching and practice. Differing definitions of grace have led to whole new theologies of grace. Some perspectives might align better with scripture’s intended message than others.

Typically today, grace is defined as “unmerited favor.” However, even this phraseology promotes ambiguity and diverse practices because opinions differ over what qualifies as constituting “unmerited.” Thus the heart of the matter revolves around grasping when merit is absent, so that the gift can truly be given as grace. Continue reading “The Gravity of Grace: Definitions and Results (1)”