Category Archives: Bible

Gregory the Great on Job’s Spiritual Warfare

As I was studying for this week’s sermon, these words from the Church Father Gregory the Great concerning Job 1:21 stood out to me:

Although [the devil] himself blasphemes God, he was created blessed; now the man [Job], even though struck down, sings a hymn of glory to God. It is incumbent upon us to notice that our enemy wounds us with as many darts as he attacks us with temptations. For we stand in the front line of battle every day, and every day we receive the darts of his temptations. Still, we too throw darts at him when we are overwhelmed with troubles if we reply humbly. Blessed Job was struck down by the loss of his possessions and the death of his sons, but he turned his pain into praise of the Creator, saying, “God gave it and God took it back; God has done what he pleased; blessed be the name of God.” [Job] struck down the proud enemy with humility, he laid the cruel foe out flat with patience. So let us not believe our warrior was wounded without inflicting wounds himself. As often as he was hit he praised God with patient words, and in so doing he let fly his darts at the adversary’s breast, and the wounds he inflicted were more serious than those he sustained.

-Gregory the Great, Moral Reflections on the Book of Job, Vol.1, trans. Brian Kerns, OCSO (Athens, OH: Cistercian Publications, 2014), 144-145.

Engaging with Scripture in 2021

There have been a variety of adjectives used to describe the past year. Most of them have been a bit on the hyperbolic side. For example, the adjective I’ve heard used most when describing 2020 is “unprecedented”. Really? You mean the events that occurred in the past year were completely without precedent? There’s never before been a global pandemic? There’s never been civil unrest in our country until last year? etc. Of course 2020 had precedents! To say it was unprecedented is daft.

Perhaps a better adjective to use would be “difficult”. It may be that this is understating things; if so, feel free to add a reasonable adverb – “very” comes to mind.

But, if we were to be honest with ourselves, isn’t life, generally-speaking, difficult? Do we think there will be no heartaches in 2021? Of course there will! We’re only six days into a new year and I’ve already buried one of the kindest, most loving women in our congregation filled with kind, loving people! Did coronavirus hear about the dropping of the New Year’s Ball and decide to pack up and leave? Not according to the data. Will there continue to be broken relationships, bad news, sickness, death, and many other symptoms of a sin-broken world in this year? We would be naive to think otherwise.

Life, no matter the year in which you’re living, is difficult.

Perhaps here you’re expecting me to say something along the lines of “But if you read the Bible, all your circumstances will change.” That’s not true. I read the Bible every day, and many of the circumstances of my life are still difficult. In fact, the Bible shows me that the reason life is so difficult is sin – generally (as in the brokenness of the creation because of the introduction of sin into it at the Fall) and personally (as in the eternal and temporal consequences of my own and others’ sins).

What difference does it make, then, to engage with Scripture daily? To read it, study it, meditate upon it? Surely, learning I’m a sinner under God’s judgment just adds to the bad news of an already difficult life, right?

Well, yes. But this isn’t the only thing that the Bible tells us. God has revealed to us that the reason the world – ourselves included – are so messed up is because of sin; that is bad news, especially when you learn that you don’t just commit sins, but that you are born with a sin nature, completely inclined away from the only Source of life. God has also given us very good news! There’s nothing we can personally do about our sin problem; by nature, we are enemies of God, loving that which He hates, and hating the good. But the good news is that though we can’t do anything about our sin problem, God has in sending His Son to save us from our sins and reconcile us to God through Jesus’ death on the cross. The good news is that He Who died for our sins has risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will one day come again to set all things right. The good news is that those who are united to Jesus through faith are new creatures and are being conformed to Jesus’ image by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit – a work that is often painful, but necessary. The good news gives us solid hope in a future where life will be without pain and sorrow and sickness and the other million and one difficulties that we face in the current age; these things will be gone because sin will be gone and the new heavens and new earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord Who has come to dwell with His people.

The Bible isn’t given us to rid us of all difficulties in life. It’s given us to point us to the only real hope we have in this life and the next – Jesus Christ. These 66 books – Genesis to Revelation – all point us to Him. In Him we have forgiveness and reconciliation with God; in Him we have a hope for the future; in Him we have newness of life and are being remade from the broken things we are; in Him we have Him – all He is and is for us.

Reading the Bible is not going to be a magic pill that will change all your circumstances. However, actively, prayerfully, meditatively, studiously engaging with God’s Word will change you. Your greatest need in these and all difficult times is not for your difficult times to end; your greatest need is to know Jesus Christ and to become His being-sanctified disciple. That will never happen unless you are engaging with God’s Word regularly; God sanctifies us by His Spirit working through His Word. (see John 17:17; 1 Corinthians 6:11).

Are you engaging with the Word daily? Last year, many in our congregation worked through the M’Cheyne Reading Plan which took us through the OT once, and the NT and Psalms twice in the year. A reading plan is an excellent way to be sure you’re regularly reading the Scriptures. Multiple reading plans can be found for free online. Check out this list from Ligonier: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/bible-reading-plans/?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWm1abFlUUTFZamxpTkRZeCIsInQiOiJnQlwveTRiVlFNMFdKR3NibDgzVVFwdjBUbHR6SEpSYUEybjV6UWZBRlRuNVhNdit4bEQxNDgzQXZYaGNQK2haMzl2bzJRSURhOTRPdDJ1TGFqV0MyZWZ3OTVkdjFrR0Jxa0d3YnU4NjZNdlJhUVZHdVdkTU1GVDVlQ0NNeTZTSFwvIn0%3D

But, as I’ve told our Catechism Class, you don’t have to read through the Bible in a year. In fact, it may be that reading several chapters a day is too difficult for you to digest. If so, take it slower. Even if you are reading through the Bible in a set period of time – SLOW DOWN! Pray before you even open your Bible that God, by His Holy Spirit, will open His Word to you! Read slowly and thoughtfully. Pay attention to the context – both immediate and canonical. Get helps in the form of commentaries, atlases, sermons, etc. And don’t leave your Bible behind when you close it; memorize passages and meditate on what you’ve read throughout your day, week, month, lifetime. Without intentional, prayer-saturated thinking about what you’ve read, you’re not going to benefit from your time in the Word as much as you otherwise would.

Remember, as you engage the Scriptures this year, the goal is not to read for reading’s sake or to check off a religious box. Read for transformation. As Calvin writes, “The Scriptures are to be read with the purpose of finding Christ there.” Go to the Word prayerfully seeking to behold His glory and to be transformed by seeing Him in the Scriptures! (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Judas at the Table

“I believe that Jesus is a good teacher, but not God.” Perhaps, as you’ve shared the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ with others, you have heard this oft-rendered response. Generally, it comes from someone who has heard of Jesus, knows the gist of a few Bible verses, or has otherwise imbibed a cultural Christianity through growing up in places like Appalachia, the South, and parts of the Midwest. It’s not an unexpected response from unbelievers who are seeking to be nice (and make their way out of the uncomfortable conversation).

Where this utterance is not expected, however, is issuing from the lips of those who claim to be “evangelical Christians.” And yet, according to Ligonier’s biennial “The State of Theology” poll for 2020, when presented with the statement “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God”, 30% of those “evangelicals” polled agreed, and another 4% weren’t sure.

Let this sink in for a moment. An “evangelical” is defined in this poll as one who strongly agreed with the following statements: “The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe”; “It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior”; “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin”; “Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.” Roughly a third of “evangelicals” are either unsure of or opposed to a central tenet of the Christian faith – if not the central tenet of the Christian faith – i.e., that Jesus Christ is God the Word incarnate.

My purpose here is not to define or defend the term “evangelical”; others have done so at much greater length than I would ever desire to do. But, if we accept the definition as proffered by the poll, one thing we can say about 1/3 of evangelicals is that they are terribly inconsistent in what they claim to believe.

  1. If one strongly holds the Bible (the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament) to be “the highest authority for what I believe”, the idea that Jesus is not God is ludicrous. This was the clear teaching of the Apostles. For example, John states in the prologue to his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). A few verses later, we’re told that this Word Who is God, “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). He was “full of truth”, the basis of being a good teacher, precisely because He was God incarnate. Likewise, Jesus Himself teaches that He is God. Numerous examples could be given here, but I will limit myself to one. During an exchange with the Jews in John 8, Jesus ends the discussion with the words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58). In the next verse, we see the outcome of this statement – the Jews with whom He had been arguing pick up stones to stone Jesus, to put Him to death for what He just said. Why? Because He had not said, “Before Abraham was, I was“, but “I am“. In claiming for Himself the title “I AM”, He was equating Himself with the God Who had revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14 as “I AM WHO I AM,” the covenant name of God. Both of these examples come from the Gospel of John – the Gospel most people who have done any sustained reading in the Scriptures have read; this Gospel itself could be seen as one long argument for the divinity of Christ (John 20:30-31; see also 5:18). I haven’t ventured out to, say, Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:1-3, etc. If “the Bible is the highest authority for what I believe”, then even a cursory reading of the New Testament would necessitate belief in the divinity of Christ.
  2. If Jesus is not God, why would it be “very important for me to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus as their Savior”? If He is only just a good teacher, then what makes Him and His message any different than the other good teachers who have lived in the past or are living today? I personally enjoy reading the writings of the Stoics, particularly Seneca and Epictetus. If Jesus is just a good teacher, then He’s no different than these great thinkers; actually, He would be worse, because, unlike them, He lived under the delusion that He was the Son of God. Thus, what is to keep me from converting to Stoicism? Personal preference? Also, if Jesus is not God, if He is just a good teacher, why should I expend myself in the evangelizing of those of other faiths? One would assume that these “evangelicals” would answer “Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.” And this brings me to my third point…
  3. If Jesus is not God then He is not our Savior. Indeed, His incarnate divinity alone makes Him a suitable Savior. In other words, if Jesus is not God incarnate then the statement “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin” is nonsense. To put it simply, if Jesus were only a human being like anyone else the sacrifice would have been unacceptable in both a qualitative and, for lack of a better term, a quantitative manner. a) If Jesus were only a man like you or me, then He would have been born with a sin nature, made not after the image of God, but after the image of our father, fallen Adam (Genesis 5:3, contrasted with Gen. 1:26-27). Thus, He would have been in need of salvation just as all the sinful children of Adam are in need of salvation. Qualitatively, then, He would not have been the perfect, unblemished sacrifice (1 Peter 1:19), and His sacrifice would not have been accepted by God (e.g., Exodus 12:5; see also the sacrificial laws of Leviticus which point to Christ’s sacrifice as shadows point to substance). Rather, we see that through the particular circumstances of His birth (the Word taking on flesh in the womb of the Virgin), Christ is born without original sin, and the Son Who is the eternal essential image of God the Father becomes in our flesh the perfect representative imago Dei. b) If Jesus were only a man like you or me, then He would not have been able to die for the sins of all the elect. The reason for this is linked to what we have said in section a. If Christ were only a man, He would be, like all natural descendants of Adam, represented by the first Adam. As it is, Christ the God-Man, is the second Adam, the One representing all those in Him, united to Him by the Holy Spirit through faith. Paul writes, “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:47-49).

In these explanations, I have barely scratched the surface of the biblical and historical arguments presented for the reality and necessity of the divinity of Christ. As Ligonier’s poll arguably shows, American Evangelicalism has the theological depth of a puddle; the main reason being that they do not actually know the Scriptures they claim to be authoritative, but a correlative reason being that they have not sufficiently sunk their roots in historic Christian orthodoxy. They’re unaware of the two millennia of the catholic* (i.e., universal church, not Roman Catholic) biblical arguments for the divinity of Christ. They are unlikely to crack a book such as On the Incarnation by Athanasius, or Cur Deus Homo? (Why the God-Man?) by Anselm, or The Person of Christ by John Owen; the reason generally proffered being that these books are not practical. They don’t think these books are practical because they don’t think the doctrine of the divinity of Christ is practical. Thus, the value of theology (like the value of most other things), in their view, should be determined by utility – how can this help me “live my best life now”? Of course, I would argue that the divinity of Christ is an incredibly practical doctrine – if Jesus isn’t God, you’re still in your sins and your faith is worthless – but I would also argue that “practicality”, or “utility”, is an ill-defined and poor filter for choosing what is important and what is not.

Matthew records that when Jesus and the disciples sat at table on the night He was betrayed, our Lord said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples became very sorrowful “and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?'” That is, all of the disciples except one addressed Jesus as Lord – a divine title. That one who did not, the one who would betray Him, asked, “Is it I, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:20-25). Note the difference. To Judas, Jesus was not Messiah, Jesus was not Savior, Jesus was not Lord – He was “Rabbi”, a good Jewish teacher among good Jewish teachers. American Evangelicalism is plagued by Judases at the table.

Perhaps you read that last sentence and thought it too strong. After all, Judas betrayed Jesus after spending three years traveling with and being taught by Him. I admit that there are certainly some who are ignorant of Christ’s divinity through a lack of solidly biblical, doctrinal teaching; there are many pastors who will give account at the last Day for the fact that they lazily and foolishly sought only to teach their people through loosely biblical, socially acceptable fluff pieces they mistakenly term “sermons.” But, many have spent years in the church, hearing the Word of God preached and taught by faithful ministers, and, though they call themselves “evangelicals”, they still reject the central doctrines of our faith as mere tradition or archaic irrelevancies, and in so doing, they reject the Christ Who Is in favor of the Christ they’ve created in their own minds! Is this not a betrayal of the One they call Savior? a spiritual adultery against the One they call Husband of the Church? Indeed, these are still in the flesh, and know nothing of the Spirit of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3). And thus, when we hear that 34% of those who claim to be “evangelicals” don’t believe that Christ is divine, let us be assured, that 34% are without Christ, and are no more Christian than any other unbeliever.