Claiming God’s Promises

Not every single word in the Bible applies directly to each person reading it. It’s all inspired by God and we can learn from it, of course, but not everything applies to everyone directly. For example, some cleanliness laws in the Old Testament were gender specific and some prophecies were delivered to a specific person or group (like the dream warning Nebuchadnezzar he would become like an animal for 7 years).

But we can take this observation too far. We might make the mistake of thinking that because warnings to follow God alone were delivered to ancient Israel they don’t apply to us today. Yet the New Testament confirms we still need to make a choice between darkness and light (Deut. 30:15-20; 1 John 1:5-2:6). This type of thinking can also block us from accepting encouraging promises as well.

Have you ever read one of God’s promises and thought, “That sounds wonderful, but it can’t really apply to me?” I’m sure many of us have. For me personally, I struggle with believing God will answer my prayers the way He promises too (mostly I feel like my prayers for other people aren’t effective). But does that mean God’s promise to hear when we call doesn’t apply to me? Of course not. And I’ve even seen some examples of His direct responses to my prayers. My doubts and anxieties don’t cancel His promises. But they can block me from recognizing or accepting His work with, in, and for me.Claiming God's Promises | marissabaker.wordpress.com

God’s Presence In You

The Holy Spirit is one thing God promises to new believers. Jesus told His disciples the Father would give them the Holy Spirit after He left and we see that promise fulfilled quite spectacularly in Acts 2. As the narrative continues, a pattern emerges where believers receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when they covenant with God at baptism. And it’s made clear that this promise isn’t just for the people of that time. Continue reading

God’s “Real Children”

So, which ones are your kids? I mean, your real children.”

The parent with adopted kids fights to stay civil. “They’re all my children.”

I’m not adopted nor am I an adoptive parent, but it’s a topic near my heart. Partly because I care deeply about helping children and partly because adoption is how God describes His process of making us His children.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post addressing a booklet I’d read a couple years before that which claimed adoption wasn’t really how God puts us in His family. They said it was a misunderstanding to say Christians are adopted children of God “rather than His actual begotten sons.” And that thought is still around. Just a few weeks ago, I heard a message where the speaker read Romans 8:14-17 and said, “It’s not adoption it is sonship.”

As you might imagine, I’ve got a couple issues with the idea that teaching we’re adopted by God is the same as saying we’re not His “real children.” For one thing, it implies in way that’s not at all subtle that if you’re adopted you’re not really part of the family. And it’s not okay to say things like that to an audience that very likely includes adopted children (and if it doesn’t, it should. The Bible defines true religion as caring for orphans and there are 3 times as many churches as orphans in the U.S.). But as vital as it is to make sure our words don’t injure others, it’s also important to properly represent God’s teachings through scripture.

Placing As Sons

The word translated “adoption” in New Covenant writings is huiothesia (G5206). It’s a compound formed from the words huios (“son” G5207) and tithemi (“to place” G5087). Paul’s the only Biblical writer to use it and it’s not found in classical Greek either (though the phrase thetos huios is used for “adopted son”). Rather, it’s a technical term referring to a legal and social custom in Greek and Roman society.

This sort of “adoption, when thus legally performed, put a man in every respect in the position of a son by birth to him who had adopted him, so that he possessed the same rights and owed the same obligations” (Spiros Zodhiates The Complete WordStudy Dictionary, entry on G5206). While it can be translated “sonship,” it’s a sonship obtained through an adoption process (not sonship instead of adoption). Continue reading

God’s Message Through the Aaronic Blessing

At a conference this past December, I attended an excellent seminar by a gentleman named Hal exploring the depth of the Hebrew words used in the Aaronic blessing (I want to credit him, but not sure if he’d want his full name used here, so we’ll just stick with first names). You know the passage we’re talking about: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26).

God's Message Through the Aaronic Blessing | marissabaker.wordpress.com

It’s lovely in English, but I was awed by how much more incredible these words are when you start digging deep into what they mean. At the end of Hal’s seminar, he paraphrased the blessing into more accessible language for modern English readers, and I’ll share both his and my take on that at the end. First, though, let’s dive into some word-study. Continue reading

Works That Make Faith Live

"Works That Make Faith Live." marissabaker.wordpress.comI’ve been thinking about our role as the body of Christ, particularly in how we relate to other people. In the past two weeks here, I’ve written about and studied the fact that we need to be acting as Christ’s hands and feet in reaching out with compassion, healing, and love. I also wrote about Jesus wanting us to love indiscriminately.

In settling on a new topic for this past week of study, I turned to the last place I’d left my ribbon bookmark. It was James 2, for the verse I quoted last week about respect of persons based on their wealth being a sin. Right after that is the famous “faith without works” passage. That started me wondering, What specific kinds of works are we supposed to be doing as members of the body of Christ?

Faith Without Works

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

We know from Romans 3:20 that “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified,” but these verses in James also show that we cannot claim to have true faith unless it is accompanied by some kind of works. It kind of reminds me of 1 Corinthians 13, where even the best gifts are useless without love.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. … Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:18, 21-26)

As shown by these examples, the actions we take demonstrate to God whether or not our faith is genuine. Both Abraham and Rahab showed by their works that they believed in God enough to actually follow His orders.

Care For Others

Abraham and Rahab are positive examples of faith supported by works. The discussion opens, however, with a negative example of someone who sees “a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food” but does “not give them the things which are needed for the body.” Apparently, it is a sin to not help someone when it is in our power to do so.

It’s a simple idea. If you have two coats, give one to someone without a coat. If you have food, share it with someone who is going hungry (Luke 3:11). The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches that “love your neighbor” includes anyone in our sphere of awareness who needs aid. Simple, but so easy to ignore. Someone else will do it … How do I know they’re really homeless? it could be a scam … That’s what welfare’s for — I pay my taxes.

I’m as guilty of using these excuses as the next person, and they might even be true in some cases. But I suspect God would rather have us error on the side of giving too freely than withholding help from someone who actually needs it.

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.” – C.S. Lewis

True Religion

"Works That Make Faith Live." marissabaker.wordpress.comIn the first chapter of James, we are given the following definition of religion that pleases God:

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)

Did you know there are 100,000 legal orphans in the United States and 300,000 Christian churches? That’s 3 churches that profess to follow Christ per child who is waiting for adoption (from iCareAboutOrphans.org). I started crying the first time I read this statistic.

God is in the business of setting “the solitary in families” (Ps. 68:6). Jesus promised, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). If He’s doing that on a spiritual level, doesn’t it make sense that He would approve of efforts to do something similar on a physical level? Not everyone is in a position where they can adopt — I’m not right now — but we can help by sharing awareness of this need, doing what we can to help families who are able to give children homes, and supporting ministries like Focus on the Family’s Orphan Care Initiative.

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Is. 1:16-17)

Learning to do good involves speaking out on behalf of people — both old and young — and defending those who don’t have families to protect and care for them. Even if we feel like we can’t “do” anything, we should be praying and speaking up when necessary.

Bear Fruit

The really cool thing is, when we stop focusing on ourselves and focus on helping other people, it benefits us as well.

Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’  “If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. (Is. 58: 6-10)

God is glorified, and pleased, when we “bear much fruit” by abiding in Jesus Christ and keeping His commandments (John 15:4, 8, 10). The commands involve an active interest in helping other people with the same attitude we would have if serving Jesus Christ directly.

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ … ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matt. 25:34-36, 40)

The reverse of this is also true — if we ignore people in need, we are ignoring Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:41-46). Godly love, agape, is not passive. It acts for the good of others, even as Christ did when He died for our sins.

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:13-14)

Our Elder Brother

Since writing about adoption last week, I’ve been pondering related aspects of becoming children of God. I described what is called “adoption” in Romans 8 and 9, Galatians 4, and Ephesians 1 as “the process by which we become God’s children.” There is much more to it, however, and I’m hoping this post will begin to explore our relationship to God and Christ as people who They want to become members of Their family. To do this, I think it is important to spend time studying our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 2:9).

Only Begotten

In this was manifested the love of God toward us,  because that God sent  His only begotten Son into the world,  that we might live through Him.   1 John 4:9It should be obvious that our relation to God as His children is different than the relationship Jesus has as His Son. After all, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” before He became “flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). As such, John uses a different Greek word to distinguish Jesus Christ from believers who are called children of God. The word is monogenes (G3439), meaning an only child. Zodhiates says the word appears to “serve to distinguish the Sonship of Christ to God from that spoken of other beings, i.g. Adam (Luke 3:38), angels (Job 1:6), or believers (John 1:12).”

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but He that believeth not is condemned already, because He hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

Firstborn

Though He is described as the only begotten Son of God, Christ is not intended to be an only child. Rather, God has predestinated us “to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:29). The word for “firstborn” is prototokos (G4416), and it is used as a title of Jesus Christ in five NT passages. In all these cases, Zodhiates points out that the word can mean firstborn child, but also and identifies “Christ as the preeminent or ranking member of the group” in Romans 8, and indicates an “an inherent right [to rule] by virtue of His nature” when the word is used in Colossians 1.

In Whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church: Who is the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:14-18)

One meaning Zodhiates does not discuss is the first one that popped into my head. I would be curious to know why it isn’t in his dictionary, simply because it seems to obvious to me and I wanted to at least read a reason for it’s exclusion.

“Firstborn” implies there are other children. If I did not have siblings, I would be an only child. Since I have a younger brother and sister, I am a firstborn. Similarly, Christ being called the “firstborn of the dead” reassures me that He is not the only one who will be resurrected, simply the first. Calling Him the “firstborn among many breathren” gives me hope that I might be counted worthy to be one of His younger siblings.

Adoption

Come out from among them,  and be ye separate, saith the Lord,  and touch not the unclean thing;  and I will receive you,  and will be a Father unto you,  and ye shall be my sons and daughters,  saith the Lord Almighty.  2 Corinthians 6:17-18About two years ago I read a booklet that claimed it is a “misunderstanding” to describe Christians as “adopted” children of God “rather than His actual begotten sons.” The bulk of the booklet was excellent and had nothing to do with this topic, but I wanted to bring this up by way of introduction. If I had not felt uncomfortable with the way this part of the booklet was phrased, I probably never would have looked into the concept of “adoption” in the New Testament.

Once I began studying it, I started to think that adoption as presented in the NT is a way of describing the process by which we become God’s children. We were once separated from God by our sins, but because of Christ’s sacrifice we have been brought into God’s family (Col. 1:21-22; 1 Jn. 3:1-2). They are calling people who were once outside Their family and making them children. Sounds like adoption to me.

Romans 8

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together (Rom 8:14-17)

The word “adoption” used here comes from the Greek word huiothesia (G5206). When looking at the history of this word, there is no question that its intended meaning is adoption. Spiros Zodhiates says it is used “of the state of those whom God through Christ adopts as His sons and thus makes heirs of His covenanted salvation.” He goes on to explain that,

Paul in these passages is alluding to a Greek and Roman custom rather than a Hebrew one. Since huiothesia was a technical term in Roman law for an act that had specific legal and social effects, there is much probability that Paul had some reference to that in his use of the word. Adoption, when thus legally performed, put a man in every respect in the position of a son by birth to him who had adopted him, so that he possessed the same rights and owed the same obligations. Being a huios, a son, involves the conformity of the child that has the life of God in him to the image, purposes, and interests of God and that spiritual family into which he is born.

Several verses later in Romans 8, the same word is used again.

For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body (Rom.8:22-23)

Adoption as Redemption

In Romans 8:23, “adoption” is so important to this process of becoming God’s sons that it is equated with “redemption.” This is not an isolated comparison.

Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Gal. 4:3-7)

These verses tell us that Jesus Christ came with the purpose of redeeming us in order that “we might receive the adoption.” In such a context, adoption sounds like a description of the process by which God takes people who were not part of His family and makes us His children.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved (Eph. 1:3-6)

Adoption — being redeemed from sin and placed in God’s family — is something we were predestined to “according to the good pleasure of His will.” Another usage of huiothesia underscores the importance of this concept. In Romans 9:4, adoption is listed alongside “the glory,” “the covenants, “the giving of the law,” “the service,” and “the promises” as something which God gave to Israel (Rom. 9:1-5).

No Longer Orphans

Though Paul is the only New Testament writer to use the Greek word huiothesia in his writings, the concept of adoption is not isolated to his letters. When Jesus Christ promises in John 14:18 “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you,” the word “comfortless” is translated from orphanos (G3737). In the Septuagint, this same word is used in Psalm 68:5 to describe God as “A father of the fatherless.”

Zodhiates says this word is derived from “an adjective not found in the NT meaning obscure, dark, because the orphan is often little esteemed and neglected and thus forced, as it were, to wander in obscurity and darkness. Orphaned, bereved, spoken particularly of children bereaved of parents (James 1:27).” This darkness and obscurity perfectly describes the state we were in before Jesus Christ rescued us to be His adopted brothers and sisters.

From examining these verses, it seems clear that use of the word “adoption” in no way indicates we are anything less than God’s own children. Like the Roman custom Paul was likely referencing, this adoption takes someone previously not in the position of son and makes them a child in every sense of the word.