Most of you are probably familiar with a debate between Christians who believe God created Jesus in Mary’s womb and those who believe Jesus preexisted His human life. You might have strong feelings one way or the other, or you might not care. As one of my friends recently asked, why does it matter where Jesus came from as long as you believe in Him as your savior now?
But I think it does matter. Jesus is the foundation for all the foundational truths we learn as Christians. Without His sacrifice, we couldn’t have eternal life or a relationship with God. He’s the Head of the church and we’re constantly told “look to” and “consider” Him. On top of that, our goal is to become like God as part of His family, so understanding what the Father and Son are like gives us greater insight into our future. How we view Christ’s role in God’s plan matters.
Setting The Narrative
I’ll just say right now that I believe Jesus preexisted His incarnation as human. In fact, the main reason I’ve never written about the subject is because I felt the scriptures were so clear on this point. But evidently they’re not, because people I like and respect keep bringing it up. Just a couple weeks ago, I overheard a conversation at church that started something like this: “Do you think Jesus preexisted? I’m not so sure …”
How you answer this question drastically affects how you see Jesus’ relationship with His people and God’s entire plan. There’s a big difference between God creating a Son to die in your place, and half the original God-family choosing to die for you. Continue reading
Prayers are how we talk to God and, if we’re listening, one way He talks with us. The Bible contains several example prayers that can give us a guide, including many we don’t often think of. I’ve noticed that Paul tells people he’s writing epistles to that he’s praying for them, but before last week’s post I hadn’t thought much about using those as model prayers. In that post, we talked about the first prayer Paul records for the Ephesians. In this post, we’ll talk about the second.
To give some context, Paul has been talking about his role in preaching “the unsearchable riches of Christ” and ministering to the Gentiles. These riches include the fact that the Father now offers salvation to all men. Because of His work through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can boldly access God’s wisdom and revealed mysteries. With that discussion in place, Paul writes,
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named (Eph. 3:14-15, KJV)
Last week, in examining Paul’s earlier prayer in Ephesians, we looked at the work God is doing in us through Christ and the monumental importance of Jesus’ role. But in focusing on Jesus, we must never forget where it all starts. The Father directs Christ’s work, leads the family of which He made Jesus the Head (Eph. 1:22), and is directly involved with the work being done. Asking the Father to work in believers is the focus of this prayer. Continue reading
If you’re like me, you’ve wondered, “What should I pray about?” and “How should I pray for others?” We know we’re supposed to pray as Christians and we’re given model prayers, but our prayer’s exact contents are left up to us. That makes sense — prayer is a conversation with God, not a recitation. But that also means we have to keep studying our Bibles to keep a good dialogue going between us and our Creator, as well as to gain deeper insights into how we ought to pray.
Paul’s epistles include several beautiful examples of his prayers for fellow believers. The book of Ephesians has two, both related to further deepening of their faith. A comment in last week’s sermon drew my attention to the second of these prayers, and I noticed the other when re-reading the whole letter. I was going to cover both in one article, but there’s far too much depth to cut the Bible study short. We’ll only talk about one of these prayers today.
Paul opens this letter blessing “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). He talks about redemption, grace, and God’s will for us, along with our trust in Christ and the assurances we’ve been given of a glorious future. Then he says,
Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers (Eph. 1:15-16)
Paul’s not just praying for them. He’s also giving thanks that they’re already walking by faith in the Lord and loving the brethren. They’re practicing important commandments and grounded in fundamental truths. Because of that, he can pray they would experience a deeper conversion. Continue reading
Jesus told us “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment” (Mark. 12:29-30).
Even though this commandment forms the basis of all other commands and is most important for us to remember and obey, it can also be easy to overlook. It sounds so simple: “Love God, check. Yup. I’m good.” But Jesus went into more detail than just “love God.” He started out by reminding us Yahweh is echad. He is united, preeminent, and the only one worthy of the title Lord.
With that reminder in place, Jesus goes on to quote an Old Testament passage telling us how to love God. The way we should love our Lord isn’t left up to our imagination or emotions. We’re told what we’re supposed to do.
With All Your Heart
As today, most people in Jesus’s day didn’t just think of the heart as a muscle pumping blood. It was seen as the “seat of emotions” and the core of your “inner man” (labab, H3824). In Greek, kardia metaphorically referred to the “center of all physical and spiritual life” and the “fountain and seat of thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors (G2588, Thayer). That’s the first way we’re supposed to love God — with all our emotions, thoughts, and yearnings that come from the very core parts of who you are inside. Continue reading
“Do what feels right.” “Follow your heart.” That’s the sort of advice we’ve steeped in living in Western culture. Problem is, that’s not really good advice. Sometimes your heart is wrong. Sometimes what feels good isn’t right.
Speaking more specifically to Christians, one of the hard truths we need to learn is that something can feel okay to you yet still be a sin in God’s eyes. Just because you’re okay with something doesn’t mean God is. And, on the flip side, your dislike of something doesn’t make it a sin. In short, how we feel does not define God’s truth.
God defines truth. Those truths are contained in His word (John 17:17), His law (Ps. 119:142), and His commandments (Ps. 119:151). Either you accept His standards as the basis for truth, or you’re not a Christian. You might be a decent sort of person on the whole, but you’re certainly not a follower of Christ. The Bible is our main link with God. It’s how He has revealed Himself to us. Rejecting the standards outlined in God’s word means we reject His mind and block the Spirit’s work to enlighten and transform us.
A Simple Test
Accepting an outside source as our ultimate authority doesn’t sit well with modern society. We tend to focus on individual freedom and self expression to the exclusion of objective morality. But the Bible says “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord” (Jer. 17:5). A heart following its own desires is moving away from God.
One of the biggest problems in modern Christianity is an extreme either-or mentality. We lack balance, straying from one ditch to the other. Consider the Christian’s relationship with the Law. Some will say we must keep the whole law slavishly and seek part of our salvation in it (legalism), while others reject it entirely and say God doesn’t care if we keep His commands as long as we have Jesus (license). Both views miss the point.
Most arguments that the Law isn’t relevant today start with Paul. But Paul’s letters contain things “hard to understand” which people who aren’t well-grounded in the entirety of scripture can “twist to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). When we’re going to study a complex subject like this, we have to start somewhere more straight-forward. I can think of nowhere better than words directly from Jesus’ own lips.
Using The Law Rightly
When Jesus came to this earth, He didn’t tell people He was done with the Law. Instead, He said, “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). This word, pleroo (G4137), means to fill to the fullest extent. Or, as Thayer’s says, “to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfillment.” Continue reading