As the Passover approaches, those of us who believe Jesus intended modern-day Christians to observe it are given a task. Before following Jesus’ instruction to take the Passover symbols “in remembrance of Me,” we’re told to examine ourselves.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks the Lord’s cup in a way unworthy of the Lord will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. (1 Cor. 11:26-19, WEB)
Every year I hear these scriptures read, and every year since my baptism in 2008 I ask myself, “How?” What can I do to examine myself and determine if I’m keeping the Passover in a worthy manner?”
The Lord Examines
Perhaps the reason why I’ve always felt like I was hitting a wall when trying to examine myself is found in a very familiar scripture:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? I, Yahweh, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. 17:9-10, WEB)
There’s no way we can successfully examine ourselves without God’s help. Maybe that should have been obvious, but I only connected it with Passover after hearing Len Martin’s sermon on self-examination (it’s not posted online yet, but you’ll find it at this link when it is). We need to ask God to examine us, or our self-examination isn’t going to bear much fruit. Continue reading
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
When we start talking about the relationship between God’s law and New Testament Christians, everyone wants to jump right into Paul’s writings. It’s easy to pluck verses from his epistles out of context and use them to argue the law has been abolished and you don’t have to keep the commandments. But is that really the best explanation for passages like Romans 7 and Colossians 2 in light of the rest of the Bible?
I’ve written quite a bit about Romans but never Colossians, even though some commenters have asked. But a short time ago I was re-reading Paul’s letter to Colossae and felt a nudge in my spirit, “study this,” as I read 2:8:
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (KJV)
This verse provides context for what’s to follow. Paul’s going to be talking about the difference between following traditions invented by men and following Christ. He’s not just talking about whether or not the Old Testament law matters since Jesus came in the flesh. There’s another factor in play.
Jesus’ Take On God’s Law
Before going any farther in Paul’s writings, let’s look at what Jesus says. During His ministry, Jesus and His disciples were accused of things like Sabbath breaking, defiling Himself with sinners’ company, and unclean hygienic practices. We know that Jesus lived a sinless life and never broke His Father’s commands. But He did reject the additions humans made. Continue reading
I’ll bet none of us would just come out and say, “I know better than God” or “God’s wrong and I’m right.” We recognize that as arrogant, inaccurate, and fool-hardy. But far too often, we act like that’s what we think even if we’re not saying or even consciously thinking those words. We come up with reasons why we don’t have to keep His commands, or decide we have a better idea for how to obey than what’s instructed in scripture. We try to come figure out what being Christian means to us rather than seeking what it means to God.
The stories of Israel’s first two kings perfectly illustrate the different ways we humans can approach following God. Saul did what was right in his own eyes while pretending to follow God, and God wasn’t impressed. He took the kingdom away from Saul and his family to set up David, someone who would truly follow after God’s heart and listen to His commands.
Saul’s Prideful Disobedience
God chose Saul out of all the people, just as He later would David. It wasn’t His intention that Saul fail. But just two years into his reign, Saul found himself facing an army so terrifying his own troops ran and hid in caves. He waited seven days for Samuel the priest to come and offer sacrifice to God, but Samuel didn’t show.
That’s when Saul committed a sin that cost him the kingdom (1 Sam. 13). He made the decision to offer the sacrifice himself, showing a presumptuous disregard for God’s instructions. When Samuel showed up, Saul had all sorts of arguments to justify his actions but they didn’t change the fact that he’d ignored God’s will. Continue reading
It’s easier to follow the second great commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” when you like your neighbor. But Jesus didn’t say “love the people you like” or that this great command only applies to people who are easy to be around.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not the tax collectors also do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing that is remarkable? Do not the Gentiles also do the same? Therefore you be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:46-48, LEB)
God is perfect in every way. In this case, however, Jesus is specifically talking about His perfect impartiality. Leading up to these verses, He said,
But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. (Matt. 5:44-45, WEB)
If we want to be like God, we have to love the way He loves. God is love. It “is the sum and harmony of all His attributes, His essence” (Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts on 1 John 4:8-9). Love isn’t just something God does. It’s His nature; the motivation driving every choice He makes. The chief example of this is that while “we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8, LEB).
Clearing Up What Love Is
But things get complicated when dealing with humans. We run into questions, not because we’re trying to wiggle out of the command to love others but because we’re not sure what it means. Consider these scenarios:
- Does love that “bears all things” mean I let my abusive parents/spouse/etc. keep hurting me?
- Does love that “covers a multitude of sins” mean I always have to trust people again after forgiving them?
- Does love that “does not behave rudely” stay friends with people who creep you out?
There’s a statement in James that we’re all familiar with: “faith without works is dead.” While we can all agree James makes this statement, we don’t always agree on what it means. Citing other scriptures that say we’re justified by faith without works, some argue that a faithful Christian isn’t obligated to do things like obey God’s law or perform good deeds.
But “faith without works is dead” isn’t a statement James makes casually. It’s part of a larger teaching he’s sharing and it’s also part of an analogy that goes like this: “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead“ (James 2:26, LEB).
In this analogy, faith is like our bodies and works are like our spirits. James is telling us that works give life to our faith in the same way the spirit in man gives life to our bodies. This is in response to a rhetorical question he asked earlier in the epistle: “Can we be saved by faith without works?” The answer he gives is “no.”
Believing Isn’t Enough
Faith is essential. It’s impossible to please God without faith, “for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6, KJV). But it’s not the only thing God is looking for in His people. Continue reading