A realistic understanding of the world

When asked why I believe in Christianity and follow the Bible, among other reasons, I admit that I can’t find an alternative worldview that corresponds with reality as comprehensively as what I find in the true account of Christianity.

This doesn’t mean that I find everything easy to understand or explain because of Christianity. Life is painfully complicated and even parts of the Bible (on which Christianity is based) are difficult to explain. Some biblical passages are written in cryptic prose; others are hard to absorb on an emotional level.

While there are painful and complicated issues that are beyond my full comprehension, I come back to one compelling question: “What way of seeing things corresponds most with reality and does not contradict what I clearly know to be true?” Asked differently, “What seems to be the most plausible way of seeing things in light of what we know about humanity, the observable world and its history?

I believe a Christian worldview offers the most logically consistent and plausibly realistic understanding of life and the world. It simply does the best job explaining the world we encounter each day. And it offers the best explanatory frame for the most extensive range of evidence in the world and in the human spirit.

There is no other way of understanding the world that corresponds with reality as comprehensively as Christianity.

For an overview of a Christian worldview, see here and here.

Steve Cornell

 

Seven guidelines for understanding the Old Testament

  1. The laws revealed in the Old Testament (O.T.) were not originally given for us to follow today as God’s will for our lives. They were required of God’s people during Old Testament history to distinguish them as they lived in ancient near eastern cultures (see: Misreading the Bible).
  2. We don’t understand all of the reasons for some of the laws in the O. T., but we know that the times during which they were written were exceptionally evil. Although some laws appear to us as unusual, it likely reveals our lack of understanding regarding the circumstances of the time. The laws were at least meant to distinguish God’s people from the nations around them. 
  3. The O. T. was never intended to be a complete or perfect expression of God’s will. It was provisional for a specific time and pointed to a new covenant that would be a fulfillment and replacement of the old covenant (see: A truth we must accept).
  4. Those who follow the Bible should not quote laws directed to Israel as if they are God’s will for people today unless reaffirmed in the New Testament. We should not, for example,  look to detailed legislation in Leviticus to specifically guide us as followers of Christ.
  5. We only apply Old Testament Scriptures to our lives if they are taught by Jesus and the apostles. Jesus is the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament (see – Matthew 5:18-20). Although He was “born under the law” (Gal.4:4) and “fulfilled all righteousness” (Matt.3:15), Jesus wrapped up the era of biblical history where the law regulated the covenant relationship of the people of God. Jesus is the new locus of authority for God’s people. He established for us what is pleasing to God.
    (see: Christ is the end of the Law)
  6. The primary way O.T. law speaks to us is in the revelation it gives of the holy nature of God in contrast with our sinfulness. This prepares us to see our need to be forgiven and reconciled with God through the grace offered in Jesus Christ.
  7. Those who mock people for following Scripture should reflect on their hypocrisy because they also hold to standards (even the one they’re using to discredit those who follow Scripture). Why do they expect others to accept their ethical code as reasonable?

Steve Cornell

10 Methods of Bible Study

  1. Analytical: detailed examination of a passage in which the text is divided into its smallest parts.
    1. Book – chapters – paragraphs – sentences – clauses – phrases – words – grammatical points
    2. Diagram the passage to understand grammatical structure, flow and connections.
  2. Inductive: a detailed examination of a larger portion of Scripture in which the notation of key words, persons, places, and things takes precedence over grammatical points.
  3. Historical: a detailed study of the historical situation surrounding a book of the Bible including cultural and geographical information.
  4. Critical: a detailed study of academic questions surrounding the text and circumstances that produced the text.
    1. Higher criticism: a study of authorship, recipients, unity, date, and geographic reference in Bible books.
    2. Lower criticism: a study of textual variants and text types in the history of the transmission of the Bible.
  5. Topical: tracing a particular topic throughout Scripture and making relevant observations and conclusions.
    1. Note repeated words or emphases.
    2. Follow the progress of revelation on the theme.
  6. Theological: tracing the development of a particular doctrine throughout a section of Scripture and making relevant observations and conclusions.
  7. Biographic: a detailed study of the personalities in the Bible noting their individual traits, motivations, thoughts, circumstances, and actions. Ask: who, what, where, when, why, how?
  8. Rhetorical: a detailed study of the communication methods used by Biblical authors.
  9. Comparative: Cross reference Scripture with Scripture based on some common word or topic.
  10. Devotional: a study aimed primarily to gain spiritual encouragement for one’s soul.

Work/Study Sheet

Verse or Verses Questions, Comments, Outlines, Illustrations, Examples, Word Studies, Applications  Cross references
 

 

 Steve Cornell

In Step with the Master Teacher

Play Audio!

As I was studying the methods and content of the teaching of Jesus, the word reality kept coming back to me. Jesus kept things real in exposing religious hypocrisy. But reality for Jesus was far more than life in this world.

I also thought about a quote from a book we’re using in our parents of teens group:

“The more accurately you think about something, the healthier your life will be. The converse is also true. The more inaccurate your thinking the more dysfunctional your relationship with your teen will be — even if you assume your thinking is fine, which most of usually do.” 

“Reality can be a hard pill to swallow. But last time I checked, when you fight reality, you lose. Reality wins.” (Tim Sanford, Losing control and liking it, p. 10,14).

But what is reality? It depends on who you ask. If you look closely at the teaching of Jesus, any version of reality that disconnects earth from heaven is a dangerous kind of unreality. Jesus relentlessly insisted on this connection.

Earth and Heaven

As the Master Teacher, Jesus moved from what is seen and known to what is unseen and eternal. He transformed everyday earthly objects into lessons about God, heaven and eternity.

The people of his time had grown blind to the connections between earth and heaven. So Jesus connected the truth around them in the visible world with the truth before them in the Scripture — truth about eternity.

“They didn’t think of God’s word when they sowed seed, or the new birth when they felt the wind, or faith when they gathered the tiny mustard seed; but Jesus did.” (Warren Wiersbe, Teaching and Preaching with imagination, p. 161)

He connected what they could see in creation and life with truths about eternal life to come. Through many object lessons, he turned his listeners ears into eyes to help them see the truths he taught.

  • Jesus spoke of salt, light, wind, bread, vine and branches, flowers, trees, seed, fields white for harvest, birth, gates, coins, treasure, pearls, nets, cups, dishes, tombs…
  • Jesus used, fox, birds, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, serpents, fish, gnats and camels, a hen and her chicks, ….
  • He referred to physicians, shepherds, land owners, builders, friends, bridegrooms, virgins, farmers, tenants, sons, teachers, wine merchants, the rich and the poor, an unjust judge and a widow, blind guides,…
  • He spoke of banquets, weddings, feasts, temples, his father’s house with many rooms…

The teaching of Jesus is characterized by “an evident absence of artificial oratory” (C.H. Spurgeon). Yet what Jesus taught is consistently a combination of simplicity, and complexity that was often provocative and challenging.

Jesus told stories that often exposed the religious and social prejudices of the establishment. Yet there don’t appear to be any great shifts in tone and inflection; no special vocabulary or arresting theatrics, — just stories. The problem, however, is that in Jesus’ stories the wrong people win. The Samaritan shines as a keeper of God’s commands; the gentile demonstrates faith, the tax-gather goes home justified before God and the sinful women with a past is welcomed and forgiven. 

It was hard to miss his point — and they didn’t! 

Many times the simplicity of application cannot be missed. But this didn’t reduce the complexity and challenge. After hearing Jesus, one might respond with, “I get it … I think…” But wait,… does he mean…? Or, should I take it as …” His words invited deep contemplation and reflection. 

The elements of simplicity are unmistakably clear — on one level. When Jesus exposed hypocritical approaches to praying, giving, fasting; we get the point each time. But we also feel the challenge to consider subtle ways that we seek attention and praise for our acts of service.

When Jesus said, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” – we get it (Matthew 7:24). But it troubles us that so “many” people could call Christ “Lord” and engage in works of the kingdom (“did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?”) only to hear the Lord say to them,  “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Where are we hearing but not doing?

Back to reality

All of this takes us back to that word “reality.” According to the Master Teacher, the person who lives without making deep connections between earth and heaven lives in unreality. He might be a “man of the world” but if he thinks this is his only world, he is profoundly misguided. In 70-80 years, the connections will become clear.

To build your house on the rock, as a wise builder, you must follow the teachings of the one who continuously connected this life with eternity. He taught his followers to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He taught us to think of reward with our father in heaven and to store treasure in heaven — that place where corruption cannot damage treasure. 

A matter of perspective

How will you see things? How will you respond to the successes and trials of this life? If you live only on the horizontal level, only looking at things that are temporal, you’ll build your life fantasy not reality. Instead, join with Jesus Christ and make connections between what is known and visible to what is unseen and eternal.

Then when the torrential rain comes and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against your life, the rock-solid foundation of Christ’s words will withstand all the way into eternity.  

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

Steve Cornell 

 

Longing for a better world

As we honor those who served and currently serve the armed forces of our nation, I find myself longing for a world without the need for military.

Obviously this world will never be without such a need. But have you ever given serious thought to why our world is so filled with evil and violence? Why can’t people get along and relate peacefully with one another?

No, I am not getting ready to sing what the world needs now is love, sweet love. But the endless wars that make up so much of world history are a sad reminder of our fallen condition. And most people intuitively feel that things are not the way they were meant to be.

The human story is certainly more one of war than peace. Someone cynically suggested, “Peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.”

Telling our story requires contrasting terms between goodness and evil; love and hate; beauty and cruelty; life and death; even war and peace. Themes of dignity and depravity are relentlessly recurrent in all cultures – at all times throughout history.

There are surprisingly few places to turn for thoughtful answers to why things are this way. Most efforts to explain good and evil are either based on scientific reductionism or naïve utopianism. I have only found one source to be wide enough to explain the complex dimensions of the human story and large enough to speak to innate longings of the human heart for a better world.

The source I have found most helpful is popular but not well understood — even among those who feel surprisingly justified in rejecting it. Mere mention of this source in academic settings typically invokes condescending reactions. Those who take the source seriously are wrongly treated as unenlightened and narrow-minded. Yet those who react this way rarely offer thoughtful alternatives for the dilemma of good and evil.

The source I look to offers truths that range from simple and accessible, to complex and mysterious. It speaks to a child and challenges a scholar. It covers the physical and the metaphysical. It reaches both time and eternity. It tells us where we came from; why we’re here and what went wrong. It addresses universal longings for peace and goodness by revealing where to find hope for a better future. It speaks deeply to universal human needs for forgiveness, freedom, and peace.

It is the most widely circulated and best-selling book of history. It’s main character came from eternity to humble earthly circumstances and died a brutal death. His death, we are repeatedly told, was a redemptive sacrifice for all people.

He transformed countless individual lives and human history itself more than any other person who has lived. He introduced himself as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, who is, who was and who is to come. He said, “I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever” (Revelation 1:18). The source is the Bible and the main character is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ remains the most amazing person who ever lived on this planet. Although born in obscurity over 2,000 years ago, the world can’t escape his legacy and global influence. No individual comes close to the impact Jesus made on humanity.

Jesus Christ is so amazing that he can only be fully explained by use of terms that defy normal categories.  We need terms that reach beyond our reality and shatter many of our common assumptions. Jesus,

  • fulfilled ancient prophecies in his birth, life and death?
  • predicted his own death and resurrection?
  • claimed to exist before Abraham was born?
  • claimed the right to forgive sins?
  • claimed that he would be the judge of all people?
  • claimed eternal duration for his words?
  • claimed equality with God?
  • claimed the ability to give eternal life to those who believe on him?

He is too much for us to fully wrap our minds around. His existence demands a God who breaks in on the natural order. Jesus Christ is so extraordinarily unprecedented that he shatters our categories and demands our worship.

Some people find the central message about Jesus a bit difficult to accept because it involves exclusive claims about the only way to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father but through me” (John 14:6). “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” (I Timothy 2:6)

The sacrificial death of Jesus is repeatedly emphasized as something offered for the sins of the world, for all men; for the whole world (see: John 3:16,17; I John 2:1-2), but this inclusive demonstration of God’s love is the only way to be forgiven and accepted by God.

There is a better world coming where there will be no more war; no more need for military.

So while I give thanks for the faithful men and women who serve our nation, I long for “a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.'”

Heaven is our point of reference! Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But we must not stand gazing into heaven because there is work to be done for the honor of God’s name, the advancement of God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s will.

Steve Cornell

The divine origin of Scripture

Sometimes it is necessary to restate basic truths. Such a time has come regarding the origin and nature of the Bible. At the present moment in the life of the Church, there is an urgent need to reaffirm with deep conviction and clarity the divine origin of Scripture. 

I. Origin of the Bible:

The word “Bible” is derived from the Greek word biblos meaning book. The word is used today in reference to the thirty-nine Old Testament and twenty-seven New Testament books of Judeo-Christian Scripture. The sixty-six books of the Bible repeatedly declare themselves to be God’s revelation to mankind. This truth is substantiated through careful examination of key passages of Scripture.

A. Two key passages: The Bible gives clear testimony to its own origin. The internal witness of Scripture demands a response from those who deny its divine origin. Consider the following witness concerning the origin of Scripture.

1. II Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (NASB)

Prior to these verses, the apostle Paul reminded Timothy of his early training in the holy Scriptures (vv. 14-15). In v. 15, the apostle identified the Scriptures as “sacred” (i.e. holy). This places them in association with God’s own character (cf. Isa. 40:25; 57:15). The word scripture itself could refer to writings of another nature. The point made here is that these writings are holy. They are set apart from other writings due to their origin with God.

In verse 15, the apostle also wrote of the central purpose of Scripture as “able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

Christ is the central person of Scripture (Lk. 24:25-27; 24:46-47; John 5:39, 46; Acts 17:2-3) and the Scriptures have an innate ability to make one wise unto salvation. The Scriptures are powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and initiate the conviction (John 16:8-10; Ephesians 6:17) that leads to conversion. Having mentioned the Scriptures, the apostle takes the opportunity to restate two basic facts about all Scripture: a) their divine origin and b) their specific usefulness (vv. 16,17).

a. Divine origin: (v. 16) All Scripture is God-breathed.

“This is another way of saying that Scripture is God’s word (cf. Jesus’ use of ‘Scripture’ and ‘Word of God’ in apposition to each other in Jn. 10:35). The same thing is also said when the NT uses ‘God says’ for what is found in Scripture, whether the words were originally spoken by God or not and when Paul insists that the message he speaks consists of words taught by God’s Spirit (I Cor. 2:12-13; cf. Heb. 3:7; Acts 1:16; II Pet. 1:21)” (p. 447, N.I.G.T.C. Commentary on the Pastorals, George W. Knight III ).

Old Testament Writings as statements from God

Scripture as something inspired of God (God-breathed) points to the origin and nature of what was written. ”All” reveals the extent of what is considered to be inspired. The word “Scripture” may refer to the O.T. writings as in v. 15 “sacred writings” (i.e. holy scripture) or to an enlargement from that to include NT writings as well. It is significant that the apostle Peter includes the writings of Paul in the category of Scripture (cf. II Pet. 3:15-16).

“Paul insisted that his letters be read (I Thess. 5:27), exchanged (Col. 4:16), and obeyed (e.g. I Cor. 14:37; II Thess. 2:15) and identified the words he used to communicate the gospel message as ‘those taught by the Spirit’ (I Cor. 2:13). In this letter, Paul has praised Timothy for following his teaching (v. 10), has urged Timothy to continue in what he has learned from Paul (v.14), has commanded Timothy to retain ‘the standard of sound words’that he has heard from Paul (1:13), has commanded him to entrust what he has heard from Paul to faithful men so that they could teach others (2:2), and has insisted that Timothy handle accurately ‘the word of truth’ (2:15). After his remarks on ‘all Scripture’ he will urge Timothy to ‘preach the word’ (4:2), i.e., proclaim the apostolic message about which Paul has said so much in this letter” (George Knight, P. 448, N.I.G.T.C., The Pastorals).

Other parts of the Bible under the title “Scripture”:

b. Specific usefulness (vv.16-17).

The usefulness of Scripture extends beyond “giving wisdom that leads to salvation” (v. 15). In vv. 16-17, the divine origin of Scripture points to a usefulness that invades all areas of life under God. The apostle reveals positive and negative uses in the following pattern:

  • Positive: Teaching (Instruction cf. Rom. 15:4; II Tim. 2:19)
  • Negative: Reproof (rebuking error cf. II Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:9)
  • Negative: Correction (setting right with reference to conduct)
  • Positive: Training in righteousness (right conduct in keeping with the teaching)

The New English Bible paraphrases this: “for teaching the truth, refuting error, for reformation of manner and discipline in right living.” Knight points out that the first pair deals with belief and the second with action. (Ibid., p. 449)

Note: By virtue of their origin, the Scriptures are the final standard for faith and practice. Every believer is to be subjected to the Authority of the Word of God which is powerful and able to judge the motives and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). The authoritative place of the Scripture is especially seen in relation to the way the NT writers applied the OT to their readers (Lk. 16:29-31; Rom. 15:4;I Cor. 10; Heb. 12:5-6 w/Prov. 3:11-12). For more on the authority of the bible, see also: I Cor. 4:6; I Thess. 5:12; II Thess. 3:14; II Tim. 3:16-4:2; II Pet. 3:1-2.

2. II Peter 1:19-21

“And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (NASB).

The major theme of II Peter is the danger presented to the church by false teachers. In v. 19-21 the apostle identifies Scripture as the ultimate source of stability and confidence for the believer, as well as the needed antidote to heretical teaching (2:1).

In v. 19 Peter encourages his readers to pay attention to the prophetic word (OT), which he identifies as a more certain source of revelation and guidance than even his own dramatic witness of Jesus’ transfiguration (v. 16-18). Peter goes on to provide the two-fold bases for the absolute reliability of Scripture’s teachings.

a. Negatively — The source of Scripture is not human (v. 20).

In verse 20, Peter was addressing the question of the origin of scriptural revelation. He asserted that it is not a matter of one’s (the prophets) own interpretation. In other words, the prophets did not “put their own spin” on what they saw or heard. They did not “interpret” with their own limited human minds what God said or showed them. Peter was probably countering the false teacher’s charge that the Scriptures were merely human myths, much like they discounted the report of Jesus’ transfiguration as “cleverly devised tales” (v. 16).

In v. 21a, Peter placed added emphasis on his denial of a merely human thought process in the formation of Scripture: “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will . .”

b. Positively — The source of Scripture is Divine (v. 21).

Although Peter acknowledged a human element in God’s revelation through the Scripture (“Men ……. spoke”), his focal point was the motivation and source of their speaking: “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God”.

The apostle Peter taught that it was not the prophet’s will, but God’s Spirit actually “moving” (guiding, superintending) the human agents that brought about the writing of Scripture. Therefore, when men spoke, God spoke. Scripture is the communication of God’s truth to us, arriving through the agency of human writers and speakers who were so guided by the Holy Spirit that they reported exactly what God intended. (See Jer. 1:9; Num. 22:38).

To assert or imply that “the Bible is just a book written by men,” is to wrongly assume that there is no process by which a sovereign God could use fallible man to convey infallible truth. II Peter 1:21 reveals such a process, though some of the technical details remain a mystery to finite minds.

A wise word from the late OT scholar Dr. John Bright: 

“We do not worship a book. On the contrary, the sole legitimate object of worship, and the supreme authority to whom the Christian submits himself, is God — the God who, according to the Scripture, worked his redemptive purpose in Israel and, in the fullness of time, revealed himself in Jesus Christ.  The Christian’s God is the Creator and Lord of all things, and is the Lord also of Scripture.  He existed before there was a Bible, and quite independently of it. He performed his work of creation when no man was there to record it. He gave his covenant law at Sinai, and that law had authority in Israel before the Pentateuch was written. He did his saving work in Jesus Christ, who came, did mighty works, died, and rose again, and this would be just as true had the Gospels never been penned.”

“The Bible, therefore, derives its authority from God; it does not have authority of itself, but rather by virtue of the God to whom it witnesses and who speaks in its pages.  The God of the Bible is the Christians’ supreme authority in all senses of the word.”

“True. Yet there is a practical sense in which this comes to much the same thing. What, after all, would the Christian know of his God, of Christ, and of the nature of the Christian faith apart from the Bible? Suppose for a moment the Bible had never been written or had been lost to us. What would we know of the history and faith of Israel? What would we know of Jesus, his life, his teachings, and the significance of his saving work as the early church understood it? The answer is: precious little” (p. 31, The Authority of the Old Testament, 1975).

Steve Cornell

Mocking the Bible

Have you ever heard someone ridicule the Bible based on strange laws from the Old Testament? How should you respond?

The mocker who does this belittles those who look to Scripture by pointing to such “obviously ridiculous requirements” found in it. But the mocker also discredits the Bible to avoid what it says against a way of life or particular behavior he or she desires.

Consistent with the way mockers are described it the book of Proverbs, these people speak and act as if they know better than others and as if they are superior. 

Mockers typically belittle laws from Old Testament books like Leviticus or Deuteronomy. They wrongly suggest that those who follow the God of Scripture today are obligated to obey these laws along with everything else in Scripture. 

Leviticus 19 is a common portion mockers use. Since they are looking at Scripture with an agenda, they overlook the many laws in this chapter that could make any community of sinful people a better and safer place. For example, before getting to the “ridiculous” laws, we find this list from Leviticus 19:

  • 11 “Do not steal. “Do not deceive or cheat one another.
  • 12 “Do not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the Lord.
  • 13 “Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. “Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay.
  • 14 “Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the Lord.
  • 15 “Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.
  • 16 “Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people. “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord.
  • 17 “Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.
  • 18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (NLT)

Would you prefer to live among people who followed these laws or rejected them? Please don’t overlook the sad but honest fact about humans that we need lists of “don’ts.” Without laws like this we tend to sabotage ourselves and ruin all good and safe community. Every orderly and civil society must have such rules.

Most societies also have laws that seem unnecessary or pointless. This is how many feel about some of the laws in the rest of Leviticus 19. For example,

  • 19 “Do not mate two different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two different kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread.
  • 27 “Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards.
  • 28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord. (NLT)

Seven Guidelines

Seven things should be understood by those who follow Scripture and those who mock it.

  1. The laws in the Old Testament were not originally given for us to follow as God’s will for our lives. They were required of God’s people during Old Testament history to distinguish them as they lived in very dangerous and bizarre ancient near eastern cultures (see: Misreading the Bible).
  2. We don’t understand all of the reasons why God gave some of the laws but we know that those times were exceptionally evil and bizarre and the laws served a larger purpose of distinguishing God’s people from the nations around them. And God (as the law giver) was not subject to the questions or disagreements from sinful creatures about His law. 
  3. The Old Testament was never intended to be a complete or perfect expression of God’s will. It was provisionally set for a specific purpose at a set time. It pointed to and anticipated a new covenant that would be superior to and replacement of the old covenant (see: A truth we must accept).
  4. Those who follow the Bible should not quote laws directed to Israel as God’s will for people today. We should not look to detailed legislation in Leviticus to guide us as we follow Christ.
  5. We only apply Old Testament Scripture to our lives if it is affirmed and taught by Jesus and the apostles. Jesus is the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament (Matthew 5:18-20). (see: Christ is the end of the Law )
  6. Mockers speak with a degree of hypocrisy because they hold to standards (even the one they’re using to discredit Scripture) and expect everyone else to accept the reasonableness of their ethical code.
  7. The primary thing that the Old Testament law teaches us is how sinful we are and how much we need God’s grace through Christ to be forgiven and accepted by God.

Consider the strong emphasis in the book of Galatians on the inadequacy of the law for being made right with God

______________________________________________________________________

  • Galatians 2:16 – “For we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” (NLT)
  • Galatians 2:21 – “For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (NLT)
  • Galatians 3:10-11 – “But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” 11 So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. (NLT)
  • Galatians 3:13-14 – “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (NLT)
  • Galatians 3:23-26 – “Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. 24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (NLT)
  • Galatians 4:1-7 – “Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. 2 They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. 3 And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.’ 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.” (NLT)

Steve Cornell

A truth we must accept

God is merciful to reach out to rebellious creatures and He makes significant concessions to meet us where we live. His justice makes these concession necessary and His mercy makes them possible.

Should this truth affect the way we view the Bible? Since the Bible addresses violent and evil people where they live, we should not be surprised to find some really horrible things in it. The whole project of humanity is happening under merciful concession. 

The fact of divine concession started early in history and it set the tone for all of the ways of God with humanity. If we do not pause long over this fact, we’ll likely misunderstand God and misread the rest of the story of God’s dealings with humanity. Look closely at this truth of divine concession:

“‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’” (Gen. 8:21b-22, NIV).

We might not like it, but we must hear truth that, “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” This is God’s assessment of humanity and it’s the second time He made it. He first lamented the condition of human hearts prior to His catastrophic judgment against the earth:

“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth…” (Genesis 6:5-7)

Since God’s flood judgment didn’t change the pervasive depravity of the human heart,  was God making a concession (in Genesis 8 ) to live with the inevitable grief and pain as things returned to pre-judgment conditions?

“Here is the paradox: God inundates the earth because of man’s sinfulness, and subsequently promises never again to destroy the earth because of man’s sinfulness” (The Book of Genesis chapters 1-17, NICOT, Victor Hamilton, p. 309).

Perhaps it would have been better to say that God “subsequently promises never again to destroy the earth in spite of man’s sinfulness.” This is a merciful concession that sets the tone for the rest of the story. You’ll likely misunderstand the story if you fail to place in under the truth of divine concession. 

Steve Cornell

Get perspective!

It’s easy to lose perspective in a fallen world. Have you ever had a time when processing life became difficult? A time when you found it hard to keep a good and godly perspective?

There are many examples in Scripture of godly people who lost perspective about God and life.

Servants of God like Job (Job 3:10-13,16); Moses (Numbers 11:13-15); Elijah (I Kings 19:1-4), and Jonah (Jonah 4:1-10), all lost perspective so badly that they wanted to die.

Perspective (or how we choose to see things) can make a big difference in the quality of life.  We can’t always choose our circumstances but we can usually choose our perspective toward them.

Some life-controlling perspectives

1. Discouragement

Maybe you’re discouraged. Life has been hard and you’re having trouble seeing through your difficulties. Discouragement, at a deeper level, is a loss of perspective.

2. Negativity

Do you expect the worse to happen? Do tend to see the dark side of things first? Perhaps through setbacks or disappointments, you’ve even become very negative, cynical and sarcastic. You’re looking at life through the lens of pessimism but you feel like your just being realistic.

3. Anger

Are resentment and anger your primary lens for life? Perhaps you always have a slow burn under an outwardly pleasant veneer. Anger can erupt at any time and rule your life. Is anger an occasional disruption or the way you process most of life?

4. Complacency

Have you become complacent? Perhaps you’ve just stop caring because you feel that caring doesn’t help and often leads to hurt. Maybe you’ve drifted from God and you no longer take spiritual matters very seriously. 

5. Self-absorbed

Are you all about yourself? Is life about how you feel and what you want and you, you, you? Does it always have to be your way and about you?

All of these involve perspectives — ways of seeing things or construing life. What is your general outlook on life? Does you feel like your attitude is caught in a bad flight pattern? If you’re stuck in one of the perspectives above, you might need some counseling to help you move forward (some perspective sessions).

And please remember that your perspective not only affects you. All of those who must relate with you or who are under your influence are affected by your perspective.

How to keep a good and godly perspective

My recommendation for maintaining a good and godly perspective is as simple as it is profound. And it might change the way you approach the Bible and thus change your whole outlook on life in a way that conforms to God’s will.

We simply must recognize that all Scripture was given for perspective formation.

Consider what the Apostle Paul taught about the origin and role of Scripture: 

II Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to:

  1. teach us what is true and
  2. to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.
  3. It corrects us when we are wrong and
  4. teaches us to do what is right.

God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)

God’s Method

God’s method for changing you is that you “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Ephesians 4:23 describes it as being “made new in the attitude of your minds.” God is committed to changing your outlook, attitude or perspective! (cf. Philippians 2:3-5).

Romans 14:13 specifically challenges us regarding this:

“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about (προνοιαν) how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” 

The italicized words in english come from a greek term which means “a pro-visionary way of thinking.” Another translation says, “make no provision for the flesh” (NASB). Another says, “don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (NLT)

To overcome sinful attitudes, perspectives and emotions, one must see things differently. One must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” How does an appropriation of Christ to one’s life (clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ) offer a different pro-visionary thinking? How does it provide a gospel-based outlook that counter-veils the wrong way of thinking?

Two Provisions from God

Perspective is often closely associated with personality or temperment. Transformation in this area doesn’t mean that we all become the same personality type or temperament, but that we all yield our personalities and temperaments to the transforming influences of two divine provisions:

  1. The Spirit inspired Word – all Scripture.
  2. The Spirit indwell community - the reinforcement of godly perspective through connection with our local Church.

Notice that the Holy Spirit is the agent of spiritual transformation (see, II Corinthians 3:18) and His two primary instruments are the Word (Scripture) and the Church — the community of believers (see, Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25).

We believe that Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself and His ways of dealing with His creatures. Apart from it, we’re reduced to subjective human opinion and speculation about God, life, suffering, death and eternity. We would have nothing that offers univocal and universal authority transcending human culture and opinion. We would have many human stories but no original story to shape perspective. The Bible provides this for us!

Of course, the Bible was not originally written to us – but it was all written for us. And it presents God’s dealings through different times of history — which means we do not apply all of it the same way. We must “rightly handle it” (II Timothy 2:15).

So when reading the Bible, some things relate specifically to the original recipients (and seem foreign and strange to us) —-but from the text emerges truths that transcend time and culture! (Examples: II Corinthians 1:3-5, 8-9; 4:16-18; 12:7-10; James 1:1-5).

When you enter the Bible, I am encouraging you to see it as a “perspective formation session with God.” Your personal devotions offer a time to get perspective or to maintain godly perspective. 

Again, all scripture is given for perspective formation.

Three unique perspectives 

What the Bible offers is different from positive thinking books or other material in that it confronts us with:

  1. Vertical truths for the horizontal issues of life
  2. Eternal truths for the temporal circumstances of life
  3. God-centered truths for the self-centered default mode of life.

The Bible also answers really important questions about origin, meaning, morality and destiny. 

Remember that behind actions, emotions, and attitudes are ways of thinking (perspectives) that fortify the actions, emotions, and attitudes.

Why do I do this? (you’re struggling with habits and actions). Why do I feel this way? (you’re struggling with emotions). What we need is counter-veiling ways of thinking (perspectives) to confront ways of thinking that hold us in destructive ways of life. This is the role the Bible fulfills.

Loss of perspective must be challenged by daily perspective forming sessions with God.                                        

Don’t try this alone

We cannot do this alone. God designed that we flourish in community not in isolation. We must allow others to speak into our lives to reinforce vertical, eternal, God-centered perspectives. The Church is God’s ordained place for this to happen. 

When we lose perspective, we’re tempted to travel in the company of those who share our outlook. “Misery likes company.” To maintain good and godly perspective, we need to travel with people who reinforce it (see: Hebrews 10:24). 

Steve Cornell

Audio clip: Heart, mind and emotion

The true Jesus

Reza Aslan’s recent book “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” is nothing new — not by a long shot! Aslan simply stands in line with many previous contenders offering to rewrite the history of Jesus (see: S. G. F. Brandon).

This is especially true when he (rather audaciously) claims that if “we expose the claims of the gospels to the heat of historical analysis, we can purge the scriptures of their literary and theological flourishes and forge a far more accurate picture of the Jesus of history.”

Consider this one profound point: “The idea of a crucified god really did not make sense in the first century. It’s not a message you make up if you’re going to start a religion in the first century A.D.” (Ben Witherington).

Aslan’s ongoing emphasis on his scholarship and extensive knowledge about Jesus is a little much to digest when he overlooks very basic facts. For example, Aslan is wrong when he suggests that the first written documents about Jesus were written by Paul. The NT book of James is slightly earlier (50 A.D.). Perhaps this is a small point but for one who places such heavy emphasis on his scholarship, Reza should be more careful.

Aslan is also wrong about the Paul only mentioning “three scenes from Jesus’ life.” He overlooked Philippians 2 where Paul referred to Jesus becoming human. Perhaps this is another small point but one that should be known by someone who has studied the life of Jesus for 20 years.

Why should we trust Aslan’s efforts to purge the New Testament? He’s given me more than enough reason to doubt the thoroughness of his scholarship. If one applies to the New Testament the accepted rules that guide criticism of historical witness, the veracity of the account is strongly validated.

All those who take history seriously must acknowledge the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. It’s an indisputable fact of history that there existed in the first century a man identified as Jesus of Nazareth. We possess detailed accounts of his birth, life, contemporaries and death.

Of course, there is a turning point in the history of Jesus and, although found in the same historical documents, not everyone chooses to believe the rest of the story.

These documents equally present a view of Jesus as one who existed prior to his birth and one who rose from the grave (John 8:58).

“The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked ‘no entrance’ and left through a door marked ‘no exit’” (Peter Larson).

The story in the New Testament consistently presents Christ as one who does not fit the normal categories for human beings. He is fully human but not merely human (Philippians 2:5-11).

We don’t possess a fully comprehensible category for Jesus. What do we do with

  • Pre-existence? 
  • Virgin birth? 
  • Incarnation? 
  • Resurrection? 
  • Ascension? 
  • Promised return?

The account of Jesus demands a God who breaks in on the natural order — a God who reveals Himself. Jesus is this God. His claims are so extraordinarily unprecedented that they shatter our categories and demand our worship.

Historical witness

An exceptionally reasonable case can be made for the historical reliability of the New Testament. In fact, when the rules that guide standard criticism of historical witness are applied to the New Testament, a solid case can be made for its trustworthiness.

“The biblical presentation of Jesus refuses to remain nicely confined to any of our containers. One picture after another of Jesus in this long line of nontraditional portraits fails before one question dear to the hearts of all faithful Christians: ‘What about the Cross?’… Why would anyone crucify the reasonable Jesus of the Enlightenment?  Why would anyone crucify the dreamy poet of Romanticism? Why would anyone crucify the law-abiding, mild-mannered rabbi of revisionist Jewish scholarship? Why would anyone crucify the witty, enigmatic, and marginal figure of the Jesus Seminar?” A Jewish scholar says, ‘Theologians produced the figure they could admire most at the least cost.’ But the Cross stands amidst each such easy path, each attempt to avoid the heart of the matter and the cost of discipleship. The Cross remains a stumbling block for all who encounter this Jesus. He is perhaps not the person we want, but he is surely the person we still – desperately – need” (Allen).

Jesus offered an amazing promise 

“…. whoever comes to me I will never drive away …For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:37-40).

If you reject Jesus – according to His own word – there is no other way to eternal life (see: John 14:6). 

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

Steve Cornell

See: