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

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  • 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

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:

The word of God is alive and active

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). 

Five key passages describing the role of Scripture in spiritual transformation:

1. Psalm 1:1-3

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

My response: delighting and continually reflecting deeply on it.

Result: Blessed, firmly planted and flourishing— Whatever he does prospers

2. Matthew 7:24-27

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

My response: Hearing and putting into practicing Christ’s words.

Result: Strong and stable in the face of life’s storms

3. James 1:22-25

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”

My response: Obedience as I intensely and continuously study it.

Result: “he will be blessed in what he does” (v. 25)

4.  II Timothy 3:15-17 (NLT)

“You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

Divine origin and usefulness of Scripture

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to

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

God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (II Timothy 3:15-17, NLT).

My response: to be taught and corrected regarding right and wrong

Result: Equipped for every good work

5. Deuteronomy 8:2-3

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

My response: Recognize that I am sustained by God’s word

Result: Dependency on God for life — as I depend on food for physical life

Taste and see that the text is good

  • Man doesn’t live on bread alone but on each word from Yahweh’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3).
  • God’s words are sweet like honey (Psalm 119:103).
  • When your words came, I ate them;
 they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty. (Jeremiah 15:16).
  • Believers should long for the milk of God’s word like newborn infants (1 Peter 2:2).
  • “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-13).

Steve Cornell

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Suppose the Bible had never been written

Controversy over comments made by Andy Stanley, (pastor of North Point Community Church outside of Atlanta, Georgia), made me recall a quote from the late OT scholar, Dr. John Bright. I’ll get to Dr. Bright’s comment in a moment. First, a little context.

Andy Stanley is one of the leading younger evangelical figures in America. He is a gifted communicator with a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has a special interest in explaining truths in ways that the common person can clearly understand. His ministry at North Point Church has extensive influence both locally and globally.

All of this means that when Andy speaks, his words will be closely and widely scrutinized – the price of visibility and influence! (And why we should pray for such leaders).

I am not sure if Andy would admit it, but he could have found a better way to say what it seems he wanted to say. Some of his critics, however, need to realize that Andy effectively communicates in ways that address some of the deeper assumptions held by skeptics. I see this as a loving effort to clear unnecessary confusion that blinds people to the gospel.

Andy said,

“The foundation of our faith is not the Scripture. The foundation of our faith is not the infallibility of the Bible. The foundation of our faith is something that happened in history. And the issue is always – Who is Jesus? That’s always the issue. The Scripture is simply a collection of ancient documents that tells us that story…”

A number of bloggers picked up on Andy’s words and offered critical review. Andy graciously commented on one blog and offered important clarification.

Comment by Andy:

“Perhaps the confusion stems from the fact that I was suggesting an approach to talking about “The Bible” in a culture that is no longer moved by “The Bible says.” But I do believe the epicenter of the faith is something that actually happened….”

On one level, Andy’s point needs to be heard by evangelical leaders who keep themselves far too insulated from culture. It’s easy to take our clichés for granted in a world that either doesn’t get it or sneers at it. Phrases like, “The Bible says…” or “The biblical approach….” (in the wider culture) are often ineffective and counterproductive to our desire to encourage people to hear from God.

But there is also a danger with going too far in adjusting our language for culture.

Paraphrases of the Bible like “The Message” offer quite a few examples of overreaching to be colloquial with Scripture. I heard of a church that promoted God’s kingdom as God’s party to get people to “sign on” for God. This is how we don’t want to adjust our language. We can exercise wisdom in this area by simply asking how the audience might hear you when you use certain words. Do you want them to think of their parties when they think of God’s kingdom?

Don’t misunderstand. Relevance is important and many bible teachers fail to see ways that it shaped the very choices of words in the New Testament. I am not advocating the idea that we should only use words from the Bible when teaching and sharing truth.

Those who say, “Stick with the terms used in Scripture!” demonstrate a naive understanding of biblical words. The great New Testament words of salvation (redemption, propitiation, sanctification, justification, reconciliation, etc…) came from the world of that time and had prior meanings and associations ranging from the market place; to the temple; to the courtroom, etc…. Was there risk of misunderstanding when including such terms in the New Testament?

Yes, we need to be careful not to acquiesce to trendy terms if their popular meanings could lead people into serious misunderstandings of God’s revealed word.  Yet we must be willing also to restore some words to richer and fuller meanings based in a God-centered worldview.

I believe I understand what Andy wanted to convey but he could be accused of fallacious reasoning when emphasizing “what happened in history” over the reliability of the written text of Scripture.

When I think about this matter, I prefer what the late OT scholar Dr. John Bright wrote: 

“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

See: Is the Bible from God?  

Applying Scripture (7 Tests)

Many people misapply or even abuse the statements and promises of Scripture. Test yourself in this area by answering the following 7 questions?

  1. How much should be included when applying the statement, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NLT)? Everything? 
  2. What should be included in the promise, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philipians 4:19)? What qualifies as a need?
  3. What did the apostle Paul have in mind when he wrote, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20)? Any limits to this?
  4. What qualifies as a time of need in the promise: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16)?
  5. What kind of cares or anxieties do you think the Apostle Peter meant when he wrote: “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you”?
  6. What kind of wisdom was intended in the promise: “ If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5)?
  7. How should we apply the promise, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13)?

Can you think of specific ways that these promises might be misapplied?

See also: 

Steve Cornell

Should we follow the Bible?

The recent TV series on the Bible offers a 10-hour dramatization of the Old and New Testaments. As with similar programs, viewership was at the top of the charts.

But does the Bible really present the narrative for humanity to trace its origin, meaning, morality and destiny? This is my small offering on this question.

The first chapter of the Bible opens in a way that fits well with reality. I read of a God who is identified as the Creator, the one responsible for many of the things that I see around me. 

I know that something cannot come from nothing, so it makes more sense to believe in a Creator. The need for an intelligent being behind the amazing complexity of the world is also logical. Of course, this requires that the Creator is the only uncaused cause in the universe. The God in the Bible is repeatedly noted as the eternal one who preexisted all created things (Psalm 90:2; John 1:1-3).

As I continue to read the first chapter of the Bible, the Creator is said to be responsible for things like light, day and night, waters, sky, land, vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees, stars, fish, birds, creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals. These things all correspond with reality of all people, in all places; at all times. I have not found a comprehensively satisfying alternative explanation for the origin of such things.

At this point in the narrative, the Creator seems to pause for a special work of his creation. He creates humans, male and female, in his own image. He gives them unique status over the rest of the created things to rule over them. This too connects with reality. If I was walking through a zoo and saw humans in a cage like the rest of the animals, I would be horrified. Although humans share some common physical trails with animals, the qualitative differences are obvious. What accounts for this distinction?

Up to this point, I am tracking with the entire story — even the seven-day structure it presents.

The next chapter offers a kind of recapping of what this Creator did. Here I learn that the man was made from the dust of the earth, and that the Creator planted a garden as the first habitat for humans and ordered them to cultivate and keep it.

This connects well with reality as planting and keeping gardens has always been both a necessity and one of the favorite past times of humans in every part of the world. Made from the earth, humans are then sent back to it for sustenance. 

The Creator made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. This is understandable but then we venture into something that appears strange to me: “In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9).

I understand trees. And I understand the categories of life and good and evil. But trees of life and tress of the knowledge of good and evil, I don’t get. Unusual to me? Yes. Impossible or mere mythology? I have no substantive reason to reject what is presented.

The Creator is referred to as “the Lord God,” and his command seems strange, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17). 

It’s not the command-consequence category that seems odd. I get this — every day. It’s not the mention of death because this is part of human reality for all people at all times.  It’s the mystery of the tree as a source of these things.

Next I learn of the details about the formation of the female. The genders of male and female are completely understandable (they keep coming out that way).

The pattern of pairing males and females in relationships of companionship also fits with all of human history.

But the way the creator formed the female is as strange to me as him making the man from dust. I don’t understand how or why the creator took “one of the man’s ribs and….made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man” (Genesis 2:21-22). I can’t say that this is impossible any more than I can say that there couldn’t be a tree of life. Strange to me? Yes. Possible? Yes.

And there is so much to the story that fills gaps of understanding in a way that is helpful. But suppose I put the bible down and later picked it up, accidentally skipping the third chapter. At the end of the second chapter, the man and the woman were left naked and without shame.

The fourth chapter starts out in a way that flows well from this point. “Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.’ Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.” This seems like the beginning of a great story!

A family begins. Sex, pregnancy, babies, family, this all corresponds with the whole human story — even the occupational differences within farming and agriculture.

But, as the story continues, I discover that something goes terribly wrong. As I keep reading, I will find stuff that sadly corresponds with my reality but I am confused as to why these ugly realities disrupted what felt like a good story (with a few strange things in it).

Here I encounter themes like sacrifices to God, acceptance and disapproval with God, reference to anger, doing what is right, personification of sin as something that desires to control one’s life.

Then things go from bad to worse as I encounter the first act of homicide —of the most heinous kind, fratricide (brother kills brother). What I see in Cain I also see all the time in the world. Cain-like characters appear daily in the news. He was an envious, angry, heartless and self-willed man. He was a murderer and a liar. He spoke with disdain and disrespect to the God-Creator. These dark traits are part of the human story in every place in the world and for all of human history.

What seemed like a good story took an ugly turn in a way that surprises me. But as I go back and learn that I skipped the third chapter, I find some pieces to the puzzle that shed light on why the story turned in this dreadful yet realistic direction.

As I begin to read the third chapter, I stumble at first over something strange: A talking serpent. It’s identified as a being from among the wild animals the Lord God made. Talking animals don’t fit my reality. I don’t get it, but I’ll read on.

Whatever or whoever this being is, I learn that he holds to a very different version of how things work. He/it is clearly opposed to the Creator and appears to want the woman to oppose her Creator. He/it distorts that creators words and appears to want the woman to feel overly restricted by the creator.

The serpent assures the woman that the warning about dying if you eat the fruit isn’t true. He/it lures her to consider some kind of personal benefit to disobeying the Creator — something that the Creator is supposedly denying her.

The woman contemplates the benefit and takes the fruit of the tree and eats. There is no immediate death. She also gives some of the fruit to her husband and he eats it. Still no death– as I might think of it. But it gets ugly. The consequences that follow her disobedience fit well within seven categories that correspond with human reality:

  1. Physiological: pain in childbirth, painful toil, suffering and death.
  2. Psychological: shame, guilt and fear.
  3. Sociological: blame-shifting and alienation.
  4. Ecological: ground is cursed, thorns and thistles.
  5. Spiritual: hiding from God,
  6. Epistemological: distorted thinking, spiritual blindness
  7. Criminal: Homicide 

The Universities offer major areas of study related to each of the seven categories (e.g. doctors, psychologists, sociologists, environmentalists, ministers, philosophers, law enforcement).

Are there some really strange things in the Bible? Yes. Some of these things are explained later in the book (like the identity of the serpent). But so much of what you find in the Bible corresponds closely to human reality and fills gaps of knowledge on sources behind these realities.

Read the Bible with an open mind. It answers important questions humans intuitively pursue.

The Bible offers hope for a world where the ways of Cain are pervasively and painfully real on every corner of the globe.

  1. It maps the way out of darkness by connecting with deeply felt human needs for forgiveness, restoration, renewal and life.
  2. It tells us that this world with it’s evil, suffering and death is not the final reality.
  3. It points to a God who promises to make all things new in a new world where there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain.
  4. And, in a strangely wonderful way, it sums up all of history in one person: Jesus Christ. He is the theme of the Bible (Hebrews 1:1-3). 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).

Steve Cornell

See also: Miss this truth and you’ll misread the Bible