Thursday, June 20, 2019

Brief Reflections on Our Statement of Faith: #6 Man

Article 6. – Man.

We believe that man was created in the image and likeness of God. We believe that because of this, each human life is of immeasurable value and worth. We also believe that in Adam’s sin the race fell, became alienated from God, and became subject to the power of the devil. As a result of this, every human being inherits a sinful nature, and is utterly unable to remedy his lost condition (Genesis 1:26; 2:17; 6:5; Psalm 14:1-3; 51:5; Jeremiah 17:9; John 3:6; 5:40; 6:53; Romans 3:10-19; 5:12; 8:6-7; Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 Timothy 5:6).

The idea that man has been made in the image of God is one that is foundational to a Scriptural understanding of humanity. And yet few things can be more confusing to someone trying to understand wht the Bible teaches. What is the image of God? Is it our ability to think or to love? Perhaps it's that we have a soul? Or maybe somehow we actually look like God? Christians have at different times connected the idea of God's image to all of these things.

But if we read the first passage where we find this idea, in Genesis 1, I think more light is shed.

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

What it seems we have in Genesis 1 is God tying his image in man to man's task on earth: to rule as God's representative. We image God by reflecting what he is like. This is intrinsic to humanity, and there are many ways, such as reason and love, etc in which we do this. But no one of those pieces is the whole of God's image. Further, following our rebellion in Genesis 3, our ability to image God has been deeply marred. So while each human being still is an image bearer of God, whose life is of innate and immeasurable value (see Genesis 9:6), we stand in a very different position than Adam and Eve originally did. We need to be re-fashioned.

And so we see in Colossians 1 that Christ has come as the image of the invisible God. The eternal Son of God took on human flesh as the perfect and complete image of God. The Good News is that he died for our sins and rose again, offering forgiveness for sins and eternal life to all who trust in him. This Good News, or Gospel, is what 2 Corinthians 4:4 calls the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. And part of what happens when we trust in him is that we will be conformed by the Holy Spirit to the image of [the] Son (Romans 8:29).

God made us to reflect him, and to be his representatives. In sin we rebel against him and his reign, seeking to rule ourselves. In salvation, Jesus comes as the perfect image of God and redeems rebels, and conforms all those who repent and trust in him to his own image. In short, Jesus offers life abudantly, life where we can reflect God the way he intended. We will do so imperfectly in this life, but this is the joy we were made for.

Psalm 16:11 (ESV): You make known to me the path of life; 
in your presence there is fullness of joy; 

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 

Brief Reflections on Our Statement of Faith: #5 Angels

Article 5. – Angels.

We believe that God created a company of sinless, spiritual beings, known as angels. These angels are involved in various ministries. (Genesis 3:22-24; Daniel 12:1; Isaiah 6:1-3; Matthew 4:11; 18:10; 26:53; 28:2,6; Luke 15:10; 16:22; Acts 8:26; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 1 Timothy 5:21; Hebrews 1:14; Jude 9).
We believe that “Lucifer, son of the morning,” the highest created angel, sinned through pride, thus becoming Satan; that a great number of angels rebelled against God with him in his moral fall, thereby becoming demons. Some demons are active as Satan’s agents and associated with him in the execution of his unholy purposes, while others are “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:11-19; 1 Timothy 3:6; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6).

Angels and demons are the topic of much of a lot of discussion. It is one of those areas of discussion which seems very prone to extremes, where some people are overly interested, obsessed maybe. But others (myself included) can often ignore the spiritual reality of this world we live in, including these beings known as angelic or demonic.

In 2 Kings chapter 6, the Syrian army has surrounded th prophet Elisha and his servant. The servant is understandably nervous and asks Elisha, "What shall we do?" The prophet replies that he need not worry, because there are more on their side than the Syrians-a curious statement considering there are but the two of them. But Elisha then prays for God to open the eyes of the servant. God responds, and allows the servant to see a mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire. There was a spiritual reality beyond what he could see with merely human vision.

Likewise in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul reminds us that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). Which is to say, our spiritual battle isnt with other humans, it's with the spiritual forces that hate God. But, like in 2 Kings (and Luke 22:43), God also sends spiritual and unseen help in those times.

We don't want to obsess over the reality of an unseen realm: our focus is to be Jesus, and communicating his message to other people. But as we do this, we ought to proceed with eyes wide open to the spiritual nature of the world we inhabit.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Brief Reflections on our Statement of Faith: #4 The Holy Spirit

Article 4. – The Holy Spirit.

We believe that the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, omnipresent from all eternity, took up His abode in the world in a special sense on the day of Pentecost. He dwells in every believer, and by His baptism unites all believers into the body of Christ. As the Indwelling One, He is the source of power for all acceptable service and worship (John 14:16-17; 16:7-15; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Ephesians 2:22; 1 Thessalonians 2:7).
We believe that the Holy Spirit is involved in various ministries. He restrains evil; convicts the world; regenerates, indwells, and anoints all who are saved, sealing believers unto the day of redemption. We also believe that the Holy Spirit will teach, guide, and enable those believers who are yielded to Him and walking in obedience to the Word (John 3:6; 16:7-16; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:30; 5:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 John 2:20-27).
We believe that divine enabling gifts for service are bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon all who are saved. These gifts are given to every believer for the building up of the body of Christ (Romans 8:23; 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-13:13; Ephesians 4:4-16; Hebrews 2:3-4; 1 Peter 4:10-11).

We are told several remarkable things about the Holy Spirit in the Bible, especially the pages of the New Testament. Perhaps the most striking is in John 16:7, where Jesus tells his followers that is better to have the Holy Spirit inside of them than to have Jesus walking beside them. 

Jesus goes on in that same passage to spell out a few of the Holy Spirit's ministries on earth. "He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement." Elsewhere, in passages such as Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, we are told that this same Holy Spirit equips God's people for service. 

There is a lot of confusion, even among Christians, over how we are to understand the work of the Holy Spirit and his role in the world today. But what seems evident from Scripture is that he is primarily working in and through those who trust in Jesus to help everyone see Jesus more clearly. And the way he does this is by enabling Christians to live and act in a way that is increasingly more Christlike. 

So as we consider the presence and work of the Holy Spirit today, let's focus primarily on what he is focused on: magnifying Christ. This should lead us to feel gratitude that Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to enable and motivate all true worship and service. 

Brief Reflections on our Statement of Faith: #3 The Lord Jesus Christ

Article 3. – The Lord Jesus Christ.

We believe that the eternal Son of God became incarnate through the virgin birth, and received a human body and a sinless human nature. He became and remained a perfect man, and yet He retained His absolute deity, and is at the same time very God and very man (Luke 1:30-35; 2:40; John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 4:15).
We believe that in fulfillment of prophecy He came first to Israel as her Messiah-King, and that being rejected of that nation, He, according to the eternal counsels of God, gave His life as a ransom for many. Jesus Christ died on the cross in our place, for our sins, as our substitute (John 1:11, 29; Acts 2:22-24; Romans 3:23-26; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 21; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 10:5-14; 1 Peter 3:18).
We believe that Jesus Christ literally arose from the dead in the same body, though glorified, in which He had lived and died. The resurrected Christ walked and talked with men and women. His resurrection confirmed the truth of all He said, and it guarantees the redemption and resurrection of all who believe in Him (John 20 & 21; Romans 1:4; 5:8; 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:5-6; 15:20-22; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Ephesians 1:19-22; 1 Peter 1:3-5).
We believe that Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, and is now exalted at the right hand of God, where, as Head of the Church and as our High Priest, He fulfills the ministry of Representative, Intercessor, and Advocate (Acts 1:9-11; John 14:2; Ephesians 1:20-23; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 4:14-16; 6:20; 7:25; 9:24; 1 John 2:1-2).

Why is it important to believe that Jesus was truly God and truly man? Fundamentally, because were he not both of these things, he could not be our Savior. 

In Romans 5:12 and following, the apostle Paul helps us understand that because it is through a man that sin entered the world, it will only be through a man that sin is dealt with. However, no mere man can pay the penalty for sin. Our own sins are too much for us, and to add the sins of another to our account would make the burden impossible. We need a Savior who is a man, but who is also more than a man. 

And so we read that the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. The eternal Word of the Father came into history as the man Christ Jesus. His divinity, his God-ness, is the real thing. He has always been God and been with God. Yet his humanity is also the real thing. He took on our human weaknesses, and experienced our temptations. But he didn't ever sin. And so, as a sinless man, he was fit to stand in the place of human sinners. But as the God-man, he was also able to take our sins and pay them in full.

This is what Christians call the Gospel, or the Good News. Jesus died and rose again so that sinners who trust in him may have eternal life. And it is all dependent upon Jesus being truly God and truly man.

Brief Reflections on our Statement of Faith: #2 The Godhead

Article 2. – The Godhead.

We believe there is one God, existing eternally in three persons; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These three persons are coequal in nature, attributes and in every perfection (Deuteronomy 6:4; Psalm 110:1-4; Isaiah 48:16; Matthew 3:16-17; 28:18-20; John 1:1-18; 6:37; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 4:6; Hebrews 1:8).

In our very brief statement on the Godhead, we are seeking in very brief terms to describe the classic Christian doctrine of the Trinity. To state it another way,
  • God is three persons
  • Each Person is truly God
  • There is one God
This three-in-one and one-in-three understanding of God's being is unique to Christianity. We don't believe in multiple gods, unlike, for example, Mormons or Hindus. But neither do we believe God to be a singular person, as Jews or Muslims do. 

There are a number of reasons this is significant, but I will touch on one. in 1 John 4:8 we read that, "God is love." However, this can only be true if God is Triune. It is only in the eternal existence of multiple persons where love can be expressed. Thus we see the need for God to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, God would also cease to be love if he were not at all times perfectly loving, and here we see how it is possible that these Three would be one in such a way that there is no division in their essence.

The truth of God's Triune being is the basis for all human relationships, and even for our relationship with God himself. Being made in God's image, we are capable of being relational creatures. 

This is only the tip if the proverbial iceberg, but I hope you see that understanding God as Trinity isn't some dusty relic of the Christian past. It is vital for our understanding of who he is, and how we are to live.

Brief Reflections on our Statement of Faith: #1 The Bible

Article 1. – The Bible.

We believe that the Bible, composed of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, is the breathed out word of God. We believe that this word is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice, inerrant in the original writings, and designed to transform our lives by showing us Christ. We believe the words of the Bible should be interpreted in their normal, natural, and usual sense (Matthew 5:17; John 10:35; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:21; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 3:16).

Why do we begin with the Bible? Wouldn't it make sense to start somewhere else? Not for believers in the God who reveals himself in the Bible. As theologian Michael Horton has put it, "Theology [the study of God] can only exist as a legitimate enterprise when it begins with Gods self-revelation." So we begin with the Bible because it is only through the Bible that God speaks authoritatively to reveal himself to us.

In Genesis 1 we learn of God creating the world, and Psalm 19 tells us that his fingerprints are everywhere testifying to his glory. So, we can learn about God through nature. We have a conscience, and this too points us to an absolute law, and thus an absolute law-giver (see Romans 2). But these aren't authoritative and clear enough to bring us to salvation. I can't learn about Jesus entering human history, dying on the cross in my place, or rising in victorious life by simply sitting and thinking about my guilty conscience. Nor can I embrace his sacrifice by faith and receive eternal life based on what I learn from watching a purple martin. We need the Bible to tell us about the most important things in life. 

The Bible reveals to us God's perfect creation, humankind's rebellion against our Creator, and the punishment for that rebellion. But beyond this, it also reveals to us God's steadfast love for his people, how he sent Jesus to become flesh and die for us. And the Bible reveals how those who trust in Jesus for salvation can receive eternal life, a resurrection from the dead guaranteed by the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus. These are things we only learn from the pages of the Holy Word of God. And so our Statement of Faith begins here, because everything else we hold dear flows from the pages of this book.

1 Samuel 8, The King Thing

Audio Link   (Sermon starts around 19:05) The King Thing 1 Samuel 8, Remsen Bible Fellowship, 10/25/2020 Introduction: Open by reading the t...