Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Sufferings of Christ Described in 1 Peter 3:18

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit." (1 Peter 3:18)

Christ's Suffering is...
1. Complete
2. Sin-expiating
3. Substitutionary
4. God-centered
5. Curse-absorbing
6. Victorious

(NOTE: This post is not yet done. I'll be updating this after some time. Just need to post the outline to be timely.) ^_^

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Obvious-Yet-Often-Neglected Principles in Doing Church (Gleanings from 1 Timothy)

A. Doctrine is of Utmost Priority
Before going to Macedonia, Paul already urged Timothy to remove false teachers from the church of Ephesus. But once again Paul reminded him in this letter right after the greeting. (1 Tim. 1:3) "Doctrine" (Gk. "didaskalia") appeared 21x in NT, 15x in the Pastoral Epistles, 8x in this epistle. Instructions that pervade this issue were rampant (1 Tim. 1:3-11; 2:11-15; 3:2;9; 4:1-16; 6:3-5; 6:20-21).

B. Leadership is a Crucial Issue
Closely related to the significance of doctrine is that of leadership. Actually, the whole epistle was for an ecclesiastical "leader" (Timothy) in Ephesus (1 Tim. 3:14-15; 4:11-16). Pastoral ministry is crucial from doctrinal and moral standards (1 Tim. 3) to gender issues (1 Tim. 2:8-15; 3:2). That pastors should be "above reproach" (1 Tim. 3:2, ESV) or "blameless" (NKJV) is a high qualification. Selection is also crucial (1 Tim. 5:22). Even deacons must have difficult qualifications (1 Tim. 3:8-13).

C. Godliness Involves All Areas of Life
"Godlness" (Gk. "eusebia") appeared 15x in NT, 10x in the Pastoral Epistles, 8x in this epistle. The epistle was written for ecclesiastical concerns yet it addresses personal issues like clothing (2:9-10), managing house, growing children, marriage (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:14), supporting needy relatives (1 Tim. 5:4; 5:8) and even personal money (1 Tim. 6:17-18). The church must concern itself with promoting godliness in any aspect of life of any so-called church member so as to make him "godly and dignified in every way." (1 Tim. 2:2)

D. Indispensability of Godly Testimony for Mission
Church order (1 Tim. 2:8ff) always affects evangelism (2:3) because it's part of "godliness" (1 Tim. 2:10). Leaders should be "well thought of by outsiders" (1 Tim. 3:5) and "dignified... [with] good standing" (1 Tim. 3:10,13). Pursuing godliness determines our faith in the Savior which, consequently, affects how we present him to the world (1 Tim. 4:7-10). Godly submission of slaves impacts the church's Master's testimony and the church's teachings (1 Tim. 6:1).

These things are obvious not only in 1 Timothy but also in other NT books. But so often the modern church neglects them resulting to various maladies. 

Few Practical evaluations:
1. What programs does your church implement to promote and safeguard biblical theology among all its members? (sermon series? Bible-reading plans? Christian libraries? catechisms? doctrinal conferences?)
2. In what ways does your church check every biblical qualification for a pastor, elder or a deacon? Or is it too hasty to appoint leaders as long as they're willing?
3. Does the pastor try to check up every member's aspects of life through visitation, counseling, catechism, etc? What does your church do with the often ill-fated premature relationships of the youth? How about the very busy "businessmen"? Their families? Heretics?
4. Does your church emphasize the importance of godly living in evangelistic campaigns? Is it conscious of its testimony to the society? Does it worry over church members who continuously live in sin because that could blaspheme the Lord's name and the church's teaching?

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Biblical Warnings are Mine and Yours

I have at least five drafts of blog posts. I can hardly finish one. My time is being consumed by theologizing on a Pinoy Pastors' Theological Forum. My college life is about to end. I want to pursue theology more. But I know that something's wrong with my spirituality now. I thank the Lord for this video (although I might differ in some of Conway's points about assurance):

This video made me think of the place of the biblical "warnings" and how it fits with "assurance" and "eternal security".
I. The Comfort of Eternal Security
I always believe that true Christians who were saved by grace through faith will persevere to the end. No real Christian can lose his salvation. This is often called Eternal Security.

The realization of this security through faith produces assurance in us.

But don't get me wrong. I'm not an antinomian or a quietist. I believe that God's commands are ours to keep. Moreover, this video reminded me of the many warnings about losing our "faith". I remembered the fact that, although the genuine Christians will endure to the end, from the human perspective, some people in the visible churches are losing the Christian race. Those who fall perfectly portray the seeds who fell on rocky ground. We see them seemingly visibly just like us for a while (Mt. 13:20-21).

II. The Warnings against Falling Away
There are lots of these in the scriptures. Few examples are: 
"Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith." (1 Tim. 1:18,19) 
"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons." (1 Tim. 4:1)
"If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us." (2 Tim. 2:12) 
"We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." (Heb. 2:1)    
"Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it." (Heb. 4:1) 
"For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:26-29) 
"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain" (I Corinthians 15:1-2)

Granted, conditionality does not imply eventuality but these warnings are meant to produce fear in the believers especially when they're starting to pace away from righteousness to sin.

III. Seeking the Balance
We know that if both I and II are biblical then we can reconcile them. The fear given by the warnings (II) does not contradict the assurance given by Eternal Security (I). It balances it. It complements it.

 Let me explain. 

 A. Evaluating Our Assurance
Our only ground of assurance that we won't lose our salvation and we're surely go to heaven is Christ's work on the cross (Rom. 8:1). Our only ground of assurance is Christ, not our works or our obedience to Christ. And we experience this assurance by faith alone. (1 Jn. 5:13)

 However, there are people who feel lots of "assurance" but will be condemned in the end. (Mt. 7:21-23) So how do we know we don't that kind of assurance? It's by evaluating our assurance through evaluating our faith. And since faith is invisible, we can evaluate our faith by evaluating its fruit. The book of 1 John (1 Jn. 1:6-10; 2:3-6; 3:16,19; 4:2; 5:18-19; etc.) and the book of James discuss this. We are to ask ourselves: "Is my assurance still grounded upon a true faith in Christ manifested by sound doctrine and godly living, or is it already being grounded upon a distorted faith in Christ manifested by my ungodliness? Is my assurance from a sin-killing, God-glorifying faith in Christ in my life or is it a faith that gives license to sin?"

 So the "assurance" in I and the "fear" in II are reconcilable because we have the tendency to get our assurance from a distorted faith in Christ. If we are already doing this (marked by our faithless ungodliness) then we should fear, take heed the warning, repent, and hold firm what true faith in Christ is.

 B. Secure in the Hands of the Shepherd
John 10 is one of my favorite chapter in the Bible. The believers' Eternal Security is very clear there:
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand." (John 10:27-29)
If you're a true believer, you are Christ's sheep. And a sheep of Christ is safe in His hand, as well as in the Father's hand. "[The Father] is greater than all" suggests that there is no greater person or thing that may overpower the Triune God who secures His people.

There is security bringing us assurance

But, at the same time, the sheep here are not passive. They follow the Shepherd. They listen to the voice of the Shepherd. It is their nature to submit to the Shepherd. At times, the sheep may come near the pit or other dangerous places, but the good Shepherd warns them. He is even wise enough to strike them with the rod for their safety.

 There is warning bringing us fear. Yet such fear is part of God's securing grace. It is one of God's means to secure us. Our fleeing away from sin and hell is God's work in us, keeping us from dead faith and apostasy. 

When I'm into sin, it is just right to fear our holy God's warnings. It might shake my "assurance" for awhile but it will soon reaffirm true assurance and even strengthen it had I truly repented. I thank Christ whenever he strikes me and says "Sheep Donnie, where are you going? You're starting to go away from the pasture of communion with God in His word and prayer. You're getting away from Me through your sins. Yes, pursue theology but don't forget pursuing it for Me. Don't forget making Me the center of your life." The biblical warnings are indeed mine and yours.

Praise God for the warnings! Praise God for assurance! Praise God for His power to secure us and preserve us to the end.