The Holy Spirit Advantage

God blessed me with a wonderful father. He went to be with Jesus when I was just 27, which is half my current age. Memories fade over time, but one thing in particular I remember about Daddy (yes I’m from the south) was his wit. Between my sophomore and junior year of college he and I traveled from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to Las Vegas, Nevada to help a new church with Vacation Bible School. The Vacation Bible School lasted a week, and, instead of heading home, we decided to tour California. From Las Vegas we went to San Francisco, drove the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles, then went to San Diego. While in Los Angeles we went to see the game show Password Plus. Game shows record a week of shows in one day. The same audience is used for the first three shows, then a new audience is used for the last two shows. We were in the first audience. As we were leaving the studio we passed by the people waiting to enter for the final two shows. All of a sudden a voice cried out, “Cecil Carpenter!” Well as it turned out a couple that lived in Hattiesburg and knew Daddy were waiting to enter the studio. The woman said, “What in the world are you doing here?” Daddy replied jokingly, “Well, everybody has to be somewhere.”

It’s funny the things you remember. Daddy said that as a joke but for some reason it struck me as profound. This was not new information to me, but as a 19 year old I thought, “That’s right. Everybody has to be somewhere.” We are bound by time and space. If I’m in Los Angeles I’m not in Miami, New York, or any other place. If I’m at the NBC Studios in Los Angeles I’m not anywhere else in Los Angeles. If I’m in front of the NBC Studios in Los Angeles I’m not inside, behind, or to the side of the studio. As the old saying goes, “You can’t be in two places at the same time.” We’ve all had to make the choice between two or more events that are happening at the same time but are in different locations.

The corollary to “Everybody has to be somewhere” is “Nobody is everywhere.” These truths come with being creations of God. When God created Adam and Eve he put them in a certain place (the Garden of Eden) at a certain time (during the sixth day of creation). Jesus also came at a certain time in a certain place. As Galatians 4:4 says Jesus came “in the fullness of time,” meaning at just the right time. Jesus didn’t come too early or too late. He came to a particular place. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, ministered in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and was crucified in Jerusalem. While here on earth, because he is fully human, he had the same time and space limitations as all other humans. Wherever Jesus was, he was not someplace else at the same time. This is why he told his disciples that it was to their advantage that he leave.

I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:4-7 ESV)

Jesus has just told the disciples that the world will hate them (John 15:18-25), and he is leaving. The disciples did not see this as good news. This is understandable. The disciples have been walking with Jesus for three years and now Jesus says those days are coming to an end. Jesus understands their struggle as he says to them in John 16:6, “sorrow has filled your heart.” But then he immediately says his leaving is to their advantage. He emphasizes this by saying, “I tell you the truth.” If Jesus does not leave the Helper will not come to them. In John 16:13 Jesus calls this Helper “the Spirit of truth.” Whereas Jesus could be with the disciples, the Spirit of truth would be in the disciples (John 14:17). If the Spirit of truth is in you, he is with you wherever you are. Not only that, he doesn’t have to leave someone else to be in you. That is a great advantage in and of itself, but Jesus gives other advantages to his sending the Holy Spirit.

  • The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. (John 16:8-11)
  • The Holy Spirit will guide into all truth. (John 16:13)
  • The Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus by revealing Jesus to his people. (John 16:14-15)

Note carefully these advantages. None of them are about our happiness, health, or financial portfolio. These advantages all center on making Jesus known to those who will never see Jesus in the flesh in their earthly life. Imagine if what Jesus accomplished on the cross only applied to you if you had to meet Jesus in the flesh. Imagine if the only way to know the truth was to hear it with your physical ears from the physical lips of Jesus. Imagine if the only way to see and know the glory of Christ was to see him with your physical eyes. Jesus had to come as God in the flesh to accomplish our salvation, but he sent the Holy Spirit to apply that salvation to people all over the world. The Holy Spirit has done this now for over 2000 years and will continue to do this until Jesus returns.

Someone who came to a particular place at a particular time to accomplish salvation for all time sent someone who is everywhere all the time in order to make this salvation known to those of us who are bound to a particular place and time. Now that’s a real advantage.

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It’s a Matter of Interpretation (Part 3)

This is the third and final part in this series. In the first part I introduced the concept of biblical hermeneutics, which are principles for interpreting the bible. We need sound principles of interpretation because, even though we have the right to read and interpret the bible ourselves, we have an obligation to correctly interpret the bible. The second part introduced some interpretive principles focusing on the importance of “Scripture interprets Scripture,” and it included an example from the New Testament. In this concluding article I show how vital is the principle of “Scripture interprets Scripture” when interpreting the Old Testament.

Consider the temple prophesied by Ezekiel in chapters 40 through 48. Many (primarily dispensationalists) believe this prophecy must be fulfilled literally in that an actual temple building must be built in the present city of Jerusalem for use in a future millennium. While this may be a literal interpretation, it violates the principle of “Scripture interprets Scripture,” especially the corollary that requires the Old Testament to be interpreted by the New Testament. Ezekiel’s temple describes the salvation that is found in Christ since he is the fulfillment of all the aspects of the temple. Space does not allow me to defend this claim. My purpose is simply to show Ezekiel is not describing a literal temple that will be built in the future. (See The NIV Application Commentary, Ezekiel, by Iain M. Duguid for a defense of Ezekiel’s temple being fulfilled in Christ.)

There are many reasons why the temple cannot be literal. I will offer a few of these reasons. First, the temple is on a very high mountain (Ezekiel 40:2), and the temple mount in Jerusalem does not qualify (see also Isaiah 2:2-3). Second, God says he will dwell here in the midst of his people forever, not 1000 years (Ezekiel 43:7). (Also, on a side note, there is nothing in Ezekiel 40-48 to link these chapters to Revelation 20 and nothing Revelation 20 to link that passage to Ezekiel 40-48.) Third, no instructions are given concerning the height or the construction materials, and finally, nowhere in these chapters is it commanded that this temple be built. Concerning these last two points Iain Duguid says,

The absence of specified building materials is a particular problem for literal interpretation, since these are precisely described in other situations where God instructs his servants to construct such edifices as the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. Of course, it should also be noted that Ezekiel is not instructed to build anything, he merely has to observe and recount to his follow exiles what he has seen. The building he sees is already in existence.[1]

These are important observations but the most important reason why this temple is not a literal building is because, if it is literal, it contradicts the New Testament. If we take the building as literal we must also take the temple activity as literal. There are many passages in the description of the temple that specify animal sacrifices. For example, consider this passage from Ezekiel chapter 45.

And one sheep from every flock of two hundred, from the watering places of Israel for grain offering, burnt offering, and peace offerings, to make atonement for them, declares the Lord GOD. All the people of the land shall be obliged to give this offering to the prince in Israel. It shall be the prince’s duty to furnish the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the new moons, and the Sabbaths, all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel: he shall provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings, and peace offerings, to make atonement on behalf of the house of Israel. (Ezekiel 45:15-17 ESV)

Twice this passage literally says the offerings are “to make atonement.” This cannot be taken literally since, as Hebrews 10:18 says, “there is no longer any offering for sin,” and Hebrews 8:13 proclaims the old covenant is obsolete. Five times (7:27, 9:12, 9:26, 10:1, and 10:10) Hebrews says Jesus’s sacrifice was “once for all.” Paul says the same thing in Romans.

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. (Romans 6:10 ESV)

Nothing can be added to the sacrifice of Christ. Dispensationalists and others who hold to a literal temple realize they must abandon literal interpretation at this point so they claim these animal sacrifices “look back” to the sacrifice of Jesus. However, making the sacrifices memorial is not taking Ezekiel literally. I like how Keith Mathison puts it.

It is impossible to interpret Ezekiel 40-48 in a strictly literal manner in reference to a future millennium without denying the clear teaching of Hebrews on the final sacrifice of Christ. To do so introduces a contradiction into Scripture that is easily avoided by seeing Ezekiel’s descriptions as figurative. If the Old Testament prophets could prophesy about Christ figuratively in terms of the Levitical sacrifices, why could Ezekiel not have “prophesied the church age [figuratively] in terms of the Old Testament religious system with which ancient Israel was familiar?”[2] Jesus did not come as a literal lamb with four legs and wool, and neither will a future millennium come with literal bloody sacrifices. Dispensationalists cannot be consistently literal in their interpretation of this passage. That would demand the restoration of bloody, atoning (not memorial) animal sacrifices, which is impossible now that Christ has offered himself as the final sacrifice.[3]

This example and the example in Part 2 show the danger of placing literal interpretation above the principle of “Scripture interprets Scripture.” Emphasis is placed on literal interpretation for fear of “spiritualizing” Scripture. That fear traces back to the theological liberalism of the 19th and early 20th centuries and is still a legitimate fear today. However, we cannot equate the spiritualizing of the bible with a proper figurative interpretation demanded by the principle of “Scripture interprets Scripture.” Trying to interpret the bible “literally” can be just as much a wax nose as “spiritualizing” the bible. No serious bible student wants to mishandle Scripture. Rather we all want to “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

These articles are not a comprehensive discussion of the subject, and I certainly do not claim interpretive infallibility. I hope, though, this will encourage a desire to combine the right of private interpretation with the responsibility of accurate interpretation. Let’s be more concerned with actual interpretation than literal interpretation.

(For an introduction on how to read Scripture I recommend R. C. Sproul’s book Knowing Scripture. He also has a video series with the same name.)

[1] Iain M. Duguid, The NIV Application Commentary, Ezekiel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 479

[2] Curtis I. Crenshaw and Grover E. Gunn III, Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow, rev. ed. (Memphis, TN: Footstool Publications, 1989), 222.

[3] Keith A. Mathison, Dispensationalism : Rightly Dividing the People of God? (Phillipsburg, NJ : Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1995), 8.

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It’s a Matter of Interpretation (Part 2)

In the first part of this series I introduced the concept of biblical hermeneutics, which are principles for interpreting the bible. We need sound principles of interpretation because, even though we have the right to read and interpret the bible ourselves, we have an obligation to correctly interpret the bible. This part introduces some interpretive principles focusing on the most important principle.

One very important principle for interpreting the bible is the principle of interpreting according to the literal sense of a passage. Determining the literal sense of a passage considers the normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax, genre (for example narrative or poetry), and context. Closely related to this is the principle of grammatical-historical interpretation. As the name implies it focuses on the grammatical constructs and historical contexts of Scripture. Grammatical structure determines whether a specific passage should be considered a question (interrogative), command (imperative), or declarative (indicative). Also, this principle seeks what the text meant to the original recipients in order to prevent reading into Scripture our own thoughts from the present (anachronistic interpretation). Unfortunately, though, many think the most important thing is to determine the literal meaning of a biblical passage. This is not the most important task of biblical interpretation. The most important task is to determine the actual meaning.

To get the actual meaning of a passage we need to interpret in line with the literal sense, and we need to use grammatical-historical interpretation. But there is a principle that is most important. This principle is “Scripture interprets Scripture.” In other words the best commentary on a passage of Scripture is Scripture itself. There are several corollaries to this principle.

  • Interpret the unclear in the light of the clear.
  • Interpret the implicit in the light of the explicit.
  • Interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament.

My goal here is not to give a full explanation of hermeneutics but to point out the preeminence of “Scripture interprets Scripture” over other principles of interpretation. The other principles are important and must be used when interpreting Scripture, but, for example, a literal interpretation that violates “Scripture interprets Scripture” must be rejected.

Let me give a couple of examples to demonstrate my point. This article contains the first example, which is from the New Testament. The second example, from the Old Testament, is in the final part of this series.

John chapter 3 gives the dialog between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus gives the prerequisites for entrance into the kingdom of God.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:3-6 ESV)

Clearly Nicodemus takes being “born again” very literally as a repeat of physical birth. Jesus does not correct Nicodemus but gives him further clarification when he says Nicodemus must be “born of water and the Spirit.” What means do we use to interpret this, especially the phrase “born of water?” Well if we interpret this strictly literally those who can enter the kingdom of God are born of physical water. Water is used in baptism so Jesus may be saying that one must be baptized to enter the kingdom, and there are those that hold that view. Many who reject the idea that Jesus is speaking of baptism try a different literal approach. Since Jesus is speaking of being born, and verse 6 has the phrase “that which is born of the flesh,” he could be referring to the release of amniotic fluid that happens before physical birth because this is known as a pregnant woman’s water breaking. Can we legitimately use our current expression of “water breaking” as a literal interpretation of “born of water?” Did Nicodemus and others of his era use the phrase “water breaking” to refer the rupture of the amniotic sac? (If this view is correct we have surely left purely literal interpretation since Jesus said water, not amniotic fluid.) Nicodemus did refer to entering his mother’s womb a second time but that was before Jesus said he must be born of water and the Spirit. Jesus seems shocked that Nicodemus, a teacher, does not understand what he is talking about.

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:9-10 ESV)

Since Nicodemus is a teacher he should understand the Old Testament context of Jesus’s statement. Jesus is not making up doctrine as he goes along. He is fulfilling Scripture, thus, we should look to Scripture to interpret what Jesus said. In Ezekiel chapter 36 God promises that he will cleanse his people and renew them by his Spirit.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV)

Here in Ezekiel we have a clear reference to water and the Spirit pointing to the new birth (a change of heart in Ezekiel’s terms). Richard Phillips agrees.

The…best view observes that in the Greek text the grammatical structure of “water and the Spirit” indicates a single event, not two different births. Moreover, since Jesus chides Nicodemus for his ignorance (John 3:10), he must be referring to things taught in the Old Testament. It turns out that Jesus’ description of “water and the Spirit” corresponds to God’s promise of the new birth in Ezekiel 36:25-27…. This is a rebirth that a teacher such as Nicodemus should know, involving cleansing from sin as by water, giving us a new and righteous standing with God, and the transforming of the heart by God’s Spirit, giving us new life to live for God. This is what the new birth is all about.[1]

So when Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born of water and the Spirit to see the kingdom of God Nicodemus should have been reminded of God’s promise in Ezekiel. Paul confirms this in Titus chapter three.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:4-5 ESV)

By using Scripture to interpret Scripture we find Jesus is referring to the sovereign work of God to regenerate his people. But what about verse six where Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh?” Surely that indicates physical birth. The problem is the only other place in John where flesh and Spirit are used together indicates otherwise.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63 ESV)

Jesus is saying the flesh offers nothing when it comes to new life. (The KVJ says the flesh “profits nothing,” and, as Martin Luther said, “‘Nothing’ in this passage not only may, but must be taken to mean, not ‘a little something.’”[2]) So Jesus is saying to Nicodemus we do not have it in ourselves to produce new life. God must do it. What God said through Ezekiel and Paul confirms this.

By using the principle of “Scripture interprets Scripture” we get the to the heart of what Jesus was saying to Nicodemus, and we eliminate a literal interpretation that relies purely on our own understanding and experience. The final part of this series will give an example from the Old Testament of the preeminence of the principle “Scripture interprets Scripture,” especially the corollary “Interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament.”

[1] Richard D. Phillips, John, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2014), 1:153

[2] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 263

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It’s a Matter of Interpretation (Part 1)

Years ago when I was still a boy I remember hearing a particular sermon illustration. I don’t remember what the sermon was about, and I don’t remember exactly how the illustration was presented, but I do remember the gist of it. Two grandsons were talking about their grandfather. The first grandson says, “It’s amazing that grandpa is 90 years old and he still doesn’t use glasses.” The second grandson replies, “Well maybe he just likes to drink from bottles.” The illustration is not particularly funny, but I think you get the point. The first grandson was referring to eyeglasses, and the second grandson thought he was referring to drinking glasses. The first grandson made what he thought was a literal statement. The problem was the second grandson gave a different literal meaning to “glasses.” The second grandson incorrectly interpreted the statement of the first grandson because he had a different primary meaning for “glasses.” Maybe the second grandson always referred to eyeglasses as eyeglasses and drinking glasses as glasses (or drinking glasses). Now I’m sure most of us would have understood “glasses” to mean eyeglasses. The problem, though, is there was not enough context to fully clarify which type of glasses the first grandson was thinking of, and, evidently, there were no other conversations about this particular subject that would cause the second grandson to realize the first grandson was referring to eyeglasses.

So what’s the point? The point is this is why we have differences in interpreting the bible. One person reads a verse and it means one thing, and another person reads the same verse and comes up with a different meaning. If I’m dependent only on my understanding of what words mean and ignore the context and what other parts of the bible have to say on the subject, I have a very subjective interpretation. It is subject to my education (secular and religious), my life experiences, my culture, and my version of common sense. In other words if I interpret the bible by what I consider to be literal I could easily come up with an incorrect interpretation.

What we are dealing with here is hermeneutics (sounds similar to herman new ticks). For most people hermeneutics is not an everyday word. Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. It can be applied in many areas. For example, justices of the Supreme Court of the United States interpret the Constitution. Some justices allow their interpretation of the Constitution to be heavily influenced by today’s culture and thinking. Other justices try to interpret the Constitution with a heavy influence on original intent. (Original intent means interpreting based on the culture and thinking of the original authors.) The former is more subjective, and the latter is more objective. The former is more subjective because the interpretation is influenced (not necessarily determined) by whatever the justice thinks is correct. The latter is more objective because it is not just based on what the justice thinks is correct, but the language of the Constitution is compared with other writings of the founding fathers to see what the founding fathers thought about a particular subject.

Everyone has the right to read and interpret Scripture on his or her own. This is the right of private interpretation. The leaders of the Reformation fought for this right. Instead of relying solely on the teaching of the church, lay people can and should interpret Scripture on their own. At the time of the Reformation the Catholic Church protested that if people were allowed to interpret Scripture, they would distort Scripture for their own purposes. The Reformers agreed there would be distortion but still insisted on the right of private interpretation. However, with every right comes a responsibility. As R. C. Sproul says, “With the right of private interpretation comes the sober responsibility of accurate interpretation.”[1]

Accurate interpretation requires proper hermeneutics. For some, though, their one and only hermeneutic is “whatever the bible says.” What they mean is “whatever I think the bible means is what it means.” This is why many in the church are quite comfortable with contradictory interpretations. They begin sharing in their small group with the phrase “What this verse means to me is….” The important thing is not what a verse or passage means to me but what it means. This is why biblical hermeneutics (principles used to interpret the bible) are so important.

Many Christians, while exercising their right to read and interpret the bible, have not seriously investigated the proper rules for interpretation. The next two articles in this series will introduce the topic of biblical hermeneutics. In Part 2 we will look briefly at some biblical hermeneutics with emphasis on the most important principle for interpreting the bible (Scripture interprets Scripture). The primary principle will be illustrated by interpreting a portion of John chapter 3 where Jesus is talking with Nicodemus. Part 3 will demonstrate the importance of “Scripture interprets Scripture” using a passage from the Old Testament.

[1] R. C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009), 39

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My Glory I Give to No Other (Part 2)

Part 1 showed that God will not share his glory with anyone or anything, but we “fall short” of giving God the glory he is due (Romans 3:23). We plagiarize his glory by taking his glory and applying it to someone other than God, usually ourselves. In this part we will examine some of the areas in which God is glorified and how in each area fallen man refuses to give God the glory he deserves.

God is glorified through his creation, but as we see in chapter one of Romans (Romans 1:18-32), man refuses to acknowledge him as Creator. Theories of evolution are so prevalent because if there is no Creator then there is no one to whom we are accountable. Sinful men close their ears to the voice of creation. David proclaims,

            The heavens declare the glory of God,
                        and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
            Day to day pours out speech,
                        and night to night reveals knowledge.
            There is no speech, nor are there words,
                        whose voice is not heard.
            Their voice goes out through all the earth,
                        and their words to the end of the world.
            (Psalm 19:1-4a ESV)

Creation shouts that there is a glorious Creator. Even the heavenly realms glorify God as the Creator.

            Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
                        to receive glory and honor and power,
            for you created all things,
                        and by your will they existed and were created.
            (Revelation 4:11 ESV)

Some acknowledge God as Creator but think God created because he was lonely or because he needed to express his love. This also steals God’s glory because God is complete in himself and needs nothing (Acts 17:25). God created to display his eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). He created to display his glory.

Wrath and Justice
God is glorified by his wrath and justice, but fallen man does not want to acknowledge sin much less the payment required for sin. The truth that his wrath and justice glorify him is not always popular, even in the church. If God’s wrath is acknowledged at all, many think it is some type of last resort. If love doesn’t work then God will have to settle for wrath. This is not the case. He is dispensing his wrath now to his glory.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18 ESV)

Romans 9:22-23 says God desires to show his wrath and make known his power to the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. He desires to show his wrath on judgment day because he is glorified by his wrath; however he delays his final judgment “in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.” In Revelation 11 when the angel sounds the seventh trumpet God is worshiped because he exercises his wrath and justice.

            “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
                        who is and who was,
            for you have taken your great power
                        and begun to reign.
            The nations raged,
                        but your wrath came,
                        and the time for the dead to be judged,
            and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
                        and those who fear your name,
                        both small and great,
            and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
            (Revelation 11:15-18 ESV)

Note, though, the fact that God is glorified by his wrath does not mean God takes pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23), or that Jesus’s remorse over Jerusalem was not real (Matthew 23:37). God is glorified by his wrath because it is the proper exercise of his judgment against sin. His holiness requires judgment against sin and evil, and this judgment of sin and evil glorifies him.

Grace, Love, and Mercy
God is glorified by the grace, love, and mercy he shows his people, but fallen man demands to merit God’s favor. In Mark 10:17 the man asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The Pharisees ask Jesus in John 6:28, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” We are more interested in what we need to do than in what Christ has done. In his letter to the Galatians, though, Paul proclaims that works justify no one.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:15-16 ESV)

Paul gives glory to God in Ephesians 1:3-14 for God’s grace and love. He begins by giving glory to God, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” then verses 4 through 6 say in love God predestines us for adoption “to the praise of his glorious grace.” Verse 12 says those who are in Christ are to “be to the praise of his glory.” The Holy Spirit guarantees our inheritance “to the praise of his glory” (verse 14). In chapter 2 of Ephesians Paul says God is rich in mercy, and he ties God’s mercy to love and grace.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)

Also, we saw above in Romans 9:23 that God wants to make known the “riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.” By his grace, love, and mercy God creates a people that will forever bring him glory.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

God fully accomplishes the salvation of his people to ensure he gets all the glory. Man insists on getting in on the action, though, either by adding supposedly meritorious works or his own faith. As Paul told the Corinthians no one will boast before God since “because of him” (that is, God), we are in Christ.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-31 ESV)

The KJV translates the end of verse 31 as “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” When it comes to salvation, we cannot claim any of God’s glory for ourselves.

Good Works
God is glorified by our preordained, Spirit-empowered good works, but fallen man wants to offer works of the flesh. Works of the flesh are works done to gain God’s favor. Jesus very clearly rejects these works.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV)

“Mighty works” do not glorify God, but Jesus says good works do.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 ESV)

Of course, because God does not give his glory to another (Isaiah 42:8 and Isaiah 48:11), God ensures we will have good works that glorify him. Ephesians 2:8-9 proclaims God’s sovereignty over our salvation, but the next verse proclaims God’s sovereignty over our good works. He predestined the works that glorify him.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

In Revelation 19 where the marriage supper of the Lamb is described fine linen is granted (or given) to the bride (representing the church) for her clothing, and the fine linen represents the righteous works of God’s people.

Let us rejoice and exult
            and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
            and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
            with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
(Revelation 19:7-8 ESV)

Also, he works in us so what we do is pleasing to him.

For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13 ESV)

Only God-ordained works done by us because of Christ’s finished work glorify the Father. All other works are for our glory.

Jesus Christ
God is glorified now and will be forever glorified through his Son, Jesus. We rightly rejoice in the fact that the second person of the Trinity put on flesh to redeem sinful man. But our redemption was not the ultimate purpose of the incarnation. The ultimate purpose was to glorify Jesus and through him to glorify the Father.

To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:27 ESV)

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18 ESV)

To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:25 ESV)

At best sinful man calls Jesus a great teacher or example, and at worst sinful man calls Jesus irrelevant, but one day everyone will call him Lord to God’s glory.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:8-11 ESV)

To God Alone Be the Glory
God alone is worthy of all glory and honor. Anything God honoring that we do is because of the grace of God. There is no area in which God does his part and we independently do our part. All that we do is ordained and empowered by God himself so he gets ultimate credit and glory. He does not tolerate plagiarism of his glory. We will forever glorify the one from whom are all things, through whom are all things, and to whom are all things.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36 ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria!

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My Glory I Give to No Other (Part 1)

Plagiarism is a serious offense in literary and academic environments. According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary plagiarism is “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person.”[1] We tend to limit plagiarism to the academic or professional arenas, but we find it in all spheres of life. I imagine most of us have had the experience of someone “stealing our thunder.” We have exciting news that we tell someone and they reply, “So and so already told me,” even though you told “so and so” not to repeat the news. That experience leaves us feeling a bit deflated. Also, a major problem today is identity theft. In this electronic age our personal information is always at risk of being stolen and used by someone else. This is the ultimate form of plagiarism, someone pretending to be me. So plagiarism runs the gamut from the minor repeating of family news to the more serious non-credited use of information or ideas to the take over of an identity. We are very scrupulous when it comes to making sure we get credit when credit is due, and we are outraged when someone else gets the recognition that is due us.

God is concerned with plagiarism as well. He is much more concerned about it since for him it is the most serious offense. In particular, God is concerned with guarding his glory since God’s glory is his and his alone. He will not allow his glory to be shared or stolen. God says so in Isaiah chapters 42 and 48.

            I am the LORD; that is my name;
                        my glory I give to no other,
                        nor my praise to carved idols.
            (Isaiah 42:8 ESV)

            For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
                        for how should my name be profaned?
                        My glory I will not give to another.
            (Isaiah 48:11 ESV)

God will not share is glory with other so-called gods, and all he does brings him glory. Scripture declares God is the King of glory.

            Lift up your heads, O gates!
                        And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
                        that the King of glory may come in.
            Who is this King of glory?
                        The LORD, strong and mighty,
                        the LORD, mighty in battle!
            Lift up your heads, O gates!
                        And lift them up, O ancient doors,
                        that the King of glory may come in.
            Who is this King of glory?
                        The LORD of hosts,
                        he is the King of glory! Selah
            (Psalm 24:7-10 ESV)

Being King of glory means there is no one or nothing more glorious. However, Scripture also says we do not give God the glory he deserves. We fall very short of his glory.

            For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 ESV)

What does “fall short of the glory of God” mean? Does this mean we are meant to be as glorious as God but just can’t get it done? Hardly. Note that falling short is tied to sin. Adam and Eve were created in an exalted position: in the image of God and sinless. As Psalm 8:5 (ESV) says, referring to man, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” God gave man glory that he gave to no other part of his creation. In this state Adam and Eve recognized the clear distinction between their glory and the glory of the Creator, but the tempter came and offered to eliminate that distinction. The serpent said if they disobeyed God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would be “like God.” No one other than God can be like God, though. Adam foolishly thought he could have the same glory as God. From the moment Adam and Eve ate from the tree until now man has refused to acknowledge God as God. Man looks to glorify himself at the expense of God’s glory. Paul makes this clear in chapter one of Romans.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21-23 ESV)

Foolishly they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God.” That is, they (and by extension we) take worship and honor due God and transfer it to someone or something else. We “fall short of the glory of God.” God glorifies himself in a myriad of ways, and we seek to rob him of glory in every way he is glorified.

In Part 2 we will examine some of the ways God glorifies himself and how we seek to plagiarize his glory in each area.

[1] “Plagiarism,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, accessed March 3, 2015,

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For the Sake of My Holy Name

Why does God do what he does? What is his motivation for his plans, purposes, and actions? Is God motivated primarily by love? God’s love is certainly emphasized in Scripture. John 3:16, the most famous verse in the bible, speaks of God’s love.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)

Also, who doesn’t like 1 John 4:7-10, especially the end of verse 8 where it says, “God is love.”

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:7-10 ESV)

Those verses should settle the matter right? God does what he does because he loves us. I even once heard someone say that John 3:16 sums up the character of God. However, there is a problem here. We can’t interpret all of Scripture based on the fact that God is love. We must interpret “God is love” based on all that Scripture reveals about God. Does the rest of Scripture present God’s love as his only or primary motivation for his actions? Absolutely not.

The 36th chapter of Ezekiel presents a very different reason why God does what he does, for the sake of his holy name. The Israelites had brought dishonor to the name of Lord by their disobedience, so God used pagan nations to bring judgment upon his people. The people of Judah and Israel were killed, starved, and exiled by powerful nations. These nations were acting on God’s behalf, but the nations did not recognize this. It appeared to them that their gods were more powerful than the Lord since, in their eyes, the Lord was not able to protect his people from their attack. The Lord’s people were taken from the land he had given them.

Note verses 16 through 21 of Ezekiel chapter 36.

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.’ But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.” (Ezekiel 36:16-21 ESV)

The pagan nations said, “These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.” The clear reasoning for Babylon (and previously Assyria), who conquered the Lord’s people, was there was nothing God could do about Babylon’s conquest. Because of this God said wherever his people were taken captive they profaned his holy name. They didn’t just profane his name but his “holy name.” Holiness is tied to being set apart. Because of the exile the pagan nations did not see the God of the Israelites as being different (or set apart) from any other god. To the nations there was nothing special about the God of Israel.

God said he was going to correct this thinking. Verses 23 and 24 say

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. (Ezekiel 36:22-23 ESV)

God does not say he is going to act because he loves his people (though he certainly does). He says he is going to vindicate the holiness of his great name. God wanted to demonstrate he is the only true and living God. He is set apart from every other so-called god. As Ezekiel says at the end of the chapter in verse 38, “Then they will know that I am the LORD.” God is concerned with his glory. Look at God’s word to his people in Isaiah chapter 48.

For my name’s sake I defer my anger,
            for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
            that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
            I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
            for how should my name be profaned?
            My glory I will not give to another.
(Isaiah 48:9-11 ESV)

Again, the Lord says he is acting for his own sake. In this instance he is restraining his anger, but the point is he is doing this for his own sake, for his own glory. He will not give his glory to anyone else.

In verses 24 through 30 of Ezekiel 36 the Sovereign One spells out his actions to vindicate his holiness. God says over and over, “I will.”

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. (Ezekiel 36:24-30 ESV)

Then in verse 31 God says, “you will.”

Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. (Ezekiel 36:31 ESV)

God acts to bring repentance. He does this by giving his people a new heart and a new spirit. Note that the people do not get a new heart and new spirit because they repent. They repent because God enables them to repent by giving them a new heart and a new spirit. His proclamation of “you will” follows his proclamation of “I will.” Also, notice God said “you will” not “you may” or “you might.”

Jesus referenced this passage in Ezekiel when he said in John chapter three we must be born of water and the Spirit.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5 ESV)

Paul told Titus

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:4-5 ESV)

No one can enter the kingdom of God unless God gives the ability to repent. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:25 that God must grant repentance. God desires all the glory so, from beginning to end, he accomplishes the salvation of his people.

In verse 32 of Ezekiel chapter 36 God reiterates that it is not for the people’s sake he is doing this.

It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. (Ezekiel 36:32 ESV)

This passage from Ezekiel chapter 36 lines up exactly with what God spoke through Jeremiah in Jeremiah chapter 31. Note again the repeated use of “I will.”

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV)

Since Hebrews 8:7-13 quotes this passage from Jeremiah, it is crystal clear that Jeremiah and Ezekiel are referring to the new covenant established by Jesus. So God is saying I’m sending Jesus to suffer, die, and rise again to save my people, and I’m doing this for the sake of my holy name, for my glory.

So what’s the point? Let us not ever think that because God is love we are God’s top priority. Only our own human arrogance could ignore all that Scripture says about God to come up with that idea. God always thinks first of himself and his glory, and that is the way it must be. As Acts 17:25 says God needs nothing (not even us), and mankind’s creation and continued existence is in his hands. If for one moment there was something or someone that God placed above himself he would no longer be God. Everything he does is for the sake of his holy name. Iain Duguid puts it this way.

God’s exclusive concern with his own name and glory may seem offensively self-absorbed to contemporary readers. We are used to beginning our theological reflection “from below” and celebrating the God who is “for us.” But God is only for us because it brings glory to himself. Moreover, such self-absorption is as great a virtue in God as it is a flaw in human beings. For God to delight in his own perfections is entirely appropriate, since there is no one and nothing greater in which he can delight. To delight in anything less than himself would be idolatry, just as surely as it is idolatry for us as creatures to delight in anything less than our great Creator. Sanctifying his great name, exalting God above all things, is the only task fit for God himself and for humankind, whom he has create in his image.[1]

Forever we will worship this One who does all things for the sake of his holy name.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12 ESV)

[1] Iain M. Duguid, The NIV Application Commentary: Ezekiel, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 419.

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Upside Down

When viewed in the light of Scripture, human arrogance is quite astounding. I mean to think that ignoring God, disagreeing with God, or trying to manipulate God is a rational thing to do simply displays the depth of our depravity. Consider Isaiah 29:15-16.

            Ah, you who hide deep from the LORD your counsel,
                        whose deeds are in the dark,
                        and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
            You turn things upside down!
            Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
            that the thing made should say of its maker,
                        “He did not make me”;
            or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
                        “He has no understanding”?

These verses are in the middle of a chapter in which Isaiah prophesies to Ariel. (Ariel refers to Jerusalem, not the mermaid.) Verses 1 through 4 relate that Jerusalem will be threatened by a foreign power (Assyria), and then in verses 5 through 8 God promises to deliver Jerusalem from that power. The fulfillment of this is seen in 2 Kings 18-19 and in Isaiah 36-37. The Assyrians took the fortified cities of Judah then threatened Jerusalem; however, the angel of the Lord destroyed 185,000 Assyrians, and they withdrew from Jerusalem.

The problem is the people do not receive the message from God of his promised deliverance. They believe their plans to rely on Egypt for protection and deliverance is better than relying on the Lord. Isaiah says this is because God has blinded their eyes.

            Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
                        blind yourselves and be blind!
            Be drunk, but not with wine;
                        stagger, but not with strong drink!
            For the LORD has poured out upon you
                        a spirit of deep sleep,
            and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
                        and covered your heads (the seers).

 And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

            And the Lord said:
            “Because this people draw near with their mouth
                        and honor me with their lips,
                        while their hearts are far from me,
            and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
            therefore, behold, I will again
                        do wonderful things with this people,
                        with wonder upon wonder;
            and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
                        and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

 (Isaiah 29:9-14 ESV)

The people cannot accept the word from the Lord. God has put them to sleep, closed the eyes of the prophets, and covered the heads of the seers. His word is like a sealed book that can’t be read, or if they can open the book they are unable to read. This is God’s judgment on his people.

Paul refers to verse 10 in Romans 11 where he is discussing whether Israel has been rejected. Paul says God has not rejected his people Israel because, by grace (which means they did not deserve it), he has elected a remnant of Israel, but the rest he has hardened.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

            “God gave them a spirit of stupor,
                        eyes that would not see
                        and ears that would not hear,
            down to this very day.”

(Romans 11:7-8 ESV)

Jesus quotes verse 13 when speaking to the Pharisees.

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

            “This people honors me with their lips,
                        but their heart is far from me;
            in vain do they worship me,
                        teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

(Matthew 15:7-9 ESV)

So Isaiah is saying to people of his day and Jesus is saying to the Pharisees of his day they are hypocrites in that their hearts are far from God and they value tradition over God’s word. In verse 14 of Isaiah chapter 29 God says he will again show the people wonderful things to astound them and to shut them up (my paraphrase). Paul quotes the last part of verse 14 in 1 Corinthians 1 when referring to the cross.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 

            “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
                        and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

(1 Corinthians 1:18-20 ESV)

Verses 9 through 14 of Isaiah 29 emphasize God’s sovereignty in giving rebellious creatures the ability to understand their true state. Unless God gives us ears to hear and understand what he is saying and eyes to see and discern what he is doing we are without hope.

This brings us to the verses I quoted at the beginning. The people claim that God does not see what they do, meaning the people do not consider themselves accountable to God. God, through Isaiah, says they have turned things upside down. We understand what that means. If something is upside down that means it is backwards or is the opposite of the way it is intended to be seen or used. If a chair is upside down it is still a chair but it cannot be used for the original intent for which it was built. You cannot sit in an upside down chair. The phrase can also refer to a drastic change of circumstances. Divorce can turn a child’s life upside down. What was normal no longer is normal. Here in Isaiah 29:16, though, upside down refers to a role reversal. The clay thinks it can mold the potter instead of the other way around.

What really makes this tragic is Isaiah is prophesying to those who claim to be God’s people. It is no surprise when unbelievers turn things upside down regarding God’s revelation. As Paul says in Romans 1:18 (ESV) these folks “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” They “exchange the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25 ESV). Here in Isaiah 29, though, Isaiah is prophesying to those who should know better than that. The Jewish leaders had the outward marks of piety in that they went to the temple and continued the sacrifices, but in their hearts they thought they could manipulate God. In their hearts they ignored God’s word through the prophet. They did not want to rely on God for protection and deliverance but made their own plans to rely on Egypt. The people scoffed at the idea of complete reliance on the Lord. They had forgotten David’s confession in verse 7 of Psalm 20, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Giving lip service to God and performing religious rituals is no substitute for true trust in God as he has revealed himself in his word. They loved works righteousness.

This was my condition before the Holy Spirit opened my ears to hear and understand God’s word. Apart from the grace of God my normal thinking pattern was what God calls upside down. I looked at the world as if I was hanging from the ceiling, and I thought everything was just fine. Unfortunately, though, I still am tempted to ignore God’s word, to turn things upside down. Every time I refuse to submit to the word of God I am claiming to be the potter. Every time I attempt to bargain with God I am rejecting my role as the clay. When I sin I am pretending the God who sees all does not see. When I worry and scheme I am not relying on God’s protection and deliverance; I am trying to rely on my own efforts.

Fortunately, though, no matter how I think or what I do, the roles are never really reversed. God is always the potter, and I am always the clay. The potter sovereignly opens deaf ears and opens blind eyes. He turns us right side up. This is exactly what God promised to do in Isaiah 29:17-24. Verses 17 through 19 say

            Is it not yet a very little while
                        until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field,
                        and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest?
            In that day the deaf shall hear
                        the words of a book,
            and out of their gloom and darkness
                        the eyes of the blind shall see.
            The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD,
                        and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

            (Isaiah 29:17-19 ESV)

God says there is a day when the deaf hear and the blind see. There is a day when his people rejoice in him and glorify him. Paul says that day is today.

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,

            “In a favorable time I listened to you,
                        and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

(2 Corinthians 6:1-2 ESV)

Now is the day of salvation. Now is when the sovereign potter crushes our arrogance, opens our eyes, and turns us “right side up” through the power of the gospel. He brings us from death to life.

Isaiah finishes by saying that Jacob will no longer be ashamed of his children.

Therefore thus says the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

            “Jacob shall no more be ashamed,
                        no more shall his face grow pale.
            For when he sees his children,
                        the work of my hands, in his midst,
                        they will sanctify my name;
            they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob
                        and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
            And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,
                        and those who murmur will accept instruction.”

(Isaiah 29:22-24 ESV)

Jacob’s children “will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and will stand in awe of the God of Israel” (verse 23), and verse 24 says “those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will accept instruction.” So even though at times we try to hang from the ceiling again, God, by his word and Spirit, flips us back over and sets us straight. The potter does not leave his works of salvation incomplete.

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Vulgar Idolatry

I imagine just about everyone has heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This saying is common because often it is true. I have been to the Grand Canyon many times. I could describe it by saying the canyon is vast and colorful, and it is very deep, long, and wide. That is a valid description but, because the description is so subjective and vague, it is not helpful. How vast is vast? What colors make it colorful? How deep is very deep? A picture does a much better job of describing the Grand Canyon because a picture captures an image of exactly what is there. (Even a picture, though, does not compare to standing at the edge of the canyon and looking for yourself.) As useful as pictures are, God chose to give us his Word, not his photo album. We don’t need pictures to see how great God is since we see his creation, but we do need to hear from God to know who he really is. He must tell us about himself if we are to truly know him. What pleases God? What displeases God? What is his character? What is important to him?

For example, idolatry is giving anyone or anything the honor or the place that God deserves. The first commandant is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). God does not like idolatry, but how much does God not like idolatry? In answer to that question we would normally say things like, “Idolatry is very bad,” or “God hates idolatry.” With answers like this we are not giving a concrete answer. How bad is very bad? Does God hate idolatry the way I hate eating liver or is it something more or something less? When using language like this without any biblical clarification, my understanding of God’s attitude towards idolatry is based on my understanding of what “very bad” is and my understanding of the concept of hate.

Fortunately, God gives us word pictures to help us understand his message to us. Consider how Ezekiel addressed Judah’s idolatry in chapter 16 of his prophecy. God used vulgar word pictures (not vulgar words) to show just how offensive idolatry is to him. Judah is compared to an abandoned infant girl that God took and raised as his own. This girl grew up into a beautiful woman that God entered into covenant with, but this girl trusted in her beauty and became a whore. The prophet is using the metaphor of a prostitute to speak of Judah worshipping pagan gods. The people were idolatrous. But how serious was the idolatry? Verse 15 says she “lavished her whorings on any passerby”, and verse 25 says in the Hebrew she “spread her legs” to any man that passed by. (In order to reduce the offensiveness of that image the ESV translates that verse by saying she offered herself to any passerby.) Also, this woman was not the typical prostitute. She did not accept payment for sex but paid others to violate her.

How sick is your heart, declares the Lord GOD, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment. Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! Men give gifts to all prostitutes, but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from every side with your whorings. So you were different from other women in your whorings. No one solicited you to play the whore, and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; therefore you were different. (Ezekiel 16:30-34 ESV)

Chapter 23 of Ezekiel uses similar language to describe Israel and Judah’s unfaithfulness by seeking alliances with other nations instead of trusting the Lord for protection and deliverance. Here Israel and Judah are portrayed as two sisters. Their seeking protection from Egypt is described as playing the whore in Egypt where “their breasts were pressed and their virgin bosoms handled” (vs 3). Judah saw the unfaithfulness of Israel and was even more unfaithful running after foreign men that could satisfy her lust.

But she (Judah) carried her whoring further. She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, wearing belts on their waists, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them having the appearance of officers, a likeness of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea. When she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoring lust. And after she was defiled by them, she turned from them in disgust. When she carried on her whoring so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned in disgust from her sister (Samaria, the northern kingdom). (Ezekiel 23:14-18 ESV)

The prophet goes on to speak of Judah turning to Egypt and the image is not just of sexual lust but sexual perversion.

Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her lovers there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses. Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom and pressed your young breasts.” (Ezekiel 23:19-21 ESV)

Judah trusted in alliances with Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon and worshiped the gods of the foreign nations with their despicable practices. Therefore God promised judgment on Judah.

You don’t hear preaching like this on Sunday morning because of fear of offending the congregation. I am not suggesting that sermons need to press the limits of decency, and I am certainly not suggesting vulgar words should be used. What I am saying is we should not tone down what God is saying in these passages for the sake of decency. If we do we miss the message. God uses these vulgar word pictures to emphasize the fact he considers idolatry and unfaithfulness vulgar and offensive. Are you offended by these chapters in Ezekiel or even just the small portions quoted in this article? I certainly hope so. Without us being offended we cannot even begin to grasp how offended God is by our own idolatry and unfaithfulness.

Thankfully, though, God promised to remove the shame of his people and atone for their sins. So even though we, like the people of Judah, are by nature idolaters, God atones for our idolatry and unfaithfulness by sending his Son to die on a cross. Jesus suffered the offense of the cross to remove the offense of our vulgar idolatry, and he ever lives to make intercession for us. Because of that we make it our aim to flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14) and do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

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The Mouth of the Lord Has Spoken It

Every year around Christmas I enjoy hearing Handel’s Messiah. Last Christmas our family had the privilege of hearing the Christmas portion of this glorious work at the Bruton Parish Church in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. The parish was established in 1674 and the current building was completed in 1715. The exterior is original and the interior was restored to its original look when Colonial Williamsburg began its restoration in the 1930’s. The church’s choir and orchestra did a masterful job, and it was wonderful to hear it in such a historic setting. As significant as was the setting and the experience, it was one phrase of the performance that for me was truly significant.

The Messiah consists of scripture compiled by Charles Jennens. George Frederick Handel took that text and composed the oratorio in 24 days. One of my favorite pieces in The Messiah is the fourth song, “And the Glory of the Lord.” I love the music, the harmonies, and the grandeur of the song, but that is not my main reason for my preference for this piece. The song is based on Isaiah 40:5.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:5 KJV)

The last phrase is what I love, “for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” It emphasizes the power and certainty of God’s spoken word. We can be sure “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh will see it together,” because God said so. Our words many times are empty because we do not always have the will or the power to bring to pass what we have spoken. Not so with God’s words. As a matter of fact, nothing happens apart from God’s spoken word.

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,” calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (Isaiah 46:8-11 ESV)

God says he “declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.” Not only did God speak (and thereby ordain) all things, he did this long ago. God is not making things up as he goes along. What he says today through Scripture is what he spoke before the foundation of the world.

Also, God’s voice is active. His words and his actions are always in agreement. God spoke and there was light (Genesis 1:3). He spoke all of creation into being. As Tim Keller says, “What God’s voice does, God does.”[1] Only God has the power and will to bring to pass what he speaks, and he promises to do that.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)

Our guarantees can be empty, but God always speaks a sure word.

For those of us that belong to Christ this should bring us great comfort. God has promised in his written word that “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30), and the Word that became flesh said “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). However, just as sure as is his word of salvation, so is his word of judgment.

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV)

Do not be a mocker or scoffer of God’s word. The living Word that brings salvation also brings judgment, “for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

[1] Timothy Keller, Prayer, (New York, NY: Dutton, 2014), 52.

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