Blunt and Wise

“Lord, please help me have the bluntness of Jesus and Paul and also their wisdom.”

That was part of my prayer tonight. If you’ve ever read any part of the New Testament, most likely you’ve read some of Paul’s or Jesus’ messages. There are no “bless their hearts” or “well, it was how he or she was raised” or “that’s just what he chooses to believe.” Jesus and Paul were compassionate, but they were also blunt with wisdom to accompany their words. As we’ve seen in the last few years, straightforward truth is hard to find, not just in the world, but especially in the church. Can we distinguish the church from the world? How many times has something been swept under the rug hoping no one will notice? Like Solomon wrote many times in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. 

“All things are wearisome;

Man is not able to tell it.

The eye is not satisfied with seeing,

Nor is the ear filled with hearing.

That which has been is that which will be,

And that which has been done is that which will be done.

So there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one might say,

“See this, it is new”?

Already it has existed for ages

Which were before us.

There is no remembrance of earlier things;

And also of the later things which will occur,

There will be for them no remembrance

Among those who will come later still.”

Ecclesiastes 1:8-11 (NASB- bold print added for emphasis)

These are words from the wisest man who ever lived. They may seem downcast or negative, but they are true nonetheless. We can criticize ancient Israel for falling into what appear to us to be obvious traps and temptations, but won’t people generations from now say the same about us? Will they not say, “Why did the church allow that to happen?” “They were preaching that from the pulpit?” We are blessed to have the Scriptures to learn from them so that we can be more faithful followers of Christ as lights in the darkness and hope to a world that is quickly losing it. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul starts by saying that their forefathers were in the wilderness with Moses, and they all shared the same experiences, but God was not pleased with most of them. He then continues to write in vv. 7-13, 

“Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’  Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (Bold print added for emphasis)

Putting Paul’s instructions and Solomon’s wisdom together, we can summarize that we are going to face trials, and most likely, they are trials humanity has already faced. We’ve received an instruction manual (the Word of God) that shares what to do and what not to do as a follower of God. Sometimes we don’t like being told what to do (or not to do) like children but then we want to know God’s will. We ask the questions but don’t like the answers so we plug our ears and hum and hope for a different solution. Let’s take a look at one of Paul’s passages in Romans 1 that tends to start the ear plugging:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (vv.18-23- bold print added for emphasis)

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (vv. 24-25)

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” (vv. 26-32- bold print added for emphasis)

No doubt there could be multiple posts written to break down these verses, but the simple truth is, God has been made known to everyone. What Paul reveals is that people have chosen and continue to choose to deny it and worship other things. People have chosen to give in to their sinful desires, and God has let them face their own judgment. We have the free will to choose. The world is going to act in accordance with the world. That is its nature. I’m not writing this post with non-believers in mind, but the church. Are we part of the last verse, which says, “although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them”? How has homosexuality been addressed among people who claim Christianity and practice it? Do we address it at all or turn away to remain “relevant” in our culture? What about other topics, like abortion? 

Paul is writing to the church of Rome, both Jews and Gentiles, who are learning how to be Christians in their culture, not unlike much of what we experience today. In Romans 2, he turns the focus off the world and back to the church and addresses believers specifically:

“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” (vv. 1-11- bold print added for emphasis)

Hypocrisy. How many of us have seen it? How many of us have heard that people aren’t Christians because Christians are hypocritical? Are they wrong? Too often the church is the one who looks at the speck in his brother’s eye but ignores the log in its own eye (read Jesus’ blunt message in Luke 6:41-42). Sometimes the church is too busy judging what the world is doing and not seeing that the world has made its way into the church. We criticize the very thing that we are doing. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul addresses a grievous sin in the church and mentions that he had written to the Corinthians not to associate with immoral people who claim to be Christians. He writes in vv. 12-13,  “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” We are the bride of Christ to be presented as pure, spotless, and blameless so why are we acting as an adulteress (see James 4:4-5), like Israel did, cheating on God with the world, not cleaning house from the unrepentant sin we let permeate it? All of these things written in Scripture may sound harsh to our culturally-sensitive ears, but the intention is for repentance so that all may come to know Christ. 

There are such things as righteousness and unrighteousness. The idea that everyone has their own truth is a lie. The answers to our questions are right in front of us as long as we don’t close our eyes, plug our ears, and hope the truth will change to a more culturally-accepted response. The truth of the gospel is above culture, which is part of its beauty. It surpasses the boundaries of time and language. Are we bold enough to not care what the world thinks? A lot can happen when we take a stand just like the Roman Christians who chose not to worship an emperor or the many other deities therein. Do the consequences outweigh truth or does truth outweigh the consequences? We, the body of Christ, must decide soon. 

© Lauren Heiligenthal Demuth

Forever Yours

Darkness descends upon my soul

as fear and self-hatred entrap me.

The earth opens revealing a pit

with an insatiable appetite.

Defeated, I fall to where all seems lost,

to where light fades into hopelessness.

 

Tears, anguish, death.

Each attempt to escape sends me

deeper, deeper into sorrow,

transforming me into someone unrecognizable.

“Oh God, I can’t believe You love me!

How wretched I am–a failure!”

 

How can there be hope for me,

so undeserving,

so unlovable,

so unrighteous?

The darkness twists lies into truth–

easier to cling to than forgiveness.

 

“Fight, fight! Don’t let the enemy win!”

A faint cry breaks through the darkness, almost incomprehensible.

“I love you! You are Mine! Even broken, you are beautiful!”

Music to my soul, I hear my Father’s voice

leading me out,

shining His light so I could come home.

 

How can it be

that He loves me so?

How can it be

that I’m worth it?

How can it be

that with all my mistakes, He still blesses me?

 

Father, Your grace astounds me;

Your love saves me;

Your Spirit moves me;

Your joy envelops me;

Your faithfulness lifts me;

Your sacrifice will keep me

forever Yours!

~~~

It’s been almost a year since I wrote my last poem “Faith Over Fear.” Thinking about writing this post was difficult because I struggled to keep that mindset of having faith over fear; rather, for awhile, I let fear grow inside me to such a point that I became lost to who I was. As a Christian of 23 years, this did not seem right. I was ashamed of my behavior, my thoughts, my hopelessness. There really isn’t a catalyst moment for why this began, but I can say it seemed to start last summer. I had just finished a school year that I didn’t expect to end well, but it did. I was proud of being able to accomplish a teaching job that I felt was impossible and out of my league. When I wrote “Faith Over Fear,” I had finally given things over to God, and even though my job was not a piece of cake, I saw people and situations with God’s perspective more than my own. I even fought to keep my job and worked harder towards obtaining a teaching license. So why did that change? I don’t fully know. All I know is that fear and anxiety gripped me to the point of dangerous thinking. Everyone could see it, which made it worse. I have never been one to hide my emotions, but in this case, it wasn’t just my job at stake, it was my testimony. How can I say I follow God when I let fear and doubt cripple me so badly. Where was my faith? It was depleted. There’s no sugar-coating it. I felt I could not succeed at what I was doing; therefore, I was a failure. It didn’t matter God opened doors; I was unwilling to let things go and trust Him. I said “I can’t!” and I loathed my own poster I put in my classroom, which read “Don’t say you can’t until you discover that you can!” My conviction was staring at me in the face until I couldn’t take it–I quit. I quit, thinking the job was the problem. It wasn’t. The fear and anxiety continued, but now I was truly a failure. I gave up! I have never given up before! And I had to face my decision. I had to face myself and the reality of it all. “You’re stupid. You’re worthless. Look what you did to your family. How could you?” Thoughts, lies, over and over multiple times a day, every day. Self-hatred reigned in me. I can forgive anyone else but myself. It was torture to the point where my thoughts went dark–places I never, ever thought my mind would go.

Now some may be thinking, “Come on, Lauren, this was just a job. It’s OK to fail!” But not to me. Failure has never been an option although I know how ridiculous that sounds. I know it’s true we learn from failure, but it was the idea that I gave up. I know God would have given me the strength and knowledge to keep going. I just didn’t want to. I didn’t believe I could do it. Those awful thoughts were relentless. I didn’t trust myself alone. But those who love me didn’t give up on me even when I gave up on myself. They loved me when I felt unlovable. They encouraged me, prayed for me, held me. Little by little the light came back in. I started applying for jobs–and oh how my pride wanted to take over. What started as “I would never apply for that” became “Oh, please call me back!” I finally got a job, and although it’s nothing I would have ever planned for myself, it’s good for me for now as I continue to grow in the Lord. My hope is to be able to teach Bible one day when the timing is right–truly, when I’m in the right place with God to teach again. Just those little steps forward helped me to gain confidence. I enjoy interacting with people and actually being a light to those around me. As many know, music can be powerful, and I love to sing. While everything was going on, I lost my joy of singing as I felt like a hypocrite to sing praises to God when I wasn’t trusting Him. But I started listening to the 2019 Wow CD and also to Lauren Daigle’s CD “How Can It Be” (I still listen to this every morning on my way to work). The songs awoke something inside me and as I started to sing, I started to believe the words, and essentially the truth, once again. There is still so much for me to work on, but I am beyond grateful and blessed to still be here, and God’s grace has been more than sufficient. His love is so immense that even when we don’t love ourselves it’s still there, waiting for us to accept it.

Although this post isn’t easy to write, it’s during these times where we can decide to stay in the pit or be transformed and grow. I mistakenly thought that the pit was my new home, but thanks be to God that He called me out and placed my feet on the solid Rock once again! I encourage you to reach out to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Everyone is going through something; it doesn’t matter if it seems big or small. Lift each other up and help to bring Christ’s love and light back into their lives. You never know the impact one word or gesture could make.

~~~

Side note: I didn’t realize until after I wrote the poem how much it resembled Psalm 30, which is also a great read. Check it out!

©Lauren Heiligenthal

The Beloved Tree- The Lord’s Message of Faith

Aletheia_Word

It has been almost a year since I was prompted by the Lord to write “The Beloved Tree” and post it on my blog. I was unsure about writing it at first because I had never completed a fictional short story before. I reread and reread and believed that it was just right. A week ago, I read the story again (after many months), and I discovered something that has impacted me greatly: The story the Lord helped me write was a prophecy about my own life.

About three years ago, I graduated with a Master’s in Biblical Studies. I should have been confident to go out and find a job related to this degree. I even had my thesis in the process of being published (which eventually happened), but my old enemy stepped in: fear. I had never had a job outside of working at my parents’ coffee house…

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Writing It Out

I was re-reading this today and am amazed at the Lord and His truth. I hope this will encourage you as it has re-encouraged me 🙂

Aletheia_Word

There are noises all around me, yet the sound that proves difficult to ignore is the battle between my flesh and spirit. It gnaws at me daily, especially when the voice of my flesh cries out louder: “You haven’t done enough”; “You’re lazy”; “You’re not ready”; “You’re incompetent.” I would expect myself to be past listening to lies, but I still do. Even sitting down to write today was difficult. I know it’s what I’m supposed to do, but my flesh has been fighting hard against it. Why? Because I discover God’s truth when I listen to what He asks me to do, even if it seems small. I discover truth when I’m honest about my struggles and weaknesses. I discover that I am enough.

So, what are my struggles? Self-worth. Faith. Confidence. Fear. I would say that fear drives them all. Fear of failure. Fear that our land and…

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Faith Over Fear

I close my eyes

and visualize

paths leading to my demise,

where fear leads me to wander.

 

I stand frozen

knowing I’ve been chosen

for something greater than

drinking the enemy’s poison.

 

The choice is mine:

To follow the Divine

on the straight and narrow defined,

the path leading to glory,

 

Or to walk down easy street

where, with every step, the truth retreats

to the back of my mind and defeat

becomes my story.

 

Countless times the choice seems clear,

yet too often I cater to fear,

who takes the joy from what I hold dear,

leaving me empty and broken.

 

If I had faith the size of a mustard seed,

I could move mountains from land to sea

and fulfill God’s call inside of me

to become who I’m meant to be.

 

The Lord knows every thought

and sees my river of tears.

The Creator calls out to me,

reminding me that He has conquered fear:

 

“Break forth, child of God, daughter of the King.

Shine bright, let your righteousness bring

the truth to the nations,

a fragrant offering.

 

Sing with all your soul

and let yourself become whole

as you take My hand and stroll

down the road to everlasting.

 

No fear can conquer Me,

and my Spirit is inside of thee

with the power to crush the enemy

underneath your feet.

 

Take hold of your shield

with faith you can wield

against weapons of defeat

and let yourself be healed.

 

Stand firm, soldier of the living God!

My Word is a double-edged sword;

My mouth is a flaming fire,

consuming all the enemy’s horde.

 

Fear Me above all else.

Have faith that you are victorious in Me,

and there will be no reason to doubt

That you will become who I created you to be.”

 

 

Written February 24, 2019

 

©Lauren Heiligenthal

Trinity Series- Part 2- Jesus in the Old Testament

Jesus in the Beginning

In the first post of this Trinity series, I briefly explored some key words in Genesis 1. Specifically, I discussed the plurality of the word “Elohim” mentioned in v. 1 and the use of the plural pronouns “Us” and “Our” in v. 26, the latter leading to a credible position that there is a Trinity: God in three distinct yet unified persons. But we cannot forget that in between vv. 1-26 is the miraculous and wondrous work of creation. God spoke and it was so! Take a moment and think about everything you’ve seen, heard, touched, tasted, and smelled. It still boggles my mind that new species are being discovered every year (possibly every day!). Also, think about yourself and how complex you are in mind, body, and spirit. All of this because God spoke.

But the truth of creation gets even more awesome. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins to give us life, was there:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”[1]            ~ John 1:1-5 (NASB)

The idea of how the Trinity works is wrapped up in v. 1. The Word was with God and the Word was God. These bold words may seem small, but they have significant meaning. To be with someone implies that there are at least two of you. But then to say you are someone other than yourself transforms separation into unity. Ultimately, we can conclude that God the Father and Jesus, God the Son, are distinct but unified Persons (I will discuss the Holy Spirit in a future post). Additionally, not only is Jesus described as being God, but John declares that He played an active role in creation. Along with John’s gospel, the beginning of Hebrews also indicates Jesus’ role in creation, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Heb. 1:1-2). In discussion of other names of God which appear in plural form, Robert Baker Girdlestone remarks that “it is worthy of notice that in the well-known passage in Ecclesiastes (12:1) the Hebrew runs thus, ‘Remember now thy Creators in the days of thy youth.’”[2]

John 1:1-5 and subsequent verses in John 1 leave no room for doubt that “the Word” is Jesus. John 1:9-10 refers to Jesus as the true Light: “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.” John (known as Jesus’ beloved disciple) also uses “the Word” again in v. 14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Furthermore, John 1:29-30 recounts the day John the Baptist baptized Jesus:

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’”

The phrase “for He existed before me” is significant because in the birth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus, John is physically born first (Luke 1:36). Therefore, John the Baptist was referring to a different kind of existence: an eternal one. In John 8:53-58, Jesus Himself alludes to His eternal nature when speaking to the Jews:

53 ‘Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?’ 54 Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’; 55 and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ 57 So the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ 58Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’”[3]

Every time I read this passage I feel a sense of awe at Jesus’ declaration. R.C. Sproul presents a thought-provoking argument for the meaning behind “I am”: “In John’s gospel, Jesus makes a number of ‘I am’ statements: ‘I am the bread of life’ (6:48), ‘I am the door’ (10:7), ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’ (14:6), and others. In each of these statements, the wording in the Greek New Testament for ‘I am’ is ego eimi. These Greek words also happen to be the words with which the essential name of God, Yahweh, is translated from the Hebrew. Jesus, then, by using this construction for Himself, is equating Himself with God.”[4]

With all the evidence that declares that Jesus existed with God and was God at the beginning of all things, and everything was created through Him, why do we only talk about Him as if He first showed up at the virgin birth? Does He show up elsewhere in Scripture outside of prophecy?

No One Has Seen God

Before we can answer that question, there is another important topic to discuss: the declaration that no one has seen God. Well, the Father that is. But why is this important? Because there are many passages that seem to say that so-and-so saw the face of God, which we usually interpret to mean God the Father. Yet, there are other passages which declare that no one has seen God. It all seems strange, but have no fear! Since Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), and therefore NOT contradictory, we only have to do some biblical research and put the puzzle pieces together.

First, let’s examine two Old Testament passages: Exodus 33:9-11; 17-23 and Judges 13.

After the Golden Calf debauchery in Exodus 32, the LORD becomes quite angry with Israel. Exodus 33 illustrates His anger and Moses’ intercession on Israel’s behalf. Verses 9-11 offer context and insight into Moses and God’s relationship,

Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. 11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.”

If we had no other context for v. 11, we might assume that it is possible to see the Father’s face. However, the LORD Himself provides clarification in vv. 17-23 after Moses pleads for Israel:

17 The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.’ 18 Then Moses said, ‘I pray You, show me Your glory!’ 19 And He said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’ 20 But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’ 21 Then the Lord said, ‘Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.’”

Based on these verses, it seems reasonable that v. 11 has another meaning, possibly that the LORD speaks with familiarity to Moses as a man speaks to his friend. As Scripture indicates, very few people had the same intimacy with God as Moses did.

Let’s look at our second passage. In Judges 13, the angel of the LORD appears to Manoah’s wife, telling her she will have a son. The woman describes the angel of the LORD in v.6,

“A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name.”

Manoah prays for the man of God to appear to them again, and the LORD answers his request. Manoah says in v. 11, “‘Are you the man who spoke to the woman?’ And he said, ‘I am.’” He then wishes to prepare a young goat for the angel of the LORD, but the angel of the LORD advises Manoah to prepare a burnt offering to the LORD instead “For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD” (v. 16). Verses 17-23 shed light on who the angel of the LORD is and how the people understood His significance:

17 Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, ‘What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honor you?’ 18 But the angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’ 19 So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to the Lord, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on. 20 For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. 21 Now the angel of the Lord did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord22 So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.” 23 But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.”

This is one of many passages where the angel of the LORD physically appears to people, and there seems to be clear face-to-face interaction. It’s not until a miraculous sign occurs that the people realize that they have spoken with the angel of the LORD. Once they realize it, they declare that they have seen God. But how can this be?

Let’s look at some New Testament passages. John 1:18 (and reiterated in 1 John 4:12 by the same author) blatantly declares, “No one has seen God at any timethe only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Jesus Himself proclaims the same truth in John 6:45-46, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.” The connection in both of these passages is that no one has seen the Father—a more specific term than “God”— except the Son. If we know that Jesus existed when the earth was created and that there are references in Scripture to people claiming to see God, then could it be that people were actually seeing and interacting with the Son of God in some cases?

It’s time to put the puzzle pieces together that we have gathered so far:

First, based on information from the introductory post, we know that there is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We, as humans created in the image of God, are representatives of how the Trinity functions since we are body (physical like the Son), soul (which is spirit like the Father), and spirit (also spirit like the Holy Spirit).

Second, based on John 1:1 and other passages discussed in this post, we know that Jesus was with God in the beginning and played a role in creation. This further solidifies Trinitarian ideas.

Third, based on how we were created and our knowledge that Jesus came as a physical being, we know that Jesus is physical whereas the Father and the Holy Spirit are spiritual.

Fourth, based on OT and NT passages discussed in this post, we know from the Father and Jesus’ own mouths that no one has seen God. Jesus clarifies that no one has seen the Father. We also know that Jesus is God based on John 1:1 (and other passages- some to be discussed in future posts), and that even though no one has seen the Father, they have seen the Son.

Therefore, because people have seen Jesus face to face, and He has the authority of God (since He is God), it is reasonable to suggest that He is the angel of the LORD in the OT Scriptures and is sometimes depicted as the LORD (e.g., Gen. 18) when speaking to someone (like Abraham). This would explain why people hold the angel of the LORD with reverence and fear Him once they understand who He is, yet at the same time, they do not die because they are not looking upon the Father but the Son. This further demonstrates God’s love for us that even after witnessing all the wickedness humanity has wreaked on the earth, He still came to live among us and suffer as we suffer for the sake of our eternal fate.

 What Next?

All of this information is surely a lot to compute, and there’s so much more to discuss. If you are interested in this topic, I highly encourage you to go on a Bible search site, like biblegateway.com, and research “angel of the LORD.” Read those passages and consider that Jesus is the one intervening on the Father’s behalf. I plan to expound upon some of those passages in upcoming posts to make the aforementioned points more clear. As mentioned in my introductory post, please feel free to leave comments or questions. I would love to hear from you!

Also, to all those who are fathers or soon-to-be fathers, have a Happy Father’s Day!

 

©Lauren Heiligenthal

 

Footnotes

[1] Bold print added for emphasis.

[2] Robert Baker Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament: Their Bearing on Christian Doctrine. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1998), 22–23. Bold print added for emphasis.

[3] Any italicized words in Scripture passages are from the NASB translation. These are words that are inserted for clarification and are not part of the original text. I add the bold print to emphasize my points in this post.

[4] R. C. Sproul, What Is the Trinity? , vol. 10, The Crucial Questions Series (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2011), 22.

Trinity Series- Part 1: What Does “Trinity” Mean?

Introduction

Trinity. This is a word/concept that many of us have heard before, but what do we really understand about it? Do we conceive its significance not only in the Word of God but in our lives? The word “Trinity” is not found in Scripture; however, it is a term first used in the second century to describe who God is based on Scriptural evidence. Throughout the last two thousand years there have been numerous theories and doctrines offered by historical church figures who have sought to define or clarify the concept of the Trinity. Some of these doctrines have become foundational beliefs in the church. One example is the Nicene Creed, established in 325 A.D. to combat Arianism, a doctrine that denied the divinity of Jesus:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance [ousias] of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance [homoousion] with the Father, through whom all things came to be, those things that are in heaven and those things that are on earth, who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh, and was made man, suffered, rose the third day, ascended into the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead.[1]

While we could explore the plethora of arguments and historical documents related to this topic, it is my opinion that the best source to use is Scripture itself. Over the last few weeks, I have been encouraged, challenged, and amazed while spending time in the Word to understand the Trinity more fully. God has truly given us all we need to know if we are willing to ask Him and take the time to dig into His truth. Since there are numerous passages that are worth discussing in regard to the Trinity, I will be writing a mini-series on the topic. While focusing on Scripture, I will also incorporate biblical research that offers insight on the original languages and cultural background. Illumination on these subjects helps to establish a clearer picture of the biblical audience and the intended message. As the first part of the Trinity series, this post aims to unpack the basic idea of “Trinity” and what it means to be made in the image of God.

In the Beginning

As we open our Bibles to the first book, Genesis, we are confronted with a magnificent picture and puzzling language: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). In this context, the word for God in Hebrew is “Elohim,” which is actually plural in form. While some scholars argue that the plural form of God, which is found throughout Scripture, is in reference to the greatness “of majesty or completeness” of God, others conclude that this plurality gives credence to the Trinity.[2] As explained in the New Bible Dictionary, “Three affirmations are central to the historic doctrine of the Trinity: 1. there is but one God; 2. the Father, the Son and the Spirit is each fully and eternally God; 3. the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is each a distinct person.”[3] While the term “Elohim” may leave some in doubt of a Trinitarian concept of God, the language used in Genesis 1:26-27 provides further evidence of the Trinity: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”[4] The plurality of the verb “make” and the plural pronouns are unmistakable, thus providing support for the Trinity.[5] But what does it mean to be made in the image of God (Trinity)?

Being Made in the Image of God

There is no denying that people have questioned how God can be three persons yet one God. Muslims declare that the Christian belief in the Trinity is to believe in a plurality of gods, and I’m sure others have come to the same conclusion. However, to understand how the Trinity works, we must look at how we were created.

When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a body (σῶμα; 1 Cor. 12:12), but that’s only part of who I am. I also have a spirit (πνεῦμα; Matt.5:3; 26:41; Heb. 4:12). This is my personality, the essence of Lauren, if you will. But even with a body and spirit, I am not whole. I also have a soul (ψυχή; Matt. 10:28; 16:26; Heb. 4:12), the part of me that will live eternally. I cannot touch my spirit or my soul, but they are always real and present. Without them, I would not be me nor would I live eternally since the body decays and ceases to exist. With this in mind, I could argue that I am three persons in one, completely unified yet each part is distinct.[6] I believe this is a simple yet powerful explanation of what being made in the image of the Trinity means, and it helps us to see how the Trinity is possible. Scripture explains to us the distinct roles of each Person of the Trinity and also how God Himself is the very representation of unity. The following is a very basic outline of the roles of the Trinity which will be explored in future posts: God the Father is spirit, unseen except by the Son (John 1:18; 6:46), who is Creator and Judge over all creation. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, physical in form, who is seen in both Old and New Testament writings. He is also involved in creation and is the Mediator, the High Priest, between us and the Father (Heb. 8:1-6). The Holy Spirit, also present in both Old and New Testament writings, is the power of God. He is the Guide and Counselor (John 16:5-15) who dwells within the followers of God as a seal of their eternal salvation.

Searching the Scriptures

While there is much more to be written on this topic—coming soon—I want to leave you with this challenge: Search the Scriptures. If you truly want to know God more, seek Him. Ask Him questions and read His Word for answers. Too often we go to self-help books or books written by famous Christians to find what we’re looking for. I was one of those people who bought book after book explaining this and that. But in truth, nothing compares to reading His Word. I also want to encourage you to read a translation that doesn’t try to use relevant language. In other words, do not pick translations that rewrite passages with American/Western cultural pictures or language (especially do NOT use The Message paraphrase). I prefer using the New American Standard translation because it is one of the closest translations to the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic languages, although I’m not saying that this is the only translation to use. Another challenge I offer is to read through the chapter and verse breaks. Chapters and verses were added to Scripture for ease of reading and research, but these are not in the original texts. I recommend reading through an entire book in one sitting, if possible (I know this is difficult for OT books). It is amazing what reading Scripture in context (see Cutting the Context), rather than pulling out a verse here and there, will reveal!

As I prepare for the next part in the Trinity series, please feel free to ask questions in the comments section. I will do my best to incorporate answers in future posts. I look forward to searching the Scriptures with you over these next few weeks! God Bless 🙂

 

©Lauren Heiligenthal

 

Footnotes

[1] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 420–421.

[2] Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angeles, CA: L.I.F.E. Bible College, 1983), 63.

[3] M. Turner and G McFarlane, “Trinity,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1209.

[4] Bold print added for emphasis.

[5] Even though Gen.1:27 switches to the pronoun “He” (singular) instead of “Us”(plural), The NET Bible First Edition Notes explains that “The third person suffix on the particle אֵת (’et) is singular here, but collective.” While “He” is singular in form, it is collective in meaning. Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 1:27.

[6] Also mentioned in my post “Once Saved, Always Saved?” is that humans are uniquely created with free will, thus we have the ability to choose where our soul will eternally live.

Once Saved, Always Saved?

Those who say that since we chose to become saved we can choose to walk away. They are applying human thinking to the equation, thinking it makes sense that it should work that way. But there is no Biblical support for that opinion. In fact, as we’ve seen, it’s not the case at all. As bond servants of the Lord we gave up our right to self determination when we surrendered our life to Him. (Jack Kelley, “Bond Servant”).

In both the “What We Believe” section on Jack Kelley’s[1] Grace Thru Faith website, and in one of his articles entitled “Union and Fellowship Expanded,” Kelley’s stance for predestination becomes clear. He believes in a union and a fellowship with God. He states that we can never lose salvation (union), but we can lose our fellowship with God. In short, our actions do not affect salvation, but rather, they affect our day-to-day relationship with God. In part, I agree. We as humans have a sinful nature, and we sin every day. This doesn’t automatically mean that we lose our salvation. We must confess on a regular basis to maintain right-standing with God, which Kelley seems to agree with (although he says it’s so that we can have blessings from God). But there’s still a problem. What if someone decides to never confess once he’s received salvation and chooses to sin continually after coming to the knowledge of Christ? From a free will perspective, and with much prayer and consideration, I have endeavored to answer this question.

Free Will

Jack Kelley’s article “Bond Servant” focuses on the idea of what a bond servant represents (Ex. 21:1-6); basically that once he has made the decision to stay with his master, he is with his master for life. Kelley transfers this idea to Christians and how each of us is a bond servant as long as we accept Christ. We can never leave this path once we’ve chosen it. Kelley writes:

“In effect, a bond servant enters into the relationship voluntarily with the understanding that it’s a lifetime commitment, with no provision for release.”

It was the servant’s choice to enter into a bond servant relationship with his master, but once the agreement was made he could not choose to undo it later. It was a lifelong commitment.”

“We also had a debt we couldn’t pay and chose to enter into a life long relationship with the Lord in exchange for having the debt forgiven. It was our choice to do so but once we made the choice, we gave up the right to undo the arrangement later on. In effect, we put aside our own interests and agreed to dedicate our life to the pursuit of His interests.”[2]

Kelley repeats these ideas in order to establish that a person cannot undo being a Christian once he/she has made the choice. In addition, his quote written at the beginning of this post declares that there is no biblical support for the argument that Christians can choose to walk away. Throughout his article, he reiterates the same slogan: “Like the bond servant of Old Testament times, we belong to our Master and are not free to walk away.” While these statements may sound good, they deny a God-given right to humanity: free will. Kelley is saying that we no longer have a choice. In one sense, we are aware of the truth and are accountable to that truth. People with such knowledge and experience shouldn’t want to walk away from all that is good and holy. But how many of us know people who were close to God at one time, and now they are no different than the world? Maybe something happened that they blame God and have chosen to walk a different path. Some may turn back to God; some may not. Free will is a wonderful gift, but we are held accountable for our choices. While I agree that making the decision to follow Christ is a voluntary endeavor, it does not take away my free will. Simply stated, if I make the free will choice to follow Christ, I can make the free will choice to walk away. Do I want to do this? No, indeed! But does that mean everyone has had the same experience or desire? Is it really possible that no bond slave in ancient Israel ever rebelled/ran away from his master? We cannot dismiss the importance and uniqueness of free will.

As Genesis testifies, humans were created differently than the rest of the world. We were made in the image of God. Part of being made in His image means that we were created with the ability to choose which continued after humanity fell into sin. As Genesis 3 demonstrates, humans do not always choose the path that God desires. Yet, God chose to send a Savior (Himself) to save us from the consequences of our decision. Unfortunately, humans (believers and non-believers alike) still make mistakes. Looking at the world around us, life would probably be better if we didn’t have the ability to make those mistakes again. But then who would we be? Does God want robot-like humans to love Him? What is love without the freedom to choose to love or to run away from it? Think about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. He spent years teaching both followers and mockers about the kingdom of God. Many of them, including His disciples, still didn’t get it. One of them was even about to betray Him. Yet, what He prays in Matthew 26:39-44 reflects the choice He makes on our behalf, “39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” In between this conversation with the Father, Jesus finds His disciples, the very people He is preparing to die for, sleeping. “42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Again, Jesus finds His disciples sleeping instead of being alert as Jesus asked. “44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.” This passage demonstrates His choice to follow the Father’s will: “Not as I will, but as You will.” This is also a reflection of the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done” (Matt. 6:10). To further illustrate His love, Hebrews 2:9-18 is a powerful passage about Jesus and the sacrifices He chose to go through on our behalf: “14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. 16 For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. 17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” Hebrews 3:5-6 continues talking about the faithfulness of Christ but then adds believers to the conversation: “Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

“7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says,

‘Today if you hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me,
As in the day of trial in the wilderness,
Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me,
And saw My works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was angry with this generation,
And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart,
And they did not know My ways’;
11 As I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest.’”
[3]

Jesus chose to be faithful to the Father and sacrifice His life for ours. We, as believers, still have the responsibility—the choice—to “hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.” To say that our ability to choose ceases to exist once we accept Christ is not evident in Scripture; rather, it denies our very nature as beings created in the image of God—created with the gift of free will.

Christian Behavior

Along with the idea that we can no longer walk away, Kelley asserts that once we are saved, our actions have no affect on our salvation:

“But they [Paul and other New Testament writers] never said our salvation depends on us obeying their instructions, or that our failure to perform would result in our arrangement with the Lord being canceled.”

“We are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Ephes. 2:8-9). While the New Testament contains numerous admonitions to live our lives in a manner that’s pleasing to God, none of them have been imposed upon us as our part of the bargain. They are presented as things we can do to express our gratitude for what the Lord has unconditionally done for us. Our willingness to do these things is what Paul called “living up to what we have already attained” (Phil. 3:16). In other words, we don’t do them in the hope of qualifying for eternal life, but as our way of saying thanks because we already have it.”

“So the base line of our relationship with the Lord, below which we cannot go, is forgiveness for our sins and eternal life with Him. Anything we do out of gratitude for that brings extra blessings.[4]

I agree with Scripture and Kelley that it’s not our works that save us; however, I have to argue with the idea that none of the things instructed of us are things that we really have to do. What sets us apart as Christians? Not just our words but our actions. What is the purpose of Scripture? To strengthen the body of Christ, to teach how to live a life worthy of a Christ, to call out false teachings and teach truth, to establish fellowship among believers from different locations and ethnic backgrounds. I’m sure you can insert more points. Second Timothy 3:16-17 declares, “16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”[5] If all we have to do is say “I believe” and we’re “in,” what is the importance of such instruction? While our works do not save us, they are evidence of our faith and righteousness. James 2:19-26 declares,

19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

In the context of Philippians 2, Paul explains the humbling experience that Christ chose to go through in order to become our perfect sacrifice. With this in mind, Paul exhorts the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (vv. 12-13). Because God is at work in us, we ought to strive to live in a way pleasing to Him. Why wouldn’t we want to do this for the One who literally gave up everything for our sake? Our actions declare who we truly are and whom we truly serve.

They Were Never Really Saved?

One of the most professed arguments for why Christians “turn away” is that they were never really believers in the first place. While people have quoted verse after verse in attempts to support this belief, the book of Hebrews leaves no room for doubt: There have been Christians who have been fully converted and have chosen to fall away. Before I expound on this statement, it is important to understand the audience of this book. The audience is Jewish Christians which is evident by their knowledge of the Law, who Jesus is and His role as High Priest and Savior, and the sufferings they have faced after choosing to believe and follow God. Here are some Scriptures to support these claims:

Hebrews 2:1– “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.”

The author[6] inserts himself along with his audience when he advises not to drift away from what they have heard. By this we know that the author is a believer, and that all of them have heard the same things. Therefore, we can conclude the audience is also a group of believers.

Hebrews 3:12– “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.”

The term “brethren” (or “brothers”) connotes that the writer is talking to believers since this term is used throughout the NT to refer to “believers.” “Falls away” comes from the Greek ἀφίσταμαι, which according to Louw and Nida, means “to abandon a former relationship or association, or to dissociate (a type of reversal of beginning to associate)—‘to fall away, to forsake, to turn away.’”[7] In order to abandon a former relationship, you have to have been in the relationship to begin with; thus, these people are currently in a relationship with God.

Hebrews 5:12– “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.”

The audience ought to be teachers, which is more proof that these are believers; however, they are not maturing as they ought to be. This is what leads to the writer’s warning in Hebrews 6.

Hebrews 10:32-35– “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.”

The audience has undoubtedly faced suffering because of their commitment to Christ, which is why the writer seems adamant about encouraging them to press on.

Now that we have established the audience, let’s look at Hebrews 6:1-6, a passage not to be dismissed nor taken lightly:

“1        Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,

2        of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

3        And this we will do, if God permits.

4        For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,

5        and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,

6        and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”

Verses 1-3 restate the truth that this audience needs to mature in the things of God rather than focus on the foundational teachings. In short, being a Christian is more than understanding and believing the basics. In vv. 4-6, the writer warns about what has happened to believers who have not heeded the examples set by the ancient Israelites and have fallen away. I’m sure some of you are thinking, How can you be sure that the writer is referring to true believers? Not to get too technical, but word choice and verb tenses are major indicators. In vv. 4-5, the verbs are past tense (aorist), passive[8], participles. For example, “have once been enlightened” could be translated “having once been enlightened.” In The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, With Notes and Introduction, F. W. Farrar writes that in the Septuagint (the translation of the OT into Greek), φωτισθέντας, “to illuminate” (or “enlighten”), “means ‘to teach’ (2 Kings 12:2).[9]” This seems to also make sense in the Hebrews 6 context because of the Jewish audience. The idea of “light” throughout the NT tends to portray the idea of truth versus remaining in darkness. In summation, verses 4-5 seem to be written as a progression of Christian conversion. First, people have been “enlightened” or taught the things of God. Second, they have tasted (or experienced)[10] the heavenly gift. Although people debate on what gift this is referring to, it seems to fit within this context and with other NT passages that the heavenly gift is salvation. Third, following Peter’s instructions in Acts 2:38, once people have repented and been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (become partakers of the Holy Spirit). No one can receive the Holy Spirit without truly accepting Christ. Lastly, to taste the good word and the powers of the age to come seem to indicate the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are both personally experienced and witnessed in others.

In The Superiority of the New Covenant: Hebrews, Robert James Utley offers his understanding of these verbs in vv. 4-6: “All of these PARTICIPLES are AORISTS, while v. 6b begins a series of PRESENT TENSE VERBS. These are such strong statements. The meaning seems to be clear: they knew God, but they left God.”[11] He further provides a list of people throughout Scripture who were once of God but something changed. In response, he writes,

“We rarely think about these texts because our systematic theology (Calvinism, Arminianism, etc.) dictates the mandated response. Please do not pre-judge me because I bring up this subject. My concern is proper hermeneutical procedure. We must let the Bible speak to us and not try to mold it into a preset theology. This is often painful and shocking because much of our theology is denominational, cultural or relational (parent, friend, pastor), not biblical. Some who are in the People of God turn out to not be in the People of God (e.g. Rom. 9:6).”[12]

David G. Peterson also makes a powerful statement regarding these verses:

 “The stern warning of these verses (echoed in 10:26–31; 12:15–17) is for those who fall away or commit apostasy (cf. 3:12), because they cut themselves off from the only sacrifice for sins under the new covenant and the only hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Such people are crucifying the Son of God all over again, rejecting him as deliberately as his executioners did, and subjecting him to public disgrace, openly putting themselves in the position of his enemies. Nothing is impossible for God, but he offers us no hope of reclaiming those who take a continuous and hard-hearted stand against Christ. As noted in connection with 3:12–13, those who harden their hearts against God may reach a point where they are ‘hardened’ beyond recall. The writer does not accuse his readers of being in this position, but the fate of apostates is something they and we should not forget. In its context, this passage stands as a warning about where sluggishness could lead.”[13]

Farrar wrestles with the meaning of the individual expressions in vv. 4-5; however, he confidently states that “nothing can be clearer than the fact that, but for dogmatic prepossessions, no one would have dreamed of explaining them to mean anything less than full conversion.”[14] Jack Kelley argues that once we are saved, we cannot undo our decision. Setting our own personal and denominational views aside, can we honestly say that these verses are not talking about people who truly converted to Christianity and fell away? In Hebrews 3:14-19 the author shows a clear comparison between the ancient Israelites and the church. After God saved the Israelites from Egypt (salvation), they were heading towards the promised land (like our journey to eternal life); however, they rebelled/disobeyed and did not enter God’s rest (eternity). First Corinthians 10 also refers to ancient Israel’s same mistakes: “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved” (v. 6).

There is yet another warning passage that gives me chills every time I read it: Hebrews 10:19-39. The message is powerful and clear. Ironically, Kelley mentions Hebrews 10:5-7, which talks about Christ’s once for all sacrifice for sin, but he neglects the rest of the passage concerning what happens to a believer who willingly sins after coming to the knowledge of the truth:

Hebrews 10:19-39 (NASB)[15]

“19        Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,

20        by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,

21        and since we have a great priest over the house of God,

22        let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

23        Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;

24        and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,

25        not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

26        For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

27        but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.

28        Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

29        How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

30        For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’

31        It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

32        But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,

33        partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.

34        For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.

35        Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.

   36        For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

37                For yet in a very little while,

He who is coming will come, and will not delay.

38                But My righteous one shall live by faith;

And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.

   39        But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Throughout Hebrews, the writer has defined who Jesus is and what He has done for us. This was especially significant to Jewish Christians who understood the concept and necessity of sacrifice. The idea that Jesus, God Himself, became the one sacrifice that took away every sin forever is astounding and humbling. It is a true representation of God’s love and grace. Receiving and embracing this truth is taken seriously and requires a change in lifestyle. As verse 26 states, anyone who has knowledge of the truth and continues to sin willfully will be judged in a severe way. The writer shares the same warning in Hebrews 6, but he ends with an encouraging thought in 10:39: “But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.”

Before ending his letter, the author of Hebrews has a final warning for his audience in Hebrews 12:25-29[16]:

“  25        See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.

26        And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’

27        This expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.

28        Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;

29        for our God is a consuming fire.”

Prior to these verses, the author describes the awesome scene of God descending on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 and 20.  In Exodus 20:19 the people say to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses responds in v. 20, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” Does this not testify to the greatness of God? Are these writers of the Old and New Testaments not also mouthpieces of God? The author of Hebrews is telling this audience that God has spoken and continues to speak to them. There is judgment for those who refuse to listen. If turning away from God once we are saved is impossible, then such warnings would be pointless, along with moral instruction.

Even Jesus Himself teaches those who believed in Him about the importance of being ready for His return in Matthew 24:42-51. Notice the focus on the slaves’ actions and the justified results:

42 Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.44 For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. 45 Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time?46 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47 Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

It is not the slaves’[17] words that indicate their faithfulness (or lack thereof) to their master. It is their actions that testify. It’s important to understand Jesus isn’t speaking to unbelievers but rather to His disciples (believers). He warns them to be like the slave who is found faithful doing what the master has asked and expects them to do even when he is not physically there. The evil slave puts off his duties and acts wickedly, believing that there’s still time to do what he’s supposed to do. He acts this way while fully understanding what he’s doing and what is expected of him. These disciples who hear this message, who become the founders of the church, reiterate these warnings in the NT letters to the body of believers.

There are numerous Scriptures written to Christian audiences that provide warnings against “falling away” or “going astray”- in essence, walking away from God.[18] To deny this teaching is to deny Scripture, and I daresay, God Himself. How can a person justify being a Christian and not be compelled to change his/her lifestyle to reflect that of Christ? How can we say that following the instructions from the early church leaders, many of whom walked with Jesus or knew people who walked with Jesus, are just to be adhered to in order to receive extra blessings as Kelley suggests? Where is the reverence and awe for the Almighty God and the sacrifice He has made so that we can be free from the chains of sin that held us bound to Satan and his world? Where is the accountability for one’s sinful behavior?

I can imagine that some people reading this are wondering, Lauren, do you want us to go to hell? Of course not! In fact, I write this because I don’t want that. As Christians we are to motivate one another to demonstrate Christ in the way we speak and act. Being a Christian isn’t about barely skirting around hell. Our lives are to be offered as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1) devoted to God because of what He has done for us. Like Paul writes in Philippians 2:12-13, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (v. 12). Why? Because God is at work in us (v. 13). God Himself, His Spirit! This truth alone should be enough to spur us on to behave in a manner worthy of being called a Christ-follower (Eph. 4). Why did the writer of Hebrews warn his audience? To condemn them? No! Rather, it was his apparent love for them that he encouraged them to endure hardships and remain faithful to the end: “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:9-12). Notice what he says: “God is not unjust as to forget your work…and the love which you have shown…in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.” All of these bold words demonstrate action. While the ancient Israelites never reached the promised land due to their disobedience, the author of Hebrews desires to see his fellow believers remain faithful and reach the goal of eternity with God. When we walk in a Christ-like manner, our faith being made evident through our works, we can have assurance of salvation.

The Simple Truth

The notion that we cannot undo our relationship with God is a blatant lie. This belief denies the free will given to us at creation and is in direct opposition to Scripture as demonstrated above. Too often the warnings and instructions we are given are viewed as a curse or a weight on our shoulders. Are we really expected to act this way? In truth, they are a blessing from God! How many times have we said, “I wish God would speak to me”; or “I wish I knew what God wanted me to do”? But He has spoken to us and told us exactly how we ought to conduct our lives. We don’t have to play a guessing game. We have been given absolute truth, which is why it’s so important that we remain faithful to it, not only in words but in our actions. And when we fall short—which we will—we are blessed that we can repent and be forgiven. No longer do we have to provide imperfect sacrifices.

The Grace Thru Faith website seeks to make Scripture simple and clear, but it already is. What we really need to do is be honest with ourselves. Does our life reflect Christ or the world? If it reflects the world, are we willing to change it? If we desire to change, we have a guide book to show us exactly how to do that. God doesn’t make the Christian walk a mystery, and He doesn’t treat our relationship with Him casually. Think about this for a moment. How many of us can say that we have a friend that we claim to put all of our hope and trust in but rarely, if ever, talk to? In fact, we might do or say some bad things against this friend. Not only that, we expect that when we actually do good things for this friend we’re going to get all kinds of blessings from him. If we have a friend like that, how do we expect him to respond? I don’t know about you, but if I was that “friend,” I’d be long gone. So why do we treat God like that? Living a life devoted to the Lord isn’t easy, which all of the warnings in Scripture attest. There are going to be tribulations and suffering. Some Christians may experience them more than others. But living this life is a privilege and a joy because we know the cost paid for us, and we believe in and press on to the reward of eternity with our Lord. The fact that we have the choice to stay on the narrow road and endure these hardships makes all the difference.

©Lauren Heiligenthal

 

 Footnotes

[1] Jack Kelley passed away in 2015 from cancer, and his wife maintains his website. As their website states, all of the teachings have been written by Jack Kelley at some time in his life. In this post, I speak of Kelley and his article in the present tense to provide clarity to the message. The idea of “once saved, always saved” isn’t new, and Kelley was not the only person to write about or preach it. I chose his article because of its blatant statements that Scripture does not support that a Christian can choose to walk away from God. I believe that Scripture provides numerous warnings against apostasy, clearly indicating that losing salvation is possible.

[2] Bold print added for emphasis

[3] Bold print is added for emphasis. Also, italicized words in Scripture verses are written that way in the NASB because they are not part of the original language; they have been added for ease and/or clarification of reading.

[4] Bold print added for emphasis

[5] Since the New Testament (NT) wasn’t in existence as a collection of writings yet, Paul is referring to what we call the Old Testament (OT). Since we have been blessed to receive the NT writings, I believe we can now view 2 Timothy 3:16 in light of both OT and NT.

[6] Although I personally believe that the writer of Hebrews is Paul for a number of reasons, I will refer to the writer of Hebrews as “the writer” or “the author,” so as not to divert from the task at hand.

[7] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 448.

[8] Only the verbs “enlightened” (φωτισθέντας) and “to be made” (γενηθέντας) are passive. The other two verbs are not passive since it wouldn’t make sense to say “having been tasted” in this context. However, the aorist tense indicates that all of these things have actually occurred in the past.

[9] F. W. Farrar, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, With Notes and Introduction, Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893), 82.

[10] 90.78 γεύομαιc: (a figurative extension of meaning of γεύομαιa ‘to taste,’ 24.72) to experience, probably focusing on personal involvement—‘to experience.- Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 807.

[11] Robert James Utley, The Superiority of the New Covenant: Hebrews, vol. Volume 10, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1999), 62.

[12] Robert James Utley, The Superiority of the New Covenant: Hebrews, vol. Volume 10, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1999), 63.

[13] David G. Peterson, “Hebrews,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1334–1335.

[14] F. W. Farrar, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, With Notes and Introduction, Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893), 83.

[15] Bold print added for emphasis

[16] Bold print added for emphasis

[17] The Greek word for slave in this passage is δοῦλος, the same word that Kelley translates as a bond servant in his article. Note that it is used to describe both the faithful slave and the evil slave.

[18] To name a few: 1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Cor. 11:2-3; 2 Tim. 2:15-18; Heb. 4:1, 9-11; 1 John 2:3-6, 28-29; 1 John 3:7-10

Tending the Garden (Re-Post)

I read an article recently titled “The Bond Servant” written by Jack Kelley.  Its contents basically drive at the “once saved, always saved” teaching, which is nothing new but has seemed to grow. I’ve made it clear in previous posts that I disagree with this viewpoint. In fact, I believe it to be heretical. The plan for my next post is to tackle the article point by point. In order to do so properly, I will be taking more time to write my rebuttal. In the meantime, feel free to read Kelley’s article, comment on it on my blog, and/or ask questions that you would like answered. Below is a quote from the article that really provoked me to respond:

“Those who say that since we chose to become saved we can choose to walk away. They are applying human thinking to the equation, thinking it makes sense that it should work that way. But there is no Biblical support for that opinion. In fact, as we’ve seen, it’s not the case at all. As bond servants of the Lord we gave up our right to self determination when we surrendered our life to Him.”

There’s a lot to tackle in that one statement, but more will be coming. For this week’s post, I have re-posted “Tending the Garden,” written a year ago. It is especially fitting since I spent 6 hours pulling weeds today. As awful as that may sound, it was surprisingly refreshing. Not only did I get some quiet time in the spacious outdoors, but it was satisfying to make things beautiful again. Are our lives not also refreshed when we get rid of the ugly and choking things that seek to destroy us?

I hope you enjoy!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Growing up, I helped my mom with her yard work. She has always had a knack for implementing different landscaping ideas, planting beautiful gardens, and maintaining it all to perfection. Unfortunately, I still don’t have a green thumb. I suppose I didn’t pay attention as well as I should have while she worked. However, one thing I did learn well was pulling weeds and other encroaching, undesirable plants. The most important part about pulling weeds is that you never just remove what you can see; rather, it must be fully uprooted. Some weeds are easy to pull up. Just a slight pull and up it comes. Others need a little more attention with a shovel and some digging—and much-needed gloves for the prickly ones. If a person constantly checks his or her garden, the weeds don’t have much chance to grow, and there’s less effort involved. If the garden goes unchecked, the process can be overwhelming, and there’s more of a risk of missing or breaking off substantial roots. These roots can then wrap around the good plants, causing them to wither and die.

As Christians, we can look at our spiritual life as a garden. When we are just starting out, our garden is made up of little seedlings with the goal of bearing fruit for the kingdom of God. But it’s not a matter of if weeds will sprout, but when. Alongside our little saplings, we might notice a little weed here and there—little thoughts from the enemy that start to grow—“Don’t forget about that mistake you made yesterday”; “Do you really think you can change?”; “You’re worthless and will never make it as a Christian.” As Christians, we may still struggle with some sins and face new temptations. With some quick attention to these issues and asking God for forgiveness and help, those weeds—temptations/sins—can be uprooted and no more.

But what happens when we only check on the garden once in a while? We go out and discover larger weeds, maybe some prickly ones that make the task difficult. It’s tempting to just cut the tops off so we don’t have to see the ugliness. No harm, right? Now we can see our beautiful flowers again. But the danger still lies beneath: Roots. Roots can be parts of the past that linger and start to kill our spiritual fruit. To dig deeper means having to deal with the real issues, the underlying weaknesses that we are afraid to see. Maybe they are sins that we are too ashamed of: anger, sexual promiscuity, jealousy, self-harm, stealing, lying, homosexuality, etc. Maybe they are lies that have taken a hold of us, making it difficult to see any truth: unworthy, ugly, useless, could never be forgiven, [insert thought here]. The stronger the weed roots become, the weaker the good plant becomes, hindering it from bearing fruit.

What happens if we neglect our garden altogether? It will never grow to its potential. It will be overcome by the enemy. And eventually, it will die. What if it gets to the point that every good thing dies? Scripture refers to two options. First, if the person doesn’t desire to change or pursue God, the garden remains dead. That person has made the decision to walk away from God (Hebrews 6:4-6). However, with the second option, there is hope for the one who has lost his or her way but still desires to follow the Lord (Luke 15:11-32). What must be done? Repentance. Everything of the enemy must be uprooted and exposed, and the seeds of truth and righteousness must be replanted. Without a doubt, it will be painful, but God’s forgiveness, grace, and strength make it possible. Once it has been restored, the responsibility for maintaining the garden remains.

Being a Christian takes hard work. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we must examine our spiritual lives and be honest with ourselves. Are we being attentive to the little weeds/thoughts/sins that are starting to take root? Do we have deep roots that need to be dug out and exposed to the light? Is our garden overrun by all sorts of dangers that seek to choke out anything good? We have been blessed with having the Holy Spirit within us if we have made that decision to follow Christ, but we still have to listen. We are responsible for what’s growing in our spiritual gardens, but the Lord is there if we call upon Him for help.

Consider Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians regarding their Christian walk:

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” ~ Ephesians 3:17-24 NASB

Let’s gather our gloves and shovels and get to work!

 

©Lauren Heiligenthal

**Photo from https://www.pinterest.com/explore/garden-ideas/?lp=true