100 Answers in 100 Days

More questions answered on this blog:

Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Monday, February 28, 2011

#59: What sense is there in a Christian dying for his faith?

Victor was a Christian of a good family at Marseilles, in France; he spent a great part of the night in visiting the afflicted, and confirming the weak; which pious work he could not, consistently with his own safety, perform in the daytime; and his fortune he spent in relieving the distresses of poor Christians. He was at length, however, seized by the emperor Maximian's decree, who ordered him to be bound, and dragged through the streets. During the execution of this order, he was treated with all manner of cruelties and indignities by the enraged populace. Remaining still inflexible, his courage was deemed obstinacy. Being by order stretched upon the rack, he turned his eyes toward heaven, and prayed to God to endue him with patience, after which he underwent the tortures with most admirable fortitude. After the executioners were tired with inflicting torments on him, he was conveyed to a dungeon. In his confinement, he converted his jailers, named Alexander, Felician, and Longinus. This affair coming to the ears of the emperor, he ordered them immediately to be put to death, and the jailers were accordingly beheaded. Victor was then again put to the rack, unmercifully beaten with batoons, and again sent to prison. Being a third time examined concerning his religion, he persevered in his principles; a small altar was then brought, and he was commanded to offer incense upon it immediately. Fired with indignation at the request, he boldly stepped forward, and with his foot overthrew both altar and idol. This so enraged the emperor Maximian, who was present, that he ordered the foot with which he had kicked the altar to be immediately cut off; and Victor was thrown into a mill, and crushed to pieces with the stones, A.D. 303.

This story comes from Foxe's Book of Martyrs. It's one of hundreds of historical accounts of the martyrdom of Christians. This story seems to be all we need to answer the question “What sense is there in a Christian dying for his faith?” Look at how we see the power of God, strengthening this man to endure torture. Look at how three jailers were converted. Look at how even after all of this, God was so real to this man that he simply could not deny Him. Is there any more I need to say than this?

Yet we are left to wonder; what if John Foxe had never discovered this story, and this story had never been told? What if all of this happened, and the only witnesses were a handful of guards, and the emperor himself? Would it have been worth it then? After all, the emperor wasn't converted. Yet we might say that for the sake of those three souls, Alexander, Felician and Longinus, it was worth it.

Under the surface of this question, there is a far more personally stirring question we need to ask ourselves. When is it ever okay to compromise one's faith? Those martyrs who died were not laying down their lives for those who might happen to read of their story in Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Of course, they may have had it in their minds that their steadfastness might convert some of their persecutors; I imagine this was the hope of each one of them. But when first asked, for example, to offer incense to the emperor, they did not think, “Well, let's see... who's watching?” to see if they could just placate the emperor and “get away with it”. I mean, God is always watching, and all that we do is done to please God first and not men, no matter who those men may be. But to think our faith should only be on display when others are there to see it is probably a sign that such faith is not genuine at all. Jesus said:

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:17-18)

I wanted to apply this principle to the “extreme” of dying for Christ. I mean, if you're going to die, it better be worth it, right? But this principle applies to every aspect of our faith. If you're faced with execution if you refuse to deny Christ, don't count how many people are watching to get a gauge on whether it's “worth it” or not. It is the same when you resist any other temptation; it's not okay to do certain things “so long as the wife won't find out”, or to slack off at work so long as the boss can't catch you.

Whether our martyrdom would convert souls or not; that's up to God. Most of those martyrs surely had no idea that John Foxe would write their stories for the ages to come. But it's the same in all that we do – we never know when something we do in secret will be discovered, and become part of the salvation story of someone we perhaps don't even know.

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12:11)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

#58: Is Suicide and Euthanasia always wrong?

Suicide and Euthanasia are obviously somewhat related. One might choose to end their life for any number of reasons – that's suicide. In the case of Euthanasia, a person may choose to end their life because they are soon to die anyway from some painful disease or injury, and their immediate death will allow them to escape a long and painful one. But Euthanasia also includes the situation where the choice to end a person's life is made by someone else, in the name of mercy, because the patient is unable to speak for themselves, perhaps being in a coma. What these two things really have in common is that the time of one's death is chosen by some person and not by God.

The chief characteristics of God are justice and mercy. In the Bible, God instituted the death sentence for certain acts of disobedience. Really, this is killing for the sake of justice. The men who executed the death sentence were performing acts of justice, sanctioned by God. They needed to exercise godly wisdom in doing so; they had to judge the case carefully to establish the undeniable guilt of the offender, and execute them according to God's commandment. In parts of the Bible we read about people being put to death, and God approves of this judgement which is being executed upon them. But sometimes God does not approve, and will later avenge their deaths. Nevertheless, if God might approve of the death of someone in the name of justice, what about in the name of mercy?

The very purpose of death is to be a punishment for sin. For the unbeliever, there is no hope beyond death – the time for repentance is finished, and only eternal judgement awaits. Therefore, it is no act of mercy to cut off their life and seal their eternal fate. Rather, on their death bed and in their final days of suffering, they need the gospel more than ever. From what I understand, only having heard from various documentaries, even a person in a coma can hear and understand our voice. To have the gospel read to them is far better than to cut them off from their physical suffering.

What about the born again Christian suffering in their hospital bed? Since they are going to go on to heaven, should we relieve them of their suffering? The words of Paul come to mind...

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:23-24)

Paul is saying that it is, of course, better to be with the Lord; but for the sake of those we minister to, it is better to be here on the Earth. If God wanted us to be with Him, He would take us up to heaven the moment we were saved. But the reason we are here is to share the gospel with the world – to be a light to the world in how we live, and even in how we suffer and die. When we suffer and the world looks on, they ought to see the reality of our hope in Christ. But Paul isn't even speaking about his ministry to unbelievers, but is speaking to a Church of believers, saying that for their sakes he would rather stay on the Earth, “for your progress and joy in the faith”. The Christian life is about “endurance to the end”, despite whatever misfortune comes our way – a steadfast faith especially in the face of adversity. But if a patient is in a coma, in which they are unable to communicate anything to anybody, it seems acceptable to allow them to die naturally. I'm not getting into all of the hard cases here; it takes God-given wisdom to assess each case on its own. But I agree with many Christian ethicists; that allowing someone to die when it is time for them to die is quite different from taking their life.

What of suicide, then? Obviously, after what I've said about Euthanasia, it is never short of tragic for an unbeliever to take their own life, for whatever reason. For a Christian, again we've seen that endurance through all of life's hardships for the sake of others is better than departing from this world. We have to acknowledge that there is such a thing as mental illness and clinical depression which can lead to suicide, and while some Christians believe that no genuine Christian should suffer from these things, I don't agree. We live in a fallen world, and a Christian is just as susceptible to mental illness as they are to cancer or heart disease. I don't think that suicide is ever right. Again, it is better to suffer whatever hardship, whatever loss or grief, so that we can show how God upholds us through it. Whilst life might be unbearable now, God has a plan to glorify Himself through your experience.

Today's “memory verse” would be:

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Philippians 1:29)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

#57: Why is consulting mediums wrong?

The Bible expressly forbids consultation with mediums. Consider, for example, Leviticus 20:6. “If a person turns to mediums and wizards, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.” Turning to mediums is described with such strong language as “whoring”. The Bible uses this metaphor all the time. It also describes God's people as being like God's wife, and God is their husband. So it uses this metaphor of “whoring” or, in other places, “adultery” to express what it is like for someone to turn away from God to another god, or idol. The point is this; that when it comes to desiring knowledge from the spiritual realm, we must pray to God and ask Him rather than consulting the dead. And we must be content with what He, in His perfect wisdom, will or won't reveal to us. In all things we pray to God for guidance, to God for comfort, to God for deliverance... to God always.

In Deuteronomy 18, Moses repeats the prohibition against going to mediums... “for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.” (Deuteronomy 18:14) Moses immediately proceeds to say:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen (Deuteronomy 18:15)

God spoke to His people through prophets; specific men whom God raised up to be His voice to the people. God says in verse 18 “I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” Prophets spoke on behalf of God, and it was the prophets who wrote Scripture. Deuteronomy 18 also speaks about carefully discerning whether a man who claimed to be a prophet was legitimately a prophet. God wants us to listen to Him. Are the dead wiser than God? Are the dead more trustworthy than God? Even when king Saul used a medium to speak to Samuel the prophet from beyond the grave, his actions were condemned. If it was wrong to speak to a former prophet through a medium, how much more if we try to contact anyone else?

In the New Testament we read:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

And the Apostle Paul says that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). The point is that those prophets; the only ones we are to listen to according to Deuteronomy 18 – they wrote down the words of God for us and we have them in the Scriptures. Where Deuteronomy commands us to listen to the prophets, it commands us to listen to the Scriptures which are the words of the prophets, which are the words of God. “But” (Hebrews 1 says) “in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son.” We no longer have prophets because the “final word” has come to us; Jesus Christ, the “cornerstone”. When we want direction in life, we don't turn to the dead; we turn to God, and to God's word in the pages of Scripture.

Now some might say, “I don't want direction from my deceased relative or friend... I just want to say 'Hello' because I miss them.” This is understandable – death separates loved ones, and it's tragic and sad. God doesn't want people separated in this way. Our longing is to be reunited with our loved ones some day. But we must bear this sorrow and grief in the present, because this is the consequence of our sin. Rather than go around God to be reunited in some partial manner now, we need to trust and follow Christ with the confidence that He will reunite us in the day of our resurrection. And if that loved one is not saved, then we experience the hopelessness of sin and are driven all the more toward our Saviour, and to the ministry of sharing the message of Christ's salvation to the world.

Until tomorrow...

And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? 
(Isaiah 8:19)

Friday, February 25, 2011

#56: Can my deceased relatives see me?

The answer to this question, based on Scripture, is somewhat speculative. But there are a few passages which seem to suggest that our deceased relatives probably can see us. Let's consider, for example, Hebrews 12...

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

This passage refers to our being “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”. Where it says “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us...” it is an image of our lives being like a race, and the “cloud of witnesses” are those watching us in the stands. Who are these people? There seem to be a few options. It could be the unbelievers in the world who watch us and see the truth of the gospel from the way we live our lives. Or it could be the angels in heaven who watch us (1 Corinthians 4:9). But the previous chapter of Hebrews spoke about all of the men and women of faith in the Bible, and it served to encourage us in our faith. It ends by telling us that they have not yet received the goal of their faith, as God will perfect us all together. And so it seems that this passage, which follows directly on, would refer to those people. By this passage, it does seem that they are able to watch the activity of the Church in the world.

I suppose that we might also consider the rich man who died in Luke 16, and was concerned for the salvation of his family on Earth. Or we might consider how the Bible speaks of mediums, affirming that we can summon the dead. Samuel was summoned from the dead and seemed to know about the current state of affairs, and predicted the imminent death of Saul. Other stronger evidences, if there are any, don't come to mind right now; and all of these are not entirely conclusive. But if our loved ones can see us, how should this affect our lives, if at all? In Hebrews 12, it seems to suggest that this fact should affect our lives. The writer of Hebrews is saying “since we are surrounded by witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin...” But we live for Christ, and not to please men; least of all those who are no longer with us. And this passage above still urges us to be “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith...” We must not try to communicate with the dead; consulting mediums is strictly forbidden by God. And we should not pray to the dead, but we pray directly to Christ. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5)

I was talking to someone a while ago, and she told me that she's been keeping a “spiritual journal”. I told her how wonderful I thought that was, and I also happened to say something like “That journal will be a great blessing to your children when you're gone.” Well, she wasn't too keen on that. She didn't like the idea that anyone would ever read her journal; not even family. This got me thinking. Jesus said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:20). Now it's probably not that this woman is writing horrible things about people all the time, but I'm wondering what one might write in their journal that they would be ashamed of if their family were to read it after they’re dead? There should be no such things written there. And I thought of those I know who have died... What am I doing that I ought to be ashamed of before them? The sins I kept hidden from them when they were alive may be fully exposed to them now!

But that they can see me, or that my family might read my journal when I'm dead... this should not be my concern. Rather, Jesus right now sees all that I do, and what I write in my journal, and even what I think in my head. I should be far more concerned about pleasing Him than anyone else, dead or alive.

Now we all sin, and we are all ashamed of our sins. We know that God is always watching, but because of who He is, we can accept that. He knows our weaknesses, and He loves us anyway. As for our deceased loved ones; they would now have a very different perspective on the world. From where they are now, they understand the degree to which the whole world is corrupted by sin, and how they themselves were also. I imagine they would be far more sympathetic towards us. But one day, when we are all perfected in Christ and reunited with one another, love will cover a multitude of sins! But in the present, our lives should be holy before Christ first, others second; and we can long for the day when we are reunited with those who have passed.

I leave you with this...

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

#55: Isn't a place like the New Earth impossible?

When Christ returns He will take away all of the evil in the world. Philosophically we might wonder whether this is actually possible. There is an assumption that good cannot exist without evil, or pleasure without pain. It is based on the idea that we would only know what good is by having something evil to compare it to; to be able to say “good is 'not-evil'”, or “pleasure is 'not-pain'”. But this is circular because we would also need to define evil as 'not-good' and pain as 'not-pleasure'. So both “definitions” of good and evil require us to know what the concepts of good and evil mean independently of each other. When it comes to the “renewed Earth”, I must admit that what I'm going to say is somewhat speculative and philosophical. But of course, we know that God is there and that God is good. We will know God's character, and anything which is not in accord with God's character is evil. In fact, this is typically how we know what good and evil is now, in this time; (though not reliably, because our perceptions and our consciences are affected by our fallen nature, and we don’t know God as we ought). I believe that in the New Earth we will know what evil is but will simply (and freely) never choose to do evil, just as God does.

But what about "natural evils"? When things collide and break on impact, we could consider this a natural evil. But it is necessary because we cannot live without the laws of physics. Either such a world cannot exist because it would mean that the laws of physics would have to cease, or we have to say that things breaking or wearing out as a result of such laws isn't necessarily evil. I think the latter is true.

In the New Earth there will be no more death because that was a result of the fall. It's interesting to consider that in the Garden of Eden, Adam was told he could eat from any tree that he wanted to. If before the fall Adam would not die, then what purpose was there for eating? Isn't the purpose of eating simply to keep us alive? But in the New Heaven and New Earth, the Bible says that we will have access to eat from the Tree of Life, and that its leaves will be for the “healing of the nations.” In what sense will the nations need healing? What kind of a perfect world is this if we get sick or injured? Well, I don't really have a problem with the idea that people might have to eat in the New Earth. When Jesus was resurrected He ate with His disciples. Sharing a meal together is a gesture of intimacy in the Bible, and we long for what the Bible calls the “marriage supper of the lamb” where we will eat together with Christ, physically in His presence. There is more to eating than just keeping one's self alive. Apart from the social interaction around eating, we also enjoy the taste of food. But I don't really have a problem, either, with the idea that we might need to eat in order to maintain our health in the New Earth. We might think it a problem that someone might become unhealthy from not eating, and that would mean ill-health in this perfect world. However, we can imagine that in this perfect world there would be no shortage of food supply. Nobody would ever go hungry. Perfected human beings as we would be, we would neither eat too little or too much and become sick. But we are created, physical beings, and eating is simply part of our mechanics.

Will we still need sleep? I don't know, but probably – Adam slept in Genesis 2:21 (though it was an induced sleep.) Will we still need to trim our finger nails? These things we don't know, but I imagine that we will still do all of these kinds of things. But I don’t think that we will age; at least not in the sense of becoming weak and feeble. Adam lived for 930 years, even after the curse on creation had started to affect longevity. So while we might need to maintain our body (eating and trimming our fingernails, for example), I think we would always be able to do so.

Another aspect of human existence we might consider is work. Will we still work in the New Earth? Probably the best indication that we will indeed work is that Adam was told to work in the Garden of Eden, to “keep it”; (that is, "cultivate it"). So again, there’s things to manage and maintain. Farming certainly seems like a job option. But I also imagine, (again, this is speculation) that we might engage in Science, simply to enjoy the wonders of God's creation... to look into the inner workings of God's biological organisms, and to marvel at the laws of physics God has engineered. Presently we might consider that work is evil, perhaps for a number of reasons. We might hate working because it is boring and makes us tired and takes us away from the things we'd rather be doing. But even now, in this present life, we can experience (as I have personally experienced myself) that when we come to understand that we must do all things for the glory of God, including our work, then we begin to enjoy all the things that we do! I understand perfectly how it is a joy to offer up our labour to God, and that it will be for all eternity as we glorify God in all that we do in the New Earth; only far more perfectly than we do now.

So in conclusion, much of the decay of this world will be done away with - we won't age or die. But that doesn't necessarily mean that nothing can break, or that nothing can wear out. I think the New Earth will be a place for much activity! We'll build things and maintain them. We'll maintain our own bodies. I don't really see this as a problem. We were made to enjoy food, enjoy one another's company, and to enjoy our labours together. The New Earth will allow us to finally be what God intended for us to be. Just as He created birds to build nests, and we glorify God when we see how amazing they are at doing what they've been designed to do in building a nest; we have been created to glorify God in all of our pursuits. It makes the most sense to me that we will have the opportunity to build things and to practice science and medicine, and to discuss theology and philosophy. But while it's so difficult for us to understand what it might be like, it is good for us to think about it, because when we place our hope in that future we will see the worries of the present as insignificant as they are. The cares of this world will not choke us, the persecutions of others will not crush us, and temptations will not entice us.

For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Corinthians 5:4-9)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

#54: What will the New Heaven and New Earth be like?

We know that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” (Genesis 1:1) And God created the first man, Adam, and his wife Eve. Genesis describes the place in which Adam and Eve lived; a paradise called the Garden of Eden. But when mankind sinned, God cursed all of creation. As a result, this “fallen world” in which we live is not the world that God originally created. It is a corrupted version of it in which there is sin, and as a result of sin, death and decay. God's whole purpose for sending Jesus Christ, His Son, was to save us from this fallen world and to renew us. We wait for the return of Christ and the consummation of His kingdom, when all of creation will be restored to its former glory. Romans 8 tells us this clearly...

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:20-24)

When we die, our soul is separated from our physical bodies, and our souls, if we are saved, go to be with the Lord in heaven. However, it was never God's intention for the soul to ever be separate from the body. Even with our body in the ground and our soul in heaven, we are not yet in our final state. It is a surprise for some to learn that our eternity with God will not be as immaterial spirits, but as physical people walking on a physical Earth as we do now. We wait for the redemption of our bodies - the resurrection of the dead. It is a physical resurrection of our bodies. And God will renew all of creation. It will be a return to the way God had first created the world in the beginning, before the fall.

So in order to understand what the New Heaven and New Earth might be like, we can begin by looking at the Bible's description of the Garden of Eden before the fall, described in Genesis 1-3. Let's just take note of a few key points... We see that it can be described in terms we can identify with – it had all kinds of birds and animals and fish, and all kinds of plants. And Adam and Eve were told to eat whatever plants they wanted to, (except from the “Tree of Knowledge”). Man was told to “work and keep” the garden, and also to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Lastly, we see that there was placed in the garden the “Tree of Life”. There was no death in this world, but when man fell, death and decay entered the world. And God prevented mankind from eating from the Tree of Life lest they should live forever in that fallen state.

In Revelation 21-22 we read about the New Heaven and New Earth. These chapters reaffirm the things we have already learnt about this intended order of creation. There shall be no more death (Revelation 21:4). There will be a “tree of life” like in Eden (Revelation 22:2), but now redeemed, mankind will be able to eat from it. And we will once again have dominion (Revelation 22:5). Regarding our bodies, John says “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2). So it seems right to understand that Jesus' body after His resurrection is the kind of body that we are to expect. And we remember that His body had some interesting properties, such as being able to move through walls. However, it was a physical body that Thomas could touch when he felt the nail prints. Jesus also ate with His disciples after His resurrection; so this aligns itself to the idea that we will be able to eat on the New Earth. And we read that the tree of life “bears fruit twelve months of the year” – that is, time still ticks over; and where there's time, there's physical bodies.

There is certainly a great deal we don't know or understand about the New Heaven and New Earth and the nature of our resurrected bodies, but we can nevertheless understand that it will be a life of activity and fellowship with one another and with God. A world as it was supposed to be. And we can look forward to a time when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4). This is what we long for. Can such a world exist? We shall discuss this tomorrow. Until then...

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

#53: What will heaven be like?

Heaven is a place which we all hope to go when we die. It is known to be a “better place”. The idea that the soul lives on in some kind of paradise can be somewhat comforting when you have lost a loved one, but for many, heaven is just a myth which people have devised to take away some of the fear and heartache of death. For others, heaven is a real place where everybody goes when they die, unless they were some kind of criminal. People have all kinds of ideas about whether there is a heaven, what it is like, and how we get there. But heaven won't exist just because we believe it does; nor will it cease to exist just because we don't believe in it. And it won't have streets paved with gold just because we believe it will, nor will we get there by praying the Lord's prayer once a night, or by giving money to charity, just because that's what we believe it takes to get there. We need to find out the truth about heaven.

Some of the prophets in the Bible saw visions of heaven, and these are the only information we really have about what heaven might look like. In the Book of Revelation it tells us that John was taken up into heaven. What he saw is described in Revelation 4. He saw God on a throne, and around Him were four “living creatures”, as well as 24 “elders” sitting on thrones. And the creatures and the elders worshipped God continually. This vision is very similar to the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel in the Old Testament. However, these visions are probably more symbolic than literal. They communicate to us about the rule of God over all creation, and the worship due to God. We actually know very little about heaven, even from the Bible. The Apostle Paul tells us that he saw heaven but was not permitted to tell us what he saw. In fact, he tells us that no man may utter what he saw.

When Jesus was crucified there was a thief crucified with Him. The thief believed in Jesus at that moment, and Jesus told him “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43). We know, then, that it is “paradise”, and that those who believe in Jesus as their God and Saviour will go there when they die. Paul also tells us that he “would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Now, there is only one way to heaven. Consider this passage where Jesus is speaking of His imminent death and resurrection...

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:3-6)

In another place, Jesus said “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). Being “born again” is what happens when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. This is how Christ is “the way” - no one comes to the Father except through Christ, because unless we are born again we cannot see the kingdom of God.

Now, as we've seen, the Bible doesn't say much about what heaven is like. There are a few reasons I can identify for this. Firstly, it ought to be enough to know that heaven is where God is, and to be there is to be with God. Could there really be anything more exciting about heaven than that? But the second reason is that heaven is a temporary dwelling place for us! Heaven is where we go when we die, but we will not be there forever – we will be physically resurrected, and we will live once again on the Earth for all eternity. The Bible has far more to say about the “new heaven and new Earth” than it does about heaven because this Earth, gloriously renewed by God, will be our final home. Tomorrow we shall elaborate on that.

But before we leave off today, I have heard an interesting idea put forward that there is no intermediate or temporary state after we die, but that we directly find ourselves in the new heaven and new Earth. When Jesus said to the thief, for example, that he would be in paradise that day, Jesus was not saying that he would just be transported to a different place but to a different time - the time when Jesus has restored the new heaven and new Earth, and that new Earth is “paradise”. While this sounds interesting, there are passages of Scripture which don’t seem to fit this idea. For example, Paul spoke of being “away from the body and at home with the Lord”, indicating a prolonged intermediate state in which our soul is separate from the body. So I don’t think we can say that there “is no heaven”, or that heaven is really the same thing as the “new heaven and new Earth.”

But until tomorrow...

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Monday, February 21, 2011

#52: How can Christianity stand in light of Evolution?

Yesterday we noticed how people in Jesus' day saw His miracles and yet still would not believe, concocting some other explanation or finding whatever excuse they could to deny that He was the Christ, even attributing His work to Satan rather than to the Holy Spirit. This is very similar to the way in which people have looked at God's creation and the complexity of it all, and have attributed it to natural “dumb” processes, denying that there is a Creator.

I was, of course, taught Evolution in high school. And in fact, I did Biology at University where I was taught Evolution at a higher level. And whilst it is a very clever idea, there were several problems with it which were apparent to me. Even in high school, I reasoned that the human reproductive system could never Evolve. This is a system which relies on body parts to develop independently on two separate individuals and must correspond perfectly for the sake of the next generation being born. Evolution absolutely relies on information being passed from one generation to the next, so at each stage of the evolution of the reproductive system, the reproductive system must continue to be a fully functioning reproductive system. If you have a working reproductive system, then any change to it which renders it useless will absolutely halt the progress of its Evolution. This seems impossible since the male and female organs cannot keep in step with each other for so many iterations of change; complexity being the result of gradual incrementations over time according to Evolution. For example, we know that chemicals in the woman's sexual organs balance the acidic chemicals in the man's semen. If it were not so the sperm would die – a useless reproductive system. So at some point in Evolutionary history, if the man's semen became more acidic the woman's “PH-balancing chemical” would also have to have evolved in that same generation. It never made sense to me. And why is it that we can hardly tell whether a dog or a cat is male or female unless we look between their hind legs? Why are they so radically different in that part of their body yet indistinguishable in every other respect? How were changes to the two sexes kept in step for millions of years for every body part except genitalia? It doesn't add up. Finally, the Evolution of biological organisms seems to me a diversion. What do I mean? It causes us to focus so much on how the complexity of living things may have gradually developed over time through a process which requires reproduction that we fail to see the glaringly obvious problem... the non-living world is also incredibly complex! Do we really appreciate the complexity of chemistry and physics? From gravitational orbits to the miracle of ice, water and steam... how are these not evidence of an intelligent designer?

Well, what I've tried to do here is to just quickly express my own personal musings on the subject of Evolution. I didn't want to copy and paste some Creation Ministry's article or some such – these are conclusions I came to on my own, even as a high school student. But as an adult Christian I joined a certain prominent atheist forum to discuss these issues. These were scientifically educated men who stake their eternity on Evolution being right, but the only answer they could give me was that “maybe somewhere an expert has the answer”. But then they rebuked me saying “The argument from incredulity is a logical fallacy!” Whilst this sounds like a very intellectual response, the argument from incredulity is basically put forward as “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. In other words, they acknowledge that there is no answer (that is, there is an “absence of evidence”), but they're sort of holding out for evidence to arise. By their own admission, they have a kind of blind faith in Evolution. Perhaps you've heard the cunningly devised explanation of how the eye evolved over millions of years? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_the_eye). It's a very clever account which sounds plausible. I believe that those who trust in Evolution essentially take a story like that and say “Well, we can't explain much of what we see in terms like this, but we trust that all things came to be in a manner similar to this, we just don't know the details.” They take something like this, which is really a speculation, and say “This is enough evidence for us to extrapolate with.” But a lot of these sort of explanations are not science; it's mere story telling.

On the other hand, we have an abundance of evidence for the life and ministry of Jesus. We have the Scriptures which are a record of the things that Jesus did, and continued to do through the Church after His ascension. Consider how we have historical documents about the things that Plato did and wrote, yet nobody doubts that Plato was a real person who did the things that he did, or said the things that he said. Then we have the gospels about the life and ministry of Christ, yet some of these same men said that they did not believe that Jesus was ever a real person. These men claimed to believe all things supported by evidence, and yet they show that they have no regard for evidence at all, and that their belief in Evolution is more like wishful thinking. They believe it because it is a belief system which excludes God.

If we look again at Matthew 12, which we looked at yesterday, we see how people will rather believe something that doesn't make a lot of sense than believe in Christ, explaining away the evidence in some way. Jesus goes on in this chapter to say this:

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation. (Matthew 12:43-45)

“This evil generation” are those who rejected Christ despite the evidence. This passage is saying that when you see the evidence that Jesus is the Christ, or that the Bible is true, it is like the Holy Spirit has taken away the “unclean spirit” which has blinded you from seeing the truth. But unless you believe the Holy Spirit, the spirit which blinds you will return with more force, and you'll be many times worse. It will become even harder for you to see the truth. This is an observation which many have made, including myself, that some people will come to Church and listen to the gospel and call it all nonsense; and then we find that when we catch up with them months or years later, they've converted to some kind of New Age spiritualism or other, or have perhaps joined an atheist forum – several of those men were formerly Church members. They put themselves into a position which creates more barriers to the gospel. Unbelief is not for lack of evidence, but because people harden their hearts and turn away.

See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. (Ecclesiastes 7:29)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

#51: What is the unforgivable sin?

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31-32)

There is a sin which will not be forgiven. It is here named “the blasphemy against the Spirit”. This certainly sounds like a frightening thing; a sin which would prevent you from ever being saved, and seal your destiny to hell. It doesn't sound like it would be a difficult sin to commit, either; perhaps inadvertently, even? But in order to clearly understand a passage of Scripture standing isolated from its context like this, we need to go and look at it in its context. This passage appears midway through Matthew 12. In order to understand this passage, I think we need to start at the beginning of Chapter 11.

In order to keep this post from becoming several pages long, let me summarize the relevant points from Matthew 11-12, and you can read them for yourselves. In the beginning of Chapter 11, John the Baptist, who had told the people that Jesus was the Christ (or “Messiah”), now has his doubts. So he sends some men to Jesus to ask Him whether or not He is, in fact, the Christ. Jesus' response is this: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” That is to say, Jesus' miracles are clear evidence that He is the Christ. Then Jesus makes this point... that people went out to see John the Baptist, believing that he was a prophet. And this prophet did indeed prophesy that Jesus was the Christ. But some said that John “has a demon” (Matthew 11:18). And then when John's words came to pass and Jesus did begin His ministry, they scoffed at the claim that He was the Christ because He ate with sinners. Jesus is saying that people will blind themselves to the clear evidence before them, rather than believe in Christ. Then Jesus applies this to the people of His time saying that the condemnation of hell will be more severe for those who now reject Christ than it was for Sodom and Gomorrah, or for Tyre and Sidon; because these Old Testament cities that were judged by God for their rejection of Him had far less evidence of the reality of God.

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. (Matthew 11:21-22)

So the essential point of Chapter 11 has been about the unbeliever’s denial of the plain evidence that Jesus is the Christ, namely Jesus' miracles. If we skip ahead a little into Chapter 12, after Jesus has shown us the way in which the Pharisees have misunderstood the Scriptures, and after Jesus has performed a miracle in which He demonstrates mercy, Jesus performs another miracle in which He casts out a demon. The people seeing this wondered “Could this be the son of David?” That is to say, having seen this miracle (this evidence) they're wondering whether Jesus is the Christ! At this, the Pharisees make the accusation that Jesus performed the miracle by the power of “Beelzebul”, (or Satan). And we can recall how this was said of John the Baptist in Chapter 11, (verse 18). This is another example of how the unbeliever denies the plain evidence before him. But Jesus shows them their folly – “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” Jesus is saying that Satan wouldn't oppose his own demons. But more than that, Jesus is introducing this spiritual idea of “two kingdoms”. There's the kingdom of God, and all who follow God; and then there's the kingdom of Satan, and all who follow him. Jesus continues, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” That is to say, if there are only two kingdoms – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan – and it doesn't make sense for Satan to cast out his own demon, then what they'd just seen must be evidence that Jesus is of God's kingdom. And more than that, Jesus has a position in that kingdom of power and authority over Satan. There are only two kingdoms, and you are on the side of one or the other. You cannot be on “both” or “neither”. Jesus continues...

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:30-32)

This “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” is like the blasphemy one speaks against a king. When you see the undeniable evidence of the kingdom of God, and yet deny it by turning a blind eye to it, that's blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. And we do have an abundance of evidence all around us. We have the evidence of Creation itself to the existence of God, and we have the Bible which is the testimony of Christ, and we have the witness of the Church.

Now denying this evidence seems like something that every person is likely to have done at some point. Well, I think it probably is. Jesus now goes on to say “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.” (Matthew 12:33) This metaphor of the tree is one that Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount, and it speaks of regeneration. Unless a person is regenerated by God they are a “bad tree”, and a bad tree is going to speak blasphemies like this. But if we should turn to God with a hunger and a thirst for righteousness, then God gives us a new heart to honour and serve Him as our king – our Lord and Saviour. What the unforgivable sin is all about is rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit in your life as He reveals the truth about Jesus to you. If you fully and finally reject Him, there is no other Saviour and you cannot be forgiven. Rather, you will be given exactly what you have desired; to be under the dominion of Satan for the rest of eternity.

Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live. (Ezekiel 18:31-32)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

#50: Can a Christian be a homosexual?

In today's post we'll be looking at a sensitive topic in this day and age. The gay community has historically been subject to vilification and violent hatred. Such behaviour towards a homosexual person, or towards any person at all, is completely anti-Christian, and any involvement in such behaviour that Christians have participated in is most regretful. But the gay community has done a lot to become acceptable in today’s culture; so much so that many feel that homosexuality should even be acceptable within Christianity. 

Let it first be said that no man decides what is right and what is wrong. Only God determines what is right and wrong. Man is so corrupted by sin so that we often call what is evil, “good”, and even what is good, “evil”. We have a sense of what is right and wrong, but sometimes we miss the mark. The Bible says “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:21) What this verse is telling us is that mankind cannot come to know God by thinking about it long enough and hard enough. Knowledge of God, (and of His salvation) comes through what the Bible says, for the Bible is the Word of God and the wisdom of God, even though it may sometimes seem foolish to us.

So what does the Bible clearly teach about homosexuality? … 

Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) 

Now, if you're reading this and you're a thief, then this verse would surely make you think “I better change my ways.... thieves don't inherit the kingdom of God!” Everybody agrees that thievery is a sin that people ought to repent of, along with adultery and idolatry and the other things listed. So why should we be unclear about homosexuality? Quite simply, homosexuality is a sin.

In the list above we read about sexual immorality and adultery. Under “sexual immorality” we might consider various sexual sins including promiscuity and the viewing of pornography. You see, homosexuality is a sexual sin; but so are all these things which heterosexuals commit as well. We shouldn't see the sins of a homosexual any differently than we see the sins of a heterosexual adulterer, or one who watches pornography. We should regard them both as sinners, and all sinners need to be loved with the love of Christ which draws all people into His kingdom. If I tell you that homosexuality is a sin, it's not for lack of love – it's because of love. 

Now many will say, “But homosexuality is hereditary... people are born that way, and they can't be heterosexual, any more than they could change their dark hair blonde through sheer will power!” Well, I personally think it's possible that homosexuality may indeed be hereditary; at least in some proportion of cases. But while there is a natural urge (whether it's actually genetic or not) for a gay man to desire other men, there is a natural urge in me to watch pornography, or to pursue women other than my wife. Am I excused of my adultery if I say “But it's natural”? No. The Bible says that as a result of sin entering the world, the whole of creation is corrupt – even physically where, for example, it tells us in Genesis 3 that child birth became painful for a woman and growing plants for food became difficult (Genesis 3:16-17). Apparently it was God's original intention that birth would not be painful, and farming would not be an intense labour. The Bible teaches that when Christ returns He will free creation from its curse and restore nature to the way God originally intended it. That means that things like homosexuality, as well as my own lustful desires which are not supposed to be natural, will be taken away. And as we have spoken of in earlier posts, when we accept Christ and we are born again, Christ begins to restore us to the way we ought to be right now in this life.  

Does this mean that a homosexual, once he becomes a Christian, could lose his homosexual desires? Yes, it does! And I know a gay man to whom this happened. He told me himself that while he was once exclusively gay, he no longer had those homosexual desires. How do we know he wasn't lying, perhaps just to fit in with his new Christian friends? Well, if he was lying he must have been fairly committed to the lie, since the man got married to a woman at his Church. But you know, I'm not that guy – I don't know what might be going on in his mind, whether or not he secretly lusts after men. I'm not gay, but as I have already said in this post, there isn't a lot of difference between homosexual sin and heterosexual sin. Of this I can testify – that before I became a Christian I would give in to my desire to watch pornography whenever I was so inclined. But as God as my witness, I'm telling the truth; since I became a Christian I have never again looked at pornographic images. So I can absolutely believe, based on my own experience, that my friend's testimony is true – that even his homosexual desires have been taken away, just as my desire for pornography was, and has not been a struggle for me in all these years. Oh, those desires aren't taken away altogether – we're not yet fully perfected. But when I have sensed that desire rising in me, I have never failed to be victorious over it. This is the victory we have in Christ. All of us must be prepared to give up our sin, whatever that sin may be, if we desire to come to Christ. 

Now to leave off this day, I'm going to reiterate the verse I quoted above. But this time I'm going to add the verse that comes next, because it shows that all of these sins, even homosexuality, can be overcome through Christ... 

Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you.[!] But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Friday, February 18, 2011

#49: Why does God prohibit sex outside of marriage?

I don't think a person needs to be married in order to understand how it would feel to come home and find their wife in bed with another man. The pain of adultery is something we can all understand. But what causes us to feel that way? There's the betrayal of trust, for sure. But there's something that goes deeper than that. It's a feeling that we all have “built into us” - a feeling which God has given us. We can all identify with it, whether we can rationalize it or not. That feeling is jealousy.

Now, when I met my wife, neither of us were yet Christians and neither of us were virgins. This is most typical in this day and age, and yet it caused me much grief to hear that she had been with another man. Personally, I can hardly bear the thought. Not only that, but it also grieves me that I had been with another woman before I met my wife. When I had met my wife, I was foolish enough to show her some old video which happened to have my ex-girlfriend on it, boasting of how she’d “had me”. My wife, watching that, left the room holding back tears. Those feelings of jealousy are very real even in this situation, whether we like it or not. It is the same kind of hurt as when a husband or wife commits adultery. When we find our spouse has committed adultery, we are inclined to divorce them. In times past, when someone found out that their fiance was not a virgin, people were inclined to call off the wedding. These days we just grin and bear that hurt and try to minimize it. We say that we ought not to feel this jealousy, and actually train ourselves not to, because we want to protect ourselves against what is probably inevitable. But in fact we all have this common feeling of jealousy which tells us that sex outside of marriage is wrong.

The metaphor of marriage is used throughout Scripture to describe the relationship that God desires to have with each of us. We might look particularly at a passage like Ephesians 5...

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32)

This passage is telling us that we should love our wives as we love ourselves. The kind of care and concern we take for ourselves we should also give to our wives; like being “one flesh”. And then Paul tells us that this kind of marriage, (the kind that God wants us to be in), is illustrative of Christ and the Church. Christ cares for us in the same way, as though we were “one flesh” with Him.

Another common metaphor in the Bible is that of adultery. Often when the Bible says that Israel “committed adultery”, it is speaking of their worship of idols. You can begin to see how this all fits together. The Biblical ideal of monogamous, faithful marriage is like a divine teaching aid for us, showing us what God's relationship with mankind is to be like. The Bible calls God a “jealous God.” Much like a husband is jealous for his wife if she commits adultery, God is jealous for His people when they worship other false gods. It breaks His heart – not that the false gods are anything, but that we should desire them instead of God. This causes God real pain, and this kind of jealousy over one you love is precisely what we should expect from a God who loves us with perfect love.

When I look back over the years of my life before I became a Christian, I really do grieve over my own sinfulness. And that grief is primarily over how that sin offended God. It sorrows me even though I did those things without really knowing or understanding my foolishness, and though I did not yet know God. It is precisely as we described before; though we hadn't yet met, my wife and I both regretted having been with other people before we met, and we both felt jealousy over it. Just as I wish I could tell those unsaved friends of mine to stop sinning because one day they might know God and really regret their present sinfulness, we shouldn't engage in sex before marriage lest one day we finally get married and have a similar regret.

If we, as a society, distort God's illustration of marriage which illustrates the relationship God desires to have with each of us, then it becomes so much harder for us to understand the love of God, and how we should respond to that love. Probably many people reading this are having difficulty understanding how a marriage relationship is like having a relationship with God, precisely because our society has distorted marriage already. We often say things like, “But I love my girlfriend – we're as good as married, we just haven't walked down the aisle together.” But this kind of relationship still distorts the message that God is giving us through the metaphor of marriage. If we had the time, we could talk about the Biblical idea of a Covenant, and explore the depths of how a Biblical Covenant, like a wedding ceremony with its vows, also open up our understanding of who God is and how He desires for us to relate to Him. In short, God is wiser than we are, and if He says “sex is for marriage only”, we ought to listen to Him and obey. It is as we live by faith, according to His commandments, that we are then able to identify and understand more and more what God is trying to show us.

Until tomorrow...
And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me My Husband, and no longer will you call me My Baal. (Hosea 2:16)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

#48: Why do Christians practice the ceremonial “Lord's Supper”?

Yesterday we looked at the ceremony of baptism and our conclusion was that the act of baptism does not save a person. No ceremony can. So we might wonder why there are ceremonies at all? In the case of baptism it bears witness to the world that we are identified with Christ in His death and resurrection – we will die and be resurrected just as Christ was. Spiritually, we have died and been resurrected. As Paul says in Romans 6 – “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” This ceremony of baptism is symbolic of the whole of Christian life – our sinful nature is put to death and we are to “walk in newness of life”.

There is one other ceremony which Christians observe; the “Lord's Supper”. This was instituted by Christ the night before His crucifixion...

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)

Clearly, in saying “my body, which is given for you”, Jesus refers to His death. It is Christ's death we are to remember. And the second part; the cup of wine representing His blood, also alluding to His death. We remember His death because it is through Christ's death that we have salvation. But more specifically, Christ refers to the “new covenant”. What we're really supposed to understand from the Lord's Supper is something more than our individual salvation; we're supposed to remember that we are now, through Christ's death, part of a “new covenant”. Again, when we understand what this means, we are speaking of something that is symbolic of the whole of Christian life.

So what is this “new covenant”? Well, if we first consider the “old covenant” which was with God and Israel, we can see how God entered into a relationship with a whole community of people. Mankind was, and still is, fallen. God was taking this group of fallen people who, because of their fallen-ness did not know how to live as they ought to, and He showed them how mankind was supposed to live in relationship to one another and to God by giving them the Law. What God was doing was beginning His work of restoration to the fallen human race. Sin separates us from God and from one another; so the fact that this was done through a nation is very important, because that is what it is like to live as God intends... that is, to be part of a community united under God and loyal to one another. This was the old covenant; the beginning of God's restoration of mankind. The new covenant, then, is the continuation of God's plan of redemption. By no means do we throw away the things that God has taught us through the old covenant. Rather, we should have an even greater understanding of how we, the people of God, need to be a unified community under the headship of Christ, loyal to one another as though one body.

And so we have the Lord's Supper, which is very much about the people of God joining together as one body in fellowship. It's a “supper” because sharing a meal with others is one of the most intimate things we can do with those we love. When Jesus spoke of this ceremony in Luke 22 above, it was as He was eating His last meal with His disciples. This is the picture we ought to have when we celebrate the Lord's Supper; not only that we are sharing a meal with our brothers and sisters in Christ, (at least symbolically), but that Christ Himself is sharing that meal with us also. It's supposed to be about the fellowship we have as a body of believers, both with each other and with God. And if we do this symbolically, how much more should we actually have our fellow Christians over for a meal in our homes, and actually develop proper relationships with each other? In remembering the Lord's Supper, we remember that Christ's death gave us all newness of life, and that this life is to be lived as citizens of God's kingdom; part of a community called the Church.

The community-focus of the Lord's Supper can be clearly seen in a passage of Scripture in which the Apostle Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for failing to recognize this aspect of it...

When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. [That is, what they called the Lord's Supper was not being observed in the spirit of the Lord's Supper.] For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)

Here, the Lord's Supper was observed as a proper meal. But the whole point of the Lord's Supper was missed, since everybody just turned up to satisfy themselves and didn't care about whether someone else might be going without. But this new covenant that we are under teaches us to love others and consider them more significant than ourselves. It teaches us to look out for and tend to the needs of others.

Just like in the ceremony of baptism, what’s most important is what is truly in one's heart, and what then manifests itself in every day life. And it has always been that way, even under the old covenant with it's many ceremonies and ordinances. God has never been interested in mere observances, but He's interested to see what is in the heart of a man.

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#47: Do I need to be baptized in order to be saved?

This question is often hotly debated. What is the purpose of baptism; is it for salvation? And if not, then what is it for and why is it important?

I am going to argue emphatically that baptism does not save a person. As the reformers fought so hard to assert, “justification is by faith alone”...

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

When the Bible says that salvation is “not a result of works”, that doesn't mean that works are not a result of salvation. Works are associated with salvation, but salvation is not a result of works. This is something that the Bible makes very clear. In Galatians, Paul writes:

For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. (Galatians 3:21)

That is to say, if a commandment like “be baptized” could give life (eternal life; salvation), then the implication of what Paul is saying here is that Christ would not have needed to die for us! Paul is arguing fervently against what we call “works righteousness”; that our works will make us righteous enough for God to accept us into heaven. In Paul's context he is talking about things like circumcision, and says:

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. ... For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:2-6)

Again we see it clearly stated that faith is what counts, not rituals like circumcision. And this can be equally applied to baptism. If we can be saved by baptism, then there is no longer one means of salvation (namely faith in Christ). Consider that since the Bible teaches that no law could save us, and that in Acts 4:12 it says that “there is no other name (than Christ) under heaven by which we must be saved”, then the means of salvation must be the same for all of mankind, for all of history, including the Old Testament saints. But the Old Testament saints were not commanded to be baptised for their salvation. How were Old Testament saints saved? By faith, just as we are. Faith is the means of salvation in the Bible and not works, or even “faith plus works”. Paul, proving that faith is the basis for our justification, uses the illustration of Abraham's faith (Romans 4:3), and elsewhere quotes Habakkuk 2:4 - “The righteous shall live by faith.” If the Old Testament saints were saved by faith alone, though they had such a vast number of cultic rituals, why would Christ add a requirement of works for us now?

So where do people get confused? Why do people think that baptism is necessary for salvation? It seems to be because of verses like Mark 16:16:

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)

This verse seems to undo the whole argument; it seems explicit that baptism (plus faith) is necessary for salvation. But let's consider another passage of the New Testament...

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

Is saying the words “Jesus is Lord” out loud another requirement for salvation? Jesus said “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34). This verse in Romans 10 is speaking of the external sign of what's already in one's heart. It speaks of something that is so closely linked with faith that it stands for faith. If you have faith, you will make a public confession that Jesus is Lord. Well, baptism is precisely the same thing. In those days, in that culture, baptism was automatically the first thing someone did when they converted to a new religion. It stood for a public declaration that one was now a part of that religion. Baptism is a public identification with Christ and His Church, and it communicates our spiritual death and resurrection in Christ. It's this public declaration that is the main issue. Just as merely saying the words “Jesus is Lord” doesn't save you, neither does the mere act of baptism. Both need to be an outward expression of what is genuinely in one's heart.

Can one be saved and never tell anyone that they're a Christian, whether verbally or through the display of baptism? Perhaps there are some hard cases in places of extreme persecution, or we can contrive an example of a man alone on a desert island; but we have these words of Christ:

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33)

Is confession of faith a “work” that results in salvation? No, as we read in Matthew 12:34, it is a result of what's in our heart, and a new heart is the result of salvation...

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. (Ezekiel 36:26)

So we see that often the Bible will speak of the confession of faith as though it were faith, and baptism (being a confession of faith) likewise, because these are the visible sign of faith. Or if we read James carefully, (though he's not the only one to say it), all manner of good works should be the result of faith.

Until tomorrow...
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke”, we also believe, and so we also speak (2 Corinthians 4:13)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#46: Do I need to go to Church to be a Christian?

It's of utmost importance to recognize that salvation is not achieved through the merit of what we do. Salvation is a free gift from God to us, received by faith. Going to Church doesn't merit salvation. A person living in a remote area where there are no Churches can still be saved. However, we do need to ask ourselves how a saved person ought to live their lives. Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) The Christian life is one of obedience and service to Christ.

It's unfortunate, but we do find a certain attitude amongst Christians of almost trying to find the minimum possible commitment to Christ. To say “I don't have to go to Church to be a Christian” may be true, but we must examine the motive for making this assertion. If we are looking for as many Christian activities we can get out of because being involved in Christian activities is socially unacceptable or embarrassing, then we ought to seriously examine ourselves. This same principle goes for any Christian activity which we are ashamed of. Jesus said:

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)

We are to be a light to the world – to demonstrate the gospel and the love of Christ in the way that we live. Whenever we are identified as a Christian, people are faced with the reality of Christianity – they begin  to consider what the Christian life is really all about. And when, for example, we give up our Sundays to attend Church, the world considers that there must be something in it that we find worthy of such a sacrifice.

Jesus also said:
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

People really need to see our love for one another. And of course it ought to be genuine Christian love which comes from a supernaturally transformed heart. If your reason for not attending Church is because you really can't stand the people there, this is again time for some serious self examination. Paul said, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2). How are we to bear one another's burdens if we don't associate with other Christians? This “law of Christ”, which is to have love for one another, requires us to associate with other Christians. The world needs to see Christians as a community of people who enjoy associating with each other for fellowship. And of course, friendships which develop at Sunday service will carry on throughout the week.

Associating with fellow Christians is actually very important for various reasons. “No man is an island”, and one reason we need each other is for encouragement. One of the best ways we receive encouragement is simply through hearing about the experiences of others; how they've been blessed as well as how they've struggled, and how they've overcome their struggles through faith. One thing that I would love to see in my Church would be regular opportunities for people to share their testimonies of what God has been doing in their lives. In this day and age, a lot of Christians feel that it's sufficient to download sermons from the Internet, buy worship music off iTunes, and talk to other Christians on Facebook. But let's think about this... if I tell you some testimony from my life here in this blog, it is nothing by comparison than when I am able to tell it to you face to face, where can ask me “How did you feel at that moment?”, and I can tell you exactly how I felt and what was going through my mind. Or maybe I'll tell you some amazing story that really blows you away, and you will think “Well, that's him... he must be a 'super-Christian!' That would never happen in my life.” But to hear amazing stories from your peers is valuable; people you know well, and whose strengths and weaknesses you know. Because if your peers can live by faith, then so can you. You won't find that kind of encouragement outside of face to face Church fellowship.

There is perhaps one last point we could make to encourage Church attendance, and that is to consider the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is a memorial of Christ's work on the cross, and it is a public confession of our faith where we all stand together as one, and show our participation as a declaration of our faith. But another of the things it signifies is the fellowship of Christians with one another. Paul says “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). The Bible has a lot to say about the unity of believers as one “body”. It refers to the Church as the “body of Christ”. That is, since Jesus Himself is not physically on the Earth, the Church are His hands, and His voice, and His listening ear; to do the work of Christ on the Earth. Just as the Lord's Supper teaches us about the saving work of Christ, it also teaches us that we are to be “one body”.

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:26-27)

Monday, February 14, 2011

#45: Why don't Christians observe the Sabbath?

Yesterday I wrote about the Sabbath and why deliberately breaking the Sabbath was serious enough that it incurred the death penalty. But we have to wonder why the Sabbath law is no longer applicable to the people of God. The fact that Christians haven't traditionally been observing the Sabbath throughout history doesn't answer the question as to “Why not?” We are right to ask whether we should or shouldn’t observe the Sabbath.

Of course, there are a great many Old Testament laws which Christians aren't required to obey. We don't sacrifice animals in a temple or circumcise our children (at least, not out of religious duty), nor do we restrict the kinds of foods that we eat or identify ourselves as being in a ceremonial state of “clean” and “unclean”. All of these practices have ceased, and the Sabbath is in that category of laws which are not obligatory for Christians. Though I don't want to stray from discussing the Sabbath specifically, the general idea as to why these laws have been abolished is that they were prophetic, essentially in a symbolic way, of things which Christ has now fulfilled. But this is one of those areas of theology over which there is disagreement. Some say that laws like the Sabbath were specifically for Israel only, and that's why they no longer apply. But I can't reconcile that with Jesus' words that "The Sabbath was made for man." (Mark 2:27). Others will say that we should, (and do) observe the Sabbath, but on Sunday instead of Saturday. However, the Sabbath cannot be any other day than the end of the week, for “in six days the Lord created heaven and earth … and rested the seventh day.” Whether or not Sunday should be a significant day for Christians is a completely separate matter to the Sabbath; it simply cannot be “the Sabbath moved to a different day” because that’s not actually possible.

Well, my understanding is this; that through the revelation of the New Testament Scriptures, we should live according to the “spirit of the law”. In a law such as “Do not murder”, for example, the spirit of the law is to not so much as hate anyone, let alone take hatred so far as to kill someone. The law of “Do not murder” teaches us about how we should feel towards others. Laws have this teaching aspect to them, which is why Paul says that the Old Testament law was “like a schoolmaster” (in the King James), or “guardian” (in the ESV, but the image is in fact the same). The Sabbath is no different in that it teaches us something. Paul goes on to say that we are no longer under that schoolmaster. The lessons taught by the law no longer need to be taught necessarily through the practice of those laws because we now have the New Testament revelation and the Spirit of God. Rather, I believe we are to apply the teaching of all of the Mosaic laws. To apply the teaching of “Do not murder” means I will love my neighbour and, as a result of love, I won’t murder. But to apply what is really being taught by the Sabbath law... There is a clear moral aspect to the Sabbath law; that any employer should allow their employees to have a break. But further, as we discussed yesterday, the Sabbath was to teach us that God would have us rest from our own work so that we might focus on Him. Rather than try to do this religiously on a particular day, we understand that God should be central to our lives every day. The Sabbath is about remembering the future hope of redemption for all Creation; it was like one day in the week in which we could envisage the future "New Earth" when the curse, which causes us to labour for our needs, will be lifted. But the longing of Christ’s return to redeem us from the curse on Creation should affect our lives and our thoughts every day. A schoolmaster reprimands a student for breaking rules like "don't talk in class", but as adults we don't get in such serious trouble for talking during business meetings, for example. The schoolmaster was stricter because we were immature. Now, however, with New Testament revelation and the Spirit of God given to us, we no longer need such "strictness" as we find in the Mosaic Law.

Now, I suppose that it's common for married couples to have a “date night”, on which they make sure to allocate time for one another. This is what the Sabbath is like for man. But would a man or a woman really be content if “date night” were the only time their husband or wife acknowledged them? No, we understand that the Sabbath is a good practice, but it's not something that should be atypical of every day life. Paul writes this...

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:5-6)

Here, I believe Paul is speaking of Jews who have become Christians but continue to observe the Sabbath and the various food restrictions of the Jews. Paul is saying that we shouldn't be upset about that, and that neither should those Jews be upset because other Christians aren't observing the Sabbath or the food restrictions. So long as we're doing it “in honor of the Lord”, we are free to allocate a whole day to His honor if we want to. What's important is the spirit of the law. If we find that our strict observance of our special Sabbath day causes us to be unkind by turning people away from us, or to fail to meet the needs of others, then we're not really obeying the spirit of the law at all. The works of the Lord, (justice, mercy, faithfulness, etc) are to be done on the Sabbath. And if we have this “special day”, but forget about God in our daily activities for the rest of the week, we fail to understand the spirit of the law in that too.

And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

#44: What is the Sabbath all about?

In Exodus we read this:

Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. (Exodus 31:15)

Of all the Old Testament laws, this one possibly seems the harshest because working on a particular day doesn't seem like a wicked thing to do; and yet it incurs the harshest penalty of all. We might be able to understand the death penalty for murder, but for working on a particular day; it just doesn't seem right. Surely the punishment must fit the crime, and so if the punishment is death, then perhaps this crime must be far more significant than we realise?

The law regarding the Sabbath is important enough to have made the "short list"; that is, it's one of the ten commandments. And it's given more detail than any of the others. Let's see if we can get some idea of the purpose of the Sabbath...

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

Here in Exodus God tells us that there is a Sabbath because God rested after six days of creation. Deuteronomy reiterates the ten commandments, but when we come to this one in Deuteronomy it differs slightly, saying...

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15)

The way I see it is this; the Sabbath day is “to the Lord”, as opposed to being about “your work”. The Sabbath was not only about ceasing work yourself; but letting those who work for you, including even your livestock, rest. The scope of this rest is, in that sense, “all of creation”, and included God Himself who rested on the seventh day. Paul describes the Sabbaths as “a shadow of the things to come” (Colossians 2:17). That is, after God had created the world, there was rest for God and all creation. The fall changed that, and God cursed the ground so that we should labour for our food. The fall is also the reason why people are put into slavery, like the Israelites were by the Egyptians. But God’s plan is to restore creation to that former state, and there should be rest once more. So the Sabbath is a gift to mankind; a day in which we have some respite from the curse and can get a taste of what a redeemed world might be like. The Sabbath is associated with the end of Israel’s slavery as it is representative of the redemption of man by God, and the end of man’s slavery to the fallen world we live in. The future restoration by God of this state of rest was, and is, the object of our faith. It’s what “Christian hope” is in. To break the Sabbath is really to deny an essential point of faith. And we see in Hebrews 11 that this was the hope of all of the Old Testament people of faith; that they would one day “rise again to a better life” (Hebrews 11:35), and “receive what was promised” (Hebrews 11:39). What was it that was promised? It was the “promise of entering His rest” (Hebrews 4:1).

So why was Sabbath breaking worthy of death? Much in the same way that idolatry was punishable by death because it demonstrated that a person was not a follower of God, Sabbath breaking demonstrated that a person was not a follower of God; and there is no sin greater than to rebel against God, such that it was worthy of the greatest deterrent - the death penalty. One passage that shocks a lot of people, more than the passages which simply pronounce the death penalty for Sabbath breakers, is the passage which gives us an actual example of someone who was put to death for breaking the Sabbath. In Numbers 15 we read about a man who was found “gathering sticks” on the Sabbath, and so he was put to death. But let’s look at the context and details of this passage. Earlier in the chapter we read about how, when a person sins unintentionally, they will be forgiven. When they find this man doing some kind of work on the Sabbath they don’t immediately seize him and stone him. They go to Moses to see what they should do. You see, they wanted to know whether this man was working on the Sabbath to intentionally defy God, or was it unintentional? God Himself judges because God knew the man’s intentions. This is why he was put to death; because it was an intentional rebellion against God. In the Book of Matthew, on the other hand, the Pharisees had lost sight of this and would come down hard on anything that so much as looked like work on the Sabbath, regardless of the intention behind it. And so Jesus and His disciples were often rebuked for doing what looked like work on the Sabbath. Jesus went to heal a man on the Sabbath, for example, and they rebuked Him. But Jesus rightly said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:11-12). There is no prohibition in the Sabbath law from doing what we might call “the Lord’s work” of being kind and caring toward others.

One question remains... If the Sabbath was so important in the Old Testament, why don’t Christians observe it today? I shall answer this tomorrow.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9-10)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

#43: How is the Old Testament relevant to Christians today?

Yesterday we read that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) It is evident, then, that the Old Testament is as profitable to us today as the New for all of these things, from teaching to training in righteousness.

Why is it that we ask this question? Why wouldn't we think that the Old Testament is relevant today? Of course, it was written a long time ago before the invention of cars and computers... perhaps we think it's not relevant because we cannot identify with the life and times of the people who lived back then? But people go through the same kinds of experiences regardless of when they lived, and we can always identify with the desires and emotions that all people feel throughout all of history. It is those aspects of humanity which are common to all of us that makes the Bible relevant today. We are all sinners, regardless of the time in which we live. All of us can identify even with the envy of Cain which so consumed him that he murdered his brother Abel. A story such as this could as easily be told today, and is absolutely relevant to us, for envy which leads to murder is in the hearts of us all. Envy, sexual immorality, idolatry in one form or another; these things are true of fallen humanity for all of history. There is nothing new under the sun. A great deal of the Old Testament is written in narrative, or “story” form. It tells the stories of people who are fundamentally like you and I, precisely so that we can identify with their lives, and see the relationship between God and His people... people like us.

Another reason we might think that the Old Testament isn't relevant to us is that the Old Testament is really all about Israel. More than that, God gave Israel the “Mosaic Law”. That is, a Law given by God to Moses for the nation of Israel to abide by. It involved sacrificing animals and observing various ceremonies, such as “Passover”. But since the New Testament tells us that we are no longer to sacrifice animals or observe these ceremonies, we might wonder how relevant the Old Testament is to us, when the people it writes about did all of these things. If, for example, God was upset with Israel for failing to keep the “Jubilee year”, what does that have to do with us, since we are no longer expected to keep it? But I think that if we look beyond the specific, such as the Jubilee year itself, and consider the purpose of the Jubilee, then we can apply this to our lives. The Jubilee was a year in which debts were forgiven, amongst other things. This was to prevent the oppression of the poor. The principle behind the Jubilee is certainly something we can apply to our lives. Whereas the Jubilee occurred once every fifty years, we understand that the principle behind it ought to be applied to our lives every day. Things like free will offerings that remind us how all we have belongs to God, or the Sabbath which reminds us to devote our time to God – these are all principles that should apply to our lives every day.

The Old Testament Law was never intended to be a kind of check-list of things that you have or haven't done. The Old Testament Law was always meant to be a revelation of the character of God for us to imitate. 1 Corinthians 9:9-10 says “For it is written in the Law of Moses, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.' Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.” Paul says this to argue that he has the right to receive support from the people he has ministered to. (Though he's actually trying to show when it is appropriate to give up one's rights.) But we see how the Law was never meant to refer just to oxen, but to teach a principle of being kind and charitable to those who labour for you. In the Law this kindness is expressed towards oxen to make the point that if we should be kind and charitable toward oxen, how much more then toward people who labour for us.

Now, the entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament is done away with. There is no longer a temple as the center of worship. And the people of God are no longer “centralised” in the nation of Israel. Peter says:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)

This passage is full of Old Testament allusions. The temple becomes an illustration of the “spiritual house” of the Church. What was said of Israel, that they would be a “holy priesthood” (Exodus 19:6), is here applied to the Church as the people of God. And we now offer up “spiritual sacrifices”. Many Old Testament things were illustrative of New Testament realities, and the more we read our Bibles, the more we come to understand that and see how these Old Testament things relate to our lives. We can see this clearly in the New Testament, especially in a book like Hebrews.

The Old Testament is the foundation upon which the New Testament is built. It is essential to be intimately acquainted with it if we desire to understand the New Testament properly. Jesus and the New Testament writers quote the Old Testament extensively, and most of the time they assume an acute knowledge of it. I am sure that we misunderstand their teaching if we have not first understood the Old Testament. God's people have always needed the Bible as their foundation...

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21)