Hebrews 13:17 is quite hard for some preachers to preach on. And even more so hard for the congregation to follow. The reason is that there are abusive leaders and that we don’t want to have someone in authority over us. We live in democracy. We are concerned primarily with our freedom and our profit. Here I will present first a balance view of church leadership and how the congregation should respond to the call for obedience and submission, and second, the motivation behind this, namely Joy.
As we approach the celebration of Christmas, the birth of our saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, I think it is only fitting to discuss something about him. In the synoptic gospels we will find generally what is the human portrait of the Christ. That is not to say that they are silent about Christ’s deity. But compared to John’s gospel account, they only present to us vignettes of truths about Christ’s divine nature. Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy tracing Christ’s kingly line. Mark didn’t bother to trace his lineage, instead he starts with Christ’s service, his ministry. Luke does account for us Christ’s genealogy, a human ancestry, pointing to the fact that he is the seed of the woman in Genesis 3, but Luke didn’t begin there. He starts with the birth of a man, John the baptist. But the closest to Jesus, apostle John starts with the very beginning. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
In a gospel that more specifically deals with the deity of Christ, you wouldn’t expect to have an introduction about a mere man right in the middle while introducing Jesus Christ as the Light. Verses 6-8 is very odd for me. First because it seems abrupt. Second because it’s hard to relate with the rest of the passage. What’s the point of bringing up John the baptist? At first glance it seems anticlimactic. So how does it relate to the preceding and following verses?
1.The contrast between a man and God – verses 6-8 is not a useless interruption. John is describing for us the Light by telling us who John the baptist is not. He is not the Light. Hence by implication, everything that was said about him, a mere man, is not the Light.
2.Our calling as a witnesses to the Light
-God uses means that would testify about the Light
-We are the means by which God would grant faith to others
Date: October 9, 2016
Title: The Gospel, the Genitive, and the Prepositions
Scripture: Romans 1:16-17
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Reformation Month has come. October 31 2016 will be the 499th anniversary of the Reformation. It was the day when an Augustinian monk nailed his Ninety-Five theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. That monk was Martin Luther, the great protestant reformer. We are one of the few celebrating this momentous event in history and rightly so, because we call ourselves reformed. That’s why we as a church have dedicated this month in preaching the reformation truths that was recovered by the reformers.
Here I’ll be discussing about the article which according to brother Martin: “the article by which the church stands and falls.”, namely “Justification by Faith Alone”. And we will turn our attention to Romans 1:16-17. My aim is to answer why we need not be ashamed of the gospel, what is “the righteousness of God”, and what does “from faith for faith” means.
Martin Luther’s hatred of Romans 1:17
Martin Luther doesn’t always like verse 17. As a monk who’s struggling with his conscience and spirituality, verse 17 is the most frightening reality, because he knows that he is unrighteous and that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God. But to us, this is our hope and comfort. That’s why we will spent much of our time on verse 17.
The reason why we need not be ashamed of the gospel.
But before we go there, let’s answer the question “why we need not be ashamed of the gospel?” first. Let’s look at the preceding text where verse 17 was used to support. In verse 16, Paul said that he is not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the greek. Verse 16b is the reason why Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel, take note of the conjunction “for”. Meaning, his confidence was based on God’s power. But what is “the power of God” being referred to here? Is it the power of God by which one is converted or regenerated from spiritual death to spiritual life? Or is it God’s power to bring to ultimate or final salvation those who will keep on believing? Both are true statements and can be supported by different passages of scriptures. But in verse 16, which is it? I would argue that it is the latter. It is God’s power to bring those who would continue in faith to final salvation. I say that because of the present participle “believes”. It is a present ongoing faith. Yes we are said to be saved when we are regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit through his word, but here it is a salvation that is promised to those who persevere in faith. Don’t get me wrong, those whom God regenerated are the same people who will continue believing and hence eventually be saved. However, what is being stressed here is the ongoing power of God for salvation to those who will keep believing. We don’t have to be ashamed of the gospel because the gospel is not a power that will just get you half way through, its power is as good as the continuing faith wrought by the Holy Spirit through the same gospel.
What is the “righteousness of God”?
We can now turn to verse 17 because verse 16b is being supported by it. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed..”, again take note of that little word “for”. Indeed it is the reason or grounds, but it is the one where Martin Luther got into trouble.the gospel is not a power that will just get you half way through, its power is as good as the continuing faith wrought by the Holy Spirit through the same gospel. For him, how can this be good news? Since I am unrighteous, and God is righteous, this is no gospel. No sinner can stand at the sight of a righteous and holy God. Brother Martin said this because at that time, he only had one category of “righteousness of God” in his mind, namely God’s attribute of righteousness. However, there are at least three ways scholars view the genitive “of God”.
So which is it? I assert that Paul intended it to be nuanced. Meaning it doesn’t have to be “either or”. They’re all in the mind of Paul when he said “righteousness of God” in verse 17. Here are at least 3 reasons why I believe that’s the case:
Therefore the gospel is God’s power for salvation, because it reveals that God is righteous and demands righteousness, that God is the source of righteousness, that God counts us righteous through our faith, and that God will vindicate his righteousness.
What does “from faith for faith” means?
This phrase, again is a matter of much debate. That’s where life and death hangs on: conjunctions, genitives and prepositions. Isn’t that amazing? Now we’re asking what Paul meant by the prepositions “from and for”. The greek ek denotes origin, and eis denotes direction, destination or goal. Those are the greek roots for the words exegesis and eisegesis. But here it is origin and goal. I take that to mean that from start to finish, the entirety of Christian life is of faith. Others interpreted it to be “from the faith (or faithfulness) of Christ to the faith of believers”. It’s more of causation and origin. I think it’s unlikely because of the parallelism Paul made with Habakkuk 2:4. From faith for faith is like saying “a life of faith”.
John Piper also offered his interpretation of the text that I think is not that far from my own. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 is indeed a good parallel:
“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”
See how grammatically it has the same structure with Romans 1:17a? So the key in understanding “from faith for faith” is how you interpret “from death to death” and “from life to life”. Here’s a quote from John Piper:
“The most natural interpretation seems to be: when Paul’s message and sufferings meet with death in the soul, that leads to the final death of the soul. And when his message and sufferings meet with spiritual life, that leads to final life. Death is unresponsive to the gospel and is confirmed in its deadness forever. Spiritual life is responsive to the gospel and is confirmed and preserved for eternal life. So here in Romans 1:17 it says, ‘The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.’ That is, when the revelation of the gift of righteousness meets with faith it leads to future faith. Faith is the initial window of the soul that lets the light of the revelation of righteousness in. And when the light of God’s gift of righteousness comes in by faith, it powerfully works to awaken and sustain and engender more and more faith for the years to come.”
It is not at all uncommon in the new testament that the command of faith is that of a persevering one. Saving faith is a living and abiding faith. And since the gospel is the power of God for final salvation, and faith cometh by hearing and hearing the gospel(the word of God) then this would mean that we should be utterly dependent on the gospel. Not only when we first believed it, but also with the rest of our lives. We can never outgrow the gospel. If we are to be finally saved, we need to live by, rest on, and get our strength from it.
Date: September 4, 2016
Title: What it means to be led by or walk in the Spirit
Scripture: Galatians 5:16-18
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.
It is very common in any Christian circles to hear a discussion about the “leading of or walking in the Holy Spirit”. Well at least in my experience. But regardless of being a buzz phrase in Christianity, many Christians today doesn’t really know what the leading and walking in Spirit really means. Some says that it is to have an extraordinary encounter with God. Others will tell you that the leading of the Holy Spirit is the subjective emotions or feelings that we are experiencing, commonly called “personal convictions”. Still some would argue that we are being led by the Spirit if we’re bent on obeying the commandments of God in the Bible. So which is it? My aim is to show you from scriptures what it means to be led by the Spirit or to walk in the Spirit.
The Law of Christ
Before we answer what it means to be led by or to walk in the Spirit, I’ll give you some context and background first. At the beginning of chapter 5, Paul was reminding the Galatian believers that it is for freedom Christ has set us free, he says this because there were some agitators who wanted to circumcise the Galatians for them to be justified. This is to reject Christ’s perfect righteousness that we received through faith alone and return again to one’s own efforts at law observance. In verse 13, Paul anticipated that this freedom can be used as an opportunity for the flesh.So he told them that this freedom must be used through love by serving one another, for the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So the way I connect verses 16-18 to the rest of the context is this: Paul is telling us that to fulfill the law of Christ without going back to the yoke of the law and sin, we must be led by and walk in the Spirit.
What it is not?
Now let’s go to our main point. I think it is much easier for me to say what the leading of the Spirit is not, for us to understand what it really is. So let us begin. Being led by or walking in the Spirit..
Is not being led by our mere subjective feelings and emotions.
In verse 17, it says that “the desires of the flesh are against the desires of the Spirit and the desires of the Spirit are against the desires of the flesh.” But what kind of “flesh” is being referred to here? Most of the time in Paul’s letters, it is not simply referring to our physical bodies. Seeing the parallel between Galatians 5:24 and Galatians 2:20, you will notice that Paul was using the word flesh in at least two different senses. In 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Now compare it with 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” In 2:20d, “flesh” is referring to our bodily existence which is not evil in itself (“I now live in the flesh”). But notice that in 5:24 the “flesh” is crucified and in 2:20a “I” is crucified.The words “flesh” and “I” was used interchangeably. So, flesh here, I believe, is referring to the self apart from the Spirit. This includes our wills, minds, desires, and feelings. It is the non physical, subjective aspect of you apart from the Spirit’s influence. In other words, our subjective feelings, apart from the Spirit’s influence, are still of the flesh. I agree that the internal workings of the Holy Spirit is in one sense subjective too(that’s why for some, they confused the work of the Spirit in them with their emotions, because both are subjective), but it is not mere subjectivity, it is grounded from outside of us objectively. What I mean by objectively is this; a person can really know whether he’s being led by the Spirit or not. You can verify or even falsify if indeed it’s the Holy Spirit that’s leading you. The reason I say this is because in John 6:13, Jesus refers to the Spirit as “the Spirit of truth”, and that he will guide us in all “truth” and the Bible is the “sword of truth” (Ephesians 6:17). The leading of the Holy Spirit is always consistent with God’s word. Hence walking in or being led by the Spirit is more than subjective feelings. To be clear, it is not without feelings or emotions, but it is more than that. It is, more importantly, based on the truth outside of us, namely the word of God. So to walk in the Spirit is to be led by the Spirit in all the truths of scriptures.
Is not just an observance of a list of do’s and don’t s.
The other mistake that a Christian might commit is to reduce our walk in the Spirit by mere observance of some list of do’s and don’t s. Devoid of passion or feelings so to speak. To some, what matters most is to muster up some will power, and that you need to be really resolute in obeying the laws of God. Feelings of happiness, delight or pleasure in our walk are but optional. The focus is what I must do. But notice that the word “led” in verse 18 is in the passive voice. Meaning, it is the work of the Spirit that is being emphasized here. Not ours! Just as our birth into the kingdom of God is the work of the Spirit, even so our walking in it. A good illustration used by John Piper was to describe our walk in the Spirit “not like climbing a ladder in which we have to use our own strength, but rather it’s more like a locomotive on a train. Being led by his power. So “walk by the Spirit” means stay hooked up to the source of power and go wherever he leads.” Another image of “walking in or being led by the Spirit” is found in Galatians 5:22-23;
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Again you will see that the emphasis here is the Spirit’s bearing of fruit. Obedience to the law flows naturally because the Spirit that bears fruit is in us. The remarkable thing about this promise is that even though Paul gave us a list, nevertheless it is still one fruit. Take note that fruit is singular. Unlike the law that gave us a list of things that we ought to do, the Spirit summed it up in one fruit. Similar to Paul’s understanding of the law of Christ : the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Is not without a fight and war
Walking in the Spirit is not like walking in the park where everything is going smoothly and peacefully. Instead our walk can be very ugly and maybe at times bloody. There’s a constant war and struggle. There’s the gouging of one’s eye, cutting off a hand, and denying of the self. In verse 17, there is a war between the desires of the flesh and the Spirit. Both are trying to prevent us from doing the things that we want to do. But what are the things that we want to do in the first place you should ask? Human beings are not neutral when it comes to spiritual things. We’re born loving and hating, liking and disliking. We’re born as God-haters and sin-lovers. What we want is to dishonor God and disobey him. But after conversion, there comes a new norm, the Spirit takes residence in us, we become God lovers, and we take delight in his law. Now we have two competing desires because the former was not yet removed from us. Romans 7:15 -23 have a similar concept:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Theologians disagree on whether this text is referring to the pre-conversion Paul or is it the post-conversion Paul. I believe it’s the latter, because he says that “he delight in the law of God”, and only true Christians can delight in God’s law. This makes much more sense because if this is the pre-conversion Paul, then the language of war would not make any sense since by nature, apart from the Spirit, we don’t really make war against the desires of the flesh but instead, we are in love with it. So real Christians, even the apostles before us, do experience struggle and war. In fact, the war is necessary. If there is no war within us, then it must only mean one of this two things, either you’re dead and now with our Lord, perfected and enjoying him forever, or you’re still alive, and the reason there’s no war within you is because your allegiance is with the enemy. John Owen is very helpful to me about this constant fight against sin and the flesh. Here’s a quote from Owen’s Mortification of Sin:
Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you. Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes.
Since there’s a war going on therefore we must fight until we drop! No middle ground. We cannot ease into the Kingdom without blood on our hands.
It is not without a victory
Though there’s a battle that must be fought, sin that must be killed, but the victory is certain. Verse 16 says that the result of walking in the Spirit is that we will not gratify the desires of the flesh. RSV translated 16b as a command instead of a promise and says, “Do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” I believe the other major versions are right to make it a promise instead of a command because this particular Greek construction, as John Piper also pointed out, has that meaning everywhere else in Paul. The verse should be translated as, “and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” However, I like ESV’s used of the word “gratify”. Because I take that to mean that to overcome the desires of the flesh, we must starve it in order to weaken it and eventually kill it. But killing it must come as a result of walking in the Spirit because we cannot do it on our own. It is a fulfillment of a promise. And we must trust the Spirit in fulfilling it. We are not trusting the Spirit if we are taking it on our own hands. So if the killing of sin is contingent upon our trust in the promised victory, then walking in the Spirit is walking by faith and trust in the promise of God.
Summary, Application and Conclusion
If you can still follow me in our quest to understand what walking in or being led by the Spirit really means, you will notice that the common thread that unites those 4 points is our reliance on God’s word for our walk in the Spirit. First, the word of God gives us objective and direction on our walk. Second, the word of God is the means by which we are attached to the source of power, because here we find Christ, and abiding in his word, we abide in him. Third, the word of God is the sword of the Spirit that we will used for battle. Fourth the word of God is the source of faith by which we trust the promised victory of the Spirit over the desires of the flesh, for faith cometh by hearing and hearing the word of God. So we must fill our lives by the word of God so that the desires of the flesh will be starved to death. It is fighting the promises of sin with greater promises from God’s word. It is battling unbelief with the faith giving word of God. Therefore brethren, let us eat and enjoy Christ in his word, that is the only way we really walk in and be led by the Spirit.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Prison letter of Joy
The forms of the word “Joy” occur sixteen times in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The irony of course is that those sweet words were spoken while he was in prison (perhaps in Rome, about to face his trial and execution). In his litany of sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, we can see that he had been imprisoned many times before and had already experienced the worst, but still, he was able to rejoice.