Whose Word Is Law?

(The Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, Th.D.)

In this day when some churches are turning away from the Bible, it is refreshing to know that many are not. Those who reject the Bible as God’s revelation of Himself to us must have a new concept of God. And where do they get this standard? They must invent it. Often I hear these people say God is like . . ., and they rattle off something. But how do they know God is like whatever they say? And how can we know the details of what God is like unless He tells us? Indeed, how can we know anyone unless that person reveals himself or herself to us?

Many years ago I worked at an investment and insurance firm while I was helping to start a church. The man who hired me claimed to be a Christian, knew the language of Christians, and could pray quite well. (He prayed in order to prey on Christians.) After a short period, I discovered that he was a con man, selling faulty investments to those he could deceive. I and others thought we knew him, but he had not revealed his true self. Likewise, we cannot dream up concepts of God, and say what He is like, for that would be creating a god after our own image. The only way we can know Him is if He reveals Himself to us, and the Bible makes that claim hundreds of times. Of course, in theory the Bible could be wrong in its claim—but that is way beyond this article—but at least we must see that the Church has also presented the Bible as God’s revelation for 2,000 years, and it has challenged anyone to show its errors.

Then there are those who say the Bible is only infallible in theological matters but not in history, science, and so forth. But like those who invent a concept of god, these people transfer infallibility to themselves, for they assume that they can infallibly discern which portions of the Bible are infallible and which are not. In other words, infallibility does not go away; it only gets moved around.

And what does the Bible say about itself? There are two passages in particular that are key in the Bible’s presentation of inspiration. First, is 2 Peter 1:20-21:

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

There are several points here. Peter is emphatic that God is the source of Scripture even while men wrote them. Moreover, God used their human personalities to accomplish an infallible result. In other words, the Bible is both human and divine. Like the Son of God who was both God and man in one person, so the scriptures are both human and divine, yet one, and infallible. Furthermore, Peter says that the scriptures were not “private interpretation,” which means not initiated by men for their own personal doctrines. No, they received them from God Himself. Peter is not saying they were passive pens so that God dictated every word, but that the source was from God. This indicates that the human authors did not originate the message, but rather they were carried along by the Holy Spirit when writing Scripture, receiving the message from Him. They were passive in the message, but active in the writing, using their own vocabulary and personalities.

The second key passage of the Bible regarding its own inspiration is: 2 Timothy 3:16:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.”

The word “inspired” means “God-breathed” in the sense that God is the source. It does not carry an active idea so that Scripture is inspiring (though surely it is!) but the passive sense means “inspired,” a body of truth that is fossilized. Nor does it mean “every Scripture inspired by God is . . .” so that there may be some Scripture not inspired by God, as the RSV so wrongly translated some years back. The idea is that every part of the Bible is equally inspired, breathed out from God Almighty, and therefore infallible.

Moreover, Christ agreed that the Bible was infallible when He spoke about the Old Testament.

For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18).

The word “jot” most likely means “yod,” the smallest Hebrew letter, and “tittle” means part of a Hebrew letter, perhaps the difference between similar letters, like the cross on a vertical line in English that distinguishes the letter “l” from the letter “t”. But the Lord’s view was that Old Testament’s infallibility was clearly down to the very words and letters. Also, in John 10:35, He stated:

The Scripture cannot be broken.

He often rested His final argument on the infallible authority of the Old Testament (see John 5:39; Luke 24:44-45; Matt. 22:29; John 7:19; Matt. 4:1-11).

Let us confess with our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the Church of all ages, that the Bible is God’s gift to us, that we know God because in its pages is revealed this one, Triune God. Let us not seek to invent a god who is more palatable to modern people.

So what are some implications of the Bible being objective and infallible? We must honor it as we honor Him. We must seek its truth with our whole hearts, and delight in obeying His commands. We Christians do not have to wonder what is right and wrong because it is clearly spelled out in Holy Scripture. At one time, our whole culture believed that.

As a man who has been involved with selling and promoting good Christian books virtually all my life, both inside and outside the church, I can tell you what sells. It is not books on God’s commands, such as my 400+ page work on the Ten Commandments. People want health and wealth, not holiness. If you can make people—not God—the center of attention, you will build a large church. I did my ThD thesis on the word-faith movement, and one of the main leaders wrote a little book that sold by the untold thousands, perhaps millions. The title tells it all: How to Write Your Own Ticker with God. He said that Jesus knocked on his door at home, and this “prophet” of God invited Him in. Jesus then allegedly told him four things (or was it five) that anyone can do to get what he wants from God the Father. Where is the Bible in this? Why can’t we just obey God and not worry about how much money we can con out of Him? Why can’t we be content with what He gives us and not complain for more?

Moreover, just as we cannot create physical law into existence, so we cannot create moral law into existence, and to think that we can only reveals that we believe the lie of the devil to Eve:

You shall be as God, knowing [or determining] good and evil (Genesis 3:5).

Since the fall of man into sin in the garden in Eden, man has deceived himself into thinking that he can make up his own ethics without incurring consequences, but the past few thousand years demonstrate otherwise. Nevertheless, he continues his restless pursuit of private morality independent from God, so that he does not have to give account. This is why we find people engaging in rationalizing and self-justification when they are caught doing something wrong; they think they are above judgment, living under the system of morality they allegedly created. Their judgment will be severe. AMEN.

 

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an age of Skepticism (2008)

© Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.

August 2017, book review

My wife and I were on a short vacation this past summer when I came across the above book at Books A Million: Timothy Keller, The Reason for God. It was discounted considerably, and I had heard of him but did not know much about him. I bought it and read it.

In the front of the book, it said that he had started several thousand churches (not all directly but Keller began many church through those he trained). He was told not to go to Manhattan because it was a very hard culture and just being there would put his small children and wife in danger. His church there now has 6,000 members, and many, if not the majority, had been prostitutes, drug users and drug sellers, and so forth. It is an unusual ministry. Often after the church service, he would take questions from skeptics, atheists, and just those interested or not interested. His niche is to plant churches in large cities throughout the world, a huge need, for sure.

He is reformed Presbyterian, well read in both Christian and secular works, and studied at such seminal evangelical seminaries as Gordon-Conwell and Westminster. Like Keller, I’ve made it a habit not to limit my reading to Christians authors, reading such men as atheist Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, a silly hoot of a book without any logic), atheist Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought (good survey of positions), Anders Nygren, Meaning and Method (his chapter Logical Analysis of Presuppositions is a gem), yada, yada. I read Arminians, Calvinists, dispensationalists, amils, postmills, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholics, John MacArthur, Sproul, Gerald Bray (my favorite modern Anglican), Baptists, Presbyterians, N. T. Wright, who frustrates me because he is often ambiguous, arrogant (whole church is wrong), and wants to redefine Christianity from the beginning; yet he is often insightful and always thorough. He seems to have the motto, “Why say something in 500 words when you say it in 5,000 words.” I still read some Puritans, though rare these days since I became Anglican in 1991. I’ve read heretics like John Spong, the Anglican bishop who delights in denying virtually everything in the three creeds. May he never rest in peace. I say all that to make a point: I’m not afraid to read anything, and it helps my ministry to know what others think, even those who hate the Lord Jesus.

Thus, when I was invited to a friend’s house for dinner, and someone asked me what I was reading these days, I mentioned Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. You would have thought that I had blasphemed the Holy Trinity. There was yelling, saying the man was a blasphemer, a heretic, and most likely an unbeliever. When I asked for documentation, there was none, only more arrogant opinions and increasing of decibels. As I finished the book later, I was sensitized to look for heresies. I found none, though I did find areas of disagreement, which is normal. I disagree with myself.

Then recently one of the men at the dinner sent me an Internet link to a “liturgical” dance at Keller’s church, saying or implying that it was heretical. I grant you it was weird, three men in tight dance suits with bulging between the legs dancing some kind of ballet is not conducive to worship. I don’t understand such artsy stuff, and I would not allow that at my Anglican church. Or, was it actually a worship service? I could not tell, but there were many statements that such was heretical. But the first question I had was whether it was actually a worship service or some other entertainment service. At a Puritan type church in the town where I live, once a large Presbyterian type church had a ballet where a Christian lady danced beautifully. It was not a worship service. Unlike David who danced before the Lord with only a linen ephod (2 Sam. 6:14), she was very tastefully dressed, elegant, and expressive. No one accused her or the church of heresy. But if the dance were part of the main service of worship, and if I were Presbyterian again, and if Keller were in my presbytery doing that, I would oppose him.

But Heretical? First, an individual should not assume the authority to say something or someone is heretical, which, it seems to me, is a statement that someone is going to hell. Second, heresy has been defined by the three creeds, Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian, especially the Nicene. If the church has spoken, such as in the creeds, then one can say what is heretical. Once a young man and his family were attending Anglican church where I was rector, and after a few Sundays I invited them to lunch. He asked me if he and his family could join the church if he was preterist. I said, “Define pretereist. Do you mean that many of the things in the Gospels were fulfilled in AD 70 but there is still a Second Coming, or that all things were fulfilled in AD 70 so there is no Second Coming.” He said no Second Coming. I said you cannot join, and he objected that he could prove his position from the New Testament. I responded, “No you can’t. The Church over the centuries in her creeds has rejected your position and has said there is a Second Coming with the Last Day.” He said, “What happened to sola scriptura?” I explained that the Reformation did not mean just the Bible and me, and that Holy Scripture was the final and only infallible authority, but the Church was an authority also. Church councils have erred, but the Creeds have stood the test of time, and that virtually all bodies hold to them formally (Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholic, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and even Pentecostals base their doctrinal statements on the Apostles’ Creed, either formally or informally). He re-studied the issue, and about a month to six weeks later returned, apologized, joined my parish, and was a faithful member.

Yet, I’m not endorsing Tim Keller across the board or this book I’m reviewing without some reservations.

Here are some interesting points in Keller’s book:

  1. He understands we are a divided culture, and encourages us to learn from our culture (pp. xv, xix). Part of the division is between agnostics, atheists, and Christians of all brands.
  2. As much as we in the West hate to admit it, there has been explosive Christian growth in other parts of the world. One hundred years ago, 70 of 100 Christians were in the West. Now the number has reversed: 70 of 100 Christians are outside the West. Not only does Keller cite similar stats, but also works by Mark Noll and Philip Jenkins, both modern day conservative church historians, say the same. I love reading current church history, for it is not only very challenging, it broadens one’s perspective on what the Lord is doing with His Church throughout the world.
  3. There has been explosive growth in Africa, spearheaded by Anglicans and Pentecostals. Likewise, in the USA Pentecostalism (read charismatic movement), got its beginning on Azusa Street among black ministers around 1907 in California. It has moved south of the border with huge growth. It has moved into Brazil very strongly. In the past I’ve discounted the Christianity of charismatics, but when they are embracing the Holy Trinity, and basically the theology of the Apostles’ Creed, I must take notice. This is what Keller is telling us to do. Jenkins and Noll say that Pentecostals (read charismatics) now compose about one fourth of the Church world-wide, which is substantively changing Christianity throughout the world; and if Christianity keeps growing at the present rate in China, it may be the next Christian nation. Already Presbyterians dominate and have changed the culture of South Korea.
  4. There is one flaw that bothered me greatly as I read this book. Though he presented many interesting arguments for the existence of God, he left it open, actually he denied, that we can present compelling arguments for His existence. Here are some quotes with page numbers:

. . . all arguments [for the existence of God] are rationally avoidable in the end. That is, you can always find reason to except it that is not sheer bias or stubbornness. [In other words, contra Romans 1:18, we have moral neutrality. He continues] Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that we can’t evaluate beliefs, only that we should not expect conclusive proof, and to demand it is unfair. Not even scientists proceed that way. (p. 125) [And that is why scientists are often wrong and cannot evaluate evidence and arguments well; their assumptions are built on sand. They show that we cannot infer an infinite being from a finite creation. They are right, but the Bible does not reason that way; rather, it reasons from the stated existence of God to the fallen creation. That, it seems to me, is a deductive argument with a certain conclusion, rather than an inductive argument from a finite creation to the infinite God.]

No view of God can be proven, but that does not mean that we cannot sift and weigh the grounds for various religious beliefs and find that some or even one is the most reasonable. (p. 126) [Now I shall remove the contradiction: “No view of God can be proved, but we can find a view that approximates Him.” That is just plain silly. Give with one hand and take back with the other. Recall Hebrews 11:6: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6 NKJ)]

Though there cannot be irrefutable proof for the existence of God, many people have found strong clues for his reality. . . . (p. 131) [Our Clue who may be in heaven, hallowed be some name, somewhere. . . .”]

I find these quotes remarkably destructive of much of what he is saying. They destroy one of the main points of the book. Take this last quote. Can you imagine going to the Triune God in prayer and saying, “O Lord, somewhere you may exist, and I hope you get this message, if you are really there.” Scripture begins with the assumption of God’s existence (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . .” Gen. 1:1). I had a seminary professor who said, “If you can get past the first verse of the Bible, the rest is all downhill.” Indeed, sir. We cannot cover presuppositional apologetics in a book review, but if he had used that along with his evidence, it would have been, in my humble opinion, a much better and tighter argument. But it is always easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize. Let me qualify myself. The Bible presents the absolute sovereignty of God, and He saves whom He has chosen. Thus, he may use any approach He chooses. The book by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, is a book arguing for the existence of the Triune God. The overall argument is fallacious, reasoning from the finite to the infinite, but there are many facts he presents that might weaken an unbeliever’s armor, Keller reasons. But God the Holy Spirit can blast through an unbeliever’s defenses any way and any time He so chooses. To be fair, I think that is what Keller means, using weak arguments to bring one to confrontation with God. Sounds weird.

An example of such is the true story of a young lady taking a course in college in which biological evolution was presented as fact. She went to the professor after class to ask questions.  (See this link: Atheist professor becomes Christian.)

Back in 1979 -81 in Memphis I managed a Christian bookstore. About every two weeks this young man would come in and purchase theologies and other heavy reading, like Francis Schaeffer and Cornelius Van Til. So I asked him what he did, and he said that he was a traveling salesman. I asked if he attended seminary because he always chose heavy topics. He said that he had been a philosophy major in a secular university where the professors were atheists to a man (or woman), and that he had earned a B.A. and M.A. in philosophy. He was going to enter the PhD program but had changed his mind. When I asked what changed his mind, he said, “You better hold on to your seat. About two years ago I was on a drug trip, and I heard the gospel on the radio for the first time ever. I heard and I believed, and I’ve never looked back.” Talk about a conversion!

Another high point of the book was that we must not be quick to condemn other Christians who are different from us. That is why I fall back on the objective Three Creeds. For example, I keep reading modern church historians who say that there are many conversions of Muslims who are seeing visions of Jesus who tells them Islam is wrong, and often directs them to someone who can tell them about Jesus. I hope that it is true, but I hear from those who are knowledgeable of such things that Syria is having revival. I surely hope so: “Thy kingdom come.” In the past, I would immediately discount that, and I still wonder about visions. I don’t want to do anything to distract from the centrality of the written Word. BUT, when these converts are coming into the Trinitarian faith, what can you say? How difficult would it be to teach them that the means for their conversion was wrong but their conversion was real?

BOTTOM LINE: This is a very helpful book. It is sound theologically, challenging in ministry, but this is the only Keller book that I’ve read. He does not say much about his style of ministry. My reading schedule does not include any more of his works for the foreseeable future. At least look it up on Amazon and read the Table of Contents. Recommended. Amen. Ω.

Rescuing Verses of the Bible: “Where this is no vision. . . .” and “Train up a child. . . .

Last time we looked at Rev. 3:20 and rescued it from abuse, for it deals with Church discipline, not salvation, per se. Today, we have two more verses to rescue. Here is the first one.

‘”WHERE THERE IS NO VISION, THE PEOPLE PERISH”—is that a proper translation?

PROVERBS 29:18 from the old KJV: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Prov. 29:18 KJV)

How many times have you and I heard people say something like “unless we have a goal in mind, we will fail”. Then then invoke Proverbs 29:18. Of course, it is true that if we don’t have goals, we’ll fail. BUT it has nothing to do with this verse. The Hebrew word for “vision” is hazôn, while hozeh is a “seer”. Actually, the old KJV was not far off, but the problem is that we have misunderstood the word “vision”. It does not mean a goal but refers to revelation from God, a prophetic vision from a prophet. In other words, where there is neglect of revelation from God, the people perish. Finally, here the KJV can be improved from “the people perish” (though certainly true!) to “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint”. (Prov. 29:18 ESV) When I was in high school, we had the Ten Commandments posted in the home rooms, and since the school was basically Christian and Jewish, we could agree on those ten words! If we wanted to settle a moral argument, we could point to one of the commandments on the way and that was the end of the argument. Just the presence of God’s word posted was a restraint to our behavior. When people get rid of the Holy Scripture in public, they cast off restraint. Here are some other passages from Proverbs on the same topic:

Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, But such as keep the law contend with them. (Prov. 28:4 NKJ)

We are to contend with those who despise God’s moral precepts.

 

Here is another verse that we can rescue:

TRAIN UP A CHILD IN THE WAY HE SHOULD GO . . .”

Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov. 22:6 NKJ)

This is the translation that most versions give, and it has history on its side. Here is my challenge and translation:

“Train up a child according to his own way, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Now it is a warning. I have no doubt that the principle of this verse is correct, that if we rear our children in the Lord, generally they will love the Lord. My challenge is whether this particular verse actually says that. So how did I arrive at my translation and do others support it?

I was translating Hebrew full time in the summer of 1976, and we were working on a Hebrew interlinear, putting one English word under its Hebrew equivalent (actually usually several English words under a Hebrew word). I had been working many hours on Proverbs, and when I came to that verse I instinctively translated it the way I had all the other times in Proverbs, but then I realized that it was a verse we all fall back on. Do I dare shake the standards of sacred tradition? I double checked myself, and triple checked myself. I don’t recall if my translation was allowed to stand or not, but I maintained my position.

Then years later, while teaching Hebrew in seminary (over 20 years), I came across a grammar that confirmed my position: Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew, 2001. On pages 284-285, they go into the Hebrew grammar, stating that the construction in Prov. 22:6 is very similar to other places in Proverbs, which is what I had said. I could give you’re the grammar statements, but this post is already esoteric enough. Here are some other verses they cited along with Prov. 22:6:

Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction. (Prov. 19:18 NKJ)

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him. (Prov. 22:15 NKJ)

The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother (Prov. 29:15 NKJ)

Regardless of the translation of Proverbs 22:6, we definitely have confirmation from the other verses cited that we have reared a generation of brats who want their own way. In the end, unless they repent, they will perish. AMEN. Ω

 

Revelation 3:20: “I stand at the door and knock . . .”

There are passages in the Bible that are often misunderstood but taken for granted. Over the next year or so I’ll address some of these from time to time. Here are several translations of Rev. 3:20:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door,

I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (NKJ)

 

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,

I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20 ESV)

 

Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door

I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:20 NET)

 

Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door,

I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me. (Rev. 3:20 CSBO, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

 

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door,

I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20 KJV)

 

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door,

I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev. 3:20 NAS)

 

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,

I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Rev. 3:20 NIV)

 

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door,

I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20 RSV)

 

First, some comments about the translations. Every translation hits the mark on the words “I will come in to him”. The Greek is not that hard. But let us notice how often modern readers have not understood the verse even in English because of bad assumptions they bring to the text.

Naturally, the NIV has to change something: “eat with that person, and they with me”. If we truly believe in an inerrant, verbally inspired text, we must not tamper with it. The Greek does not say “eat with that person, and they with me”. It just does not say that but says “eat with him, and he with me”. Why did the NIV change the singular “he” to plural “they”? The only reason I know is that they were trying to be inclusive. “He” sounds sexist, at least to the NIV translators. So, without divine authority, they changed singular “he” to plural “they”. What have we lost? We have lost the preciousness of one person having a close personal relationship with Jesus the Son of God!

We don’t deny the corporate aspect of the context, which is the Church at Laodicea It is not “either or” but “both and”, but our point is to look at the translation of the verse.

One more thing on the NIV. It leaves out completely the words “to him”: “I will come in and eat with that person” instead of “I will come in TO HIM and eat with that person”. Why do that? When the NIV first came out, I was in seminary as a Hebrew and Greek major, and I was excited to see it. We students were given an advanced copy of the Gospel of John. I was startled when I got to John 1:13: “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”. (John 1:13 NIV)  Gad’s, are you kidding me? Is it theoretical possible to translate it HUSBANS’S WILL? Yes. Is it likely? NO! I have found many such errors in the NIV, some much more egregious. My advice: stay away from it! [I checked out Augustine, Chrysostom, Gregory of Nissa, Ambrose, St. Leo the Great, John of Damascus, Clement of Alexandria, and a few others, and all translated the text not as “the will of the husband” but always as “the will of man”. And some of these men had Greek as their first language. The “will of the husband” just did not dawn on them.]

Next, the NET Bible is what I call an exegetical paraphrase. It is always interesting to consult, but not something I would want to recommend to the layperson who is untrained in the biblical languages. The NET says: “I will come into his home”, which is an exegetical paraphrase. The context is Christ standing at the door of a church, but the fact is that it does not say “home” but “I will come in TO HIM”. Let us leave the interpretation alone in translation, as much as possible. But if you want my interpretation, it is the church where He is knocking, not inside a person, but I would not add that to a translation. I take the Fox News approach: “I translate, you decide.”

More to our point:

  1. Notice the bold print in each verse above in Rev. 3:20, rendering the verb and preposition correctly, something like “I will come in” (one word in Greek and space after “come in”) “to him.” It does not say, and cannot be made to say, that Jesus, knocking at the door, will come INTO the person. No, it cannot mean that. The verb is clear that something is entered (“come in”) and someone is dined with the One coming in “to” that person.
  2. Why is it that virtually all competent translations translate the verb and preposition accurately as “come in to him,” not “come into him”? The simple answer is that the Greek does not allow anything else. The verb means TO ENTER something, and the preposition means to go TO something, or in this case, TO someone.
  3. Here is a proposed translation: “Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter to him, and I will dine with him and he with me.”

So what difference does it make? There is no doubt that Jesus comes into the heart of those who come to know Him, and I would not deny that Jesus overrules our lack of precision in presenting the Gospel when we say to have eternal life just ask Jesus into your heart, but that is not the way the New Testament presents the Gospel. The point in believing in Jesus is to have eternal life, to have forgiveness of sins, to have righteousness (Phil. 3:9). It can be a very subtle error to substitute the work of the Holy Spirit for the work of Christ. That is one of the errors of Pentecostalism. The fact is that when we believe in Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit automatically:

13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom [Jesus] also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Eph. 1:13-14 NKJ)

. . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love . . . (Eph. 3:17 NKJ)

“Did you received the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2)

We do not deny but maintain that Christ lives in our hearts by faith. But what we have in Rev. 3:20 is not initial salvation, but the ongoing ministry of Holy Communion, and perseverance in the faith. The door at which the Lord stands, according to the context, is the door of the church, saying that He wants to “dine with him, and he with Me”. (Rev. 3:20 NKJ)

John is writing to the church of Laodiceans, and he is asking them to have the Communion meal with him and Jesus (Rev. 3:14 NKJ).

The point is that the Gospel is not asking Jesus into our hearts; it is believing in Him, trusting in Him for forgiveness of sins. This may sound very picky, but there are important principles. In other words, the Gospel is objective, outside of us, not subjective, inside of us. When we believe in Jesus, we receive His eternal life; indeed, we receive Him. The gospel is not financial prosperity, not physical health (at least in this life), it is not that we need to be happy and expect Jesus to grant us wishes to make us happy. It is holiness, not happiness, that the Lord requires for our lives. The gospel is that we are sinners, that we are under the wrath of God (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 2:5-8; 9:22; 12:19; Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Col. 3:6, 1 Thess. 1:10, etc), and if we trust in Jesus He will forgives us our sins, give us His righteousness, and enter into our hearts as a result of believing in Him.

. . . be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. (Phil. 3:9 NKJ)

9 . . . 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. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame”.  (Rom. 10:9-10 ESV)

The word “heart” here, as often throughout the Bible, means the mind, the inner-man, the immaterial part of mankind. Jesus is the object of our faith (along with the Father and the Holy Spirit), and when we believe, Jesus knocks on the door of our church, asking to have communion with us.

There are many other things in this verse that we could explore. Sometimes this verse is used for the Arminian idea that we’re in charge of our own salvation, that Jesus is a helpless savior who sits on the sidelines, wringing His hands, waiting for someone to open the door of his heart so He can grant salvation. There is nothing like that in the context. Jesus is judging this church and commanding it, in an indirect and merciful way, to bow to Him to get their sorry church in order. Let us not mistake His mercy for our presumed sovereignty. Even as an indirect command, it does not confer ability to obey. In other words, “ought” does not infer “ability”, never does, never will (John 6:35, 44-45). AMEN. Ω.

Jesus is your superhero (or is He?)

© The Very Rev. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D., 2017

My wife and I were coming home last weekend (June 2017), and we detoured to Hot Springs, AR for a couple of nights. As we left the tourist-busy town, there was a church with these words on their sign:

“Jesus is your superhero, God is your superhero, you are a superhero.”

I just shook my head, and sighed to the Lord how long He will put up with this milkquetoast Christianity in the USA. Look at the words: there are three superheroes: Jesus, God, and you, and would not an unbeliever think all three were on the same level. We have presented a saccharin Christianity, sicky sweet and artificial.

And when we think of a superhero, do we not think of breaking and smashing things, much violence, killing everything in sight with bitter power, having difficulty overcoming, but Jesus was not like that. He could have been, and He did smash things but not in the way we would like to see. He certainly did those things under the old covenant (Old Testament). Yet, in the New Covenant (New Testament), though He healed and raised the deadHis miracles were done to overcome Satan and sin, not Roman armies. He restrained Himself in one sense, though He had resonating power to destroy anything He wanted anytime He wanted.

For example, when Pilate told Jesus that he had the power “to crucify [Him], and power to release [Him]” (John 19:10 NKJ), Jesus’ answer was very telling: “Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.’” (John 19:11 NKJ) Recall what happened when the Roman soldiers went to arrest Him, who was in control?

“Now when He said to them, ‘I AM,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:6 NKJ)

Moreover, as the early fathers often reminded us, at the same time that Jesus was incarnate and healing, sleeping, getting hungry, He was “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3 NKJ) Do not think for a moment that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, either gave up being God or gave up the use of His attributes. Either way, that would eclipse the Holy Trinity and destroy who God is. Can you image one person of the Trinity not being able to function as God. That would be incarnation by deicide!

No, the incarnation is by addition, not by subtraction. The Son of God added sinless humanity to Himself, and did not remove either the essence of deity or the functions of deity. For example, in John 1:1 we learn that in the beginning was the Word (eternal existence), the Word was with God (distinct from the Father), and the Word was God (one in essence with the Father). Then in John 1:14 we see that the Word “became flesh,” and there is not a hint of removing His attributes. Indeed, God’s attributes are not like pins in a pin cushion that any member of the Holy Trinity can remove and replace at will. Each attribute contains all the other attributes, for God is one. Remember John 10:30 where Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” The Jews rightly understood His claim to deity because in the next verse they picked up stones to kill Him for blasphemy. In John 8:58 Jesus claimed to be the I AM, who does not and cannot change. Thus, the incarnation did not change Him, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

The Bible is now a popular psychological manual for self-improvement. Many preachers I hear on the radio approach the Bible as one big OUGHT, turning the IS of grace into the OUGHT of obedience for blessing. In other words, if I do the three things (or five things) the preacher says, I’ll be blessed; otherwise, I’ll be defeated. How many times do I hear, “It’s all up to you,” at which point I must be a superhero, or I’ll get nothing.

We want to see Jesus as superhero destroy all those bad people (not us, of course) with some supernatural event so we Christians can be vindicated. I was a defendant (one of 18) in a church-state trial, and as I sat in court for 4 ½ months, 4 to 5 days a week, listening to lies, how often I wanted to call down fire from heaven and yell at my lungs capacity, “Elijah is back!!” But God normally does not work that way.

We hear that the Triune God wants us to be happy all the time, time, time. We are told we are deprived but not depraved.  All of life, ALL of life, is for ME, and God exists to help ME find MY happiness.

What we need is old fashioned preaching where the wrath of God is boomed out, with impending judgment suspended over us like a guillotine held by one thread. Here are verses you rarely if ever hear:

“O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous; For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds. God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:9, 11 NKJ)

“The LORD tests the righteous, But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.” (Ps. 11:5 NKJ)

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36 NKJ) [And that wrath abides, now, as an ongoing matter. One never has a soul to sell, for it always belongs to God or to the devil. At judgment, all hope is gone, FOREVER.]

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18 NKJ)

“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Rom. 5:9 NKJ)

“Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (Rom. 9:13 NKJ)

“The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Eph. 5:6 NKJ)

Picture Noah’s ark floating on the turbulent waters with rain coming down in torrents. People are swimming in water, pounding on the doors of the ark to get in. It is too late. God’s judgment has come. On the side of the ark is a large smiley face that says, “Smile, God loves you.” That is where we are today. Too many weak preachers are holding people’s hands saying “There,” “There” while their parishioners go to hell.

So, is Jesus your superhero? No! He is the Lord God omnipotent, and His power and authority go way beyond all things imaginable. He upholds all things by His omnipotent power. He is in all places at the same time (Matt. 28:18-20). He has all knowledge. He can cause destruction and misery in any part of His world at any time, and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. OR, He can cause a good election, or bring people back to the Gospel, or transform a nation to love righteousness and hate iniquity. He is Lord!

Jesus is way beyond superhero status, for He is creator of all that is (John 1:1-3; Heb. 1:1-4; Col. 1:16), the sustainer of all there is (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17), and the redeemer of His people.

He is to be worshiped, not slapped on the back as some kind of hero.

AMEN.

The Church Is for Sinners

(The Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, Th.D., 2005)

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 (Phil. 1:6 ESV).

In my first pastorate, a man said to me that he would not go to church because there were too many hypocrites there. I had enough rapport with the man to say: “You’re right so join us—we need another one.” We often have the idea that Church is just for those who have no problems, for those whose life is always rosy, who never have rebellious children, whose spouses are models of virtue, whose bosses love everything they do, who never have an impure thought. If that is who you think you are, you don’t need the Church; but then, you don’t need the Triune God either, or so you think.

And we Christians should be willing to admit that we have a long way to go in our growth in holiness. Pretending is hypocrisy, though we should not tell everyone all our problems. Yes, we have been forgiven by God through the merits of the death and resurrection of Christ, but we are still growing, still being forgiven. We have been adopted into God’s family, but like legal adoption today, that does not automatically make the child instantly and perfectly like his new father. It does make the child an heir to the father’s estate, and if we parents are rich so is the child. But it takes a lifetime to train a child and for the child to grow into the kind of person we as parents desire him/her to be. Likewise, the Father adopts us into His family based on the legal attorney Jesus Christ, who puts up the bond, the surety, who is Himself our pledge, our guarantee of the completed adoption. This gives us a change of legal status, but inwardly we are the same as before the adoption. But the Father and the Son gave us the Holy Spirit to make us better over time—but that is the key word, TIME.

Consider that our heavenly Father is seeking to “rear” us in the faith all our lives, that he brings about problems so that we can learn to be mature, to respond in faith and love to one another and to love His providence, that His priorities are not money, farms, cars, bank accounts, though there is nothing wrong with those in themselves.

And this heavenly Father has adopted us into His family, in His Church, the bride of His Son, so that we can care for one another. We are our brother’s keeper. And consider further that our sibling Jesus has already been through all the trials we have and knows what they are like, but also as God He gives us the grace we need to grow. We are in a family that is supposed to love its own as the badge of our relationship with God: “By this shall all will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). What do we do when our loved ones are sick? You care for them.

We are called to live by a different set of priorities from the world, to consider the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to be the highest priority and our church family second. (Church and family actually go together.) Have you seen the bumper sticker that reads: “He who dies with the most toys wins”? That is the philosophy of the world, but our riches belong to another family—the Church. Our estate and inheritance are from Christ, not in pursuing ever more schemes to make money. Our security is in the Lord, not in our bank accounts that can quickly evaporate. We have an inheritance that is infallible:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who

according to His abundant mercy

has begotten us again

             TO a living hope

                                                                                                    through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

                                                                                         from the dead,

               4 TO an inheritance

                        Incorruptible

                     and undefiled

                                                 and that does not fade away,

                                             reserved in heaven for you,

        5 who are kept by the power of

through faith

TO salvation

ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5 NKJ)

The world does not expect Christians to be perfect, but it does expect us to be genuine, which means we must be willing to confess mistakes when we make them and then seek to make things right. Remember the case of the televangelist caught with a prostitute? At first he was contrite, submitted to the discipline of his brethren, and agreed to the time suspension from the ministry that they placed on him. This was a good start, but then he rebelled, rejecting their authority, and put himself back in the ministry under a new church. It was a great testimony to the world to see the Christian Church at work, helping a fellow brother to grow in grace, exercising the authority of Christ, saying to everyone: “Yes, we are sinners, but we are willing to forgive when a brother repents.” Who could have faulted that? But the preacher rebelled and neutralized the great testimony.

In the early 1970s, Ruth and I were living in Dallas while I attended seminary. W. A. Criswell was a great Baptist preacher in Dallas, TX, who loved the Lord, preached great Gospel sermons, and had a large congregation in downtown Dallas. He was highly respected in the community. Dr Criswell was interviewed on a local TV station. The interviewer was very caustic, and assuming all the self-righteousness she could muster, she forcefully demanded to know why it had only been in the recent past that his church had opened their doors to African American Christians. I’ll never forget Criswell’s answer, for it stopped her cold, and she stuttered for a comeback. His answer was something like this: “We sinned, and we’ve asked the Lord to forgive us. Now we are glad to have our black brothers and sisters worship with us.” That was genuineness! The interviewer changed the subject! We are not perfect but sinners, so let us recognize that! But let us be confessing sinners, not arrogant or rebellious ones. Pride will destroy us, but humility will lift us up in great favor with God and man. AMEN

God’s Persevering Grace

(© The Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, Th.D., 2005)

About a year ago I had a discussion with someone who was ready to give up on the Christian life, saying it was too difficult, that it seemed that the Triune God did not care.  In our hustle and bustle of life, we sometimes forget that God is persevering with us more than we are with Him.  God finishes what He begins, unlike us.  If He did not, we would never make it to heaven.  As humans, you and I are always beginning things that we never seem to find time to finish.  But consider God’s matchless grace in Philippians 1:6, that what He begins He finishes: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it at the day of Jesus Christ.

Look at the butterfly wing—was it begun and not finished?  Look at the woodpecker—was its specialized bill not finished?  Look at the atom—was it a partial work?  Look at the moon—is it a work abandoned?  Look at yourself, the apex of God’s creation—will you be thrown away after the work was begun?  God works by a plan.  He begins a work of grace in us, not as an experiment to see if we and He can make it together, but that He may complete His design in and for us.  Can you imagine an architect who begins a project without plans, just going along to see how things work out?

If the Triune God began a work in us but did not finish it, who would lose more, God or us?  It would definitely be God, for then He would be known as a failure.  Others could say that God just could not handle it, that He gave it His best effort but finally gave up on us, that we were just too much for Him.

Moreover, according to Paul here in Phil 1:6, who initiated the work in you, you or God?  God!  And if God did, will He decide against it later?  As one man expressed it in a hymn:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew

He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;

It was not I that found [Thee], O Savior true;

No, I was found [by] Thee.

And is it not true that we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).  His love and grace are initial and ours responsive, for it was He who began the work in us, not we in Him!

And how do we know that God has begun a work in us?  We can tell by our obedience, by the love we have for God, for mankind, for God’s Bible, by our faithful attendance at worship on the Lord’s Day, reading His word, the Bible, praying, and so on.  Faith, hope, and love will be the hallmarks of our lives.

Let me give you a good example.  Years ago I led a man to Christ who was only 18 years old.  He mouthed some words, good words, but I wondered how committed he was to them.  He was very much in love with a young lady, but she was not a Christian.  When I told him and showed him from the Bible that God did not allow a believer to marry an unbeliever, he paused for a long time and said with tears in his eyes: “If that’s what God says, that’s what I’ll do.”  His life has revealed the same commitment all these 48 years.  More than anything else, one’s obedience to God reveals whether there has been true conversion or not, but our obedience does not merit our acceptance with God.

3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4).

And do you know why it is God who first seeks us, and why we are responsive to Him, why it is that He saves us in this way?  It is so that we cannot boast (see Eph 2:8-10).  We’ll never be able to say that God did 99%, but if it were not for the 1% I did, I would never have made it to heaven.

Let us rejoice that for all those who trust in the death and righteousness of Christ for forgiveness of sins, our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has taken charge of our salvation, that our sins are forgiven, that His Name and reputation are on the line, and that by His persevering grace, we shall make it home!  AMEN.