Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sin and the Child of God

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous (1 John 3:1-12).

John marvels at the love God the Father shows to those who believe in Christ. We are called children of God. We have been born again, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.[1] We are sons of God by an incorruptible seed through the word of God, which abides forever.[2] We have been united to Christ in His death and resurrection by our baptism.[3] We are clothed with Him, so that when God the Father looks upon us He sees His Son.[4] We are His adopted sons in Jesus Christ. Consequently, because of our status in the family of God as adopted sons, we no longer belong to the world. Just as the world did not know Christ, though he was in the world, and the world was made through Him, the world no longer knows, or recognizes us.[5] Unless, of course, we conform ourselves to the world, rather than to Christ.

John tells us in his epistle that he who practices righteousness is righteous, and he who sins is of the Devil. Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. He who has been born of God cannot sin. This, then, must certainly be proof that we have not truly been made to be sons, for we continue to sin. If we have done so much as become angry with our brother, we have murdered him, and we are told elsewhere by John that no murderer has eternal life. So what is John telling us? Do we have no hope?

John describes here the same situation Paul describes in his letters. Paul writes in Galatians, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”[6] You, adopted son of God, have a war raging inside you between flesh and spirit. Do not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. There is a great difference between a man who struggles with committing sin while practicing repentance, and one who practices sin. The first sins and repents; He rejects what he was and struggles to act like the man he now is in Christ, in spite of his inclinations to the former. The second says that he cannot change because he is who he is. He scoffs at calls to repentance because he says there is nothing for him to be sorry for; we must accept him the way he is. Thank God that though we sin daily, Christ continues to forgive. He is the propitiation for our sin, and empowers us to walk in the Spirit, and not to fulfill the lust of the flesh.[7] He makes us to practice righteousness, and gives us eternal life.

[1] John 1:13
[2] 1 Peter 1:23
[3] Romans 6:3-5
[4] Galatians 3:27
[5] John 1:10
[6] Galatians 5:17
[7] Galatians 5:16

Monday, November 27, 2017

Remain Steadfast

Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen (2 Peter 3:1-18).

Peter ends his second epistle with the message, “Don’t lose heart!” This could also be said positively as, “Remain steadfast!” Remain steadfast, even in the face of pagans, heretics, and false teachers who rage against you, and mock you, and kill you for your trust in God’s promises. They mock us because Christ is slow to return and judge the living and the dead as he promised. But Peter reminds us that God stands outside of time. His schedule is not ours, just as our idea of slowness is not His. And, as with all that God does, His delayed return works to the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.[1] Where we see slackness, God exhibits patience. All the while during these last days, Christ is drawing all men to Himself.[2] He does this through His ministers, by Word and Sacrament. He forgives us our sin, when we are distracted by the cares of this world, and do not seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness.[3] God, Peter writes, is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Those who do not come to repentance cannot, on the Day of the Lord, say they weren’t given enough time. Let us not waste that time. We earnestly ponder the question Peter poses: What manner of people ought we to be, in light of the coming destruction?

When the Day of the Lord finally comes, there will be no time for repentance, or escape. A great noise! Fervent heat! The heavens pass away. The elements melt. The earth, along with all the works therein, burned up; gone forever. To those who have refused the gift won for them by Christ’s death and resurrection, terror. For those who participate in Christ’s death and resurrection through their Baptism,[4] who have remained steadfast, the fulfillment of hope. New heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. The former, says the prophet Isaiah, shall not be remembered or come to mind.[5] No more weeping or crying; every tear shall be wiped away.[6] “Behold!” says Jesus, “I am coming quickly!” Amen! Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come! Amen![7]

[1] Romans 8:28
[2] John 12:32
[3] Matthew 6:33; 13:22
[4] Romans 6:1-14
[5] Isaiah 65:17
[6] Rev. 21:4
[7] Rev. 22:12, 20

Sunday, November 26, 2017


“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:1-13).

Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. This is the whole point of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Christ is warning us to watch for His coming constantly. It could happen at any time, and Our Lord warns us to always be prepared, as the wise virgins were prepared. Much scholarly ink has been spilled debating what each individual element of the parable means. Who are the virgins? Who is the Bridegroom? What is the oil? These things are interesting topics of discussion, but such a debate misses the overall point of the parable. Christ wants us to be prepared for His coming, so that we are not excluded from the wedding feast.

So, how do we prepare? We take oil with us in our vessels as we wait for the Bridegroom to arrive, i.e., we do the works required of us to be adequately prepared. What are those works? Christ answers this question in the sixth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel when He is asked by some what they must do to do the works of God. Christ answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”[1] That is what it means to be a wise virgin. That is what it means to have taken adequate oil in your vessel: To believe in Christ, the one who was sent by the Father; the one who is coming soon. The work of God is to believe in Christ, the Bridegroom, the one who will bring His wise virgins into the wedding feast, even if He should tarry so long that they all fall asleep. He will wake them; they shall rise and, with lamps trimmed and burning, accompany Him to the Feast.

[1] John 6:29

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

How Not to Interpret the Bible

John Warwick Montgomery [1]
by John Warwick Montgomery

This article has been reprinted here from the October 9, 2017 issues of Christian News, with the gracious permission of CN's editor.

When my wife and I are in London, we generally attend the church of my Inn of Court.  Barristers must be members of at least one of four “Inns”—medieval guilds of lawyers.   I am a member of both Middle Temple and Lincoln’s Inn.   (I was called to the bar at Middle, and subsequently joined Lincoln’s in part because of its superior wine cellar; but that is another story.)   Each Inn has its own church or chapel; they are “Royal Peculiars,” that is, directly responsible to the Queen and not under the authority of the local bishop (in this instance, the Bishop of London).  Traditionally, they are—like the barristers themselves—conservative in temperament, using the 17th-century Book of Common Prayer’s magnificent liturgies.

During the so-called legal “long vacation” in the summer months, one needs to find another worship location.  Close to Ludgate Circus is St Bride’s Church, designed by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666, and traditionally the church of the journalists (when they inhabited Fleet Street).  On the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (13 August 2017) we attended service there, especially because of the wonderful Choral Eucharist.

The downside was the preacher:  The Revd Canon Alison Joyce, rector of St Bride’s.  After it was too late to go elsewhere, I remembered a sermon she had preached some time ago on death, arguing, with no mention of the biblical teaching that death is the product of sin (Rom. 3:23) or that Christ is the answer (Rom. 6:23), that death is essential to the human race since otherwise the world would be overpopulated and people would still be forced to live even though suffering from the dreadful diseases and pain of extreme old age.

Joyce’s sermon on this occasion was an interpretation of Matthew 14: 22-33, where our Lord walks on water.

She began—encouragingly—debunking a Florida university professor who claimed that a rational explanation for the event was the extreme climate at the time:  ice formations on the Sea of Galilee would have given the impression that Jesus was walking on water.

The rector then followed this with her own brand of rationalism (a rationalism picked up, to be sure, from the literary critics of the New Testament).  Said she:  We must understand what the Gospel writers were actually doing:.  They wrote to show how special Jesus was.  The feeding of the 5,000 was to show that Jesus was infinitely more important that the Old Testament prophet Elisha who had miraculously fed a small number of people (II Kings 4: 42-44)—and the walking on the water was so much more effective than Old Testament parallels that those hearing the story would have seen the merits of believing in Jesus (cf. Job 9: 8).

Moreover, said she, what good would Jesus’ actually walking on water be to us today?  Whereas Jesus’ message to Peter and the other disciples, “Fear not,” is available to us right now in our difficulties.  The miracle of calming fear and giving us hope takes place all the time in the church and in the lives of believers,

What is going on here?

(1) The text is being dehistoricized, in flat disregard of what the Gospel writers say they are doing, namely, presenting the precise facts of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Luke 1: 1-4; cf. II Peter 1: 16). 

(2) A new, unhistorical meaning is being given to the text on the basis of Old Testament parallels. These parallels are, of course, genuine and function as “types” of Christ, but they hardly suggest that the New Testament writers redid the events of Jesus’ life in defiance of what actually occurred--to show that he was greater than what one finds in the Old Testament. Moreover, how could they have gotten away with it?  The Gospel materials were in circulation when hostile witnesses of Jesus’ ministry were still alive; they would surely have blown the whistle on such falsifications—they had means, motive, and opportunity. 

(3) If the miraculous event did not in fact occur, why should one accept the spiritual lesson the preacher draws from it?  Jesus said, notably, “If I have told you earthly things and you believe not, how shall you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” (John 3: 12).

(4) The obvious reason for handling the text as Joyce did is to avoid having to assert and defend the miraculous.  But isn’t a miraculous Resurrection the very heart of Christian faith and would we not potentially lose even that if such an interpretive method were forced on the New Testament?  Maybe there wasn’t a historical, bodily Resurrection at all—maybe the important thing is to see that Jesus is more life-affirming than Old Testament prophets?

Conclusion:  The preacher’s rationalism is no better, and no more justifiable, than the Florida professor’s appeal to ice formations.  Indeed, it is far more dangerous, for it provides the ideal opportunity to disabuse ourselves of the factual reality of the saving biblical message—of the factuality of the very Incarnation itself.  A God who miraculously created the cosmos out of nothing is surely capable not only of de facto Virgin Births and  Resurrections, but also of de facto walkings upon water.

[1] Ph.D. (Chicago), D.Théol. (Strasbourg, France), LL.D. (Cardiff, Wales, U.K.), Dr. h.c. (Institute of Religion & Law, Moscow, Russia).   Professor Emeritus of Law and Humanities, University of Bedfordshire, U.K.; Professor-at-Large, 1517: The Legacy Project, Irvine, CA, U.S.A.  Director, International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights, Strasbourg, France.  Honorary Chairman, Academic Board, International Institute for Religious Freedom, World Evangelical Alliance.   Barrister-at-Law, England and Wales; Member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States (licensed to practice in California, Wasbington State, Virginia, and the District of Columbia). Avocat à la Cour, Barreau de Paris.  Author/editor of some 60 books in four languages and over 100 scholarly journal articles.  Websites:;

Creation Nonsense

When I was a kid, I found a really old King James Bible. I thought it was cool, because it had charts and maps in the back, as well as a center column with lots of notes and references. At the top of each page there was a heading that gave you the theme of that particular page. It also gave you a year. The thing with which I was most fascinated was, if you turned all the way back to the book of Genesis, you could find out what year the world was created. 4004 BC. I thought that was amazing, that someone kept records that far back.
It wasn't until years later that I learned this chronology was worked out by a man named Bishop Ussher in the 17th century. In fact, Bishop Ussher had figured it out so precisely, that I was delighted to find the first day of creation was October 23, 4004 BC. I was beginning to suspect that this might not be something we could pin down so precisely, but the thought of this date at the top of my Bible made me smile nonetheless. As I went to high school, and learned about evolution, I struggled with how to fit the six days of creation and the young earth, together with the millions and millions of years required by Darwin's theory. In the end, I understood that Darwin's theory was just that – a theory – and the proof offered to high school students as validation of the Theory of Evolution does not exactly hold up to scrutiny. I also understood, thanks to my faithful pastor, that God's word is true even if we don't understand it fully.
There seem to be many Christians today who are embarrassed of God's word. Some Christians, overwhelmed and impressed by the so-called mountains of evidence that evolution is true, and the world is millions of years old, would like other Christians such as myself to go away. We are an embarrassment. We are fundamentalists, a by-word among the enlightened liberal elite. We take God at his word, and supposedly ignore science. This accusation doesn't bother me much when it comes from liberal theologians, who follow Bultmann, and Ehrman, and Barth, and have long ago given up any notions that God's word is true in a literal sense. It bothers me, however, when the people who are trying to reconcile creationism with evolutionary theory are those in my own denomination, the supposedly theologically conservative Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.
There are good reasons to question the theory of evolution. The things that did it for me were the large periods of time required for evolution, the laws of Thermodynamics, and the Law of Biogenesis. That, however, is an article for another time. What I want to focus on now is the idea that it's okay to believe some parts of the Bible, and not others. It isn’t. I suspect that this is more accurately described as Christians being embarrassed by the supernatural things in the Bible.
Generally, the reason people deny, and seek to explain away the miracles of Holy Scripture, is because they are uncomfortable "asserting and defending the miraculous." This is why Thomas Jefferson created his Jefferson Bible, swept clean of all the miracles of Jesus.[1] This is why your average Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Lutheran gets squeamish when confronted by non-Christians about the miracles of Christ. It's the reason people are seduced by such explanations of Jesus's miracles as I once heard in a Roman Catholic Church in Evansville, Indiana.
The priest was expounding on Jesus's feeding of the 5000. The priest asserted that we get much more out of this story of the feeding of the 5000 when we realize that nothing supernatural occurred at all. His explanation for the feeding was, when the people had heard Jesus' teaching, and saw that a little child had willingly given his small bit of food to share, they all felt ashamed and brought out the food they had been selfishly hiding from each other. The priest still maintained that this was a miracle, but nothing supernatural had happened. Jesus had simply gotten the people to recognize and overcome their selfishness, and the result was overflowing abundance.
More Law, in other words. Follow these rules to be a good person. There is no sin to be atoned for, simply a “self” to make better. What need is there of Christ to take on human flesh, die, and rise from the dead?
We try to explain away supernatural phenomenon all the time. Who knows, there may very well be natural physical explanations for some of the supernatural incidents recorded in the Bible. The bottom line is, however, if the Bible is not trustworthy when it tells me about creation, Jonah and the big fish, the sun standing still for Joshua, Jesus walking on water, or Jesus miraculously feeding 5000 people with some loaves and fishes, how can I be certain that it is trustworthy when it tells me I am a sinner, and that my sins are forgiven by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ? The answer is, that you cannot. Denying the six-day creation, and a literal Adam and Eve, and all the rest, eventually brings you to denying Jesus Christ.
If we are willing to believe that God exists, and that he has rescued us from sin, death, and the devil by the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ, why would we think that this same God was not powerful enough to create the world out of nothing by his word? Why would we be unwilling to believe that He could cause violations of the laws of physics (which we call miracles)? To be willing to believe that God is omnipotent and omnipresent, that he can raise the dead, but cannot create out of nothing, or cause Christ to walk on the water, or multiply the loaves and fishes, is absurd. 
You may as well not believe in any of it at all. That is the point to which you will eventually come anyway.
Moreover, if Jesus is God in human flesh, should we not take into account what he had to say about these things? I don't expect non-Christians to accept Jesus's explanation of things, but certainly we Christians should. Jesus believed that the creation account of Genesis was true, and that there was an Adam and Eve. He speaks of these things as though they were historical events. Ken Hamm of Answers in Genesis points this out:
Now, when we search the New Testament Scriptures, we certainly find many interesting statements Jesus made that relate to this issue. Mark 10:6 says, “But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’” From this passage, we see that Jesus clearly taught that the creation was young, for Adam and Eve existed “from the beginning,” not billions of years after the universe and earth came into existence. Jesus made a similar statement in Mark 13:19 indicating that man’s sufferings started very near the beginning of creation. The parallel phrases of “from the foundation of the world” and “from the blood of Abel” in Luke 11:50–51 also indicate that Jesus placed Abel very close to the beginning of creation, not billions of years after the beginning. His Jewish listeners would have assumed this meaning in Jesus’ words, for the first-century Jewish historian Josephus indicates that the Jews of his day believed that both the first day of creation and Adam’s creation were about 5,000 years before Christ.[2]
Jesus also believed that Jonah was really swallowed by a big fish:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here (Matthew 12:38-42).
We don't believe the things that Scripture tells us because we can find rational explanations of their occurrence. We believe these things because Scripture is trustworthy. It is, essentially, the same argument Luther had with Zwingli. Zwingli used rational arguments to say that Jesus's body and blood was only present in a spiritual way in the elements of the Lord's Supper. Luther, on the other hand, pointed to Christ's word: This is my body. We don't understand it, but we believe it because Scripture is trustworthy and tells us it is so.
Now to this purpose the comfort of the Sacrament is given when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, so that it may gain here new power and refreshment. But here our wise spirits twist themselves about with their great art and wisdom. They cry out and bawl, "How can bread and wine forgive sins or strengthen faith?" They hear and know that we do not say this about bread and wine. Because, in itself, bread is bread. But we speak about the bread and wine that is Christ's body and blood and has the words attached to it. That, we say, is truly the treasure – and nothing else – through which such forgiveness is gained. Now the only way this treasure is passed along and made our very own is in the words "given…and shed for you." For in the words you have both truths, that it is Christ's body and blood, and that it is yours as a treasure and gift. Now Christ's body can never be an unfruitful, empty thing that does or profits nothing. Yet, no matter how great the treasure is in itself, it must be included in the Word and administered to us. Otherwise we would never be able to know or seek it (LC V 28).[3]
Cosmologists such as Stephen Hawking, and popular "scientists" such as Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, attack people who believe God's word as backward fools. Each one has their own nuance, but the argument always goes something like this: Religion may have been a necessary mechanism for primitive humanity to come to terms with the world around them, and natural phenomenon they could not explain, but it has certainly outlived its usefulness. In religion’s place, we are given theoretical physics. And, if physics doesn't automatically preclude the idea of God, it most certainly limits him in the way he could have created the universe to such an extent as to make Him irrelevant. Though they cry out and bawl, “How,” we speak of the Creation, and the words attached to it. For, if we deny the Creation, we will eventually deny Christ.

[1] Jefferson produced the 84-page volume in 1820—six years before he died at age 83—bound it in red leather and titled it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. He had pored over six copies of the New Testament, in Greek, Latin, French and King James English. “He had a classic education at [the College of] William & Mary,” Rubenstein says, “so he could compare the different translations. He cut out passages with some sort of very sharp blade and, using blank paper, glued down lines from each of the Gospels in four columns, Greek and Latin on one side of the pages, and French and English on the other.” Much of the material Jefferson elected to not include related miraculous events, such as the feeding of the multitudes with only two fish and five loaves of barley bread; he eschewed anything that he perceived as “contrary to reason.” His idiosyncratic gospel concludes with Christ’s entombment but omits his resurrection.

Edwards, Owen. "How Thomas Jefferson Created His Own Bible." January 01, 2012. Accessed November 21, 2017.
[2] Ham, Ken. "Did Jesus Say He Created in Six Literal Days?" Answers in Genesis. December 20, 2007. Accessed November 21, 2017.
[3] McCain, Paul Timothy., ed. Concordia: the Lutheran confessions: a readers edition of the Book of Concord. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2005.