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Author: Jonathon Bradford

Jonathon serves as a lay pastor at Gospel Life Church in New Braunfels, TX and currently works as the IT Manager for a non-profit ministry.

Tree in a field

Pursue Love: A devotional on 1 Corinthians 13:1-4

1 Corinthians 13, an oft-quoted scripture passage for weddings, is also referred to as the “love chapter” in the Bible. It argues for the primacy of love in all our endeavors in serving others and the Lord. As you seek to serve others in the Lord, be warned and reminded that if you serve without love, your serving will be for nothing.

Consider The Context

Our scripture passage follows a lengthy discussion regarding spirituals gifts, and how spiritual gifts are unique and indispensable within the body of Christ, the Church. To provide the context of 1 Corinthians 13:1-4, consider the following verses:

12:1  Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed

12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

12:11 All these (spiritual gifts) are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

1 Corinthians 12:1,4-7,11

The apostle Paul in chapter 12 is teaching the Corinthians, and us, that in the church we are different in our giftings, serving, and activities and all these differences are God-ordained, God-empowered, and God-given. Therefore, spiritual gifts should not to be rejected or discouraged, but rather viewed as indispensable and needed for the common good.

In short, God decides on the gifts, God empowers the gifts, and we use them for the common good through serving others.

A More Excellent Way

It is within this context of unique spiritual giftings that Paul introduces the “love chapter.” Paul has just given a “green light” to all the spiritual, ready-to-serve, Christians in Corinth. He is affirming their use of their spiritual gifts and unique calling, and as they are heading out the door to pursue their ministry and use their gifts, he must point their eyes to a foundational truth for all who serve the Lord.  He says:

12:31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

1 Corinthians 12:31

Wait… what? Paul is saying that there’s something better than using our God-given and God-empowered gifts in service to others?

Yes! There is something better.
There is something more worthy of your passionate pursuit.
There is something more worthy of your consideration.
There is something more worthy of your time, energy and focus.
There is something of so much more importance, that if you miss this thing, then all the work you do for God, without this one thing, means you gain nothing.

It doesn’t matter if you endure suffering in serving God.
It doesn’t matter if you experience pain and loss in serving God.
It doesn’t matter if you endure sleepless nights, loss of job, or loss of health in serving God. And it doesn’t matter if you sincerely believe you are doing things for God’s glory.

Paul teaches, in 1 Corinthians 13:1-4, that if you miss the better thing, all you do will be for nothing.

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

That one thing you must ensure you have in your life, in your ministry, as you use your God-given, God-empowered gifts to serve others, is love.

The more excellent and most important gift is love.

Our passage is teaching that all our ministry will be for nothing if we do not have love. It is a passage seeking to instruct Christians to keep love their primary priority. Therefore, to pursue love, we must make love our priority.

You may do great things for God and others, even miraculous and supernatural things. You may do things that by all accounts look to be the most Christ-like things ever, and yet, you can do those things without love; and if you do, even those great things—without love— are considered nothing and gain nothing.

Three Illustrations

There are three hyperbolic illustrations Paul gives, of using God-given, God-empowered gifts in service to others, and what their result is if you don’t have love.

The first illustration is in verse 1 regarding the gift of tongues. The gift of tongues, as you can read in Acts 2, is the supernatural ability to speak in a language that you don’t naturally speak. Paul mentions this gift and says “if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love… I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal..”

Being a noisy gong or clanging cymbal, when you’re trying to communicate with someone, is not a helpful or good thing. It’s a useless form of communication. The goal of language is to communicate something, but if all you’re producing is, at best, described as a noisy gong or clanging cymbal, then you may be speaking in the supernatural, but it’s failing to do anything. Which means if you don’t have love in your speech, even if your words are supernaturally empowered by the Holy Spirit, without love you’re doing nothing more than making an annoying noise.

The second hyperbolic illustration is in v2, which says “if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Paul lists three more supernatural God-given, God-empowered gifts, used in ministry: Prophecy, Knowledge, and Faith. He is exaggerating their use to make his point by saying “understand all mysteries..all faith.. move mountains”, because no one understands all mysteries or by all faith is moving mountains. His point is even if you have all of this supernatural, God-empowered ability, and use your gifting to do the miraculous, without love, you did nothing.

The last hyperbolic illustration given is regarding the gift of serving. In v3 he says “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” We’ve all sacrificed for others at some point in our life. That’s what Paul means when he says “If I give away all that I have,” he is referring to personal sacrifice in serving others. He gives the most dramatic example of self-sacrifice by suggesting you give away ALL your possessions and, beyond that, you give away your own life as well. The phrase “and if I deliver up my body to be burned,” means if I sacrifice my body to even a painful death of being burned by fire —perhaps the most painful death at that time besides crucifixion.  He gives this dramatic illustration of sacrificial giving of property and even of one’s own life to argue that you could do all of this, but if it is without love, you ultimately accomplish nothing.

In other words, you can do something significantly beneficial to others. You can make meaningful and costly sacrifices. You can suffer loss, even loss of your own life in service to God, believing it is to gain you something, and in the end, it gains you nothing.

Make Love Your Priority

Supernatural gifting of language, supernatural gifting of prophecy and faith, sacrificial giving, and by extension, using spiritual gifts in serving others, if done without love, will gain you nothing. Which means, above every work of ministry, above any act of service, that which must be a higher aim is love. You make love your priority.

To make love your priority, you must take all your ministry endeavors, all your spiritual gifts, all your activities, your serving, your unique callings and ask of each one: “Am I loving in these things?”

When you’re in the midst of hard situations, of difficult relationships, and dealing with issues where the right move is unclear, take time to examine your heart. In those moments, ask God to help you keep love your priority as you seek to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

Keep the truth always before you that significant impact, supernatural change, and even great sacrifice is not sufficient, in and of itself, to validate your work before God. Your primary priority must be that you have love in all your endeavors.


Crowd of people

Corporate Responsibility, Corporate Guilt, and the Gospel

This post is in response to comments made by Tim Keller in his presentation titled “Racism and Corporate Evil” on March 28, 2012. The video and transcript of his presentation are here.

In the presentation, Keller makes clear that he wants to discuss “corporate responsibility”, which means corporate moral responsibility and corporate guilt, as he says:

I’d like to talk to you first about the idea of corporate responsibility — corporate moral responsibility, corporate guilt

Tim Keller

Since Keller is talking about moral responsibility and guilt, and to help highlight the primary concerns, the remainder of this article will use the more theological terms imputation and sin. Sin is breaking God’s law, and imputation is the teaching that a person can be reckoned or credited something (a curse, blessing, sin, righteousness, etc.) that is not their own, thus be responsible for the sin of another.

God requires all people to obey His commands. As Christians, we desire to identify what is sin and what is not. Keller argues that when a person is part of a community or ‘system’, they are in part responsible for the actions of that system or community. The only exception to this doctrine seems to be if one is ‘resisting’ the sinful system. If someone is ‘resisting’ then they are not responsible for the sin. He mentions and illustrates this doctrine by using the community of Germany during World War II and uses the Holocaust as an illustration when he says:

Don’t you see that at the one end, you’ve got people who are more corporately responsible, at the bottom a little less corporately responsible, but only all those people died because the whole system was working and everybody who was in the system, everybody who wasn’t resisting the system was part of it because the system couldn’t kill all those people unless everybody was doing their job, even just looking the other way.

Tim Keller

Therefore, his concept of corporate responsibility is a moral responsibility and results in guilt for everyone who does not ‘resist the system.’ Within a Christian worldview, this must mean we are discussing sin: moral guilt before God earned by breaking God’s moral law.

The primary concern with Keller’s doctrine of corporate responsibility is that it means people are guilty of the sins of the community they live in unless they are ‘resisting the system.’ 

This sounds similar to the doctrine of sins of omission, the teaching found in James 4:17 that if we know the good we ought to do, and do not do it, then that is sin.

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James 4:17

However, upon closer inspection, it seems Keller is not talking about sins of omission, but a new category of a sin of imputation: the sin you are guilty of merely by being part of a community or system (and not ‘resisting’ it).

If this doctrine is true, then Christians must always and constantly be resisting the system if they desire to stop being imputed with the sins of their community (because every community always has sin).

Before seeking clarification on what exactly it means to ‘resist the system’, we must first ask, “Is this doctrine Biblical or only man-made?” Does God’s word teach that people are guilty of the sins of the community they live in unless they are ‘resisting the system’?  To answer that question, let’s examine the three biblical texts Keller uses to argue support for this doctrine (Joshua 7, Daniel 9, and Romans 5), and then consider our perfect example of a sinless life, Jesus Christ.

Joshua 7 and Corporate Responsibility

Keller argues that Joshua 7 demonstrates there is family responsibility for sin. The sin that Achan committed, the keeping for himself things that God had devoted to destruction, is in part imputed to his family, Keller says, because the family was also punished along with Achan.

However, does the punishment of the family require the imputation of Achans sins? Are there other explanations that do not require us to impute the sin of Achan to his families account?

I would argue, in light of clear teaching that children are not responsible for the sins of their father, we should seek another interpretation for why the family was punished.

First, let’s consider another biblical text, one that deals directly with the topic of a person being held guilty for another’s sin. Consider Ezekiel 18:1-24 which contains God arguing that children will not be held guilty for their fathers’ sins. This is clearly taught in verses 19-20:

19 “Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. 20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

God speaking to Israel in Ezekiel 18:19-20

Also, consider the godly example of King Amaziah in 2 Kings 14, who “did what was right in eyes of the Lord” when he did not punish the children for the sins of their murderous fathers, thus obeying the law of God laid down in Deuteronomy 24:16.

But he did not put to death the children of the murderers, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, where the Lord commanded, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. But each one shall die for his own sin.”

2 Kings 14:6

Scripture is clear that children should not be punished for the sins of their fathers, so why should children feel the weight of and be imputed guilt for the sins of their fathers? There is no biblical warrant to seperate the guilt from the punishment, for if one is guilty they should be punished. Conversely, if one should not be punished that means they are not guilty.

In light of these clear scriptures, I would argue there is another explanation for why the family was punished along with Achan, one that does not require creating a new corporate, or family responsibility doctrine.

The reason Achan’s family was stoned along with Achan was simply because that was the prescribed judgment God placed upon Achan for his sin. We are told in Joshua 7:1 that God’s focus was the covenant group of Israel, and when Achan sinned, he caused Israel to break the covenant.

But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.

Joshua 7:1

All of Israel, all people in the world, are sinners by nature and action and the wages of sin is death. God is able to bring judgment for sin through death at any time, and in any fashion he chooses. The stoning of Achan’s family was not because they were imputed the guilt of Achan’s sin (which the text does not say). We can say it was because the prescribed punishment for Achan’s sin was not just Achan’s death, but the death of his entire family.

Just because someone is impacted by God’s judgment of another’s sin, it does necessitate the one impacted is guilty of the sins of the one judged.

God could have killed more than Achan’s family. He could have wiped out of half of Israel. God is the creator of all people and has the right to do with his creatures as he chooses, which includes bringing death to a family in the judgment of the father’s sin. Just because one is impacted through the judgment prescribed for another’s sin, it does not mean the one impacted is guilty of the other’s sins. They are guilty of their own sins, not the sins of their father.

In light of Ezekiel 18 and Deuteronomy 24:16, we must not use Joshua 7 to establish the doctrine of family guilt as described by Keller. What is clear in Joshua 7 is that sin is serious, your sin impacts others, and God’s covenant with Israel requires all people in the nation to be accountable to each other. To create a doctrine where the members of a family are guilty before God for another family member’s individual sin cannot be established in Joshua 7.

Daniel 9 and Corporate Responsibility

Keller argues that Daniel 9 illustrates the doctrine of corporate responsibility for a culture because Daniel demonstrates his sorrow for the sins of Israel, even his ancestors, by praying for Israel’s forgiveness. Keller says:

I’ll take it up a little higher. In Daniel 9, now we’re talking about corporate guilt and responsibility inside a whole race or a culture because Daniel, in Daniel 9, confesses sins — repents for — and says it’s his responsibility to repent for sins that his ancestors did that he didn’t do it all.

Tim Keller

When Keller says that this text evidences Daniel’s felt responsibility to repent for the sins that his ancestors committed, Keller is reading into the text what isn’t there. Below is every verse in Daniel 9 where Daniel references his ancestors, or fathers:

We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

Daniel 6:6

To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him10 and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. 

Daniel 6:8-11

16 “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us.

Daniel 6:16

20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God,

Daniel 6:20

Keller asks the question “why does Daniel feel responsible for the sins of his ancestors”, and then explains the answer is because Daniel is responsible for the sins of his ancestors.  Then Keller argues we today are responsible for the sins of our ancestors, at least in part. You can see this application when Keller says:

But here is Daniel, feeling a responsibility for and repenting for things his ancestors did. Why? Because he knows that the culture that he’s part of produced the sins of the past and he’s still part of that culture. He senses the responsibility and the Bible senses the responsibility. He senses the connection. 

Tim Keller

Keller does not read or exegete the text, yet then asserts this feeling of corporate responsibility applies to all cultures, and thus, we should feel guilty and responsible for the sins of our culture’s past, just like Daniel supposedly feels for Israel.

There are at least two major issues with this application of Daniel praying for Israel and applying this text to establish the doctrine of corporate guilt.

Daniel was part of a nation in covenant with God.

As Daniel references multiple times in Daniel 6, Israel was in a national convenant with God, and thus, God had established specific national promises and curses that, as a nation, they were held accountable to and were corporately responsible to keep. Therefore, anyone born in Israel was by covenant responsible before God as a nation. The problem with using this text to argue all communities and systems are responsible for each other ignores that moral responsibility is before God and that God has not established a covenant relationship with every system, society, or community. Therefore, to argue we should feel guilty or responsible for the sins of a wicked nation we live in, or wicked ancestors of a community we live in, is unnecessary guilt at best, and a heretical doctrine at worst.

God has not made a covenant with any community or nation besides Israel, therefore, no other community or nation is held responsible before God corporately, because there is no corporate covenant that is broken.

The only covenant that currently exists between man and God is the covenant between the man Christ Jesus and God the Father. And all who are in Christ are in this covenant. In the new covenant, rather than holding individuals accountable for the sins of the group, Jesus takes away the sins of the group and gives them his imputed righteousness. Therefore, in the new covenant, rather than feeling guilt or responsibility for sins that are not your own, you feel freedom and gratitude for a righteousness that is not your own.

Should we feel sorrow over the sins of the past and of the present committed in our culture? Yes! We are to join the psalmist in lamenting that men disregard the law of God. But our tears are not because we feel guilty or responsible for the sins of our community or nation, but because the sin is against the law of a holy God who we love!

My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.

Psalm 119:136

Intercession does not equal guilt or responsibility.

To use Daniel’s prayer as an example of how Christians in every culture should feel the need to repent and feel responsibility for their cultures sin is ignoring the covenant Daniel is referencing when he prays.

Notice how Daniel specifically references the covenant he is part of when he says:

To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. 

Daniel 6:9-11

Daniel specifically references the “curse and the oath” that God promised  Israel as the reason God’s judgment is falling on the people. If you remove the curse and oath from the nation, then all you have is Daniel interceding for God’s mercy and forgiveness upon the sins of others. We know intercession is biblical, as we are to pray for others.

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,

1 Timothy 2:1

Our prayer for others does not mean we are guilty of others sins. Intercession does not equate guilt or responsibility. Daniel 9 should not be used as a prooftext to apply Daniel’s payer regarding Israel’s covenant relationship with God into every culture, society, or system.

Romans 5 and Corporate Responsibility

Keller references one final scripture in his case for corporate responsibility. He argues from Romans 5 by saying:

In Romans 5, Paul goes way beyond the idea that you are responsible for what other members of your family did and he goes way beyond the idea that you’re responsible for what other members of your culture do. He says you are responsible and you are condemned for what your ancestors Adam and Eve did. That is just by virtue of being in the entire human race, you’re responsible for things that you didn’t individually do. You are condemned for what they do and then of course he turns around and says, “But by connection to Jesus Christ, you can be saved not because of what you have done, but through your connection to him by faith.” The whole structure of the gospel is based on corporate responsibility.

Tim Keller

The doctrine Keller is alluding to is called original sin. It is the doctrine that all people born after Adam are guilty of Adam’s sin because Adam represented us.  As Wayne Grudem explains:

The conclusion to be drawn from these verses is that all members of the human race were represented by Adam in the time of testing in the Garden of Eden. As our representative, Adam sinned, and God counted us guilty as well as Adam. (A technical term that is sometimes used in this connection is impute meaning “to think of as belonging to someone, and therefore to cause it to belong to that person.”) God counted Adam’s guilt as belonging to us, and since God is the ultimate judge of all things in the universe, and since his thoughts are always true, Adam’s guilt does in fact belong to us. God rightly imputed Adam’s guilt to us

Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 495)

There is a lack of clarity when Keller says you are responsible for what your ancestors Adam and Eve did. Because nothing in Romans 5 says we are responsible for our ancestors (plural). It is not Eve who represented the human race, it was Adam alone. As Romans 5:12-18 says multiple times, it was through one man, Adam, the guilt of sin passed down to all people.

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 

Romans 5:12-18

To be clear, the doctrine of original sin is clearly taught in Romans 5. It is a true doctrine that all in Adam are guilty of Adam’s sin.

As we see in Romans 5, we are responsible for Adam’s sin. There is a category of responsibility for sin outside of one’s personal sins, and that is original sin, the first sin, committed by Adam who represented the entire human race.  To take this truth, and argue that the concept extends beyond Adam and the human race to every society, culture, or system is a misuse of Scripture. There simply is not any didactic teaching that such a corporate imputation of sin exists. Not only is lack of scripture warrant enough to reject the doctrine of corporate responsibility that Keller is teaching, but there is clear illustrative evidence that such imputation of sin does not exist. That clear illustrative evidence is the very life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Before believing that you are imputed the sins of your culture, consider the life of Jesus.

The man Jesus was sinless even though he lived within a sinful system.

Jesus was truly a man. All experiences, hardships, and sinful effects of a fallen world he endured as he lived a real human life. He truly is able to sympathize with our weakness as a man (Hebrews 4:15). As you read the gospel of Jesus’ life and ministry, you find very little ‘resisting the system’ of the sins of Rome, the culture he lived in. In fact, he seems to abide by the system as he instructs citizens to pay taxes to Ceaser (Matthew 22:21), commends a soldier of Rome (Luke 7:9), and does not resist the unjust decision of Pilate the governor (Matt 27:14).

The man Jesus did not ‘resist the system’ on multiple levels and in multiple ways. He never spoke against slavery or the corrupt government of his day. If Keller’s corporate guilt doctrine is correct, how did Jesus remain sinless? The reason Jesus was not guilty of the sins of his culture is because people are not guilty or imputed the sins of the society they live in.

Jesus was not guilty of original sin. The sin of Adam was not passed to him because Adam is not his father. Jesus was born of his Father, God, through his miraculous conception through the Holy Spirit. Being fully human by being born of Mary, Jesus was tempted by Satan to sin against God by disobeying God’s law and “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Nothing Jesus did, thought, or did not do was constituted sin.

Considering the perfect life and ministry of Jesus, the ultimate example of a righteous life, we see that corporate guilt and sin do not exist in the way that Keller is teaching; otherwise, Jesus could not have remained sinless. I guess one could argue that Jesus was ‘resisting the system’ at every level of his life, though this is clearly not the case in the gospel narratives.

Conclusion

As with any false doctrine, the result is a wrong and harmful application. As Keller begins to apply how we deal with the doctrine of corporate sin, specifically racism, he argues a Christian must not rely on salvation of individuals to solve corporate racism but must address the ‘system’ to solve racism. He says:

Now lastly, how does the gospel actually address this? On the one hand, you’ve got to keep in mind that just converting some individuals with the gospel, if the system needs to be dealt with won’t be enough to deal with racism.

Tim Keller

Keller actually takes a step back from the power of the gospel with this statement, even though he thinks he is moving forward. The gospel message is a call for individuals to believe God, repent and be saved. It is not a message that changes sinful systems apart from individual salvation. To attempt to use the gospel as a means to change a system is to misuse the gospel.

Consider any of the apostles as they preached the gospel throughout the New Testament, and you’ll find not one of them attempted to use the gospel to change a sinful Roman system apart from individual salvation. As Paul clearly teaches regarding the power of the gospel:

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.

Romans 1:16

The very power of the gospel is that it brings salvation to individuals. It is not meant to convert sinful systems, it is not an instructive societal handbook. It is a message that Jesus died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). All who place their faith in Christ will be forgiven their sins, and are delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of the Son where they have redemption, the forgiveness of their sins (Colossians 1:13-14).

To guard the gospel, we must be diligent to avoid using it in a way it is not intended. We must not dilute the simple message with additional, even good, messages. The gospel cannot be used to changes systems, but to change hearts. It should not be used to save societies, but to save sinners.

To guard the gospel, we must be diligent to avoid using it in a way it is not intended.

Christians should fight injustice. They should seek righteousness individually and the righteousness of others by being rightly related to Christ. Christians should love their neighbor. They should abstain from every form of evil. They should feel guilty over their own sins, confess them, and repent. But Christians should not feel guilty for the sins of another, rather, they should call the sinner to repent, and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of those sins. They should daily examine their own heart for any sin that might be lingering there. As for the supposed doctrine of corporate sin (the imputation of a systems sins upon one who has not committed the sin): that doctrine should be rejected utterly, for the sake of the truth. We must guard the focus of the gospel’s message and power, and guard the perfect life of Jesus as our example of a sinless life lived in an evil world.

Bible, Magnifying Glass, and Piece of Paper

4 Principles When Interpreting the Bible

As with understanding anything that is written, there are a variety of ways to interpret what something means. However, just because you can interpret something a certain way, does not mean that you should, at least not if you want to accurately understand what the writing means. When it comes to interpreting the Bible, you can use the 4 principles below to accurately understand and interpret what a specific text in the Bible means.

#1 Interpret the Bible Literally.

The Bible should be interpreted literally. This means you should interpret it to mean what it actually says. You should not try to “read between the lines” or even ask “what does it mean to me.” You should ask, “What does it say?”. To interpret literally does not mean all types of writings in the Bible are to be interpreted in a literal sense, rather they should be interpreted in light of their specific writing genre or style. A historical narrative should be interpreted as a historical narrative. Poetic writings should be interpreted as poetry. A parable should be interpreted as a parable.

For example, when the historical narrative text in Mark 4:38 says that Jesus was sleeping, it means that Jesus was literally sleeping. But when Jesus mentions a man sleeping in Mark 4:27, he is not talking about literal sleep, because he is telling a parable, and a parable is a story that is supposed to describe a specific truth. In this case, sleeping represents resting after sharing the Gospel, knowing that God is the one who ultimately grows the Kingdom of God.

#2 Interpret the Authorial Intent

Consider the audience during the time the specific text was written and attempt to understand the text how the original audience would have understood the text. The author of the passage wanted the readers to understand what was being said, and thus, there should be a single meaning that takes into account the context, audience, and culture of the original audience. The true meaning is the meaning the author wanted the original audience to know and understand.

For example, we know that the Gospel of John was written so that people would believe that Jesus is the Christ because John says so in John 20:31. Therefore, every part of the Gospel of John should be understood and interpreted to help people believe in Jesus as the Christ because that is what the author intended.

#3 Gospel Application

The interpretation of the text must take into account the whole of Scripture, which culminates in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We should use the later writings of the New Testament as an example and tool to understand how all of the Bible is to be applied in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Interpret commands and examples in light of faith-based righteousness and Spirit-led sanctification.

For example, Jesus said in John 5:39 that Scripture testifies about Him, and one must come to Him to find life. Therefore, we should see how Scripture testifies about Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection because Jesus said this is what Scripture is ultimately about.

#4 Progressive Revelation

The Bible was written in time and relates to itself within the unfolding of God’s purpose and will revealed in time. Therefore, the New Testament explains and reveals the fullest meaning and purpose of the Old Testament. The Old Testament can be considered as types and shadows of the New Testament since the New Testament explains and expands the plan and purposes of God. This is one of the ways that Scripture-interprets-Scripture.

For example, the Sabbath Day of rest was commanded by God to be a day when his people did not work (Ex 20:10). However, in scripture written later in Hebrews 4:1-10, God reveals that by believing in the good news, the Gospel, we have entered into the rest that the Sabbath day was ultimately about. Therefore, Christians are not required to literally rest on the 7th day of the week, because they already are “resting” by believing in Jesus Christ.

 

By using these basic hermeneutical principles, you will better understand and interpret the Bible.

Empty tomb

What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

The Gospel is the Person and Work of Jesus Christ

The Gospel is the good news of who Jesus is and what he did.  Jesus is the Son of God and, while remaining fully-God, he became a man by being born of a virgin woman about 2000 years ago.  He lived a perfect life in obedience to God. He never sinned but fulfilled God’s holy law perfectly. About 33 years into his earthly life, he was arrested and tried for crimes he did not commit and sentenced to death by crucifixion.  No one took his life from him — he willingly went to the cross to be tortured and killed. It was God’s plan that Jesus would die on the cross. And what happened on the cross is the most important thing in history. God the Father placed the sins of the world upon his Son, and the Son willingly took the punishment for the sins of the world. Therefore, the Son received the punishment for sin that we deserve, and he died on the cross bearing the penalty for sin. Three days later he rose from the dead, just as he said he would. His resurrection showed that his sacrificial death was accepted before God and that everything Jesus said and did was true.  He then ascended into heaven, promising to return a second time, when he will complete the work he started. At his second coming, he will make all things new and judge all people; sending some to eternal life with God and others to eternal punishment under God’s wrath.

The Gospel Calls For a Response

Jesus told his disciples to go and preach this message to the world, calling all men everywhere to repent (turn from their sins) and put their faith in the work he accomplished on the cross to pay the penalty due for their sins. When someone repents and places their trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God will forgive all their sins, adopt them as his child and give them eternal life. So repent, place your trust in Christ as your only means of forgiveness from God.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. (1 Cor 15:1-11;John 1:1,14,18; Col 2:9; Luke 1:34-35; John 10:18; 1 John 2:2; John 1:29; Isa 53:5; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; Acts 16:31; Rom 10:9; Rom 4:24-25; Rom 4:4-5; Rom 6:23; Acts 17:30)

One Page Gospel Handout

Download this 1-page handout defining the Gospel with questions to help ground a Scriptural foundation of the Gospel.

A 1-Page Gospel Study Handout [pdf]

Open Bible

Bible Verses showing Jesus is God for Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Biblical teaching that Jesus is God. But since they claim to believe the Bible, we should use the Bible to show that Jesus is indeed truly God. This is made more difficult than usual because they trust their own organization’s translation of the Bible, entitled “The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures”.  This translation changes Bible verses to remove or obscure references to the divinity of Jesus Christ. Below are scriptures which give evidence to the deity of Christ. A red asterisk (*) is placed by scriptures that are altered in the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation.

God’s Spirit is Christ’s Spirit (Romans 8:9)

Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory (Isa 6:1-3, John 12:38-41)

Jehovah applied to Jesus (Psa 102:25-27, Heb 1:10-12)

Prayer to Christ (2 Cor 12:8-9; John 14:14; Acts 7:59-60*, Rev 22:20)

Call upon the name of Jesus to be saved (Romans 10:9-13*,1 Cor 1:2, Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21,36*)

Thomas’ Confession that Jesus is God  (John 20:28)

Jesus is worshipped (Heb 1:6*, Matt 2:11*, Matt 14:33*, Matt 28:9*)

Jesus is called God (Heb 1:8*, 2 Peter 1:1*, Titus 2:13*, John 1:1*, John 1:18*, Isa 9:6, John 20:28, Rev 1:8*, Rev 21:6-7)

All fullness of deity is in Jesus (Col 2:9)

Jesus is Alpha/Omega, Beginning/End, First/Last (Rev 1:4-8*, Rev 1:17-18, Rev 22:12-16, Isa 44:6)

All things are created by Jesus and for Jesus (Col 1:16, Rom 11:36, Isa 44:24, Isa 45:12, 66:2)

The word Jehovah in the New Testament

The word Jehovah in the Old Testament is written as Lord in the New Testament; however, the Jehovah’s Witness translates Lord as “Jehovah” to obscure the deity of Christ.  Doing this in the New Testament makes it seem as though the term Jehovah is referring to the Father though many times it is actually referencing Jesus. The New World Translation was written by the Watchtower organization to remove and change verses that don’t align with the theology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  It also uses a very rigid wording to make it difficult to read and study. Other Bible translations openly list their translators so you can verify their lives and credentials. The New World Translation was translated by anonymous individuals working for their organization.

Passages implying Jesus’ deity

Glory with God before the world (John 17:5, Isa 42:8)

Honor the Son just as you honor the Father (John 5:23)

Honor as holy (1 Pet 3:14-15, Isa 8:12-13)

Every knee bows (Phil 2:10-11, Isa 45:23-24)

Prepare His way (Mark 1:1-3, Isa 40:3)

Questions to ask a Jehovah’s Witness

If Jesus never said “Jehovah”, why is it so important that we do?

If none of the New Testament writers used the word Jehovah, why does your translation of the Bible say they did?

Who translated your Bible, and how are you certain they were qualified to translate?

Open Bible

5 Things to Understand About the Bible

While reading or listening to something, our presuppositions influence how we understand what is written or said. Therefore, the presuppositions we have towards the Bible will impact how we understand the Bible. For example, if you think the Bible is without error, then you’ll interpret the meaning of passages in a way that allows harmony between apparently conflicting passages. However, if you think the Bible contains error, then you’ll interpret conflicting passages to be mistaken, even if you are aware of possible interpretations that would harmonize passages. Your presuppositions will drive your interpretation and application one way or another.

For the born-again Christian who desires to rightly understand and apply the Bible, there are fundamental things you should know to rightly interpret and apply the Bible.  The understandings stated below form a solid foundation for accurate Bible study interpretation and application.

Understand the Nature of the Bible

The Bible is God-Breathed (2 Tim 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21). It is not ultimately written by men, though God used men’s hands and thoughts. The Bible’s ultimate source is God; so much so, that when you read the Bible or hear it read, you hear God speaking.

2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

2 Peter 1:21
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Understand the Substance of the Bible

The “substance” of the Bible is that of which it is made up or of which it is composed. The Bible is composed of truth, and it is perfect in thought and teaching (Psalm 19:7, John 17:17). The Bible is true and non-contradictory. There is a consistent way to interpret and understand the Bible so that you won’t arrive at contradictory doctrines or conflicting applications. The Bible is right and correct on all matters it discusses.

Psalm 19:7
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;

John 17:17
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Understand the Sufficiency of the Bible

The Bible claims for itself to be sufficient for equipping Christians for every good work. Therefore, understanding and applying the Bible is enough to enable Christians to become all and do all the good works God has prepared  that they may walk in them

2 Timothy 3:17
17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Ephesians 2:10
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Understand the Ultimate Aim of Scripture

Ultimately, the Bible is about the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 5:39, 1 Cor 2:2, 2 Cor1:20, Col 1:16-20). Jesus Christ is the God-Man who bled and died and rose again to save all who repent and have faith in Him. The gospel is the good news of salvation that Jesus has accomplished. Therefore, it is appropriate to say the Bible is ultimately about Jesus and the gospel.

John 5:39
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,

1 Corinthians 2:2
2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

2 Corinthians 1:20
20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

Colossians 1:16-17
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Understand the Ultimate Audience of Scripture

The Bible is ultimately for people (John 17:17, Heb 4:12, Rom 15:4, 1 Cor 10:11). God spoke in words—in language— for a purpose: to communicate to us. God is the perfect communicator. If there is any failure in understanding or application, it is ultimately our fault, and not that God isn’t clear. So the Bible is meant to be understood and applied, and it has been clearly communicated to us, which obligates us to do the work to rightly understand and apply the Bible.

John 17:17
17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Hebrews 4:12
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Romans 15:4
4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

1 Corinthians 10:11
11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

Mountains Reflecting on Water

The Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the primary tenants of the Christian faith.  It is not important merely for the sake of tradition, or because the word itself is taught in the Bible (the word is not).  However, Christians through the ages believe in the Trinity because the truths it represents are taught in the Bible.

The Trinity is established by 3 Biblical truths

1. There is one God.

We believe in only one true God in all existence, in all places, at all times.  The word “God” in this sense is defined as a single being, having all divine attributes. These attributes are: omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), and omnipresence (exists in all places).

2. There are 3 persons who exist as one being, that is one God.

Notice the distinction between persons and being. We define a person as one having a will and who is distinguishable from another person. A person distinguishes himself from others by saying “me, mine, you, yours, etc.”  A being is the whole nature or essence of something.  Therefore, in this context, God is the “what” and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the “who”.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each called Jehovah (or Spirit of Jehovah), given divine attributes, and are distinguished from one another.

The Father – Matthew 27:45-46 (usually there is no argument that the Father is not God, since every place Jesus speaks to God, he is addressing the Father.)

The Son – Phil. 2:5-6; Col. 1:15-17, 2:9; Heb. 1:8-12; 1 Pet. 3:15; John 17:1-4

The Holy Spirit – Acts 5:3-4; John 14:16-17, 26; John 16:7-13

3. These 3 persons are each fully God and eternally existing.

None of the 3 are “less divine” than the others. They all exist as fully God, with none of them lacking in any attribute or aspect that defines God. This description that all persons are fully God is called the “Ontological Trinity”. Ontological means the ‘nature’ or ‘essence’ of something.  Therefore, we would rightly say, within the Ontological Trinity, there is no variation or distinction made. In other words, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have a unique and unbreakable unity, and their existence together is the being that is God.

In contrast to the Ontological Trinity, there is the Economic Trinity.  The term “Economic” refers to the roles, functions, and relationships that exist within the Trinity.  The Bible reveals that each person of the Trinity has unique roles, relationships, and functions which are distinct from one another.  These things are referred to as the Economic Trinity. Examples of these different roles would be:

The Incarnation: Only the Son became incarnate, took on flesh.

Sending of another: The Father sends the Son, and both the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit and Son do not send the Father.

Intercession: The Son intercedes as our High Priest before the Father.  The Holy Spirit prays for us. The Father hears their intercessory prayers.

Conclusion

Believing in the above 3 points leads all Christians to acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity. When you encounter a person or group who denies the Trinity, it is merely a matter of walking through these 3 points, to see where they diverge from Biblical teaching.

Analogies for the Trinity

In an attempt to explain the Trinity, there are some bad examples people use, and some better ones.  Because God is utterly unique, all comparisons will fail at some point. If you need to use an analogy, then use a good one.  But remember, it is much better to let Scripture teach the 3 points above which establish the doctrine of the Trinity than to rely on analogies.

Bad Analogies for the Trinity

The Egg Analogy – God is like an egg.  The Holy Spirit is the shell, Jesus is the egg white, and the Father is the egg yolk.  They are three in one egg. This is a bad analogy because it fails at the truth that all three persons comprise the fullness of God.  God is not made up of 3 ‘parts’ like the 3 parts of the egg.

Water Analogy – God is like water, or H2O, which can exist in 3 forms. Water can be frozen and is called ice.  It can also be a liquid and called water. Or water can be evaporated and called steam. It is still H20, but just different forms. This is a worse analogy than the egg because it is more analogous to the heretical doctrine of Modalism/Oneness than for the Trinity. This is because the H20 is changing forms in representing each person. It is not existing as 3 different parts (persons) at the same time.

Relationship Analogy (Husband/Son/Father) – God is like a person with different relationships just as a man can be a Dad, but also someone’s Son, and also someone’s Husband. So God performs 3 different roles/relationships but 1 God. This is just as bad as the Water analogy and leads to the same error.  It does not represent 3 persons existing simultaneously. It only has 1 person acting in three different roles. The very definition of the heresy known as Modalism/Oneness is that there is one person existing in three different modes or manifestations.

All of the above Bad Analogies would perhaps do more harm than good if used in explaining the Trinity.

Better Analogies for the Trinity

Time Analogy – God is like time. Time exists as 3 things: past, present, and future.  The past is not the present and the present is not the future, yet all three together is what we call time.

Space Analogy – God is like space. Space consists of three things: height, width, and depth.  Depth isn’t the same thing as height and height isn’t the same thing as width, yet all three together are what comprise space.

1 What and 3 Who’s

When discussing God, especially in regards to his nature, being and persons, a simple statement to articulate the Trinity is:  God is 1 what and 3 who’s*. This is a quick way to describe the doctrine of the Trinity — namely, God is 1 being (the what is God’s nature, essence, being) and 3 who’s (the who’s being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). However, keep in mind that the one being who is God is a personal being. This means there is a sense in which all 3 persons may act or speak as one.

Trinity Verses

Below is a compilation of the verses that reference all 3 persons of the one God.  This is not an exhaustive list:

  • Matt. 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,”
  • 1 Cor. 12:4-6, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.  5And there are varieties of ministries and the same Lord. 6And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.”
  • 2 Cor. 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”
  • Eph. 4:4-7, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.  7But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
  • 1 Pet. 1:2, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure.”
  • Jude 20-21, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; 21keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.”
  • Eph 2:18,22 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father., 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
  • John 14:16;26, “16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Further Reading

For further reading on the Trinity, I would recommend James White’s The Forgotten Trinity, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and online articles by CARM.org.

Lastly, below is a helpful graphical chart explaining the doctrine of the Trinity I found  from the Christian blog by Tim Challies found at Challies.com