Who Goes There?


Good advances don’t have universally positive fruit.

who goes thereFor instance, I wonder if our advances in literacy and scholarship might have undermined our theology in some respects.  For instance, what do we look for when we read the Old Testament?
Walter Kaiser suggested that the Old Testament is treated by many Christians like their Grandmother’s attic: there are certainly treasures there, but you don’t really want to venture in alone.  So there are too many of us who only go in on guided tours to key sites before retreating to the familiarity of the New Testament.
But let’s say we’ve overcome that fear factor and ventured in.  Since it is January, perhaps the percentage of Christians reading the Old Testament is at its highest point in the calendar.  What should we be looking for?
Many will look for instruction. 
After all, these things were written for our instruction, Paul explains in Romans 15:4. In 1Cor.10 he tells us that these things were written as examples to us.  So perhaps that should be our goal as we read the Old Testament: to pursue instructions for living well?  After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us its purpose is Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth (or is that just a church poster and bumper sticker?)
Certainly there is plenty by way of instruction in the Old Testament, but sometimes we can be naively optimistic when we assume that we can filter out instructions that no longer apply, and successfully follow those that do.  Especially when the example Paul is speaking of functions as a warning against pride!  By all means lets look out for instruction and example in the Old Testament, but to turn it into an instruction manual does run more than a slight risk of missing the point.
Indeed, let’s not a develop radar for instructions for life while missing the consistent pattern of human inability to succeed at life presented in those pages.  The repeated pattern of human failure and the minority remnant of often fragile and frail faith should rebuke us from assuming we can simply pluck meaningful verses and live by them.
Some will look for anticipation. 
Recognizing that the Old Testament is anticipating something in the New, some Bible readers know that they are looking for more than personal instruction.  They are looking for the promise of what is to come.  This is good.  This is much more God-centred than a mere instruction hunt tends to be.
There is the promise-theme starting in Genesis 3:15 with the anticipation of the seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head.  That flows through hints and promises channeling our focus through Shem, Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse, David, etc.  It points to a prophet like, but greater than Moses; a priest greater than Samuel; and a King who is the greater descendent of David.
But here is where the blessing of literacy might be undoing us somewhat.  Perhaps we can tend to zero in on the written anticipation within the divine plan, but lose sight of the divine person.  Certainly we should read the written word and we should interpret it as accurately as we possibly can, but the Bible tells us that it is possible to devour the text and miss the person.
We must look for a person.  
Our tendency in the flesh will always be to settle for instructions that we can follow (and where we can’t, we’ll adjust our list so that we can get closer to success).  This is why we must read the Old Testament and see what is there – the pattern of human failure is significant as the dark velvet on which to spot the shiny loyal-love of God’s grace.  We must be alert to the promise that is there.  But ultimately our faith is not in promises read, understood, believed and claimed.  Ultimately our faith is in the giver of the promise.  That was true for them to whom the promises were made, too.  We must read to meet the God who revealed himself and invited trust in Him, the giver of the promises.
In his warning in 1Cor.10:1-13, Paul points to Old Testament examples of people setting their hearts on something other than God.  Disaffected from God they trusted in themselves and became profoundly vulnerable.  It was not merely an issue of lost information, it was the spurned relationship that undid them.  So the warning for the Corinthians was what?  To set their eyes on the instructions when faced with temptation?  No, it was to look to a God who is faithful and actively involved in their circumstances.
In his reference to instruction in Romans 15:4, Paul refers to endurance and the encouragement of the Old Testament Scriptures that lead to hope.  Next verse he reinforces his point.  Not that by our effort in following the instruction we might live well, but that endurance and encouragement come from God as we follow Christ in relationship to the Father and God’s people.
Jesus told the “Bible experts” in John 5 that they searched the Scriptures looking for life, but they missed that the Scriptures were speaking of him!  On the other hand, I just read a Spurgeon sermon on the “goings forth” of Christ “from of old” where he listed some of the Christ-spottings in the Old Testament.  We’d find similar thoughts in Calvin and Edwards and others.  So perhaps some Bible experts had their hearts pointed in the right direction.  Let’s be sure we do too.
Read the Bible and notice both the instruction and the human failures.  Notice both the faith-response and the rebellion response of human hearts.  Notice God’s promises to the undeserving.  And notice that the invitation is to trust in the God who not only states promises, but reveals himself repeatedly along the way.  We trust in God.  We trust in Christ, the person whose revelation of the Father forever endorses the trustworthy nature of that which is promised.
~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

New Year’s Resolutions…

[You are encouraged to read Dr Shogren’s post at his blog.]


 – or New Covenant Miracles?


For many years, I made no New Year’s resolutions. My reasoning:

  • Why make a big deal just because the planet has revolved around the sun to an arbitrary point in space?
  • Why try to be a better persons on this one day when I should be doing it all the time?
  • Are resolutions relevant to me, since I don’t need to quit smoking, drinking or gambling?

I’ve come to think differently, having taken another look at the Bible and paid closer attention to human behavior. For the past 5 years or so, I have made a single New Year’s Resolution on December 31.
The Word reveals to us that there are two methods for making resolutions.
Method A: “I will try really hard to be a better person in this area.” [1] But don’t we all know what happens? The resolution comes unraveled, usually within a few days or weeks. “45 percent of Americans make resolutions, but only 8 percent keep them.” [2] And so, red-faced, we push our noble plan to the back of our minds, at least until next year.
We Christians have the inside knowledge that the problem lies with the one who is doing the resolving. The words “carnal” or “fleshly” refers to “humanity as flesh is contrasted with Spirit, [it] is sinful, and without the aid of the Spirit cannot please God.” [3] Yes, those outside of Christ can and do make resolutions. Nevertheless they will fall short, and for several fundamental reasons: they lack God’s wisdom concerning how they should alter their lives; they have not been born again and changed in the New Covenant; without the Spirit they might come to be relatively better persons, but they cannot alter their nature, please God or effect any real change (Rom 8:5-8). They launch the New Year with hopeful hearts, but their resolutions are fragile ice crystals that melt under the January sun.
The disturbing thing is that some of these people are Christians, who listen to their peers and reach for the same old bag of tricks for self-improvement. Oh, sure, they add religion to the mix: they might pray for strength; they may even have the Bible as their guiding star. Many (most?) of us Christians try to do a spiritual thing but in a “carnal” manner. For example, one famous preacher wrote about resolutions, but most of his advice is plain common sense, the sort of thing you might get from Reader’s DigestDon’t start out assuming you will fail; be realistic; don’t be self-centered; take concrete steps; have an accountability partner; don’t get discouraged. Toss in a Bible verse and a word or two about prayer, and voilà – a way of life that bears a surface resemblance to the gospel, but at heart is the world’s system. It is putting new wine into old wineskins and it will lead to frustrated intentions and efforts, no matter how sincere they are (see Matt 5:17).
Let’s take a step backward and think for a minute: Is this the miraculous, paradigm-breaking new life promised to us in Christ:Be a sensible person, Be realistic, Take small steps? What happened to the Bible’s jumbo-sized promises of a life of dynamic, lasting change?
Method B – God steps in to make us like him, first when we are saved and then moment by moment. Yes, we take steps and put forth effort in faith, but God himself is the real agent of change.
The Bible plan is that “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom 8:9). That means that any change in our lives must be spiritual (which in Paul’s language means “in and through the Spirit”), not through our efforts (the flesh, human common sense, without supernatural power).
Let’s unpack the Bible teaching with a “for instance”: If I resolve to be less selfish this year, and by next year, before God, I am authentically 25% less selfish, then my friends, we have witnessed a miracle, a work that only God can do. The yardstick of comparison would not be the success rate of the nicotine patch or Weight Watchers, but the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 or the healing of the lame man or even the creation of the stars, the sun, the moon. It will be the fruit of Almighty God’s involvement within us.
There is an excellent example in 1 Thess 4:10: “concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” Paul was looking back to the prophecies of the New Covenant in Jer 31:31-34 and Ezek 36:26, showing how the pagan Thessalonians were living in the miraculous love that is the “fruit of the Spirit.” He is also directly alluding to Isa 54:13, “I will make all your sons taught by God.” “Taught by God” is not just taking a class about love; it is his complete package for change from the inside out. To the extent that they are walking in the Spirit, believers find that they are being motivated, are thinking, acting and reacting differently than they used to. In modern terms, the Spirit has re-written their software.
The Israelites looked forward to the New Covenant, but did not claim to have experienced its wonders. How blessed are we! From Pentecost onward, each believer is a temple of the Spirit, a “new creation.” This means that Christians have a fundamentally different nature than those we see every day in the world.
But back to the Christians who don’t understand what God has done, and who attempt to do good in their own power, or even in their own power mixed with some prayer or with a couple of relevant Bible verses on their smartphone. In fact, anyone at all could memorize Proverbs 23:20-21 –

Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.

And that person might find good help; he need not even be a Christian; he could be a Muslim or atheist or nothing in particular. But in gospel terms, this method of change can be as “fleshly” as the one who does evil things for evil reasons. That is what was happening in Galatia, where the Judaizers were struggling hard to be the people God wanted them to be; not only did they fall short, but they plummeted below the level they had started from. Legalists, according to Gal 5:16-17, become ever more angry, judgmental, bitter, divisive, sexually out of control.
What an embarrassing failure for all who name the name of Christ but reject his plan for life. They crouch in the shadow of the Spirit’s massive power plant, but imagine it’s best to rub two sticks together. It’s fruitless, and it’s an offense to God who provided us a crucified Savior in order to give us the ability to perceive, dream of, desire, and follow the holy path that he lays out for us (Eph 2:10).
Those who focus on the New Covenant live better than those who formulate tons of rules. That doesn’t mean that we “go all limp” and make no decisions; on the contrary, it turns us into active agents, as we ask that our decisions be an expression of God working through us.
The Christian’s New Year’s Resolutions ought to begin and end with confidence in Christ, with the power of the Spirit, with the New Covenant that rewrites us spiritually and, if we want to use the terms, in the realms of the motivational, the psychological, the behavioral, the social.
So, getting back to me: for the past 5 years or so, I have made New Year’s Resolutions. One had to do with my devotional life; another with my less-than-kind-attitude toward a specific group of people. I prayed. But my prayers did not sound like “I’m trying hard, Lord, I promise to do better, give me a push toward accomplishing my goal.” Rather I prayed along these lines, on December 31 and continually from then on:

Lord, you say in your Word that I should walk like ___. Mere self-control or determination will do me no good. But I confess that you are the God of the New Covenant and that you have made me to walk in holiness in this area of ___. Thus I ask that you would continue to rewrite me and change me from the inside out, doing a miracle by your powerful Holy Spirit. I believe that this will result in me living for you in this area of my life, making decisions and taking action as you guide me.

Do New Covenant Resolutions work? Well – if they didn’t, there is no way I would be writing this post!
[1] The US government actually maintains a list of the most popular resolutions (click HERE http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/New-Years-Resolutions.shtml).
[2] See [http://www.nwfdailynews.com/local/the-truth-behind-new-year-s-resolutions-1.71900
[3] G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 511.
~ Gary

Visit Dr Shogren’s blog to comment on his article.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/cmc-gary-shogren-sm.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Copyright Gary Shogren.
Gary has a PhD in New Testament Exegesis. He serves as Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica[/author_info] [/author]
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