Interdependence Requires Vulnerability

At Living Bread Ministries (LBM) one of the values we hold dearly is interdependence.  In the world of global missions you hear a lot of talk about dependence and independence, but not so much about interdependence.  This a comprehensive issue but the discussion almost always boils down to money.  The basic premise is that for indigenous church plants to be considered “successful” they must be financially independent (not dependent on outside sources of financial support).

The problem with this long standing rationale is that it curbs generosity and has stifled church planting efforts among the global poor.  Since poor communities are not able to be financially independent and Western agencies are unwilling to invest financially for fear of creating dependence, church planting movements are rare among the global poor.  There are very effective house church movements in poor communities around the world.  However, in these areas the house churches are primarily only able to deal with spiritual needs while Western humanitarian groups deal with the physical.

The net result often is a divorce of social ministry from the local church, and to what end?Yes the house church may avoid “dependency” but only because the Westerners are funding the social ministry through other entities.  If the local church is “independent” in its worship centers, but very much “dependent” for social ministry, which is the responsibility of the church, then we have not avoided this issue.  We have only traded one problem for another.  As if Western led and executed humanitarian programs to provide food, healthcare, education and housing for the poor are perfectly acceptable, yet helping a local church with local leadership implement their own program as they see fit is wrong because some financial resources are given to them directly.

In reality, interdependence is the best solution to the difficult problem of dependency. Think of the body.  Each part of the body is interdependent on the other parts.  The foot needs the leg as much as the leg needs the foot.  It’s the same with the body of Christ.  All of the parts of the body must work together for it to function properly.  This is the case with church planting among the global poor.  When everyone brings what they have to the table and invests it, churches can be planted among the poor and they can minister in a comprehensive way as the local leadership sees fit.  Neither side is independent or dependent, rather they are interdependent.  They need each other.

This type of partnership is hard and risky.  It is often messy.  It requires a level of vulnerability that most are unwilling to accept.  As a practical example, this week I prepared a comprehensive monthly income and expense report for LBM and our partner ministry in Brazil.  Since we value interdependence we shared this report with the national leadership in Brazil giving them complete access to our monthly budget including individual salaries, benefits, etc.  In doing this we are seeking to foster interdependence.  We know their budget and it’s only right that they should know ours.  We hold them accountable and they hold us accountable.  There may be other Western organizations that do this, but I do not know of any.  However, I believe this is the best approach to a very complex issue.

 

Portrait of a Christian

What does a Christian look like?  This is a question all of us must answer as we seek to follow Christ.  The short answer of course is we are to look like Jesus.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).  In Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ( John 1:14).  He manifested himself to us and revealed his image, thus showing us what our lives as Christians should look like.

He made himself our model (John 13:34-35, 20:21).  However, it is often hard to translate the life of Christ into our context.  Recently I was reading a biography on John Wesley, who is one of my heroes in the faith.  While I disagree with him on some secondary issues of theology I greatly respect him as a practical theologian.  As such, he was very much concerned with living out what we believe.

In light of this, the book I was reading dedicated the entire first chapter to a tract that Wesley had written in the mid 1700s which I have found to be exceedingly relevant today.  It is entitled The Character of a Methodist.  The term Methodist was given to the group Wesley founded as a derogatory name mocking the methodical way in which they approached life and Bible study.  Thus Wesley is not writing a denominational statement, but is simply making it clear that a Methodist, indeed all Christians should look like Jesus.

I encourage you to read this tract and meditate on what it really means to be conformed to the image of Christ.

Why must I join a local church?

When we come to know Christ as Lord and Savior we become a child of God.  As such we are members of the body of Christ, part of the temple of the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s bride (Rom 12:4-5, 1 Cor 12:12-13, 27, Eph 3:6, 4:4-6, 11-16, Col 1:18, 1 Peter 2:4-5, Rev 21:9).  Each of these descriptions of the Church describe it in its global corporate sense.  In truth there is only one church of Christ.  Every true believer is a member of the Church and therefore is united to Christ and to one another.  As members of the body (the Church) we each have a function which contributes to the whole; just as each member of the human body contributes to its proper functioning.  We have been gifted by the Holy Spirit to fulfill our function within the body of Christ and thus contribute to the work of the whole.  So, if we are members of the Church and function within it, why must we join a church?

Many people have this mindset.  They love Christ and even the global Church, but they have marginalized the local church.  Likewise many have exalted their local church and seemingly divorced it from the global Church.  Both of these practices are unbiblical.  There is only one church, but there are many local expressions of it.  Just as each individual believer is one contributing member of the body of Christ, likewise each local expression of the church is contributing to the work of the whole.

The local church is the expression of the body of Christ in a given community.  It does not replace the global church nor become more significant than the global church, but it is how the global church is expressed and represented in that community.  We cannot function in the body of Christ and willfully bypass the local church anymore than the foot can function in the human body and bypass the leg.  If the local church is the local expression of the body of Christ, then our membership in the body necessitates membership in its local expression.

In our present state it is impossible for the global church to gather together for worship, yet the writer of Hebrews says its essential for the stirring up of love and good works both of which the Church is called to (Heb 10:25).  One day the Church (the full body of Christ) will gather together to worship Christ (Rev 19:6-8); however, until that day we each gather in our local churches to worship Christ and encourage one another to love and good works.  More than simply gathering to worship and encouraging one another we must be members of a local church.

Membership involves commitment and accountability.  Culturally we are individualistic and value our privacy.  Thus, we want to avoid the commitment and vulnerability that biblical church membership requires.  We like the idea of being part of a global entity that is distant with no perceived tangible involvement in our lives.  A local expression that requires things from us and holds us accountable is undesirable for many of us.  However, our role as members in the body of Christ cannot properly be fulfilled apart from the local expression of the body, that is the local church.

Serving God by Serving Man

I am a very self-centered person.  I desire my own comfort and happiness.  Quite often I will go to any length to accomplish something that I want for myself.  I will endure hardship and overcome great obstacles when it benefits me.  I am always willing to serve myself.  Yet, when it comes to helping someone else, I am not always willing to work as hard to be inconvenienced.  We all have a self problem.

This may shock you, but when we serve self we are actually serving Satan.  There is a cosmic battle underway between almighty God and his enemy, Satan.  In the Scriptures we see two adversarial kingdoms.  We can either align ourselves with Christ and his Kingdom, or Satan and the World.  Satan is indeed the ruler of the kingdom of the world as seen in Eph 2:2 where, in reference to the world system he is referred to as the “prince of the power of the air.”

When we love the world and thus it’s ruler we are in opposition to God and his kingdom and therefore, make ourselves enemies of God.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

If loving the world makes us an enemy of God then it is important that we understand what loving the world is.  Look at how the Apostle John describes love of the world.

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

John describes love of the world as simply the love of self and it is a testimony to the fact that the love of God and his kingdom are absent in a person’s life.

Our self-love reveals that we reject the Lord’s kingdom and have aligned ourselves with the rule of his enemy.  Just a few examples from scripture are needed to make this point.  Jesus says:

23 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25)

Jesus makes it clear that an unwillingness to deny self is synonymous with man’s desire to cling to the kingdom of the world.  This is futile because the one who seeks to preserve his life in the world, will ultimately lose it when Christ establishes his kingdom in its fullness.  The one who loves himself loves the world, but the one who denies himself loves the Lord and his kingdom.

Earlier I mentioned Ephesians 2.  In this passage Paul likewise equates love of self with love of the world.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1-3)

Prior to being reconciled to God each of us were actively following the course of the world in submission to its ruler.  We lived in and pursed the kingdom of the world with the result that we lived in the passions of our flesh carrying out the desires of the body and mind.  We were lovers of self!  As a result we were children of wrath; enemies of God.

In Romans 12, Paul urges followers of Christ to no longer be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

What does this non-conformity to the world look like?  It’s simply the denial of self as an act of worship to God.  By deduction we conclude that the love of self is the result of conformity with the world.  Loving self communicates alignment with the world, while the act of self-denial communicates that the believer has been transformed and changed his allegiance to the kingdom of God.

It is clear that when we practice the love of self we are aligning ourselves with the kingdom of the world and serving Satan.  It is equally true that when we deny self and love others we are aligning ourselves with the kingdom of God and serving God.  This can also be illustrated with a few examples from scripture.

In Mark 10 Jesus gives a very clear example of serving God by serving man.  While the disciples were fighting for prominent positions in the kingdom of God, Jesus pointed to his own humble service to man as the model of kingdom life.

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”… 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-37, 41-45)

Having just heard Jesus foretell his death, James and John could only ask the Lord to guarantee them the most prominent spots in his coming kingdom.  The other ten disciples are infuriated by this not because John and James asked, but because they asked first!

In rebuke, Jesus points out how the kingdom of the world operates; it’s rulers lord over those they lead.  This is not the case in the kingdom of God.  To the contrary the leaders in Christ’s kingdom humbly serve those they lead.  They become their slaves.  This principle is illustrated in that the incarnate Son of God came not to be served but to serve and his service is defined by the cross.

By serving man Christ was also serving God.  His atoning death on the cross was service to man in that it allowed us to be reconciled to God.  However, it was also service to God because it was the Father’s will for Christ to die in our place as a ransom.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;…. (Isaiah 53:10)

This is a great kingdom principle.  Christ’s service to man in obedience to the will of God demonstrated his love for the Father.  He served the Father by serving man.

Love of God and love of neighbor are so interconnected that they cannot be separated.  When asked what was the greatest single commandment in the Law Jesus refused to give only one.  Instead he forever connected service to man and service to God.

37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40)

The Law and Prophets were summed up in love for God and love for neighbor.  You simply cannot love God without loving your neighbor; nor can you serve God without serving your neighbor.

The Apostle John likewise connects love for neighbor with love for God.  This is seen in his First Epistle.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. (1 John 5:2)

In other words we love our neighbor when we love God.  Like Jesus, John joins love of God and love of neighbor together in such a way that they cannot be separated and he defines love by the self-denial of the cross.

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

The motivation of our self-denying love for one another is that Jesus denied himself and laid down his life for us.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9-11)

Likewise, the Father sacrificially demonstrated his love for us by sending his son to die for our sins.  Again, the self-denying love of God seen in the gospel is our motivation to love God and our neighbor.

It is clear that for Jesus and John the love of God is directly connected to our love for our neighbor.  It is equally true that love is defined as the sacrificial denial of self.  Thus, for the Christian, we serve God when we align ourselves with his kingdom by denying self and sacrificially serving our neighbor in obedience to the commands of God.

This is of course a problem for all of us, because as we have already seen, we have a self problem.  Paul described every one of us when he was writing to Timothy.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power… (2 Timothy 3:2-5)

Paul could easily have been referring to me in this passage.  I am guilty as charged, we all are!  What’s the answer?  Work harder?  Be nicer?  We can’t do that; we love ourselves too much!  The solution has already been discussed.

It’s the self-denying love of Christ that transforms us from serving self and Satan to serving others and God.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:3-8)

In the gospel, when we repent of our sin and place our faith in Christ we identify with his death.  Our old self is crucified with Christ and a new self is raised with him to walk in a new way; a way that is transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Our new life, like the life of Christ, is marked by self-denial and service to God that is fleshed out in humble service to man.

Serving God: Bringing Hope to the Lost

The gospel is indeed a message of hope for the lost.  The message that a sinner like me not only can be cleansed of unrighteousness, but declared righteous by God is almost unbelievable.  Even more so when we realize that this is possible only by grace through faith as I place my trust in the work of Christ on the cross.  The reality that I will spend eternity with God is truly a glorious truth.  However, the gospel has far greater implications beyond my future in heaven.  There are cosmic implications of the atonement of Christ that bring hope for today to all who believe.

In light of this I would like to take a brief but comprehensive look at the cosmic implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I believe that by understanding the full scope of the gospel we can bring hope to anyone regardless of their current circumstances.  We can bring real hope of transformation today and for eternity.

Before we can fully grasp the scope of the fall of man into sin we must understand God’s original intent for mankind.  This is seen in the creation account of Genesis 1.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

In the commission of Genesis 1:26-28 God reveals his purpose for creating mankind.  Certainly, we should understand the image of God to refer to mankind’s relational attributes, our creative and volitional abilities, and as the root of every human being’s dignity.   These are all true, but there is much more significance to this passage.

The idea of image bearer is very significant.  In the culture of the ancient near east, kings would erect statues bearing their image throughout their kingdoms.  These statues would demonstrate to the people that the king’s reign extended to that region.  The image of the king reminded the people of whose authority they were under.  As the kingdom expanded, more images would be erected.

By creating man in his image, God was commissioning them to mediate his reign on earth.  This is understood in light of God giving Adam and Eve dominion over the earth and everything on it.  God was the creator and sovereign King, but mankind was to be his vice-regents ruling on his behalf.  In this sense, Adam and Eve were kings.  As they obeyed the commission to “multiply and fill the earth” they would carry God’s image and thus establish his reign over the earth.

God placed Adam initially in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:8) which he had planted.  He commanded Adam to cultivate the garden (Gen 2:15) and he gave him Eve to assist him.  Their role in the garden is also extremely important to understand.  The garden was the place where God’s presence dwelt on earth.

Before the fall, mankind dwelt in the presence of God in the garden.  The command to cultivate the garden carries with it the understanding that Adam and Eve would expand the borders of the garden until it covered the entire earth.  The result being that the presence of God would extend over the earth.  In this sense, they were also priests.

In light of this we can better understand God’s original intention for humanity.  Adam and Eve were priest kings.  Their role was to mediate God’s sovereign rule over his creation and to expand his presence over all the earth.  God did not need them to do this, but rather entrusted them with the glorious privilege of participating with him in the created order.  This was the purpose of mankind.

Sadly, Adam and Eve did not exercise dominion for very long.  Adam demonstrated his mediation of God’s reign in that God allowed him to name all of the animals (Gen 2:19-20).  However, we see that Adam and Eve fail to fulfill their mandate.  Rather than mediating the rule of God over creation, they commit an act of treason and betray God.

They allow God’s enemy to enter the garden that they were commissioned to protect.  The serpent, Satan, begins to plant doubt in the mind of Eve and pander to her love of self.  He twists God’s words in an attempt to deceive her (Gen 3:1).  When Eve corrects him and states God’s actual command, the serpent calls God a liar (Gen 3:2-4).

The serpent says that if they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they will not die, but that they will become like God “knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5).  Immediately Eve was enticed in her flesh to eat the fruit.  It’s clear that it was her love of self that led to her sin.  She saw that the tree was “good for food” and would satisfy her hunger.  It was a “delight to look at” which increased her desire of it.  Ultimately, she desired to be wise like God and believed the fruit would exalt her (Gen 3:6).

Eve, just like each of us, succumbed to the tyranny of self-love and self-gratification.  Adam likewise desired the fruit and freely ate of it when Eve offered it (Gen 3:6).  The couple that God entrusted to rule the earth on his behalf betrayed him and as a result surrendered their dominion to God’s enemy.  Through deception and mankind’s love of self, Satan was able to gain a stronghold on creation.

There were several significant results of mankind’s betrayal of God and alignment with his enemy.  First, their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked and became ashamed (Gen 3:7).  They attempted to cover their shame by sewing leaves together for clothing, however this was useless.  When God came walking in the garden they hid from him, because of their shame.  The couple that God had created to fulfill the role of priest by extending his presence throughout the earth was hiding from the very presence of God (Gen 3:8-10).

Next, we see several curses are placed by God on his creation as a result of mankind’s sin.  The serpent is cursed and enmity is placed between Satan and humanity (Gen 3:14-15).  Thus, as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience mankind is now caught in the middle of a cosmic battle between God and Satan.  While this battle is cosmic it is worked out in the lives of mankind.  Thus, those who were intended to rule now find themselves under constant assault by Satan and his cohorts.  Satan desires to destroy them and wipeout the remnant of God’s image in creation.

In the midst of this curse however, there is hope.  God tells Eve that her offspring will ultimately crush the head of the serpent.  The understanding here is that God will raise up a man who will destroy Satan and return mankind to his rightful position as priest king mediating God’s reign over the earth.  This word of hope is the first prophecy of Jesus Christ.

The next curse is placed upon the woman.  God increases her pain in child birth and brings enmity into her relationship with her husband (Gen 3:16).  The woman who before, had the privilege of filling the earth with God’s image bearers, now will endure much pain in the process.  Though she was created to rule alongside her husband now he will rule over her.

In this curse we see the root of so many problems in the world.  Problems in the home between husbands and wives stem from this curse.  The oppression and abuse of women is a result of this curse.  Indeed, this passage can be seen as affecting all human relationships and thus is the beginning of strife between man and his neighbor.  This plays out very quickly in the life of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-8).

As a result of Adam’s sin all of creation is cursed (Gen 3:17-19).  Adam was created to be a blessing to the creation to cultivate it and to benevolently mediate God’s reign over it.  Instead, his sin leads God to place a curse on the earth.  The cultivation of the earth which was to be a joy to Adam now becomes a hardship.  The ground is no longer as productive and Adam will constantly battle against thorns and thistles.

We don’t have to look far to see the multitudes of problems resulting from this curse.  Natural disasters like floods, tornados, and earthquakes wreak havoc on our world.  Droughts and the resulting famine and disease are the results of this curse. The world that was to be a beautiful garden filled with the presence of God is instead a planet struggling to provide for those originally commissioned to care for it.

Finally, to protect mankind from eating from the tree of life and thus living forever in his fallen sinful state, God forced Adam and Eve from the garden (Gen 3:22-24).  Though they were created to live in the garden in God’s presence they were forced out of the presence of God.  Cut off from God’s presence and the tree of life they would no longer live forever.  Just as God had said, they would surely die.

Thus, we see the magnitude of the scope of the fall.  Every aspect of life has been affected by Adam’s sin.  He surrendered his position of authority to Satan who is determined to eradicate God’s image from the earth.  Human relationships have been twisted and the love of self is mankind’s driving ambition.  The creation itself groans for redemption as it struggles under the weight of the curse, the exploitation of mankind, and the constant assault of the war that rages between God and Satan.  Indeed, the fall of mankind has had immense implications for all of God’s creation.

However, there is a glimmer of hope seen in Genesis 3:20-21.  Adam, in faith, named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living (Gen 3:20).  This is a reference back to the prophecy in Gen 3:15 that the seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan.  After this, God clothes them with garments of skin (Gen 3:21).

There are two very important concepts for us to understand in this act.  First, in order to make the clothing, blood must have been shed.  In this we see the necessity of the shedding of blood to deal with sin.  Second, we see the restoration of fellowship with God.  The couple hid from God because they were ashamed of their nakedness, but God in his grace clothes them in order to restore fellowship with them.  Both of these realities point forward to the hope found in the cross.

As extensive as the results of the fall are, we have hope because of the gospel!  The atonement of Christ is equally extensive overcoming all of the results of the fall and sin.  The immediate result of Adam’s sin was that they lost innocence and became ashamed of their nakedness.  In Genesis God clothed them in fur to restore fellowship with them, but believers are clothed in Christ (Gal 3:27).  That is to say our shame has been removed by the blood of the cross and we have been given the righteousness of Christ.  No longer must we hide from the presence of God; we can now approach him with boldness because of Christ (Eph 3:12).

As a result of the fall there were several curses placed by God.  When he cursed the serpent he placed enmity between him and humanity.  As previously discussed, this explains the spiritual warfare that we all endure from Satan.  He is a lion who seeks to destroy mankind (1 Peter 5:8), but as prophesied in Gen 3:15 the Son of Man has crushed his head.

This is evidenced in the ministry of Jesus.  By casting out demons, Jesus was demonstrating that he was reestablishing the dominion that Adam lost.

28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Matt 12:28-29)

Christ clearly showed that he had defeated Satan by exercising authority over demons.  The death blow was dealt at the cross and though Christ was bruised, his ultimate victory was established by the resurrection.  Satan has been defeated.  He still attacks the church, but in Christ we know that we have the victory and we will reign with Christ for eternity.

The curse that was placed on Eve made the process of filling the earth with image bearers a painful one.  In Christ, this process takes on new meaning.  Mankind is dead in sin and the image of God is marred in us.  Thus, filling the earth with the image of God requires new birth (John 3:3).  Paul talks of our old self being baptized into the death of Christ and raised with him to “newness of life” (Romans 6:3-6).  In Ephesians he refers to this as removing the old self and putting on the new self which is created in the likeness, or image, of God (Eph 4:22-24).  In this way, filling the earth with image bearers has a spiritual significance because only those who have died and been raised with Christ participate in his kingdom as image bearers.

As a result of the curse on the woman, discord arises in the home and spreads throughout all human relationships.  Yet Christ overcomes this by the cross.  He lives a life of self-denial and considers others as more important than himself.  Our old self was crucified with Christ and freed from the tyranny of self-love.  His life becomes our model of humility (Phil 2:3-8) as we seek to love God with all that we are and love our neighbors as ourselves.  Thus in the kingdom of God, this curse is likewise overcome by the blood of Jesus.

Adam also was cursed as a result of sin.  He forfeited the dominion the Lord had given him and brought death and sin into the world.  The creation itself groans under the weight of this curse (Romans 8:19-22).  Christ, the last Adam, reestablished man’s role in mediating God’s reign over creation.

 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. (Romans 5:17)

The citizens of the kingdom of God reign with Christ.  This reign has begun even now as Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  He mediates that reign through his body the church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of the Father.

For sure the reign of Christ has not come in its fullness.  There is a now and not yet reality to the kingdom of God.  The kingdom has begun and we build for the kingdom now with the hope that Christ will return and establish his reign in its fullness and completely wipe away all of the effects of sin.

This is exactly what we see in the close of scripture in the new heaven and new earth and the new Jerusalem.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Rev 21:1-7)

By the blood of his cross the Lord Jesus ultimately overcomes the fall and the curse.  Because of his righteousness the stronghold of sin is broken and all things are made new.  As originally intended, mankind will mediate the reign of God over a restored creation and we dwell in the presence of God forever just as was intended in the Garden of Eden!  This is a message of hope for everyone!

Why did God destroy Sodom?

Why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? I did a quick study looking for verses explaining why and this is what I found.

Gen 18:19-21 Since God chose Abraham to keep the way of the Lord by “doing righteousness & justice” he revealed to him the plan to destroy Sodom because the “outcry against Sodom & Gomorrah is great & their sin is very grave…” (ESV) It does not list specific sin.

Isaiah 1 – The Lord lists the multitude of Judah’s sins and compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah because of their empty religious activities.  He commands them to “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widows cause.” (vs 16b-17 ESV)

Jeremiah 23:14 – The prophet Jeremiah compares the sin of the prophets of Jerusalem with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  They commit adultery, lie, and assist evildoers, so that they continue in their sin.

Ezekiel 16:49-50 – This is the only passage that directly states what the sin of Sodom was.  They were prideful, had an excess of food, and prosperous ease yet they hoarded those things on themselves and neglected the poor.  They were prideful and did an abomination before God.

Matt 10:15/Luke 10:12 – Seems to imply that the rejection of the Apostles and their message and thus a continuing in sin will be judged more harshly than the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.

2 Peter 2:6-8 – Peter says that Lot was greatly distressed by the “sensual conduct of the wicked” which seems to be a reference to sexual sin and lewdness.

Jude 7 – In this verse Jude clearly ascribes a sexual nature to some of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, but in its context it would seem the sin he is referring to is the desire to have sex with the angels.

So what is my point?  Well it is not that homosexuality is ok.  There is plenty of evidence in scripture that the practice of homosexuality is sin, just as there is plenty of evidence that adultery and heterosexual sex outside of marriage is sinful.  That being said, the argument that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was strictly, or even chiefly that of homosexuality, is not defensible with scripture.  Thus, the faulty logic that homosexuality is somehow a bigger abomination to God than other sexual sins is likewise flawed.

Based on this brief study, we have to conclude that the sin that led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was pride and self-centeredness.  They had been blessed by God, but like the rich fool in one of Jesus’ parables, they hoarded God’s blessings on themselves and neglected the poor and needy among them.  They did not love God or their neighbors.  Even the sexual sin that was present was the result of self-centeredness as they sought to gratify the lust of the flesh.  Frankly, I find this understanding of the fall of Sodom to be much more bothersome and convicting to me personally, but it is nonetheless what the Bible teaches.

God’s Election

Paul begins Romans 9 by sharing his heartbreak over the lost condition of his fellow Israelites (vs. 1-5).  Israel had been adopted as God’s special people, and as such had received the covenants, the law, the promises, and the patriarchs.  It was from their race that the Messiah would come.  In spite of all of this they rejected God.  As Paul later put it, they stumbled over Christ (vs. 33).  How could the people of God who had received so much fail to receive the salvation provided in Christ?  Had God failed to do what he promised?

Paul deals with this in the next section (vs. 6-13).  The word of God had not failed because not all of ethnic Israel is the Israel of God (vs. 6).  He first illustrates this in the life of Abraham (vs. 6-9).  The Lord made a covenant with Abraham promising that he would make him a great nation and bless him, so that he would be a blessing.  This included blessing the entire earth through the coming Messiah (vs. Gen 12:2-3).  Abraham fails to trust God and fathers Ishmael with Hagar, his wife’s slave.  However, God tells Abraham that it is by Isaac that the promise will be fulfilled (Gen 12:12, Romans 9:7).

While the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants, not all of them are included.  The children of the flesh, the descendants of Ishmael, are not the children of God.  It is the children of the promise that are the true offspring.  Paul’s point is that simply having Abraham as their ancestor, did not qualify the Jews to belong to the Israel of God.  The people who, like Abraham, exercise faith are the ones counted righteous (Romans 4:3-5).

Paul further explains this through the life of Jacob and Esau (vs. 10-13).  Rebecca conceived twins and before they were born she and Isaac were told that the older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob).  This was totally contrary to their culture, and would have been very shocking.  Paul says that God did this so that his purpose of election might continue.  Before either boy could do anything to merit God’s favor, God chose to bless Jacob.

Again he is illustrating that not all the descendants of Abraham are of the true Israel.  He drives this point home by quoting Malachi 1:2-3 “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I hated.”  Some scholars try to soften this statement and say it simply means God “loved Esau less” than Jacob.  First, we can quite simply note it says he hated Esau not loved him less.  Second, Malachi 1:2-5 makes this view impossible.  God says he has utterly destroyed the descendants of Esau and they will be called ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’  So, from the womb, before birth, God determined that he would love Jacob and hate Esau.  This was not based on any works, including faith, but simply on the call, or choice, of God.

Paul is stating that the Lord has kept his promise because the remnant, the true Israel, is being redeemed while the remainder of ethnic Israel continues in rejection.  He anticipated the Israelites shock so he asks “Is there injustice on God’s part” (vs. 14) and proceeds to address this issue (vs.14-18).  First, he quotes Exodus 33:19 to address this concern.  In this passage Moses has been commanded to lead the people out of Sinai, but the Lord says he will not go with them.  This is because they are stiff necked and if God goes with them he will consume them (Ex 33:3).  Moses intercedes on their behalf and God tells him “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and compassion on whom I have compassion” (v 15).  Regarding this passage, Paul states that God’s display of mercy has nothing to do with human will or deeds but simply on God’s choice to show mercy.

Further, Paul points to Pharaoh in Exodus 9.  Through Moses the Lord tells him about the coming of the seventh plague.  The Lord says that he could have already destroyed the Egyptians (Ex 9:15) and freed the Israelites.  Instead, he hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he might raise him up to demonstrate his power and that his name would be proclaimed (Ex 9:16, Rom 9:17).  Again, Paul says it is God who has mercy on whom he wishes and hardens whom he wishes.

Expecting objections Paul asks “Why does he still find fault?”  Certainly, we respond in the same way.  How could God be just in finding fault when he hardens some for judgment and exercises mercy on others solely based on his calling?  Paul’s response is very significant (vs. 19-29).  He offers no explanation of this seeming injustice or contradiction.  Instead he asks, who are we to question God?  Just as the clay has no right to question the potter who shapes it as he wills, we have no right to question the one who created us (vs. 20-21).

It is God’s prerogative to create vessels as he sees fit, some to display his wrath and others to display his mercy (vs. 22-23).  Surprisingly for the Jews, the Gentiles are found among those vessels called to display God’s mercy (vs. 24).  This is shown through multiple Old Testament passages.  The first passage is Hosea 2:23.  In its original context, it refers to Israel, but here the Holy Spirit inspires Paul to apply it to the Gentiles.  The second passage is from Isaiah.  The prophet speaks to how the Lord preserved a remnant (Rom 9:27, Is 10:22, 23) otherwise the people of God would have been destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah (Rom 9:29, Is 1:9).  Thus the word of God has not failed because he has preserved a remnant of ethnic Israel and added the elect of the Gentiles.  These two make up the true Israel of God.

Paul closes out the chapter rather unexpectedly.  He does not use the sovereignty of God and his election to absolve the Israelites of responsibility.  He says the Gentiles have attained righteousness by faith, but Israel failed to attain it because they pursued the law of righteousness by works (vs. 30-32).  They have stumbled over Christ.  That is they rejected the righteousness of Christ that was made available to them through faith.  They chose to remain under the law and will therefore be judged by the law.  It is only in Christ that we can receive the righteousness of the law, because only he has fulfilled the law.  Somehow God’s sovereign election does not diminish man’s responsibility.

This is a difficult chapter and we often don’t like it because we look at it from the wrong perspective.  Just as Paul anticipated, our response is to say if this is true then God is unjust and unloving.  This goes against his nature.  However, this response reveals a major oversight on our part.  We must remember that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23), and none are righteous (Rom 3:10).  Therefore, all deserve wrath and God is not obligated to save any.  God does no injustice when he allows unrighteous people to persevere in their rejection or even when in judgment he hardens their hearts further.

However, God is exceedingly merciful when he chooses to intervene and call some of those unrighteous into saving faith.  Admittedly, these are difficult truths but we are not called to justify God in them.  We are called to humbly submit to them and rejoice in the undeserved mercy we have received.  Further, far from quenching our evangelistic zeal, these truths should lead us to respond as Paul did in Rom 1: 2-3 and 10:1.