Tag Archives: Savior

Isaiah 1: The Consuming Fire

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I remember the first time I learned about God as the all-consuming fire. It was when I first heard about Moses (the un-cut version – not the nicey-nice children’s version). Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy groundIt was such a strange and foreign image to my mind – God being a fire. But I was young and have since learned more about this consuming fire.

The next time I remember reading about fire in the Bible was when I read about the Hebrews in Babylon. They would not bow down, so they were thrown into the fire. But then there was a fourth person in the fire! And when the three men came out (yes, they walked right through the blazing inferno), not even a hair was singed on their bodies. Okay, make a mental note: not only is God an all-consuming fire, but He can rescue His faithful followers out of a fire. (You have no idea how much I want to continue talking about this amazing story…but I digress.)

In college my Old Testament professor drove home the image of fire as a metaphor for judgment. For some reason this concept has stuck with me more than all the others. It seems like fire is sprinkled all throughout the Bible: God as the pillar of fire. Elijah at Mount Carmel. Endless sacrifices. The refiner’s fire. The tongues of flame at Pentecost. The fiery pit of hell (and those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head). Aside from these examples, the largest majority of references to fire actually pertain to judgment (whether from God or man). Frankly, I see why fire is used as a metaphor for judgment. The imagery is frightening. I can’t think of a worse way to die either – to be burned alive in a fiery blaze.

It’s with all these pictures in mind that I read through the first chapter of Isaiah. First my eye caught the words “Sodom” and “Gomorrah” (v. 9-10), and I recalled Genesis 19:24:

Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. (ESV)

Terrifying reminder number one. Surely the Judahites’ ears perked up a little when they heard Isaiah speak the name of those two condemned cities. And then in Isaiah 1:10 he calls them “you leaders of ‘Sodom'” and “people of ‘Gomorrah.'” I’m sorry, did he just refer to us as the leaders of the worst cities ever? Why yes, I think he did.

He goes on to describe their self-centered approach to worship, calling it sinful and false (v. 13).  Now those are fightin’ words, Isaiah. We’re just doing what’s in the Law. We’re following our religion. And how’s that working out for you? God says He wants none of your sacrifices, He’s sick of your offerings, He gets no pleasure from your animal sacrifices, wishes you’d stop bringing your meaningless gifts, is disgusted by your incense offerings, hates your celebrations and festivals, believes all of this is a burden to Him and He cannot stand them (v. 11-14). He even refuses to look when they lift up their hands in prayer because their hands are covered with the blood of the innocent (v. 15). If we’re being honest, maybe Sodom and Gomorrah is a fitting description for them after all.

Following this laundry list of all the things appalling to God, Isaiah (God) tells them “Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of My sight. Give up your evil ways.” (v. 16, NLT)

Anytime someone says “get out of my sight,” it’s usually uttered with absolute contempt or disdain. And usually, the person isn’t joking around. It’s a serious matter and requires an immediate response. I suppose you could call it an ultimatum. Do X or else Y will happen to you. Isaiah goes on to tell them what they should do (v. 17) and in verse 18 we read a familiar passage:

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as  white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool. (ESV)

But we often miss v. 19-20, “If you will only obey Me…But if you turn away and refuse to listen, you will be devoured by the sword…” (oh boy, another judgment metaphor). He tells them, I don’t care for all your “religious”, lack-luster, disingenuous worship. I want your obedience. I want to take away your sins, and I want to make you holy. In v.24-26 Isaiah tells the people that God will use judgment or discipline to make this happen. He would even bring renewal through the appointment of godly leaders. Again in v. 27-28 He reminds them to repent (wash yourselves, be clean, give up your evil ways!) and if they don’t, they’ll be destroyed, consumed. And we finally arrive at the image of fire in v. 31:

The strongest among you will disappear like straw;
    their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire.
They and their evil works will burn up together,
    and no one will be able to put out the fire. (NLT)

Their own sins will set them on fire, and no one will be able to put it out. It’s one thing to have a blazing fire that can be contained. It’s a completely other thing to have a devouring fire that can’t be extinguished. That’s complete destruction. That’s an all-consuming fire. And that‘s how God describes Himself on several occasions (Deut 4:24, 9:3, Is 30:27, 33:14, Lam 2:3, Heb 12:29). What do I even make of this?

The passage in Deuteronomy tells us that God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. He refers to Himself as a jealous God several times as well (Ex 20:4-5, Deut 5:9, 6:15, Ez 38:19 and it goes on and on), and it’s almost always coupled with anger (as burning or kindled or smoking – in other words, like a fire). Perhaps we have a hard time with this fiery, jealous anger, because when we respond with jealous anger, it’s sinful. I believe we could have moments of divine jealousy, but I think those are rare. But God does not sin. His jealousy is completely legitimate and founded. His jealousy is the Lover’s jealousy written in Song of Solomon 8:6:

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave. Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame.

When the Bible speaks of God’s jealousy, it is usually a jealousy for His holy reputation and for those things and people who belong to Him – 1) God is jealous for His name, 2) He is jealous for Jerusalem/Zion, and 3) He is jealous for us (Ez 39:25, Zech 1:14, James 4:5). First, He is unwilling to share His glory (Is 42:8, 48:11). Interestingly God’s glory is known as the shekinah glory, and when He manifests His glory on earth, it appears as a brilliant light that blazes like a fire (Ex 30:44-45; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Ez 1:28; Matt 17:1-8). It is something that no man can behold in its fullness and still live to tell about it (Ex 33:20). Secondly, God is jealous for the place where He has said He would make His name, eyes, and heart dwell (1 Kings 9:3, 11:36; 2 Kings 21:7). This again is connected to His reputation. And finally, like the jealous lover, God is not willing to share His people (who also bear His name) with anyone or anything (Ez 36:22-32). He will defend the holiness of His name wherever He has made His name to dwell. We are caught up in a love that is as fierce as a fire.

This jealousy, though it is a burning desire for His glory, somehow manages to be great news for us. Actually it is our only hope. In the Ezekiel 36 passage, God declares:

23I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

His motivation is for “the holiness of [His] great name,” but we benefit from this jealousy as He makes us holy and gives us His Spirit who makes it possible for us to obey Him. The all-consuming fire came down to earth, but He didn’t devour and destroy. He came to save (John 3:16-17; 1 Tim 1:15). John 1:1-5, 14 tells us of the light that came down:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (ESV)

This is the greatest news! This is the gospel. The people spoken of in Isaiah whose own sin had set them on fire have a God who is greater than their sin. They have a God who is greater than the Law which they were trying so hard to follow (Rom 8:1-4). Come, though your sins are as scarlet, I will make them as snow. Come, I will cleanse you, giving you a new heart and putting My Spirit in youCome, I have set My name on you as seal, and I am the jealous Lover. You are Mine.

Titus: Physical vs. Spiritual

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Titus 3:3-8 – For (F)we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.But when (G)the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, (H)not because of works done by us in righteousness, but (I)according to his own mercy, by (J)the washing of regeneration and (K)renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he (L)poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,so that (M)being justified by his grace we might become (N)heirs (O)according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is (P)trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful (Q)to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

Paul offers a nice contrast again, following on the heels of the last section of Scripture. In the last lesson, we learned that he wanted the believers to be submissive to authorities and to be ready for good works, displaying their faith in the crooked Cretan world. In this passage he reminds them that they (including himself) too were once depraved and enslaved to their passions. Perhaps this was his way of encouraging them so that they could see their new identity and not despair or be discouraged about their former life or habits. 2 Cor 5:17 tells us that we are a new creation. We were slaves to sin, now we belong to Christ. In Eph 2:1-3 Paul also writes about the believer’s former life. We used to be “children of wrath,” and we were dead in our sins. We lived out the passions of our flesh and carried out the desires of our body. It’s just not a pretty sight, folks. But there’s always good news right around the corner.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared…” There’s that appeared word again (epiphaneo). God’s goodness and love broke through as the light of dawn. And when our Savior appeared, He saved us. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

To be certain that no one forgets what their role in salvation is, Paul writes that God saved us not because of works that we do, but He saved us in His mercy. This echoes his teaching in Eph 2:8-9 – it is by grace we have been saved through faith (not of ourselves). As if this weren’t great news already, God also uses the Holy Spirit to regenerate and renew us. Regeneration is basically new birth (after all, we were dead in sins and we needed to be made alive again). This Spirit has been poured out on us richly through Christ. I don’t know about you, but the image of the Spirit being poured out sounds abundant, and then he adds the word richly, which just accentuates the lavish abundance even further! The good news just got even better.

As we keep reading, it might feel like we’ve just won the lottery (actually it’s even better than that). First Paul speaks of being justified by His grace. To be justified meant to be pardoned or cleared from guilt; to absolve or acquit from guilt and merited punishment, and to accept as righteous on account of the merits of the Savior or by the application of Christ’s atonement to the offender (Webster’s 1828). What it boils down to is that we get something we didn’t deserve. We get Christ’s righteousness in exchange for our dead, sinful lives. It’s extravagant grace. And it makes no sense.

So God declares us righteous and then raises us as His heirs. Again, this makes no sense! We become children of the King. This is the hope we have, that He has promised us an inheritance of eternal life (See also 1 John 2:25, Heb 6:17-18, 1 Cor 1:22, Eph 4:30, Eph 1:11-14).

He closes with the call to good works again. He presents quite the case for why we should be devoted to good works. It only makes sense given the gravity of all Christ has done for us! They will know we belong to Him by our fruit (good works). The works are simply the evidence of our faith. It reveals our devotion to Him. And these things are excellent (because they bring glory to God) and profitable (because they bring others to God). May we be careful to devote ourselves to good works.

Sola Scriptura!

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By Scripture alone. Through the working of the Holy Spirit.

My oldest son, who is very small for his age, also seems to be wise beyond his years. It certainly has nothing to do with me. I’ve given up on trying to take credit (or even joke about taking credit) for the good things that come out of him because he’s advancing beyond what I remember teaching him! While this may seem like I’m bragging about how great he is, I have to pause and acknowledge the same thing for him that I know is true in my life. There can be no other explanation for this except that God is working in his life.

A few weeks ago, as we were driving home, my son –out of nowhere, I might add– says, Mom, do you know what I did last night? You got me, son. What’d you do? Well, I was praying to God and I asked Him to forgive all my sins and for Him to be with me forever. So I’m going to heaven now! 

Come again? You did what?!

That’s wonderful, son! So God is your Savior now?

Yes, He is.

By Scripture alone. Through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Now, I can say that my husband and I have both shared with our kids what it means to know Jesus as our Savior. We never pushed any kind of formulaic prayer or super spiritual experience. In fact we have strayed from urging them to make any kind of “decision” because we have heard of people pressuring children to “be saved!” (and they end up “getting saved” every other week which doesn’t sound to me like good doctrine or practice). But in our home, we teach the Word of God. We take them to church. They have amazing Sunday school teachers who faithfully teach them the Word. We take them to a Protestant catechism class where those teachers help them learn the doctrine and the Word. I’d say they’re growing up in a culture of Sola Scriptura.

So it should come as no surprise to me that when my son is receiving the Word on a constant basis, it starts to get in him. The seed has been planted and lots of people are watering it. But God causes the growth!

This is why I can say that he is wise beyond his years, and he knows things I never taught him. God is teaching him. God is giving him spiritual wisdom.

Just this week he told me he began reading his Bible. It’s a children’s Bible called the Big Picture Bible, so when I say “reading” don’t think of paragraphs, think of a few lines on two pages. He would tell me each morning what he’d read that night. He had questions about words and about concepts. He would read out loud as we ate our breakfast and lunch. He read in the car as we drove to the store or the dentist. He was excited when he got all the way to the New Testament. Mom, look! I’m in the New Testament already!! Wow, son, where did you get the desire to read the Word?

By Scripture alone. Through the working of the Holy Spirit.

I used the phrase “Sola Scriptura” not to discuss Church history or to argue over all the details surrounding this Reformation cry, but to say that the Scripture is sufficient for making one wise to salvation. For knowing how to be saved and how to walk in that salvation.

He would point out the times where God’s people disobeyed God and he would say I’m at a sad part, Mommy. Yep, and one day we’ll be dealing with this in your life. I hope you’re as sad about sin in your life as you are about reading it in God’s Word.

Somehow I’m not as nervous about him growing up to truly know God. The same God who is at work in my life is visibly at work in my son’s life. Thank You, God, for Your Word!

 

Theology Thursday: Houston…We Have a Problem

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Sometimes I wonder about things that I have a feeling I’ll never know this side of heaven (but really REALLY hope to find out when I get there). Things like, why don’t we get the full story in “x” story in the Bible? Or what was Jesus’ tone of voice in “y” story? Or what’s up with the dinosaurs? (seriously, where’d they go? and how?)

One of my favorite things to think about (in a kind of twisted sense) is what sin must have felt like to Jesus as He walked on the earth. And particularly, what did it feel like for this Holy God to experience the weight of sin as it was laid on Him at the cross?

We know sin all too well so it’s hard to wrap our minds around what it was like for Jesus. Sin is like that annoying friend that we really don’t want to be friends with, but she just won’t go away…ever…until we die. (P.S. I don’t think I actually have a friend like that just so no one wonders if you are “that” friend…) We know sin because we were born into it. This is what is known as “original sin” (as opposed to “actual sin” which is exactly what it sounds like…the sins we actually commit). Sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden when the serpent deceived Eve and Adam, and they ate of the forbidden fruit. Going back to our topic on the covenant (and here), God had made a covenant with Adam and Eve, and they broke it when they disobeyed His command (“do not eat…”). This sin brings them under condemnation (Romans 1:32, 2:12-14, James 2:9-10) . It brings guilt, which also involves punishment (Romans 3:19, 5:18, Ephesians 2:3). Sounds pretty rosey, eh? (Btw, you can study more on your own in any Systematic Theology book. I have Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology book and use a lot of material from it for my posts.)

Our problem is that we inherit this sin from Adam (and along with that – condemnation, guilt, punishment…death). This is known as the representative theory. Sin inherently corrupts our nature. Another way to look at it is that Adam and Eve were originally made in God’s image, but when they sinned, it corrupted their nature (that’s not to say that we aren’t still made in God’s image, because we are, but now we don’t naturally seek after God since we are corrupt). Adam is known as our “natural head” and was our representative before God in the covenant. When he sinned as our representative, he imputed his sin to us (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). TIME OUT.

Yes, I just said imputed. Here’s your big word lesson for the day. The dictionary defines this word as:

to attribute (righteousness, guilt, etc.) to a person or persons vicariously; ascribe as derived from another.

It’s just really ugly. And there’s no way that we can get ourselves out of this mess. That’s why we need a Savior. We need someone who can be our new representative before God to undo what Adam did.

Let’s think about what Christ did (yes, I know, He did a lot of things, but I mean for salvific purposes!). Christ is the second person of the Trinity, and we know that He has always existed. What we also know is that we humans fail miserably at keeping our promises to God, because frankly, we’re not perfect. So we’re trucking along in the OT and God is making all kinds of promises (or covenants) with the Israelites, fully knowing that they really can’t keep up their end of the deal (and for the record, we wouldn’t have been able to do it either). Enter Jesus, stage right. God the Father, being perfectly faithful to Himself and to us, upholds His side of the covenant but then also made a way for humans to keep their end of the deal by sending Jesus. Jesus leaves heaven, while still retaining his deity, and becomes a man. Romans 8:2-4 says,

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

A.maz.ing! (Also if you’d like to know more about why Christ had to die you can view Heb 9:15-22.) Ok so that’s the first key for how this all works. We have right standing before the Father because of Christ. Now, the second key is how what Christ did transfers to us. The phrase “in Christ” is really the first clue. We are literally “in” Christ. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:5-6,

even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

We were dead, so Christ died to fix it. We couldn’t save ourselves, so God raised Him from the dead, making us alive just as Christ also became alive. He raised Christ up and now He is seated in heaven at the Father’s right hand, we are seated with Christ in heaven.

Come again? I don’t recall ever being in heaven, did you? No near death, extra supernatural experiences here last time I checked.

So how are we seated with Christ? Jesus became our representative to the Father. He goes before the Father on our behalf, making atonement for us, and interceding for us. Check out 2 Corinthians 5:21:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

This process is what theologians call the “imputation of righteousness”. There’s that big fancy word that you can toss around in casual conversation again! (I found a good source from John Piper on this if anyone wants to read more at desiringgod.org.) To explain this a little further, “impute” does not equal ”impart”. God imparts gifts or fruit to us, but He doesn’t impart righteousness. God imputes righteousness to us which means He credits us with HIS righteousness. You’ve all heard this before (i.e. God credited it to [Abraham] as righteousness), you just didn’t know it was called the “imputation of righteousness!” (or that there was such a fancy way of speaking about it) Paul says it this way in Romans 4:6, 11:

just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them

God credits us with everything that Christ is. Where it can be said of Christ that He is holy, it can be said of us that we are holy. I gain access to the Father because Christ satisfied the demands of the holy God through His death, and God the Father accepted His sacrifice as a pleasing aroma when Christ ascended to heaven like the smoke from a sacrifice. Christ has constant and unhindered access to His Father and lives to intercede on our behalf! I stand as a free woman without the glaring sentence of condemnation for all eternity because Jesus took my sentence (Colossians 2:14) and nailed it to the cross. He stood condemned so that I wouldn’t be. So when Paul writes about being “in Christ,” now you know he really, literally meant it.

Sin problem solved.

Jesus image with 2 Cor 5.21