Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How Are We To Live? Part-1

How Are We To Live? Part-1 (Introduction & Creation)

As we begin our entrance into another year as image-bearers, I’d like to consider the motivation we employ in living our day-to-day lives. Whether “Christian” or not, every human being is, by God’s definition, an “image-bearer” and therefore obligated before God to live in a certain way. Though every Christian would agree with the general principle that we all (Christian and non-Christian) are to live our lives to the glory of God, exactly how are we to accomplish this goal? Is the “Law of God” our motivation? Or is our motivation the consideration of the popular refrain, “What Would Jesus Do”? Or could it be a re-conception of the WWJD idea into, “What Would I Do” or “What Would You Do”? Exactly how does a person purpose to “live to the glory of God”? And is the how any different for the unbeliever than for the Christian? To be sure, only the Christian can live in this way; but is that to say that the Christian’s call to do so is based on radically different criteria? In other words, is the basis for the Christian’s call on his life any different than the basis for the unbeliever’s call on his life?

What is God’s call on our life? Whether you’re a Christian or not, God’s call for every human being is to “be perfect” as He is perfect. This is the fundamental requirement that God lays upon all of us. The fact that no person can answer that call in and of himself does not negate the call, though it does result in another call on our lives—the call to faith in Him, or more specifically, faith in Jesus Christ. And the first call isn’t superseded by the second call. All human beings are required to be perfect as God is perfect and, subsequently, because of our inability to accomplish the first call, we’re all called to faith in Jesus Christ. Without debating aspects of the “eternal decree”, generally speaking Christians agree that the Bible asserts both calls on all people, everywhere. The question is: What is the relationship (if any) between the calling to “be perfect” and the calling to faith in Christ? And if there is a relationship between the two, how are either of these callings (or both of them) understood in the life of a human being, whether the Christian or the non-Christian?

(When I use the masculine “his” or “him”, or even the term “man” in referring to a human being, I’m doing so for ease of use and clarity: “And God created “man” in His own image, in the image of God He created him [man]; male and female He created them [man].” Man, therefore, refers to human beings, whether male or female.)

We must first understand what it means to be “perfect”. If we look at Adam, we can easily see how both callings of God are implicated in the life of a human being. God created all things “good”; and with the completion of His creation in His “image-son” (man), He proclaimed His work “very good”. Biblically, we can speak of perfection in the created order in two senses: perfection before The Fall and perfection in the Redemptive State. There is a sense in which the Scripture speaks of Creation before the fall as “perfect”. In Eden, we see the Shalomic perfection that typifies the consummative state in the New Creation. In Eden, all is as it should be (though not what it will be): Shalom reigns as all of God’s creation exists in harmony and fullness of being. We can understand the perfection of creation as the authenticity of every created thing being fully what it was created to be, existing in this world fully aware, so-to-speak, of its created function and therefore relating with integrity, in truth to every other created thing and to the Creator Himself. And on the seventh day, God rested; all of Creation was to follow Man (Adam and Eve) into the eternal Shabbat of God’s Rest. The creation was “perfect” for its purpose. The perfection of man, specifically, was his authentic humanness as image-bearer; his calling to be perfect was the calling for him to live his life as he was created to be—an authentic human being, God’s “image-son”.

Like Adam, the call on our lives now as human beings created in the image of God is to be what we were created to be--authentic human beings who bear the image of God! To be perfect as God is perfect is for us to be fully conformed to our (created) nature. This is not something that we're called to do but something that we're called to be. God's perfection lies in the fact that He is who He is--always! Like Adam, we're called to be "perfect as God is perfect", which is to say, we're called to be who we are as image-sons--always! As a type of Christ (as Christ is the "last Adam", He is the true Man, the fountainhead of a new humanity), Adam's created "perfection" was his authentic humanity.

But then…

(to be continued...)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Great Googly Moogly (throughout the years) wishes you a Merry Christmas

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Merry Christmas!

When we say or simply consider these words, it seems that the focus (at least for Christians) is the Babe in the manger. We think mainly (or only, sometimes) of the story of the Birth of Christ. Our minds are filled with visions of shepherds and angels, wise men and stars (or, more precisely, the star), the virgin birth and the power of the Spirit; we think of prophecies both old (Isaiah, Micah & Malachi, etc.) and new (Gabriel, Zacharias & Simeon) and the magnificent Magnificant of Mary; we consider the wonder of God coming in the flesh, of Emmanuel--God With Us! Our Christmas celebration abounds with the joy of the Good News that Christ has been born!

And there's nothing wrong with this. We should be filled with joy and wonderment, even a sense of awe and astonishment when we consider the story of the Birth of Christ. In Christ, God really has come in the flesh. And, we rightly understand and proclaim, He came in order to secure our redemption. But it seems that our Christmas celebration begins and ends, more often than not, only with the story of the Birth of Christ with little regard to the full meaning & purpose of His coming. Sure, we acknowledge in our conversation and even in our cards (when we can find them) the fact that Jesus was born in order to save us from our sin, that He came for our redemption. But do we acknowledge and proclaim (or even understand) that His birth is really the beginning of the fulfillment of all the Scripture; that in the birth of Christ the purpose of God for His entire Created Order is in process of being fulfilled?

The "Christmas Story" is really the story of the whole Bible. From the very beginning of Redemptive History (and even prior, but that's another post!), when God promised a "Seed" to the woman, the trajectory of the entirety of the Scripture was pointed to the coming of Christ. The Seed of the Woman who was promised to come is the One who will crush the serpent's head, reverse the curse and recover Sacred Space (see previous posts) ushering in the New Creation--the New Creation that is already upon us in the Kingdom of God of which we're a part of now, and the New Creation that will be consummated in the redemption of the entire Created Order upon Christ's return. This is the One who will redeem not only God's people, but the entire Created Order; and not simply to its original Shalomic state before The Fall, but to its consummate Shalomic state--the state of Creation that Eden only typified in its non-exhaustive or non-consummate perfection. The coming of Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and means that we're in the "Last Days". The Birth of Christ means that God's purpose to set things right will be fulfilled; God will "sum up all things in Him (His Son). The Christmas Story is really the story that is told from Genesis to Revelation; it's the story of Redemption from beginning to consummation! The Birth of Christ is simply one aspect to the Christmas Story (though, obviously, a crucial aspect)!

As I've suggested in other places, the purpose of the Old Testament is simply to paint the portrait of Christ--who He is & what He is to accomplish. Since God's purpose in redemptive history is to redeem His creation and recover and consummate what was lost in The Fall, and since He does so by "summing up all things in Christ", then every idea, concept, event, situation, people group, etc., (including "the Law"), that contributes to His purpose adds brush-strokes, so-to-speak, to the portrait of Christ. There is nothing in the Old Testament that falls outside of the purpose of God in Christ. That being the case, when we celebrate Christmas, we're celebrating the accomplishment of the purpose of God--to redeem His creation! We can't just begin and end our celebration with the Babe in the Manger; we need to celebrate the New Creation that has come in & through the Babe in the Manger who is also the Man on the Cross who is also the King on His throne! We're celebrating Communion this Sunday and this is every bit a part of the Christmas Story as is the Birth of Christ. And that's because the Christmas Story doesn't begin and end with the Birth of Christ--it begins at Creation and ends at Consummation!

Our Christmas celebration is the celebration of Jesus Christ and the meaning of His birth. Do we celebrate Him in His fullness? Do we celebrate Him in the full knowledge of who He is & what He came to do? Everything in the Old Testament contributes to painting His portrait. Jesus Christ is the promised Seed of the Woman, the Seed of Abraham, the Seed of David; He's the true "Israel", Servant, Disciple and Witness. He's the Messiah, King, High Priest and Lamb. He's the Prophet, the Prince of Peace, Mighty God and Eternal Father. He's the true "Chosen One", the Man of the Spirit, the true Son of God. He really is Emmanuel--God With Us! And He's come in fulfillment of the Scripture to recover and restore God's good creation! This is Christmas! This is what we celebrate at this time of year and always!

Friday, December 19, 2008

SGCC Leadership Enjoying the Season

This is what our leadership does during the "Leadership meetings"--Sshhh, don't tell them I witnessed this insanity!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Favorite Christmas Album

This being the "season" and all...

I just received my copy of Kemper Crabb's Christmas CD and DVD. I've been waiting for this for a very long time. He had made a video of his Christmas show last year or the year before but as far as I know he never released it. If you check out his website, you can watch clips of that video. I assume that video corresponds with his "Medieval Christmas" CD. The CD that I got was "Downe in Yon Forrest: Christmas From the Middle Ages" and the DVD is different than the video clips on his site. I don't know if he scrapped the idea of putting the first show on DVD or not, but, as you can see, I've been trying to get that (or any) video of the Christmas show that he puts on.

The "Downe in Yon Forrest" show and CD has a very similar set-list and style as the "Medieval Christmas" show, but the arrangements are more intricate on the one they finally released on DVD. The selections that I've uploaded give you a taste of the quality and beauty of Kemper's music. This is my absolute favorite Christmas CD. I hope he makes another one with different titles next year.

My favorite song on this CD is, "Of the Father's Love Begotten". This arrangement is the best I've ever heard. In fact, I would say that this is my all-time favorite song on my all-time favorite Christmas CD. Listen to it closely. You'll notice that Frank Hart's cello solo in the middle is "Joy to the World". It is very subtle, yet powerful--as if it was always supposed to be there! Enjoy!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Garage Band is Killing Me

I'll be posting again soon. I've been busy working, preparing for Sundays, commenting on other blogs, and trying to learn Garage Band on my Mac. I'm not complaining; I've been enjoying all of this "busyness"...except Garage Band! I really want to learn it, but I'm not progressing very quickly. I've got a new keyboard now; a Casio that has a USB connection, so I'm finally able to "talk" with the program. That's a start. Now I need to configure a few things on the keyboard and get Mrs. Moogly to start playing some songs into Garage Band.

My purpose in this is to have Mrs. Moogly play a lot of songs into Garage Band so that I can pull out my bass and "practice with her" anytime I want. As most of you know, I often "lead" the worship service at church; but I also enjoy playing with my wife on occasion. The problem is that I don't have time to practice with her enough to feel competent enough to play on Sundays. Besides, she gets really tired of practicing with me because I tend to have her play the same song over and over and over...until I get it down. With Garage Band, I can play any song (and any part of a song) as often as I like whenever I like. This way, I can "practice" with her all the time and end up having a fairly large repertoire in my back pocket for playing on Sundays. I have it all figured out--except how to use the program! Soon....

Anyway, that's where I've been the last couple of week. I plan on posting some on our Christian "ethic". The popular refrain "What Would Jesus Do", with its accompanying bracelets, necklaces, t-shirts, ad nausea is really a crutch, at best, and another conduit to "law-keeping", at worst. The principle of WWJD should be changed to WWID--What Would I Do. Jesus is not our exemplar; He is the source of our LIFE. He is our example only in the sense that He shows us what a "son" of God looks like in relation to his Father. We don't look to Jesus and try to decide what He would do in a certain situation; we look to Jesus to see how it is that a son lives in relation to his father. And in that way, we then respond in the situations of life as He did--by faith, out of love and respect for our Father.

I'll expand on this line of thought soon. But for now, just begin thinking about how you normally think to respond in certain situations. Do you have to consider the "law"? Do you have to think about how Jesus would respond? Or do you realize that you are a child of God who possesses "everything pertaining to live and godliness" and who responds accordingly? Our lives are to be lived "naturally" as children of God--not out of compulsion.

Think about it and be ready to interact in the coming posts.

In the meantime...Garage Band is calling me..."MEH" (just for you, Abster!).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sermon on the Mount 21:Hypocrisy and the Ethic of the Kingdom--Prayer

If you missed the audio of the previous sermon, just follow the link to our page on Sermon Audio and you will find it.

No commentary from me this time; just enjoy the sermon as we continue to hear Jesus' "Gospel of the Kingdom".

Part 21: Hypocrisy and the Ethic of the Kingdom--Prayer

Brief Sermon Overview:

In introducing His kingdom's ethic, Jesus first showed, through a series of contrasts/comparisons, that it stands upon the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. From there He applied the same sort of approach to three notable examples of Israel's practical piety (6:1-18). The second of those involves prayer, and in this passage Jesus effectively demonstrated that authentic prayer belongs only to those who have been renewed and reconciled to God in Christ. The reason is that prayer expresses actual communion between God and men, and there is no communion where a human being is estranged from God. What the world calls "prayer" is really only one more manifestation of fallen humanity's enslavement to a self-referential, self-centered existence. Thus prayer is itself a central feature of the ethic of the kingdom of heaven - the kingdom of the new creation.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hypocrisy and the Ethic of the Kingdom: Almsgiving

Here is the latest in our Sermon on the Mount series. This is part 20 (SOTM-20) and the audio is linked to the right. Again, I encourage you all to start at the beginning (if you haven't been following along) in order to understand the full meaning of, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven" and "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Too many people come away from the Sermon on the Mount thinking that Jesus is telling them to "try harder" to obey, or to "be sincere" in our obedience. Jesus isn't merely "reinterpreting" the Law or bringing better clarity to the Law...He's explaining how it is that He's the "fulfillment" of the Law (Matt. 5:17-18) and that His Kingdom comes to all (and only) those who participate in Him.

Remember, Matthew has spent 4 chapters leading up to the Sermon by introducing Jesus as the long-hoped for and promised King/Messiah. As far as Matthew is concerned, the coming of Jesus marks the coming of the Kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount is essentially Jesus' "Gospel of the Kingdom". And the Kingdom has arrived in Him because He has come in fulfillment of the Law (Torah--the Scripture!). Everything spoken of in the OT is coming to its realization in the Person and Work of Christ. The Seed of the Woman is here! God's Kingdom has arrived! And it will continue to grow until the King returns at the consummation where the creation itself will join in the redemption of the Sons of God when we are revealed in glory.

In the Sermon on the Mount, we're not called to obedience, per say...we're called to transformation--we're called to a life of Love . And this is impossible while we're still in our old Adamic nature. The Kingdom Citizen that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount is a person who has come the King, who has been "born again" by the Spirit. The Kingdom Citizen is the one who the Spirit indwells and proceeds to transform back into the image and likeness of Christ. The Kingdom Citizen is the one who, by grace through faith in Christ, has been joined to Christ and has become a "New Creation". The Kingdom Citizen is the one who now is not only capable of "love", but actually lives a life of "love" by the power of the indwelling Spirit. The Kingdom of Heaven (the Kingdom of God) is the Kingdom or Realm of the New Creation and only those who participate in the New Creation are God's Children and Citizens of the Kingdom.

This is what the Sermon on the Mount is all about. It's simply missing the point if we relegate the Sermon to some "Israelite" Kingdom out there in a future "dispensation", or if we determine in ourselves to begin to obey the "spirit" of the Law in obedience to commands. Our righteousness must surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees. We must be perfect as God is pefect. This is an impossibility that Jesus explains is a reality for those who are joined to Him because He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (the Scripture). In Christ, His people are "righteous" because they have been restored to their created destiny as image-bearers.

Remember, Clicking on "Part 20" brings you to the PDF notes for the sermon.

Part 20: Hypocrisy and the Ethic of the Kingdom: Almsgiving

Brief Sermon Overview:

Jesus began His treatment of His kingdom's ethic by considering it in relation to the Law of Moses and its fulfillment in Himself. From there He turned His attention to three religious exercises - alms-giving, prayer, and fasting - that epitomized Israel's practical piety, using those practices to illumine and rebuke Israel's religious hypocrisy (6:1-18). What Jesus specifically sought to show is that, consistent with all men in their estranged condition, the apparent devotion to God of Israel's "holy men" was just that - nothing more than appearance. The reality was that their religious energies and efforts had themselves and their own glory and honor as their true object. Their "righteousness" was the damning pretence of self-righteousness. This message considers alms-giving as the first of the three practices Jesus cited.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I Couldn't Resist

I'm not really a "Garfield" fan (I prefer "Get Fuzzy" and "Calvin and Hobbs") but Mrs. Moogly showed this to me and I couldn't resist. Enjoy!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Singe best one-off Sermon on the Role and purpose of The Law

Please listen to the sermon. Click the play button to the right in the "Law of Moses and the Ethic of the Kingdom" link. You can listen to it here, or you can download and listen later.

As I say in the title, this is the single best one-off sermon that I've ever heard on the role and purpose of The Law. I've spent some time in my own writings as well as linking other sites, articles and audio trying to show that Jesus has completely fulfilled the Law or Torah (which is to say, the entire Scripture) in Himself. By doing this, by fulfilling the Law in Himself, He shows Himself to be the true "Israel" (the One that the Law prophesied of). Jesus has fulfilled the calling of "Israel" because He is the true "elect" Son of God who is, in Himself, what Israel was called to be--the faithful son, servant, disciple, and witness.

We misunderstand the purpose and role of The Law because we misunderstand the purpose and role of Israel--and they are intimately connected. As our Pastor states in his notes (and the full PDF link will be provided as with the previous Sermon on the Mount Series posts): The Law defined "Israel" and demanded that the convenant nation be "righteous" by authentically and faultlessly fulfilling its identity and calling; (by) being God's son, servant, disciple and witness.... The Law demanded that Israel be Israel....

Remember, Paul tells us (in agreement with the whole of the Scripture) that the Law served the Promise. This tells us that the Law was not intended to behave in any way that did not directly implicate the promise. So the question becomes...what promise? Paul tells us that the promise is the covenant that He made with Abraham. And since the Law, which came well after the promise, "does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise" (Gal. 3:17), it is the promise, the Abrahamic Covenant, that is the progenitor or source of the Law (and thus Israel) which, Paul says, only serves to bring the promise to its fulfillment. In other words, the Law is the means by which the promise moves forward (as a first-level fulfillment) and is but one stage along the path of the ultimate fulfillment of the promise. And that fulfillment, as Paul says, is coming of the (singular) Seed to whom the promise had been made--Jesus, the Christ.

So as you can see, the Law served the promise by prophesying of the One to whom the promise was made. The nation of Israel, as the "first-level" fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (as the "seed" of Abraham and the (elect) "son" of God), was also prophetic as it spoke (in and of itself) of the One who to come who is the true "Seed" of Abraham and the true (elect) Son of God. The New Testament (especially Paul) has never viewed the nation of Israel as the heir of the promise, as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. Jesus Christ is everywhere understood in the NT as the true Israel and the One to whom the promise was made; and that's because Christ is the One who is the fulfillment of all the Scripture. It is Christ alone who has accomplished the purpose of God; and He does so not primarily because of what He does so much as who He is! He fulfills the Law not simply because He perfectly obeyed the commandments (which is how contemporary Christianity so often understand this); He fulfills the Law because He is the One of whom the Law spoke of as the true and perfectly righteous human being ("Israelite", in the redemtive historical context). Jesus is the "seed" of Abraham and the Covenant (promise) is fulfilled only in Him!

Here are the notes and brief summary of this message which is a continuation of our Sermon on the Mount series at SGCC. Please read the notes (click the "Part 19" link) in conjunction with listening to the sermon. The notes only go so far; the audio fills in the spaces.

Part 19: The Law of Moses and the Ethic of the Kingdom

Brief Sermon Overview:

In Matthew 5:17-48 Jesus addressed in broad terms the relationship between the ethic of His kingdom and the Law of Moses. That relationiship follows the larger biblical structural pattern of promise and fulfillment (5:17-18), and this message considers and summarizes the core aspects of that pattern as applied to the Law of Moses by Jesus in this context and throughout the New Testament.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The "Day After" Rant

This is an off-the-cuff "rant"--take it for what it is.

Obama is President…so what?! I (reluctantly) voted for McCain (who I still say really didn't want to win based on his choice of Palin for VP and the way he ran his campaign), but I don't think this nation will now implode (or explode) because Obama is President. Even if he is a "secret Muslim" or a Socialist or the most liberal man who ever walked the face of this earth; even if he can't trace his ancestry back to Africa (whatever that's supposed to prove!) and is not really "black" at all (I wish the Radical Christian Right morons would just shut up and quit giving my Lord a bad name!! Do they even know what the Gospel is? I doubt it!!); anyway, even if Obama is the "anti-Christ", so what?! My life hasn't ended because my guy didn't win the White House.

Since when did we as "Christians" start believing that we had the "right" to...well...anything! Oh's in our Constitution. So what?! Did the early Church have any "rights"? Well, yes they did, I guess; they had the right to be persecuted unto death! And they rejoiced!! The greatest growth in the Christian church came as Believers were faithful to Christ all the while being persecuted throughout the world (beginning in Judea, Samaria and unto the ends of the earth). And do we see anywhere in the NT where we, as Christians, are said to have any "rights" whatsoever?! Do we see in the NT a call for us to act like the most despicable people possible in our opposition to someone that we don't agree with?! Where in the NT are we called to despise individuals who don't agree with us? We are called to LOVE all people! EVERY HUMAN BEING has been made in the image of God and because of this EVERY HUMAN BEING deserves to be treated with integrity and respect (as God defines it)!!

This continued waste of time and energy decrying and fighting against this Political Monster of our Government (national as well as local) is really beginning to...aggravate me!! If "Christians" were as concerned with sharing the Gospel as they seem to be with creating a Sacral Society (which isn't the same as a "Gospel Society"--see Constantine and the Roman Empire), then much of our angst with the government would go away--because true Christians would vote according to godly principles and possibly even take office themselves. The goal of the Christian, however, should not be a (supposed) Christian government but sharing his faith and being used by the Spirit to help build the Kingdom of God! Christ never promised to us a Christian nation (until He returns, that is); what He promised us is that while we will be persecuted in this world (because His Kingdom is not of this world) He will never leave us nor forsake us; He promised that His grace is sufficient for us and that we can endure and even triumph in all things through His Spirit who strengthens us; He promised that all things work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose; He promises that one day He will return! And then there will be a righteous rule over all the earth because only then will it be truly His rule.

Christ's Kingdom is a present reality (as those of you who have been following our Sermon on the Mount series have been shown); but it's a reality that is spiritual, not earthly. America is not the Kingdom of never has been! The Church (the true Church made up of true Christians) is the Kingdom of God that is in this world but not of this world. It's hard to fathom the absurdity of calling America a "Christian" if Christ Himself has ever ruled this country. Sure, we should do our part to spread the gospel--but it's not by all the hate-mongering, political activism that seems to captivate our "Christian Leaders". Our hope is not in government but in Christ! We should be better students of the NT. The Apostles never called on us to be political activists (in the worst sense of the word); they called on us to live by faith and to share the Gospel hope that is within us. Our calling is to make disciples not governments (here or in Iraq!).

Obama is now President; and the world will not end because of it, not even America (and there is a difference no matter what Bill O'Reilly thinks!). I hope that we (those of us who call ourselves Christians) can get our eyes back on the ball, or as Paul says, "...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus." Our goal should be to faithfully live out our lives as God's Children by the power of the indwelling Spirit; which is to say, honoring our Lord and Savior by living lives of love!

We who claim the name of Christ--who are we? Republicans? Democrats?...or Christians?! After all the mud-slinging and Political idolatry we've witnessed during this election (and past elections, of course), I'm not sure Christians even know what being a "Christian" means. All I can say is that Christ is my Messiah...not McCain, or Bush, or Reagan (don't shoot me!) or Clinton or Obama or this constitutional amendment or that law or this policy or...!

Thank God it's over!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sermon on the Mount-15-18

Here's the last four Sermon on the Mount links that get us caught up in our Sunday morning series. These are the last of the sample cases in which Jesus shows that He is the fulfillment of the Law. Remember, He's already stated in the Beatitudes and the Similitudes what the Kingdom Citizen looks like and then He warned them not to misunderstand what He was going to say to them next; He tells them not to begin to think that He's come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (the entire Scripture--the Torah). Actually, He says, He came to fulfill the Torah! His is the "righteousness that surpasses the Scribes and the Pharisees" precisely because He is the fulfillment of the Law, so that for the people to have a surpassing righteousness it must be in connection with Him.

So in these verses from 5:20-48, Jesus is using various aspects of the Law (specifically in relation to "love") to prove that He is the fulfillment of the Law and the righteousness that is found in it--it's all about Him! The only way that someone listening to Jesus is not going to go away defeated with what He his saying is to realize that he must come to Him who is this Righteous One because in and of ourselves there is no possible way that we are or could ever be the person spoken of in 5:20-48.

As the King of this Kingdom, Jesus is calling for all to enter in through Him. The Scribes and the Pharisees are on the outside looking in because they rely on their own righteousness. They follow the letter of the Law but miss its point! The people must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and the Pharisees; and the only righteousness that does is Jesus' righteousness. He's not calling us to work harder, or to be sincere in following the Law. He's telling the people that He is the fulfillment of the Law and it's His righteousnes that they must possess! And isn't this what the NT interpreters of Jesus also say? All the writers of the NT agree with this because, in fulfillment of the OT, this is what Jesus is saying here and throughout His ministry. "Come to Me, ye who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest..." (Matt. 11:28-30 cf. Isa. 45:18-25; 55:1-13; etc.).

Enjoy...and try to read through the PDF links while listening to the series from the beginning on SermonAudio (see SGCC sidebar).

Part 15: Unfaithfulness and the Ethic of the Kingdom

Brief Sermon Overview:

Love is the essence of the kingdom's ethic, and so Jesus appropriately began His treatment of that ethic by considering the general interpersonal enmity that is fundamental to all human relationships in the old Adamic order. From there He turned His attention to a close counterpart, namely the enmity - that is, the lovelessness - that exists within the marital relationship. Specifically, Jesus used the Decalogue's seventh commandment forbidding adultery to show how adultery ultimately concerns marital lovelessness, regardless of whether spouses remain physically faithful to one another. Adultery is a matter of the heart, and this is the reason that even an apparently justified divorce can render a person an adulterer. In the kingdom of heaven, obedience to God's commandments consists in conformity to the law of love.

Part 16: Duplicity and the Ethic of the Kingdom

Brief Sermon Overview:

Jesus continued His presentation of the ethic of His kingdom by considering the Law's instruction regarding oaths and vows. This is the first of His example cases in which it is clearly evident that He was, in some manner, altering the Law of Moses. Those who start from the premise that the Lord's intent was to recover and reaffirm the pure "moral law" tend to find Him simply calling for sincerity and integrity in the use of oaths and vows, but that was not the case. Both the way Jesus articulated Israel's historical understanding ("You have heard that the ancients were told, you shall fulfill your vows...") and His own response to it ("but I say to you...") show that He wasn't insisting upon integrity in oath-taking. Rather, He was declaring that, in His kingdom, there is no place for the oaths and vows that were prescribed and provided under the Law. Like every component and aspect of the Law of Moses, all such pledges had reached their own prophetic fulfillment in Christ Himself. They, too, had "served their purpose in their generation" and were passing away in the new creational kingdom of heaven.

Part 17: Exactness and the Ethic of the Kingdom

Brief Sermon Overview:

Jesus' next example case is also drawn from the Law as received by Moses at Sinai - not the Decalogue but the broader ethical instruction that followed it (Exodus 21:12ff). The "eye for eye" commandment is notable in that, rather than being a discrete law in its own right, it provided the philosophical and ethical framework for the entire Mosaic Code: The "eye for eye" commandment showed Israel how it was to understand and enforce the various laws and directives contained in the Law of Moses. And what it showed them was that justice in the Israelite kingdom was to be exact, with the primary concern being that the sons of Israel show no leniency or deference in applying the Law's sanctions. There was to be no pity or sparing in carrying out the Law's requirements (ref. Deuteronomy 19:15-21). Where violation of the Law occurred, righteousness made no allowance whatsoever for compassion or compromise. It is precisely at this point that Jesus’ response becomes problematic: Whereas the Law demanded exactness, Jesus was calling for deference. So far from demanding perfect justice, the sons of His kingdom are to yield to injustice. To all appearances, this demand set the Lord squarely against His Father and the Law of Moses, but the apparent disparity disappears in the discovery of how the "eye for eye" commandment - like the Law in its entirety - is fulfilled in Christ. Jesus wasn't annulling the kingdom principle of exactness; His call to yieldedness presupposes that the demand of exactness has been fulfilled.

Part 18: Discrimination and the Ethic of the Kingdom

Brief Sermon Overview:

Jesus' final case example served to focus His teaching regarding the ethic of His kingdom. Throughout this passage He has shown how the Law of Moses has found its fulfillment in Him and how that fulfillment has brought to life what the Law itself proclaimed and anticipated, namely the realization of love as the essence of the righteousness of God's kingdom and its citizens. Thus Jesus closed out this section by revealing the true nature of love as a divine attribute and its place as the core obligation of the sons of the kingdom - the true sons of God. Divinely derived and empowered love is the ethic of the kingdom of heaven, and life in accordance with this love is life in the perfection of God - life in the human authenticity of man as "image-son" (5:48).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Christ, the True Temple

Here's the next installment of Kim Riddlebarger's "Amillennialism 101" audio series entitled "Christ: The True Temple". I don't plan on continuing to post on each subsequent installment, but this message goes so well with some of the posts I've made here in the pasts and comments I've made on other blogs that I couldn't resist adding this message to the collection. This is an hour long audio teaching, so give yourselves plenty of time to listen to it.

Just as Jesus is the true Israel, He is also the true Temple. And this is because, as I've suggested many times already, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all the Scripture (Law, Prophets and Writings), as He Himself has said and as the NT writers agree. What we read in the OT about Israel, the Temple, the Passover, the Law, the Covenants, etc., is all prophetic; it all speaks to and about Christ--His Person and His work. He has come in fulfillment of all of it! The focal point of the OT ( and of all of Redemptive History) is Christ; and this audio message from Kim Riddlebarger continues to faithfully stress this important point. Enjoy!

Friday, October 24, 2008

More Sermon on the Mount & Hughes


Here are three more in our series on The Sermon on the Mount:

Part 12: The King of the Kingdom

Brief Sermon Overview:

Having introduced and described the subjects of His kingdom, Jesus turned His attention to Himself as its King. Verses 5:17-20 contain Jesus' first reference to Himself in the Sermon on the Mount, and His self-introduction notably focuses on His relationship to the Scriptures: Jesus declared that He had come to fulfill the Scriptures, which told His audience that the kingdom whose presence He was proclaiming is the kingdom promised by God in all the Old Testament. At the heart of the Sermon on the Mount is the overarching biblical principle of christological fulfillment; in His person, words, and work, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament - the Law of Moses itself as much as the rest of the Scriptures. This comprehensive fulfillment in Christ and its fruit in the new creation is the framework for interpreting the entire discourse, especially Jesus' forthcoming treatment of the ethic of His kingdom. In a word, the ethic of the kingdom of heaven is grounded in and expresses the fact and power of the new creation that is the focal point of Christ's fulfillment of the Scripures. To miss this is to miss the meaning of the sermon, which is precisely why Jesus prefaced His instruction in 5:21ff with verses 17-20.

Part 13: The Ethic of the Kingdom-Overview and Introduction

Brief Sermon Overview:

Jesus' self-introduction in verses 5:17-20 is the centerpoint of the Sermon on the Mount. In the broadest terms, this passage highlights the promise-fulfilment relationship between Himself and His kingdom and the Old Testament scriptures. More narrowly, it introduces and provides the framework for interpreting the next section in which Jesus articulates the ethic of His kingdom. This promise fulfillment dynamic is the key to understanding Jesus' instruction in the balance of the sermon, and especially the meaning of His formula phrase, "You have heard it said... but I say to you." This sermon considers the general views and interpretive issues associated with 5:21-48 in the hope of laying a proper foundation for reading and understanding this crucial passage.

Part 14: Enmity and the Ethic of the Kingdom

Brief Sermon Overview:

In verses 5:21-48 Jesus employed a series of discrete example cases to uncover for His audience the ethic that defines and governs HIs kingdom. Most importantly, He did so by comparing and contrasting the ethic of His kingdom with its Old Covenant counterpart. Each of His example cases draws in some way from the Mosaic code, and each highlights the fact that His kingdom and its ethic are the fulfillment of the Law of Moses and the kingdom it presided over. Thus His formula phrase, "You have heard..., but I say to you..." simply reiterates His framework declaration that He didn't come to abrogate the Scriptures (including the Law of Moses), but to fulfill them. In showing how that is the case, Jesus appropriately began His treatment with a law that was at the very heart of the Mosaic Code, namely the sixth commandment prohibiting murder. This sermon examines how the Mosaic prohibition against murder has been transformed in Christ and found its fulfillment in the New Coverant "kingdom of heaven."


And here is a link for a short, two-page Philip Hughes article: "The Millennial Reign: Climax or Anti-climax?" Make sure you click the arrow to go to the second page and finish the article. Obviously it could take a book length manuscript to fully set forth and interact with the Biblical evidence against Premillennial Dispensationalism; but Hughes' short article brings up some key elements in what I consider the faulty understanding of my dispensational brothers--an understanding that I once shared not so long ago. :-)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I'm not the only one--really!

As I comment on various blogs around the universe (or, for the time being at least, simply around this globe), I've noticed that for some reason the idea that Jesus is the "true" Israel seems, at best, to be a novel but unbiblical concept or, at worst, downright heresy that borders on anathema! Sometimes people respond to me as if I've just arrived from another planet! (Of course, many people who know me in person have accused me of that as well!)

I never really wanted to appeal to others to make my case, but Kim Riddlebarger over at The Riddleblog has a series going on "Amillennialism 101" in which his latest topic is 
"Jesus Christ, the True Israel". Previous audio messages in this series have been posted and I encourage you to make use of this free resource (along with many posts at The Vossed World) to help understand Biblical Eschatology.

If you are interested at all in how the Bible understands "Israel" in relation to Jesus Christ...well...just read my material! :-) Or even better, listen to a trained Theologian/Pastor/Author/Seminarian, etc., and get a better understanding. Of course, you can also get a thorough Biblical Theological understanding of Jesus as the True Israel by going to SGCC's SermonAudio site where you'll find this concept in many sermons dealing with the nation of Israel.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

GGM honored

My newest Prog-Rock friend at one of my newest favorite sites has given me a great honor. These may be the most profound sentiments that have ever been spoken by mortal man; check it out here.

Oh...and the rest of his material is pretty good, too! :-) Really, Bob's material is always interesting, thought-provoking and encouraging. I'm enjoying my time and learning a lot over at "Vanguard Church".

When I originally posted this, I was going through a 12-part series of posts at "Vangaurd Church" concerning the expansiveness of the Gospel. I've sinced finished; and other than a very few nuances I would make with his understanding of the Kingdom (very few, nothing to really quibble over), Bob has spoken my mind, so-to-speak. Bob's posts here have tremendous value in helping us to understand the "cosmic" purpose of God in redemption. For those of you familiar with our "Sacred Space: God With Us" series at SGCC or my initial posts on Shalom and Sacred Space (check the archives), this will be very familiar territory. :-)

And don't forget to check out "The Vossed World" and this GGM inspired post. You simply can't go wrong reading Bruce's material--it's spot on!

More Hughes is on the way soon--I hope!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sermon on the Mount--9, 10 and 11

Here is more Sermon on the Mount from our series on Sunday mornings. As usual, I've included our Pastor's brief summary of each message below the link to the PDF file. This is a tremendous series that I hope you will interact with--at least in your own thoughts, if not on this blog. I also encourage you to begin listening to the sermons from the beginning to get the full force of the Gospel. Thanks and "happy reading" :-)

Part 9: The Beatitudes--Peacemaking

Brief Sermon Overview:

While most Christians (as well as non-Christians) associate the concept of "peace" with the Christian faith, they commonly do so in a manner consistent with all religious thought. Every religious system holds out peace as an ethic to be pursued; even the militarism of Islam serves the cause of "peace" understood as the entire world being unified in subjection to Islam. All religions exalt and strive for peace, but they envision peace in natural, temporal categories. So it is with perhaps the majority of Christians: For multitudes, peace is "peaceability" that works to address human discord and conflict; peace speaks to harmony between human beings, cultures and nations. But if by the term "peacemaker" Jesus meant a conciliator, then those who are so characterized could hardly be called "sons of God," for God is not a conciliator in this sense. Jesus - as both true God and true Man - is the quintessential peacemaker, and yet He provoked strife and contention everywhere He went. More than that, by His coming Jesus had determined to introduce a whole new order of conflict into the world of men (Mat. 10:34-36). The only way to grasp Jesus' meaning in this beatitude is to understand "peace" as it is central to the Old Testament's developing promise and portrait of the kingdom of God. This sermon seeks to do just that and show how the promise of peace has been fulfilled in Christ.

Part 10: The Beatitudes--Persecution

Brief Sermon Overview:

Jesus' final beatitude is unique in that it ascribes blessedness to individuals on the basis of the evil way they are perceived and treated by others. All of its predecessors are concerned only with qualities in the blessed person himself without any direct consideration of those around him. Despite this distinction, this beatitude, too, has its focal point in the inward nature of the sons of the kingdom, for it is precisely who they are that provokes opposition. This becomes clearly evident when the nature and psychology of this persecution are correctly understood. Jesus was speaking of persecution in a very narrow sense; not recognizing this, the tendency among Christians is to regard any and every form and instance of opposition as persecution. The truth is, very little of what believers receive at the hands of others constitutes the persecution Jesus was referring to, and this sermon seeks to show how this is the case, what authentic persecution is, what provokes it and why it is inevitable and unavoidable for the true sons of the kingdom. This, in turn, will reveal why persecution shows Christ's own to be eminently blessed.

Part 11: The Similitudes

Brief Sermon Overview:

Jesus' observations regarding the certainty of persecution may have left His hearers concluding that it's best for the sons of the kingdom to keep a low profile in the world. The fact that the Israelite kingdom had been defined by separation would likely have reinforced this thinking. Christ's kingdom - the kingdom of heaven - is indeed to be marked by separation, but not of the sort expected by the children of Israel. The sons of the kingdom of heaven are to be separated from the world, but, in contrast to the Israelite prototypical kingdom, separation in Christ's fulfilled kingdom is entirely spiritual, having no geographical or cultural component. The point of distinction between the subjects of Jesus' kingdom and the sons of this world is His life and likeness in them, so that their Christ-likeness - not their practice or lifestyle per se - is the issue in their separation. This understanding is foundational to Jesus' instruction regarding salt and light. The symbolism of salt and light highlights "witness" as the central ethic of the kingdom - witness, not to religion, morality, or Christian doctrine as such, but to the reality of the new creation in Christ. Being salt and light means living an authentic life as one who has died and whose life is now hidden with Christ in God. For the Christian, authentic self-witness is witness to Christ (John 15:18-27); being salt and light is nothing more than living day-to-day, moment-by-moment in the life and likeness of Christ.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ramblings spurred by a comment

I wrote this kind of “on the spot” in reference to a comment by Russ of Satire and Theology on my last post. I was simply going to comment back to him, but as I started, and as is usual with me :-), I just kept going…and going…and going…! My comment back to him spurred some other thoughts that were somewhat related; and rather than attempting to “redo” a proper comment to him or “redo” this into a more concise and understandable post (which would be better, but would take a while), I thought I would just leave it as is. I know it may seem a little disjointed at times and in places, and I know that I’ve jumped right into issues relating to the Sermon on the Mount without laying a proper foundation for what I’m talking about; but you’ll just have to ask questions if you want better clarity. I’m only assuming that most of the spelling mistakes have been automatically corrected; and I’m hoping that the jumbled mess of thought that was in my mind has come out somewhat coherent and understandable. Good Luck!! :-)

I think it does. I think the “weak” Christian and the “strong” Christian (in this context) both have a fundamental misunderstanding with regard to “commandment” obligation. I think they both misunderstand their relation to “law”, which a proper understanding of the Sermon on the Mount, I believe, would rectify.

The issue with Jesus’ confrontation with the Jews in The Sermon speaks to their misunderstanding of “obligation”. They knew (rightly) that they were under obligation to the Law of Moses, but they didn’t comprehend the purpose of the Law and what their obligation consisted of. They conditioned themselves to “follow the rules”, so-to-speak, without reference to what the Law really meant. They rightly recognized the obligation of “purity” and felt that by their meticulous keeping of “commandments” they were in obedience and therefore “pure in heart” (and also, therefore, citizens of the Kingdom).

But “purity of heart”, as Jesus explains, is not “keeping commandments”, as such, but recognizing the One of whom the Law speaks. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount (in general) and “purity of heart” (specifically) really have nothing to do with keeping commandments; but it has everything to do with keeping the Law. Jesus is saying that obligation to the Law is to recognize that it is fulfilled in Him and to, therefore, come to Him by faith.

The people thought then, as people (and Christians) still think today, that the Law has to do with them (or us); when in reality, as Jesus and the NT writers tell us, the Law has to do with Him! We don’t “keep the Law” by obeying rules and regulations; we “keep” it by believing it (believing Moses) and affirming with it that it is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. We recognize it as speaking of the One to come, and when He arrives we “obey” it by coming to Him.

The Law (which is to say totality of the Scripture as well as the Law of Moses) prophesied of the King and His Kingdom. From the very beginning, when we read of the promise of the Seed of the woman, this was the purpose of God. So to “obey” the Law is to recognize God’s purpose in it and to believe Him when that promise arrives. And the King has arrived! We "obey" the Law when we agree with the Scripture and we come to Him by faith! So... “purity of heart” is the condition of the person who, in obedience to the Law, comes to the King for entrance into His Kingdom. This is what Jesus is saying.

So... getting back to your original comment (you probably thought I’d never return, did you?:-); I think that the “weak” Christian and the “strong” Christian in this context are still viewing the Law as “commandment” rather than “relationship”. To the one, he is still constrained to “commandment thinking” in his behavior to “follow rules”, so-to-speak; for the other, he is betraying a “commandment mind-set” in his “freedom” from rules and regulations. Both examples are missing the “constraint” and “freedom” that is Christ. The constraint and freedom provided by love.

As Christians, we are not under obligation to the Law but to Christ who has fulfilled the Law. And this obligation to Christ is the obligation of Love. The “weak” Christian and the “strong” Christian should be directed and constrained by love, not by obligation to commands or even freedom from commands. But this Love is an “other-worldly” reality that the “natural man” can’t comprehend or practice. This Love is a product of the New Creation in Christ. God is love. Only those who have the Spirit residing in them are now capable of expressing Biblical Love.

And this issue of love ties us back to the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus declares that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. This Kingdom that Jesus brought with Him is the promised Kingdom of the Scripture. And the Scripture speaks of this Kingdom as a Kingdom of Renewal, the Kingdom of the New Creation. The citizens of this Kingdom must partake of the New Creation; they themselves must be renewed to enter into it. This renewal comes only in connection with Christ, the King. We must be “born again”; we must be “born of the Spirit”; we must have the life of God in us (through the presence of the Spirit) in order to enter the Kingdom.

Isn’t this what Jesus said? He said that a person must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees (who were notoriously meticulous in the “law-keeping”) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That is a pretty strong “ethic”. But Jesus’ examples all speak to the fact that no one has this righteousness—it’s impossible for the “natural” man. The ethic of the Kingdom is the ethic of Jesus' surpassing righteousness and the reality of the New Creation (the Kingdom that He brings) as it pertains to human beings. In other words, the ethic of the Kingdom is the same ethic of the Law—LOVE. And this love (as with the Kingdom itself) is "unavailable to the old Adamic order of things and those who continue to inhabit it" (KC notes). People must be transferred out of this world (spiritually speaking, of course) and into the New Creation to be capable of Love. And this only happens when a person is “joined” by the Spirit to Christ--who is Love incarnate.

Love is the great “ethic” that defines the Kingdom and, therefore, our lives as Christians—not perfectly, of course, since we’re not yet in our perfected state. But as the Spirit continues to conform us (back) into the image and likeness of Christ (the image we “lost” in The Fall--Hughes), our lives will “naturally” manifest the life of Love (which is to say, the Life of Christ). As Jesus explains to the people: physical, ethnic descent from Abraham doesn’t matter; sincerity in trying to keep commandments doesn’t matter; what matters is the New Creation—the New Birth, the presence of the Spirit, the life of God. Apart from this “renewal”, the Kingdom of God and the “love” that defines it is inaccessible.

Love governs our behavior…not commandment (for or against).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More Sermon on the Mount

As I continue to prepare for a couple of services coming up at SGCC, I thought I'd link a few more of our pastor's Sermon Notes from our present series on The Sermon on the Mount. Below each link is his overview of the message and you can access the audio of the sermon by clicking the SGCC link in the sidebar and looking for the Sermon on the Mount series.

I'll continue with my Hughes series shortly. The next two posts will deal with chapters two and three of his book, "The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ". These chapters deal with whether or not there is a "bodily aspect" to the Image and then whether or not man and the Divine Image are identical. Until then, enjoy more of our pastor's Sermon notes on The Sermon on the Mount.

Part 6: Hungering and Thirsting for Righteousness

This message continues the examination of Jesus' Beatitudes. It considers the fourth Beatitude, first as it fits within and contributes to the Beatitudes as a whole, but also to the broader context of the Sermon on the Mount. Most importantly it seeks to understand this Beatitude (as all of them) in terms of the larger salvation-historical context of Jesus' teaching and ministry. Sadly, the tendency for Christians (as much as non-Christians) is to read and interpret the Beatitudes through "natural" eyes, with the result that they become simply more performance "benchmarks" by which a person can measure himself and determine his standing with God. Perceived in natural terms, all people - not merely Christians - recognize and openly acknowledge the goodness and propriety of the qualities set out in the Beatitudes. The problem is that Jesus was speaking of human qualities that transcend the conceptual capability (let alone the performance capability) of man in his fallen state. Far from providing moral and ethical definition to assist people in their pursuit of personal righteousness (Christians commonly regard the Beatitudes as a means for authenticating their conversion and assisting their sanctification), Jesus was declaring that His kingdom demands a divinely-wrought new creation - not a new conviction, new commitment, or new discipline of life (John 3:1-3).

Part 7: Mercy

The fifth Beatitude introduces mercy as characteristic of the subjects of the kingdom of heaven. Christians and non-Christians alike recognize that Christ's people are to be merciful, but few seem to understand the true nature and function of Christian mercy. This message examines mercy from a biblical standpoint, showing that it is an inward disposition and that merciful deeds are merely mercy's fruit. Moreover, the acts that can be legitimately regarded as merciful are directed toward the recipient's spiritual well-being and not simply the alleviation of physical and temporal needs.

Part 8: Purity of Heart

Whatever the nuances of understanding, inward purity is a core ethic in all religions and a virtue lauded in all cultures. This reinforces the truth that, though corrupted in his estrangement from God, fallen man yet bears the divine image and, therefore, retains his innate sense of righteousness. At the same time, estrangement from the One in whose image they were created leaves people unable to rightly discern their true selves. In turn, the absence of accurate self-knowledge (and the inability to obtain it), results in a distorted perception of purity. If a person cannot discern or discover his true humanness, how can he know what it means for his humanness to be free of all pollution and imperfection? The result is that "purity of heart" is universally reduced to conformity to a collection of moral and ethical (and, in some instances, religious) obligations. In effect, this "purity" attained through self-reform (religious or otherwise) amounts to "cleaning the outside of the cup and dish" (Mat. 23:25). Tragically, the damning delusion that is pseudo-purity permeates much of professing Christianity; Jesus' confrontation of it with His Jewish contemporaries is equally His confrontation of it in the Church today.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hughes on "The Meaning of Creation in the Image of God"

Before I begin with Hughes, for those of you who are interested here are the notes for parts three, four, and five of our sermon series on The Sermon on the Mount with the Pastor's overview:

Part Three:

This message concludes the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount by considering the Bible's doctrine of the Kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount was the first and longest of Jesus' discourses, and so it is appropriate that Matthew introduced Jesus' public ministry with it. In this discourse Jesus presented the principles and features of His kingdom - the long-promised kingdom that, now at last, was being inaugurated in connection with His presence and impending work of redemption. Most importantly, Jesus intended His proclamation to confront and correct Israel's flawed conception of the Kingdom of God that was the product of historical circumstances and traditional Jewish interpretation of the Scripture. This misunderstanding of the Old Testament's doctrine of kingdom had left Israel on the verge of missing her Messiah and His kingdom and Jesus sought to rectify that. Jewish scholarship had misconstrued God's kingdom, and so it is today. If Christians are to rightly understand Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, they must first understand the Bible's doctrine of the kingdom as progressively revealed and developed in the salvation history leading up to Christ's coming. In the Jews' case, failure to discern Jesus's kingdom led them to regard Him as a false teacher who was setting aside the Law and Prophets (5:17); in the case of Christians, this failure results in many within the Church reducing Jesus' instruction to a moral and ethical "cookbook" providing the behavioral recipe for people who seek to enter His heavenly kingdom. Such individuals will miss the true Kingdom of God just as surely as the sons of Israel did.

Part Four:

This message lays the contextual and salvation-historical foundation for interpreting the Beatitudes. In that regard, it considers first and foremost the intent and significance of Jesus' gospel of the kingdom for the sons of Israel. Their history and theological tradition had resulted in an Israelite doctrine of the kingdom that was fatally flawed and would cause them to miss the day of their visitation. Thus Jesus' proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom amounted to a call to repentance; like John before Him, He challenged Israel to rethink the nature of God's kingdom and their own relation to it. The Sermon on the Mount plays a crucial role in Jesus' overall witness to the "in-breaking" of the promised kingdom and, with it, the introduction of the new age of the new creation. It is only when viewed from that vantage point that its true meaning for the Church can be discerned.

Part Five:

This message provides a general introduction to the Beatitudes and examines the first three of them. Most crucial to understanding the Beatitudes is recognizing that Jesus was confronting and refuting His audience's ingrained conception of the kingdom as an idealized earthly, national and political structure. The Jews were poised to miss Jesus' kingdom because of this false conception, and the Sermon on the Mount was the Lord's most intricate and extended attempt to show them that His kingdom is other-worldly and not natural. It is the "kingdom of heaven" - the realm of the new creation. So the Beatitudes express fundamental qualities of the human new creation; they express who man is when he is renewed "according to the image of the One who created him" (Col. 3:9-10). And precisely because Jesus is the Last Adam - that is, the source and substance of the new humanity of the new creation, the Beatitudes must be understood as having their first and foundational referent in Him. Jesus is the "beatific man" such that all other human beings find their own "beatific" status only through personal union with Him by His Spirit.

And now more from Philip E. Hughes.

Hughes begins his book, “The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ” with these words:

Our governing premise is that the doctrine of man (anthropology) can be truly apprehended only in the light of the doctrine of Christ (Christology). Not only the destiny but also the origin of man involves a profound relationship with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Indeed, mankind’s destiny in Christ is precisely the fruition of mankind’s origin in Christ. This means, among other things, that redemption, which is the fulfillment of all God’s purposes in creation, loses its proper force if it is considered in isolation from creation. “Christology,” as Karl Rahner has remarked (“Current Problems in Christology: Theological Investigations, Vol. 1” pg. 185), “is at once the beginning and the end of anthropology.

Of fundamental importance…is the understanding of the Image of God as itself designating, ontologically, the eternal Son, and the understanding of man as by creation constituted in or after that image, by sin falling away from that image, and by redemption reconstituted in that image. Thus perceived, the divine purpose of creation is grounded in the Son, and what was begun in the Son is also completed in the Son. It follows that conformity to the image of God is essentially Christiformity. Man’s destiny, implicit in his origin, is the attainment of “the complete knowledge of the Son of God,” which coincides with his becoming “the perfect man,” his arrival at “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Christ, accordingly, is the True Image in which man was formed at creation and into which by the reconciling grace of re-creation fallen man is being transformed (“The True Image” Preface ix).

As you can see, for Hughes Christology is not simply the key to understanding the Scripture, it is the fundamental reality governing the purpose of God in all things. From the beginning to the end, man’s destiny (and really, the destiny of the entire Created Order) is intimately tied to Christ. For any purpose of God to be fulfilled, it must be fulfilled in Christ for, as Paul says, “All things have been created by Him (Christ) and for Him (Christ)…He (Christ) is before all things and in Him (Christ) all things hold together…and it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him (Christ), and through Him (Christ) to reconcile all things to Himself…” (Col. 1:15-20). If it’s true that the goal of God is the “summing up of all things in Christ”, and all that that entails (Eph. 1:10), then Christ is the very heart of Creation and Redemption. And man, as the focal point of Creation as image-bearers, must, as Hughes intimates, have his origin and his destiny in relation to Christ to be fully, authentically “human”.

In the first chapter, Hughes makes this statement:

The question regarding the significance of man’s creation in the divine image is raised on the opening page of the Bible, but it is not clearly resolved until we come to the revelation in the New Testament that Christ himself, the Son, is the Image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15). This disclosure is indisputably of immense consequence if we wish to establish a right understanding of the nature of man; for it points us to the truth that the authentic identity of man can be grasped only through the knowledge of man’s relationship to Christ—a relationship which, far from having its beginning with the incarnation of the Son of God at Bethlehem, extends right back to the creation itself, and even beyond that to the eternal distinction within the unity of the Godhead between the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (pg. 3).

Hughes’ point here (that he will address at length in chapter 3) is that the Son is the Image of God and man was created in the image of God; and this distinction points us to the reality that man’s origin (and subsequent destiny) is directly related to his connection with Christ, the Son. At his creation, man was not the image, but created in the image. And this is of fundamental importance in understanding the work of the Spirit in conforming us (back and fully) into the image and likeness of Christ—the “image” in which we were created at the beginning and the “image” that we lost (or, more properly, was corrupted) in our rebellion at “The Fall”.

Hughes goes on in chapter one explaining “The Meaning of Creation in the Image of God” by distinguishing man from the rest of creation. Because it is only man who is declared to be created in the image of God, he holds preeminence within the created order and is the only being “fitted” to exercise dominion over God’s creation. The fact that man is created in the image of God “links man directly and responsibly to God in a way that is unknown to any other creature” (pg. 4).

Hughes goes on to say this:

Nothing is more basic than the recognition that being constituted in the image of God is of the very essence of and absolutely central to the humanness of man. It is the key that unlocks the meaning of his authentic humanity. Apart from this reality he cannot exist truly as man, since for man to deny God and the divine image stamped upon his being and to assert his own independent self-sufficiency is to deny his own constitution and thus to dehumanize himself. That this is so is confirmed by the appalling inhumanity of ungodly men in every age of human history (pg. 4).

In stressing the distinction of man with regard to the other creatures, Hughes shows that because man is created in the image of God he is therefore a “personal being”. The import of God’s declaration, “Let us make…” Hughes argues, is the reality of “the divine plurality-in-unity”, for it attest to the truth that “God, being triune, is a personal God” and that “God’s decision to create man is an interpersonal decision.” The importance of God being a personal being is crucial for understanding the constitution of man as a personal being and why he has such a need to express himself through relationships—to God and/or the created order in which he exists. That God is such a personal being is shown, Hughes says, in the aforementioned “divine plurality-in-unity”.

Hughes goes on to say, “An isolated or lone unit cannot be or know personality. To be personal, otherness must be present together with oneness, the one must be confronted and must interact with another, for personhood is a reality only within the sphere of person-to-person relationship. To be solitary is to lack identity. Only this personal distinction within the unity of the Godhead makes it possible to say, ‘Let us make man.’ Furthermore, it is this distinction which enables us to identify the Second Person of the Holy Trinity as the eternal Son who is the Image of God and through whom man’s person-to-person relationship with God is made a vital reality” (pg. 5).

And this is precisely why man, as a personal being (distinct from all other creations) is “…capable of personal fellowship with and personal response to his personal Creator. The fact that man is person from Person explains his ability to interact as person to Person…and leads us to the very heart of a correct comprehension of the meaning of his being created in the image of God” (pg. 5).

Hughes finishes his chapter by continuing to show that the Scripture places man at the pinnacle of “creation”; as “image-bearer”, man holds a special place in creation in that he is the point of “relation” between the created order and God. As image-bearer, man’s “dominion” over creation is the means by which the created order experiences its own fullness and destiny. This is another clue that Jesus, as the second Adam and True Man came to do so much more than simply “forgive” us for our sins. The whole of creation is implicated by His coming.

Hughes says it this way:

It is the creation of man that gives proportion and meaning to the whole divine work of creation; for it is in and through God’s personal creature man, who has been given dominion over all the earth, that the created order as a whole relates to God and achieves the purpose of its creation. The preeminent position of man in God’s creation is more than ontological; it is also inherently functional (pg 5).

As Hughes continues to show the superiority of man in the created order, he wraps up this important opening chapter by discussing the significance of man’s naming of the animals, the sanctity of man, and the synonymous nature of “image” and “likeness” (6-10).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Great Posts!

Before posting another Hughes summary, I wanted to draw your attention to a couple of excellent posts from The Vossed World. If you ever wanted to understand the Redemptive-Historical significance of the story of Abigail, then you should read these posts carefully. They are not short, but they are great examples of how we should be reading our Old Testament and the "stories" that it contains. So often we reduce our understanding of the "characters" and situations of the the Old Testament Scripture to a glorified Christian "Aesop's Fables". We fail to recognize the real significance of what is happening. If all the Scripture testifies of Christ (and Jesus, as well as the NT writers, tells us that it does), then to fail to grasp the true meaning of OT passages is to miss the glory of Christ.

In light of Jesus' words and the testimony of the NT, it still amazes me that people read (and preachers preach) so many of these OT stories as if the main point is to challenge us to follow someone's example (or not). I get so tired of hearing preachers and psuedo-scholars on "Christian" radio explain the story of David and Goliath simply as our example to exercise faith: Be like David!! You need to exercise faith like David in order to fight against the "goliaths" in your life! Ughh!! Is that really what the story of David and Goliath is about? Did God spend so many centuries and use so many people and events simply to give us examples of how we're to live our lives? Didn't He have anything better to do than spend all that time and energy simply to show us what faith looks like...or courage...or friendship...or...? He could have simply had Moses write a fable of short stories to pass down and be done with it (which is what many unbelievers think of the OT anyway). He certainly didn't need to go through the extravagance (and misery) of thousands of years worth of human existence to teach us Morality! Yet this is precisely how the majority of Christians read their Old Testaments. Didn't God have something a little more important in mind?

Yes! Jesus tells us this Himself. He came to FULFILL the Scripture--all of it! The NT writers agree with Christ and spent their time and energy not encouraging the people to be like David, or Abraham, or ...; but rather, they spent their time explaining Christ from the Scripture. And that's because the purpose of God from the foundation of the world was the redemption of His creation in Christ. From the very beginning, the portrait of the Messiah has been painted. With ever greater clarity in suceeding generations, the portrait of Christ and His work was revealed. The OT is the "Story" of redemptive history as it looked to and prophesied of the coming One, the promised Seed of the Woman, who will come and recover what was lost in The Fall. The OT is the record of God's progress in working out His promise in the garden of a Seed to recover Sacred Space; and the Gospels and NT writings are the record of the fulfillment of God's promise in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

God's purpose from the beginning was the "summing up of all things in Christ" with the establishment of His Kingdom--and that has been accomplished now in Christ. All that awaits is the consummation of all things at the return of Christ when the created order itself will be redeemed and we, in our glorified bodies, enter into the "Shalomic" Shabbat of God's Rest. The OT is so much more than a glorified "Aesop's Fables"; it's the "story" of Christ...who He is and what He came to do.

Sorry. This was only going to be a short introduction to a couple of examples that show us how we should be reading our OT; but when I jump on my soapbox it is sometimes difficult to get me off of it. The "story" of Abigail is interesting on a number of levels and Chad over at The Vossed World has really done us a service in explaining how this passage of Scripture adds to the portrait of Christ. The "moralism" that pervades so much of the preaching and teaching within the church is especially confounded in the story of Abigail (as in Rahab), which you will see.

God had something bigger and better to do than simply to give us morality lessons. He was painting the portrait of Christ. Read these posts as an example of how we are to understand God's work in redemptive history.

BTW--I've also included a link for the second of Culver's "Sermon on the Mount" notes here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sermon on the Mount--Culver

After starting again with my Sermon on the Mount series, I noticed that we have finally added our Pastor's PDF files to our SermonAudio page. And since I've been generating more "theologically oriented" hits recently (if not "comments"), I thought that rather than trying to re-invent the wheel with my own posts, which would probably only turn out to resemble a square block, I would simply link our PDF files each week. This is the first file in the series. Feel free to download and/or print the file for easier reading; just click on the title link above and you'll be re-directed to the paper. Every few days I'll add some more until we're caught up and then I'll add the new one each week. These aren't transcriptions from the sermons, just the notes that our Pastor uses and makes available. For the full force of each message, you can go here to download each sermon as well (there's also a link on my sidebar--SGCC on SermonAudio).

I'll probably continue to comment on this series from time-to-time when the subject matter triggers other considerations or begs for Googly's input :-). My first couple of posts included information from my own notes and study; so if you're interested just check out the archives here, here and here (the last one is an attempt to clarify my remarks about "Israel"). May the Lord bless you richly as you join with us in studying the Sermon on the Mount. And feel free to comment...I'll happily interact with any response that these files generate.

On another note, after previously posting on Philip E. Hughes' position on Anihilationism, I've been re-reading his book, "The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ". This is a fascinating read and I plan on posting some material from this book as I go through it again. I'm also planning on interacting with Cornelius Plantinga's work as he continues to instruct us concerning "Shalom" and the purpose of God to restore His "good" creation in Christ. I heartily recommend both authors be added to your library.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Culver Quotes-1

Since it's been awhile that I've added anything here, I thought I'd post some random quotes from one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors: "Speak, Lord: Learning to Listen to the Bible" (which you can get here) by Christopher Culver, Pastor of Sovereign Grace Community Church out here in the Denver area. Remember, context is everything...but since I don't want to just re-write the whole book, I'll just post a few highlights from time to time.

God's self-revelation is historically framed and conditioned. The Bible is not a collection of religious, doctrinal, and theological statements; rather, it is an inspired record of and commentary upon God's ongoing interactions with the world through the movement of human history (pg. 12).

The Bible has a cohesive and purposeful storyline: From the opening verses of Genesis, it has a specific destination in mind, and everything it contains is recorded precisely because it contributes to the development of its "story" as it advances toward its predetermined goal (12-13).

The biblical text demonstrates that divine revelation is incarnate in history. It doesn't simply occur in history. It has its identity and lives, grows, and matures in history. Indeed, history is itself revelatory, for it is nothing except the observable outworking in time and space of God's eternal and sovereign puposes (13).

To paraphrase (Geerhardus) Vos, Biblical Theology is the theological discipline concerned with God's self-revelation in the Bible, but specifically from the vantage point of the organized and harmonious process by which God progressively unfolds it within the upward movement of human history (15).

Because man bears the image and likeness of God, and because he lives in a world that bears the indelible mark of God's existence and power, no human being can escape God's self-revelation (20).

In accordance with His eternal intention for human beings, God has been pleased to not leave them to a partial and obscured sight of Himself; He has made Himself known to His image-bearers by direct disclosure. It is this revelation of the divine person and purpose--particularly as it implicates and has its focal point in God's design and destiny for mankind in Jesus Christ--that is the subject of the Bible (22).

God created people as personal beings in His own image and likeness so that they would be able to know Him as He is. God's intention was that human beings would have a Person-to-person knowledge of Him. This kind of knowledge is not merely informational; it is relational (24).

Knowledge as relationship is a foundational biblical principle, and lies at the heart of all of the Bible's key themes. For this reason, one cannot really understand God's self-revelation in the Bible apart from it (relationship). From beginning to end, the Scriptures show that God has revealed Himself to men, not so much by direct theological pronouncements, but by entering into a relationship with them. Initially, these relationships were with individuals, but then, in Abraham, moved outward to his family and then to the tribes descended from him. Later, God made Himself known to an entire nation descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God established the nation of Israel as His "beloved son," and they alone were given to know Him as their covenant Father and Husband. Now, in Christ, God is becoming the Father of a multitude from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people (25).

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Check this out

Here is another fine post over at "The Vossed World" which is on my side bar:

The relationship between the "indicative" and the "imperative" is crucial to understanding how we are live our lives as Christians. The book recommendation looks very promising. I encourage you to spend some time at The Vossed World--very good stuff!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Between Two Worlds: New Biblical Theology Blog by Alexander, Bird, Dempster, and Hamilton

Between Two Worlds: New Biblical Theology Blog by Alexander, Bird, Dempster, and Hamilton

I usually just let people look at my side bar for other sites to visit, but I wanted to make sure that everyone knew about this new blog I also have it linked, of course. I am really looking forward to reading the material that these gentlemen will publish.

Also, as my friend Chad Knudson prepares to leave with his family for a new ministry opportunity, I wanted to remind you all of his blog as well. which you will also find is linked on my side bar. Chad has a lot of very fine articles on his site and I encourage everyone to bookmark it and read through his material.

Well...still working on Sunday's service--I'm cutting it close!

Monday, August 18, 2008

"Worship Leader"--I hate that term!

As I begin preparing again for my role as “worship leader” this week, I’m struck again by how much I don’t like that terminology—“worship leader”. This term seems to suggest that the preaching/teaching of the Word is not “worship”. We come to church and for the first 30 minutes or so (or much longer, depending on what church you go to) we “worship” and then…the sermon. I’m not going to begin a series on what I think worship is (I’ve already got two series’ started that I don’t post to as often as I’d like!); I’m just venting over this popular term that’s used to describe what I do two or three Sundays a month.

I really don’t have an alternative term to use at the moment. And even though I’m sure that what I do at our church may differ dramatically with what other “worship leaders” do at other churches (different styles, different emphasis, etc.), the use of the term in question still conveys a sense of (at least) two different things going on within any given church service. We certainly come to church to worship our God and Savior, but it almost seems as if when the “worship leader” is finished “leading the worship” and sits down…well…now we’re finished “worshipping”. But of course, we stay a little longer (sometimes a lot longer :-) because we’re still supposed to listen to what the preacher has to say.

I’m sure we don’t always consciously think this way, but I’ve seen it too often (not at my church, of course :-) where people seem to get a “rush” when “worshipping” through the music and then just “settle in”, so-to-speak, with a board expression on their face and in their body language as the preacher does his thing. But, on the other hand, I’ve also noticed times when people seem to just “grin and bear” with the “first part” of the service (usually the music, of course) in order to get to the good stuff of the second part of the service (usually the preaching). Sometimes I wonder if people understand that it is all worship. If our very lives are to be “worship”, then certainly everything we do in a church service is “worship”.

I can’t count the number of churches I’ve attended in the past where, no matter what time the service is scheduled to begin, people are walking in sometimes as much as 15 minutes late! Do they not like the “worship” part of the service? Or, on the other hand, people will be at church on time and participate in the “worship” and then just “tune out” in various ways when the “worship” is over and the preaching begins. Do they not like the “sermon” part of the service?

I think if we were to consciously start thinking about the whole service as “worship”, then we may begin to take each “part” of the service seriously and with the same eager anticipation. I don’t know how much the term “worship leader” contributes to this mind-set, but words and terms convey “ideas” and it is very easy for…well…umm…let me put it this way: it’s very easy for “not right” ideas to seep into our thinking and sometimes very difficult to recognize and then remove them. I’ve never thought about how I used to “worship” before I became a “worship leader”; but looking back I can see where I’ve created the artificial distinction within my own mind between the “worship” part of the service and the “sermon” part of the service. It can be a subtle distinction within a mind, but it can easily lead to a despising of the Word. When I see 45 minute long “worship” services and a 25 minute “sermon” tacked on at the end, well…you get my drift.

“Worship leader” is a term that I don’t like using for myself. But is there an alternative?

Ok…I’m finished “venting”. Time to prepare for “worship”! :-)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hughes on Annihilationism

I had commented on a post at on “Annihilation”, that, while I don’t agree (yet) with the concept of annihilationism, I believe that there are some legitimately Biblical reasons to hold to such a position. I suggested Philip E. Hughes as an example of a Biblical scholar who believes that annihilationism is taught in the Scripture and that it is the only way to properly understand the contrasting principles of “life” and “death”. I only commented on this briefly over at Russ' blog because it occurred to me that a full post would do better justice to Hughes’ argument.

I will attempt to summarize Hughes’ position from his excellent book, “The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ”. This is the best work I’ve ever read on The Doctrine of Man and Christology. I may do a review of this book in the future, since I think every Christian should read this monumental work. If you want to know who Man was created to be and how it is that Christ has brought Man to his destiny, then read this book—you’ll never look at yourself, the human race or Christ the same again!

After having read this book and with possibly only a few minor points of contention, it’s only his view on annihilationism that I (may) have any issue with—that’s one chapter (Chpt. 37; pgs. 398-407) out of thirty eight. But again, as I’ve already said, he makes a compelling argument and I believe his conclusions on the matter can be understood as legitimate and Biblical, though not necessarily fully persuasive…at least not to me…at least, not at this present time.

As I began introducing Hughes’ thought in my comment on Russ’ blog, I suggested that his primary foundation for annihilationism was that he believed the soul was not created immortal, that the Scripture doesn’t teach the innate immortality of the soul. He says that Man, as originally created, was potentially immortal and potentially mortal, as well as potentially sinless and potentially sinful. This is important because if the soul is not inherently immortal, then there is no necessary obligation for a person to exist eternally in either state of being—whether that of “life” or that of “death”. Of course as Creator, God can take immortality away just as easily as He can grant immortality; but if the soul is not inherently immortal, then there is no logical necessity of its existing forever. Because of this, there is no reason logically, or more importantly, Biblically, that “death” cannot mean literal death or annihilation. Biblically, for Hughes, death is the opposite of life without regard to an eternal existence, but with regard to eternal finality.

Just because Man was created with the potentiality of immortality and mortality, this doesn’t mean, according to Hughes, that Man was created “neutral”. Man was created in the image of God “which is the bond of his personal fellowship with his Maker”, thus placing “his existence quite positively within the sphere of godliness and life” (pg. 400). He goes on to say about Man as originally created, “His loving and grateful concurrence with the will of God, who is the source of his life and blessedness, would have endured the continuation of his existence in unclouded blessing as he conformed himself to that image in which he is constituted (to which he was created).” (Of course, since Man did fall, now the Spirit is the One who is doing the work of conforming His people to the image of Christ, the True Man, and it is in this way that Man is restored to his true humanity as “image-bearer”) Hughes continues by saying that it was because of Man’s rebellion against God that he “passed from a positive to a negative relationship and brought the curse upon himself.” He argues that death is the “sum of that curse” and is also “the evidence that man is not inherently immortal”—soul or body (pg. 400).

Most of the above was taken directly from my comment on Russ’ blog; and as I stated over there, I tend to agree with Hughes on the points made above. Now I'd like to further expand on Hughes' thoughts. His argument for annihilation comes from his chapter entitled, "Is the Soul Immortal?" (pg. 398-407). By referencing the "soul" in the title of chapter does not mean that he sees the Bible as teaching a hard partition between soul (spirit) and body. Though some believe that matter is inherently evil and therefore it is only the spirit which partakes of immortality, the Bible clearly teaches that our "humanness" is made up of "body" and "spirit". Human nature in its fullness, as evidenced by Christ as the True Man, is both "body" and "spirit"; and therefore, the immortality that is assured to the Christian (because he/she is "joined" to Christ) will be an eternality of restoration to his/her true humanity—body and soul.

The question of human nature and immortality is very important in Hughes argument. He doesn't deny that Christians will live forever and spend eternity in the presence of God our Savior. He just doesn't think that the unbeliever will spend an eternity "living" in torment. Because, as Hughes reasons, immortality is not innate to human beings, it must be granted to them by God. He says, "It is God who alone has immortality and thus who alone may properly be described as immortal" (1Tim. 6:15-17; Rom. 1:23). Hughes continues, "And it is for us to confess, as did the Apostle, that by virtue of God's purpose and grace 'our Savior Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel' (2Tim. 1:9-10). The immortality which was potentially ours at creation and was forfeited in the fall is now really ours in Christ, in whom we are created anew and brought to our true destiny."

Immortality, Hughes argues, is not innate to human nature; so only those who have been granted immortality will "live". Those who have not been granted immortality will continue in "death" until the end. Death is only swallowed up in Victory—in Christ; for those "outside" of Christ, death still reigns. Therefore, if one is not joined in union with Christ, he has not tasted this victory and, therefore, has not been granted immortality. This does not argue against an "intermediate state" in which unbelievers who have died physically will still survive in some sense until the resurrection and final judgment. Hughes is simply stating that the Bible, in distinguishing between the eternal categories of "life" and "death", grants immortality as a gift from God to the "victor"—to the one who ""(has) been baptized into Christ Jesus" and therefore is identified not only with the death of Christ (he has been "buried" with Christ), but also the life of Christ by sharing in His resurrection (Rom. 6:1-11).

Since the "sting of death" is sin (1Cor. 15:55-56), where there is no sin there is no death. Those outside of Christ do not share in His life because sin still reigns through their rebellion against God—they are still estranged from God and the "life" that He offers in Christ. But for those "in Christ" there is no condemnation: "By the law of the Spirit of life in Christ, they have been freed from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1-2) and have therefore been counted as the "victorious" ones who, though perishable will "put on the imperishable", and though mortal will "put on immortality" so that there is no victory for death—"Thanks be to God who give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Cor.51-58)!

Death and Life are the two key categories that must be dealt with in order to understand the Bible's meaning with reference to eternal things. Hughes recognizes that the Bible uses language that speak of "everlasting" and "eternal" realities; but he also recognizes the Biblical concepts of "death" and "life" as being diametrically opposed to each other. With regard to the idea of punishment, Hughes has no problem with the concept of "everlasting"; "But", he says, "…the ultimate contrast (as was also the original [contrast]) is between everlasting life and everlasting death, and this clearly shows that it is not simply synonyms (everlasting) but also antonyms (life and death) with which we have to reckon." For Hughes, the concept of death simply can't mean endless punishment because it is contrasted with life itself: "There is no more radical antithesis than that between life and death, for life is the absence of death, and death is the absence of life" (pg.403). The idea that eternal death is an endless existence without the power of dying is not meaningful in its own right, much less since the Bible depicts death as the opposite of life.

That many passages of Scripture seem to depict the idea of an eternity of punishment for wicked (various OT passages depicting judgment; Mark 9:48; Matt. 25:41; 2Thess. 1:9; Jude 7; Rev. 14:10-11; etc.) is undeniable. But since this "punishment" that is reserved for the wicked (as opposed to the righteous which are "in Christ") is associated with the principle of death (as opposed to life, which is the blessing of the righteous which are "in Christ"), there must be a change in the meaning of death to believe that the wicked will be "kept alive to suffer punishment without the power of dying." The eschatological perspective of the Bible is Life or Death—and Jesus Christ is the point of demarcation.

Hughes finishes his argument by making four points for consideration (pg. 405-406). I will simply quote these four points directly from his book and let you, the reader, make your own conclusions as to their merit.

First of all, because life and death are radically antithetical to each other, the qualifying adjective eternal and everlasting needs to be understood in a manner appropriate to each respectively. Everlasting life is existence that continues without end, and everlasting death is destruction without end, that is, destruction without recall, the destruction of obliteration. Both life and death hereafter will be everlasting in the sense that both will be irreversible: from that life there can be no relapse into death, and from that death there can be no return to life. The awful negation and the absolute finality of the second death are unmistakable conveyed by its description as "the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess. 1:9).

Secondly, immortality or deathlessness, as we have said, is not inherent in the constitution of man as a corporeal-spiritual creature, though, formed in the image of God, the potential was there. That potential, which was forfeited through sin, has been restored and actualized by Christ, the incarnate Son, who has "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:10). Since inherent immortality is uniquely the possession and prerogative of God (1 Tim. 6:16), it will be by virtue of his grace and power that when Christ is manifested in glory our mortality, if we are then alive, will be superinvested with immortality and our corruption, if we are then in the grave, will be clothed with incorruption, so that death will at last be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:51-57; 2 Cor. 5:1-5). And thus at last we shall become truly and fully human as the destiny for which we were created becomes as everlasting reality in him who is the True Image and the True Life. At the same time those who have persisted in ungodliness will discover for themselves the dreadful truth of Christ's warning about fearing God, "who can destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matt. 10:28).

Thirdly, the everlasting existence side by side, so to speak, of heaven and hell would seem to be incompatible with the purpose and effect of the redemption achieved by Christ's coming. Sin with its consequences of suffering and death is foreign to the design of God's creation. The renewal of creation demands the elimination of sin and suffering and death. Accordingly, we are assured that Christ "has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. 9:26; 1 John 3:5), that through his appearing death has been abolished (2 Tim. 1:10), and that in the new heaven and the new earth, that is, in the whole realm of the renewed order of creation, there will be no more weeping or suffering, "and death shall be no more" (Rev. 21:4). The conception of the endlessness of the suffering of torment and of the endurance of "living" death in hell stands in contradiction to this teaching. It leaves a part of creation which, unrenewed, everlastingly exists in alienation from the new heaven and the new earth. It means that suffering and death will never be totally abolished from the scene. The inescapable logic of this position was accepted, with shocking candor, by Augustine, who affirmed that "after the resurrection, when the final, universal judgment has been completed, there will be two kingdoms, each with its own distinct boundaries, the one Christ's, the other the devil's (though he would in no way enjoy his rule because he would be consigned the same fate as the wicked—comment, GGM), the one consisting of good, the other of bad" (Enchiridion, 111). To this it must be objected that with the restoration of all things in the new heaven and the new earth, which involves God's reconciliation to Himself of all things, whether on earth or in heaven (Acts 3:21; Col.1:20; to this GGM adds, Eph. 1:10), there will be no place for a second kingdom of darkness and death. Where all is light there can be no darkness; for "the night shall be no more" (Rev. 22:5). When Christ fills all in all and God is everything to everyone (Eph. 1:23; 1 Cor. 15:28), how is it conceivable that there can be a section or realm of creation that does not belong to this fullness and by its very presence contradicts it? The establishment of God's everlasting kingdom of peace and righteousness will see the setting free of the whole created order from its bondage to decay as it participates in the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).

Fourthly, the glorious appearing of Christ will herald the death of death. By his cross and resurrection Christ has already made the conquest of death, so that for the believer the fear and sting of death have been removed (Heb. 2:14f.; 1 Cor. 15:54-57), the passage from death to life is a present reality (John 5:24), and the resurrection power of Jesus is already at work within him, no matter how severely he may be afflicted and incommoded outwardly (2 Cor. 4:11, 16). We do not yet see everything in subjection to the Son (Heb. 2:8); but nothing is more sure than that every hostile rule and authority and power will finally be destroyed, including death itself. Hence the assurance that "the last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:24-26). Without the abolition of death the triumph of life and immortality cannot be complete (2 Tim. 1:10). This is the significance of the second death: it will be the abolition not only of sin and the devil and his followers but also of death itself as, in the final judgment, not only will Death and Hades give up their dead for condemnation but Death and Hades themselves will be thrown with them into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:13-15). Hence the clear promise that "death shall be no more" (Rev. 21:4).

Hughes concludes by challenging the contention that "if the death sentence pronounced at the final judgment against the unregenerate meant their annihilation the wicked would be getting off lightly and would be encouraged to regard the consequence of their sin without fear." The Biblical testimony is that the ultimate "day of the Lord" will be "terror for the ungodly, who will then be confronted with the truth of God's being which they had unrighteously suppressed and experience the divine wrath which previously they had derided." The truth of Hebrews 10:31, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" will be experienced "first hand" by those who have not come to Christ by faith. Revelation 6:15-17 is a reality that the unregenerate will experience; so the idea of their "getting off lightly" if their final outcome is annihilation is easily dispensed with. The unregenerate will at last be given eyes to see the truth of the glory of our Lord and His Kingdom, but they will forever be excluded from it. They will come to know the blessedness of union with Christ and the removal of the curse of estrangement, but they will never get to experience it. They will get a glimpse of the "transcendental joy and bliss of the saints as in the light eternal they glorify their resplendent Redeemer, to whose likeness they are now fully and forever conformed", only to be "plunged into the abyss of irreversible destruction, (which) will cause the unregenerate of mankind the bitterest anguish of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. In vain will they have pleaded, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' (Matt. 25:11f; cf. 7:21-23). Too late will they then wish they had lived and believed differently." Their destiny is the "abyss of obliteration" which is the "destruction of the second death" (pg. 406-407).

Hughes finishes with this statement: "Thus God's creation will be purged of all falsity and defilement, and the ancient promise will be fulfilled that 'the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind as the multitude of the redeemed are glad and rejoice forever in the perfection of the new heaven and the new earth" (Is. 65:17f.; Rev. 21:1-4).

I hope that the reader will take Hughes' argument seriously. There is a lot here to think about and, as much as it may seem to the contrary, I didn't quote everything in this chapter! :-) I think Hughes' argument needs to be carefully examined (in its entirety) before being dismissed out-of-hand. I encourage the reader to find and purchase this book and read it carefully. Even if one doesn't end up agreeing with him on this issue, the other thirty-seven chapters are well worth the time invested in reading them. If you want to know what the destiny of Man is, then read this book--from beginning to end.