Friday, April 28, 2017

On Being Born Again

On Being Born Again

This commentary was published previously as a way of understanding Job as a Born Again Christian.  Originally, it was for a lesson discussing how to minister to the rich and famous.  Nicodemus, a wealthy and famous person of his day, was told by Christ that he must be born again.  What does this mean?  How does it apply to us, even when we are neither wealthy or famous?  Let us read.

The Character of Job

If Job was "blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil" of what and why did he repent?  As we read the book, we realize that Job used the pronoun "I" a lot.  Job's experience revealed Job lacked something.  The experience in Job showed hidden self-righteousness.  Job was willing to let God reprove him and cleanse him of this Sin.  The humility exhibited by Job is what made him, "blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil."  The following commentary shows that throughout the Bible God's people have displayed the same humility.  

With the Rich and Famous

We have covered in the previous weeks the Biblical definition of a disciple, and what it implies.  Can this definition apply to the outcasts, the rich and the famous?  The woman at the well told everyone about Jesus, so did the man freed from demons (John 4: 28 – 30; Mark 5: 19 – 20).  Then we have Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.  Ellen White says about Nicodemus,

"When at last Jesus was lifted up on the cross, Nicodemus remembered the teaching upon Olivet: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." The light from that secret interview illumined the cross upon Calvary, and Nicodemus saw in Jesus the world's Redeemer.  …  After the Lord's ascension, when the disciples were scattered by persecution, Nicodemus came boldly to the front. He employed his wealth in sustaining the infant church that the Jews had expected to be blotted out at the death of Christ. In the time of peril he who had been so cautious and questioning was firm as a rock, encouraging the faith of the disciples, and furnishing means to carry forward the work of the gospel. He was scorned and persecuted by those who had paid him reverence in other days. He became poor in this world's goods; yet he faltered not in the faith which had its beginning in that night conference with Jesus."  {DA 177}

Nicodemus became a disciple of Christ in all the sense of the word.  Now, we need to make sure we understand that although the words of Christ to the woman at the well were different from the words of Christ to Nicodemus, they are in essence the same concept.  Christ used words that each of His listeners would understand.  The woman at the well understood the Gospel from the perspective of Living water.  Nicodemus understood the Gospel in terms of being born again and light versus darkness.  These two metaphors are not that non-relatable.  Fetuses are in darkness in the womb: once born they are exposed to the light. 

Once born, the fetus cannot go back in.  Imagine a fetus that could rationally think about setting goals and planning for the tenth month in the womb.  Then all of the sudden this baby is born.  Whatever goals and plans the baby had will never be.  It is a new world.  It is a new life.  New goals and plans must be set and made for the new life.  Such is the new birth experience.  The life in the womb represents, in this metaphor, the life of the flesh.  The life outside the womb is the life in the Spirit. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).  The problem with many of us is that we refuse to leave the womb.  It is warm, cozy, and comfortable – like the Shunamite's room when her lover comes knocking (Songs 5: 1 – 3).  We like its darkness.  Consider what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3,

John 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
John 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
John 3:20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
John 3:21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. 

The problem of Nicodemus is the problem with Laodicea.  It prefers to live in deception. It prefers its spiritual blindness.  "If I cannot see it, I do not have to deal with it.  I do not know. Therefore, I should not be held accountable."  If a man is diagnosed with cancer and refuses to know what he has, the disease with still kill him.  Choosing to hear the diagnosis, and undergo the treatment of the condition could prevent the man's death.  What is the problem with Laodicea?

Revelation 3:15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
Revelation 3:16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Revelation 3:17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

Like Nicodemus, Laodicea is living comfortably in its delusion, unaware of its true condition and how it makes God feels.  God wants so much to heal Laodicea. We read God's plea on the following verses,  

 Revelation 3:18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
Revelation 3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

This message is akin to the young rich ruler.  "You think you have all that, but you lack one thing.  Therefore sell all you have, and give it to the poor, and follow me."  It is a call to discipleship.  We are Nicodemus.  We are the young rich ruler.  Christ's plea to them is His plea to us. 
Raul Diaz

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Fork in the Road

The Fork in the Road

Driving Eastbound on I-94 in Chicago (it is southbound in Chicago) the road splits.  It is what some call a fork in the road.   I-94 continues to the left (eastbound), and I-57 continues to the South.  There are signs warning of the split a mile or two before by also suggesting possible destinations to which each route will take you.  Depending on where you are going you will go right or left.  There is no reason anyone should go in the wrong direction.  But, some manage just that.  Taking one route means not taking the other; which means that if you take the wrong path, you will gradually go farther off your intended destination.  The farther you go on the wrong road, it will probably be longer and harder to get back on track. 

At Sinai, the Israelites came to a spiritual fork in the road (Exodus 19 and 20).  They had had to choose which spiritual road to take.  Their issue was not that they did not want to go where God intended to take them.  They thought they could get there by going on the road of their choosing and not God's intended way.  They sincerely thought their chosen road could take them there.  So, they deviated from God's way and took the other.

Abraham had a similar experience of a spiritual fork in the road.  Like the Israelites later, it was not that Abraham did not want what God promised him.  Abraham thought he could get there following a path of his choosing.  Abraham believed that he could fulfill God's promise to him, by performing methods not suggested nor approved by God.  Thus, Abraham conceived a child with Hagar (Genesis 16: 4).  Once Abraham went down that road, it would take years of hardship to get back on track.  God's idea and intention were that Abraham conceived with Sarah (Genesis 17: 16, 19). 

According to Paul, this event was symbolic of the Old Covenant.  When Abraham finally had a child with Sarah, it was the new covenant.  Let us read Galatians 4:22-26,

Galatians 4: 22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
Galatians 4: 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
Galatians 4: 24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
Galatians 4: 25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
Galatians 4: 26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

In this verse, Paul ties Hagar with Sinai.  In other words, the Old Covenant that Abraham followed by conceiving with Hagar is what the Israelites followed in Sinai. A covenant the Jews continued to follow even on to the day of Paul.  While, Abraham eventually, after years of hardship found God's road again, the majority of Israelites and Jews never found God's way again. 

What road have we taken: The Old Covenant or the New Covenant?  It is important to know that a misunderstanding of the Covenants can lead you to the wrong road.  Many Christians have what is called a dispensational view of the Covenants.  To them, the Old Covenant is a path that failed to take them to their destination, so then they tried another road, which is the new Covenant.  The Covenants to them is a matter of time, not a heart relationship with God.  To them, from Sinai to Jesus, people were saved by keeping the Law and the ceremonies of the Sanctuary.  According to this view, this method failed, so God then instituted the new plan that is saved by grace.  Paul has argued successfully in Galatians that this is not true.  Paul's example of Abraham being under both covenants at different times in his life shows us that dispensation is wrong; especially, when we know what Abraham was going through at each of these stages.  Abraham's unbelief led to the Old Covenant.  When Abraham believed, He was under the new covenant. 

Paul's argument also stands against Mainline Adventism view in the Covenants.  Adventists are not quite dispensational.  They believe that it is only one Covenant.  To them, the Covenant is one road, which at different points has different scenery and even a different name, but it is the same path, nonetheless.  From Sinai to Jesus the covenant was to be understood and practiced by following types, forms, and symbols of the ceremonial law; this is the old covenant.  Since the ceremonial law pointed to Jesus when Jesus came, type met antitype, and thus Christ fulfills the ceremonial law.  After Christ's death, the Old Covenant fulfilled its purpose of revealing the new Covenant, so, it is no longer relevant.  But, how can the Old Covenant be the Sanctuary and its services, if according to Paul 430 years before the sanctuary service began, Abraham was under the Old Covenant?  

 Now, although the Adventist view is different from the dispensational, it is similar in that they both believe the Old Covenant is passed.  We need to reiterate; they are two different covenants.  And, each covenant is a different method of salvation.  Each covenant is a different attitude toward God and the Gospel.  As the author of the Lesson tells us, "The two covenants are not matters of time; instead, they are reflective of human attitudes."  One of my favorite authors states, "These two covenants exist today. The two covenants are not matters of time, but of condition. Let no one flatter himself that he cannot be bound under the old covenant, thinking that its time has passed."

The basis for The Covenants is how our heart relates to God.  The New Covenant is for God to fulfill His promises to us; we are just to receive them humbly and gratefully.  In the New Covenant God dwells in our hearts and there writes His law (Jeremiah 31:33).  In the New Covenant, we abide in Christ and Christ in us (John 5).  In the New Covenant, He becomes our God and us His people (Ezekiel 37: 23, 27).  In the New Covenant, we become His royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).  In the New Covenant God bestows on us His inheritance:  eternal life in the new earth.   "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1)!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Eros versus Agape

Eros versus Agape

Thousands of years ago, in the land we now call Greece lived a man named Admetus.  Admetus was a young man, who was a relatively good citizen, a good person.  But he was accused falsely, as the story goes, and sentenced to death.  His friends knew that Admetus was innocent, so they asked each other if anyone would die for Admetus after much deliberation they concluded that as much as they loved their friend they would not die for him.  But, the thought of Admetus dying still haunted them, so they said, "let us go to Admetus' parents; undoubtedly they would die for him."  When the friends asked Admetus parents they were disappointed to find out that although Admetus parents loved him very much, they were unwilling to die for him.  The friends went to Alcestis.  Alcestis was Admetus' girlfriend.  She knew Admetus; she knew that he was a good man.  She knew that he was innocent.  She knew that he did not deserve to die.  But she also knew, according to the law of the country, that she could not reverse the verdict.  So, the friends appealed to her, and she accepted.  So, she went to the Judge, and she said, "Look, I can't convince you, because you have already made the judgment, that Admetus is a good man, he does not deserve to die.  I would like to offer myself in his place." 

When the Greeks heard the story and concluded that the kind of love that Alcestis had was the best kind of love.  Now, there are four words for love in Greek: eros, storge, phileos, and agape.  The story tests three.  The friend's love is phileo -, that one failed.  The parents love is storge – which also failed.  But, in this story Alcestis love – eros - won.  The friends did not test Agape.  However, agape was the Greek word chosen for God's kind of love – unconditional, self-denying, self-emptying love.   

Simply put, Eros is Love between opposite sexes or sexual love.  Alcestis died for a man that loved her.  The Greek philosopher Plato gave this word a dual meaning: Vulgar Eros, meaning sexual love; and Heavenly Eros, meaning love towards a god.  According to Plato, this was the highest form of love:  man seeking after God. 

Now, the Word eros does not appear in the New Testament.   Other words for love appear, including agape.  The word agape especially appears in 1 Corinthians 13.  As humans, we tend to reflect ourselves in others.  We attribute or own understanding to others.  We tend to make God in our image.  We believe that He loves as we do.  But, the Bible denies that.  In our sinful view, God would only die for those that love Him.  However, we did not love God when He died for us.  Paul says in Romans 5: 6 - 10,

Romans 5: 6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 5:  7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
Romans 5: 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5: 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Romans 5: 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

 We were ungodly when God died for us.  We were yet sinners when He commended his love for us and died for us.  We were enemies when He reconciled us in His Son.  So why would God do this?  Paul tells Titus that it was because of God's mercy for us (Titus 3:5).  Paul told the Ephesians that it was "because of his great love for us" (Ephesians 2:4);  not, because we deserve it.  Not because we have pursued God and begged Him to do it.  No, according to Jesus, God so loved the world that He sent His son to die for us.  We did not ask for it.  To reiterate, as Paul says in Romans 5 God's Son died for us while we hated Him. 

 No wonder Paul told the Corinthians, "I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).  The Cross is the greatest revelation of agape.   And Agape is the summation or fulfilling of the Law (Romans 13:10).  That would make the Cross the greatest revelation of the Law.  This means that those who are truly obedient will die ( and live) for their brethren (or enemies) as Christ died (and lived) for us (1 John 3:16).  Agape produces the most miraculous change in human heart.  It is no longer about me, but about others even if they hate us or do not know who we are. 

 What we are talking about is Justification by faith, which brings the gift of heavenly agape-love "shed abroad in the heart" by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). That means deliverance from all kinds of fear because "perfect agape casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). Fear ceases to be a motive in following Christ, for "the agape of Christ constrains us" to live not for self, but "for Him who died for us" (2 Cor. 5:14, 15).  And, our concern for others reveals our concert for Christ (Micah 6:8; Matthew 25: 31 – 46).  "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen" (John 4:20)? 
Raul Diaz