The Ebenezer Post

A blog featuring articles centered around the Rock of Help, Jesus Christ

Hope for Bitter Roots

With the idea of choice, we must ask, “Is it only a matter of my choice?” Where does the sovereignty of God and His will come into play? Is He simply the victim here of man’s choice? Not as a game-master, but instead as a nail-biting victim held to Fate’s destiny? Paul in Romans chapter nine deals with these very difficult questions in view of faith but which has become the topic of much controversy among Christianity.

In order to explore the full nature of God as our helper, let’s not avoid the question of God’s sovereignty. God’s favor with Abel is similar to God’s favor with Jacob. In Romans nine Paul uses the latter example explaining how God loved Jacob but Esau he hated, and the same could be said of Cain and Abel. In order to properly appreciate what Paul is speaking to it is good to take a few steps back in the life of Paul and consider the nature of his calling in Acts nine.

Paul, before his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, went by the name Saul. As a religious idolater, parallels can be drawn between Saul and another false-worshiper, Cain. When Jesus came preaching and teaching among the Jews, the religious leaders failed to recognize Him as their promised messiah. They were looking for a political and military hero, a physical conqueror, who would overcome their oppressors and restore their prior glory as a great nation upon the earth. They failed to understand the ministry of Christ and the Gospel Jesus came proclaiming, and so they failed to see their own need for Him. In their anger of Jesus’ rejection to serve them as an earthly king and hatred for Jesus’ rejection of their self-righteous works, they killed Him.

Then following Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of the Holy Spirit, as the Gospel of Christ began to spread throughout Judea in the first days of the church, the same religious leaders began to burn with new jealousy and blind contempt. As they observed the growth of this new movement they called The Way, they began looking for means to squelch it.

As tension between the infant church and the religious leaders built, it quickly turned to bloodshed with the stoning of Stephen, the first recorded martyr. His bold preaching to the religious leaders and the crowd of on-lookers turned these men against him, and they murdered him. This takes us back to the two brothers in Genesis, and yet it takes us to the crucifixion of Christ even more. Stephen’s words in the midst of being stoned, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” echoes those of his Lord, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This story in Acts ends by giving us one important detail among hundreds of details not provided; a young man, Saul, stood by as a witness to the whole event involving Stephen.

Now, we’re told, “Saul agreed with putting him to death,” so we know Saul was no innocent bystander to the murder of Stephen. In the darkness of his idolatrous heart, he was in full agreement with the slaying of this innocent man; and this event begins a wave of persecution against the church as Saul, no longer content to be a passive bystander, becomes a leader of a defiant, frontal assault against God’s people. Though his intentions are pure in seeking to cleanse the land of this supposed scourge, Christianity; in his idolatry looking for a false messiah, Saul becomes responsible not for one brother’s death but for the genocide of countless brothers, his religious enemies, the followers of Christ. Like Cain, Saul and the religious leaders were looking for a different savior, and their anger burned from God’s rejection of their proud, self-centered deeds.

Then, suddenly, something spectacular and unexpected happens to Saul in Acts chapter nine! As he’s traveling the road to Damascus, a trip taken with the intent of expanding the authority of his reach as champion of the cause against this Christ and this Way, he has an encounter with God that we could call anything but free choice. I believe it is this life-changing encounter which serves as the catalyst for Paul all his life. The catalyst for his ministry as an apostle, and the catalyst for his heartfelt discourse in Romans and elsewhere.

On the road to Damascus, some while after the stoning of Stephen, Saul is met with a blinding light!

Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’
‘Who are You, Lord’ he said.
‘I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting,’ He replied. ‘But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’
Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9:4-6)

Now shortly after Saul is struck with blindness, Ananias, a faithful follower of Christ, receives a vision. In Ananias’ vision, the Lord instructs him to find Saul of Tarsus in the city. The Lord reveals to Ananias the house where Saul is staying, the name of the street where he can be found, Straight; a reminder of Isaiah’s words, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Saul is literally turned to the straight road to prepare the way of the Lord. In this preparation for the Lord to have his way with Saul, it is further revealed to Ananias that Saul, struck with blindness, has also been given a vision. In his vision the Lord is revealing to Saul that Ananias will be coming to lay hands on him and heal him! But how does the Lord presume to know Ananias is a willing participant? The Lord hadn’t bothered to wait for Ananias to agree to anything.

The fact is, Ananias seeks an appeal with the Lord, very poignantly reminding Him that this Saul is the same guy responsible for ravaging the church. We know from a report in Acts that Saul was dragging men and women from their homes to have them put into prison. The Lord directly sets Ananias’ inquisitive yet obedient heart at ease.

“Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name!” (Act 9:15-16)

Ananias is faithful to obey the Lord’s command, goes to find Saul and lays hands on him. Then look at the extra-mile of kindness Ananias walks with these words. “Brother Saul…” what grace! Were the scales over Saul’s eyes not simply melting away with these two words? The flow of warm tears streaming down his face, like a baptism of mercy and kindness, melted the heart of Saul that day. “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you can regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Here Saul had now witnessed true love and grace, the miraculous act of healing, yes, but even more, the miraculous measure of grace found in the kindness of a stranger meeting him, his former oppressor, for the very first time. This type of kindness he had only encountered one other time when he witnessed the killing of that innocent man Stephen. “Do not hold this sin against them,” Stephen had uttered over all those present as he lay dying. Was this detail not given to us for a very significant reason? Had this seed of love and grace of the Lord Jesus, through Stephen, not made an impact on the hardened, dark heart of Saul, who had been seeking merely to “serve” God and restore the name of his religion with zeal? The Lord’s preparation had begun with Stephen’s sowing and the work continued through Ananias’ watering; yet the Lord brought the harvest in Paul.

Saul was baptized into the faith, began growing in the faith and eventually, after a period of time receiving the revelation of the gospel message the Lord intended him to take to the world, he returned as Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ.

Bitter Waters Sweet

It is my belief that in Paul’s letter to the Romans he is writing from the heart. The danger of writing this way is that heartfelt words can sometimes be misunderstood. Paul seems not as much concerned with laying out doctrine here as he is with speaking from the heart as a Jew, saved by grace, made to walk in new life, but who feels understandable grief for his countrymen. As the apostle for the Gentiles, he also has a very important thing to remind them concerning the nature of faith.

“I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” (Romans 9:1-5)

What strong words from Paul! He isn’t teaching doctrine here so much as he is speaking with an intercessor’s heart that somehow he wishes he could make himself cursed, that he could lay down his own life in Christ, for the sake of his brethren. What a beautiful sentiment, and we can hardly doubt that Paul means what he says here. He admittedly is grieved knowing that through the Jewish people came all the things of God, including Christ Himself!

We know from the teachings of Paul and elsewhere in the New Testament that all the things he speaks of; the covenants, the law, the service of God, etc., were all pointing to the need of and coming of Christ. Some of Israel recognized Him when He came; many did not. Paul is grieving from the personal knowledge that many of his kinsmen, as he says later, “Stumbled at that stumbling stone.”

In his grief, Paul is not losing sight of what is the reason some are accepted and some are not, and it is at this point that Paul does let us in on the ways of God. As he continues his discourse Paul declares, “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’”

Paul, still grieving for his kinsmen, brings everything back around to what he has learned as a true worshiper God finds acceptable. It isn’t the entitlement that some men feel based on their own birth rights (Enoch), the good fortune they’re born into (Pharaoh), or the nature of their “works” (the Jews) which matters to God. Paul explains very clearly that no matter how much God loves your father (Abraham) being his son will get you nowhere (Ishmael) without one thing. This one thing is what Paul has been pointing to the whole way through Romans: faith.

What God accepts from His people is only faith in the promise of His Word, trusting in Him to provide the help of which we are so desperately in need. His point in light of “those who are of Israel,” the actual Jewish descendants of Abraham; is that they are not all his children in faith, believing in the promised son of God. Paul is speaking of the true son, Jesus Christ.

As Paul continues he makes statements that, isolated by themselves, become the arguments of doctrine that seeks to do the very thing Paul is arguing against… separating those “accepted” and “rejected” by God on the basis of outer works! Often the terms “elect” and “non-elect” are exchanged accordingly, and I do not ignore that scripture and Paul himself speak abundantly of the prosperity of the elect. However, Romans 9:10-18 do not negate what Paul has been pointing us to, the need for faith, in the previous chapters. He is simply stating that our lot in life, the nature of our first birth, does not counter what God has chosen to do in those who simply believe His promises. The question becomes one of the nature of our heart before Him. God will be seen by those of a poor and broken heart.

Paul continues his argument for faith, and not man’s works, by asking the rather obvious question in light of God’s sovereign choosing.

“You will say to me, therefore, “Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Romans 9:19-20)

It is not my intention for a minute to suggest that God has no sovereign choice over His creation. As the Master over His creation we cannot in our position as finite men and women “talk back to God.” Paul raises the question for us so we don’t have to, “Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?”

Paul knew all too well the nature of this question. Had he not pondered the mystery of God’s choosing him; why he had been so special in Jesus’ eyes to deserve the type of preparation and calling the Lord had bestowed upon him? Paul was on the way to Damascus with the intent to persecute more innocent people in the name of the righteous God he believed he was serving. Why had he been chosen by Jesus to be subjected to the blinding light of grace and not the countrymen who Paul begins this chapter grieving for?

Let’s press on, though, into the most difficult three (and a half) verses to receive mentally as humans in all of scripture…

“Or has the potter no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction? And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory—on us, the ones He also called…” (Romans 9:21-24a)

To understand these verses one must understand the calling and ministry of Paul. What was Saul before he was Paul? Was he an object of God’s wrath or an object of God’s mercy? When he was ravaging the church, dragging innocent men and women from their homes was he an object of God’s wrath or an object of God’s mercy? We would likely answer, “An object of mercy.” That is understandable, but when Saul received a blinding light on the road to Damascus was Paul an object of God’s mercy or an object of God’s wrath? Blinding light is a bit “wrathful,” yet of course it was an agent of mercy we know only because we can see the full scope of Paul’s life. But let’s not stop here…

In speaking of Paul’s salvation we must always speak of Stephen. There would be no Paul if there was no Stephen. However, was Stephen an object of wrath or mercy? In Stephen, was God enduring with much patience the object of wrath ready for destruction to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy? Stephen certainly made known the riches of God’s mercy. Stephen’s mercy had worked effectively on the object of wrath found in the heart of Saul.

If we mention Stephen we must certainly speak of Jesus Christ. Hanging on the cross, was Jesus Christ the object of God’s wrath or the object of God’s mercy? Jesus Christ was the expression of the fullest extent of God’s mercy, and yet bore the full measure of God’s wrath making known the riches of His grace and love for humanity.

In one sense, God’s purpose for our lives will always come to fruition. Paul cites the words God gave Moses for Pharaoh, “I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” Do you see any mention here of how God would choose to display His power in Pharaoh? Had Pharaoh repented and believed in the God for whom Moses had come as a witness, could God have not displayed His power in him in similar fashion to another Gentile king later? Nebuchadnezzar repented and believed, and he served as a testimony to God’s greatness.

The question always comes back to one of faith. To whom do we look for our help? From whom do we seek an identity? In the name of Jesus we find both, and by God’s sovereign choice in Christ we have all been called. Like Saul, the fact is, we are in need of a new identity. Somehow Saul found a completely new identity, in a new name and a new calling, Paul the apostle.

Jesus explained to Ananias that Saul would eventually come to know the suffering he must endure for the sake of his new identity. Paul found his identity in the name of Jesus and would later come to pen these words.

“My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Philippians 3:10)

The Nameless Party

At the point of the fall Adam is the only human named. The woman until now has only been identified as woman, wife, “bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh,” or fondly “the woman you put here with me.” Adam’s assumed helper, party as she was to transgression, has no name.
Remember that just prior to meeting her, Adam was faced with the daunting task of naming the land and air creatures. Not that he was handing out names like Spot, Sparky, and Rover; the real idea was that he was identifying and becoming familiar with these creatures in a more intimate way, more likely identifying types and categories. Adam continued this art when presented with his feminine counter-part calling her, Woman. Like man, but Woe! Adam named her Woman “because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen 2:23) The word for Man here is ish and for Woman is ishshah.
Adam identifies her to be made in his image, ishshah to his type, ish. While Adam bears a unique name, as the first of many individuals to come, Woman remains until after the fall only a nameless category. This nameless void, then, is the first to whom the deceptive serpent-creature came with a plan for gaining significance. In her search for identity, the offer of God-likeness had to be more than she could willingly pass up. Wouldn’t this inspire from her husband, Adam, a great name? She likely sought to bring him something rich. Perhaps something, she reasoned, that would gain her favor in his eyes.
Has this natural man’s way of thinking seemed to change much throughout the ages? Women, viewed as mere helpmeets to men (suffering from a truly weak understanding of what that term means), as The Help and not the Ezer, has truly caused women great suffering beyond what God’s curse intended. The biblical teaching that Woman was the one deceived into eating the fruit, coupled in Christian circles with what I believe are gross misunderstandings of passages from Paul’s letters to Timothy and the church in Ephesus have, even among Christians, caused women to be mistreated and suppressed. In various ways and at various times, even still today, young girls are forbidden from higher levels of education. Women are banned from speaking or, at times, from teaching the scriptures. We level religious blame for sin at the feet of Woman much like religious zealots have laid blame for the crucifixion of Christ at the feet of the Jews. Is it any wonder, then, that God used both as channels through whom He brought salvation to the world?
Woman, like Adam, was in need of the same Helpmeet and source of Strength. Today, through the seed of woman Jesus Christ has come into the world, and His victory over sin has crushed the head of the serpent. Though His foot was struck for a season, we have hope in His resurrection to walk in the light and true life of love in Him.
Considering the cursed Woman, still nameless, but given a unique promise from God, in her construction God transforms Adam from a singular man into a multiplicity of sons and daughters. Woman was not only the provision of one comparable to man, but through her mankind could multiply and divide. If woman was a helper, together man and woman would bring many more helpers into the world. Man and woman as husband and wife, together being still a singular form in marriage, now have the capacity of expanding into the plural form, a family.
As we saw earlier, God came to Adam and woman in their leaf-covered nakedness with several merciful judgments and one particular promise. The promise that through woman a conqueror, yeah, Deliverer would come finally begins to move this story in a positive direction. Though, it will get worse before it truly gets better.
As a testimony of Adam’s faith in the promise of God he names his wife, Eve, meaning life. Adam believed the promise to woman, and in giving her an identity, he testifies of the hope found in their mutual Help.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
It really is too simple. All God asks is that we trust Him, and to trust Him is simply to acknowledge Him. This is not so much an action as it is a gesture. God just wants us to turn our attention to Him and to acknowledge our need for Him. It is everything, though, for us to admit we need His help.
Previously we have discussed the need to have the life of Christ indwelling. We must eat of this tree of life. To eat of this tree, we must exchange our life for His.

Human Knowledge Is Incomplete

In 1931, the Austrian logician, mathematician and philosopher, Kurt Gödel proved his incompleteness theorems establishing inherent limitations of all but the most trivial starting points for systems of reasoning. The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of reasoning whose theorems can be formulated by an algorithm are capable of proving all truths about the relation of the natural numbers within the formula.  For any such system, there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are un-provable within the system.  The second incompleteness theorem, an extension of the first, shows that such a system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.

Simply put:  Ultimately, a system of logic capable of being formulated cannot be proven true or reliable within its own framework.  This brings into question the purity of knowledge — as we know it.

If we have a formula like 1+1=2.  As a basic formula this statement is logically true, but here is what Gödel is proving: How do we know 1 truly exists? We know the answer to the problem by logical deduction, but that same logical deduction can prove that the statement truly exits.

In Genesis 2, the basis of natural reasoning, or logic, is introduced as The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The fruit of this tree, Good (positive) and Evil (negative) form the conundrum logic attempts to resolve.  However, from Gödel’s established theorems we can ascertain that logic itself is unreliable as a source for ultimate answers, as it cannot prove the natural elements within its own system true.  There will always be statements within the system that are non-provable.

The worldwide problem becomes, how do we truly know Good from Evil? What is Good? As Pilot asked of Jesus: What is Truth? This is the age-old question asked of every man, especially one chosen to sit in the seat of Judge. A judge within the world of human reasoning is given the burdensome task of determining Right and Wrong, and the even greater burden of deciding the fate of the Guilty and the justification of the Innocent. As humans we look to the Judge, outside the problem, to decide our fate; yet how impossible is this task? How often do either parties walk away feeling completely satisfied with the verdict?

When we broaden our concern to everything in the world, the question: What is Right and what is Wrong truly becomes impossible for anyone to decide within the natural realm. While logic and reasoning can bring us to certain conclusions, it doesn’t take the acumen of a genius to point to some exception for almost any ethical position. Truth, then, must come from outside the natural man.

Logic and reasoning are not bad; they are simply impure tools and meaningless without revelation of the knowledge of something greater. Something outside the natural realm. The natural man works from the basis of plus and minus; we cannot escape it. We aren’t even taught this as much as we are born understanding it. All things within our framework of natural existence are measured by formula, most often of a dualistic nature like that of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

For instance, some common dualities:  True/False, Yes/No, Right/Left, Male/Female

Natural dualities of the universe:  Contracts/Expands, Cold/Hot, Wet/Dry
Our system of economics:  Gain/Loss, Supply/Demand, Rich/Poor
Our system of politics:  Labor/Liberal, Democratic/Monocractic
Our system of religion:  Good/Bad, Wise/Fool, Cursed/Holy

Where these two axioms exist there are levels of gray to blend and shade, but we cannot seem to cease grappling with these base elements.  Just the same, within our world we cannot seem to evade the conflict warring within ourselves.  Even the study of religion often boils down to the study of ethics (Good versus Evil) or moral philosophy. While these axioms do exist, who is to say what is Right and Wrong? One could suggest that they, in fact, balance one another. And yet, we must have truth. Truth can’t merely nullify; it must rise above the conflict.

When Adam approached that first tree, lacking the true revelation of God, mankind was set upon the raw course of problem.  And what Kurt Gödel, at least, has demonstrated is that logic, not simply the problems, but the system itself can surmise no ultimate solution.  Mankind cannot find steadfast atonement within himself. The answer, we must be led to believe then, rests on faith in the One who came from outside this world into its system to elevate our attention to a higher knowledge. Jesus Christ took the problem of sin and death upon Himself and showed us a higher way, the way of love.

Jesus Christ is the logic of God, that God is love. To be partakers of this solution one must submit himself, as Peter submitted, to the humble service of a Savior.  We must admit the answer does not lie within our formulas or patterns for reasoning and submit to the wisdom of God, which is foolishness to man.

“All the promises of God in Jesus Christ are Yes!”


Kurt Gödel was not only explaining mathematical philosophy in 1931, he was bearing witness to an answer, The Solution bigger than any problem we could imagine.

Adam’s True Help Meet

At first glance, the story of Adam’s demise in Genesis 3 seems slightly unfair. Now, to question this is obviously to question the nature of God’s dealing with man. It is never good theology to question the nature of God. But what child in Sunday School has ever heard this story of the fall of man and not had the thought, “Oh, if Adam had only been given a little more information, possibly he could have avoided the whole apple-thing.” As we progress through the remaining 66 books God is proven sure and true, but let’s be honest… There are times in scripture, and chapter 3 of Genesis is no exception, when the nature of God seems to be as Rich Mullins once observed, “Like the kid who beats you up and then gives you a ride home.” In the same manner of reasoning, Adam’s fate seems to call God’s true nature into question.

Here is the situation from all we’re told in scripture:

Fashioned from clay, Adam bumbles onto the scene after God wakes him up with a breath of air to the nostrils. I’m awake; I’m awake! Adam is then moved into a new home within proximity to lethal fruit, which he is warned once, Once!, not to eat. He is assigned a new job and a very large project to be performed single-handedly, only to then have to undergo major surgery, meet a nice girl, fall in love and get married. The events I have just listed are among some of the highest stress-inducing activities one can face, yet Adam had no one with whom to obtain support, and no one he could relate to, who had walked in his shoes and been through what he was going through.

Playing devil’s advocate, let’s just consider Adam was slightly preoccupied when God explained what trees should not be eaten and the resulting consequences. The newlywed was clearly naive when it came to peer pressure. When Eve approached with the fruit, Adam recalled that God said not to eat of this tree. However, if he took the purely natural, scientific approach, Eve had eaten of the fruit and yet not died. She was living proof to any natural mind that Adam had certainly misunderstood his Master’s instruction. Then, in their ultimate shame, God just so happened to be waltzing by as Adam, and his new bride, became aware of their nakedness.

In what appears to be the blink of an eye, paradise and all that was afforded those willing to live as God’s gardeners was lost. Forever! Banished! Adios, Arrivederci, or as Bugs would say, Bon Voyagee! Does this not seem so harsh, yay, even unfair?

Before going too far with this idea, let’s reconsider the full account and all that Adam had been party to prior to eating the fruit.

In the 2nd chapter of Genesis’ account of the creation of man we find one of the most elegant, beautiful word-pictures of scripture. Jehovah takes clay into His hands and fashions man. Then, Jehovah intimately breathes life into Adam. Adam awakens to the sight of the One in whose image he is created.

As Adam acclimates himself to his surroundings, God reveals all the trees are for his nourishment. He has literally been given the choice of any variety, shape, taste and scent he could possibly desire. Only one important criteria: Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or you will die.

Like we often do with our own children, God was simply making the limitations clear for Adam’s own good. “You can have all this, just not this.” All other trees for Adam included the Tree of Life. Adam could partake literally of all Life had to offer.

God is concerned with Adam’s estate. In Genesis 2:18 KJV, we find God observing to himself, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a help meet for him.” This last statement in Hebrew is…

אֶֽעֱשֶׂהּ־לֹּו עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדֹּֽו׃

Literally reads: asah (I will make) ‘ezer (helper) neged (in his presence; in front of)
Neged or nagad is what modern versions translate to suitable.
This is a verse we will return to, but for now kindly take note of the literal translation.

So, to recap quickly, Adam’s story up to the point of the fall goes like this:

God breathed life into Adam, gave Him the provision of all Life had to offer, and takes concern with his lonely estate promising to make for him a helper in his midst.

In due course, God assigned Adam the task of naming the land animals and birds of the air. What a tremendous privilege for Adam! God brought each creature to Adam, “Here, my child, what do you think of this species? With my own strength I’ve created it. What name shall you give it?”

This passage reminds me of one Christmas when we gave our children a kitten. When the kids’ feet finally touched earth at the sight of such a potent force of cuteness, when their initial shock and awe subsided, we asked them, “What do you want to name him?” As parents, it was our personal investment that had purchased the kitten. It was our money that would continue to sustain the kitten with food, shelter and care of its physical needs. Yet, we gave our children the privilege of studying the nature of this new family member and taking ownership in its christening. When God brought His creation to Adam, God was empowering Adam with the privilege and responsibility of knowing the work of His hands. By means of Adam’s full faculties, this assignment served a catalyst to bring Adam into closer proximity with his Creator.

The scriptural text actually reads, “He brought them to the man” (Gen 2:19). Now think of this for a minute. Consider God’s position in this narrative. The scripture is telling us the LORD brought the creatures to Adam. I’ve heard it estimated that the number of species in existence before the flood were in the 5-7 millions. Oblige me a bit here and imagine only a third of all the species were land creatures and birds. That’s a mere 2 million species. This means for every million species God brought before Adam, the Lord God Himself appeared before Adam a million times.

However, at the end of this process the scriptures go on to explain, “But for Adam no suitable helper was found.” (Gen 2:20b)

In Hebrew it is…

וּלְאָדָם לֹֽא־מָצָא עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדֹּֽו׃

In the Septuagint (LXX) it is…

τῷ δὲ Αδαμ οὐχ εὑρέθη βοηθὸς ὅμοιος αὐτῷ

Both texts literally read: To Adam nothing was found to be a suitable help.

The conclusion many Bible scholars make from these verses (18-20) is that God was preparing Adam’s heart for the creation of Eve.  From the passage it is true God formed Eve to be a suitable companion for him, but the word ‘ezer, meaning helper, often has been misunderstood conjuring an idea of wives being created as servants to their husbands. The word servant in Hebrew is the word`ebed, meaning slave or subordinate, not helper.  Eve was not Adam’s subordinate; she was his mutual companion in front of, not beneath him.  In Genesis 1, the meta-narrative of creation, we understand God had in His mind the creation of both male and female from the start. He refers to them, male and female both, as made in His image. Men and women were co-creations in the image of God; Adam first and then Eve. But could it be in Genesis 2, the micro-narrative of creation, that what God intended here in terms of a promised helper referred to someone even greater than Eve?

It is interesting that no where in the rest of scripture is the word ‘ezer used to refer to women. Even here in Genesis 2, a careful reading will reveal that she is only implied as the one God is promising, a companion, a mutual helper.

The only person to whom the word ‘ezer is ever directly ascribed as an attribute is God Himself. Ezer appears 21 times in the Old Testament; twice here in Genesis 2 but most often used in the Psalms.

Psalm 33:20 – We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.

Psalm 121:1-2 – I lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 124:8 – Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 146:5 – Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God

Referring back to Genesis 2:18, the word make is the Hebrew word asah.  This word is different than the word create. It does not mean to make from nothingIt actually means to form or to produce. When Noah is commanded to make an ark of gopher wood, the word used is asah. In Isaiah 43, the word asah is used when it says, “He will make a way in the wilderness.”

In Genesis 2:22, when God makes Eve from the rib of Adam, it is interesting that the word used there for make is not the Hebrew word asah. We’re told when God pulled the rib from man that instead he literally built Eve. The word for made in verse 22, banah, literally means to build. Elsewhere in scripture the word is used, for instance, when Noah and Abraham build altars to God or when those in the plains of Asshur build a city and a tower.

“I will make a suitable helper.

Consider the possibility the helper God is referring to here in verse 18 was not any form of His creation. The word neged, from where we get the idea of suitable, is always elsewhere in the Old Testament translated before, against or in the presence of. The word is used to describe being in the position in front of or face-to-face with one’s line of sight. As one looks at his mirrored image before him, so the idea here with neged is position. Who does God place directly before Adam? As we’ve already seen, the Lord God Himself appeared before Adam with the gifts of His creation.

It seems in all of Adam’s skills of observation he never came to the realization that the One who stood before Him was, in fact, the One in whose image he was created. Contrary to the elegant prose of the shepherd boy, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God,” Adam failed to connect with his Creator on this level. David’s observation of creation echoed the proper response. Adam, however, for some reason failed in this test of faith.

Adam may have only seen God as Creator and Master. There’s nothing wrong with this, but he obviously missed something in his knowledge of God. This should give us pause. It was out of this limited perspective of God that Adam sinned. This should challenge us.

Jesus taught a parable of one who had a cynical view of his master.

Lord, I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” (Luke 19:21 NIV)

The end result of this cynical servant was fruitlessness. He could not prosper in love because he did not see the love given him in the free gift of His master. In the same way Adam failed to produce good fruit. Instead, the command of God revealed sin in his heart.

You see, with His creation a million or more times God presented Himself to Adam, yet somewhere there was a disconnect. Note that in both the Masoretic and Septuagint texts, it says “To Adam, no suitable helper was found.”  It seems it was Adam’s conclusion, no one else’s, that nothing standing before him was fit to suit his needs. Adam never identified, “Soul of my soul; Spirit of my spirit!” What did Adam find suitable to fit his needs? Like any natural man, “Bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh!”

Jesus called His disciples Friends, yet for some reason Adam seemed to lack that intimacy with God here in Genesis 2. God will never violate the will of man, to do so would prove Him a maniacal being; a game-master and not a husbandman. God would not presume to force the intimacy of friendship upon Adam. Still, we must see Adam’s natural faculties failed to identify that true Love stood before him.

We know the rest of the story. Adam met Eve, “Bone of my bone!” Eve eats the fruit and brings it to Adam. And Adam… foolish Adam; he submits his heart to his equal, choosing not to obey God rather than men. He forgot the command of God and pursued the knowledge which puffs up. This was rebellion against God. Then, when confronted with his sin Adam had the audacity, like the servant in Jesus parable, to blame his Master. “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12)

If Adam had known God in Spirit, he would have yielded the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Instead, Adam lacked faith and became a fruitless tree. “Hope that is seen is not hope,” therefore Adam lacked an awareness of his true need. He chose to trade delight in the Lord for the fleeting cravings at the moment. If Adam had known God in Truth, he would have known that no greater love has any man than that he lay down his life for his friend. Faced with Eve’s sin, a good husband and friend would have interceded on her behalf, willing even to lay down his own life for his bride. Adam failed here again.

Note: To be clear, I’m not suggesting Adam was created in sin. I’m saying God created Adam perfectly inadequate to meet his own needs. When Adam failed to draw near unto God as His helper and strength the sinful nature of Adam’s heart, apart from the indwelling life of God, was revealed.

So, today let’s hunger for the fruit of another tree, the Tree of Life. Let’s remember our Creator in the true light of His love and grace. From before the foundations of the world He had in mind for Himself a suitable helper, and He created us to have fellowship with Him. Let’s remember that Jesus came in the form of our Helper and Redeemer, our Advocate with the Father. Let us, therefore, submit ourselves to the mighty hand of God who will lift us up in due time.

The Study of Living Epistles

I hold this belief Jesus gives each of us a central message or a theme, if you will.  Its bigger than our theology and louder than our voices.  Like a panoramic photo, it is captured in the breadth of our life’s testimony. Something I look for in brothers and sisters I meet is what their life story, as far as I know it, conveys to me.  The closer you walk with someone the louder this message becomes, in my experience.

As an example, I consider my wife. The testimony I see radiating from her is the gracious benevolence of God. Her life exudes prosperity and testifies to Jesus the giver and provider.  I have never known the true bounty of His grace and mercy like I’ve experienced being her life partner.  Interestingly, her name also means wealth. Of course, with my wife perhaps I’m biased.

This concept is not meant to detract from Jesus Christ being the head and center of our focus.  As a friend of mine said:  Jesus Christ is our central message and all that comes with Him.  We’re gifted for the work of reconciliation through the making of disciples who follow Jesus.  I believe the Spirit does a work in and through us according to His will for our context or situation. 

This speaks to function, as makers of disciples of Jesus, but regardless of function we all have unique testimonies.  He is a pretty big Christ, for Christ’s sake.  And as such, it takes all those forming His body, as living stones, to bear the beauty and glory of the Lord in Christ.

In sharing this with some friends of mine, one friend said, [I believe my life’s message is] to connect humanity with its divine heritage.  In fact, Shane, I believe this [concept of our life message] truly is the glue that holds it all together for me.”

Another person commented, adding:  “Interesting that studying the woman at the well and Zaccheus, we can draw the conclusion that it was important that Jesus met each of them where they were at, discerning the season of life (even life purpose).   Too often folks just want to push play on the latest program for salvation or discipleship.  We must walk by the Spirit and discern where the people we encounter are at in life.

“As for a life message… I believe a theme has emerged for healing the ‘churched’ from their past hurts (including the beliefs of the church, relationships and experiences).  I sense a new season emerging.”

Maybe in wracking your brain trying to figure out your life-purpose, perhaps you find it difficult for you to pinpoint.  You can accept the simple fact your life-purpose is just being what God needs you to be wherever you’re at and with whomever you’re with.

A dear friend of mine finds purpose in the day-to-day:  “Maybe that means sitting at a coffee shop or tavern with buddies, picking up people from the side of the road and giving them a ride, buying a tent for a homeless man, or sitting in a jail cell praying with an inmate who’s struggling to know Christ, or just being a husband and father, whatever you need to be in the moment.”

Sometimes others are affected by your theme or message without you even noticing.  Perhaps your life message eludes you.  That’s okay, whatever good works the Spirit leads you into, it is okay knowing everything points to Christ in the end.

Many, many authors and teachers often refer to the life message of different people of faith, both biblical and historical.  Joseph’s central life message points to Christ, but you can see a major theme running through his life that is unique to say Jeremiah or Jonah.  Moses’s life is a Christ-type and foreshadowing, but you can see a major theme running through his life of the deliverance of God.  John the Baptist had a very specific calling and purpose, yet again… tadah!… central to Christ’s message.

Adam has a unique story.  Let’s call it a story.  Adam’s story isn’t the best story in terms of his own success, but regardless, God’s righteousness is revealed even in Adam’s failure.  In that sense, Pharaoh even had a life purpose. In Romans 9:17 Paul writes, “For the Scripture tells Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth.'”  Pharaoh could have revealed the glory of God by agreeing to Moses’ message from the Lord, “Let my people go!”  But one way or another, Pharaoh would fulfill the reason for which he’d been created.  Peter had unique experiences with Christ.  His life message had a different theme when compared to Paul, and the apostle John certainly had a unique vibe in terms of the love of God when compared to Peter, Paul or Mary.

Another friend of mine shared this with me:  “I felt like my calling or my purpose was to be an example to other men of what is possible.  I thought I was a connector of men. The other things I have always felt that my truest calling was to be a father. Yet I feel like that is something the Christian culture pushes on us, and often times pressures us to find.  If we don’t find it or discover it than somehow we are less and really don’t understand our position in Christ.  I agree that we are all gifted and have skill sets that were uniquely designed for us when God created us, yet I don’t know that I look at it the same any more. Those types of messages have always made me feel less than and yet I don’t believe that is what God wants from us.  I think we have to understand that we are loved by God no matter what and that we are supposed to be a reflection of Jesus to the rest of the world using the gifts He’s given us, but ultimately pointing back to Him.”

I get what my friend is saying here.  I think its actually a very good word to us all.  Sometimes I think we pressure people to find their “life purpose” in order to categorize them, like farm animals, into the places we would like to use them the most.

It also is easy to compare ourselves with ourselves when we begin looking at our own “gifting” or “message.”  There can be danger in limiting ourselves by any “life purpose” that isn’t simply yielded to being led by the Spirit.  I doubt Joseph sitting in prison could see his life message before him, but he had a dream God had given him.  Maybe that’s all we have, is a vision of what God has promised.  That vision certainly must still be yielded to the Spirit’s leading, and with simple trust and obedience we know that He is faithful to complete the good purpose He started in us.

What is it the proverb says, “Man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.”  The AMP goes on, “… and makes them sure.”  Who knows but that God is working something in and through you that only others can see.  He will accomplish His purpose in you no matter what.  He will be faithful to complete it, and that is a promise to rest in.

A friend of mine added this, which I thought was awesome!:  “One of the promises given to the one who overcomes is that he will be given a white stone, with a new name on it known only to whom it is given.  I see this as a direct correlation to your idea that each of our lives has a central theme, which makes us unique.  I could not agree more.  While Christ is, without dispute, the central theme, the quickening spirit, each of us as individuals has a special way in which God manifests himself through us.  If we were all the same, we would be redundant, and none would have inherent value. When Peter speaks of a Temple being built up from living stones, each stone is different from the others. Yet the Master Builder has the skill to em-place each and every one in its own unique location and orientation, so that the Temple comes together flawlessly, and without gaps.”

“You don’t have to know what your purpose is to walk in it.  As we develop the practice of being led by the Spirit, we grow into our inheritance, our territory.  So, at any given moment, all we need to know is ‘Where does the Spirit lead in this moment?’  It is in that leadership of the Holy Spirit that our status as Sons of God is both made secure and put on display. So there is never any stress in doing this. We just grow into it.”

That’s good stuff.  I love the tie-in my friend made here to living stones through the white stone reference.  Its interesting he mentions stones, too, because I believe as living stones we’re all little Ebenezers, the Stone of Help.  Samuel is a Christ-type in the story of the Ebenezer being raised as a testimony to our enemies being vanquished by the blood of the lamb.  This, a fore-shadowing of the body of believers, a spiritual house, made up of many like-Ebenezers. We are all living stones to the testimony of Christ’s victory.

In conclusion, I think we ought to ask God more or less constantly what He has made or is making us to be.  Paul was told right at the start of his faith-journey exactly what God intended to do with him, but it was years before he was released into it.  He spent 14 or so years following the Spirit and being faithful to the revelation God gave him.

If we never know, it might actually be all the more sweeter than knowing.  Perhaps, again, this is God’s purpose.  Some members of the body, the most important if you will, are never visibly seen from the outside.  We, as the body, must be sure to treasure every member of the body as equal to the next.  All of us together making up the spiritual house as living stones, without even one there would be a hole, something missing, but He’s called each one for His purpose and glory.

Have you ever had conversations with some of the more quiet believers in congregations, or fellowships, or wherever you find them?  Like the little old lady who is a faithful prayer warrior, but you would never know it unless you sit down and really listen to her heart?  She moves the heart of God, and she speaks of God in a way of deep-knowing that is a stark contrast to the louder, more articulate in the crowd.  If we really listened to the heart, not the words spoken, but to the heart of the least of these among us, could you imagine?

If we studied each others lives as living epistles and really sought to hear what God is saying through each of us – forget the oratory, I’m not talking about words spoken – if we took time to study the beauty of what God is doing in all those around us. Can you imagine?

A friend of mine concludes with a great point:  [Even when people we know are struggling, maybe observe signs of disobedience, or are still growing in the Lord…]  In many ways I wish he would break out of the box he’s in and pursue better, more effective ways of doing some things, but bottom line, God is writing a story with his life and as many unnecessary pot-holes as that story has, there is still some beauty to be found there. At times it’s easy to write others off, because you don’t like the direction their story takes, but sometimes I think we need to remember that their life story isn’t quite over yet. To me that’s good news. The final chapter of our living epistle is not finished yet. Don’t judge a book by the way it begins, or the dramatic story arch it takes in the middle, wait and see where the author and finisher of our faith takes it.”

My friend makes a great point, not to give up on people because of how their story begins.  Like Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, who it says was “worse than the heathen,” his story starts off horrible but he later repented and it says, “He knew that the Lord is God.”  That kind of final chapter is amazing and gives me hope as a father and a Christ-follower to never give up.

Whatever your core message, maybe it will change over the years, one thing we know is certain:  Make the Gospel known and Make Disciples.

Something Important to Remember: The Law Is Good

Religious legalism values discipline and strict adherence to the Law, with little to no value for the lives and well-being of those who fail to comply. Whereas, Jesus valued the lives of those who failed to keep the Law, even to the point of laying down his own life on their behalf and for their benefit.

At first glance this statement seems fair enough; I think we can definitely agree that Jesus valued the lives of sinners. We must value the lives of others in the same way Christ did. But the idea that religious legalism values the Law and true, strict adherence and discipline I believe is false. The hyper-grace, cheap-grace mentality that plagues our modern, western theology is one that often seems to buck at discipline or strict standards. The danger in this is that it moves anything to do with the Law towards legalism. This dangerous idea contradicts Jesus in suggesting he was loose where the Law was concerned. At the very least, this dangerous idea suggests that only religious legalists value discipline and the strict adherence or application of the Law. The statement is not wrong if we understand that Jesus valued lives above the Law-breaker, even to the point of laying down his own life; but I think we should remember that it wasn’t the Pharisee’s keeping of the Law that rubbed Jesus the wrong way.  It was that they actually believed they were keeping the Law that Jesus had a problem with, and in so doing they fancied their own self-righteousness (which was not a true keeping of the Law) and despised those they considered to be sinners.

I hear a number of people today suggesting we need not preach against sin. I have heard it even suggested that by standing for moral excellence or preaching against sin that we, as Christians, somehow resemble the religious leaders in the story of the woman caught in adultery rather than Christ. Is this really true? Is our preaching against sin representative of the doctrine of the Pharisees?

Someone suggested the other day: Jesus is not anti-discipline, but Jesus places His value for discipline and the Law below the value He places on people. They would say something to the effect, “Like Momma always said, ‘People are more important than things.'”

This is a warm, cozy suggestion, and one again we could easily accept at face value. Is this true, though? People, and here we’re referring to sinners and saints alike, people are more important than God’s Holy Law? Is the Law just a thing to be cast aside at the supreme value of Human Life? Hmm, that’s a statement we need to weigh and measure. It might be that when we forget the Law altogether, we run dangerously close to devaluing Jesus and the purpose in Him laying down His life, and consequently the value we possess in Him.

Now, in fairness, I think all would agree Jesus values discipline. No one really could argue He didn’t. It requires discipline to fast like He did in the wilderness. In addition, He often rebukes and corrects those around Him. He appears to be a bit upset with the disciple’s lack of discipline to stay awake and pray with Him the night of his arrest. Obviously, with an even quick reflection we can agree Jesus did not hate discipline. However, these examples don’t really speak to Jesus’ value for the Law. The story about the woman caught in adultery serves a pretty good example for the sake of this discussion.

Again, to many it may appear at first glance that Jesus had a problem with the Pharisees strict adherence to the Mosaic Law, but here is a good question to consider: What did Jesus mean when he made this statement?

Matthew 23:1-3 (ESV) Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”

The Pharisees taught the Law. Obviously, Jesus didn’t have a problem with the Pharisees’ preaching the Law. It can be seen throughout Jesus’ ministry that He had a serious problem with their shady practices and formulas devised with the clever intention of “keeping the Law.” In fact, if you read further in Matthew 23 you will find Jesus explaining exactly what He had a problem with. They thought their sanctimonious religious rules added to the Law preserved their sanctity, as such they thought themselves whole, and in terms of what Jesus had to offer, in need of nothing. Elsewhere Jesus also condemns the Pharisees for believing that in their knowledge of the scriptures alone that they had eternal life.

Jesus is constantly reframing things for the Pharisees to break up the fallow ground of their wicked hearts. He showed them with the adulterous woman that their sin left them no less guilty than a common street prostitute. At another time He used a forgiven street prostitute as she washed Jesus’ feet with her kisses and hair as an example to a religious leader of true gratitude. He compared a religious leader to a forgiven prostitute, who had been forgiven much – the audacity! However, I don’t think Jesus had a problem with anyone’s strict adherence to the Law or to discipline. He had a problem with religious legalists misapplying the Law so as not to accomplish the purpose for which the Law had been given. He had a problem with the Law being used as a tool for legalism, license or a formula for attaining righteousness.

Concerning the woman caught in adultery, a friend of mine put it well this way: Jesus valued sinners, but not so much that he glossed over or ignored their sin. The fact of her guilt was never in question. The simple fact with the woman caught in adultery is the men who brought her to Jesus had no moral authority to stone her. Jesus helped them see their own hypocrisy. We so, so often misinterpret that story to conclude that Jesus is soft on sin. I disagree. His final words to the woman were “Go and sin no more.”

This sums it up nicely. But let’s break down the discussion even further.

I think most agree with my friend, the woman’s guilt was never in question and was addressed in Jesus’ final statement “Go and sin no more,” but they still come away believing Jesus was soft on the Law. That is likely due to the bad light shed on the practice of stoning. (That statement was intended to be a little ironic and hard to take. But stay with me.) It is viewed that under the Mosaic Law stoning this woman caught in adultery was not only justified, it was required. Remember, Jesus said in Matthew 23 “Do what they tell you, but not the works they do.” According to the Mosaic Law, it was a requirement to also stone the man caught in adultery. In bringing only the woman the Pharisees were not observing strict adherence of the Law. They were showing partiality. I would argue they weren’t abiding by a strict enough adherence to the Law. If they were truly just they would have brought both the man and the woman. Instead, the scripture tells us they sought to test the Lord, and in their cynical, scheming hearts they overlooked a very important point. The Law applies to us all. Their sexist, prejudiced minds only brought the object of their particular scorn.

It should also be pointed out that in Jesus’ day Israel was under Roman rule. As such, the law of Rome made it so the Jews could not enforce their own capital punishment. This is why later the religious council of the Jews, the Sanhedrin, were required to bring Jesus to Pilot. They had to barter with Pilot in order to crucify Him. Anyway, the point is that the Pharisees themselves had no intention of stoning anyone. The whole setup was a trap for Jesus. Would HE enforce the Law when they had no intention of enforcing it themselves? Yet again, they were missing the whole point of the Messiah’s coming. Jesus’ response wasn’t, “She’s fine the way she is, leave her alone.” It was, “Aren’t you all sinners, too?”

God’s Law is holy and good. It means death to the sinner apart from Christ, but praise God in Christ there is Life. You see, the Law itself is good. Teaching strict adherence, sans the formula and added traditions, points the lost to their sin. Discipline, then, is what happens as we submit to the Love of God and are compelled by the Spirit to take up our cross and follow His example of loving one another. Jesus seemed to be reframing things to show us all that religious legalists and “those who fail” are all equal in the eyes of God, worthless. “Apart from me you can do nothing,” He said.

In a sense, Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was the same problem he had with Laodicea… they didn’t recognize the Healer able to make them whole, too. It wasn’t that He had a problem with them stoning the prostitute, it was that they failed to recognize the One in front of them able to save even their worthless souls.

A simple conclusion is often made along these lines: Okay, Jesus wasn’t “soft on sin.” Still, if Jesus truly was God in the flesh and without sin like most Christians claim, then he actually did have the moral authority to execute the requirement of the Law and stone the adulterous woman. Yet he essentially let her off with a warning. Some might refer to that as “soft on sin” and consequently “loose on the Law.”  [Is this true, though?]

Remember: As the great I AM, this Jesus now God in the flesh, had actually once given the Law to Moses and Israel. How could He possibly have a problem with its strict adherence? A Law that is not strictly adhered to is a suggestion. I’m telling you: the problem wasn’t in them wanting to carry out the Law. The problem He had with the religious leaders, found in His question “Who of you is without sin?” was their hypocrisy. He was saying in other words, “Why aren’t you as happy to see me as teachers of the Law, who should know who I am, as she soon will be?” This wasn’t any other day in the life of a Jew where justice was to be applied. This was the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven, where all their sinful hearts could be forgiven.

The Pharisees weren’t seeking to honor the Law or the God it represented. In testing Jesus’ loyalty to the Law they were seeking to entrap him, but in no way were they happy to see Jesus, the Messiah, come to take away the sins of the world. To Jesus, these religious hypocrites were like a child with chocolate smudges on their mouth tattling on their brother who stole the cookie. Maybe their sin wasn’t as great, but they were just as eternally doomed as the prostitute. In truth, they should have been running to Jesus hand-in-hand with the prostitute, dragging every prostitute and wretched sinner in town along the way, screaming, “Lamb of God, Lamb of God, heal us all!”

But again, this doesn’t imply softness where the Law was concerned.

This is not to suggest Jesus wanted to stone this woman. Jesus valued her life, yes. Jesus had come to proclaim mercy to the contrite heart and to set the captive free. In like manner, if the teachers of the Law had understood who Jesus truly was and had hearts of compassion, valuing this woman’s life they would have handled the situation differently. For instance, in strict adherence to the Law they could have come to Jesus saying, “Lord, every day another prostitute! We’re so tired of the bloodshed and guilt we feel carrying out your Holy Law with righteous zeal! We understand the need to cleanse the land of guilt and sin, but Lord, let’s face it… We know we’ve all fallen short of your Glory! Even Isaiah saw his worthless state compared to Your Holiness, Lord. As the promised Messiah, can’t you help us?”

“Ah, what joy!” Jesus might have thought. He could’ve then celebrated, “Guess what, guys! I’m here to carry your burdens, and I will even forgive your sins. To show you just how far I’m willing to go instead of cleansing the land of these adulterers I’m going to forgive them, too. Today Salvation Is Here!”

But again, this doesn’t mean Jesus had a problem with strict adherence to the Law. If they had strictly applied the Law to their sinful hearts He could have delivered them the Good News – that mercy had dawned like the new day! The problem was that these teachers of the Law didn’t recognize that One greater than the Law had shown up. Jesus would not have enforced the requirements of the Law. As Messiah, He had come to fulfill the Law Himself in His sacrifice once for all, thus offering to every sinner the gift of redemption. The day He showed up began the Day of Salvation. But this still doesn’t imply “softness” where the Law was concerned. If He were soft on the Law, why would He have given His own life?

You see, the Law is good, if used legitimately.

As a friend of mine put it (trying desperately to avoid sounding like a Dispensationalist): We do have to recognize the paradigm shift accomplished in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Prior to the Event we didn’t have the full ability to look past the flesh, even though Jesus strongly alluded to it in his ministry. After the Event we can now, as those by faith made righteous in His grace and as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, no longer know each other in Christ according to the flesh. So when we read Jesus’ words about doing what the Pharisees say, but not as they do, we have to keep in mind the proximity of the change the universe was about to undergo. [This is true!]

But the paradigm shift didn’t abolish the Law, ever. And concerning the story of the adulterous woman, to the knowledge of the teachers of the Law, how the Law was to be carried out had not changed. Again, Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was that they didn’t recognize their own Messiah, the One able to forgive all their sin.

Regarding the Law, many post-the-paradigm-shift will often say something like, “Well, the Law was for the Jews, not Gentiles. It no longer applies.” They might add, Galatians and Romans make it clear justification is by faith and not the keeping of the Law.

To this point I would remind anyone reading that Paul says often that the Law is good, in NT terms! One example comes in a letter written to a Gentile:

1 Timothy 1 (ESV) “But we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately. We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was entrusted to me.”

The purpose of the Law was, and still is, to convict men of sin. A paradigm by definition is a typical example or pattern of something. The paradigm of the Pharisees was not based on Truth, definitely not the truth of the Law. They had established traditions outside of the Law as a formula for keeping it. Jesus’ arrival as the Messiah definitely sought to shift the pattern of thinking concerning the need for blood sacrifice and retribution of sin. What He wasn’t shifting was the example the Law set for a holy, righteous life. He didn’t loosen the standard of moral excellence, and this standard of moral excellence still stands against the sinner today. They cannot get away from it, for it is written even on their own hearts.

Concerning the Law only applying to the Jews, Jesus was certainly talking to the Jews in Matthew 23:1-3, but earlier Matthew makes it clear in his recapturing of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount how Jesus taught that the Law applies to the heart. His words speak to both Jew and Gentile alike which is why Paul tells Timothy (a Gentile) the Law is good. Thus, even in Matthew 23 I think we can infer that Jesus’ words speak to the unbeliever’s heart, whether Jew or Gentile.

Another friend of mine concerning strict adherence of the Law observes: Paul argued with Peter and the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem about the necessity of Gentile Christians observing the Law. Paul and Peter evidently had a serious falling out because Peter acted one way around Paul and the Gentiles, but when the Jewish Christians showed up, who still sought to keep the Law (and may have believed the Gentiles also needed to subject themselves to the Law), Peter changed his tune. Paul went so far as to call Peter out publicly as a hypocrite for his actions against the Gentiles. Many times Paul makes the argument that Gentiles were never under the Law, and he clearly indicates they should not be put under the Law when they’ve been given something so much better through Christ. Never more so than in his letter to the Galatians. [This is so true!]

Here we must pause so as not to draw some false conclusions, though. Both Jew and Gentile believers by faith, post the paradigm shift of Jesus’ Event, have been given the free gift of Grace. Therefore, as those made righteous in Christ none are under the old Law as a standard to keep. As Sons of God, we are not ruled by an external Law. We have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, and as Paul spoke in Romans 8, “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus sets me free from the law of sin and death.” Still, you notice the word Paul uses there again? Law. We are set free from the old Law to come to the new Law of Christ (a spiritual law,) yet as I said earlier this doesn’t mean that it is any less of a law. How much more strict is it when it applies to our internal man? Paul then, in confronting Peter’s hypocrisy, wasn’t lessening the standard that the first Law served to raise. Paul knew the dietary laws no longer applied, and what Paul was more concerned with was Peter’s snubbing of the Gentiles over a portion of the old Law the Law-giver Himself made clear no longer applied to anyone. This truth was revealed through Peter, in Acts.

Jesus raised the standard for righteousness if anything! He didn’t get soft on God’s standard. Through the Law of Christ we’re not under the strict adherence and discipline of the Law of Moses because the Law of Christ applies to the heart.

Would you be so kind as to allow me to ask another question? If Jesus was soft on the first standard, the Law of Moses, then can we loosely interpret His new Law to our lives? Can we loosely apply or be undisciplined where it comes to loving one another?

Another friend of mine reminded me: In Romans 7:1-4 Paul says that we are dead to the old Law through Christ, and that we are no longer married to or in bondage to that Law any longer. We can now be in relationship to Christ. This implies that you cannot be in relationship with both, Christ and the old Law, at the same time. Paul refers to that here as adultery. In Galatians 5:18 Paul plainly states, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” So the Law is irrelevant to those who are dead in Christ and those led by the Spirit. [This is true!]

Sin, clearly revealed in our hearts by the strict application of the old Law prior to faith, is dead and gone, no longer applying to those in Christ by faith. So then, if the Law still applies at all, it would only apply to those not walking by faith (Romans 6:3) and not led by the Spirit. However, when a repentant sinner turns to the Lord the old Law is no longer enforced, either, rather they find grace and life in Christ. A problem arises when we get either of these, Law or Grace, backwards. When we seek to apply grace and life to the unrepentant, arrogant sinner; as well as when we place a strict expectation to observe the old Law upon the saint. Paul said in Romans 5:20-21 that the Law increases trespasses which brings death, Romans 4:15 that the Law brings wrath and in 2 Corinthians 3:6 that the letter of the Law brings death. It is true that we should never place ourselves, as believers in Christ, under the focus of observing the Law. Instead, we focus on the grace of Christ and leading others to this same grace in Christ where they can die to the old Law, be in relationship with Christ and be led by the Spirit. That’s where you find life and life more abundantly, rather than death.

However true this last paragraph is, the strict application of the old Law still leads us to see the dead state of our existence apart from the Life in Christ Jesus as unrepentant sinners. The old Law is not for the righteous but for the sinner. As such, it must remain unyielding, strictly enforced as a standard for moral excellence to produce the proper mirror reflection of our guilt (pre-saving Grace) before Him. And in Him, don’t think the new Law lesser to the old Law. The new Law is greater still, and only bears fruit as we lay down our lives!

Perhaps it’s a matter of focus. Like my friend said earlier, Jesus changed the paradigm. Our focus now is on Christ, not a law at all, new or old. When we fall short of the new standard of Christ’s Law, which is the command to love one another, we seek forgiveness from one another. As we’re short-changed in relationships with brothers in Christ, we forgive as many times as they repent. Love is freely given, just as He freely gave. We don’t harbor grudges or bitterness against anyone. Our focus becomes Christ’s example of love, and not an old covenant, an old way of doing things which Christ and Paul exposed as weak, insufficient and fruitless.

One might say: Jesus’ focus wasn’t on the old Law, His focus was on the Kingdom of Heaven and the Good News of the Gospel.

Again, here we must remember Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5.

Matthew 5:19-20 “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

What does Jesus’ message concerning the Kingdom of Heaven mean in terms or in connection with the old commandments? Let us not think for a minute He relaxed the standard. The fact is He made a way as the only true Door and pathway for entering the Kingdom. He is the way, truth and life. To relax the least command is to truly make a mockery of His loving sacrifice.

Many can recognize problems surrounding the church today. Some have concluded: Our churches are failing to truly follow Christ’s example and the example of His Apostles. Some are adding to this conclusion: The failure has come from teaching discipline and adherence to the Old Testament Law of Moses instead of teaching about the kingdom of heaven and preaching the good news of the gospel.

They believe this improper focus is one of the reasons we don’t see more, true life-transformation in the church of America today. We are more focused on teaching obedience to the Law out of a sense of moralism than we are focused on believing in the power of Christ to change lives. Perhaps this is true, but I would challenge you to recall a recent message in church that truly convicted of sin, and if it did, that any were compelled to respond to.

I believe we’re not seeing more transformation of lives in the church of America because we’re using a very dull sword. Jesus’s words were quick, sharper than any two-edged sword of human thinking. Jesus used a sharp two-edged sword of Law and Grace, justice and mercy. I’m not suggesting we focus on the Law. But Jesus reframed the status-quo understanding of the Law and our sinful heart reflected by it. He reframed our way of seeing God and our relationship to Him, but He never ever brought righteousness to a lower standard. We’re not following Christ’s example or the example of the Apostles because we’re not teaching holiness, righteousness or repentance. By proxy there is no need for sinners to see their need for justification by faith, death to self or a new life. Live the life you were first born into; who needs to be born again. God loves you just the way you are, they say. Don’t feel inadequate. Don’t change a damn thing.

To this end, the Law is exactly what Paul said it is, good when used lawfully. In determining what lawfully means we find solid ground. The Law, as Paul said, was a schoolmaster to lead us to the point of Christ. This is what I mean by discipline and strict adherence to the Law. Paul told us in Galatians the Law was like a guardian (or schoolmaster) that leads us to Christ. Do you think guardians/schoolmasters are strict and disciplined? You bet! But if the strict application and discipline of the Law leads us to an awareness of our inadequacy before Him it is a good thing! If we preach the strict adherence of the Law to those in darkness together with the message of Christ crucified then the Light will break through like the dawn.

Then, we can proceed to make disciples, which very root is the same for discipline, as we live a life full of surrender to His teachings and life within. Discipline, which has broad application, is a very good thing, whether positive or negative. Paul rebukes at times. At other times he praises. His letters are filled with urgent requests to put away certain things so as to be free to live in the Spirit. (Galatians 5 for one example.)

There is a balance in Christ between what I might call liberty and austerity. To me, this is the balance of the pendulum-swing. The Pharisees didn’t have a pendulum. They were off the clock entirely. Legalism completely writes off those they label as sinners, because they place more value on condemning people in juxtaposition to their own pious heart. In this way of comparison, legalists then often begin monkeying with the original standards, like happened with the Pharisees and the Law of Moses, so they can somehow justify themselves. Jesus despises and rejects this form of religiosity. He will not tolerate this hypocrisy. To those seeking to condemn, He brings condemnation. To those seeking mercy for themselves and for others around them, He offers mercy.

I like to imagine the pendulum of justice and mercy having to do with the flow of bodily motion. We swing left, we swing right, and kept in perfect harmony we get somewhere. If we decide to hold out too long one way or another we topple. Principles of forgiveness are: rebuke, repent, forgive. The grace in movement is left, right, left, right, and how funny that applies even to our spiritual movement. And in this we’re led by the Spirit.

Some say the story of the paralytic challenges what I’m saying here, as he was brought to Christ (Mark 2). In the story Jesus never rebuked him for his sin. Jesus never mentioned the word repent; there were no acts or words of repentance. Jesus simply said, “Your sins are forgiven.” In addition, it says that Jesus did this because he saw the faith of his friends, not because of the faith of the paralytic.

This story isn’t problematic for what I’m saying. I am readily aware Jesus at times didn’t mention a person’s sin before speaking to them. But this only further serves my point when you examine the stories. I believe you can clearly see a level of brokenness in those Jesus is forgiving. He sees the heart, obviously, and so is able to serve a much better spokesman for forgiveness than you or I.

The woman at the well knew the Law condemned her as a Samaritan.
The centurion guard speaks of his unworthiness (as a Gentile) to have Jesus enter His home.
The paralytic was desperate to be made whole and his friends were radical in their convictions that Jesus was able.
Jesus met all their faith and humility with grace and forgiveness.

In stark contrast, the Pharisees weren’t strictly adhering to the Law. They weren’t the least bit humbled in the presence of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

For those worried that the church is preaching too much on sin, I’d suggest we simply examine what is being taught. Are we adding to the Law? Are we focusing men only on the Law? Are we leaving them comfortable in their sinful state, and catering to their humanity only? Let’s be kind in lifting up Christ before the world as the propitiation for their sins, but let us not be cowardice in also lifting up the Law and its reflection of their sinful hearts before a righteous and holy God. The world rejects Jesus for a number of reasons, not least of which has to do with the suggestion that Jesus will not accept their sin. He died to free them from it, but if they don’t see their guilt and shame His sacrifice is meaningless.

Jesus called a woman a dog once. How does this measure up to how much He sought to value her? Jesus was a fool with this statement if His only purpose was to draw sinners. Jesus is a fool, and with this statement He reframes our understanding of who He is. The stone that MAKES men stumble and the rock that MAKES them fall. She passed the test, but I don’t think many unsaved Americans would pass that one. “Did you just call me a dog? Who the $&#% do you think you are?”

Help: We Need Somebody (Part 3)

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)

Over the last several posts we have explored how man’s need for God translates into man’s need for the indwelling life of Christ. We have discussed man’s need for God both individually and corporately, though, we have barely scratched the surface, especially that of the latter. We began our discussion in the early chapters of Genesis, the earliest origin of man’s account in Scripture. Going as far back in time as possible, we discovered the basic tenets of God’s eternal purpose for man have been there from the beginning. God’s purpose has always been for man to possess the abiding life of Christ, so God could share His fellowship with mankind. God’s plan has endured only by God’s endless pursuit of fallen man, to redeem for Himself a people with which to dwell.

The “law of Adam” exposed the sin within the hearts of Adam & the woman God had given him. They both sought to be like God, in knowledge and strength, apart from Him. Their story is an account of how man, apart from the help of God, fails to keep the first great command, to love the Lord your God with all heart, soul, mind and strength. The story of Eve’s two sons, Cain and Abel, reveals how man, apart from the help of God, fails to keep the second great command, to love our fellow person as our self. Truly nothing new under the sun has taken place from the first days of creation until now, apart from Christ.

As people multiplied upon the earth the civilization of man apart from God proved no more virtuous or loving. In judgment, Cain was cursed to wander the earth a lonely soul, isolated from the righteous faithful. Eventually Cain built a city and his descendants proved just as hard and callous as their patriarch. As antiquity continued to unfold, the daughters of men mingled themselves with the sons of God, seeking greatness apart from God. Self-exalted demi-gods were born bringing destruction and oppression to the world. Again, God’s merciful judgment brought salvation to the few faithful righteous, and the world was cleansed of sin by a torrential water baptism (the Flood.)

Mankind, under the tyrannical rule of Nimrod, built another city apart from God, the city-state Babylon. They established themselves under this false demi-god, Nimrod or Marduk, and built a tower unto heaven (a religious epicenter) for the purpose of the false worship of idols. (See our previous series: Another Brick In the Wall.) The military industrial complex of earliest Babylonian origins was thwarted by God’s merciful judgment. God reveals his patience towards mankind by separating their language, thus impeding mankind’s ability to lean upon their own humanistic acumen. Dividing the collective knowledge of mankind served to preserve God’s plan of sending a promised Deliverer (Gen 3:15). Eventually the grandeur and splendor of God’s plan would be revealed to his faithful chosen.

“I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me— Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush— and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.'” (Psalm 87:4)

We have spent much time looking back as it were, but the same archetypal themes echo throughout history into the present day as civilization continues to ignore the life of Jesus Christ and live instead apart from His abiding. In our next two posts we will turn our heads, looking forward into the New.

For now, just as the same story of fallen man and fallen civilization repeats itself, so does the story of God’s remnant faithful. The message of hope for mankind echoes greater! Following the devastating murder of Abel, Adam & Eve continued to hope in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Seth was born, and then Seth had a son, Enosh.

“At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:26)

As men were awakened to the depravity of their own heart and increasingly looked for the promised deliverer, men in faith began crying out to the Lord in prayer. God would preserve for Himself as time passed on a faithful remnant of men who walked with God. Enoch walked with God and was taken. Noah walked with God and was saved, both he and his family. Abraham believed God, and his faith was imputed to him as righteousness. To Abraham the covenant was given. Through the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the scarlet thread of Hope would continue until through Moses the promised Deliverer would be revealed along with the powerful blood of the Passover lamb. God, through Moses, would make for Himself a great nation upon the earth.

Through Israel the picture God was painting would be made clearer. God longed for fellowship with His people. The Ark of the Covenant, the Law of God and the Temple were established for the kingdom of Israel, these all pointing to God’s desire to abide with man and extend His fellowship. With an obstinate heart, Israel would turn from God, be punished, return to Him, only to quickly turn again from their God. Scripture calls them a stiff-necked people. Israel proved even the best attempts at outward obedience cannot hold a candle to the life of Christ abiding within, but the time of the messiah had not yet come. Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God would preserve for Himself a remnant of faithful servants to fulfill His plan.

External artifacts of religious ceremony and outward attempts at representing heaven here on earth were only weak examples of what God had in mind. Eventually a new work would be done under the Son. The promised Deliverer, faithful and true, would make a way for all nations to be made new in Him. Today, we are living in that day. Today, there is no longer a temple built by hands. Our bodies are living temples and the Law of God is written on our hearts in Christ Jesus.

In the coming posts we will look at the power of corporate worship of God in and through Jesus Christ.

Help: We Need Somebody (Part 2)

We ended last time with Adam’s newfound faith. Adam believed the promise of God that through the seed of woman a deliverer would come, and as testimony to this he named his wife, Eve.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It really is too simple. All God asks is that we trust Him, and to trust Him is simply to acknowledge Him. This is not so much an action as it is a gesture. God just wants us to turn our attention to Him and to acknowledge Him and abandon our own methods and ways for Him. Previously we have discussed the need to have the life of Christ indwelling. We must eat of this Tree of Life. To eat of this tree, we must exchange our knowledge for His understanding. If, on the contrary, we refuse to acknowledge Him and instead ignore Him, we will prove just how sinister this heart of ours can be.

After the fall but prior to the birth of Cain, God issued merciful judgment upon Adam & Eve by casting them from the Garden of Eden lest they eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in their fallen condition. God’s judgments are always merciful. This may never be proven more true than with the life of their firstborn son, the would-be messiah, Cain. Many scholars agree, Adam & Eve believed the birth of Cain to be the very fulfillment of God’s prophetic foretelling of a deliverer to come (Genesis 3:15). God did say the deliverer would come through her seed. With great significance and unprecedented hope, the story of Cain begins.

“Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.’ (a) Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.” (Genesis 4:1-2a)

The Importance of the Insignificant

In light of God’s promise for a deliverer Eve names her firstborn son, Cain, meaning Acquired! The birth of Abel in relation to Cain is a sidebar. Notice, in contrast to Cain, the birth of Abel is almost an afterthought. Eve makes a proclamation at the birth of Cain, but “Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.” Before we’re even told Abel’s name we’re reminded he is Cain’s brother. See how insignificant Abel is in comparison.

These two brothers would mature and choose a path.

“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.” (Genesis 4:2b)

Cain continued in his father’s footsteps, a farmer, while Abel grew up to become a shepherd. Remember, God originally placed Adam in the garden to work the soil and manage the garden. Cain no doubt considered this to be a God-ordained vocation. This statement is proven true in the next few verses as it came time for both of them to present an offering before the Lord.

“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” (Genesis 4:2b-5)

If you’re searching for why Cain’s offering was rejected, know this — There is no instruction given by God prior to their offering to make clear what would please Him. That Abel chose to raise sheep and Cain chose to farm seems of no great significance, either, in view of this story; except that God had previously cursed the ground, declaring, “You will eat from it by means of painful labor.” Concerning what God would require in terms of sacrifice nothing was said. The simple truth is Abel’s offering pleased the Lord and Cain’s offering did not. This seems cruel, but this often is where the story gets misconstrued. Let’s continue.

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.'” (Genesis 4:6-7)

We must see, though God was not particularly pleased with Cain’s sacrifice, he did not reject the person of Cain. Rejecting the offering is not the same as rejecting the offeror. In other words, this was not personal. God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34.) God was not showing preference for Abel. Why God rejected Cain’s sacrifice is of less significance here. God makes clear to Cain what is most important; there is a way to be accepted!

Just as God looked upon lonely Adam and promised him a helper
Just as God looked upon sinful Adam and Eve and promised them a deliverer
So also now did God look upon sad Cain and promised him acceptance

“Now, Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’

“‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?'”

“The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.'” (Genesis 4:8-10)

In anger and frustration, Cain failed to acknowledge a rather obvious point. The offering was not about Cain; the offering was about bringing pleasure to God. Therefore, whatever was found pleasing in God’s sight should be all that matters. In acknowledging God in this way Cain would have grown in his knowledge of God. In considering Cain’s offering, notice God wasn’t rejecting anything as much as He simply looked with favor upon one offering and not the other. God looked with favor upon, “The fat-portions from some of the flock.” He was not pleased with, “fruits of the soil.” Remember, the soil was cursed from sin. In other words, God rejected the produce which came from laboring under the curse of sin and death. Instead, he found pleasure in that which was offered in exchange for man’s blood, sweat and tears; the sacrificial blood of a lamb.

When God cursed the ground he said, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food.” (3:19a) Some translations render the word for “food” here bread. Jesus, the Living Bread, showed us a new way.

“‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’

“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’

“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'” (John 6:27-29)

What receives God’s seal of approval is His Son. The only labor God requires is trusting faith in Jesus Christ. This is how we eat of this Living Bread. Abel is a Christ-type here, but he is also a foreshadowing of one whose worship was found acceptable and pleasing unto God. Cain ignored his brother’s example and consequently failed to acknowledge God. The indwelling life of the Son within us is the only thing the Father finds pleasing in our worship to begin with; therefore, let us acknowledge God, eat of the Bread of Life and acknowledge the life of Christ within all the priesthood of believers.

We will continue in the coming posts to explore mankind’s corporate need for God.

a) See former post: The Making of a Monster

Help: We Need Somebody (Part 1)

Today begins a series that is much larger than the writer singularly. I will do my best to speak to the concepts chosen as the focal point, but know from the start the subject-matter is bigger than any one man. The subject of this series is the riches of the indwelling life of God for mankind in plural form. In a previous series we discussed the need each person has individually for the indwelling life of Christ. We ended that discussion talking about worshipping God as we abide in Christ. In this new series we will begin sort of where we left off with Adam & Eve, fallen. Adam & Eve transform from a singular unit (even in marriage they are one) and begin to grow and multiply into a truly plural state. As a body of believers we mature in our knowledge of Christ in love and multiply. In the same way, Eve matured in the knowledge of Adam, and as they knew one another so also did they multiply into a family.

From Genesis chapter one we understand God made man in His image. The word for man in the original language is ‘adam, which we also recognize as the first man’s name, Adam. The word man or ‘adam can be used as both a singular or plural reference and is not gender specific. God further makes these distinctions, lest we misunderstand the linguistics, in a statement He makes concerning their creation.

“So God created mankind (‘adam) in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

A thorough study of this passage will reveal the NIV over the KJV translation provides the best understanding of this verse; that God created mankind (gender and quantity neutral) in His image. Mankind was created with male and female distinctions, but both individually and corporately they reflect the image of God. How often have you heard teaching that makes this point clear? We most often are told something to the effect: you and I (individually) were created in the image of God. Much teaching revolves then around how you and I (individually) should relate to God. But there is a higher understanding of the image of God that we must consider to truly fellowship with God and to properly fellowship with one another in Christ.

The Godhead itself is a relationship. Father, Son and Spirit make up God. The Life of the Father flows as Spirit through the Son, and the Son returns His Life in love to the Father. The Spirit is the material of Life within the Godhead. What an amazing truth to discover! This truth alone is a subject we have no time to scratch the surface of. It is covered in length in Milt Rodriguez’s book, The Temple Within as well as in Frank Viola’s book, From Eternity to Here.

Just as there is relationship in the Godhead, so also there is relationship within humanity. We are both of singular and plural form. Sometimes we refer to this relationship as community or a lesser meaningful term, civilization. Where in Genesis 1 we were created to reflect the image of God, by Genesis 3 this image was unrecognizable. Mankind in fallen state and apart from the indwelling life of God does not properly reflect the image of God. Unfortunately, the body of believers in redemptive state often does not reflect the true image of God any better, stemming from a lack of knowing Christ in spirit and in truth.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

To know God in spirit and in truth, in heart and in reality, is to love God with all our being. Again, we covered some of this in the final post of the former series. However! One thing we did not discuss in our study of the word worship was that the word literally means to draw in for a kiss. The concept is of bowing or pulling one’s hand towards a kiss. The question of who draws who is not as clear in the word as is the emphasis on humility towards this act of love. Like the words in a popular worship song, So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss the real heart of a worshippers abandon themselves to Love Himself. Worship is the act of loving.

The act of loving can be ridiculous. The phrase “sloppy wet kiss” was met with a lot of reaction when the worship song I mentioned, How He Loves Us, first came to the masses. In fact, some artists changed the words to “unforeseen kiss” feeling it would make a more palatable lyric. I don’t mean to be overly critical of the recording artists, but the truth is “sloppy wet kiss” seems to best convey what God has in mind. Either way, the imagery of a kiss was left intact. Just that idea alone to many, of kissing God (sloppy wet or unforeseen), seems a bit ridiculous for us to imagine and undignified for God.

True worshippers often are met with ridicule. One example of this is when David danced like a crazy man before the ark of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:15-17.) David was despised and ridiculed by his own wife, Michal. You see, there is a false notion of worship that creeps into the heart of many people. It is from this deception that many seek to ridicule and even eradicate the undignified among us. This arrogant spirit can be impossible to detect from outward appearance.

As Jesus was speaking to his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane he encountered a false worshipper. Judas, who brought the Roman soldiers with him to seize Jesus, identified his lord with a false act of love.

“While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?'” (Luke 22:47-48)

Peter, later that evening, would be too afraid to acknowledge Christ, but Judas, on the contrary, was more than willing to identify Jesus and even approach him as a worshipper! Judas drew in for a kiss but not with the true heart of worship. Judas sought self-glory. Peter was afraid. One heart was unyielding to love; the other would later be healed by it.

True worship requires humility, and if mankind is going to reflect the image of God, a corporate body of worshippers must learn to worship and serve one another together in humility. Jesus showed us the way in this, and as we continue in our study I hope the image will become clearer and clearer.

We left off last time with Adam and Eve in a very negative state, the fall. Adam, not living in God, was made in His likeness and possessed the capacity for fellowship with God and yet rejected that life. After the fall, God came to Adam and Eve in their nakedness and shame with several judgments and one particular promise; a promise that through woman a deliverer would come. The story of Adam begins to take a positive direction, though; it will get worse before it truly gets better.

As a testimony of Adam’s faith in the promise of God he names his wife, Eve, meaning “life” or “living.” This is where we will begin our next post.

The Making of a Monster

Last Monday I began a 5-part series on man’s need for God. Next Monday a second 5-part series will complete our study. Today’s post is an excerpt taken from James Boice’s unparalleled study of Genesis concerning the birth and naming of Cain that contains important teaching for understanding some of what we will discuss next week.

James Boice:

In one form or another, every parent has that hope for his or her child. But in the whole history of the human race there has never been a greater measure of hope for any child than the hope of Adam and Eve at the birth of their first child, Cain.

Christ or Killer

Proof of this statement is by taking the reaction of Adam and Eve to Cain’s birth in conjunction with the promise of God to send a deliverer (Gen. 3:15). The first man and woman had expected to die as the result of God’s judgment on them for their sin in eating of the forbidden tree. God had said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). But they did not die, at least not then. Instead, God promised a deliverer to be born of the woman (Gen. 3:15). Adam and Eve believed God’s promise, and Adam showed his [new found] faith in God by naming his wife Eve, meaning “life” or “life-giver.” She was the one through whom the promised salvation would come.

All this happened before Eve had produced any children, as we have seen. In fact, it happened even before she became pregnant. So, later, after they left the Garden of Eden, when Eve did become pregnant, the event was wonderful beyond description. Neither the man nor woman had ever seen a pregnancy or birth before. So the wonder of birth was increased many times in their experience. Not only was there to be new life. It was to be the promised life, the One who should destroy the work of Satan and restore people to Paradise once more.

Adam and Eve must have counted the months, weeks, and days. Nine months, eight months, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, two weeks, one week… At last the child was born, and Eve held in her arms the one whom both she and Adam thought was the deliverer. How delighted they were! They did not know that they actually held in their arms a little murderer and that the tragic history of the human race, written in blood, had begun.

This much of the story is evident from the parts of it we have already considered, but it is expressed in particularly poignant terms at the start of Genesis 4. The story says, “Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man” (v. 1). This translation unfortunately does not give the full force of what Eve said. We need to notice two things. First, the word “Cain” either sounds like or is actually based on the Hebrew verb qanah, which means “acquired.” So when Eve says that she has “brought forth” or “acquired” a man from the Lord, she is either punning on the name Cain or actually explaining why that name was given to her first child. In view of the promise of a deliverer, the name probably means “Here he is” or “I’ve gotten him.” Eve called her son “Here he is” because she thought the deliverer had been sent by God.

Second, Eve did not actually say, as the New International Version and most other English versions translate, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” The words “with the help of” are not in the Hebrew text but are merely an English way of rendering what the majority of translators think the text means. Actually, they translate the Hebrew participle or preposition ‘eth. This word is usually the mark of the accusative, though it can also mean “with,” the idea the translators followed when they rendered it “with [the help of]” the Lord. If it is the former, ‘eth makes the word following it the object of the action of the sentence. In this case, the sentence would mean “I have brought forth… the Lord.” In my judgment this meaning should be preferred for linguistic and theological reasons, because ‘eth also occurs in the front of the word “Cain” earlier in the sentence, which puts the two parts in parallel construction. Together they read, “She bore ‘eth-Cain, and she said, ‘I have brought forth a man, eth-Jehovah.'”

If so, Eve would not have been claiming to have given birth to God but rather would have been using the word [Jehovah] in a broader sense meaning perhaps “the one who brings into being,” “gives life,” or “delivers.”

In this case, the best translation of Eve’s words would be, “I have brought forth a man, even the deliver.” Yet she had not, as we know. She had given birth to a killer rather than Christ.

Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, vol. 1, chpt 34

Next week we will begin the new study.

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