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Good times ahead

Freedom from the presence of sin

Do you look forward to good times on weekends and vacations? It’s relaxing to get away from the pressures of life. John Bunyan likened the Christian life to a journey which he called “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (Appendix A and B). The journey begins with justification (deliverance from the penalty of sin), continues with sanctification (deliverance from the power of sin) and ends with glorification (deliverance from the presence of sin).

In this blogpost we look at the topic of the believer’s glorification. We will see that the best is yet to come for believers. They can look forward to living with Jesus Christ in heaven where there is no sin, suffering, disease or death. It’s the best time of their life.

The meaning of “glory”

Isaiah had a vision of “the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1NIV). And the angels were calling out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:3). This verse suggests that the glory of God is when His holiness is visible. It’s the display of God’s holiness – the fact that He is unique, perfect, great, and incomparable.

The Hebrew noun kabowd (Strongs #3519) translated “glory” in this verse means the splendor, wealth and honor of a person or God (Brown-Driver-Briggs). When used in respect of God it means the greatness of His entire character.

The apostle John had a vision of God seated on a throne being worshipped with glory, honor and power (Rev. 4:10-11). And a vision of every creature in the universe worshipping God the Father and God the Son with praise, honor, glory and power (Rev. 5:13). Here the word “glory” is linked with praise, honor and power. It means to be exalted, extolled, and honored.

The Greek verb doxazo (Strongs #1392) translated “glory” means to exalt to a glorious rank or position (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). It’s used to describe both God (Jn. 7:39; 12:16; Acts 3:13) and believers (Rom. 8:30). The equivalent noun doxa (Strongs #1391) used in the verses in Revelation means glorious and exalted.

God’s glory

We have already seen that glory is one of the attributes of the eternal God. Jesus shared that glory with the rest of the trinity in eternity past, which was visible to the angels.

But Jesus gave up that visible glory when He was born and lived on earth (Phil. 2:5-8). Instead, He was seen as the son of a carpenter. Before His death Jesus prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence [in heaven] with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn. 17:5). “Now” indicates that Jesus had finished His work on earth and He was ready for the next phase—His crucifixion and return to heaven. His glory was shown in His resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand in heaven. The principle of this verse is that after His ascension, Jesus returned to His glory as God. Jesus now shares that glory with the rest of the trinity in eternity future, which is visible to the angels. And it will be visible to all creation at His future appearing on earth in great power and glory. The giving up and regaining of Christ’s glory is shown in the schematic diagram.

At the transfiguration Jesus briefly showed His glory to Peter, James and John when “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Mt. 17:2).

How often do we praise God for His glory like Paul and Jude? “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17). And “to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 25).

In God’s plan of salvation, God shares His glory with believers. Let’s investigate the nature of this salvation.

Is salvation an event or a process?

The answer is yes and no! Justification, which is freedom from the penalty of sin (Rom. 8:24), is an event (Eph. 1:13-14). It’s receiving a gift from God. To be physically alive, we need to be born first. It’s an event. To be spiritually alive, we need to be born again (Jn. 3:3-21). It’s also an event.

Those who came forward at the recent Franklin Graham Tour in Australia were given a booklet titled “Living in Christ”. In the front of this book there was a form to fill out with the date they accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

And in “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, Christian was saved at the cross when his burden of sin fell from his shoulders and he was given the scroll to enter the Celestial City (heaven). That’s when he was justified and his name was written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:27).

But deliverance from temptation and sin during the life of a believer is a process. After Christian was saved he was tempted by Formality and Hypocrisy near the Hill of Difficulty. He was attacked by Apollyon, one of Satan’s demons who tried to force Christian to return to his domain and service. He was tempted by worldliness at Vanity Fair. When he was tempted to take an easier path through By-path Meadow, he was captured by Giant Despair and imprisoned in Doubting Castle.

Sanctification (holiness) is freedom from the power of sin. God calls believers to “a holy life” (2 Tim. 1:9). This means being set apart for Him, and serving Him by living fruitful lives. Believers are already sanctified positionally before God. That’s their status before God. But they are expected to show this practically in their daily lives. Sanctification (holiness) is a progressive change in character. It’s a process, not an event.

Glorification, which is freedom from the presence of sin, is God’s final work for the believer. It’s a heavenly experience. Justification is the beginning, sanctification (holiness) is the middle and glorification is the end of the process of salvation.

It the past, Christ’s love was shown in the believer’s justification. In the present, it’s seen in their sanctification. In the future, it will be shown in their glorification.

The process of salvation is described in the book of Romans, as follows:
– We are all sinners who need salvation (1:18-3:20).
– The gospel is God’s solution to our sins (3:21-5:21). This includes justification through Jesus Christ (5:12-21).
– Justification is followed by sanctification (holiness); living in the power of the Holy Spirit (6:1-8:17).
– Sanctification is followed by glorification (8:18-39). We will now look at the main points in this biblical passage.

Glorification in Romans 8

“Since we [believers] are His [God’s] children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who His children really are” (8:17-19NLT). This is a promise that each believer will share Christ’s glory. Like Jesus, in a future day, this glory will be revealed when Christ returns in great power and glory to rule upon the earth. But a little suffering precedes the massive glorification.

In “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, Christian and Faithful were arrested and persecuted at Vanity Fair. Faithful was put on trial and executed and Christian was imprisoned.

And it looks like Israel Folau is being banned from playing Rugby Union in Australia, because he quoted the Bible on his own social media page. Outspoken Christians are not tolerated today. But our suffering as a Christian is insignificant compared to our future glory.

“… we ourselves [believers], who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). The Holy Spirit is the first instalment of the believer’s glorification. As an engagement ring involves a promise of a future wedding, so the indwelling Holy Spirit is God’s promise of the believer’s future glorification. And the coming glory is associated with the resurrection of believer’s bodies which occurs at the rapture. Click on this link for more information about the sequence of future events according to the Bible.

“We [believers] were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently)” (8:24-25NLT). Believers don’t receive all the benefits of salvation at the moment of conversion. So they can look forward to being delivered from sin, suffering, disease and death. That’s the hope of heaven. Something better lies ahead.

What are you looking forward to? What are you anticipating with joy? An achievement, an event, a holiday, a purchase, or a stage in life? But these are all momentary compared to eternal life in heaven.

“And we [believers] know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him [believers], who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son [made holy], that He [Jesus Christ] might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He [God] predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30). Believers can look back and see that God foreknew, predestined and called them to trust in Jesus. Then they were justified. God has called them with a purpose: “to be conformed to the image of His Son [Jesus]”. They are being sanctified (made holy). That’s the context of Romans 8:28. Whatever God permits to come into their lives is designed to make them more like Jesus, to make them more holy. Their lives are not controlled by impersonal forces like chance, luck or fate, but by their personal Lord. And in future they will be glorified. In heaven they will be holy like Jesus and be free from the presence of sin and have glorified bodies like His.

We will now look at the sequence of events associated with the glorification of a believer.

Glorification of the soul

In “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, the river that Christian crossed to get to the Celestial City was called the River of Death. When a person dies their spirit and soul separate from their body. In the case of a believer, their body stays on earth until the resurrection, while their spirit and soul goes to be with the Lord. In view of future glory, Paul longed to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). It will be better in heaven without a body than living on earth in our sinful bodies.

Colossians says, “… now He [God] has reconciled you [believers] by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Col. 1:22). At this time believers are presented to God the Father as holy and “without blemish and free from accusation”.

Ephesians says, “For He [God] chose us [believers] in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight” (Eph. 1:4). And the Lord Jesus will present believers “to Himself as a radiant [glorious] church [of believers], without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). When believers get to heaven they will be “holy and blameless”. Being “radiant” or glorious is a figuratively equivalent to being free from sin. And “without stain” means to be pure.

And Jude says, “To Him [God] who is able to keep you [believers] from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24). Believers will be faultless in the throne room of the universe.

The Daily Meditation Podcast is doing a series on mental cleansing to purify your thoughts, but it won’t make you holy and blameless.

In the Lord’s presence in heaven, believers are perfectly holy. Their sanctification (holiness) is complete in a place where Satan can no longer tempt people into sin and evil. Their soul is separated from sin and the capacity to sin. So at death the spiritual aspect of human nature (the soul and spirit) is glorified.

Do we view death as the access to heaven? It enables the believer to  be “at home with the Lord”.

Glorification of the body

Paul describes the rapture when Christ comes to take His people to heaven as follows. At the trumpet of God, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we [believers] who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:16–17). And, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We [believers] shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we [who are alive] shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52).

The bodies of those who have died will be resurrected and reunited with their spirit and soul in heaven. The bodies of those who are alive will be transformed and they will be transported to heaven. This is not science fiction! But in the Bible God tells us about future events. These new spiritual bodies will not decay or be affected by disease or death (2 Cor. 5:38-50). And they will be glorious and powerful like the resurrection body of Christ (Phil. 3:20-21).

Paul said that the Corinthian believers “will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8). And he prayed that the Philippian believers would live pure and blameless lives now so that they are ready “for the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-11). The day of Christ is the rapture when Christ comes to take believers to heaven and they become all that God intends them to be. And they will be finally and forever delivered from the presence of sin.

South Korean scientists are working to resurrect the prehistoric woolly mammoth using cloning technology and the flesh of perfectly preserved specimens once buried in Northern Siberia. They hope to find an active cell from the meaty leg of a frozen mammoth, which could hold the keys to bringing back the extinct species. But despite dedicated effort, scientists have not yet managed to clone a woolly mammoth, although they keep trying. Of course, God has a better resurrection record. And at the rapture, there will be transformations to perfect bodies, not just resurrections of old imperfect ones.

Having perfect bodies in heaven will be better than living in their sinful bodies on earth and better than when believers have no bodies (between their death and the resurrection) (2 Cor. 5:1-8). It’s the fulfilment of God’s promises to the believer and the best time of their life.

Are we looking ahead to the rapture and new heavenly bodies?

Glorification displayed

We have already mentioned that Christ’s glory as God will be visible to all creation at His future appearing on earth in great power and glory. And that believers will “share in His glory” (Rom. 8:17).

When Jesus comes as a warrior to reign on the earth for 1000 years, “The armies of heaven were following Him” (Rev. 19:14). They are “dressed in fine linen, white and clean”. At the wedding of the Lamb, believers are given “fine linen, white and clean” to wear (Rev. 19:7). These armies are angels (Mt. 25:31; Mk. 8:38;  13:27; 2 Th. 2:7-8) and believers (Col. 3:4; 1 Th. 3:13; 2 Th. 1:7, 10; Rev. 17:14). At this time, Jesus conquers and judges His enemies and sets up His kingdom on earth.

Colossians says, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you [believers] also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). When Jesus appears in great glory, believers will appear with Him. It will be to His glory to have His followers with Him. And believers will be glorified to come with Him and be with Him for ever. The word “then” shows that God links believers to Christ’s coming.

2 Thessalonians says, “on the day He [Jesus Christ] comes to be glorified in His holy people [believers] and to be marveled at among all those who have believed” (2 Th. 1:10). At His second coming Jesus will be glorified “in”, not “by”, believers. He will be honored because He transformed the lives of so many people. Their justification, sanctification, and glorification will be tribute to Christ’s amazing grace and power.

After the second coming, Christ will reign on earth. And Paul says “we [believers] will also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). This includes judging in the Millennial reign of Christ (1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 20:4) and judging angels (1 Cor 6:3). Meanwhile, positionally, in Christ Jesus believers are already seated “with Him [Christ] in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6).

On April 11 2019, Scientists revealed the first-ever photograph of a black hole. They say it’s a picture of the super-dense object that’s billions of times more massive than the sun and about 55 million light-years from Earth. But this is a minor revelation compared to the revelation of believers coming in glory with Christ at the second coming.

So believers will share in Christ’s glory when He returns to the earth in great power and glory. And when they rule with Him during the Millennial kingdom.

The process of a believer’s salvation from justification to sanctification, and then to glorification is shown in the schematic diagram.

Assurance of glorification

In Romans 8, after Paul presented God’s way of salvation through justification, sanctification (holiness) and glorification, he assured the readers of its certainty (Rom 8:31-39).

“He [God] who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He [God] not also, along with Him [Jesus Christ], graciously give us [believers] all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Since God gave believers His greatest gift, He will give them any other gift they need. If God did the greater, He will surely do the lesser. “All things” here refers to glorification in eternity. So the believer’s glorification is guaranteed by God! They are eternally secure. Nothing can separate them from eternal life with God. Paul was convinced of this (Rom. 8:38-39); are we convinced? He was certain about the promise of eternal life. Our confidence in future glorification is based on God’s revelation to us in the Bible. It says that, God is bringing many believers to glory (Heb. 2:10). God’s purpose is to bring all believers to His eternal glory.

The author of Hebrews gives four illustrations of our confidence in future glorification and eternal salvation. He says, “we [believers] who have fled to Him [God] for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary [heaven]. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:18-20).

The illustrations are:
– Heaven is a safe place like a fortress or a city of refuge.
– The believer’s hope in heaven is like an anchor for their souls that’s anchored in Jesus.
– Jesus is like a forerunner who believers will follow to heaven. John the Baptist was the forerunner for Jesus (Mt. 17:10-13). And a forerunner goes ahead of the pack.
– Jesus is like a High Priest who intercedes for believers with God the Father. His eternal priesthood guarantees their eternal security in heaven.

On 17 April 2019, Scott Morrison (leader of the government in Australia) pledged $100 million for farm irrigation in Tasmania, and Bill Shorten (leader of the opposition) promising $20 million for blood cancer trials. But sometimes politicians make excuses for not fulfilling election promises. Fortunately, God’s promises are reliable.

Scriptural hope is confidence in what God has promised. It’s an anchor for believers. One of these promises is “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27); the confidence that all believers will share in the glory of Christ (Col. 3:4; 1 Pt. 5:10).

Did you notice in our readings the pattern of suffering and glory for both Jesus and believers?

Pattern of suffering and glory

The pattern for Jesus

Through the Old Testament prophets, the Holy Spirit “predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow” (1 Pt. 1:11). But they didn’t know that that these two events would be separated by at least 2,000 years.

Jesus told the two on the road to Emmaus that the Old Testament prophets taught that the Messiah had “to suffer these things and then enter His glory” (Lk. 24:26). For Jesus, suffering precedes glory.

Although humanity lost dominion over God’s creation because of their sin, “we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while [for 33 years], now crowned with glory and honor [forever] because He suffered death … for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). Because He suffered death, Jesus is now “crowned with glory and honor”. The cross led to the crown.

Paul said that after Christ suffered “death on a cross”, “God exalted Him to the highest place” (Phil. 2:8-9).

The pattern for believers

Paul said, “I consider that our [believers] present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). The difference between the believer’s sufferings and glory is so great, they are not worth comparing. And the suffering is present, while the glory is future.

Paul also said, “For our [believers] light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). What a contrast, insignificant and quick troubles, compared to significant and endless glory.

Some say that if you’re suffering or not successful, then it’s due to a lack of faith. Others say that when bad things happen it’s outside God’s control. But the Bible says that suffering is part of God’s plan for believers.

How patient and resilient are we in suffering? Can we see the big picture that present suffering leads to future glory?

So for Jesus, suffering preceded glory. The same is true for believers. It’s the sure hope of glory that makes suffering bearable. The essential perspective to develop is that the eternal purpose of God is to make believers holy or Christlike.

Conclusion

Let’s be assured of our justification. Since then we are free from the penalty of sin. And be patient with our sanctification. Each day we are being freed increasingly from the power of sin. And be eager for our glorification. One day we will be freed from the presence of sin.

The best is yet to come for believers. They can look forward to living with Jesus Christ in heaven where there is no sin, suffering, disease or death. It’s the fulfilment of God’s promises to the believer and the best time of their life.

Let’s look forward with joyful anticipation to our glorious future.

Appendix A: First summary of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (From: Encylopaedia Britannia)

Part I of Pilgrim’s progress was published by John Bunyan in 1678. It’s the story of a journey “from this world to that which is to come”. It’s the spiritual journey of a man named Christian from where he lives in the City of Destruction to the Celestial City (meaning heaven). “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegory or parable in which the literal, physical level of action is intended as a picture of something else. For example, if you are living in sin, you are in the City of Destruction. The Lord on the hill is God. The Shining Ones are angels.

It’s a story of the author’s dream of the trials and adventures of Christian (an everyman figure) as he travels from his home, the City of Destruction, to the Celestial City. Christian seeks to rid himself of a terrible burden, the weight of his sins, that he feels after reading a book (the Bible). Evangelist points him toward a wicket-gate, and he heads off, leaving his family behind. He falls into the Slough of Despond, dragged down by his burden, but is saved by a man named Help. Christian next meets Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who persuades him to disregard Evangelist’s advice and instead go to the village of Morality and seek out Mr. Legality or his son Civility. However, Christian’s burden becomes heavier, and he stops. Evangelist reappears and sets him back on the path to the wicket-gate. The gatekeeper, Good-will, lets him through and directs him to the house of the Interpreter, where he receives instruction on Christian grace. As Christian continues his journey, he comes upon a cross and a sepulchre, and at that point his burden falls from his shoulders. Three Shining Ones appear and give him a sealed scroll that he must present when he reaches the Celestial Gate.

Christian continues on his way, and when he reaches the Hill Difficulty, he chooses the straight and narrow path. Partway up he falls asleep in an arbor, allowing the scroll to fall from his hands. When he wakes, he proceeds to the top of the hill only to find he must return to the arbor to find his lost scroll. He later arrives at the palace Beautiful, where he meets the damsels Discretion, Prudence, Piety, and Charity. They give Christian armour, and he learns that a former neighbour, Faithful, is traveling ahead of him.

Christian next traverses the Valley of Humiliation, where he does battle with the monster Apollyon. He then passes through the terrifying Valley of the Shadow of Death. Shortly afterward he catches up with Faithful. The two enter the town of Vanity, home of the ancient Vanity Fair, which is set up to ensnare pilgrims en route to the Celestial City. Their strange clothing and lack of interest in the fair’s merchandise causes a commotion, and they are arrested. Arraigned before Lord Hate-good, Faithful is condemned to death and executed, and he is immediately taken into the Celestial City. Christian is returned to prison, but he later escapes.

Christian leaves Vanity, accompanied by Hopeful, who was inspired by Faithful. Christian and Hopeful cross the plain of Ease and resist the temptation of a silver mine. The path later becomes more difficult, and, at Christian’s encouragement, the two travelers take an easier route, through By-path Meadow. However, when they become lost and are caught in a storm, Christian realizes that he has led them astray. Trying to turn back, they stumble onto the grounds of Doubting Castle, where they are caught, imprisoned, and beaten by the Giant Despair. At last, Christian remembers that he has a key called Promise, which he and Hopeful use to unlock the doors and escape. They reach the Delectable Mountains, just outside the Celestial City, but make the mistake of following Flatterer and must be rescued by a Shining One. Before they can enter the Celestial City, they must cross a river as a test of faith, and then, after presenting their scrolls, Christian and Hopeful are admitted into the city.

Appendix B: Second summary of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (From: Wikipedia)

The allegory’s protagonist, Christian, is an everyman character, and the plot centers on his journey from his hometown, the “City of Destruction” (“this world”), to the “Celestial City” (“that which is to come”: Heaven) atop Mount Zion. Christian is weighed down by a great burden—the knowledge of his sin—which he believed came from his reading “the book in his hand” (the Bible). This burden, which would cause him to sink into Hell, is so unbearable that Christian must seek deliverance. He meets Evangelist as he is walking out in the fields, who directs him to the “Wicket Gate” for deliverance. Since Christian cannot see the “Wicket Gate” in the distance, Evangelist directs him to go to a “shining light,” which Christian thinks he sees.  Christian leaves his home, his wife, and children to save himself: he cannot persuade them to accompany him. Obstinate and Pliable go after Christian to bring him back, but Christian refuses. Obstinate returns disgusted, but Pliable is persuaded to go with Christian, hoping to take advantage of the Paradise that Christian claims lies at the end of his journey. Pliable’s journey with Christian is cut short when the two of them fall into the Slough of Despond, a boggy mire-like swamp where pilgrims’ doubts, fears, temptations, lusts, shames, guilts, and sins of their present condition of being a sinner are used to sink them into the mud of the swamp. It is there in that bog where Pliable abandons Christian after getting himself out. After struggling to the other side of the slough, Christian is pulled out by Help, who has heard his cries and tells him the swamp is made out of the decadence, scum, and filth of sin, but the ground is good at the narrow Wicket Gate.

On his way to the Wicket Gate, Christian is diverted by the secular ethics of Mr. Worldly Wiseman into seeking deliverance from his burden through the Law, supposedly with the help of a Mr. Legality and his son Civility in the village of Morality, rather than through Christ, allegorically by way of the Wicket Gate. Evangelist meets the wayward Christian as he stops before Mount Sinai on the way to Mr. Legality’s home. It hangs over the road and threatens to crush any who would pass it; also the mountain flashed with fire. Evangelist shows Christian that he had sinned by turning out of his way and tells him that Mr. Legality and his son Civility are descendants of slaves and Mr. Worldly Wiseman is a false guide, but he assures him that he will be welcomed at the Wicket Gate if he should turn around and go there, which Christian does.

At the Wicket Gate begins the “straight and narrow” King’s Highway, and Christian is directed onto it by the gatekeeper Goodwill who saves him from Beelzebub’s archers at Beelzebub’s castle near the Wicket Gate and shows him the heavenly way he must go. In the Second Part, Goodwill is shown to be Jesus Himself. To Christian’s query about relief from his burden, Goodwill directs him forward to “the place of deliverance.”

Christian makes his way from there to the House of the Interpreter, where he is shown pictures and tableaux that portray or dramatize aspects of the Christian faith and life. Roger Sharrock denotes them “emblems”.

From the House of the Interpreter, Christian finally reaches the “place of deliverance” (allegorically, the cross of Calvary and the open sepulchre of Christ), where the “straps” that bound Christian’s burden to him break, and it rolls away into the open sepulcher. This event happens relatively early in the narrative: the immediate need of Christian at the beginning of the story is quickly remedied. After Christian is relieved of his burden, he is greeted by three angels, who give him the greeting of peace, new garments, and a scroll as a passport into the Celestial City. Encouraged by all this, Christian happily continues his journey until he comes upon three men named Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. Christian tries to help them, but they disregard his advice. Before coming to the Hill of Difficulty, Christian meets two well-dressed men named Formality and Hypocrisy who prove to be false Christians that perish in the two dangerous bypasses near the hill, named Danger and Destruction. Christian falls asleep at the arbor above the hill and loses his scroll, forcing him to go back and get it. Near the top of the Hill of Difficulty, he meets two weak pilgrims named Mistrust and Timorous who tell him of the great lions of the Palace Beautiful. Christian frightfully avoids the lions through Watchful the porter who tells them that they are chained and put there to test the faith of pilgrims.

Atop the Hill of Difficulty, Christian makes his first stop for the night at the House of the Palace Beautiful, which is a place built by God for the refresh of pilgrims and godly travelers. Christian spends three days here, and leaves clothed with the Armor of God (Eph. 6:11–18), which stands him in good stead in his battle against the demonic dragon-like Apollyon (the lord and god of the City of Destruction) in the Valley of Humiliation. This battle lasts “over half a day” until Christian manages to wound and stab Apollyon with his two-edged sword (a reference to the Bible, Heb. 4:12). “And with that Apollyon spread his dragon wings and sped away.”

As night falls, Christian enters the fearful Valley of the Shadow of Death. When he is in the middle of the Valley amidst the gloom, terror, and demons, he hears the words of the Twenty-third Psalm, spoken possibly by his friend Faithful: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you [the Lord] are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). As he leaves this valley the sun rises on a new day.

Just outside the Valley of the Shadow of Death he meets Faithful, also a former resident of the City of Destruction, who accompanies him to Vanity Fair, a place built by Beelzebub where every thing is to a human’s tastes, delights, and lusts are sold daily, where both are arrested and detained because of their disdain for the wares and business of the Fair. Faithful is put on trial and executed by burning at the stake as a martyr. A celestial chariot then takes Faithful to the Celestial City, martyrdom being a shortcut there. Hopeful, a resident of Vanity Fair, takes Faithful’s place to be Christian’s companion for the rest of the way.

Christian and Hopeful then come to a mining hill called Lucre. Its owner named Demas offers them all the silver of the mine but Christian sees through Demas’s trickery and they avoid the mine. Afterward, a false pilgrim named By-Ends and his friends, who followed Christian and Hopeful only to take advantage of them, perish at the Hill Lucre, never to be seen or heard from again. On a rough, stony stretch of road, Christian and Hopeful leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow, where a rainstorm forces them to spend the night. In the morning they are captured by Giant Despair, who is known for his savage cruelty, and his wife Diffidence; the pilgrims are taken to the Giant’s Doubting Castle, where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The Giant and the Giantess want them to commit suicide, but they endure the ordeal until Christian realizes that a key he has, called Promise, will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle. Using the key and the Giant’s weakness to sunlight, they escape.

The Delectable Mountains form the next stage of Christian and Hopeful’s journey, where the shepherds show them some of the wonders of the place also known as “Immanuel’s Land”. The pilgrims are shown sights that strengthen their faith and warn them against sinning, like the Hill Error or the Mountain Caution. On Mount Clear, they are able to see the Celestial City through the shepherd’s “perspective glass”, which serves as a telescope. The shepherds tell the pilgrims to beware of the Flatterer and to avoid the Enchanted Ground. Soon they come to a crossroad and a man dressed in white comes to help them. Thinking he is a “shining one” (angel), the pilgrims follow the man, but soon get stuck in a net and realize their so-called angelic guide was the Flatterer. A true shining one comes and frees them from the net. The Angel punishes them for following the Flatterer and then puts them back on the right path. The pilgrims meet an Atheist, who tells them Heaven and God do not exist, but Christian and Hopeful remember the shepherds and pay no attention to the man. Christian and Hopeful come to a place where a man named Little-Faith is chained by the ropes of seven demons who take him to a shortcut to the Lake of Fire (Hell).

On the way, Christian and Hopeful meet a lad named Ignorance, who believes that he will be allowed into the Celestial City through his own good deeds rather than as a gift of God’s grace. Christian and Hopeful meet up with him twice and try to persuade him to journey to the Celestial City in the right way. Ignorance persists in his own way that he thinks will lead him into Heaven. After getting over the River of Death on the ferry boat of Vain Hope without overcoming the hazards of wading across it, Ignorance appears before the gates of Celestial City without a passport, which he would have acquired had he gone into the King’s Highway through the Wicket Gate. The Lord of the Celestial City orders the shining ones (angels) to take Ignorance to one of the byways of Hell and throw him in.

Christian and Hopeful make it through the dangerous Enchanted Ground (a place where the air makes them sleepy and if they fall asleep, they never wake up) into the Land of Beulah, where they ready themselves to cross the dreaded River of Death on foot to Mount Zion and the Celestial City. Christian has a rough time of it because of his past sins wearing him down, but Hopeful helps him over, and they are welcomed into the Celestial City.

Written, April 2019

Also see: Outline of future events

Take a closer look at Easter

If we took a closer look at Easter, what would we find – a chocolate fantasy or important history?

In the 8th Century, the English monk, Bede, spoke of how the name of the pagan goddess ‘Eostre’ was used for the ‘Easter month’. Bede’s words have long been seen as proof that Christians simply replaced existing cultural rituals with their own. But the problem is that there isn’t much hard evidence for the English Goddess ‘Eostre’ or her Spring pagan festival. However, there’s lots of evidence that Christians throughout Europe, from the medieval period onward, used eggs and rabbits as symbols of new life.

As for the chocolate versions, well Joseph Fry of Bristol made the first chocolate Easter egg in 1873. Ever since then Easter has been very chocolaty and run, almost entirely by the major supermarkets.

If you keep looking closely at Easter though, you’ll see that Christians all over the world have something more exciting than a weekend chocolate coma to celebrate. If you look really closely then you’ll see that, from the earliest times, Christians wanted an annual celebration at the time of the Jewish feast called ‘Passover’ (usually in April) because that’s when Jesus was executed.

But why would Christians celebrate the execution of a man? Because, paradoxically, Jesus’s death means life! Jesus is God’s son, sent to earth to point us back to Him… sent to live as an example… sent to offer His life so that our sin might be cancelled.

Yet Christians don’t just focus on Jesus’s death. The climax of the Easter story comes two days after Good Friday and Jesus’s execution. On the third day Jesus was resurrected from death. His tomb, which had been sealed, was now empty. Since then, people everywhere have had reason to hope because, if Jesus can be resurrected, then so can we.

There’s an account in the Bible of a man called Paul who was opposed to Christians and Jesus. But Paul became both a believer and a Christian leader. Here’s a small part of a letter he wrote to Greek Christians in the city of Corinth.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

So, this Easter – as you spike your blood sugar on the finest cocoa confections, remember why Easter is so sweet. Remember the hope that Jesus has given you and thank Him.

Bible verse: 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for chocolate. But thank you much more for the gift of Jesus and the new life He brings.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Awesome power

Psalm 29

Hurricanes bring strong winds, heavy rains, floods, storm surges and even tornadoes (Appendix A). Hurricane Michael which struck the coast of Florida in October 2018 was the third-strongest hurricane in continental U.S. history. It’s landfall pressure was 919mb, which was slightly stronger than the 920mb of Hurricane Katrina that flooded New Orleans in August 2005. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest tropical cyclone season on record with a damage total of at least $US300 billion and over 3,300 estimated deaths.

When do you think of God? What reminds you of Him? A thunderstorm reminded David of God’s awesome power.

Psalm 29 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 29 says,

Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings [angels],
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters [Mediterranean Sea];
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion [Mount Hermon] like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh [near the Orontes River in Syria].
The voice of the Lord twists the oaks (Appendix B)
and strips the forests bare.
And in His temple all cry, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to His people;
the Lord blesses His people with peace.

The Psalm has three sections:
– Introduction, which is a call to praise the Lord  (v.1-2)
– God’s awesome power is like a mighty storm (v.3-9)
– Conclusion, that God gives His people strength and peace in the storms of life  (v.10-11).

It’s a Jewish poem that was sung. The key-word in the psalm is “the Lord”, which occurs 18 times. And there is repetition and parallelism.
Repetition: In v.4 “the voice of the Lord” is repeated.
Parallelism: In v.4 there is parallelism between “powerful” and “majestic”. Both describe the voice of the Lord, and the second word adds to the first.

Call to praise

The song begins with a call to praise where angels are urged to praise God because of His glory, strength and holiness. As God’s name represents His character, they also praise God because of His character. This shows that the praise of humans is not sufficient to acknowledge God’s awesome power.

Next, David likens the strength and power of the Lord to a mighty thunderstorm.

God’s awesome power

This section describes the cause (or reason) for the praise. God’s power is depicted in a metaphor as a thunderstorm. The thunderstorm comes from over the Mediterranean Sea and moves across northern Israel (v.3), to the mountains of Lebanon  (v.5-6), until it passes into the Syrian desert (v.8). God’s awesome power is not only visible in creation (nature), it is also audible in thunder. David also wrote, “God thunders with a mighty [powerful] voice” (Ps. 68:33).

“The voice of the Lord” is mentioned seven times, referring to thunder (v.3-4, 8), lightning (v.7), and the strong wind (v.5-6, 9) of the storm. Here God’s presence is depicted in a metaphor and personification as His voice.

Creation (nature) is called God’s temple (v.9).  In view of His awesome power, all creation (nature) shouts His praise (v.9). It’s like in Psalm 150 that says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Ps. 150:6).

Did you know that insurance companies agree with David when they call storms an act of God! Storms are outside our control. We cannot stop them. And we cannot adequately prepare everyone for them. Storms have more power than any human creation. But they are under God’s control. Although we can explain these storms today from a meteorological perspective, they are still under God’s complete control. God is sovereign – everything is under His control.

Strength and peace

God’s great power was shown in the biblical flood, which involved much greater power than a hurricane. The flood’s duration was for a year compared to a few days and it’s extent was global compared to regional. And the flood involved geological and volcanic activity as well as meteorological activity compared to only meteorological activity. That’s why Solomon says that God reigns over all creation (nature).

Finally, the God who has strength (v.1), gives strength to His people (v.11a). And He blesses His people with peace (v.11b). This is comforting to those who feel weak or are going through troubles.

Conclusion

God has awesome power because He controls all the forces of nature. Other demonstrations of God’s power are His creation of the universe, Jesus’ miracles and Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It’s comforting to know that everything is under God’s control.

Appendix A: Hurricanes

Hurricanes are large rotating tropical storms with winds in excess of 120 km/hr (74 mph) that form above the Atlantic Ocean. They are known as typhoons in the western Pacific and cyclones in the Indian Ocean. For a storm to gain enough energy to develop into a hurricane, the temperature of surface waters needs to rise above 26⁰ C (79⁰ F). Meteorologists classify the strength of a hurricane using the Saffir-Simpson Scale. It consists of five categories, based on wind strength: 1 is the weakest and 5 is strongest, with winds exceeding 250 km/hr (156 mph).

Its center is a cloud-free, relatively calm area called the eye. The eye is surrounded by the much more active eye wall, a ring of thunderstorms where the hurricane’s winds are the strongest and rains are the heaviest. Spiral bands of clouds, rain, and more thunderstorms extend out from the eye wall like a pinwheel on top of a rotating funnel. These rain bands can stretch for hundreds of miles and sometimes contain tornadoes.

Did you know that the winds that blow around these severe tropical storms rotate in a clockwise direction in the southern hemisphere and an anti-clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere? This is caused by the rotation of the earth and is called the Coriolis Effect. Because we are within a rotating coordinate system, objects moving long distances appear to deviate towards the left in the southern hemisphere and towards the right in the northern hemisphere. This inertial force is called the Coriolis force. It’s zero at the equator. The magnitude of the Coriolis force is proportional to the speed of the object and the sine of the latitude. This force is a bit like the centrifugal force that you feel in a roller coaster ride when the roller coaster goes sideways or across a hill or valley.

Hurricane winds can uproot trees, and storm surges can carry salt water up inland rivers, harming or killing plants and animals that cannot tolerate salt. High tides can easily wipe out sensitive sea turtle and bird nests along shorelines. Violent wave action kills many fish. Coastal waters that typically nourish seagrass beds—home to crabs and fish—can grow clouded and toxic with sediments and pollutants. The drop in air pressure resulting from a hurricane often disorients manatees (sea cows) and dolphins. On the other hand, sharks can detect the drop and safely head for deeper waters. Whereas some birds detect the pressure shift and escape in advance of storms or safely weather them on the ground, others can be thrown far off course or get trapped in the eye of a hurricane. But some frogs and toads breed more in heavy rainfall; and some plants use the wind to spread their seeds.

Appendix B: Verse 9a

According to the NET Bible this line is, “The Lord’s shout bends the large trees”. The Hebrew version states that it bends “the deer”. “Preserving this reading, some translate the preceding verb, “causes [the deer] to give premature birth” (cf. NEB, NASB). But the Polel of חוּל/חִיל (khul/khil) means “give birth,” not “cause to give birth,” and the statement “the Lord’s shout gives birth to deer” is absurd. In light of the parallelism (note “forests” in the next line) and v. 5, it is preferable to emend אַיָּלוֹת (ʾayyalot, “deer”) to אֵילוֹת (ʾelot, “large trees”) understanding the latter as an alternate form of the usual plural form אַיָּלִים (ʾayyalim).”

Written, April 2019

The best way to work

What’s one of your current projects? We all have things we need to do. They can be unique tasks or they can be repetitive ones. For example, I need to stop storm-water ingress at home when it rains. Psalm 127 gives us advice on how to do our daily work. The main point is that it’s better to commit our work to God rather than to do it all alone.

Psalm 127 has been categorized as a wisdom psalm. These psalms have similarities in literary features or content to the wisdom books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. They are written for the purposes of teaching and instruction rather than worship. Wisdom literature addresses important issues in life.

Psalm 127 is attributed to Solomon and its contents are consistent with other scriptures that are attributed to him. As Solomon reigned from 970BC to 930 BC, the psalm could be dated to about 950BC in the greatest building period of Solomon’s rule. It’s a proverb or didactic (teaching) saying. And biblical proverbs usually address generalizations, and not specific situations. The Bible says that Solomon wrote 1,005 songs and this is one of them (1 Ki. 4:32).

Psalm 127 is called “A song of ascents”. It’s part of a collection of 15 psalms (Ps. 120-134), which probably refer to the three annual Jewish religious pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Ex. 23:14-17; Dt. 16:16). They could be songs that pilgrims sang on their way up to Jerusalem for one of the major festivals. The songs focus on the destination of Jerusalem. Psalm 127 is the middle song in the song of ascents. It addresses the sovereign nature of God and the uselessness of all human effort which does not rely on the will, power, and goodness of the Lord. It says (NIV),

1“Unless the Lord builds the house, (line 1a)
  the builders labor in vain. (line 1b)
Unless the Lord watches over the city, (line 2a)
  the guards stand watch in vain. (line 2b)
In vain you rise early (3a)
 and stay up late, (3b)
toiling for food to eat— (4a)
 for He [the Lord] grants sleep to those He [the Lord] loves.” (4b)

The key words are “the Lord” (4 times), and “in vain” (3 times). Divine and human activities are compared and contrasted. The divine activities are: building (1a), watching (2a), and giving sleep (4b). The human activities are: building (1b), guarding (2b), and working hard (3a-4a). In everything we do there should be a divine component and a human component. There is divine sovereignty and human responsibility. We need to acknowledge God’s sovereignty while carrying out our human responsibility.

Our shelter and security- v.1

Verse one has repetition and parallelism.
Repetition: The words, “unless the Lord” at the beginning of line 1 are repeated at the beginning of line 2. And the words “in vain” at the end of line 1 are repeated at the end of line 2. And the grammatical structure of line 1 is repeated in line 2.
Parallelism: There is parallelism between “builds the house” and “watches over the city”. Both activities done without the Lord are in vain, and the second example adds to the first.

A house was built to live in; it provided shelter. And houses in a city were secured behind a wall, with guards patrolling in towers and along the wall. People wanted to have a safe place to live and a city provided that security. So building a house and guarding a city were common activities in ancient times.

What did “labor in vain” and “watch in vain” mean? In this context, the Hebrew word shav (Strongs #7723) means “useless” (Brown-Driver-Briggs). Obviously men were doing the building (for shelter) and the watching (for security). But they could do it in two ways: either according to God’s will or against God’s will. They were either dependant on the Lord and fruitful, or independent of the Lord and not fruitful (Jn 15:5). Likewise, we can carry out our projects and daily tasks in two ways: either according to God’s will or against God’s will. For example, the tower of Babel was built against God’s will, while the temple in Jerusalem was built according to God’s will.

God is sovereign, and therefore we can have no degree of success or achievement unless God allows it in the first place (Jas. 4:13-16). But God accomplishes His sovereign will through our work.

And the Bible teaches that God is the One who ultimately keeps us safe and secure. The Lord guards us like a shepherd (Jn. 10:7-14).

We all require shelter and housing. Do we seek God’s will when deciding where to live? And when deciding whether to buy or rent a house or apartment?

We all require safety and security. Do we seek God’s will when deciding how to keep safe? Or do we worry unnecessarily about the dangers of life?

Our sustenance – v.2

Verse two describes two kinds of people. The first is the workaholic who works long hours in order to put food on the table. The implication is that because they are anxious, they can’t sleep at night. The second is one who trusts in God and can sleep at night. Via the figure of speech of metonymy (where the name of a thing is replaced with the name of something else with which it is closely associated), sleep may also refer to having one’s needs met. They can sleep because they realize that God provides their needs. Their sustenance.

God’s sovereignty doesn’t release us from our responsibility, but it does free us from worry.

We all require to be sustained physically, emotionally and spiritually. If we are able, we work to provide for our physical needs. But are you a workaholic? What about your spiritual needs? Do you read the Bible and pray regularly? Are you part of a church?

Conclusion

In Psalm 127, God told the Israelites to involve Him in meeting their basic needs of shelter, security and sustenance. If they did this and lived in submission to God, depending on His guidance and protection, they could rest assured at night that all would be well. Otherwise, their efforts to meet their basic needs would be useless. And they would become workaholics who couldn’t sleep at night because of their anxiety. Let’s commit all our work (activities, projects and tasks) to the Lord in prayer.

When the Jews were encouraged to rebuild the temple, they were told “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zech. 4:6). This means that the temple would be rebuilt not by human energy or power alone, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, let’s work in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And Jesus taught His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit [be fruitful]; apart from me you can do nothing [your work is in vain; useless]” (Jn. 15:5). Let’s keep in touch with God and His people, so we can continue to be fruitful.

So the best way to work is to commit all our work to the Lord so we can work in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Written, April 2019

The best way to live

Applying the Bible to our lives

These days many of us get our sense of right and wrong from movies. Although some of our superheroes may act like a self-sacrificing Messiah in battles to save the world, the lessons in movies are usually determined by ungodly people who want to entertain us.

When I googled “How to live”, there were 20 billion results on the internet! If I took five seconds to read each one, it would take over 30 years of reading continuously! How can we know which is the best way to live our lives? These are all the subjective opinions of many people. We can save wasting a lot of time by following the objective opinions of the God who made the world and who knows all about us. And it doesn’t take years to find because He has communicated to us in the Bible. The Bible is often called “God’s word” or “the word” because it’s a message from God.

This blogpost, which is based on James 1:19-25, shows that the best way to live is to keep applying the Bible to our lives.

James says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (Jas. 1:19-25NIV).

The goal for our lives

The book of James was written to confront the readers about their sinful behavior. Although they claimed to be Christians, their behavior was worldly (3:9-12; 4: 4). We read about anger, immorality and evil. It was disgraceful.

James urged them to change their ways. So he gave them a goal, an aim, a target. It was to be spiritually mature and wise. Perseverance through trials would make them “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (1:4). And they could pray for wisdom; “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God” (1:5). Wisdom is the ability to cope with major difficulties. A person with wisdom makes good decisions. They have biblical common sense and can apply scriptural principles to their life. They use biblical knowledge correctly.

Jesus told His disciples, “follow me” (Jn. 1:43) and Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). If we follow Paul and Jesus it will be best for us, best for our families, best for our friends and neighbors, and best for our churches.

And Paul said that the best way to live is a life that is spiritually fruitful, holy and pleases the Lord (Appendix A).

Rather than just following a list of rules, God wants us to be able to “find out what pleases the Lord” in all situations (Eph. 5:10). Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today. And the chief external means by which He guides them is the Bible.

When I go hiking, I always take a GPS, a map and a compass. They help me to decide where to go and what to do. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit and the Bible can help us decide how to live our lives.

What’s our goal in life? Is it to please God, and be spiritually mature and wise like Paul and Jesus?

The steps towards the goal

The first step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Trust in the work of Jesus for our salvation.

There are two ways to live: with God or without God. Trusting that Christ’s death paid the penalty for our sin brings us near to God. Living with God is better because it’s the first step towards the best way to live. It means we have eternal spiritual life and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who can empower us to go through the other steps. Without God’s help we are on our own and limited to human wisdom. Before the Ephesians trusted in Christ they were “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). It we don’t know the true God, then we have no hope because real hope is based on God’s promises. And we have no lasting purpose in our lives and no hope beyond this life.

If we haven’t taken the first step, we can’t get to the top of a ladder. If we haven’t trusted in Christ, we can’t find the best way to live.

There are also two ways to live as a Christian: with God or without God. It’s a contradiction to say that we trusted God once, but don’t have anything to do with Him now. And it’s not the best way to live.

Paul taught “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). He instructed people in not only the fundamentals of the gospel (the good news about Jesus), but in all that’s vital for godly living. And we will learn about this as we look at the other steps. The Bible has the most important message for us because it tells us about these steps (Appendix B).

The next step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Pray to God.

That’s how we communicate with God. We can ask God for power and wisdom to live how He wants us to (Jas. 1:5-6). James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (Jas. 1:5).

Do you text message your boss at work? They say it’s more personal than email. Do you pray daily? It’s more personal than public prayers.

James also says to “listen to the word [Bible]” (Jas. 1:22). So the next step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Read the Bible.

The Bible says that “All Scripture is God-breathed” because its authors “were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pt. 1:21). What the authors wrote came from God. The words came from the Holy Spirit and not from human wisdom. That’s why all the words of scripture are useful in some way.

God communicates to us through the Bible. That’s how we can experience God personally. So we need to read it regularly. It takes about 70 hours to read the whole Bible. This could be done in a year by reading for about 12 minutes per day.

How long would it take to watch 70 hours of movies? If that was 35 movies and we watched one per week, it would take about 8 months. But if we watched two movies per week, it would take about 4 months. So most of us probably spend more time watching movies than reading the Bible.

This means that movies could be influencing us more that the Bible and hindering us from finding the best way to live. When do you read the Bible?

The next step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Understand the Bible.

We need to study the Bible in order to understand it (see more about this topic below).

James also says, “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (Jas. 1:21). So the next step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Accept the Bible as God’s word.

The Thessalonians “accepted it [the Bible] not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe” (1 Th. 2:13). The Bible has divine wisdom and it can help us live in a godly way that pleases God. It can save us from sinful living that displeases God.

Although it was written over a period of at least 1,500 years, the Bible has great unity and harmony. It addresses the biggest questions of life and its worldview explains reality like no other book. It’s historically reliable. It makes detailed prophecies that have been fulfilled. It has transformed people’s lives. It has withstood and outlasted all of its attackers. All we know about Jesus comes from the Bible. Jesus quoted constantly from the Old Testament. If Jesus accepted the Old Testament as God’s words, we can accept the Bible as God’s words. When we do this the Holy Spirit will give us a desire and a willingness to follow God’s guidance for us in the Bible. And we will willingly read the Bible in order to understand it. And we’ll memorize it and meditate on it. In this way it will be implanted in our lives (Jas. 1:21). How do you view the message in the Bible? Do you welcome it or are you skeptical about it?

James also says to “Do what it [the Bible] says” (Jas. 1:22). So the last step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Apply the Bible to our lives.

Once we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior; prayed for God’s help; and read, understod and accepted God’s message in the Bible; then we need to obey what we have learnt. This means renewing our mind (Rom.12:2), stopping sinful actions and starting godly actions (see more about this topic below).

But how can we understand the ancient words of the Bible?

Understanding the Bible

God wants us to understand His message in the Bible and to use it for godly living. Because the Bible was written for common people like us, it’s not difficult to understand its main points. They are not hidden or secret.

Here is some information to help us find the main point of any passage in the Bible.

The Bible is a library

The Bible is the collection of 66 books comprising:
– The Hebrew scriptures (Genesis to Malachi), which are called the Old Testament.
– Jesus’ teaching and actions (Matthew to John), which are called the gospels, and
– The teaching and actions of those whom He delegated as apostles (Acts to Revelation).

The literary styles of the books of the Bible

The books of the Bible come in different literary styles. There is poetry and prose. Hebrew poetic books often have lines with repeated meanings (called parallelism) and may metaphors.

The Old Testament has books of history/narrative, poetry, and prophecy. Exodus to Deuteronomy are also Hebrew law. While the New Testament has history, letters and prophecy. Our passage in James is from a letter.

Many times a mixture of literary styles will be combined in one book.

Literary devices in the Bible

One of the most common literary devices in the Bible are figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, personification and hyperbole (exaggeration). These can occur in any book of the Bible, but they are more frequent in the poetic books.

Also, Jesus often used parables to teach a lesson.

There’ s a metaphor in our passage in James where God’s word (the Bible) is said to be planted like a seed in the believer. When we allow the Bible to grow (like a seed) in our lives, it replaces sinfulness and becomes part of our character. When it doesn’t grow, sinfulness is prevalent.

And there’s a simile in our passage in James where reading the Bible is likened to looking in a mirror, and obeying the Bible is likened to remembering what we look like; while not obeying the Bible is likened to forgetting what we look like. Obeying the Bible is beneficial, while not obeying it is useless and a waste of time.

The Bible is a progressive revelation

The Bible is a progressive revelation. Truth gets added as we move from the beginning to the end. The first slope in the diagram is the Old Testament and the second slope is the New Testament. We can read it as those who have the whole book and know God’s whole program of salvation.

Our passage in James is in one of the early books written in the New Testament, so it’s near where the line moves upwards after the 400 year gap between the two testaments (where the line is horizontal as there was no new revelation).

Next we will look at three kinds of context.

The historical context

Here we look at questions like: Who wrote it?  When was it written? And, who was it written to? This is summarized in a diagram where time increases from left to right. The Bible was written to others—but it speaks to us.

Christianity started on the day of Pentecost after Jesus died, rose back to life and ascended back to heaven. So Acts to Revelation (after the day of Pentecost) was written to Christians. This means that they usually can be applied directly to us except we don’t have apostles today (Acts 1: 21-22). This is the case for our passage in James. The Old Testament was written to Jews who lived under the laws of Moses (the Old Covenant), which don’t apply directly to us. For example, they were required to offer animal sacrifices. Instead these laws need to be interpreted though the New Testament. Some are repeated in the New Testament, like 9 of the 10 commandments. And others are not repeated in the New Testament, like the command to keep the Sabbath day and the commands to offer animal sacrifices. So be careful when applying the Old Testament to today. It has many good principles and provides the background to Christianity, but it wasn’t written to us. We need to be careful when interpreting verses BC (before the cross). Jesus lived under the laws of Moses and the gospels include His teachings to Jews. But much of His teaching carries over into Christianity (where it relates to the new covenant).

The cultural context

Life was different in ancient times. Housing, occupations, transport, religion, and governance were often radically different to ours.

James lived in the Roman Empire. Although their way of life was different to ours today, human nature hasn’t changed. We are still sinful and need reminding to obey God’s words in the Bible. Our passage addresses anger, immorality, evil, and hypocrisy, which are topics that are not foreign to us. But if it was about food sacrificed to idols, we would need to change it into a modern equivalent.

The Biblical context

The verses and passages in each book of the Bible are set out in an order determined by God. Don’t try to understand a verse or passage in isolation. Look at the message in the whole book. Look at the message in the same chapter, in the previous chapter and in the following chapter. What happened before and afterwards? What’s the situation? Context is king because it reduces the possible meanings of a text to its most probable meaning.

Read it like any other book; don’t just read here and there. Proverbs is the only book of the Bible where the verses aren’t always related to each other.

The purpose of the book of James is to confront the readers about their sinful behavior. Although they claimed to be Christians, their behavior was worldly (3:9-12; 4: 4). James emphasizes that true Christian faith is expressed in a life of godliness, not of sinfulness.

Now we will look at what can happen if we ignore the context.

Don’t cherry-pick

Cherry-picking is interpreting a verse or passage without taking the context and the rest of the Bible into account. It’s selective use of evidence. For example, “I can do all things through Him [Christ] who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13ESV) was written by Paul while he was in prison because of his Christian faith. The main principle is that believers can learn to be content in difficult circumstances through Christ, who gives them strength. But it can be taken out of context to mean that with God’s help:
– I can do anything, or
– I can do miracles, or
– I will be successful, or
– My team will win the game, or
– I will win the contest

This gives people false hopes. That’s why the context is important. It gives the correct meaning, which is the one that the author intended.

Exegesis, not eisegesis

Exegesis is the process of discovering the meaning of a text from the context and the text itself. Exegesis means “to lead out of” – the meaning comes out of the text; out of the Bible. On the other hand, eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes their interpretation into the text. Eisegesis means “to lead into” – the meaning comes from the interpreter and is added into the text, into the Bible. Exegesis is objective, while eisegesis is subjective.

Last year, a theologian said in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Bible “never condemns same-sex marriage, partly because it simply does not address the issue directly”. This is an example of eisegesis. Their interpretation of scripture was poor. When we exegete the same passages in the New Testament, we see that the statement is untrue and deceptive. It’s true that the Bible doesn’t specifically address “same-sex marriage”. But it does condemn homosexual sexual activity, which is a broader subject than same-sex marriage! Therefore, by simple logic, same-sex marriage was condemned as a lifestyle for the New Testament church.

Those who practice eisegesis often change the context of Bible passages, or change the meanings of words in the Bible, or base their case on a single verse and ignore others on the same topic.

Avoid legalism and liberalism

Another problem to avoid is adding to the Bible or subtracting from it (see Appendix C).

Is it a command, a model or a report?

The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). Commands are instructions to be followed. Our passage in James is made up of commands as it mentions things they should do and things they shouldn’t do.

A model to follow is a practice that’s described and is worth following today. It’s descriptive, but doesn’t use mandatory language, like the practice of Christians meeting together on the first day of the week. Biblical models are examples to follow. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that’s not worth following today. It includes sinful behavior that’s not being endorsed by the writer like David’s adultery (2 Sam. 11:1-17), Solomon’s polygamy (1 Ki. 11:1-3) and the fact that Judas hanged himself (Mt. 27:5). Reports are not examples for us to follow.

After looking at the text, the context, and the literary devices, we need to find the author’s main point.

The author’s main point

This is the meaning of the text for the original audience. It’s what the author wanted to communicate. The main point is then converted into a principle which is a general truth, applicable in a variety of situations.

The main point in our passage from James is that godliness comes from stopping sinful behavior and practicing (applying, obeying) scriptural principles instead.

What has changed since then?

Here we compare between then and now by considering the culture, situation, and time in history. Were God’s people living under a different covenant? Was their situation unique? We also take into account all the scriptures written after the passage because God’s revelation is progressive. And is the scriptural principle consistent with the rest of the Bible? Fortunately we see that God and people don’t change throughout history: He is always divine and people are always sinful. As James was written to Christians living under the new covenant, it still applies the same way today.

Now we know what’s changed since then, we can determine what it means today.

The main point today

The main point in our passage from James is that godliness comes from stopping sinful behavior and practicing (applying, obeying) scriptural principles instead (Appendix D). It’s the best way to live.

A Tyrannosaurus rex fossil found in Canada is largest-ever found. It probably weighed more than 8.8 tonnes and it took palaeontologists ten years to separate it from sandstone rock. Fortunately it doesn’t take that long to discover the meaning of ancient words in the Bible.

Each passage of the Bible has one meaning and one main point. But each main point can have many applications today according to the different situations people can be in.

Applying the Bible to our lives today

The Bible is a practical book. It’s “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It shows us the best way to live. But it only helps us if we put it into practice.

Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, keep my commands”, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me”, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching”, and “Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching”  (Jn. 14:15, 21, 23-24). So we show our love for Jesus by keeping His commandments. And God sent the Holy Spirit to be our Helper in this effort (Jn. 14:16–17). Knowledge of God’s principles for living in the Bible is not good enough, it should lead to action and change our thinking and character. How can we live out the meaning of the text in our lives? How should we apply these scriptural principles? What do we need to know, do, think and be?

This week a friend had to change the wheel of a car. He could have learnt how to do this from YouTube. The Bible is like the best YouTube video on how to live. But it doesn’t help unless we act on it. If there was no action, the tire (tyre) would still be flat.

Or you may want to learn to play the guitar from YouTube. There will be no progress unless you pick up the guitar and start practicing. Like playing the guitar, being able to apply the Bible to our lives takes practice. But don’t worry; there will be plenty of opportunities.

Here we look for a situation in our lives that parallels the biblical situation. It must contain all the key elements of the biblical situation. In James it involved:
– Christians (v.19).
– They were involved in sinful behavior (v.19-21).
– They went to church and heard from the Bible, but they lived like everyone else and not like a Christian. The Bible had little impact on their way of life.
– They were told that godliness comes from stopping sinful behavior and practicing (applying, obeying) scriptural principles instead.

Here’s an application. Roy is a Christian who has been cheating in his tax return. But when he realizes that the Bible teaches honesty towards the government, he decides to stop cheating (Mt. 22:21). So he seeks a Christian mentor to provide encouragement and to help him mange his finances. And he shares with a friend his decision to be more honest with his money.

Or, Anne is a Christian who has been living with her boyfriend because that’s what other people do. But when she realizes that the bible teaches that sexual relationships are for (heterosexual) marriage, she decides to stop living together until they get married. She prays for help because it will be difficult to tell her boyfriend. And she decides to read more about what the Bible says about being single and being married.

Or, Ray is a Christian who hasn’t been doing his share of work in the family. His wife is overloaded with going to work, looking after the household, looking after him, and looking after the children. But when he realizes that the bible teaches us to care for one another, he decides to be more considerate and less selfish. So he decides to listen to his wife in order to know how he can help her. And he remembers that the Bible says that love is not self-seeking; it isn’t always “me first’; it does not insist on its own way  (1 Cor. 13:5). And that Jesus came to serve and He “gave His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). That’s sacrificial service.

James gives a promise for doing this, “whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom [the Bible], and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard [or read], but doing it [applying it]—they will be blessed in what they do” (Jas. 1:25). But there’s a warning in the Bible about not implementing what we read there.

Warning against not applying the Bible to ourselves

Jesus told a parable, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Mt. 7:24-27).

The first man’s work endured, while the other man’s work was destroyed. The house is like their life. It illustrates the importance of obedience. Jesus had just given the sermon on the mount. But it’s not enough to hear (or read) the message in Bible. Its truths must be put into practice. That’s the best way to endure the adversity of life. The second man is called foolish –  because of his disobedience, he can’t endure the difficulties of life.

Our way of life will be tested. Applying scriptural principles to our lives is the best way to live because it helps us survive the testing times. And in our passage in James it says that we can know the truth, but not implementing it is like forgetting what we saw in a mirror (Jas. 1:22-25).

Residents are angry about the lack of action to deal with radioactive waste in Nelson Parade, Hunters Hill in Sydney. The contamination from uranium processing is about 100 years old and residents were first alerted to the danger in 1965. Since then there have been many scientific surveys, a parliamentary enquiry and an Environmental Protection Authority order, which all say the waste must be removed. There were plans to dig it up and transfer it to a secure land fill, but this never happened. The latest plan is to bury it onsite within a concrete bunker. The State Government has known about this for decades, but has done nothing. Don’t be like them when reading the Bible. Instead, let’s put it into action in our lives.

Lessons for us

We have seen that the best way to live is a life of spiritual maturity and wisdom. It’s empowered by the Holy Spirit, is centered around the Bible, and results in God’s blessing. It begins with trusting in the work of Jesus for our salvation and continues with applying the Bible to our lives.

We need more than movie morals to guide us, because they lack the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead we need to be reading the Bible regularly. Are we reading it more than watching movies? When we read the Bible let’s look for the main point and work out what it means today and apply it in our lives.

After we hear the word of God at church, do we put it into practice like a wise person, or do we foolishly ignore it? Instructions and examples are useless unless we follow them. Let’s trust and obey and be known for our godly actions and living.

Appendix A: The goal for our lives according to Paul

After eleven chapters of doctrine, Paul told the Romans, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2). With God’s help, we will know how to live. And it won’t be in the pattern of our sinful world. But it will involve a new way of thinking.

Paul’s prayer for the Philippians was, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9-10). The Christian life is more than love, it includes knowledge, insight and holiness. And the motive is to be living like this when Jesus returns to take us to heaven.

And his prayer for the Colossians was, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10). It’s living that’s spiritually fruitful and pleases the Lord. This is possible because it’s powered by the Holy Spirit.

So according to Paul the best way to live is a life that is spiritually fruitful, holy and pleases the Lord.

Appendix B: Why the Bible has the most important message for us

Not only does the Bible tell us the steps to peace with God, it also tells us the best way to live. When we trust in Jesus Christ’s death as the payment for our sin, the Bible says that we are given a new spiritual life. We are alive spiritually and dead to sin (Rom. 6:11; Eph. 4:22-24).

Paul’s final instruction to Timothy was, “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17). The Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so we can serve the Lord. It’s like God’s instruction manual for living our lives.

Paul justified quoting from the Old Testament by saying, “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The Bible as written for our instruction.

Paul said that the Old Testament has examples of what not to do, which are warnings for us: Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (1 Cor.10:6-11). Paul says, don’t repeat their mistakes.

Luke said that “the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). So the Bible is the standard for knowing what is right and what is wrong. We should check everything against the truth of the Bible.

Our thoughts affect our actions. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9). God wants us to be holy by putting into practice what we learn from the Bible.

Appendix C: The dangers of legalism and liberalism

Christians do not thrive outside God’s boundaries for living. Two ways of going off the road or out of bounds are to either add to or take away from what God has revealed to us in the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19). Legalism involves adding to the Bible and liberalism taking away from it. These are mindsets that come from the sinful nature; not from the Bible or the divine nature.

Legalism places rules and regulations between us and God and includes an effort to merit God’s favor. It involves salvation by good works and not Christ alone. It was a problem in the early church when some Jewish Christians insisted that Gentiles must follow Jewish laws if they wanted to become Christians. And it can become a problem today if Christian customs and traditions get confused with scriptural truths. Christians can avoid legalism by recognizing the freedoms inherent in God’s word.

Liberalism places the ideas and reasoning of humanism between us and the Bible. It makes people the authority instead of God. The risk of liberalism comes from our culture. We are exposed to news media, movies, the internet and advertisements that preach humanism, hedonism and materialism. Christians need to be relevant to the culture but not accept its values. Christians can avoid liberalism by recognizing the boundaries inherent in God’s word.

Appendix D: Application of James 1:19-25

The book of James was written in about AD 50 by James (the half-brother of Jesus and an elder in the church in Jerusalem) to Jewish Christians who had been scattered because of persecution (Acts 8:1; 11:19). As it was written to Christians, the message is still directly applicable to Christians today. The purpose of the letter is to confront the readers about their sinful behavior. Although they claimed to be Christians, their behavior was worldly (3:9-12; 4: 4). James emphasizes that true Christian faith is expressed in a life of godliness, not of sinfulness. After dealing with trials (1:2-12) and temptations (1:13-17), the topic of this passage is the Word of God (1:18-27).

There is a metaphor where the word (Bible) is said to be planted in the believer, “which can save you” (v.21). Did you know that God’s word is like a seed planted in your life? But is the plant fruitful or stunted? When we trust in Christ as our Savior, God uses biblical truths to save us from the penalty of sin. And if we continue to obey His words we can be saved from the power of sin today. This is an ongoing aspect to our salvation. When we allow the Bible to grow in our lives, it replaces sinfulness and becomes part of our character. When it doesn’t grow, sinfulness is prevalent.

There is a simile where reading the Bible is likened to looking in a mirror and obeying the Bible is likened to remembering what you look like, while not obeying the Bible is likened to forgetting what you look like (v.23-25). Remembering what you look like is beneficial, while forgetting is useless and a waste of time.

The main point of the passage is that in order to be godly (spiritually healthy) we need to be teachable (v.19), to deal with sin (v.21) and obey (or apply) the Bible in our lives (v.22). If we obey the Bible, our character develops and we are blessed (v.22, 25) and we have successful lives for Christ (v.21). But if we don’t obey the Bible, we deceive ourselves and we stay a spiritual baby. Obedience is beneficial, while disobedience is useless. In summary, applying the Bible to our lives (by obeying it) leads to godliness.

Written, April 2019

Also see: Understanding the Bible

God created a huge universe

Was the universe small at the beginning and then grow to be huge or was it huge at the beginning? A common view is that because the universe is very large, it needed a long time to form.

What does the Bible say about this topic? We will look at the creation of vegetation, living creatures and people before looking at the creation of stars and galaxies.

Vegetation

Plants grow when a seed germinates. The seed grows to be a seedling, which grows to be a budding plant, which grows to be a flowering plant, which grows to be a ripened mature plant with seeds/fruit.

On the third day of creation, “The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds” (Gen. 1:12NIV). So the plants had seeds and the trees had fruit, indicating that they were mature.

On the sixth day of creation God told Adam and Eve, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food” (Gen. 1:29). So the trees had fruit that could be eaten, indicating that they were mature.

Genesis 2:5-25 focuses on the creation of man and woman on the sixth day of creation. On the sixth day of creation, “the Lord God commanded the man [Adam], “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:16-17). So the trees had fruit that could be eaten, indicating that they were mature.

So the vegetation that was created on the third day of creation was unique because it didn’t come from seeds and had no seedling stage. Instead of developing from a seed, it began life as mature plants so that it could be eaten by the animals and Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation (Gen. 1:29-30; 2:16-17).

Living creatures

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? This is an old riddle. All chickens hatch from eggs, and all chicken eggs are laid by hens, which are adult chickens. That’s a rule of nature that applies since the time of creation, but not on the sixth day of creation when God created chickens (and other living creatures) that didn’t hatch from eggs. God told the living creatures that He created to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:22). It’s stated specifically for marine creatures and birds (on the fifth day of creation) and by inference for land creatures (on the sixth day of creation). This implies that the creatures were mature so they could reproduce.

So the creatures that were created on the fifth and sixth days of creation were unique because they didn’t come from eggs and had no juvenile stage. Instead of developing from an egg, they began life as mature creatures so that they could be named and enjoyed by Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation.

As God created mature plants and mature animals during the days of creation, this implies that He also created mature ecosystems. All the cycles of nature were established and in equilibrium by the end of the sixth day of creation. They didn’t have to develop from simple to complex as imagined by the uniformitarian hypothesis.

Adam and Eve

Human beings begin as a single cell called a zygote. A zygote grows into a blastocyst. A blastocyst grows into an embryo. An embryo grows into a fetus. And a fetus grows until the baby is ready to be born. These stages of human development occur within the mother’s uterus.

After birth the newborn grows to be an infant, which grows to be a toddler, which grows to be a preschooler, which grows to be preadolescent, which grows to be an adolescent, which grows to be a nature adult.

Today people are created as a zygote. At what stage of human development were Adam and Eve when they were created? On the day they were created:
– Adam was strong enough to work, because he was placed “in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15).
– Adam was old enough to understand and choose to obey or disobey a verbal instruction (Gen. 2:16-17).
– Adam understood language well enough to name the livestock, birds and wild animals (Gen. 2:19-20).
– Adam and Eve were mature enough to be married (Gen. 2:18, 20-25).
– Adam and Eve were mature enough to have children (Gen. 1:28).

But a zygote, a blastocyst, an embryo, a fetus, a newborn , an infant, and a toddler can’t do these tasks. A pre-schooler can understand and choose to obey or disobey a simple instruction, but they couldn’t take care of the Garden of Eden. An adolescent may be able to name the livestock, birds and wild animals, but they wouldn’t be mature enough to be married and care for children.

So Adam and Eve, who were created on the sixth day of creation, were unique because they had no mothers and no childhood. Instead of developing from a zygote, they began life as mature adults.

Sun, moon and stars

According to the Big Bang model, about 14 billion years ago there was a “big bang” and stars like the sun formed from the exploding gases. Then about 5 billion years ago, planets like earth formed around the stars. It is assumed that the complexity of the universe increased with time. It began with quarks and then to protons and neutrons, and then to hydrogen and helium atoms, and then stars were formed, and in the last stage of a star (supernova) it explodes and new chemical elements are formed, and eventually the solar system and earth were formed.

On the fourth day of creation, “God made two great lights—the greater light [sun] to govern the day and the lesser light [moon] to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness” (Gen. 1:16-18). This is a description of the creation of the sun, moon and stars. As is the case today, the sun provided direct and diffuse light during the day-time and the moon could provide reflected light during the night-time. So the sun and stars were already shining and visible on earth when they were created.

Like vegetation, animals and humanity were created in a mature state; the rest of the universe (sun, moon and stars) was also created in a functionally mature state. This means that the universe didn’t have to start out small in size and then grow to be very large. That didn’t happen with the vegetation. That didn’t happen with the animals. And that didn’t happen with people (Adam and Eve).

You may say, that’s impossible! Yes, under the laws of nature, divine creation is impossible. But God created the laws of nature and since the creation of the world and the universe, everything has operated according to these laws. But the creation itself is an exceptional case (like a singularity) because God used His miraculous powers during the six days of creation. Every part of the six-day creation was miraculous in some way because God creates in a supernatural way. When God creates, He doesn’t need a long time. In fact Jesus created wine and food instantaneously (see Appendix).

How did God do it? How did God create the stars and galaxies? The Bible says,
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
their starry host by the breath of His mouth …
For He spoke, and it came to be;
He commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:6, 9).
This is a poetic way of saying that by God’s command all creation came into being.

So the galaxies, stars and planets that were created on the fourth day of creation were unique because they didn’t come from a big bang (a massive expansion from a dense particle) and they didn’t go through the supposed stages of the development of stars and planets. Instead of developing from a big bang, they began life as mature galaxies, stars and planets to provide light and energy for the new vegetation, new creatures and Adam and Eve. The galaxies, stars and planets could also be used by Adam and Eve to track time with dates and seasons (Gen. 1:14). So the original galaxies, stars and planets, which were created about 6,000 years ago, were much like what we see them today.

Discussion

According to the Big Bang model, the universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old. This calculation is based on the assumption that the universe was small at the beginning and then grew to be huge. It’s also based on hypothetical inflation, hypothetical dark matter and hypothetical dark energy. But calculating the age of the universe using this model is accurate only if the assumptions built into the model are also accurate. All dates outside recorded history are inferred. So their accuracy depends on the accuracy of the assumptions used to determine them.

According to the Bible, which was inspired by the God who created the universe, the universe was enormous at the beginning and didn’t need a long time to form. The Bible says that God created the universe in six days about 6,000 years ago. This is the plain meaning of the Bible as it was intended by the authors and as it would have been understood by the Israelites. This written historical evidence trumps and invalidates the assumptions made in the Big Bang model.

This shows that a belief in uniformitarianism can lead to severe overestimates of age. The difference in this case is a factor of 230,000 which is over 5 orders of magnitude!

This also has implications in our understanding of the universe. When uniformity is used to say that we are seeing the universe as it was millions and billions of years ago we are crossing a boundary condition (the beginning of the universe) where the laws of the universe (such as General Relativity and cause and effect ) are no longer applicable. If the universe began 6,000 years ago, then calculations that give larger ages are due to the use of false assumptions in a uniformitarian model.

I know that this view isn’t generally accepted today because people usually assume that the universe was formed in accordance with known laws of physics (although there is no evidence of this). This is the assumption of uniformity (of physical laws) over long periods of time, with no allowance for a supernatural creation. Because of this assumption a straw man argument is often made, such as claiming that fossils are older than 6,000 years in age or that God created fossils in sedimentary rocks (false evidence).

The Big Bang model is non-falsifiable. It cannot be subjected to the experimental method. It thus fails to satisfy the criteria of a scientific theory. The same can be said of creation. We do not see God creating anything today, and as a theory, creation is non-falsifiable. It cannot be subjected to the experimental method. Instead both the Big Bang (and evolution) and creation are worldviews used to understand the world and the universe. So the Big Bang model and evolution model are just as “religious” as the creation model. They are creation stories for those who rule out the possibility of a divine Creator.

Conclusion

Because God created a functionally mature universe, the universe was huge at the beginning and didn’t need a long time to form. The universe and the earth were complete right from the start. From the beginning, all the components of the universe and the earth were able to fulfill the purpose for which they were created.

This brief look at Genesis shows that the Big Bang model is radically wrong. And based on the Biblical age of the universe, there is not enough time available for the supposed evolution of species. So the theory of the evolution of species is also radically wrong.

Appendix: Jesus’ miracles

Most of Jesus’ miracles while was upon earth were instantaneous. They didn’t take a long period of time. For example:
– Creation of wine from water (Jn. 2:1-10).
– Creation of bread and fish (Jn. 6:1-13).
– Curing diseases (Mt. 9:6-8).

Written, March 2019

Also see: Using history and science to investigate ancient times
The big stretch: Creating the stars and galaxies
The greatest miracle

The elephant in the room

Four days ago Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to six years in prison for sexual misconduct involving two boys in the 1990s. After terms as the Archbishop of Melbourne and the Archbishop of Sydney, he held senior positions at the Vatican. Pell was the treasurer of the Vatican and the Holy See in Rome, a high-ranking position that makes him among the world’s most powerful Catholics. He is the Roman Catholic Church’s most senior official to be convicted of child sexual abuse.

The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was dominated by abuses perpetrated in the Roman Catholic Church. The scale and nature of abuse uncovered in Catholic institutions was staggering. Between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 people reported allegations of child sexual abuse to Catholic authorities. There were 1,880 Catholic leaders subject to allegations of abuse in over 1,000 separate institutions. In total, 7% of Catholic priests in Australia between 1950 and 2010 were accused of child sexual abuse.

Furthermore, Pope Francis has acknowledged that the sexual abuse of nuns was an ongoing problem. In Australia, reports suggest the number of Catholic women abused by priests vastly outnumber the survivors of child sexual abuse uncovered by the Royal Commission into the issue. And Catholic women are speaking out under the #NunsToo hashtag.

One of the recommendations the Royal Commission has made related to the Catholic Church is that they “consider introducing voluntary [rather than compulsory] celibacy for diocesan clergy” (Recommendation 16.18). Another was to “implement measures to address the risks of harm to children and the potential psychological and sexual dysfunction associated with a celibate rule of religious life” (Recommendation 16.19).

Clerical celibacy

The Roman Catholic church has a tradition that its clergy be unmarried and celibate. The earliest record of this practice dates from about AD 300. It’s considered to be an act of self-sacrifice.

But the Protestant Reformers disagreed with this requirement arguing that it was contrary to Biblical teaching (1 Cor. 9:5; 1 Tim. 4:1-5; Heb. 13:4) and implied a degradation of heterosexual marriage. They also blamed it for the widespread sexual misconduct within the clergy at the time of the Reformation.

When Paul stated the rights of an apostle, he included “Don’t we [apostles] have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas [Peter]” (1 Cor. 9:5NIV). This implies that some of the apostles, including Peter, were married. And they had the right to take their wives on ministry trips and both receive financial support from the church. The apostles were leaders of the first church (Acts 6:1-6), which was in Jerusalem, and were evangelists that spread the good news about Jesus in Judea, Samaria, and across the Roman Empire (Acts 1:8). So heterosexual marriage wasn’t forbidden for the apostles.

Near the end of his life, Paul warned against false teachers that taught that the material world was evil (a form of Gnosticism). “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:1-5). The false teachers were forbidding heterosexual marriage and forbidding eating certain foods. But before sin entered the world God instituted heterosexual marriage for the propagation of human life (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:22-24). There is nothing unholy about heterosexual marriage. So the Bible teaches that it’s wrong to forbid heterosexual marriage.

The final chapter of Hebrews begins with some general instructions for Christian living. The fifth instruction is that “(heterosexual) marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb. 13:4). So heterosexual marriage must be valued as God’s design for humanity (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:4-6; Eph. 5:22-33).

Nowhere does the New Testament explicitly require church leaders to be unmarried and celibate. In fact, it indicates that they were usually married because being “faithful to his wife” was one of the qualifications for each church leader (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6).

What else does the Bible say?

There are two biblical passages that advocates use to justify clerical celibacy (Mt. 19:10-12; 1 Cor. 7:25-38). In the first passage, after Jesus answered a question about divorce, the disciples said “it is better not to marry”. When Jesus described the cases when this applies, he said, “some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can” (Mt. 19:12NLT). Jesus recognizes those who have voluntarily adopted an unmarried (celibate) lifestyle in order give themselves more completely to God’s work. They voluntarily adopt a single life “for the sake of the kingdom”. But it’s not mandatory to be unmarried to serve the Lord. Married people can serve the Lord as well.

“Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this” (1 Cor. 7:25-28NIV).

Jesus Christ wasn’t married, but the apostle Peter was married. Under certain circumstances celibacy is recommended in scripture (1 Cor. 7:25-38), but it is never presented as superior to heterosexual marriage. According to the NET Bible, this passage is addressed to “young, engaged women who were under the influence of various groups within the Corinthian church not to go through with their marriages. The central issue would then be whether the young men and women should continue with their plans and finalize their marriages”. And the situation in which this advice applies is “the present crisis” (1 Cor. 7:26). According to the NIV Study Bible, this is probably a reference to the pressures in the Christian life in an immoral and hostile society (1 Cor. 5:1; 7:2, 28; 1 Tim. 3:12). Also, Christians were being imprisoned and martyred at this time. And persecution is more difficult for married people than for single people. Paul said that if a person is single during persecution then it’s better to remain single (1 Cor. 7:27). But it’s not wrong to marry if they must (1 Cor. 7:28). The principle is that it’s not good to marry in times of distress.

“What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:29-31).

Paul also says that, when in crisis, we need a radical perspective about proper priorities in life (1 Cor. 7:29-31). That’s when husbands and wives must focus on the Lord, rather than on each other. Marriage can be a distraction in times of trouble.

“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:32-35).

Paul says that unmarried Christians can focus more consistently on the Lord’s affairs (1 Cor. 7:32, 34b). Married Christians must be concerned about the affairs of this world, such as their spouse and children (1 Cor. 7:33 34a, 34c). Their interests are divided between their family and the Lord. They can’t give “undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:35). And because Christ’s coming is near, husbands and wives should put their relationship with the Lord above their relationship with their spouse (1 Cor. 7:29). So, the unmarried generally have more time available to serve the Lord. Single people should view their singleness as a special opportunity to serve the Lord. But people are free to choose between being married or remaining unmarried. There should be no compulsion to forbid heterosexual marriage.

Conclusion

According to the Bible, heterosexual marriage must be valued as God’s design for humanity. Because of this, heterosexual marriage wasn’t forbidden for the apostles. And leaders in the early church were usually married; they had wives. But it’s not good to marry in times of distress.

Unmarried people generally have more time available to serve the Lord. And Jesus recognized those who voluntarily adopted this lifestyle. But it’s not mandatory to be unmarried to serve the Lord. Married people can serve the Lord as well. So it’s wrong to forbid heterosexual marriage for those involved in Christian ministry. For them, whether to be single or married should be an optional choice, not a mandatory rule.

So the rule in the Roman Catholic church that its clergy be unmarried is unbiblical. It has no biblical support whatsoever. But is the Catholic church willing to follow what the Bible teaches on this topic? And will they be willing to implement the recommendation of the secular Royal Commission on this topic? Or will the elephant remain in the room?

Postscript

Because of the legalisation of homosexual marriage in our society, I have generally used the term “heterosexual marriage” in this post. Whereas in the past I would have used “marriage” because, until recently, “marriage” was always assumed to be heterosexual.

Written, March 2019

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