Who Made God? http://whomadegod.org Find the answer; read the book! Sat, 11 Jan 2014 09:28:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Taking the Bible seriously http://whomadegod.org/2014/01/taking-the-bible-seriously/ http://whomadegod.org/2014/01/taking-the-bible-seriously/#comments Sat, 11 Jan 2014 09:23:18 +0000 http://whomadegod.org/?p=663

This article appeared in the December 2013 evangelistic issue of UK monthly “Evangelical Times”.

Taking the Bible seriously

By far my worst subject at Secondary School was ‘Religious Instruction’. I was at or near the top of the class in most other subjects but I simply couldn’t get my head around religion. But all this changed at the end of my first year at university where I was studying for an honours degree in physics. I was suddenly seized with an overpowering desire to read the New Testament. This was really strange because no one suggested that I should read it and certainly nobody put pressure on me to do so. My family were not religious and I didn’t even own a Bible. So I borrowed a pocket New Testament from a friend and began to read, often into the late hours of the night.

      It was utterly gripping. I read it straight through as I would read a novel, but quickly realised that this book was unlike any other I had ever encountered (and I had read a large amount of classical and modern fiction as well as philosophy and science). The New Testament resounded with the ring of truth. It wasn’t fiction and, although historical, it wasn’t just history. To this 19 year old science student it was alive with what I can only call ‘spiritual truth’ — a new perception of reality that enlightened and liberated my mind but also warmed my heart. Most of all, the Christ whose story it tells became for me a living person with whom I began to converse silently — the first time in my life that I had ever prayed. I had come to know Jesus Christ not just as an outstanding figure of history but as a living presence. All that happened over 60 years ago but the passage of the years has not dimmed that first perception of the glory of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures.

So why take the Bible seriously?

Obviously, this experience goes a long way towards explaining why I take the Bible seriously. But what about you? Why should anyone else who has not had such an experience follow my example? The answer is found in the Bible itself. Psalm 19:8-9 says, “The commandments of the Lord are pure, enlightening the eyes” (‘commandments’ here refers to the Scriptures as a whole). The apostle Paul underlines this claim when he talks about “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened” in Ephesians 1:18. Put simply, the Scriptures claim a unique ability to give us understanding of things we otherwise could not know. It’s like a blind person suddenly receiving the gift of sight and seeing colours and the faces of loved-ones for the first time — except that the ‘sight’ that concerns us here is the understanding of spiritual realities to which we would otherwise be blind.

      Of course, we understand many things without the help of the Bible. As a scientist my research led to an understanding of things in my field of study that were previously unexplained. It is common experience that by learning, reading and experience we constantly expand our understanding of the world around us. But there are some really important things that no amount of merely human enquiry can reveal. Let’s look at three of them.

Understanding ourselves 

Writing in 1734, the poet Alexander Pope described the contradictions of human nature with eloquent clarity. Man is, he writes;

“In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much;
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confused;
Still by himself, abused or disabused;
Created half to rise and half to fall;
Great Lord of all things, yet a prey to all,
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled;
The glory, jest and riddle of the world.

The depressing fact is that everything Pope said nearly 300 years ago is still true! As a race we continue to notch up amazing achievements in the arts, science and technology — yet never has there been more fear and doubt about where mankind is heading or uncertainty about what it means to be human. To an impassionate observer we are indeed “the glory, jest and riddle of the world”.

      The Bible, however, has a clear explanation for our confusion and inconsistency. Made in the image of God, man retains a nobility of nature and purpose that leads to great achievements. But as a race in rebellion against our Creator we can and do plumb the depths of sin, wickedness and depravity. All this the Bible explains in its opening chapters and the theme runs through the whole book. Without this perspective on human sin we can never understand ourselves — our triumphs and our failures —or recognize our need to be reconciled to God.

Understanding creation

Without the enlightenment provided by the Bible we cannot fully understand the world around us. This is the central theme of my book “Who made God? Searching for a theory of everything” and obviously I cannot convey its contents in a few paragraphs. But let me just give you a few pointers to whet your appetite.

      Until about 100 years ago astronomers believed the universe to be eternal, a static backcloth to our existence here on earth. But Einstein’s general theory of relativity (1916) showed that this was impossible — the universe could not be ‘standing still’.  At first Einstein rejected this result and added a fudge-factor to his equations to allow for a static universe (something he later described as his “greatest blunder”). 

      But by the 1920s experimental observations of the light spectra from stars finally proved that we live in an expanding universe and this in turn led to the current belief among cosmologists that the universe must have had a beginning. Yet this is something the Bible has taught for the past 4000 years in its familiar opening words; “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. Furthermore, although science proposes theories about how the universe might have begun, it can never answer the ‘why’ question — ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’

      It is only since the rise of modern science that we have understood that the physical universe operates according to specific ‘laws of nature’ — laws that are mathematical, elegant and self-consistent. Indeed, science could not exist unless this were so since its whole purpose is to discover and understand these laws.

      What science cannot do, however, is explain where these laws came from or why our minds can comprehend them. The Bible provides us with a simple answer; the laws were put in place by a Creator whose law-giving nature is taught throughout the Bible. He is the God “in [whom] we live and move and have our being” and who is continually “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Acts 17:28; Hebrews 1:3). And if, as the Bible declares, man is made in the image of the law-giver, it is no surprise that we have the capacity to understand, at least in part, the laws he has designed.          

Understanding Christ

As my Bible reading progressed I began to understand what brought Jesus to earth 2000 years ago. He said, “I have come to seek and to save those who are lost” — by which he meant those who are estranged from God. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously declared that “God is dead”, but I came to understand that it isn’t God who is dead but we who by nature are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). I recognised myself to be a sinner — just the kind of person Christ came to ‘save’ (that is, to forgive and reconcile me to the Creator I had so long ignored). Jesus Christ did not come just to reform mankind, as many think, but to transform those who come to him in faith. How does he do this? By raising us from spiritual death and imparting to us spiritual life. So Paul continues, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4). This spiritual  ‘salvation’ he obtained for all who trust in his atoning work by his crucifixion and resurrection.

]]> http://whomadegod.org/2014/01/taking-the-bible-seriously/feed/ 0 Believing God http://whomadegod.org/2013/10/believing-god-2/ http://whomadegod.org/2013/10/believing-god-2/#comments Tue, 01 Oct 2013 19:32:38 +0000 http://whomadegod.org/?p=649 This is the fifth in a series of extracts from “A glorious High Throne”, a readable Bible commentary on Hebrews and is Ch. 41 of the original book. The series will cover the whole of Hebrews 11, the great New Testament chapter on the subject of faith. Here is a quote from this chapter;

Abraham did indeed believe God, ‘concluding that God was able to raise [Isaac] up, even from the dead’ (11:19). The word ‘conclude’ means ‘reckon (as on a fact)’ and is related to our English word ‘logic’. When the bombshell struck, and Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac, his faith was immediately engaged. But he also wrestled mentally with the huge problem that confronted him and reached a clear conclusion — that God could and would raise the slain Isaac from the dead.

This is an important point because faith is so often viewed, even by Christians, as the negation of reason or logic. But, as we saw earlier (see comment on 11:3) there is neither conflict nor valid comparison between faith and reason, for they are quite different kinds of faculty. Faith provides spiritual information to which we can and should apply our rational minds.

It is both right and proper, then, that we should reason on the basis of what faith reveals. This is exactly what Abraham did. He asked himself how it was possible to reconcile the death of Isaac with the promise of God. One possible answer was that God had withdrawn the promise or changed his mind about it. But that could not be, for faith knows that ‘the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable’ (Rom. 11:29). What was the alternative? That God would demonstrate his acceptance of the sacrifice of Isaac by raising him from the dead!

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Believing God http://whomadegod.org/2013/09/believing-god/ http://whomadegod.org/2013/09/believing-god/#comments Sun, 29 Sep 2013 08:25:37 +0000 http://whomadegod.org/?p=644

This is the fifth in a series of extracts from “A glorious High Throne”, a readable Bible commentary on Hebrews and is Ch. 41 of the original book. The series will cover the whole of Hebrews 11, the great New Testament chapter on the subject of faith.

 Believing God                           

Please read Hebrews 11:17-22 

In the previous chapter we saw that Abraham and his family ‘died in faith’ — that is, they continued to believe up to (and in) the moment of their death. In the present passage the Writer brings home the full implication of these words. His unspoken question here is: ‘how does faith face death?’ The answer reveals yet another aspect of faith, namely, that it triumphs in trials, even over death itself.

          Each of the cases cited in verses 17-22 confronts us with death or the prospect of death. In verses 17-19, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. How does he react to this terrible trial? In verses 20-22 we meet Isaac, Jacob and Joseph facing their own impending death. What are their thoughts at such a solemn hour? The answers Hebrews gives to these questions are full of instruction, comfort and support. They will strengthen us as we ourselves face the end of a life on earth, whether our own or that of a loved one.

Tested (11:17-18)

Once again, Abraham is our first example: ‘By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called”’ (11:17-18). The testing Abraham endured was three-fold. Firstly, he was called to give up his beloved and ‘only-begotten’ son. That in itself would be an enormous loss, as any parent will understand. The Writer deliberately calls Isaac ‘only-begotten’ in spite of the fact that Abraham had another son, Ishmael. Isaac was the only child of Abraham’s marriage to Sarah, and thus the only legitimate son. But the term ‘only-begotten’ also signifies that Isaac is a picture of Christ, of whom John writes: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (Jn. 3:16). Abraham’s heart-rending decision to part with his son is an apt parable of God’s great love to a lost world.

          Secondly, the Patriarch was tested in that he himself must wield the knife to kill his own son. What a dreadful prospect this must have been! Yet this is exactly what the Father did when he caused Christ to die to bear the sins of his people. The Almighty God cries: ‘“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the Man who is my companion”, says the LORD of hosts’ (Zech. 13:7). Only by punishing his Son — an innocent substitute — could the Father punish sin and set the sinner free.

          Thirdly, and perhaps hardest of all, Abraham was called to yield up the very promises that bound him to God! Lane comments: ‘When Abraham obeyed God’s mandate to leave Ur, he simply gave up his past. But when he was summoned to Mount Moriah to deliver his own son to God, he was asked to surrender his future’ [1]. His promised posterity depended on the life of his son (‘in Isaac your seed shall be called’). In like manner, ‘the riches of the glory of [the Father’s] inheritance in the saints’ depended on the life of Christ (Eph. 1:18). If Jesus remained dead, none would be justified and the inheritance would be void (Rom. 4:25).

          Before we see how these dilemmas were resolved, let us notice one thing — testing is an intrinsic part of the believer’s experience. Indeed, James goes as far as to say: ‘My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience’ (Jas. 1:2-3). Peter adds his own words of comfort: ‘now, for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, although it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet. 1:6-7). As a precious metal survives the fire that purges it of dross, so faith survives testing and is purified thereby. God takes pains with his believing children.

The solution (11:19)

But how exactly did Abraham cope with this threefold trial? ‘By faith’, says Hebrews. James concurs, adding that genuine faith results in works — works that both please God and vindicate its nature as justifying faith. He writes: ‘Faith without works is dead. Was not Abraham … justified by works when he offered up Isaac …? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works was made perfect [complete]? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness”’ (Jas. 2:21-23).

Abraham did indeed believe God, ‘concluding that God was able to raise [Isaac] up, even from the dead’ (11:19). The word ‘conclude’ means ‘reckon (as on a fact)’ and is related to our English word ‘logic’. When the bombshell struck, and Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac, his faith was immediately engaged. But he also wrestled mentally with the huge problem that confronted him and reached a clear conclusion — that God could and would raise the slain Isaac from the dead.

This is an important point because faith is so often viewed, even by Christians, as the negation of reason or logic. But, as we saw earlier (see comment on 11:3) there is neither conflict nor valid comparison between faith and reason, for they are quite different kinds of faculty. Faith provides spiritual information to which we can and should apply our rational minds.

It is both right and proper, then, that we should reason on the basis of what faith reveals. This is exactly what Abraham did. He asked himself how it was possible to reconcile the death of Isaac with the promise of God. One possible answer was that God had withdrawn the promise or changed his mind about it. But that could not be, for faith knows that ‘the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable’ (Rom. 11:29). What was the alternative? That God would demonstrate his acceptance of the sacrifice of Isaac by raising him from the dead!

          Here lay not only the resolution of Abraham’s anguish but also an amazing insight into the redeeming work of Christ. For it is the resurrection of God’s Son that declares the sufficiency of his offering to justify the ungodly (Rom. 4:25). And, having taught Abraham one lesson concerning redemption, God gave him another! He restrained Abraham from slaying Isaac and provided a substitute in the form of a ram (Gen. 22:11-14). Perhaps this was the point at which, in particular, Abraham ‘saw’ Christ’s day and rejoiced (Jn. 8:56).

          Of course, Isaac did not die. But nevertheless, Abraham ‘received him [from the dead] in a figurative sense’ (11:19) — ‘meaning, probably’, suggests Bruce, ‘in a manner that prefigures the resurrection of Christ’ [2]. Abraham’s faith was rewarded in a most remarkable way. Not only was Isaac spared, but that which Abraham had surrendered in faith was restored to him abundantly. Consider the outcome. Abraham’s faith had stared death in the face and had triumphed. It had been vindicated and strengthened. Isaac also (who must have been a willing participant in the intended sacrifice) was also taught that God saves through the sacrifice of a substitute, even ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn. 1:29). The promise of God, which had seemed under such dire threat, was renewed and reinforced (Gen. 22:16-18). And Abraham learnt the glorious truth that ‘The LORD will provide’ (Gen. 22:14).

          It would be difficult to imagine a more severe trial than Abraham and Isaac together suffered through this event. Yet they both believed God and proved him worthy of their trust. So may we, in all our own trials, including the test that death itself presents. For we have the promise of God that those who die in Christ will rise again to everlasting life and glory: ‘Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!’ (1 Cor. 15:49-57).

Old age (11:20-22)

The three verse that follow may seem something of an anti-climax after the drama on Mount Moriah. But life’s inevitabilities outnumber life’s dramas! And one of those inevitable events is the onset of old age and the approach of death. How does faith react to these things? With confidence concerning the future — a future revealed by God. The Writer’s examples are Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. All three were enfeebled and approaching death, but rather than indulge in self-pity — or even reminiscences — they all looked forward to things that were yet to come. In doing so they blessed and encouraged those they would shortly leave behind.

          By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come’ (11:20). Remarkably, though he had been tricked into blessing Jacob as the first-born, Isaac did not retract his benediction. He saw by faith that even Jacob’s deceit lay within the sovereign providence of God, whose purposes would be fulfilled despite man’s perfidy. He saw that Jacob, sinner that he was, would be changed and become God’s instrument to carry forward both the lineage and faith of Abraham. Had not God so promised when he said: ‘the older shall serve the younger’ (Gen. 25:23)? Owen writes: ‘We may see herein the infinite purity of the divine will, effectually accomplishing its own purpose and designs through the failings and miscarriages of men, without the least mixture with or approbation of their iniquities …’ [3]. For all his failings, Isaac understood that God’s purpose does not change: ‘God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should repent. Has he said and will he not do it? Has he spoken and will he not make it good?’ (Num. 23:19).

In course of time, it was Jacob’s turn. ‘By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff’ (11:21). Just as Isaac had unwittingly blessed his younger son above the older, so now Jacob knowingly repeats the action, laying his right hand on the younger Ephraim rather than the first-born Manasseh (Gen. 48:14-20). He knew from his own experience that God’s choice prevails over man’s, and that his purposes are irreversible. He ‘worshipped’ in that he ascribed ultimate worth or value to his covenant-keeping God — not just to the promises but to the One who made them. In his frailty, Jacob leaned upon his staff —  but in his faith he leaned on the sovereign God. As Lane remarks: Jacob’s faith consisted in the conviction that God’s designs were invincible and that the promises were being worked out under God’s care’ [4].

          The final example of dying faith is provided by Joseph: By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones’ (11:22). This man who had experienced such remarkable providences throughout his life, remembered God’s promise to his great grandfather and knew it would be kept — ‘Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve its people and be afflicted by them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterwards they shall come out with great possessions’ (Gen. 15:13-14). Joseph had no intention of missing the Exodus to the promised land (Gen. 50:24-26), even though only his bones would make the journey!

What do these vignettes of dying Patriarchs tell us about faith? They reveal men who saw a future for themselves, even beyond death, because of the promises of God. That future lay, firstly, in their descendants, who would play a vital role in the fulfilment of God’s plan of redemption and the outworking of his gracious purposes in human history. Even detailed things, like the ascendancy of one son over another, were significant to them, for God had shown it to them. Their progeny, along with the prophecies and benedictions they bestowed on them, would perpetuate their testimony and so imbue their brief lives with eternal meaning.

But their faith saw even further. Not only would their descendants carry forward the purposes of God, but those purposes would culminate in Christ, through whom they also would inherit the ‘promised land’ of personal salvation. As we have seen, they sought a city in heaven, not upon earth. They anticipated Jesus’ words: ‘Let not your heart be troubled … In my Father’s house there are many mansions; … I go to prepare a place for you’ (Jn. 14:1-2). And this faith-born knowledge energised their souls, even as their bodies weakened and died. For the dying believer, ‘the path of the just is like the shining light, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day’ (Prov. 4:18) — for the best is yet to be.

References

1. Lane 2 p.360

2. Bruce p.312

3. Owen 7 p.122

4. Lane 2 p.365

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Estonian edition of “Who made God?” http://whomadegod.org/2013/07/estonian-edition-of-who-made-god/ http://whomadegod.org/2013/07/estonian-edition-of-who-made-god/#comments Sun, 07 Jul 2013 07:08:48 +0000 http://whomadegod.org/?p=633 “Who made God?” has recently been published in the Estonian language. Translations now exist in Dutch, Korean and Estonian while a Portugese translation is in progress by FIEL in Brazil.

The details of the Estonian edition are as follows;

Title: Kes Tegi Jumala?

Publisher information: Tolge eesti keelde MTU Allika kirjastus. Tallinn, 2012. Koik oigused kaitstud. ISBN 978-9949-474-39-4

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Faith embraces the promises of God http://whomadegod.org/2013/06/faith-embraces-the-promises-of-god-2/ http://whomadegod.org/2013/06/faith-embraces-the-promises-of-god-2/#comments Fri, 21 Jun 2013 07:06:46 +0000 http://whomadegod.org/?p=629 The fourth article in a series of extracts from “A glorious High Throne”, a readable Bible commentary on Hebrews (Ch. 40 of the original book) is now available (click on ‘Hebrews Commentary’ in the side panel). It demonstrates an important distinction, namely, that true faith not only believes God’s promises intellectually but embraces them as the motivation for life and action. The series will cover the whole of Hebrews 11, the great New Testament chapter on the subject of faith.                     

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Latest podcast interview on science and faith http://whomadegod.org/2013/05/latest-podcast-interview-on-science-and-faith/ http://whomadegod.org/2013/05/latest-podcast-interview-on-science-and-faith/#comments Mon, 20 May 2013 16:07:41 +0000 http://whomadegod.org/?p=613 A full-length audio podcast in which Professor Edgar Andrews is interviewed by Julian Charles on his 1986 Huxley Memorial Debate with Richard Dawkins and on the scientific and biblical issues arising from his book “Who made God? Searching for a theory of everything”. The podcast can be heard on:

http://themindrenewed.com/interviews/206-int-17

The interview notes URL is:

http://themindrenewed.com/interviews/22-interviewnotes/205-int-17n

I also recommend you go to “The Mind Renewed” home page,

http://themindrenewed.com/

where you will find other interesting interviews conducted by Julian Charles.

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Waiting for a city; the faith of Abraham http://whomadegod.org/2013/04/waiting-for-a-city-the-faith-of-abraham/ http://whomadegod.org/2013/04/waiting-for-a-city-the-faith-of-abraham/#comments Sun, 14 Apr 2013 15:54:45 +0000 http://whomadegod.org/?p=608 The third in my series on faith, being extracts from my readable commentary on the letter to the Hebrews, is now available under “Hebrews Commentary” in the side panel. It is entitled “Waiting for a city” and covers Hebrews 11:8-12 on the faith of Abraham.

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Faith pleases God http://whomadegod.org/2013/03/faith-pleases-god/ http://whomadegod.org/2013/03/faith-pleases-god/#comments Wed, 20 Mar 2013 09:30:14 +0000 http://whomadegod.org/?p=600 The second in my series on faith, being extracts from my readable commentary on the letter to the Hebrews, is now available under “Hebrews Commentary” in the side panel. It is entitled “Faith pleases God” and covers Hebrews 11:4-7.

 Faith pleases God (Hebrews 11:4-7)

Having defined faith and shown it to be foundational to the new covenant, the Writer now begins to draw out its major characteristics. Two such features are presented in verses 4-7. Firstly, faith is the means by which righteousness is obtained and, secondly, it pleases God. These two aspects are related, of course — faith pleases God just because it leads to righteousness and thus glorifies Christ, through whom alone true righteousness can be secured.

          This underlines an important feature of Hebrews 11 that can easily be overlooked. The chapter is not just a catalogue of Old Testament saints and their works. It is, rather, a dissertation on the nature of faith (an ‘anatomy of faith’ if you like) presented through examples. The people and events cited are not the most important things. It is what they illustrate concerning faith that we need to understand. This is why the list of faith’s heroes is not exhaustive; the Writer is content to present each facet of the jewel of faith using just one or a few ‘case studies’.

 

A more excellent sacrifice (11:4)

 

The Writer presents his witnesses chronologically. He does not choose an aspect of faith to expound and then illustrate it randomly from Old Testament Scripture. His method is biblical rather than theological, and this lends freshness and vitality to his teaching. We can learn from this approach. Truth is more readily taken to heart when it is seen to arise naturally from Scripture. This is the secret of true expository preaching.

          The Writer begins with that great and glorious new-covenant theme, justification by faith. This statement may raise some eyebrows. How can the justifying faith of these Old Testament saints be a manifestation of the new covenant, which was not inaugurated till Christ died? The answer is that the new covenant and its precursor — the age-old covenant of promise — are all of one. Paul makes this clear in Galatians 3:16-18, emphasising the continuity between the promise made to Abraham (and which preceded the law) and the new-covenant inheritance. By contrast, he shows that the Mosaic law has no part in transmitting the inheritance — ‘For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise’.  

Accordingly, the Writer  begins by demonstrating that a person is accounted righteous in God’s eyes, not through works but through faith in the atoning work of Christ. Abel is his first witness to this fact. ‘By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain’ (11:4). The story, told in Genesis 4:1-7, is well known. And at first sight it presents a problem. Cain was an arable farmer, while Abel was a shepherd. When they brought their respective offerings, therefore, they were both doing what came naturally. Cain brought grain, fruit or vegetables, the product of his labours, while Abel sacrificed lambs — the product of his labours! How, then, did they differ? Why did God accept Abel’s offering but reject Cain’s?

          The answer is that Abel’s offering was a blood sacrifice, involving the death of living creatures. This is clear from the fact that he also offered their fat, regarded as the choicest part of the animal. Like all the animal sacrifices of Old Testament times, Abel’s offering represented the death of Christ, and Abel’s faith looked forward to that greater atonement. Abel was not just lucky in his choice of offering — he understood that his animals pictured ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ (John 1:29). How do we know? Because if this were not the case, there would have been no faith and no acceptance by God.

Cain, on the other hand, had no such faith or understanding. He did what men habitually do — they bring to God the work of their hands and seek acceptance thereby. But such offerings are of no avail, since salvation is ‘by grace through faith … not of works lest anyone should boast’ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

          Owen explains the difference thus: ‘Cain considered God only as a creator and preserver, whereon he offered the fruits of the earth … The faith of Abel was fixed on God, not only as a creator, but as a redeemer also … who … had appointed the way of redemption by sacrifice and atonement …’ [1].

          By offering a blood sacrifice, Abel ‘obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts’ (11:4). This witness was twofold. Firstly, of course, the pages of Scripture bear witness. Abel is on record as one who was accepted by God on the basis of his faith in atoning blood. But even more significant is the fact that God himself testified to the acceptability of Abel’s sacrifice at the time it was offered. This must be so, because Cain became angry when his own sacrifice procured no such witness (Gen. 4:5). We are not told what form this witness took — perhaps some visible sign was given in response to Abel’s offering. Some even suggest that fire from heaven consumed the sacrifice [2, 3]. But the important thing is that God did bear witness to the righteousness of faith — and he still does!

How does God testify today to the righteousness of those who believe? By his Holy Spirit, replies the New Testament: ‘The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God’ (Rom. 8:16). Before arriving at this statement, of course, Paul expounds the doctrine of justification by faith in great detail in Romans 3:21 to 5:5. It is those who are thus justified that receive the Spirit (compare Rom. 5:1 and 5:5).

This is a matter of great practical importance. Justification by faith can easily be misrepresented as the acceptance of certain doctrines. This can lead to ‘easy believism’, which requires nothing of the ‘convert’ but to sign a decision card or accept a series of Bible texts. Or it can give rise to intellectualism, in which ‘faith’ is no more than mental assent to the facts of the gospel. These abuses, in turn, may cause a backlash in which Christians seek to avoid the barrenness of ‘believism’ by joining works to faith as justifying means. This is understandable but dangerous; works are the fruit of justification but never its cause (Eph. 2:8-10).

In contrast to these false ideas, genuine faith is distinguished by the witness of the Spirit — a witness borne both by inward assurance (Rom. 8:16) and visible fruit (Jn. 15:16; Gal. 5:22).      

          Finally, concerning Abel’s offering, we are told that ‘through it he being dead still speaks’ (11:4). Although, in one sense, all the witnesses in Hebrews 11 still speak to us, only Abel is described in these terms. Why is this? Probably because the Writer sees spiritual lessons not only in the offering that Abel made but also in the manner of his death. This emerges in 12:24: ‘You have come … to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel’.

          Firstly, just as Abel was slain by his religious brother, so Christ was put to death by his own religious society. ‘Abel’s death’, says Pink, ‘was … a pledge and representation of the death of Christ himself — murdered by the religious world’[4]. Secondly, Abel’s death speaks of Christ by way of contrast. His blood cried out for vengeance (Gen. 4:10), but Jesus’ blood proclaims forgiveness! Such is the nature of the new covenant (12:24).

 

Pleasing God (11:5)

 

Next, in 11:5-6, we discover that the faith that justifies the sinner also pleases God, for it glorifies his Son. So the Writer moves on to consider this second aspect of faith. His example is Enoch: ‘By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God’ (11:5). Genesis tells us that ‘Enoch walked with God and was not, for God took him’ (Gen. 5:24). Clearly, then, the Writer equates ‘walking with God’ to ‘pleasing God’. Philip Eveson writes: ‘Walking with God is associated with those who experience God’s favour and blessing. It refers to those who are in a right relationship with God’ [5]. Of course, Enoch’s case was unique. But that does not mean that we cannot imitate him. We too can please God by walking with him.

          Believers ‘walk by faith, not by sight’ (2 Cor. 5:7). Interestingly, Paul makes this statement in the context of death and glory: ‘we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord’. In this life we ‘groan, being burdened’, but God ‘has given us the Spirit as a guarantee’ that we shall inherit ‘a house [body] not made with hands, eternal in the heavens … that mortality may be swallowed up by life’ (2 Cor. 5:1-7). The first aspect of walking by faith, therefore, is living with an expectation of, and longing for, the presence of God in glory. We are citizens of heaven and ‘seek a homeland’ prepared by God for those who love him (11:14). Faith focuses on heaven, and this focus results in a certain character of life. Such things please God.

          Walking with God by faith also means that we ‘walk in the light as [God] is in the light’. If we do, says John, ‘we have fellowship with one another [and with God] and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin’ (1 Jn. 1:7). The reference is not just to living a moral and upright life. Moral obedience is important: ‘see that you walk circumspectly … redeeming the time because the days are evil’ (Eph. 5:15). But morality can never be the source of  fellowship and cleansing from sin. Rather, John is speaking here of an on-going faith in the atoning work of Christ. This is what brings us cleansing from sin and fellowship with God and with our fellow-believers. Lose sight of the cross of Christ, and you will stumble. But live in the light of God’s gracious provision in Christ and, like Enoch, you will walk with God.

          Thirdly, to walk by faith is to ‘walk in the Spirit’ (or ‘keep in step with the Spirit’),  bearing the fruit of the Spirit ‘against [which] there is no law’ (Gal. 5:22-26). This too is pleasing to God.

 

Expectant faith (11:6)

 

Not only does faith please God — nothing but faith pleases God, at least as far as human beings are concerned! ‘Without faith’, asserts the Writer, ‘it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him’ (11:6). Paul likewise testifies that ‘those that are in the flesh cannot please God’ (Rom. 8:8). Faith is indispensable.

The exclusivity of faith as a means of pleasing God is something we need to ponder in a day when legalism and works-based religion hold so much sway. Even Evangelicals can fall into this error, believing that we are somehow ‘sanctified’ (and made pleasing to God) by our works. But the ‘work of faith’ (1 Thess. 1:3) does not bring about sanctification. Rather, it flows from and demonstrates sanctification, for sanctification is God’s work not ours (1 Thess. 5:23). Believers’ good works, ordained as they are by God, bring us no merit, for when we have done everything God commands we remain ‘unprofitable servants’ (Eph. 2:10; Lk. 17:10). Only faith in Christ pleases God — but that faith, being a dynamic principle, will always be evidenced by its fruit and by its works.

          In amplifying his statement the Writer begins with a surprisingly basic statement: ‘he who comes to God must believe that he is [exists]’ (11:6). Scripture always assumes the existence of God. It is not something the Bible ever sets out to prove. When preaching to polytheistic people, Paul had much to say concerning the nature of the true and living God (Ac. 14:15; 17:24), but he still assumes his existence. Surely the Hebrews already accepted this fundamental fact? Why, then, does the Writer seem to question their belief in the existence of God?

          Perhaps the Writer is making a different point altogether. We could read the complete sentence thus: ‘… he who comes to God must [not only] believe that he exists [but] that he is [also] one who rewards those who seek him diligently’. That is, mere belief in God’s existence is not enough — there must also be trust and confidence in God, and diligence in seeking him. If this is the Writer’s meaning, everything falls into place. He is questioning, not their basic belief in God, but the nature and efficacy of that belief. James makes the same point when he reminds his readers that ‘faith without works is dead’, for ‘the demons believe — and tremble!’ (Jas. 2:19-20).

          In short, we do not please God by acknowledging the fact of his existence. That is not what the Writer means by faith. We must also believe that he ‘is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him’. True God-pleasing faith approaches the throne of grace often, confidently, and diligently. It comes in joyful anticipation, expecting to ‘obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (4:16). Too often our churches and our personal spiritual lives are blighted by a lack of this spiritual anticipation. There is no pleasure or excitement in our approach to God. We go through the motions of prayer and worship, but our hearts are not in it. We expect nothing from God as we go dourly about our spiritual exercises. We need a new understanding of the generosity of God — that he really does reward those who seek him diligently and with their whole heart. Let us set ourselves to this task afresh, for only then shall we please God!

 

Godly fear (11:7)

 

The Writer now reverts to the subject of justifying faith, bringing forward a second witness — Noah. What can Noah teach us concerning justification by faith?

We read: ‘By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith’ (11:7). Essentially, Noah believed things that were ‘not yet seen’. He was able to see them in advance because he possessed faith, and faith is spiritual discernment — the sight of the soul. Noah was ‘divinely warned’, that is, God revealed his intentions to Noah’s ‘eyes of faith’. The Lord told him: ‘the earth is filled with violence through [its people] and behold I will destroy them with the earth’ (Gen. 6:13).

But Noah teaches us things about justifying faith that go beyond the basics. Firstly, we are told, he was ‘moved with godly fear’. Calvin comments: ‘Noah paid such respect to the word of God that he turned his eyes from the contemporary view of things and went in fear of the destruction which God threatened as though it were present to him’ [6].

God had shown him a fearful prospect and he was genuinely afraid. Today, few of us manifest this aspect of saving faith, namely, an appropriate response to the prospect of God’s judgement upon sin. The Writer himself reminds us that ‘it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (10:31), while Revelation 6:16 pictures the terror of those who will cry out ‘to the mountains and rocks: “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!”.’

Noah trembled with godly fear at the prospect of God’s judgement. Do we? Paul wrote: ‘We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ that each one may receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men …’ (2 Cor. 5:10-11). The apostle not only felt this terror in his own soul, but was motivated by it to preach the gospel to others — with new persuasiveness and urgency.

Secondly, being moved with fear, Noah ‘prepared an ark for the saving of his household’ (11:7). Of course, this was no ‘self-help’ salvation. God himself provided the concept, plan and detailed design of the ark. Only in this way could the ark be a picture of Christ’s saving work (1 Pet. 3:20-22). Noah was not justified by the ‘work’ of building the ark, but because he trusted in God’s provision for his safety.

 Furthermore, Noah’s faith moved him to act in obedience to God’s instructions. That is how ‘he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith’ (11:7). Justifying faith is not passive. It does not sit back and wait for God to save us if he will. That is fatalism, not faith. Genuine faith fears God and obeys his instructions to seek refuge from judgement. This is what Noah did in building the ark. For us, the work of faith is to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (John 6:29). Faith strives to enter by the narrow gate (Luke 13:24).

Obedience to the gospel’ was a familiar concept to the apostolic church, but is little spoken of today (see 1 Pet. 1:2). Such obedience is not to be confused with human ‘works’. Noah’s faith did not consist in his obedience, but was expressed by it. James clarifies the matter — ‘Show me your faith without your works [if you can!], and I will show you my faith by my works’ (Jas. 2:18).

 

References

 

1. Owen 7, p.24

2. Owen 7, p.26

3. Lane 2, p.334

4. Pink p.665

5. Eveson, Genesis p.144

6. Calvin, p.165

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Heb. 11:1-3 Defining Faith (Ch.37) http://whomadegod.org/2013/03/heb-111-3-defining-faith-ch-37/ http://whomadegod.org/2013/03/heb-111-3-defining-faith-ch-37/#comments Sat, 02 Mar 2013 13:25:18 +0000 http://whomadegod.org/?p=593 37.    Defining faith

Please read Hebrews 11:1-3

Every mountaineer, or even serious hill-walker, has had the experience. You surmount what you thought was the high-point, only to find that further and higher peaks lie before you. Hebrews is a little like that. In 8:7-13 we reached the pinnacle of the Writer’s theological argument, the unveiling of the new covenant. But a further peak appeared as we considered the outcome of that covenant — the believer has been ‘perfected for ever’ (10:12-18). We then discovered yet another high-point in 10:19-25, which sets out the implications of the covenant in terms of our approach to God, our eternal hope, and our relationship to our fellow-believers. Can there be further heights to scale?

The answer is ‘yes’, and Hebrews 11 is just such — a spiritual massive indeed. But what has this greatly-loved passage on faith to do with the new covenant? Does the Writer set off on a new tangent in Hebrews 11?

The answer is ‘no’, for faith has everything to do with the new covenant. Although this covenant receives no explicit mention in Hebrews 11, the antecedent covenant of promise features strongly in the chapter — especially in relation to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If further proof is required, we need only look ahead to 12:24, where believers are told that they ‘have come … to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant’. How do we come to Jesus? By faith, of course.

Faith and the new covenant (11:1)

Although there is no explicit mention of faith in 8:7-13, where Jeremiah’s  prophecy of the new covenant is presented, there can be no doubt that faith is integral to the enjoyment of this covenant. On God’s part, we enter the new covenant through election, effectual calling and regeneration. But on our part we enter through God’s gift of faith. It is by faith in Christ, says Paul, that ‘we have access into this grace in which we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (Rom. 5:1-2). As must be evident, ‘grace’ and ‘hope of the glory of God’ are a fair summary of the present and future benefits of the new covenant. Faith, then, is the door of the covenant.

This emerges clearly in the opening verse of chapter 11, where we read: ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (11:1). These words are normally seen as a definition of what faith is, and we shall consider them in this way presently. But before doing so, notice how the Writer here links faith to two essential aspects of the new covenant — hope and invisibility! In fact, of course, these two aspects are themselves related, for Paul tells us that ‘we are saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?’ (Romans 8:24).

Unlike the old covenant, with its manifest glory and public ceremonies, the new covenant is invisible. As Paul declares: ‘we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal’ (2 Cor. 4:18). Gone is the visible earthly tabernacle — replaced by a heavenly sanctuary which is ‘not of this creation’ (9:11). Gone are the animal sacrifices, with their annual (and indeed daily) reminder of sin and atonement. They are replaced by a once-for-all satisfaction  that occurred historically two millennia ago (10:3, 12). Gone is an all-too-human high priest, richly arrayed, esteemed by men, conducting endless and complex rituals in the sight of all the people. The great high priest of the new covenant is invisible, for he has passed through the heavens into the presence of the unseen God (4:14).

It was, perhaps, the loss of this visible element in religion that troubled the Hebrews and tempted them to return to their former ways. The same is often true today. People seek reassurance in what is tangible, visible and ritualistic. Many churches pander to this desire, adorning their so-called priests in special robes, elevating them above the laity, and glorying in their priestly powers. Their church buildings are ornate, a celebration of human artistry — earthly tabernacles that delight the sensibilities of man but are irrelevant to the worship of God in Spirit and in truth.

Even in evangelical churches there is often a tendency to dress-up; to create ‘atmospheres’; to provide spectacle of one sort or another; to capture the eye and focus the mind on visible religion. But our hearts and minds ought rather to be set on the invisible Christ who ministers in the heavenly sanctuary. And for that, we need faith!

Similarly, just as we cannot ‘see’ the invisible entities of the new covenant without faith, neither can we entertain hope concerning them. Men may have vague and tentative ‘hopes’ about such matters as righteousness and heaven, but without faith such hopes are groundless. A person suffering from a terminal disease may still ‘hope’ to be cured, but this may be no more than wishful thinking.

But the hope that believers have in Christ is altogether different, because  ‘faith is the substance [foundation] of things hoped for’ (11:1). When we hope our hopes in faith, we do so with assurance — for they are grounded in certainty.

Defining faith (11:1-2)

So our verse demonstrates the essential link between faith and new-covenant hope. But it also tells us something about the nature of faith itself. This is important, for there is much confusion over this matter. ‘Now faith’, avers the Writer, ‘is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (11:1).

Some commentators do not see the verse as a definition of faith. For example, Hywel Jones, in his excellent Let’s study Hebrews, argues that 11:1 is deficient as a definition because Christ is not mentioned as the object of faith [1]. But this is a little unfair, since the Writer has spent the first ten chapters of the epistle establishing this very point and returns to the subject in 12:1-2, where he bids us  look to ‘Jesus, the author and finisher of faith’.

Others, like Kistemaker [2], prefer to read the verse subjectively — ‘faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’ — rather than as an objective definition of faith (though he does not rule out the latter). Bruce also favours the subjective sense but helpfully adds: ‘Physical eyesight produces conviction or evidence of visible things; faith is the organ which enables people … to see the invisible order’ [3].

However, Lane [4] insists that ‘key to the interpretation of these complementary clauses is recognition of the objective character of the decisive terms [substance and evidence]’. He continues: ‘faith is something objective that bestows upon the objects of hope … a substantial reality’ [5].

Who is right? Perhaps an illustration will help us understand what the Writer is telling us here about the nature of faith. If I ask you to define the word ‘bicycle’ you could reply that a bicycle is a machine consisting of a frame, two wheels, pedals, steering-means, and so on. You would have defined the bicycle objectively, that is, as an object.

Alternatively, if you are a keen cyclist, you might simply say that a bicycle is something you enjoy riding. This tells me nothing about a bicycle as such but only about your subjective experience of it. It is a fully subjective definition.

However, there is a third possibility. You could define the bicycle as ‘a man-powered means of transport’. This would be neither an objective nor a subjective definition, but a functional definition. Hebrews 11:1 is best understood in this way — as a functional definition of faith.

On this view, the verse means: ‘faith gives substance to things hoped for and provides conviction or evidence concerning things not seen’. In other words, the verse tells us what faith does for us. In harmony with this view, Owen comments: ‘[things] hoped for … have a present subsistence given unto them; as they are unseen they are to be made evident: both which are done by faith’ [6]. And again: ‘[faith] is the cause and means giving them a subsistence’ [7].

Although, therefore, this verse does not amount to a fully objective definition of faith, it necessarily implies that faith is an objective reality — a faculty by which believers apprehend the unseen realities of God. In short, faith is spiritual ‘eyesight’ or discernment (1 Cor. 2:14). It was ‘by faith’ that Moses ‘endured as seeing him who is invisible’ (11:27; emphasis added).

Because faith enables us to discern spiritual realities, it also allows us to trust in them. Because by faith we behold Christ’s glory, ‘full of grace and truth’ (Jn. 1:14), we are able to receive the grace and believe the truth that reside in him. Because we discern by faith the efficacy of the blood of Christ to cleanse our consciences from sin, we are enabled to trust savingly in the atoning work he has performed. As William Cowper wrote;

E’er since by faith I saw the stream

Thy flowing wounds supply,

Redeeming love has been my theme,

And shall be till I die.

This element of trust is vital. Spiritual discernment alone is not saving faith. The devils are fully cognisant of spiritual truth, but their knowledge of that truth does not save them — they ‘believe and tremble’ (Jas. 2:19). When someone is ‘born again’ by the work of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 3:3-8) they not only receive the gift of spiritual sight but by it are caused to love and know ‘the only true God and Jesus Christ whom [he has] sent’ (Rom. 5:5; Jn. 17:3). As a result, the faith-endowed soul is ‘not disobedient to the heavenly vision’ (Ac. 26:19). It trusts its Saviour and worships its Lord. But without the faculty of faith it could do neither.

This is why the Writer can continue: ‘For by [faith] the elders obtained a good testimony’ (11:2). More literally, they ‘had witness borne to them’, that is, they ‘received the divine commendation’ [8]. God could hardly commend them for the faith he had provided as a gift — but he could do so for the way they used it to demonstrate their trust and confidence in his wondrous person and divine purpose.

The ‘elders’ here are not leaders of synagogues or churches as is usual in the New Testament writings, but simply those who believed and trusted God ‘of old’. They were elders, not on account of age or eminence (some of this chapter’s heroes were young and obscure), but because they were mature in faith.

Faith and understanding (11:3)

So far we have learned three things. Firstly, we need a new faculty, faith, to apprehend the invisible spiritual realities of the new covenant. We need it because ‘the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor. 2:14).

Secondly, this discernment or ‘spiritual sight’ is imparted to the soul during regeneration, for ‘unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (Jn. 3:3; emphasis added). Faith is thus the gift of God. It is not a natural faculty that resides in human nature and can be awakened by appropriate means, as Arminianism teaches. Paul reminds the Ephesians: ‘by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God’ (Eph. 2:8). The whole of salvation, including the faith that saves, is God’s gift.

Thirdly, we have seen that faith involves not only a knowledge of spiritual things but trust in, and obedience to, the things revealed — specifically, obedience to the gospel of Christ (1 Pet. 1:2).

But this by no means exhausts the meaning of faith, for we are next told that ‘By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible’ (11:3). The assertion that ‘by faith we understand …’ is most important.

Commonly, faith is considered to be the antithesis of reason or understanding. Even Isaac Watts wrote: ‘Where reason fails with all her powers, there faith prevails and love adores’. While we understand what Watts is saying, he does give the impression that faith is somehow contrary to or independent of rational thought.

Many Christians hold erroneous views of faith as something irrational. But if this were so, we could not ‘understand’ anything by faith! The problem here is a confusion of categories — faith and reason are not alternative routes to knowledge, any more that physical sight and reason are alternatives.

Sight provides information — ‘sense-data’ if you like. Then reason operates on these data to provide an understanding or interpretation of the things observed. There is no conflict between sight and understanding — they are complementary. Indeed, without sight (or other senses, of course) there would be nothing to understand, for we would remain ignorant of the world around us.

This analogy with physical sight helps to clarify the way in which faith facilitates understanding. Faith, as spiritual sight, reveals unseen spiritual realities. These are the data on which reason then operates to reach an understanding of spiritual truth. We all know this from experience, if we are believers. Our minds are active as we read the Scriptures — as we hear them expounded or meditate upon them. The idea that we can receive valid spiritual impressions without the involvement of the mind is cultic and dangerous. It lies at the root of Charismatic excesses, mysticism and many other errors. Genuine Christian experience involves the whole person, including the emotions and the will —but it never bypasses the mind and understanding.

This is well demonstrated by a single example. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul makes the transition from his doctrinal treatise to the application of the doctrines. In the light of ‘the mercies of God’, he calls on his readers to ‘present [their] bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God’. Why should they do that? Because, says the apostle, it is their ‘reasonable service’.

The word ‘reasonable’ is the Greek logikos, meaning rational or logical. He is, in effect, asking them to consider the great salvation that is theirs in Christ and to work out, logically, what response is appropriate on their part. There can be only one answer, of course, as he tells them. But it is a rational response that he seeks, through the ‘renewing of your mind’ (Rom. 12:2), rather than one that is merely emotional or volitional.

Understanding creation (11:3 cont.)

To illustrate how faith leads to understanding, the Writer chooses the largest topic imaginable — the creation of the universe! ‘By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God’ (11:3). The word translated ‘worlds’ is literally ‘ages’, that is, all things that exist in space and, particularly, time. ‘Framed’ means established or created, and the agency of this creation is identified as ‘the word of God’. Although creation is unambiguously attributed to Christ in 1:2 — as well as in other places such as John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16 — the Writer nowhere describes Christ as ‘the Word’, nor is the Greek word logos used here. His reference is, rather, to God’s spoken word in Genesis 1 — ‘God said let there be … and there was …’ (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11 etc). This reminds us that faith feeds upon God’s self-revelation in the Bible. When Scripture says God formed the worlds by his word, faith believes it and understands it to be so.

What exactly is it that we understand concerning creation? ‘That the things which are seen [the visible universe] were not made of things which are visible’ (11:3). The Writer may here be correcting the theory, advanced by Plato, that God’s ‘all-powerful hand created the world out of formless matter’ [9]. On the contrary, asserts the Writer, the universe was made without material (visible) precursors. This is the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo —  creation from nothing.

Careful commentators point out that the Writer simply states a negative — the universe was not made from visible precursors. With the hindsight of modern science, for example, we might see this as an inspired insight into the fact that all matter is composed of invisible entities such as atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons, quarks and so on. However, this is a little too ingenious. The most obvious interpretation is the simplest, namely, that the verse teaches a straightforward ex-nihilo creation by divine fiat. God spoke, and space, time, matter and energy sprang into being at his command. This is wholly consistent with the Writer’s assertion in 1:3 that Christ is, even now, ‘upholding all things by the word of his power’.

This has implications for the modern debate on origins. Those who believe the plain meaning of Scripture find themselves at loggerheads with others who promote the doctrine of evolution. It is sometimes tempting for creationists to seek ‘proofs’ of creation by appeal to scientific observations — such as evidences for a young earth or against the random evolution of complex biological systems. Such arguments are important as a means of refuting the claims of evolutionists, but they can never amount to a proof of ‘special (i.e. miraculous) creation’. Why not? Because our understanding of God’s work of creation derives ultimately from faith, not from scientific exploration or theorising. If it were possible to ‘prove’ special creation by scientific tests or philosophical arguments, the Writer could never have made the statement he does in 11:3.

References

1. Jones p.122

2. Kistemaker pp. 309-311

3. Bruce p.279

4. Lane 2 p.328

5. Lane 2 p.329

6. Owen 7 p.7

7. Owen 7 p.8

8. Bruce p.279

9. Lane 2 p. 332

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Preaching without notes http://whomadegod.org/2013/02/preaching-without-notes/ http://whomadegod.org/2013/02/preaching-without-notes/#comments Thu, 14 Feb 2013 21:47:24 +0000 http://whomadegod.org/?p=586 PREACHING WITHOUT NOTES

To some this article may seem to be of limited interest. But we all listen to preaching and may ourselves be involved in ‘public’ teaching — in Bible studies, Sunday Schools, youth fellowships,  women’s meetings and so on. The ability to speak with greater confidence to a group or congregation is therefore germane to many of us and not only preachers in the usual sense. I hope, therefore, that what follows will be of interest to all who engage in teaching the Word of God, even though I shall address myself chiefly to preaching as such.

Why preach without notes?

There are several reasons why this is desirable but first let me list a few caveats!

1) While most preachers would, I think, like to preach without notes, this is not for everyone. It is far better to preach a good sermon or message using notes (or even by reading a full script) than to preach a poor one without these aids.

2) Congregations should not think a preacher is somehow superior if he dispenses with notes. The value of his ministry must be judged and appreciated according to its spiritual fruit and the blessing it brings — by its manna rather than its manner!

3) Nor should the note-less preacher feel superior to others, or the note-tied preacher feel inferior; the Spirit of God can and does use their ministries alike.

This being said, there are definite advantages in preaching (or teaching) without reliance on notes or scripts, so let me also list these.

1) Preaching without notes (hereafter ‘PWN’) allows greater liberty in preaching. The preacher can look up at his audience rather than down at his notes and thus speak directly to the people as we do in normal conversation. This means that the hearers feel more involved — that they are being addressed personally  — which helps both their attention and comprehension. Conversely, the preacher can better judge the hearers’ reactions. Are some restless or bored? Then it’s probably time to move on to a new point or insert an unplanned illustration. Are some looking puzzled or confused? Then further explanation is called for — and so on. In modern parlance, PWN can be much more interactive.

2) PWN allows greater flexibility in preaching. I often find that up to a third of what I say during a sermon is unpremeditated. A relevant scripture flashes into the mind or an unplanned illustration emerges unbidden from the subconscious. It also means that the preacher can adjust rapidly to the audience. For example, if visitors or strangers join an otherwise familiar congregation it is usually easy to introduce an unplanned evangelistic note at a suitable point in the message.

3) PWN allows greater passion and pathos in preaching. Unlike lecturing, preaching is not just a means of imparting information. It also calls for communication on an emotional level (pathos) and on a motivational level (passion). It must evidence not only a knowledge of biblical truth but a love and zeal for that truth. These ‘dimensions’ are more readily achieved when speaking directly to people in a ‘flow of consciousness’ than when constantly consulting notes or reading from a script.

How can we preach without notes?

Having briefly explained why PWN is desirable we can now turn to the ‘how’ question — how can PWN be learned and accomplished? It would be foolish to think that there is only one way to achieve this end, so please do not treat this article as a comprehensive guide to the subject. All I will attempt to do here is describe how I personally go about it, hoping that some of what I write will be of value to others.

Once I have chosen a text, passage or subject, hopefully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, my first task is to acquaint myself thoroughly with the context. This, of course, must be done however we preach but in preparing to PWN there is an additional requirement, namely to commit that context to memory as far as possible. I do not mean that I memorise, say, a whole chapter of Jeremiah, but I do memorise the key verses in the passage on which I intend to preach. These will be the basis of the sermon outline, points or headings. I also familiarise myself with the wider context (commentaries can be helpful here). In this process I also check out the literal original-language significance of key words.

Why memorise? because I find it essential to meditate deeply on the material I will use in PWN. I need to discover what the writer is actually saying, relate this to other Scriptures, and if necessary interpret it by comparing scripture with scripture. This is specially important when preaching from the OT, where I always seek to bring a NT and Christological perspective to bear. The great advantage of memorising is that this meditation can be carried out anywhere at any time. Personally I spend the time between turning out the bedside light and being overcome by sleep for meditation, as well as any wakeful hours in the night. Meditating while walking is another effective use of time (though I don’t advise meditating while driving because it can be distracting!) Biblical meditation has been described as ‘cutting and polishing the gemstone of Bible truth and turning it this way and that until shafts of spiritual light strike down into the soul’. Unless that light does so strike I do not feel I have a message from the Lord. I need to be excited about the truth I am preaching if others are to be moved by it also. So I must preach the sermon to myself before I deliver it to others.

It is in this process of meditation that the sermon is forged and, crucially, burned into the memory — where it must of course reside if we are to dispense with notes. I then rehearse the whole sermon in my mind several times in the days leading up to its delivery and this usually gives rise to several slightly different versions of the message, perhaps with different emphases, alternative illustrations and so on. Another important aspect is to link the text or passage with a small number of other scriptures that illuminate and focus it — especially in the all-important areas of interpreting the OT and of application. I find that it best to limit these cross-reference to no more than three or four, which gives me time to dwell on them for a while when preaching. Too many cross-references lead to a ‘paper chase’ that distracts the hearer from the main message and can become confusing and boring. Finally, I use my books to look up details of the historical, sociological and intellectual background of the passage and the issues involved.

Delivering the sermon

If all this sounds daunting let me conclude with a reassuring comment. PWN is not, in fact, a note-less activity — the scripture passage itself, together with cross-referenced passages, actually provide the preacher with the best possible notes. They contain all the key words and ideas, and provide the progression of thought to be followed (though not slavishly; I sometimes find the logical sequence works better by going through the passage in reverse). Above all, using the passage itself as my notes I am kept from wandering off at a tangent — a real danger when you are PWN — and ensures that we declare the Lord’s word rather than our own.

Finally, of course, in PWN the preacher should look his audience in the face, speaking directly to those he is addressing and making them look back at him. This becomes more difficult with large congregations but it is still possible to convince the hearers that they are being addressed personally and are hearing not just a man but also ‘what the Spirit is saying to the churches’. They must be made to feel that they are engaged in an earnest conversation, not witnessing a virtuoso performance!

 

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