Christianity and theology

The Bible is The Gospel.

Recently on Facebook, I was involved in a discussion with a friend who argued that the Gospel is different from the Bible. He defined the Bible as the books written by holy men under the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that what they wrote may be trusted and obeyed as God’s Word. On the other hand, the gospel is the news that God who created heavens and earth came into the world as human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to suffer full punishment and eternal death on behalf of sinners so that they can be forgiven and have eternal life and live in righteousness free from sin and its effects.

He then argued that the Church should focus more on the Gospel  because one can be saved without the Bible but not without the Gospel. I should say, here, that the debate involved lengthy writings which I am unable to include into this article but the above summary really sums up the main argument of my friend.

The Bible is the gospel and the gospel is the Bible. The terms “Gospel” and “Bible” are synonyms. At the center of the Bible or the gospel is Jesus or to borrow the words of Sinclair Ferguson, “Jesus is the heart of the entire Bible.” However, I have often noted that some easily see the gospel in the New Testament more than in the Old Testament.  In this article, therefore, I will endeavor to show the gospel in the Old Testament and by doing that  prove that the entire Bible is the gospel hence we cannot distinguish the gospel from the Bible.

 First, let’s turn to Christ himself who clearly taught that the Old Testament is the gospel.  In Luke 24, Jesus was speaking to his two unbelieving and fearful disciples, Cleopas and his friend, on the walk to Emmaus and the passage states that Christ used the Old Testament to explain the gospel to his disciples.  “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” (Luke 24:27). Please note very well that “Scriptures” in the verse refer to the Old Testament since by this time the New Testament Canon was not yet complete.

 Later Jesus appeared to the eleven Apostles and rebuked them for their lack of faith and said to them: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled,” (Luke 24:44). Then please note carefully again what Christ says regarding the Old Testament Scriptures in Luke 24:46-47: “Thus it is written that, the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Pause for a moment! Is this not the gospel? And where is it found? Right there in the Old Testament. 

Jesus here is showing us that the “gospel” which my friend described as Christ’s  work of saving sinners and enabling them to live a life of righteousness is found from Genesis to Revelation (now that the New Testament Canon is complete). From the first book of the Bible to the sixty-sixth one, salvation from sin and eternal life of righteousness in Christ is the main teaching, especially, after the fall. 

Secondly, we have a first presentation of the gospel in Genesis 3:15.  God speaks to the Satan in the form of serpent that led our first parents into sin and says: “And I will put enmity between thee (serpent) and the woman (Eve), and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and though shall bruise his heel.” Theologians and Bible Scholars have called this passage “protovangelion” a Greek word for “the first proclamation of the gospel.” From this passage up to Revelation 22:21, the message of the Bible is the gospel that Christ will and has crushed the head of Satan and overcome death and  sin that once conquered our first parents in the Garden of Eden and the fallen man can now live abundant life  in Christ. Jonathan Edwards puts it better when he writes:  

Christ and his redemption are also the great subject of the history of the Old Testament from the beginning all along; and even the history of creation is brought in as an introduction to the history of redemption that immediately follows it. The whole book, both the Old Testament and New, is filled up with the gospel; only with this difference that the Old Testament contains the gospel under a veil, but the New contains it unveiled, so that we may see the glory of the Lord with open face. (The History of Redemption (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers and Authors Inc.) 164-165).

Thirdly, the fact that the gospel runs throughout the Bible is further confirmed in the fact that the Old Testaments saints were saved through faith in Christ just as we are.  For instance, Abraham, way back in Genesis, was justified by faith in Christ (Romans 4) and in Galatians 3:15, Apostle Paul tells us that Abraham believed because the Gospel was preached to him. Where was the gospel preached to him? Right there in the Old Testament. John Calvin has expounded this truth better and said:

“The old covenant fathers, who were formerly regenerated, obtained this favor through Christ, so that we may say, that it was as it were transferred to them from another source. The power, then, to penetrate into the heart was not inherent in the law, but it was a benefit transferred to the law from the gospel. (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations (Grand Rapids, 1950), 4:131).

When you and I open our Bibles, all we ought to see is Jesus because he is the center of the Bible. Jesus is the center of gospel. There is no way one can read the Bible or the Word of God without seeing Jesus on every page because Jesus is the Word (John 1:1-5). Therefore, the gospel and the Bible are not two different things but one. These two words are synonyms and it is impossible to distinguish them. The Old Testament is the Gospel pointing us towards Christ while the New Testament is the Gospel pointing us back to Christ. Both the Old and the New Testaments are the gospel.

Postscript: Heidelberg Catechism  Answer to  Question 19 also clarify that the gospel and the Bible are one thing:

God began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise (Gen. 3:15); later God proclaimed it by the holy patriarchs (Gen. 22:18; 49:10) and prophets (Isa. 53; Jer. 23:5-6; Mic. 7:18-20; Acts 10:43; Heb. 1:1-2)  and foreshadowed it by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; (Lev. 1-7; John 5:46; Heb. 10:1-10and finally God fulfilled it through his own beloved Son (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 4:4-5; Col. 2:17).

 


 

Standard
Christianity and theology

The Worst Sinner

As I indicated in my previous post, the first “Trustworthy Saying” is found in 1 Timothy 1:15 and reads: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst.” In the verse two important truths are presented before us.

First, the reason Christ came into the world was to save sinners. Although while on earth Christ healed the sick, cast out demons and performed miracles, his main goal was to save sinners and this was achieved when he lived a perfect life, died on the cross and later rose from the dead on behalf of all believers.  Christ himself affirmed this when he said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). By the way, Bible Scholars say that this is the key verse of the Gospel according to Luke.

Therefore, we, preachers of God’s Word, miss the point when we emphasize on the physical well being of people the main reason Christ came into the world. For sure, Christ did not come into the world to make the poor rich rather he came to save sinners like you and me who were once dead in our sin but were made alive in Christ by God’s grace alone (Colossians 2:13, 14). This remains the main reason of Christ’s coming into the earth even today hence preaching should center on this.

Secondly, it is important to note how Apostle Paul addresses himself in the verse.  There is no doubt that Apostle Paul is one of the men that God has used greatly in the Church. Paul also wrote almost half of the New Testament yet when he examined himself, he felt that he was the worst sinner.

This is what happens to every Christian who is growing in his/her faith hence becoming closer to God. The more we get closer to God, the more we realize how greatly we fall short of His glory. Any Christian who gets closer to God can’t help it but realize how sinful he is and how holy God is.

For instance, consider Prophet Isaiah, the moment he came closer to God, he immediately realized how holy God is and how evil his heart was and he cried out, “Woe is me for I am (sinful)” (Isaiah 6:5). The same can also be said of Apostle Peter. In his first encounter with Jesus, it dawned on him that Christ is holy and he was very sinful hence he told Jesus:  “Depart from me a sinner” (Luke 5:8).

Therefore, it should scare us when we take the holiness of God for granted.  We have every reason to be afraid when we play with the holiness of God as a child’s toy. For sure, God is a our Father and we always have to approach His throne of grace with confidence as his children yet at the same time we should bear in mind that He is holy and we are not.  The only reason he welcomes us is because of Christ who clothes us with his holiness.  Without Christ, you and me are the worst sinner hence we should continually work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

Standard
Christianity and theology

The Trustworthy Sayings

There are some phrases in the Bible that we sometimes overlook yet they call our attention to something important.  One of such phrases is the one we find in the New Testament and it goes, “This is a trustworthy saying…”

Now, begin from this week, we would like to take a closer look at these phrases which appear in the books of First and Second Timothy and Titus. These three books are also known as Pastoral Epistles.

These phrases exist no where in the New Testament apart from the Pastoral Epistles and is found in the following passages: 1 Timothy 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11 and Titus 3:8. It is believed that Apostle Paul uses these phrases to call the attention of recipients and readers of these letters to a very important point.

Therefore, we would like to take our time on this blog to critically look at each trustworthy saying and listen to what God is communicating to us through these sayings. Of course, by this we do not mean that the other passages of Scripture are not worthy paying attention to; however, the phrases form a good material for an in-depth Bible study. Just as we can choose any other passage of Scripture to study deeply, on this blog we have opted to dig deeper around the trustworthy sayings for now.

 

Standard
Christianity and theology

Do prophets still exist today?

Quadruple combination opened to the Book of Is...

The Bible: God’s Final Special Revelation

Do prophets still exist today? My answer: Yes and No. Please allow me to explain.

Yes: Basing on Scripture we see that prophets were the men called by God to speak on behalf of God. In other words, prophets took a word from God and gave it to God’s people. In this sense, I would say that prophets still exists in form of preachers of God’s Word. Every time, a preacher stands up to preach from the Bible (God’s Word) he is actually saying: “Thus says the Lord in the Bible.” So in this case, prophets (preachers) still exist today.

No: Prophets both in the Old and New Testament got their revelation directly from God in various forms. So, in this sense, prophets of the caliber of Old  and New Testament (who directly get special revelations from God) do not exist anymore. Why? Because God’s special revelation ceased with the completion of the Bible (66 books: 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament).

I know the statement ‘God’s special revelation ceased’ has sent cold chills down the spine of some and probably you have began to agitate in anger against me but I beg you to hear me out. So, please read on.

God’s giving of special revelation (the Bible) had to with the redemption or salvation of man after man sinned. From Genesis, God revealed his plan of salvation little by little until when Christ came and completed the plan of saving man through his birth, death, burial and resurrection. So, when God completed his work of saving man through Jesus Christ, God also completed the work of giving out special revelation with the last book of Revelation.

F. Fowler White is right when he writes in his article, “Does God Speak Today Apart from the Bible”

“God’s giving of revelation, spoken and written, is always historically joined and qualified by God’s work of redemption. Now that God has accomplished salvation once-for-all, in Christ, He has also spoken His word, once-for-all, in Christ and in those whom Christ has authorized and empowered by His Spirit (Hebrews 1:1, 2; 2:3, 4; Matthew 16:15-19; John 14:26; Ephesians 2:19, 20). With the completion of salvation in Christ comes the cessation of revelation. Consequently, the church now lives by a ‘Scripture only’ principle of authority,” (Reformed Perspective Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 15, April 8-14, 2007).

Today, we cannot get any special revelation apart from the one that God has revealed to us through the Bible. Please consider this. Suppose a person calling himself a prophet comes to you with a book in which he has written all ‘the revelations’ he has got from God, will you add that book to the Bible so that you have a Bible with 67 books? Would you call that book the Word of God as you call the Bible? Certainly not! Yet what God revealed to the prophets of the old is contained in the Bible as God’s own word. I hope you get my point there!

Also ponder with me on this. When I ask those who believe that prophets still exist on how they know whether a prophecy is true, they say that they weigh it against the Bible. If what is said is supported by the Bible they take it. If what that man calling himself a prophet says anything that contradicts the Scripture, they leave it.

Now, if you always have to compare any ‘new revelation’ with the Bible, it means that there is no single new revelation that can come to you besides the Bible. In other words, you are in essence saying that God’s final revelation is the Bible and whatever ‘revelation’ that is outside the Bible is not God’s revelation at all, isn’t it? By this, you, further,  agree with me that there are no new ‘revelations’ apart from the Bible hence no new prophecies apart from those contained in the Bible consequently also no prophets like those we read in the Bible.

But some would argue for the existence of prophets today by quoting  that familiar verse about various ministries in the church, Ephesians 4:11, 12: which reads: “And he (Christ) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

But before you can conclude that prophets still exist basing on these verses, please just go back to chapter 2 of the same Letter to Ephesians and read verses 19 to 21:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord,” (Underscoring added).

The same Apostle Paul who tells us that God gave the gifts of apostle and prophets to the Church also reminds us that these apostles and prophets are the foundation of the Church. Now, let me ask you. After you have laid the foundation of a house, do you still use the same foundation materials to build the wall of the house as well as roof it? NO! The foundation remains down.

Similarly, the apostles and prophets being foundation of the church are no longer needed today unless we say that the church is still at its foundational level. But most certainly, after almost 2, 000 years since the birth of the New Testament Church no one would say that the Church is still at its foundation level. The church of Christ has grown and it continues to grow.

But what about the ‘predictions’ that the men called ‘prophets’ make and they come to pass, aren’t these a sign that prophets still exist today? First, we should not confuse prophecy with prediction. In as much as prediction is part of prophecy, prophecy is more than prediction. The prophets of the Bible rebuked, taught, encouraged and also predicted.

Secondly, we should realize that the ability to predict does not always and solely come from God. In Acts 16:16-18, we read of a girl who could predict out of powers of a demon. Recently also, during the 2010 World Cup Soccer Finals, there was an octopus called Paul in Germany that also predicted outcome of games before they were played. Did this ability to predict, in the two cases cited, come due to revelations directly from God? No! Would you call the girl and the octopus, prophets? God forbid!

As I wrap up, I would like to highlight that there are some good and well meaning Christians, some of them are my good friends and even relatives, who believe that prophets still exist, probably basing on what is happening, especially, in the African Church today. Of course, I would not call them heretics. However, I would encourage them to sincerely and prayerfully study Scripture and they will find out that prophets no longer exists today except in cases in which a prophet means a preacher of God’s Word.  Bill Crouse says it better:

“The men who challenge the Church to revive the gift of prophecy have good intentions. They want to see significant growth in the Kingdom; they want to see believers have a vital mystical relationship with Christ. They are not heretics, but they are proposing major doctrinal shifts that we sincerely believe will lead to confusion and dangerous consequences. Regardless of spectacular experience being reported by godly men, we must resist the temptation to satisfy our spiritual thirst for anything other than the certainty of the written Word of God” (C.I.M. Outline #57, The Gift of Prophecy: Is it for today?).

Standard
Christianity and theology

Is Home Unclean for Worship?

Last Sunday, I was reading the newspaper, Nation on Sunday, when an article titled “I don’t want to go to church” by Christian Psychiatrix caught my attention.  The author of the article argued that people should go to church and not worship in their homes because “homes of men are unfit for worship.” He contended:

“The home is unworthy because every minute of every hour in every day the home is unholy or unclean for one reason or another. Let me illustrate. The parents of the home might have spent the morning today making love and the material their body fluid touches is made unclean and it in turn makes what it touches unclean until the whole house is unclean from flesh to cloth to utensil (Leviticus 15). It will be afternoon before the house is declared clean by Levitical Law and that is if they take a bath and pray for a cleansing of the home, if they don’t then the home in unclean till the next day.

“Or it could be that the maid starts her monthly period the next day. A woman during her monthly flow is unclean by Levitical Law, that is why men are not supposed to have sexual relations with women during this time (Leviticus 18:19). In her function as maid she will touch 90% of the house making everything she touches unclean before God’s eyes” (Public Pulpit  of Nation on Sunday, Sunday, August 12, 2012, Religious Perspective page 7)

All I can say in regard to this statement is that:

There is a need for every believer or Christian to fellowship with fellow Christians in a church.  God’s Word requires of us to do so in Hebrews 10:24, 25. From the birth of the New Testament church, believers have always assembled together to among other things hear the teaching of God’s word, break bread (Holy Communion), and pray (Acts 2:42). The importance of the church can also be seen in the whole of the New Testament in which two-thirds of the epistles (letters) were addressed to churches where believers met.

We should also not forget that the church is also responsible for administration of Sacraments namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion). These cannot be administered outside the church but only within the church by ordained men called by God to lead his flock. Sacraments are very important in every Christian’s life as they are means or channels established by God in which He uses to give grace to his children.

Furthermore, general overview of the Bible also shows us that meeting in a church helps Christians to be accountable. On our own, we can easily fall into various temptations and sins without someone warning or helping us; however, in church, fellow Christians help us remain faithful to Scripture and God uses the church to discipline and restore a believer when he, temporarily, stumbles into sin.

In a church, we also encourage one another through sharing of God’s Word and testifying to the good work that the Lord is doing in our lives. In the same set-up we are also able to carry each other’s burdens as commanded in Galatians 6:1-3.  These things cannot happen if we are on our own.

However, we should also bear in mind that the Bible encourages us to have time when we can personally fellowship with God in prayer (Matthew 6:6) and meditation on his word ( Psalm 1:1, 2). This too is important.

Therefore, church should not replace personal time of fellowship with God just as time of personal devotion should not substitute God’s requirement of believers to assemble in a church. All these two activities are required of every Christian by Scripture.

Now,  in response to Christians Psychiatrix argument that  worshipping God at home is defiled by a married couple having sex in the home or a maid experiencing her monthly period, I would like to point out that  in the Old Testament, there are three types of laws namely ceremonial, civil and moral law.  The laws that my friend cited in his article fall in the ceremonial law category.

Ceremonial laws related to Israel’s ceremonial purity, diet and sacrifice. They pointed forward to Jesus Christ hence were fulfilled and no longer necessary after Jesus’ death and resurrection. These laws, symbolically, showed how man falls short of God’s holiness.  But when Christ came, he fulfilled the requirement of God’s holiness so that everyone who believes in Christ is regarded as holy because of the righteousness of Christ (Hebrews 10:1-14).

It should further be known that God ordained sex to be enjoyed in the confinements of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:3; Hebrews 13:4) and there is nothing unclean when a married couple has sex.  A woman also remains clean and holy in Christ and before God the Father even if she having her monthly period because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law on behalf of all believers.

Standard
Uncategorized

The Noble Character

This other day, I was attending a certain Christian gathering and one of the speakers at the meeting  made a remark that ended up being  my food for thought.  The speaker said that one of the major challenges facing Christianity today is that Christians don’t want to critically examine various messages that are being preached in the name of Christ.  It is true, is it not?

It seems very few Christian today bother to scrutinize various messages we listen to or read. As long as the speaker or the author is mentioning God or Jesus that’s fine.  However, this tendency renders us susceptible to error that has serious consequences to both our spiritual and physical life.

We ought to be challenged by Bereans of Acts 17:11. Apostle Paul was a great man of God.    Almost half of New Testament books were written by him. Yet when he went to preach in Berea, the Christians there never ceased to critically examine Paul’s message in the light of Scripture. This was not disrespect but maturity and the Bible strongly recommends the Bereans for this.

“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, 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).

Christians today ought to be like Bereans by receiving the messages that are being preached with eagerness but we should not stop there.  We should go further to examine if the messages being preached are true according to the Bible. This is a noble character.

And may add that you even examine the contents of this blog in the light of  Scripture. That too is a noble character.

Standard