Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Moral-Emotional Self

We need to do a quick review of what the image of God is in Man. God’s image is not physical but spiritual. However, His image contains all of the qualities and characteristics which are God’s which allow Man, all people, to relate intimately with their Creator. This does not mean those created in His image are the same as God in all ways. No one is equal to God because He has no equal. It does mean there are certain characteristics humans have which no other created being, including animals, has. We have a soul which carries the essence of life, the desires and passions, responsibilities and knowledge of self. We are also intellectual, emotional and willful. Unlike the angels, God also gave Man dominion over a part of His creation. Man is unique in all creation. God created us for relationship with Him. This point cannot be emphasized too often.

Those who are poor in spirit use their intellect to admit the reality of sin. They see truly the evidence of the certainty of God and their rebellion against Him. Knowing the moral law of God they admit they have violated that law. Those who mourn recognize the consequences of sin they have accepted as true. This means using the moral emotional part of the image of God given to admit separation from Him in death.

God tells us, in several places, we are to love Him with our whole being. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV] In Luke, Jesus is questioned by a lawyer about which is the greatest commandment. Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” [Luke 10:27 ESV]

In Deuteronomy 6:5 the word “heart” means the center of the person, or the inner person, the conscience and moral being, the inclinations and understanding. “Heart” is the center of all the appetites of man. These appetites are that which drives and controls the man. In Luke the word literally means “heart.” It is the organ which circulates the blood which is the life of the man. But it is not simply the center of the physical person. It is also the center of the spiritual being. It includes all of the meanings of the word in the OT and adds to it “life.” This life is the center of the emotional self.

Moses uses a word for “soul” which defines the person as unique in both the physical and spiritual worlds. This is the part of a person which does not cease to exist even when the physical dies and the spiritual is cast away from the source of life, who is God, and dies for eternity. Yet, the soul of the one redeemed and connected to the source of life, both physical and spiritual, lives and grows in life for eternity. Where the life of the creature is in the blood, the life of the spiritual being is in the soul. It is the soul which connects the physical person with the spiritual, the temporary with the eternal.

“Might” in Deuteronomy is the word “strength” used in Luke. It is a combination of the “heart” and the “soul” which gives the person strength of character, or a lack which shows a weakness of character. This might and strength is great and abundant and propels the person through life with vigor and determination.

Jesus adds a concept in Luke not found in Deuteronomy. He adds we are to love God with our entire “mind.” We are to think about, study and understand, grow in wisdom and knowledge in our determination to intimately know and love God.

Love becomes an activity of the whole and complete person. It is an activity of the moral-emotional self, coupled with the mind, propelled forward by strength of character fed by the very life of God. We think of love as only an emotion. Love is an emotion but much more. It is a determination of the mind activated by the will of the person. Love is a reflection of the physically and spiritually natural adherence to the moral law of God known intimately by the soul of the person.

But how is the moral law of God known, or interpreted, by those created in the Image of God? It is Man’s emotions which interpret the innate moral laws of God. When the law is violated people feel the emotion of fear or anger. When the law is upheld people feel the emotion of peace and joy. However, because of the corruption of sin the emotions cease interpreting the moral law of God and begin focusing on the expectations and laws of self. When my expectations are not met I am angry or hateful or fearful. When my expectations are met I am happy and content.

Only those who have been changed, redeemed, re-created, born-again, who have the Spirit as a guarantee of eternal life, will have the tools needed to begin interpreting God’s moral law correctly through their emotions. Using those tools takes a lifetime of discipline. It takes submission to the training of the Spirit to learn to know God’s moral law truly.

We are emotional creatures, made so by God. Since we are created in His image, then God also is emotional and is the pattern for perfect emotions. If we are to love God with our complete being, and cannot because of the separation caused by sin, then our lack of love does not reflect poorly upon Him but shows the evidence of our total depravity, our complete inability to do anything because of sin to please God.

Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. [Romans 7:13-20 ESV]

Jesus tells us plainly the greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27). He also tells us over and over the ten commandments cannot be ignored. In Matthew 5:21 to 48 He says “You have heard it said … but I tell you” five times, implying throughout the ten commandments are hard and fast, integral to the moral code which is the radiance of God.

How many people do you know who can articulate the moral code? Can you state in words all can understand the moral laws which govern your life and motivate your actions? If you cannot, do you want to put in words the foundational principles which allow you to relate to those around you and to God? 

Don’t jump ahead of the question. This questions difficulty comes in the common understanding which defines the term “moral code” or “morality.” Even for those able to condense their thoughts into reliable, understandable terms the evidence of their lives will challenge their declarations. Most people will say they know the difference between right and wrong then give an answer which shows they do not know the difference, contradicting their words with their lifestyle. They will declare with absolute authority something which is a violation of the known will of God is not part of the moral law and therefore has no consequences to themselves or anyone else. Even Christians will do this.

A moral code is not a personal value. What you value relates to your personal moral code and certainly provides the evidence needed to evaluate that code, but it is not the moral code of God. As I grow up I am exposed to a variety of experiences which shape my personality. If I live in a place of extreme poverty or extreme affluence I will not recognize either the poverty or affluence until I am old enough to see the difference. Yet, there will be certain things I enjoy which make me emotionally happy, and others which I will hate and emotionally despise. I will run toward that which makes me happy and flee from that which I despise. As I grow older I will seek out that which gives me comfort and security and pleasure. If I am able, I will work my life in such a way to lessen the effects of that which I despise and increase that which I enjoy.

You will see and meet people who seem to enjoy what you despise. My tendency is to hold these people up to my personal standard and judge them according to what I think is worthwhile. Here you need brutal honesty not with others but with yourself. Do you judge others according to your personal values?  I am not asking how you treat them.  I am asking what you think of them. What is, or was, your attitude toward them? I am not asking what you think of them now. I want you to honestly remember and examine yourself and what you have ever thought of them. Have you ever been angry with someone because they did not value what you value? My own thoughts and memories condemn me outright.

I am not asking you to judge yourself or to beat yourself up. That is not the intent. I simply want you to be honest. Have you ever? If your answer is “no” stop reading. Go do something else. If you answered “yes” then hold that thought and remember it.

A moral code is not a societal norm. Again, the norm, or those behaviors reflected and known by the individuals of the society, provide the evidence of a common understanding of a moral code. A moral code is not a worldview. A worldview may be articulated in conjunction with a moral code and influence greatly how one perceives the world and how one would like the world, nations and societies, and individuals to operate. But, a worldview is not a moral code. 

A code is a standard, a ruler used to measure whether a person is living, thinking, acting, expecting, proscribing and demanding, very specific attitudes and actions. It is the measure used to judge the evidence of whether the individuals life, both outwardly and inwardly, meets that which is demanded. A code must always be established by one other than the individual or the society or nation. No one can determine their own moral code with any reasonable expectation of it remaining stable.

Morality is the distinction between right and wrong. We do not determine the difference between right and wrong. Yet, there is something in each of us which knows the difference. There is also something within each of us which will subdue and change our understanding, flipping right to wrong, and wrong to right. Thus, a moral code is the standard used to measure the individual’s actions and attitudes in order to determine the righteousness of the individual. Is God’s moral code doable for us? If not, what did it cost Him to make it doable for us? 

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. [Romans 7:21-25 ESV]

No one may have an intimate relationship with God without adhering to His moral code. His moral code is absolute with no wiggle room for compromise. As fallen people whose nature is bent away from God it is impossible for us, in our own power and by our own design, to live according to the moral standards of God. We have to be like Him to do this. We were created like Him but are corrupted by sin. He must do something to change us.

He has.

God’s Laws

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. [Matthew 5:4 ESV]

God has told us what our sin has cost Him. Yet, He has not revealed the complete extent of His investment in us. He has revealed His investment is heavy. He has also told us He is under no compulsion to pay the price. He is not obligated to us in any way or fashion. We must fix this idea firmly in the thinking of our hearts for us to grasp personally the intimate knowledge how much He loves us. We need to understand what is at stake before we should even attempt to answer the question “what does sin cost God?” That He would send His Son to redeem those sold into slavery of sin is enough evidence to know He is serious about having a relationship with each of us and involved in every detail of life.

When God creates He sets His creation into motion according to perfectly logical laws which determines how the creation works and which cannot be violated by any created power. God, and only God, has the authority to suspend the laws of creation. This does not mean He has absolutely determined all of history and each action and thought of every person who has ever lived. He knows what will happen and works all things which will happen toward His ultimate design and purpose. Let us not confuse two separate yet wholly integrated laws. Creating us for relationship has given us the power to follow His will with our whole self, or rebel against His will with our whole self. Placing us in a universe with physical laws does not mean we are as automatic as the creation these laws govern.

Nor has He abandon His creation to let it run by itself but sustains creation continuing to work and mold and fashion according to His perfect design. We can deduce the physical laws of the universe and predict with some certainty how parts of the universe will work and know those parts we don’t understand must also adhere to specific laws. If the laws were not there the universe would not hold together.

Since the physical is a reflection of the spiritual we can know the spiritual realm must also operate by its own logical laws. When God created Man, He set in Man the law, or image, of His very Self. Man is thus a physical expression of the spiritual reality of God. Since God operates according to the divine logic of Self, and Man has His image, then Man must also operate within the law of the divine. This law transcends the spiritual and physical realms. We call this law the moral law of God.

God’s moral laws are absolute yet He has given Man the ability to violate these laws. Unlike the physical laws of the universe which cannot be broken by anything we do the moral laws of God can be violated. However, God’s law is still absolute and the consequences are still absolute no matter the law be physical or moral. Should a man think the moral law not apply to him he will suffer the results of breaking that law. Following or rebelling against His standard demands we recognize His standard. Violating His moral law has results equally disastrous as believing we can violate His physical law.

Our rebellion against God’s moral law does matter both physically and spiritually, in the thinking of our hearts and eternally. Fix this in your thinking. Every law which comes from God cannot be violated. Physical laws cannot be violated without experiencing the natural consequences of trying to break those laws. Moral laws cannot be violated without the spiritual consequences of breaking those laws.

Jesus quotes from the Mosaic Law when He answered the question “what is the greatest commandment?” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” [Luke 10:25-27 ESV] Jesus uses the word agapao for “love” which is understood as Godly love. Jesus tells us the highest, most inclusive commandment is to love God with our entire being just as God loves us with His entire being. God’s love, an integral part of His person and character, is the foundation of His moral law. We are to love Him and love our neighbor as ourselves because He loves Himself and loves us. God’s love for Himself is not tainted with sin so we must not think of it as when we see or know people who love themselves more than others in a self-serving and self-righteous way. He is perfect and His love for Himself is perfectly attuned with His love for His creation.

What was at stake when God created Man? He created a being capable of loving Him with a deep reflection of the same kind of love He has for Himself. When Man rebelled against Him it was as if a piece of God was torn away from Himself. A being created with the nature to love God like no other being, to love God with the very love God has for Himself, decided to have nothing to do with God.

Yet, He is God and we are not. He is God and I am not. Where I am unable to love Him, incapable of loving Him, not wanting to love Him because of my sin nature, He still loves me. For He cannot deny Himself or the moral law which is Himself. This does not mean He will not judge and cast away from His presence those who hate Him. It does mean even His just judgment is an act of love which perfectly fits who He is. It also mean if there is any way to redeem a destroyed relationship He must do it all.

What are the stakes? God created Adam in His image to love Him and serve Him by caring for His creation. It is not His reputation which is at stake. He made Adam, and us, unique. It is not His love for us for He will love because it is His essence to love. But it is also His essence to judge according to righteousness and truth. He is both holy and good. We are the stake. He did not create us to then cause us to cease to exist or to wantonly separate us from Himself. He created us for eternal relationship and gave us a nature to love Him in return. Because our nature has been bent by sin He must work to recreate, not fix or redo but make new, our nature. He has declared sin is judged by death. All who sin must die. Death is separation from that which gives life. Therefore, spiritual death is separation from God. God’s justice demands sin not exist in His presence while God’s grace and mercy, working perfectly with His justice and His entire being, makes a way for those sentenced to death to die. And live eternally with Him.

We do not need to understand the laws of the physical universe to abide by them. It is vital we understand the moral laws of God. Doing so builds intimacy with God.

Blessed are Those Who Mourn

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. [Matthew 5:4 ESV]

Those who are poor in spirit recognize the fact of sin, truthfully acknowledging the presence of and corruption caused by sin. Almost immediately there is the realization of the consequences of sin. As I become more and more aware of the reality of sin I become more acutely aware of what has happened because of sin. Once my eyes are opened to the absolute truth of sin then my heart grows troubled and anxious, afraid of what might happen because of sin.

Realizing the consequences of sin will force one of two reactions. Either we say we have not sinned or done anything wrong or we acknowledge our sin. Remorse is the emotional state of admitting wrong without agreeing to the truth of sin. Someone who shows remorse knows they have done something which makes them guilty, by violating a law or standard of which they are completely aware, and do the thing anyway. They get caught and are sorry for what they have done, but only because they were caught. For them the law or standard carries no weight or influence in their lives. Perhaps they have trained themselves to feel no guilt or think what they do has no consequences.

Repentance is the admission of the truth of sin and the personal, emotional desire to not continue sinning. It is a turning away from sin where remorse is only a brief stop before continuing in the direction of sin. Repentance is characterized by grief over the hurt and pain caused to another because of our actions. It realizes the end results of our actions and demands we stop them, change the motivation which inspired them, and retrain our thinking to keep ourselves from doing them again.

I have characterized repentances as a turning away from sin. I first stop when I realize I am going in the direction of sin, realize the consequences of continuing in that direction and begin to turn away. I grieve over sin but soon realize the process of grieving does not stop just because I want to turn away from sin but will last for the rest of my life because I can do nothing to stop sin.

Jesus says “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” [Matthew 5:4 ESV] I am supposed to grieve but Jesus’ teaching does not stop with the truth of my mourning. He moves through the entire process. None of the elements Jesus states can be ignored or skipped. So, too, none of the steps which come with grief, which has its own process and includes denial, anger and then acceptance, can be skipped. Because mourning is grief it begins with denial, moves into anger and culminates with acceptance.

Jesus’ statement, blessed are those who mourn, is the next quality which describes the citizen of the kingdom of heaven and what they look like. There are seven of these qualities and this is only the second. Jesus makes this statement which is the exact opposite of what the world and anyone in the world wants and expects. It is not hard to spew out those desirable characteristics or circumstances sought after and coveted by the world. I know them intimately and struggle with them daily. I want peace which means a lack of conflict both externally and internally. I do not want to be attacked especially by guilt over a circumstance of which I seem to have no control. I do not want anyone telling me what to do or how to act or where to work or how to live.

If the world views something, anything, as good or desirable it is guaranteed God holds the opposite view. This is not simply because God’s views are diametrically opposed to those of the world but because the thinking of the hearts of those in the world are in complete rebellion against God. Many things are good but their attainment or the means by which they are accomplished when done for self and not for God are tainted and corrupted by sin. Sin must be dealt with for nothing sinful will exist in God’s presence for even a moment of eternity, whatever a moment in eternity looks like. Even Satan and those angels who rebelled against God are cast out of God’s eternal holy presence.

Understanding the threat of being removed from the presence of God should illicit mourning, grieving, wailing and gnashing of teeth. If I am not moved to anguish by the possibility of being ejected from the presence of God then my concept and understanding of God is faulty. It also shows my understanding of who I am is mistaken. To “mourn” mean to lament, be grieved because of something which has happened to a person. Mourners wail, tear their clothes, toss dust in the air, refuse to eat and drink because they have no appetite. They have lost someone they love completely, never to see that person again, and are consumed by their grief. Jesus tells me I should mourn, grieve, and cry out in anguish, because of what has happened to God, to those around me in the world and to me because of the cost of sin. But the focus is upon God and the reality we have lost our intimate relationship with Him because of our rebellion. He has not died. We have died.

Mourning is a direct result of spiritual poverty. It is not the emotional anguish over physical suffering or loss but the deep grief over or because of sin which causes spiritual death. Death, which is separation from that which sustains life, is the outcome of sin. God created man to have a relationship with him so the primary result of sin is how it affects God and what it cost Him. I am so selfish in my view of sin I forget or ignore or redefine the extent of the impact upon God. I think nothing I do has an impact upon Him. Those who are poor in spirit have changed their focus from self to God, from how God views truth and our inclination to believe a lie to hatred for sin and love for truth.

We know what sin costs people. They die and are separated from God. In order to understand the penalty of sin we must know what it cost God.

New Testament Examples

God draws people toward Himself. Never will a person come to God otherwise. Instantaneous conversion is preceded by a long, hoary battle of the wills. Even when children “accepts Jesus” (a term which starts any disciple off on the wrong foot) the will must be broken by God. In fact, the will must be killed and recreated, something only God can do. Peter, Simon the Fisherman, often a disciple of Christ, and fallible Apostle of the early Church, lives the glaring need for action by God.

I like Peter. His first letter is a mainstay in my theological thinking, filled with mystery revealed. Peter’s journey toward Jesus is hard, starting and stopping and sputtering throughout the Gospels. Before Luke 5 Peter is an on-again, off-again follower. But Luke 5 is a turning, a sudden realization preceded by a long series of deliberate events, used by God to draw him close to His Son. I like Peter because I see myself in him even though I do not often like what I see, in either Peter or myself.

Peter knew Jesus. At least, he knew who Jesus was, a carpenter from the other side of the hill. Peter was a fisherman, worked mostly at night fishing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was a carpenter and worked mostly during the day. Jesus knew how to cut and shape wood. Peter knew the lake and how to fish it. Jesus knew how to attract people and talk to them in an attractive. More than likely, Peter wasn’t comfortable in crowds. He was a rough and tumble, rugged fisherman.

One time, after a long, frustrating, unsuccessful night of fishing, Peter and his buddies were cleaning their nets. This means they were done for the day and getting ready to go home. They hadn’t caught a thing. This means they had nothing with which to sell or to barter. He did not draw a salary or get vacation and sick days. If he didn’t work or catch anything he and his family may not eat.

Jesus walked up, followed by the usual crowd, and hopped into Simon (Peter’s) boat and asked him (Peter) to put out into the lake a little. This would keep the crowds away. Peter and Jesus knew each other well enough for Jesus to ask and Peter to comply. In my imagination I see Peter acting a little miffed. He’s worked all night. He’s bone tired. Jesus wants to use his boat as a floating soap box. Peter probably only half listens to what Jesus said. Remember, this is in my imagination. I’m not saying it happened this way.

After He is done speaking He looks at Simon (Peter) and says let’s go fishing. “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” [Luke 5:4 ESV] Peter is condescending in his response. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” [Luke 5:5 ESV] My imagination hears the heavy sigh coming from Peter’s face. The, they catch so many fish two boats are threatened with sinking.

Jesus’ presence does nothing for Peter. Jesus’ words did not move him one inch. Jesus’ request was outlandish. But something happened which changed Peter. He caught fish and Peter’s spiritual eyes were opened to who Jesus was. Peter probably didn’t realize Jesus had just done something only God could do. Peter did recognize there was something different, even holy about this man. Peter saw his sinfulness. “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’” [Luke 5:8 ESV] He saw his sinfulness because he perceived Jesus’ righteousness. “And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” [Luke 5:10 ESV] When God draws a person toward Himself He takes them out of one place and puts them in another. His call is always out of sin and into Christ’s righteousness, not self-righteousness.

Paul’s conversion is dramatic. Needless to say, most people do not have dramatic conversions. I don’t know anyone who was stopped in their tracks by a blinding light while on the way to capture and kill Christians.

That Christians are persecuted for their faith is an indisputable fact. Paul’s conversion was so dramatic he used it as a defense before the authorities who wanted to have him killed because he was a Christian and a Jew. Luke, the writer of Acts, relates “Saul’s” (who became Paul) conversion in Acts 9. Paul then tells us about his experience two more times, once in Acts 22 as he stands before an angry mob in the Temple Courts. They think he had brought Gentiles into their holy place. Then in Acts 26 he stands before King Agrippa after appealing to Caesar.

Before his conversion he was known as Saul of Tarsus, grew up in Jerusalem, joined the sect of the Pharisees and learned from Gamaliel (see Acts 22:3). Gamaliel made an amazing statement about the disciples of Christ and their preaching after Jesus was resurrected and ascended. Because they were Christ’s disciples they were being threatened, beaten, thrown in jail and persecuted because they talked about Jesus. Peter and the others were not intimidated. They would continue to preach because God had told them to do so. Standing in court Gamaliel said to his peers:

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” [Acts 5:38-39 ESV]

Shortly thereafter, Stephen was murdered, with Saul standing nearby holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen.

Saul learned Scripture from Gamaliel but did not learn to think until confronted by Jesus. Saul learned blood-thirsty action from those willing to murder for god. Had he paid attention to the lessons of his teacher and learned how to think from him he would have seen the wisdom in letting God deal with those who are against Him. Instead, Saul tries to control the situation for God through his violent actions.

Saul is a zealot for god (I use little “g” for a reason), letting his loyalty for the traditions of his elders control his passion for religion. Notice in Acts 9:1 Saul breathed “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” and traveled out of country to capture those who were threatening his religion. Saul claimed to know God and God’s absolute will. He had spent his life learning … something. Studying god as an intellectual exercise, or the manipulation of people in god’s name, as an emotional point of pride, does nothing for the person’s actual relationship with God. In reality, both methods of learning about god are a cheat.

On the road, at noon-time, when the sun is the highest and brightest a “light from heaven flashed around him” and he fell “to the ground.” [Acts 9:3 ESV] A light so bright Saul could not see for three days. A light brighter than the sun at its zenith. Only God casts a light so bright.

Then God spoke. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” [Acts 9:4 ESV]

For the first time in his life Saul is forced to honestly listen to God. In response, he asks an honest question. “Who are you, Lord?” [Acts 9:5 ESV] He called Him “Lord.” Saul knew instinctively with whom he was speaking. The answer must have stunned the zealous Pharisee. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” [Acts 9:5 ESV] Paul later tells the Church Christ is the head of the body. When the individual Christian is persecuted Christ is persecuted. Not only does the Christian identify with Christ, but Christ identifies with the Christian.

Those who were with Saul saw the light, heard the voice and helped the handicapped Pharisee into the city of Damascus. We know nothing else about them. Jesus was after Saul. If He went after those other men you may be sure He got them.

In an instant, after a life of learning about god, Saul was broken and learned about God.

John was a disciple and apostle of Jesus.  Current popular thought portrays him as a mild-mannered, almost feminine looking young man. A recent novel fictionalized him as almost, though not quite, a homosexual. He was the disciple Jesus loved and leaned on Jesus’ breast during the last supper. He was the type of man the postmodern world wants a man to be.

Okay, enough of this pandering nonsense.

What was John like?  He was a fisherman, one of Peter’s buddies. Don’t think for one moment Peter would put up with the modern description of John. Peter and his brother, and John and his brother, were all “cut from the same cloth.” They were hard-working, rough around the edges people nobody in our day, in our country, would want to tangle with. Some go to gyms to get exercise. Their very existence was exercise. They could out-row, out-run, out-lift, out-work any muscle-bound gym rat in this country. 

John had a temper. He and his brother were called “sons of thunder.” One time, as Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be murdered, they passed through a Samaritan village. Unwelcomed by the people of the village these wandering Jews were going to a place they hated, Jerusalem. ”And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them.” [Luke 9:54-55 ESV] They were as tough as anyone living in Galilee or Judah at that time.

John followed Jesus through almost His entire ministry. He was one of the inner-three, the most privileged of disciples. He was the only one who came back after Jesus was crucified, standing before the cross with Jesus’ mother, staring the gut-wrenching spectacle of mangled humanity hanging before him. He was the one who Jesus appointed to care for his mother. He was there when Jesus died. In my opinion, John had a stronger backbone and stomach than any of the other disciples.

John’s gospel is unique, set apart from the three Synoptic gospels. He was intimately familiar with the life and ministry of Jesus. He gives insight into the Gospel of Christ and its impact upon the people who knew and heard Him necessary to fully understand God’s will. John knew, intellectually and intimately, Jesus.

John was the longest living Apostle. He not only wrote the Gospel of John, but the 3 Epistles of John and the Revelation or Apocalypse of John, the last book in the New Testament. ”The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” [Revelations 1:1-2 ESV] He was exiled to the Island of Patmos, probably as a political prisoner of Rome, for the remainder of his life. While there, Jesus, whom he had walked with on earth, showed himself to John and told him to deliver a message to the Seven Churches.

John saw God in his vision.  Remember Job?  He figuratively slapped his hand over his mouth to keep from spouting more self-righteous verbiage when he saw God.  Remember Isaiah?  He admitted his mouth and heart and the collective mouths and hearts of the nation were sinful when he saw a vision of God.  Remember Ezekiel?  He fell to the ground in a faint when he saw a vision of God.  All had seen a vision of God and all had reacted humbly, radically, honestly.

Peter knew Jesus nominally, until Jesus performed a miracle, doing something only God could do. Then he fell on his face and cringed over his sinfulness.  Paul grew up steeped in the Scripture, a knowledgeable Pharisee blinded by the brilliance of Jesus and knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus. John knew Jesus during His ministry on earth, and walked with Jesus and the Church for the rest of his life. It doesn’t matter how much or what kind of knowledge you have, when you are face-to-face with Jesus you will react.  When John saw Jesus he “fell at his feet as though dead.” [Revelation 1:17 ESV]

How can sin, and anyone corrupted by sin, stand before a just, righteous and holy God. They cannot. This means God has to remove sin from the person before the person can enter His presence. He will do this but not without us acknowledging the truth of sin.

Examples of Poverty of Spirit

God does not tell use His expectations without giving examples both positive and negative. He has given examples of what it means to be “poor inn spirit” from the earliest writings and stories. Here are six people in Scripture who, when encountered by God “face to face” showed they were “poor in spirit.” Upon recognizing they were in God’s presence they immediately realized they were sinful and unable to stand before Him because of His holiness.

Many stood before God and questioned Him, or argued with Him, or ran away from Him. After they sinned Adam and Eve ran from God presence when they heard Him walking in the Garden. There is no suggestion in Scripture they repented. Abraham listened to God, heard Him speak, even face-to-face with the Angel of the Lord before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and argued with Him. While Abraham is declared righteous because of his faith in God’s promises not because he understood the truth and extent of sin. Jacob wrestled with Him. Moses, before the burning bush, argued with God. Joshua challenged Him. Elijah ran to Him, then covered his face before complaining to Him.

Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible. God loves Job and they have an intimate relationship. However, it doesn’t appear God loves Job when He allows Satan to afflict the man and take away his belongings, his family and health. Throughout the ordeal Job does not sin in what he says to those who try to entice him to sin. Even his wife criticizes him.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”In all this Job did not sin with his lips. [Job 2:9-10 ESV]

Throughout the book of Job, during the discussions and arguments with his “friends” Job lays out his case, asking for God’s justice over and over. He wants to stand before God and plead his case knowing God would listen. He never admits he has done wrong though he readily admits many things are wrong and sinful before God. He never admits he has done any wrong. There are many things he knows are wrong and does not do them. He does not allow his eyes to wander and lust after other women. He has not lied or stolen but taken care of the needs of the poor, the orphan and widow. He has not put his trust in wealth nor is there anyone who has a charge against him. Throughout the book Job defends his righteousness, a righteousness given him by God. But Scripture tells us there are none righteous. None seek after God. All are sinful and under God’s wrath. Job doesn’t see this until he is confronted by very God.

Then Job answered the Lord and said: I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. [Job 42:1-6 ESV]

Perhaps one of the most worshipful gestures of all is the uncommon one Job here performs. He figuratively and poetically covers his mouth with his hand. He has been speaking eloquently, answering his friends arguments and accusations. He has defended himself before them suggesting he could also defend himself before God. But once he hears God, listens to His wonders, sees him with his own eyes, Job knows nothing he has said carries weight before his Creator. He “despises” himself. He “repents” of his rash words. He stops talking. This act is a demonstration of total submission. One can fall on one’s face and yet continue to blubber and babble. To yield the tongue is to yield everything. If you can’t change your thinking then at least stop talking.  Standing in God’s presence require silence.

If the goodness and right actions of a man like Job cannot justify themselves before God how much less the self-righteous and sinful actions and attitudes of a whole nation who claim to worship God but do not. In the first five chapters of Isaiah the prophet describe a people, a nation, who have turned their backs on their God, while calling their rebellion “worship.” God calls His nation, the nation of Israel, “Sodom and Gomorrah,” equating the sin of the people called His own to the sin of those destroyed cities. Isaiah is a prophet calling the people of God to turn away from their sin, to repent and return to God. He is sent to Judah, the Southern Kingdom, just before the fall of the Northern Kingdom. Perhaps the people will see what happens to their countrymen to the North and learn.

Yet, God states blatantly, they will not listen. If they would only turn away from their sin and turn toward God He would bless them and their land. They refuse to even acknowledge their sin.

They do not listen and refuse to learn. Over a century later Judah falls, Jerusalem is destroyed, the Temple, the center of false worship, is razed and the people are exiled replaced by pagans. God had been telling them from the moment they entered the “Promised Land” they must follow Him wholeheartedly. Ezekiel, a prophet among the exiles of Judah, 140 years after Isaiah, continues to tell them, God’s people in exile, to turn from their sin and return in obedience to God.

There are many viewpoints about what a prophet is supposed to do and be. Prophets are truth-tellers. They “forth-tell” not just “foretell.” Everything they say must be truth. If what they say is not truth then they are considered by God a false prophet. God metes out harsh punishment for those who tell lies and even harsher punishment for those who attribute those lies to Him. God makes those who are His prophets lovers of the truth and haters of lies. These people will bluntly confront the lie, sin, with truth, justice and righteousness, even when reviled or ignored, persecuted or killed. Prophets view themselves as wholly belonging to God. They recognize who God is and who they are before God.

Look at Isaiah and Ezekiel. How did they view themselves before God? Both had a vision of holy God. Isaiah’s vision was simple. “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” [Isaiah 6:1 ESV] Ezekiel’s vision was elaborate, filled with images and detail. All of the first chapter of Ezekiel describes holy God.

And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. [Ezekiel 1:26-28 ESV]

Job stopped talking. Isaiah recognized even his words, every thought and word and action and attitude was corrupted before the voice of God. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” [Isaiah 6:5 ESV] God cleansed his lips with a burning coal. When Ezekial saw God he “fell on his face.” [Ezekiel 1:28 ESV]. He did not just stop speaking, or just see his words as corrupted. He saw his whole being as unworthy. God sent those who were unworthy of Himself to turn a nation of those who are unworthy back to Himself, knowing only a few would actually return.

Do not the words of a person show what is in the person’s heart and head? Does not our speech define for God and the world who we are? Those who are “poor in spirit” recognize their utter unworthiness before the absolute holiness of God. Yet, God blesses those who are “poor in spirit.” His blessing comes through the sacrifice of His Son who took upon Himself the sin of those who refuse to recognize their sin and continue in their rebellion. Poverty of spirit is the first step toward God in obedience.

Called by God

“Many are called but few are chosen.” [Matthew 22:14 ESV]

If you ask the normal Christian who has grown up with flannel graph Bible stories in Sunday School and listening to Sunday sermons Jesus frequently uses this phrase. He does make similar statement but this is the only time Jesus actually says “many are called but few are chosen.” This startling statement comes on the heels of a number of parables directed against false teaching about who God is and what He wants in a relationship with those He loves. Jesus ends the last parable in this string of stories with the above declaration.

This parable is about a wedding banquet and the lack of desire to attend by the invited guests of the father of the groom. It was the King of the land who invited them and they had so little regard for him they found excuses to not attend. So, instead of forcing them or compelling them, the king disowned them and invited the poor and needy and anyone his servants could find on the road. It did not matter if they were citizens of his kingdom or just traveling through they were invited in and came. Knowing those invited from the streets would not have proper attire the king clothed them so they would reflect the dignity of the occasion of the wedding of his son. But, he found one man who refused the clothing choosing to wear his own cloths and not those provided. When the king saw this man dressed in his clothes, an anomaly amidst the wedding guests, he spoke to him and received no answer from the man who was not wearing proper attire. He was speechless so the king had him bound hand and foot and thrown out. Does this sound violent and abusive? Is it not the prerogative of a king to demand compliance with his wishes?

Though Jesus does not interpret the parable it is not difficult to understand. In the story the king is God and the son is Jesus, the Son of God. God’s servants are the prophets including John the Baptizer. Those who are invited but refused to come are the religious leaders and the chosen people of God. Those who are invited and attend are those, including the Gentiles, who obey God’s command to come into His presence. Please note, the word “invited” is the word “called” and is not a request as an invitation is considered in our culture. It was not the king’s intent to request people come but a command they should come. For any to disobey this command is out and out rebellion. Jesus’ righteous is the wedding garment and all who attend the wedding must be clothed with His righteousness and not their own. So, the one who is found who is not dressed properly and is cast out represents those who claim to know God but refuse to be clothed in Christ’s righteousness preferring their own.

Jesus spoke this parable against the religious leaders who hated him and wanted him dead. They were the leaders responsible for teaching the people about God, His law and history. Yet, they had become so self-centered and focused on controlling the people they lost sight of God’s work and intent for them. They were self-righteous, as far away from “poor in spirit” as they could be. Though they espoused the thoughts and will of God they did not follow Him or have a relationship with Him. They were His servants yet refused to serve Him as He commanded. They were sinful yet refused to acknowledge their sin believing following the law to the letter would make them right before God. Using their works as an excuse they refused to respond to the One who had chosen them and taught them and was leading them toward Himself. They are “called” yet refuse His “chosen” status.

God’s call is not a request to come but a command. There is not option for refusal. When God calls a person He draws them out of one thing and into another. He calls them out of one place and sends them to another. Abraham was called out of Ur of Chaldea, away from his land and his people and his gods and sent to an unknown place. At no time during the journey did God ever say “I am sending you to Canaan, over next to the Mediterranean. You know the place in between the desert and the sea, with Egypt on the South and every other world power on the North.” God called Abraham and promised to bless him in the new place even though he was walking into the complete unknown.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. [2] And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. [3] I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” [Genesis 12:1-3 ESV]

There are two major points in Abraham’s story. First, God chose a man who was not a godly man, who had nothing in his being or bearing which would show himself as one worthy of God’s attention. Looking back at Jesus’ parable Abraham would be one walking the street, not even a citizen of the kingdom, invited into the wedding banquet. Abraham was thoroughly pagan. He was not dressed appropriately for a wedding feast for the son of a king. Secondly, God called him out of the world of paganism and idolatry into a place He had already chosen and would direct into making His kingdom (albeit, on earth). God dressed him over the years, clothing him appropriately for attendance at the wedding feast and as a new citizen of His kingdom. God called him and chose him and he responded to the call and accepted being chosen even though he did not know what would happen.

Jesus says “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He is calling those chosen out of one world into another. He is saying “look honestly at yourself, at those around you, at the world in which you live and recognize its total depravity, turn away from it and enter the exact opposite, the kingdom of heaven.”

When you leave the world you cannot bring anything with you. This world is condemned. In God’s timing he will destroy everything corrupted by sin. Why then would anyone try to bring something, anything, which has no eternal value out of this world into His kingdom?

God does not rip us away from the physical world. When Israel entered the Promised Land God said He would drive out the inhabitants “little by little”lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you.” In the same way the Israelites were to drive out the people of the land of Canaan the Christian is to expel the sin from their lives. As sin is confronted it must be killed. Since the Israelites did not do what God commanded, leaving some of the ungodly people in the land they were to drive out, God allowed them to stay.

Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. These are the nations: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. [Judges 3:1-4 ESV]

As you read the history of Israel you will see the Philistines were a continual source of war and temptation. Israel has been suffering because of the sin of disobedience for thousands of years. So, we must have no mercy upon the sin we discover and face. It must be driven out and destroyed. That which is of the world cannot enter the Kingdom of God. However, like Israel, should we not drive out the sin God will allow it to stay to teach us to war against sin.

Though God does not rip any who are His away from this world He does tell us to break any connection we might have with the world so we not cling to that which is worthless. There was nothing in corrupted people to suggest we are worth God’s effort and attention. What we are not the issue. Who God is and that He works in those who are His is the issue. He is working to prepare the Christian for eternity though we deserve the exact opposite. His call is for the Christian to recognize sin and His grace and obey Him no matter the circumstance.

Evidence of Sin

What is the evidence for sin? There are several primary pieces of evidence left in the trail of everyone bent by sin. Since God requires man recognize sin in self and the world He commands the evidence remain obvious. His declaration of sin as rebellion against Him is all the verification for sin He needs. He always tells the truth and demands His creation live in truth declared. Man is created in the image of God. It is this image, even corrupted by sin, which gives us the tools to know truth, the difference between right and wrong, and the reality of physical death pointing toward spiritual death.

Even if we don’t know the word “sin’ we do know the feeling “guilt.” In the New Testament the word “guilty” means to owe or to be in debt. In the Old Testament the word “guilty” means to commit an offense and be held responsible for it, either by self or an authority. Whether in the Old or New Testament the guilty person is held and judged against a specific standard. This recognition of “guilt” points to sin and the intellectual acknowledgment of its reality, not the emotional realization of the consequences which follows. Emotions are subjective, influenced by many uncontrollable and unpredictable external and internal circumstances. Both the mind and the emotions, as parts of the image of God, are corrupted by sin and so cannot see, or will not see, and understand sin’s reality.

No one can live with a guilty conscience for long. They must do something with the guilt. For sinful humanity one of the prevalent means for easing the shame brought on by sinful actions and attitudes is to change the standard which judges those actions and attitudes rebellion against God. We say what we have done is not rebellion and has violated no law and then we convince ourselves the lie is true. Doing this gives us permission to continue living out the lie. Or, we can do something to absolve ourselves of the guilt. We offer restitution and pay for our sin using our own means and then feel better. Doing this never changes the truth of history and the reality of what has been done. Nor, because of the doctrine of total depravity, will we adequately pay for our own sin, either actively or passively. Doing this is another way of changing the rules. So, we either ignore the rules and our rebellion against them or we explain away our rebellion and alleviate our feeling of guilt.

But wait. Our heads, the intelligence, tells us “guilt” is real. Our heads, our minds, tell us we have done something to produce guilt. If we are honest we will recognize there is an objective standard existing outside of self which is absolute and which we have violated, producing guilt. We know, intellectually, the difference between right and wrong. This is the second piece of evidence for sin. Admitting one is guilty is as vitally important as recognizing the truth of sin. Ignoring the guilt will compel the person to begin viewing the created world, governed by the absolute laws of God, to believe a lie which is insane.

It is not a great leap to realize a standard, a measurement of the distance between right and wrong, must have a Standard Giver. Since God, the Standard Giver, has created people in His image are capable of recognizing both the standard of right and wrong and the One upon whom the standard is based. We know, intellectually as well as intimately, the boundaries of that standard. We may ignore them, rationalize them away, say they do not nor have never existed, call them something else, but we know, even with a corrupted image, the difference between right and wrong. We also know we always want to choose that which is wrong. In order to abrogate our responsibility to do what is right by choosing to do the wrong we must redefine truth, saying it is something it is not. When we do this we say God is something other than what He is truly.

Truth, and right and wrong, are as absolute as mathematics. Evidence for the reality of sin is the recognition of what is right and what is wrong based upon the intimate knowledge of the intrinsic, objective standard of God, the truth, known because of the tools given within the image of God carried by all.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. [Romans 1:18-21 ESV]

One unconditional piece of evidence for the reality of sin is the absolute certainty of death. Death is the separation from that which sustains life. Physical death occurs when the body is no longer sustained in the physical world, through the natural laws, standards emplaced by the Standard Giver. So, spiritual death is separation from the absolute One who sustains spiritual life, as well as physical life. Separation from the Life-Giver happens when there is known and deliberate rebellion against the Standard Giver.

We die. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” [Genesis 2:16-17 ESV]

God uses the word death twice in this restriction. On the day Adam ate from the tree he began dying. Adam did not immediately die but the process of physical death begin. He would die. This suggests two things. First, God created those in His image to live and not die. Second, He told Adam what death was. We know death as separation from that which gives life. So for Adam death separates from God since God created him and breathed life into him. But, he would not be separated immediately in physical death. We do see God separating Adam from the garden immediately. Death is a consequence of sin but it is also the definitive evidence for the reality of sin.

We can no more ignore the truth of death than we can ignore the truth of sin than we can ignore the truth of God. To do any of this is to lessen God and everyone made in His image. Believing there is no sin or reason for guilt elevates self to God’s place and replaces His standard with the individual’s unreasonable expectations. Such an attitude shows contempt for God and for those made in His image. This attitude is called pride. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. [Proverbs 16:18 ESV] If being poor in spirit builds the desire of a love for the truth and expresses a complete hatred for sin then the hidden sin facing all but especially those who are poor in spirit is pride.

In the Old Testament the word “pride” means to exalt, to have majesty or excellence, coupled with arrogance. In the New Testament there are several words translated “pride” and used only a few times. “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.” [1 John 2:16 ES] John uses a word which means “empty words,” “empty assurances” or” empty trust.” Everything the person says implies an empty belief and misplaced trust in an object which cannot deliver what is promised. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up (proud) with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” [1 Timothy 3:6 ESV] Paul uses a word which means “smoke” or “mist,” having the outward appearance of substance but with nothing inside. Pride blows hot air into a person until they are so big they can see nothing but themselves. Pride is essentially a self-righteous, self-absorbed excuse to view self as not sinful or beyond sin. Pride expresses itself in self-righteousness.

Those who are poor in spirit recognize sin has separated them from the riches of a personal relationship with God. Pride hides truth and inflates self shutting off every personal relationship. Once one begins working with God there is a continual trial to not place self ahead of Him. It is easy to begin viewing all which has been done, or said, to see the successes and failures, and to attribute them to personal effort. While we live in this world God does not erase the corrupted image given us through Adam as we acknowledge sin and relinquish control. We must continually fight the tugs and pulls of the world, continually acknowledge sin in ourselves and continually relinquish control. Even John, at the end of his life when he saw Jesus, fell on his face because he recognized his sinfulness.

However, the internal understanding or knowledge of truth shown by God may become a source of pride. Look at Elijah. Here was a man willing to stand alone before a hostile leader in the power of God and defeat the opposition, do miraculous and mighty things, and speak boldly and truthfully. He is the only person in the Bible we can say with certainty was taken into heaven without dying. Yet, he became exhausted with his battle and ran to the mountain of God to speak with Him.

“The word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”

“He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.’” [1 Kings 19:13-14 ESV]

Elijah thought he was the only one speaking for God, that all others had deserted God or been killed. He points out to God his attitude toward the direction given. He was “jealous” for God. Elijah showed how passionate he was for declaring truth and hating sin. He was not afraid of standing alone even against the prophets of Baal whom he had just killed. He knew the people had killed God’s prophets and were out to murder Him. God did nothing to stop the murder of those prophets. Elijah told God when they killed him no one would be left to speak for God. He was telling God to do something. He has done everything he could for God and it seems as if God has done nothing.

Notice God does not rebuke Elijah. He has protected him, given him food miraculously, listened to him and given him dominion over rain and life. He enabled Elijah to outrun horses. He killed 400 men and would have killed 850 had the rest of the false prophets showed up. God sustained him as he walked for days without food. Elijah’s focus upon God waivered with physical exhaustion. He had to see himself before God and worn out before he would see God utterly and finally in control. Though there is no mention of pride in Elijah his words before God about himself and what God has not done are self-important.

Even the godliest men will succumb to pride when they focus upon themselves and not on God. Pride, which is sin, focuses upon personal accomplishments and not on God. Even focusing on failures and not on God makes proud. Anything which elevates self above the station specified by God is rebellion. Though God blesses those who are poor in spirit there is still a tendency to view self in a way which places self where God never intended.