What is a Pure Heart?

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Matthew 5:8-Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. This is shocking! Not only is Jesus instructing us to have a pure heart He is establishing purity of heart as the criteria for seeing God. I have a book on my shelf entitled, Why the Sermon on the Mount Makes Me Uncomfortable –this is why. What does Jesus mean?

Purity of heart, as Jesus means, is not sinlessness of life. Jesus is not calling us to a holiness that is beyond human capability. A careful study of God’s Word seems to reveal three kinds of holiness.  First, there is the holiness of God that is incomparable to everything else. When the holy heavenly angels come into the presence of God in Isaiah 6, they cover their faces and cry “holy, holy, holy.”  The holy angels are overwhelmed by the holiness of God. There is a holiness that belongs to God alone! Second, there is a holiness that awaits every child of God in glory. In 1 John the Apostle writes, “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him just as He is.” There is a holiness that the believer will receive in glory. Finally, there is gospel holiness that we are called to pursue now. This is what Jesus is referring to in this great sermon.

What is this gospel purity of which Jesus is speaking? It is two things. A heart that has been made clean through redemption and a heart that is not divided. The redemptive work of Christ guarantees the believer a new heart—a new creation. The work of the Christian life is to seek first the kingdom of God because no one can serve two masters. Soren Kierkegaard said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” The opposite of a pure heart is a heart that is not singularly focused on Jesus. James, the brother of Jesus, writes, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8) Gospel heart purity is a saved person whose first passion is fixed on Christ.

I have met some professing Christians who say they believe the God has forgiven them, but because of their past behavior and life, they do not believe change is possible. “Nathan, I believe God can forgive me, but I don’t believe He can change me.” That is not the God of the Bible. God can free you from your ingrained behaviors and your compulsive habits. HE CAN! Please allow me to make a faith statement. “I believe that if I am in Christ and Christ is in me; I will be made clean.” Faith to believe is a gift from God. Would you consider praying and asking God to give you the faith you need to say, “I believe that if I was in Christ and Christ was in me, I would be made clean.”

A Discourse on Hate

Protests, counter protests, civil rights, human rights, human trafficking, abortion, slavery… the war never ends, but the battles won along the way are always celebrated by the winner as being for the good and against the wicked.

The longer I observe human behavior, the more doubtful I become that the struggle for “right vs. wrong” even exists in contemporary society. Our public arguments have been reduced to an inconsistent, inconceivable philosophy that pays more homage to political loyalties and selfish proclivities than it does to reason and truth. And, to point out the contradictory absurdities of either side, is to be lumped, by them, into the other group—or even worse, villainized because one’s communication did not perfectly reflect their own. Regardless of the side you choose (the noblest or most heinous) it is always filled with contradictions that we see—but we don’t see.

The side that fights against racism and inequality also fights for the right to murder the unborn. The side that fights for the life of the unborn, fights to preserve a legacy of racism and slavery. Both sides contend for moral superiority all the while ignoring the reality of their own contradictions. The same inward evil that drives racism drives abortion, rioting, and a car capriciously into an indiscriminate crowd. We see it, we are horrified by it, and yet we remain unwilling to acknowledge that the seeds of the same hatred reside in our own heart. Obama or Trump—regardless the object of our hate—it is still hate. “Loving our enemy” is apparently an unachievable ideal. Has anger ever erased anger? Has hate ever eradicated hate? Yes, but only when a tyrant or despot silenced the opposition.

The real battle is not fought in the streets, in politics, or in social media, it is fought within our own hearts. Every other battle is merely a shadow of this conflict, symptomatic of something far worse. Yes, our momentary public expressions of protest may placate us for a season, but ultimately, they mean nothing and accomplish nothing apart from irritating the opposition. All the while, the battle of the human heart goes unnoticed. I hear the pied piper play his familiar tune across the lips of the unsuspecting, "follow your heart" and I feel like screaming, "No! Don't do it!" We are only happy because we are ignorant, ignorant to the fact that everything within us conspires against us. “But, we are more educated now.” Yes, America is more enlightened than it was during the civil rights movement, and yet unbelievably we have birthed an even more insidious racism— “one nation under fiction, divided by parties, with liberty and justice for no one.”

Our quarrels will never be extinguished through any means of our own. This despicable hatred we have for each other cannot be legislated away. Evil never surrenders. March all the marches you want. Be incessantly angry. Have community organized protests. Vote out the opposition. Beat your enemy down with the fury of your hatred but in the end, you will become the personification of the very thing you oppose, and the temperature of disagreement in our world will only increase.

When will we finally admit not only that we are not good, but that we are helpless to alter our condition? Human society will never usher in Utopia. When will we finally bow before God and acknowledge our desperate need for His righteousness and holiness, to overcome our selfish hearts?  If this is not the time for bold and painful honesty then when? A truthful confession of our inward brokenness which charts a path to healing is certainly far more desirable than our current delusion where we imagine ourselves as good without God. Only the glory of God in the human heart expressed through obedient living and in humble worship can save us from ourselves ... and we need saving.

Discouraged???

One of the most memorable stories in the Bible is the confrontation on Mount Carmel between Elijah and the 850 prophets of Baal.

You probably know the story where the prophets of the false god prayed all day, screamed and cried and cut themselves but nothing happened …

Then, at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah stepped up, drenched his sacrifice with barrels of water, prayed a short prayer and fire fell from heaven consuming the sacrifice, the wood, and even the stones… and the people turned back to God.

It was a tremendous victory… but it was short lived.

(1 Kings 19:1-4) Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.  2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time."  3 And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.  4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, "It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers."

Please notice three things about Elijah’s discouragement.

Attack: Jezebel heard about what had happened and immediately responded by threatening to kill Elijah—she didn’t actually do anything, but she threatened. Threats are designed by the enemy to intimidate.

Alienation: Elijah was so upset by the attack he left his servant at Beersheba and went on alone. Discouraged people often close themselves off from those who could and would help them. We forget that predators hunt lone animals. Satan loves it when you lay out of church and distance yourself. He knows that makes you an easy target.

The devil walks about as a roaring lion seeking to devour you, and he likes to hunt isolated Christians … that is why the writer of Hebrews exhorts us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Going to church is not about attendance numbers it is about your spiritual and emotional endurance.

Anguish: Elijah prayed to die—he felt sorry for himself.

(1 Kings 19:9-10)9 Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  10 He said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."

Notice why Elijah felt such anguish and despair.

·       He exaggerated the problem. He says that ALL the prophets of God have been killed …

I’m not saying this was true of Elijah, but some people enjoy their pity party so much they don’t want to be cheered up … they just want to wallow in despair. Elijah is whining and complaining right when things had just gotten better.

·       He overestimated his own importance. “I alone am left!” Not true, and God has to remind Elijah that there are 7000 other people who were still faithful to God.

There was nothing to justify Elijah wanting to quit, but that is what he was about to do simply because he was discouraged. Everyone, even the best of us, from time to time, struggle with discouragement.

Billy Graham said, “The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, 'O God, forgive me,' or 'Help me.'

Discouragement, much like bitterness, will not just “go away” … you must deal with.

(1 Kings 19:9)9 Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 

Two times God asked Elijah this same question.

One of the things I’ve learned in life is that you should never make major life decisions while you are discouraged. If you do, you will end up in the wrong place and with the wrong people which will only contribute to making your situation worse.

Discouragement has nothing to do with what has happened—it’s all about how we respond to what has happened.

It is easy to get discourage and give up … anybody can do that.

Discouragement is defeated when we learn to trust God with the bad stuff, and start relying on His strength instead of our own.

The Description and Remedy for Bitterness

(Heb. 12:15) See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;

1.    The Description of Bitterness

Bitterness is when the smallest sliver of anger, disappointment, or disillusionment is allowed to fester and become infected.  [Grief is a clean wound, bitterness is an infected one. What I mean by this is that grief, in time, will heal on its on, but bitterness requires purification for healing.]

The author of Hebrews warns us of the danger of the “root of bitterness springing up.” This is a great analogy because it illustrates the nature of bitterness and helps us understand it better.

  1. You don’t see roots from the surface—Bitter people don’t usually “look” bitter, more often than not they don’t know themselves that they are bitter. I didn’t. Bitter people will deny it. I did. Sometimes the true cause of the bitterness has been buried for so long that you may not even recognize the cause for it, even if you know you have it.
  2. Roots grow bigger with time—Bitterness may begin in a short period of time or over a small incident but if it is allowed to remain, in time, as it grows bigger and deeper, it will poison more and more.
  3. The whole root must come out, otherwise it will come back—Dealing only with the surface part will resolve nothing. You must allow God to expose all of it no matter how deep God has to go, or how much it hurts. [A.W. Tozer said, “before God can use a man, he must first wound him deeply.”]
  4. The larger a bitter root grows the more it prevents good things from growing—You have heard it said that bitterness defiles but this verse says a whole lot more. It says that “many” will are defiled by it.  Your bitterness extends beyond you and negatively impacts those around you: parents, children, siblings, friends, co-workers, neighbors, others in the church—many are defiled. Bitterness troubles you and pollutes those around you.

2.    The Remedy for Bitterness

In Matthew 18 Jesus tells a short parable and then when he finishes he ends by making a shocking statement.

In this parable, an employee has borrowed a lot of money from his boss but in time he realizes he is too poor and cannot repay the loan. When the boss realizes his employee can’t pay back the loan, because the boss is a compassionate man, he forgives and writes off the employee’s entire debt.

… but that’s not the end of the story.

This employee who has just had the huge debt erased then goes to see a co-worker who owes him only a little money to collect but the employee finds out his coworker cannot repay him. However, unlike the compassionate boss, when the employee finds out that his co-worker can’t repay the small loan, the employee throws his co-worker into debtor’s prison …  but shortly the boss finds what his employee has done.

(Matt. 18:32-35)32 "Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?'  "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. [Now here is the shocking statement.] "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Verse 35, in the context of this parable gives us God’s remedy for bitterness.

a. To recover from bitterness, you must forgive—Jesus says in Matthew 6:15 that if we don’t’ forgive others, God wont’ forgive us.  You can be certain that if you haven’t forgiven them, HE will not forgive you.

We must forgive others not just because God forgave us, but in the same way and manner that He forgives. “But Nathan, you don’t know what they did to me.” … Let me ask you, did they beat you with a whip 39 times and nail you to a cross? In Ephesians 4:32 Paul says that we are to “Forgive one another, even AS God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us.” [Notice that it does not say since God forgave us but AS God has forgiven.]

How does God forgive? Immediately, completely and permanently. Even while dying on the cross Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

b. To recover from bitterness, you must forego—If you really forgive someone for what they’ve done then it’s done and over.  The matter is settled. 

Behind every bitterness is the feeling “I have been done wrong, I am going to get even.” Forgiveness is releasing your right and desire to get even.

When you forgive, you are not saying that what happened to you was right nor are you saying that you don’t deserve vengeance.  What you are saying is that you have given up your claim to vengeance and you are trusting God to resolve the issue as He deems best.

Finally, look at the phrase “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God”  here is what that means: bitterness is so poisonous that it will cause you to miss God’s grace for others and ultimately you will miss God’s grace for yourself.

Bitterness, even for the right reason, is wrong.

We can, and should, do better

"You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13) Sanctity of life and human dignity ought to serve as the moral compasses in all discourse concerning human rights. The protection and regard for these, although marginalized by our present laws, should be understood as universal. Sanctity of life and human dignity must be guaranteed to all people without regard to race, economic status, or developmental stage. Surely this is the primary objective and goal behind loving your neighbor as yourself.

Even in an age of moral pluralism, a free society for all must give some assurances for the protection of life in such a way that opportunity is guaranteed for the realization of personal identity and self-fulfillment, yet there are those who argue for abortion as a preventative for the unborn. To terminate a life in order to aid in its escape from pain or poverty, without that life requesting such aid, is not the action of a just and free society. To abort one life as a means of securing the comfort and convenience of another is to assign greater value to one life and lesser value to the other. (In other words the life of the mother is more valuable than the life of the child.) Abortion violates the fundamental premise of equality and human rights and is not the action of benevolent courage, but rather selfish cowardice.

These two moral compasses should orient one’s world view of how individual humans are to be perceived and treated. They suggest something about our obligation to each other in regards to justice, ethics, and behavior. If there is such a thing as human rights, then every human being must have value irrespective of individual capacity—a value that prohibits one from being marginalized by another.  We say that all individuals have inalienable worth and inviolable dignity and all attempts to downgrade any is a betrayal of human rights at every level. If the value, or personhood, of one is negotiable then why not all? A resolute belief in human rights ought to challenge every attempt to weaken our commitment to the sanctity of life and human dignity.

The degree of public support for legalized, and now government funded abortion is symptomatic of how deeply flawed the American consciousness truly is. Stassen and Gushee in their work Kingdom Ethics best expresses my sentiment. “We view abortion as a tragic sign of much that is wrong in the world as we find it. Every year the gift of new life for which so many couples yearn is met with a fatal rejection by millions of others. Doctors are paid to reach into the womb and destroy what grows there. Who can rest easy with this sorrowful and cruel reality? Each abortion is another victory for the reign of death and sorrow. We can do better.” Yes, I believe we can.

The Power of the Doctrine of Soul Competency

“Democracy in church government is an inevitable corollary of the general doctrine of the soul’s competency in religion. The independence and autonomy of the local church then is not merely an inference from a verse of Scripture here and there. It inheres in the whole philosophy of Christianity. Democracy in church government is simply Christ Himself animating His own body through His Spirit. The decisions of the local congregation on ecclesiastical matters are the “consensus of the competent.”[1]

What is soul competency? Is it the same thing as the priesthood of the believer, or is it something different? This is a good starting point and the answer to this question will guide our later assumptions. Although the expression ‘priesthood of the believer’ is found in the 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith & Message it is absent in the 1925. In 1963 and 2000 it is distinguished from Soul Competency and as such there is the idea that these two things are not the same.  E.Y. Mullins himself seems to fuel this distinction. Early on in his work “The Axioms of Religion” Mullins writes that democracy and the personal priesthood of the believer are consequences of soul competency. In other words, the original doctrine is soul competency and out of that doctrine comes our understanding of the personal priesthood of the believer. Based upon this alone you have to conclude that Mullins assumes the priesthood of the believer to be a corollary of soul competency along with democracy in church government; and therefore is distinct. However, a close reading reveals an almost interchangeable usage of both ideas. Regardless the reader’s interpretation there is no doubt that the doctrine of soul competency has had priority in Southern Baptist life from the beginning and is closely tied in meaning and importance to the priesthood of the believer.

As Mullins develops his thesis and begins to contrast Baptist and Roman Catholic faith he writes, “Romanism conceives of the human spirit as dependent in religion upon other human spirits. It regards the soul as incompetent to deal alone with God.”[2] Mullins focuses on the Roman Catholic laity’s dependency upon the priesthood of the Roman hierarchical system. He writes that in “every particular of the ecclesiastical and religious life of the Roman Catholic, the soul’s incompetency is assumed.”[3] Whether it be auricular confession, sacrament, last rites, or the doctrine of papal infallibility the church puts itself between the believer and God and in doing so illustrates its belief of the “soul’s incapacity to attend to religion for itself.”[4]

In every case where Mullin’s speaks of soul competency he is, in fact, speaking of some active dimension of the priesthood of the believer. Arguably these two things are distinct but also unquestionably inseparable and therefore it is not the distinction that draws us in our present discussion of ecclesiastical authority in the believer’s life but rather the connection and likeness. “…the idea of the competency of the soul in religion excludes at once all human interference…”[5] “Religion is a personal matter between the soul and God.”[6] This does not make the individual’s belief the determiner of truth but it does allow for God’s original intent—each person in private intimate relationship with God, emotionally, mentally, and theologically, as they need.

Almost 40 years after Mullin’s “The Axioms of Religion” Herschel Hobbs in his “People of the Book: The Baptist Doctrine of the Holy Scripture” makes it clear that soul competency is founded upon the authority of scripture—which he declares to be inerrant. “Repeatedly since 1963, the Southern Baptist Convention has refused to change its statement of faith in the inerrant Word of God. For instance, to use the word infallible weakens the statement…No, the stronger word is inerrant.”[7] Based upon this assumption Hobbs goes on to say that the Bible is divinely inspired, historically accurate, scientifically correct, constant and unchangeable. (I add this caveat because of those who would accuse Mullins of being infected by the enlightenment and others who would accuse Hobbs of being less than loyal to the Holy Scriptures.) Both accusations are likely made by those who seek to discredit these men in order to further their own agendas and in like manner disparage the doctrine of soul competency.

Even before the Southern Baptist Convention, the Triennial Convention, or the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination there was, evidenced by the actions of such people as Roger Williams and John Clarke, a common belief among Baptists that religious liberty (full freedom of thought and religious conscience) was an inalienable right beyond the rule and authority of any societal or ecclesiastical powers. “Every individual is created in the image of God and therefore merits respect and consideration as a person of infinite dignity and worth. Each person is competent under God to make his own moral and religious decisions and is responsible to God in all matters of moral and religious duty. Every person is free under God in all matters of conscience and has the right to embrace or reject religion and to witness to his religious beliefs, always with proper regard for the rights of other persons.”[8]

So what are the concluding assumptions concerning the competency of the soul? First, within the boundaries of the unquestionable declarations of scripture each person is free in their faith, without human or ecclesiastical interference and/or restraint to worship God as they deem right and best. Second, what is true in the first, in relationship to the individual, is equally true in relationship to any community or collective of individuals. Third, authority in worship and faith rises up from the individual or any collective of individuals, and cannot descend from ecclesiastical leadership without, in some way, negatively impacting the personal priesthood of the believer, and therefore doing harm to the doctrine of the competency of the soul in religion.

Critical pastors produce critical churches and critical churches do not cooperate outside their sphere of control.. Critical people feel superior and more right, this is the very thing that divides us. If Southern Baptist would return to this discarded value of the past, by this I mean the doctrine of soul competency, I believe we would rediscover the glorious power of unity and cooperation unlike ever before.

 

[1] E.Y. Mullins, The Axioms of Religion (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Pub, 1997), 66.

[2] Ibid, 70.

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, 71.

[5] Ibid, 65.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Timothy George, Richard D. Land, and Herschel H. Hobbs, eds., Baptist Why and Why Not, Revisited (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Pub, 1997), 14.

[8] Southern Baptist Historical Library & Archives.  “5-point Statement from Baptist Press on Ideals” dated August 24, 1963. SBHLA.org. http://www.sbhla.org/downloads/880.pdf(accessed 05/09/2016).

Why I Use a Specific Translation

What are the Scriptures?

The New Testament speaks of the Old Testament as Scripture, for which the Greek word is graphe, meaning “writing.” The word bible comes from the Greek word for book. Holy Bible means the “Holy Book.” It contains sixty-six separate books (thirty-nine Old Testament and twenty-seven New Testament), written in three languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic), over a period of more than a thousand years, by more than forty authors (of varying ages and backgrounds) on three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe).

Authors of the Bible include kings, farmers, philosophers, fishermen, poets, statesmen, and scholars. The books of the Bible cover history, sermons, letters, songs, and love letters. There are geographical surveys, architectural specifications, travel diaries, population statistics, family trees, inventories, and numerous legal documents. It covers hundreds of controversial subjects with amazing unity. It is the best-selling book of all time and is now available in nearly three thousand languages.

The Old Testament was written on papyrus—a form of paper made out of reeds; the New Testament was written on parchment (prepared animal skins). Because both forms of documents easily degrade under hot and dry conditions, it is providential that we have so many copies of ancient manuscripts. The various chapter and verse divisions in the Bible were not part of the original books. A lecturer at the University of Paris created the chapter divisions in 1228. Its current chapter and verse divisions were not fully developed until 1551.

What Does the Scripture say about itself?

Some statements from Scripture about Scripture:

• Given by inspiration of God — 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19–21
• The very words of God — 1 Thessalonians 2:13
• All we need to know God — Luke 16:29, 31
• A perfect guide for life — Proverbs 6:23
• Pure — Psalm 12:6; 119:140
• True — Psalm 119:160; John 17:17
• Trustworthy — Proverbs 30:5–6
• Perfect — Psalm 19:7
• Effective — Isaiah 55:11
• Powerful — Hebrews 4:12
• Nothing to be taken from or added to — Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32
• For everyone — Romans 16:25–27
• To be obeyed — James 1:22

 Some poetic images from Scripture about Scripture:

• Sweet like honey — Psalm19:10
• A lamp to guide our life — Psalm 119:105
• Food for our soul — Jeremiah 15:16
• A fire that purifies and a hammer that breaks us — Jeremiah 23:29
• A sword — Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12
• A seed for salvation planted in us — James 1:21
• Milk that nourishes us — 1 Peter 2:2

By its own declaration, the importance of Scripture can hardly be overstated. Here is the process by which we receive the Scriptures.

God—revelation/inspiration—transmission—translation—interpretation—application

Revelation is a miraculous event whereby God reveals Himself and His Truth to someone and inspired them, through the power of the Holy Spirit to write down what He had to say—perfectly. This original copies are called the autographs.

Transmission occurred when the autograph was carefully copied by trained scribes so that other copies could be made available for people to read. According to Acts 17:11 the Apostles taught from these copies and the early church tested all of its teachings against these existing scrolls. Jesus himself taught from these copies, not the original manuscripts, and treated them as authoritative. (Matthew 12:3-5; 21:16, 42; Luke 4:16-21; 10:26) God’s people have always relied on manuscripts and these writings have proven to be accurate and trustworthy.

Translation is the result of people wanting to read the Bible but are not familiar with the original languages in which they were written. Teams of language theory scholars carefully undertake the painstaking process of translating the original language into the languages of other people. Today the bible has been carefully translated into nearly 3000 different languages. While the thought of translation may concern some people, the fact remains this is the only way to get the scriptures into the hands of the ordinary man. The first translation of the English Bible was initiated by John Wycliffe and completed by John Purvey in AD 1388.

Interpretation occurs when someone reads the Bible and determines the meaning of the verses they have read by the enablement of God the Holy Spirit who also inspired the writing of the Scripture. Each text of the bible has only one true interpretation and so we must be careful to read the truth out of the Bible (exegesis) rather than reading our beliefs and desires into it (eisegesis).

The common question that arises at this point is: “Is the Bible to be interpreted literally?” The answer is yes. There are plain-literal and figurative-literal portions of the Bible. We begin by assuming the plain-literal meaning and if that seems to go contrary to the larger view of scripture or seems absurd we then go with a figurative-literal interpretation. The figurative-literal Scripture teaches truth in a poetic way and often uses the words “like” or “as” to tip us off that figurative language is being used. But, when figurative language is being used, it is still communicating a literal truth. [For example, in the poetic Song of Songs, the man says to his beloved “you have doves’ eyes.” In this figurative language, the man is communicating a very literal truth. He likens her eyes to doves, which come in pairs, and when their tail-feathers flutter they appear like eyelashes. Doves have just one faithful mate throughout their lives, possibly indicating that her eyes are focused on him alone. [The dove is also a symbol of peace and purity, alluding to her virginity.]

Application happens when we take what we learn from the principles of the Bible and make changes in our thoughts and actions through the Holy Spirit’s empowering grace so that our lives becomes compatible with the Bible. There are a seemingly infinite number of applications for a text of the Bible. The Word of God has one interpretation and a thousand applications. For example the Bible says that we should love one another and the applications for that principle alone are endless.

· In this five-step process (Revelation/Inspiration --> Transmission --> Translation --> Interpretation --> Application), we see how God speaks to us and cares deeply about our lives.

· We also see how the chasm between God and us is graciously filled by God’s revelation, which is more accurate and true than our human speculation (e.g., religion and philosophy).

· While the first step (Revelation/Inspiration of the autograph) is the only one that is guaranteed to be perfect, the other steps are indeed accurate. We must be increasingly careful as we move through the steps, however, because the opportunity for error increases at each step.

· Lastly, the third step of translation is incredibly important because that is what we depend on for the learning and living of our Christian faith.

A great preacher was once asked, “Which bible translation should I read?” His response was profound, “the one you will read.” We should never be divided over the issue of Bible translation. Certainly we should never discourage people from enjoying the translation that best helps them in understanding God’s word and growing in truth. However, I would be amiss as a pastor to not help people in their choice of translation. There are two kinds of Bible translations.

·   First, there are informal translations. Without getting into a lot of technical terminology these are basically paraphrases—bibles that endeavor to take the thought and interpret the thought and then translate it. This type of bible may be a good devotional tool but certainly would not be the choice for scholarly study or theological accuracy. Some of these bibles are: NIV, CEV, etc…

Informal translations fall into two categories.

There are those that are “thought for thought” translations. This is also known as dynamic equivalence. This is an attempt to convey the meaning of the passage not the words. In this endeavor these translations include words and/or thoughts that were not in the original text in an effort to give the same meaning that the reader of the original languages would have had. These are subject to some degree of subjective interpretation by those who were involved in the translation process.

There are also paraphrase or corrupted translations. Paraphrase translators do not feel bound by to the original meaning. In the case of paraphrases they are, at times, more concerned with capturing the poetic or narrative essence than the meaning. In the matter of corrupt translations the text is altered to promote an addition or heretical doctrine or a unique theological position as is the case of the Jehovah Witness New World translation.

·   Secondly there are formal translations. These are translations where the interpreters took the word in the original language and word for word translated and brought in over into another language. Some of these bibles are: ESV, NKJV, ASV, NASB and the KJV.          

I am not making a doctrinal statement but I do want to encourage you to consider using the NASB as your primary study tool. I am not saying that the NASB is only good rendering and therefore all other translations are evil. I am saying that for the purpose of doctrinal integrity and preaching and teaching I believe that the NASB is the best choice.

Having the best possible translation of Scripture is important because it helps us to hear God most clearly and therefore know Jesus most intimately. The importance of the Scripture cannot be overstated.

Six Theological Reasons why I choose the NASB

1.     The NASB upholds the truth that the Scripture is the very words of God not just the thoughts of God.

This point is inextricably connected to the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration, which upholds the belief that God the Holy Spirit inspired not just the thoughts of Scripture but also the very expressions, words, and details.

For example, the biblical theme of “walking” with God begins early in the book of Genesis. There we discover that whole generations, such as Noah’s, as well as whole cities, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, did not walk with God. But Genesis is careful to make note of those people who did walk closely with God, such as Enoch (5:24) and Noah (6:9). Likewise, in the New Testament we are told to also “walk” in a manner worthy of God and some translations say this exactly in places such as 1 Thessalonians 2:12 (KJV, ESV, NASB, NKJV, HCSB). But other translations take the liberty of instead saying we should “live lives” worthy of God (CEV, NIV, NLT, TNIV). This point is significant because the Bible repeatedly declares that the very words of God are important, not just the thoughts they convey, as the following examples illustrate:

·       Exodus 19:6

·       Deuteronomy 32:46-47

·       Proverbs 30:5-6

·       Matthew 4:4

·       Luke 21:33

·       John 6:63

·       John 17:8

·       1 Thessalonians 2:13

·       Revelation 21:5

·       Revelation 22:18-19

2.     The NASB upholds this: what is said must be known before what is meant can be determined.

Before we can interpret the meaning of Scripture, we must first accurately understand the message of Scripture. Or, to put it another way, only after knowing what Scripture says can we understand what it means. Practically, this requires that Bible translations be distinct from and prior to Bible commentaries which was the mindset behind the removal of the apocryphal from the KJV in 1885. A word-for-word translation best enables this to occur by seeking, as much as possible, to not insert interpretive commentary into the translated text of Scripture; rather, it lets the text breathe as a living word and speak for itself. The general problem with thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases is that their English interpreters include commentary that is not part of the original text and thereby commingle Bible and commentary. For the average reader, this is problematic because they do not know which parts of their Bible are from the original text and which parts have been added by commentators who were trying to convey their interpretation of its meaning.

3.     The NASB upholds the truth that words carry meaning.

Some scholars will argue that thought-for-thought and paraphrase translations do not change the meaning of Scripture but just the words of Scripture in an effort to clarify the meaning of Scripture. But this reasoning is fallacious because meaning is carried in words. Therefore, when we change the words of Scripture we are changing, to some degree, the meaning of the Scripture.

For this reason, when we handle other important documents we do not take the liberty to change their words. For example, an attorney is not free to change the words of a signed contract, a husband is not free to rewrite his vows of promise after his wedding, and a public notary is not free to make alterations to the words of a signed legal document. We would be rightly worried if such liberties were taken with our personal affairs and we should be even more worried when such liberties are taken with God’s affairs. In this way, word-for-word translations like the NASB, KJV, ESV are following the directives of 1 Corinthians 4:6, which admonishes us to not to think of men above that which is written and Proverbs 30:5–6, which warns, 5Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. 6Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.

4.     The NASB upholds the theological nomenclature of Scripture.

One of the more popular arguments for thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases is that people do not understand the theological nomenclature that Scripture uses to express doctrinal concepts. The reasoning follows that words like “justification” and “propitiation,” which the original text of Scripture used, should be replaced with more modern vernacular that people can understand. To illustrate this point two examples will be helpful.

First, one of the central debates of the Protestant Reformation was how a sinful person is justified before a holy and righteous God. This issue was so contentious that people died over it and Christianity split over it; it is not a trivial matter. Romans 3:24 is one of many places where “justification” is spoken of in the original text of Scripture. An examination of various translations, however, shows how the word is sometimes omitted altogether:

(KJV) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
(ESV) justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . .
(NASB) justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus . . .
(NIV) justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
(TNIV) justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
(NKJV) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (CEV) God treats us much better than we deserve, and because of Christ Jesus, he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins.
(TM) Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we're in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
(NLT) Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

Some of these translations (CEV, TM, NLT) would perhaps not be problematic if they were presented as commentary on Romans 3:24. But they are simply unfit to be the biblical text of Romans 3:24 because they do not say what God the Holy Spirit said through Paul and the uninformed reader has no way of knowing that they were reading commentary instead of Scripture.

Another example is 1 John 2:2. “… and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”  In the NIV and NRSV these verses do not say propitiation at all, but rather “sacrifice” or “atonement.” The RSV and NEB, translate ilasmos as “expiation” instead of “propitiation.” These latter two translations change the entire meaning of the verse. Propitiation speaks of the penalty for sin whereas expiation deals only with cleansing. There can be no cleansing unless first the penalty is paid. While the doctrines are related the greater weight of meaning falls toward propitiation. These two terms are distinct and to confuse them is to make a key theological error.

The question needs to be answered: why should we stop with only some theological words that the average person does not understand? The sad reality is that we live in a culture that has very little biblical knowledge and many if not most of the central words that Scripture uses are not understood by the average person. But lack of common knowledge does not lessen importance. My point in all of this is that words open up worlds of new truths, much like a link on a website takes one on to an entirely new page. Therefore, if people do not know the words of Scripture, we should not give them new words that close off new truths. Rather, we should teach them the old words of the original text, literally translated into English, so that a new world of truth can be opened to them.

Because we love the people God entrusts to our care, we who preach and teach Scripture should strive to explain the words that they do not understand so that they can fully appreciate what God is saying to them through His Word.

5.     The NASB upholds the complementarian nature of gender in Scripture. (vs. egalitarian)

The average Bible-reading Christian is probably unaware that there is a great debate raging in academic circles about the language of gender and how it relates to biblical translation. The argument is commonly made that in generations past people used the word “man” or “mankind” to refer to humanity in general as an all-encompassing term that included both men and women. But, it is said, the understanding of these words has changed so that in the minds of the average person today it refers only to males and excludes females. I would argue that this general assumption is inaccurate. For example, one of the most widely known feminist icons of our era is Madonna. Curiously, in defense of the mock-crucifixion she staged at the end of each concert during her $193.7 million-grossing 2006 Confessions tour, she said she struck the pose “to encourage mankind to help one another and to see the world as a unified whole. I believe in my heart that if Jesus were alive today he would be doing the same thing.” The two striking things about the quote are that Madonna is apparently unaware that Jesus is alive today and that she referred to the human race by the masculine pronoun “mankind.”

Although there is nothing wrong with translating “humanity” instead of mankind this illustrates my point that it is still common for people to understand that words like “man” and “mankind” are a reference to both males and females. It is God who called the human race “man” in Genesis 5:1 (KJV, ESV, NIV, NASB, TAB, NKJV, HCSB) and not the “human race” (TM) or “human beings” (TNIV, NLT, CEV). Additionally sometimes man is man and woman is woman and to use gender neutral terminology would be an offense to the text.

Psalm 8:4 serves as yet another practical example of the varying ways that differing translations take liberties with the clear text of Scripture regarding the issue of gender. The original text simply says “man,” yet some translations take the liberty to deviate from that markedly:

(KJV) What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

(ESV) What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

(NASB) What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?

(NIV) What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

(TNIV) What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

(NKJV) What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?

(CEV) Then I ask, “Why do you care about us humans? Why are you concerned for us weaklings?”

(TM) What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

(NLT) What are mortals that you should think of us, mere humans that you should care for us?

It must be pointed out that, in its more insidious forms, the push for gender-neutral language is in fact a clear push against Scripture. As previously written it is an action that violates the very text itself. For example, Scripture states that God made us “male and female” (Genesis 1:27). Consequently, in God’s created order, there is both equality between men and women (because both are His image-bearers) and distinction (because men and women have differing roles). This position is called complementarianism and teaches that men and women, though equal, are also different in some ways and therefore function best together in a complementary way, like a right hand and left hand (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22–33; Colossians 3:18–19; 1 Timothy 2:8–3:13). This is different from the egalitarianism of those who promote a feminist and/or homosexual agenda that strives to eradicate the created distinction between males and females in an effort to validate new alternative lifestyles that are not acceptable according to Scripture.

·       Translations such as the New Revised Standard accommodate this by wrongly translating “male and female” in Genesis 1:27 as the androgynous “humankind.”

·       The New Living Bible translates it as the genderless “people.” There are many reasons why all of this matters to Bible translation.

First, there is pressure from some theological teams to change the masculine language that Scripture uses in favor of more feministic and/or gender-neutral language that is not the language of the original text. Translations that use gender-neutral language include the NRSV, TNIV, NLT, NCV, GNB, and CEV.

Second, even more insidious is the effort by some to feminize God. Perhaps the worst example of this is a recent translation released by a group of fifty-two biblical “scholars” called The Bible in a More Just Language. In an effort to remove what the group sees as unjust treatment of women and homosexuals, God the Father is now “our Mother and Father” and Jesus is no longer the Son of God but rather the “child” of God. The hidden irony (or perhaps agenda) of this work is that Satan is still referred to as a male.

Theologically speaking, God does not have a biological gender because God is Spirit, without physical anatomy (John 4:24), and is therefore not a man (Numbers 23:19).  In using the word “He,” the Bible is not saying God is merely a man, but rather that God is a unique person who reveals Himself with terms such as “Father” (a male distinction)when speaking about Himself. By way of analogy, John Calvin said that God uses terms such as “Father” to speak to us in baby talk, much like a parent uses words that their young child can understand in order to effectively communicate with them. Jesus said “Our Father” when he gave us our model of how to pray. Therefore, referring to God as Father is not an antiquated oppression from a patriarchal culture, but an echo of the prayer life of Jesus. It is the predominant way in which God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.

Third, we acknowledge that Scripture does infrequently refer to God in terms that are more feminine in nature, such as a hen who cares for her chicks (Matthew 23:37). Nonetheless, such language is both infrequent and metaphorical because God is no more a woman than God is a chicken.

In conclusion, God created mankind “male and female” (Genesis 1:27; 5:2). We must not bend to the pressures of an androgynous culture that would oppose His created order and refer to men and women as anything less than “male and female,” as God does (Genesis 5:2). Furthermore, we must not bend to the pressure to think of God as someone other than “our Father” because that is the primary means He has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His Son Jesus Christ. Simply, God the Father commands all who disagree with Him on this point to repent of their nonsense rather than revise His name.

Four Practical Reasons why I, as a called pastor, use the NASB

1.     My pulpit is theologically oriented

Biblical living can only flow out of correct biblical doctrine therefore when preaching doctrine a word for word translation helps insure theological and doctrinal accuracy.

2.     My pulpit exists to teach people what they may otherwise not know

In 1 Timothy 3:2 God said that pastors must be “apt to teach.” Practically this means that people do not merely need a good Bible translation they also need a good church with good teaching and preaching. One of the things we learn from the Trinitarian nature of God is that truth rests most surely in loving Christian community. As a result, Christians who sit down alone with their bibles and do not go to church are missing out (Heb. 10:25). We all need to have Christian friends with whom we examine and apply the scriptures and God has given the church pastors to help people understand the parts of scripture they find confusing.

3.     My pulpit must support and not weaken the trustworthiness of Scripture

Like all pastors who love God’s Word I need to be able to read the English translation to the people and tell them with confidence that they are hearing what God, through the original author, actually said. When I have to tell people that their translation is not accurate I wince because I fear that I may be weakening their trust in the Bible. What I do not want is people putting their Bibles down or reading them halfheartedly because they are uncertain of its accuracy. What I do want is for people to continually enjoy their Bible and read it in faith and with confidence that God is speaking to them through it. For this to occur I must preach from a translation that is accurate and does not require clarification and correction.

4.     My pulpit is precedent-setting for the life and doctrine of our people

In 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul tells Timothy to “take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt save thyself, and them that hear thee.” As a teaching pastor I am not just looking out for my own life and doctrine but also for those who are following my example and teaching. I face a greater judgment than the average Christian and therefore it is imperative that I be as careful as possible in my teaching and living. A word for word translation is a wonderful gift that assists me to be more effective in this area.

The Desire of Faith

“Faith is the … conviction of things not seen.” It has been said by someone other than myself that everything is a faith claim— theist or atheist, inerrantist or noninerrantist, Christian or Muslim, absolutist or skeptic, moralist or immoralist, pro-life or pro-choice, egalitarian or complementarian. No matter what you believe on whatever point, what you believe is what you have chosen to believe and ultimately that choice is an act of faith.

The issue I want to focus on is why? Why is this thing, the thing you have chosen to believe? You see, faith is also the “assurance of things hoped for.” The “why” of your belief is as important as the “what” and a brutally honest self-examination of the “why” is essential for authenticity and personal integrity. The “why” reveals the motive. William James in his lecture “The Will to Believe” said, “As a rule we disbelieve all facts and theories for which we have no use” and, the opposite is also true. In other words, the root of belief is desire. If your heart doesn’t want a moral absolute your head will never make you believe in one. If your heart does, your head will. The “why” gets to the heart of the matter. “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23)

I love apologetics, but it is not the end all and be all of Christianity. Within all of us exist the urgency of knowing truth and avoiding error—all of us! Everyone believes knowing these things are possible, however each of us tend to assign one priority over the other. Jesus gives priority to knowing truth (John 8:32). But “knowing” truth and “proving” truth is not the same thing. Every human being absolutely believes some truth to be absolute even if that absolute belief is that there is no absolute truth. At the end of the day you believe what you believe by a faith that is rooted in desire.

So, why do you desire the Word of God to be inerrant, or not be inerrant? Why do you want there to be a God or not be a God? Allow me to answer the first question since, by faith, I believe in the inerrancy of scripture. Why do I desire this to be true? Because I want to always defend the glory of God. Preservation of a written text is a much smaller task than creating the world by divine fiat. If God is powerless in the lesser, then He is powerless in the greater. Regardless of the consequence of this faith claim (because every faith claim comes with consequence), regardless of the moral and ethical implications, I would rather bear the weight of those obligations than to be caught up in a truthless liturgical religion whose only reward is doubt and uncertainty.  I believe in the inerrancy of the Word of God by faith because I desire God to be omnipotent, holy, just, pure, and true.

In my experience few people are honest with themselves with questions like these. We are enslaved by our past arguments, our political alliances, and the peer pressure of our friends. Inward cowardice leaves us stuck and incapable of personal and spiritual growth. Until we honestly answer the “why” we will never find true peace in the “what.” Socrates, as far as we know, was not a believer but according to Plato’s account in The Apology he was a man who was not afraid to live by a belief which he could not empirically prove, and it was a belief that grew out of honest self-examination and personal scrutiny. Adrian Rogers said, “A faith that cannot be tested cannot be trusted.” If you fear intensely examining the desire in which your belief is rooted, then you should probably fear believing it.

As I was writing this I kept hearing an irregular tap, tap of something hitting the window glass behind me. I finally stopped and turned to look. I watched with interest as a grasshopper jumped hitting the glass barrier over and over multiple times. Finally, it turned to my right and jumped out of the window into the bushes below. In the end the grasshopper examined himself and changed his direction. Be smarter than the grasshopper.

The Power of Christ's Ascension in Worship

There are different ways of coming into God's presence. We come into His presence individually during our daily quiet time. We are ushered into the presence of the Holy, from time to time, through deep emotional crises and moving circumstances. Each week we gather in church as the body of Christ to worship, draw strength from God and one another, and receive instruction from the Bible. Each encounter with God is unique.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gave us the model prayer to guide us and in John 17 He left us a glorious example of passionate prayer in solitude--two divine guides for individual communion with the Father. At Lazarus' tomb and hanging upon the cross we see the deep emotion and brokenness of our Savior in the midst of crisis. However, the model and pattern for coming into God's presence in corporate worship is distinctly different in nature and character, and is only possible because of the ascension of Jesus.

Christ's ascension back to the Father was not a geographical elevation just as any earthly king's ascension to a throne would not be. Christ's ascension was about relationship not location, and it radically changed the way humanity relates to God. In the gospels people found healing and hope through the physical presence of Christ, now people find these things through the mystical presence of Christ--which is the church. In the Garden of Gethsemane the disciples were scattered and broken because Jesus had been arrested and taken from them, such a thing could never happen now. Because ofChrist's ascension the comforter has been sent and Christ's presence (Acts 2) has been released into every believer. This is why Jesus could say without any hesitation "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." This is what makes coming into God's presence as an assembly of believers so distinctly different from private worship and prayer. This is what prompted the author of Hebrews to tell us to not "forsake assembling together." The author knew that coming into the presence of the Holy as a collective committed to Christ and each other was unlike anything else. Spiritual maturity and growth is impossible without it. You cannot be as close to God in the same way on a deer stand or at the beach.

It is a critical misunderstanding of Christ's ascension to believe that going to church is optional. It is this same misunderstanding that causes people to measure a minister's visitation skill as paramount to shepherding God's flock into God's presence. The Apostles declared their need to give the bulk of their time to prayer and study of the Word rather than feeding the widows and managing temporal affairs because they understood the eternal responsibility of leading the assembly into the presence of the Holy. Because Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father we are never closer to heaven on earth than when we worship together.

The Wonder of Humility in Worship

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mat 5:5) This goes against everything we have learned about human nature.

Every society before 20th century America believed that “too high opinion” of one’s self was the root cause of most of the evil in the world. This was the reason for war, murder, theft, cruelty etc… (Two examples are: Alexander the Great and Adolph Hitler) But, in the 20th century, particularly in the United States, there appeared a new consensus that has impacted everything from our education to our penal system and it is the exact opposite of everything else. (I believe that Nietzsche’s Übermensch   theory has played some role in this.) In the 20th century there arose the opposite consensus that people surrender to evil because they have "too low opinion" of themselves. It was postulated that this was why people beat their spouse, use drugs, commit crimes etc… So, the new popular solution for human evil was to engender confidence and self-esteem in people--more self-esteem, less crime and mayhem, or at least that was the theory.

This is a faulty belief, and the reason for much of our national mental illness.

Psychiatrist David Sack, M.D. wrote, “The product of a “self-esteem movement” in education, many children born between 1982 and 2002 have grown up believing that they can do no wrong. Many parents, perhaps fearful of raising a drug addict, underachiever or criminal, avoided all criticism and looked for every possible reason—even no reason at all—to praise their child.” Dr. Sack goes on to write that high self-esteem is problematic. “In fact, our modern emphasis on praise may be contributing to a generation of self-obsessed, irresponsible and unmotivated kids.”

In the last ten years there have been extensive studies and surveys—much of this within corporate America—and this information has been compiled and analyzed. The empirical conclusion based upon this data is that humility and not self-esteem is a better attribute. Humility contributes to better mental health.

  • Humility has been linked to better academic and job performance.
  • Humility is an essential factor for excellence in leadership.
  • People who exhibit humility have better social relationships because avoid deception in their social interactions, and there is a greater propensity toward grace, forgiveness, and cooperation.
  • Humility is a consistent predictor of generosity in regards to both time and money.
  • Also, on the flip side, people with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to public society than people who value humility.

Here is the point. The great work of God always happens within a community of believers where humility is a cherished virtue; a community where there is honest self-awareness; a community where there is both give and take; a community where there is loving criticism and authentic praise; yes, a community of active sharing and caring.

The writer of Hebrews understood the importance of this community first for our spiritual health and second for our mental health. “…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24-25)

You see, without spiritual health there cannot be whole mental health. I could say with tongue in cheek, “If you do not live by the teachings of Jesus Christ you are crazy" ... but, that would probably be inappropriate...or would it?