Wrong question. Well, sorta. If you mean, in comparison to other people, sure, you might just be one of the most outstanding and morally upright human beings I have ever encountered. But when the issue of moral goodness is applied to a human’s relation to God, and whether or not that person can appeal to their better self for some positive weight on the scale on of God’s judgment, the Bible is emphatically certain, that all of us have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
This is the number one issue that modern people need to deal with today in order to have a correct understanding of who God is, as well as to be able to accurately assess the condition of their own soul before a thrice Holy God. Talking to a friend on Christmas, who heard my sermon just hours before, he had a complete misunderstanding of what sin is, who God is, and why Jesus is necessary for salvation. To him, he was a good person, and he didn’t feel it fair and just, but rather petty, to have a god send a good person such as himself to hell simply because they don’t do one thing that God requires – believe in Jesus.
I am not sure how much clearer I could have been (but I suppose it does not matter how clearly I could have spoken, for the natural person does not accept the things of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. It is the Spirit of God that reveals these things to men, not words of clarity) but I told him that his perspective is all wrong, because it is not as though he were a perfect person except for a lack of faith in Jesus, rather, it is that he has done nothing but continually sin against God, break His commands, have little to no regard for God or His law, he has not loved Him, and in fact, all his righteous deeds upon which he was basing his status of “good” was nothing but filthy rags in God’s sight. He did not comprehend spiritually that he was by nature an object of God’s divine wrath and fury. And it was this that sentenced Him to hell, not “just not believing in Jesus.” Belief in Jesus for salvation only makes sense in the proper context of human sinfulness. Until a person discern rightly about their status and condition before God as a sinner (made possible only by the sovereign grace of the Holy Spirit of God), the call for faith in Jesus for salvation will continue to remain utter foolishness to those who are perishing. But to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. Soli Deo Gloria!
Here is my sermon for the fourth week of Advent. The first 30 seconds there is some weird overlap in the audio. Pay no mind, this too shall pass.
A Latin American theologian has said that the important thing for the student of the Bible is not to understand the text but to understand the world through the text. Of course the second is not possible without the first. In this respect the Bible functions in the life of the Church like the language we use. Of course we have to learn the meaning of words and the rules of grammar and syntax. But when we are actually speaking, writing or reading, we do not attend to these things. We attend through them to the meaning, through which we deal with the situation ‘out there’. All knowing, and all human dealing with the world is conducted by means of a language. We do not think about the language so much as live in it. It is part of ourselves. In an analogous fashion we need to live in the Bible so that its language, its images, its histories, its prayers, its songs become our way of understanding and dealing with the world.
There is obviously no short cut to the recovery of the Bible as ‘Holy Scripture’ for modern secularised Europeans. Much will depend upon faithful biblical preaching by our pastors. And this must encourage the daily reading of the Bible in our homes. When you read a good novel you come to know the hero of the, story as if you had actually met him. No description of him, for example in an obituary notice, can be a substitute for this. It is as you watch him dealing with actual situations and people that you come to know him. So it is, I think, in reading the Bible. As you read and re-read and go on reading, you come to know God. He is the one whose nature the Bible discloses. You come to know him personally. And because this is the whole story from the beginning of the world to its end, I who am now part of this story, feel that I know the one who is the author of the story and that I can trust him. I do not find infallible answers to be questions or solutions for my dilemmas. But I can go ahead, take risks, with the sort of confidence that is expressed in the apostle’s word: “I know whom I have believed”. It is when there are congregations of men and women and children who are living the story now, here, that the Bible will become good news for secularised people.
Quoted from Leslie Newbigin, “The Bible: Good News for Secularised People”
1 The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, 2“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.
3“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. 4 He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
5Then he shall kill the bull before the LORD, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 6Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, 7and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 9but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.
10“If his gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, he shall bring a male without blemish, 11 and he shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the LORD, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. 12And he shall cut it into pieces, with its head and its fat, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood that is on the fire on the altar, 13but the entrails and the legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer all of it and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.
In the Levitical sacrifice (Leviticus 1:1-13), particularly the Ascension Offering (incorrectly translated as “Whole Burnt Offering”) the animal was cut up into pieces and arranged a specific way on the altar. Head first was placed on the altar, then after washing, the body second. Now interestingly this corresponds to the pattern of resurrection as recorded for us in the New Testament (1 Cor. 15:23), Christ first (who is the head), and then us, only after we (the body) have received the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
As interesting as that is, I want to focus on something a bit more pastoral.
Hebrews 4:12 says,
12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
I believe that what this is alluding to is the cutting up of the Ascension offering. The Ascension offering represented the believer’s whole (total) dedication and complete surrender to God. The sacrificer understood that it was himself, in a symbolic way, being cut up into pieces and arranged on the altar and being consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit and sent up as smoke into the presence of God.
What the author of Hebrews is saying here is, that the knife, or the sword that was used to cut apart the Ascension Offering, now in the New Covenant is to be understood as the Word of God. It is the sword of the Spirit which “cuts us up into pieces”, dividing even our very soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerns even the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. It is the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit that the minister is to wield on Sunday Mornings in order to “cut up God’s people” and “present them as a living sacrifice to God” “which is our spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).
The worshiper then, is to prepare his heart and soul for the cutting that is about to take place. When the Word of God is read, and sang, and preached, and taught, we are all supposed to submit ourselves to the sharp blade of the sword of the Spirit, completely dedicating ourselves to God. We are to heed the word and search our hearts and see where we have fallen short in our duty, and see where we have sinned, and see where we need correction. And in so doing, we repent, and rededicate ourselves to God, being forgiven of our sins.
Let us then with all due diligence place ourselves on the altar, and present our minds and bodies, souls and spirits, wholly to God, subjecting ourselves to that blade which is sharper than any two edged sword, or flaying knife. For then we make ourselves ready to be consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit on the altar of our hearts and become a sweet smelling savor to our Lord.re his heart and soul for the cutting that is about to take place. When the Word of God is read, and sang, and preached, and taught, we are all supposed to submit ourselves to the sharp blade of the sword of the Spirit, completely dedicating ourselves to God. We are to heed the word and search our hearts and see where we have fallen short in our duty, and see where we have sinned, and see where we need correction. And in so doing, we repent, and rededicate ourselves to God, being forgiven of our sins. Only then can we ascend into the throne room of God as a sweet smelling aroma. If we reject the sharp cutting blade of God’s sword, and by so doing reject the Holy Spirit of God, we will be found to be a sacrifice which is a stench in God’s nostrils.