The life we lost (& the way back!)

What would life have been like if Adam and Eve had not sinned? In a recent sermon series in our church we’ve been looking into the lost world of Genesis 2 and in verses 16-17 we get some amazing insight into the life that we lost when humanity fell.

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 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 promised Adam that he would die “in the day” he ate the fruit of that fateful tree, and although people go to all sorts of lengths to try to explain why he didn’t die immediately, it’s consistent with the teaching of the whole of Scripture to say that he did die, spiritually, the same day.

Physical death means separation of the soul from the body (Genesis 35:18; James 2:26; Ecclesiastes 12:7), but to die spiritually was the painful reality that their souls were separated from the spiritual communion and the intimate connection we were designed to have with God. That spiritual death happened on the day Adam and Eve sinned, and it’s worth pausing for a moment to think about what things with that kind of spiritual life must have been like for them, before the fall. What was their life like, this life that we lost? Thinking about this will help us understand why we feel that things are so wrong today, and recognise what has to happen in order for it all to be put right.

The perfect life we lost, before the fall, was a life lived in communion with:

1. A Sovereign God

God didn’t apologise for commanding Adam: “And the Lord God commanded the man,” (Genesis 2:16) . God had made him and God now told him exactly what to do, and what not to do. Some people couldn’t think of anything worse than being told what to do, but the reality is that we either accept authority or we go mad. Tragically, the trend in our society is towards madness, with Oppositional Defiant Disorder being claimed as the most common psychiatric illness in children. I guess the changes to parenting approaches in recent years have been having an impact!

For us, the alternative to having God tell us what to do, is either to make it up ourselves, or submit ourselves to the wisdom of other people who are making it up. Adam however, was created and immediately commanded by the God who knew him better than he could ever know himself! God knew exactly what was best for Adam. He knew everything! Talk about expert instruction!

That’s what we lost.

We’re in the air, flying the plane, and there are all sorts of people trying to give us advice on how to fly, and how to land… but the only problem is that none of them has ever successfully landed a plane. They all crash! No one knows how to do this right! All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Wouldn’t you want to have that connection with God restored? Wouldn’t it be an amazing relief to have the God who made you tell you what to do, and to just be around God to be able to ask him whatever you wanted? To have nothing between you and God? No separation! The tragedy is that when Adam sinned, he was separated from God, and we’re born with that same gap—a gulf—between us and our Creator, but that’s not our only problem.

There is another authority that claims our obedience, and another father who has plans and desires he would want us to fulfil. Jesus warned the Pharisees whom he had described as being “of this world” (John 8:23) that “you do what you have heard from your father,” (John 8:38)—and again even more explicitly—”You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires,” (John 8:44).

When Adam fell, we lost the life that was lived with this intimate connection—a close communion—with the Lord God. Humanity was cast out of Eden, away from God’s presence, into a world dominated by the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4; also called the ruler of this world, see John 12:31).

You do realise that when you’re born into this world, you’re born in Satan’s kingdom! When we’re saved, it’s the reality that we’re delivered from what the Bible calls “the kingdom of darkness” and “transferred… to the kingdom of (God’s) beloved Son,” (Colossians 1:13-14). The life we lost was a life of uninterrupted communion with the Father who had the ability and the willingness to tell us exactly what to do, and what not to do! We were separated from a sovereign God! But that’s not all, we also lost our connection with a generous God!

2. A Generous God

You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, (Genesis 2:16)

There are some very stingy, cruel, controlling people in this world, who have little or no love for the people under their authority. It’s no surprise people rebel against authority like that, but if that’s the picture we attribute to God, we couldn’t be getting it more wrong!

Adam was created and placed in the garden of Eden, surrounded by what—to us—are unimaginable sensory delights. Even in our fallen world, the breathtaking beauty and wonder of creation can bring people to a near-ecstasy of delight. People will stop everything and hmmmmmm uncontrollably, entranced with a new taste, or they’ll just sit for hours, mesmerised by music. Go to a gallery, and watch people gaze at still photographs of the strange creatures of this world. Now set those images in motion, Blue-Planet-style, if you can, and try to imagine for a minute what it would be like to be immersed in Eden, with every sense in seventh heaven at the sheer pleasure induced by what God had made.

It’s as if God took pleasure in stroking our senses just to make us purr. This is not a stingy God! He planted EVERY tree that is pleasant to the eyes, and good for food, (Genesis 2:9) but then there’s the bird song, the sound of running water and the wind in the tops of the trees, the fragrance flowers and blossoms… it’s almost too much to take in!

I wish I could take you for a moment with me to the seat I once had, high up on the banks of a tributary to the great river Fly in Papua New Guinea… and just give you a minute to soak in the view. Everything about that spot spoke peace! It was like medicine for the mind, and it filled my mind with wonder at God.

Our Creator wanted his creatures to be happy, and have pleasure, and he loaded the board with delights.

What’s wrong with us? Who doesn’t like a generous boss? Which child didn’t love a father who showered him with love and kindness? Never did anyone have a more generous Father than Adam! Even now, every good gift we enjoy “comes down from the Father of lights,” as James puts it, but what Adam knew before the fall was unspoiled closeness to this generous God, with all of those benefits!

That’s what we lost. If you’re asking what’s wrong with the world: how children in Africa can be going painfully hungry, how your average person can be struggling through life trying to make ends meet, why life is full of pain, not just pleasure, it helps to think about this!

We’ve lost the connection with the a generous God who delighted to bless us with bounty. And talking about how we lost that connection, it’s worth thinking about the fact that the God Adam was in fellowship was also a judicial God.

3. A Judicial God

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 2:17)

Some people just don’t like laws, or lawmakers. If you’d have been on the green near my church in 1381, you might have bumped into the young king Richard II, as he responded to the Peasants’ Revolt. Watt Tyler had led a group of armed men into London and everywhere they went they broke into public buildings and burned the law-books. The laws of the day were pretty oppressive, and when the peasants revolted, they made it pretty clear how they felt about the king’s laws!

God’s laws, by contrast, are never oppressive. Actually, the very first law God ever made was a declaration of freedom to enjoy the fruits of his generosity! We read that the Lord God commanded the man saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,” (Genesis 2:16).

Bounty without the freedom to enjoy it, is a kind of torture, but this generous God wasn’t only generous in what he provided. He was equally as generous in what he allowed. Adam was given amazing freedom, and unlike so many thoughtless parents, the first command God ever gave his child was like the manager of an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant emphatically reassuring his guests that they can eat everything!

Well, almost everything. In the context of such generosity, one single tree was forbidden. He was left in no doubt about what he could NOT eat! Genesis 2:17 reads:

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.

For the anarchists among us that would think it would be paradise if only there were no rules, it’s worth pointing out that even in Paradise, there was one rule. Actually, there’s nothing wrong with law, and although anarchy has as much to do with idealism as it does with rebellion, it’s worth noting that even in paradise, God made the rules. Why should anybody have a problem with a generous God placing a restriction on what his own creation can do?

So is God like Judge Dredd?

The facts are God is a God who makes the law, and he also specifies the penalty: “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” (Genesis 2:17). Since God also carries out the sentence, that does make him the judge, jury and executioner in Eden, but remember, this is Eden, not Mega City One. Remember also that God is at the same time the generous Father who starts by providing and permitting before he prohibits anything!

God is at the same time the generous Father who starts by providing and permitting before he prohibits anything!

Every good parent is judicial. You have to make rules. You have to be the law. A lot of the problems with parenting—in my opinion—come from thinking that’s idealistic and naive when it comes to the need for law. Even in Eden, God set boundaries and specified punishment, but just because you make a law, and prescribe a punishment, it doesn’t mean you can’t at the same time be loving and generous and kind! If you are all of those things, you can have an amazing relationship with your children at the same time as being judicial.

It’s hard to imagine what it was like to be close to the Judge, but that’s the fellowship Adam knew before the fall. Imagine hearing those words from God, “on the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” and then walking with God and talking with God in the garden. Adam wasn’t thinking about God as a distant scary Judge, he was living in perfect fellowship with the Judge!

To understand this—imagine being married to a lawmaker and judge, or having an earthly judge as your earthly father. I think most people would want their spouse or their parent to be perfectly fair. Imagine being married to someone who never breaks a promise, or being raised by a father who never fails to be right, and true, and just. The laws your husband or your father makes don’t make your relationship with him any less—until you break the law. The fact that your father is a judge doesn’t change anything until the policeman brings you home locked in the back of his police car! Then you have a problem. Then there’s separation!

How does this help? Well, this is the life we lost! We’re like the judge’s rebellious child in prison! We’re like the earthly wife of an earthly judge who’s separated from her husband because she threw it all away and broke the law! Instead of the intimate love and fellowship with the judge, she’s locked in jail, sentenced by her own husband!

What a life we lost! We’re separated from a sovereign God, we’re cut off from our closeness to a generous God, and we’ve lost our intimacy with a judicious God.

The way back to Eden

It wasn’t just Adam and Eve who were cut off from God when they sinned and broke the law in Eden. None of their children were born with unhindered access to God, and they were all shut outside of Eden, away from the tree of life. What God promised came true, they died, spiritually, immediately separated from God when they sinned, and they died physically, eventually, when their bodies gradually failed without the efficacy of the fruit of the tree of life. No one was ever allowed back into Eden, and since that time, the only way back into God’s presence has been through sacrifice.

If our problem is spiritual death, we need more than a spiritual lift, we need spiritual life.

The message of the whole Bible is that until we are rescued by God, we are all spiritually dead. Paul reminded the Ephesian Christians that before their conversion, they were dead in the trespasses and sins in which they once walked (Ephesians 2:1), and he went on to say that it was God who had made them alive in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-5). If our problem is spiritual death, we need more than a spiritual lift, we need spiritual life. Our problem is that none of us are born spiritually alive.

Our problems—according to the Bible—are so severe, that what we need is not more religion, not some kind of self-improvement, but a re-birth, and with it spiritual re-connection to God!

When Jesus wanted to explain how people can enter the Kingdom of God, he said we must be born of the Spirit—to be born again, which means literally, born from above, i.e. spiritually born (see John 3:1-8). Our problems—according to the Bible—are so severe, that what we need is not more religion, not some kind of self-improvement, but a re-birth, and with it spiritual re-connection to God! The problem we face, is for that to happen, we need to get out of jail!

If I can develop the illustration I used earlier, the picture is actually worse than the one I painted. It’s not simply that we have broken the law and are in prison having been sentenced by our father who’s a judge. A more accurate illustration would be the idea that we’re in prison after being convicted by our father’s law, and sentenced by him for our crimes. The problem is that we are on death-row, awaiting the the final consequence of our crime.

Get-out-of-jail-free cards only work with crooked judges or when you’re playing Monopoly!

The picture the Bible paints is that the life we now live is described as being spiritually dead. The physical death we all one-day experience, when our soul is separated from our body is what the Bible considers the first death, and this too is a consequence of our sin. The ultimate sentence for sin however is what the Bible calls the second death, the ultimate separation from God being thrown into hell—the lake of fire. Our problem is not just that we’ve lost our connection with God, but the problem we have is that we’ve been sentenced by him as our judge, and as a just judge, He cannot simply overlook our crime. Get-out-of-jail-free cards only work with crooked judges or when you’re playing Monopoly!

the Judge has punished his own Son, as a substitute for rebels like you and me

To pick up my illustration once more however, the good news of the Bible is that the Judge has punished his own Son, as a substitute for rebels like you and me. My hope is simply that when Jesus died upon the cross, he was experiencing hell for me—that He died in my place! His death was the sacrifice that allows me access into the presence of a holy God. That death allows me to draw near to God now (see Hebrews 10:19-22), and gives me the certain hope that the moment I die, I’ll be just like the dying thief (Luke 23:43), with Jesus in paradise.

Jesus preached the good news about sins forgiven and a relationship with God restored, and he was the one who promised paradise to a dying thief! The way back to paradise has been opened by Jesus dying on the cross for sinners, but Jesus himself told people that to enter the kingdom they must be born again. He also told people to repent, and believe this good news.

If what we need is more than a lift, or another religious fix-up, but to be re-born spiritually… we shouldn’t shy away from calling people, as Jesus did, to simply repent and believe the good news.

Check out the sermon below preached on this theme at GraceLife London:

The Death of Democracy?

What attitudes should Christians hold onto when the political world is falling apart?

Politics is not my favourite subject. Actually I typically avoid it like the plague, but today I will make an exception.

What’s going on? Is democracy in meltdown?

I think we’re all wondering what the future might hold. This last week it feels like the control rods are being removed from the nuclear reactor that is the British political system, and we’re heading for a meltdown! At times like these, it’s good to be reminded of the kind of attitudes we should have towards the political systems in which we live.

Paul warned Timothy that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ, will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). What should Christians expect from unbelievers in such a world? The answer comes in the next verse: “while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived,” (2 Timothy 3:13). Christians ought not be surprised when we watch our politicians behave in ways we can only categorise as evil. It’s bad in the world, but it’s going to get worse!

If you’re wondering just how bad it can get, the answer from the Bible is, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

In the face of political meltdown what should our attitudes be towards democracy and politics in general?

Here are two thoughts to prepare our minds for whatever lies ahead:

1. Democracy is Doomed!

Remember, it was Satan who offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship, claiming that the authority and glory had been delivered to him—and that he could give it to whomever he willed (Luke 4:5-6). It is also Satan who is called the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31). What’s more, if you’ve read the book of Revelation you’ll know we are anticipating a future in which the “dragon” gives his “power and his throne and great authority” to the “beast” (Revelation 13:2). Just in case you’d missed it, that means that the dragon had power, and a throne, and great authority to give! If you’re wondering just how bad it can get, the answer from the Bible is, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Satan isn’t planning to play by the rules. If you’ve read Daniel and studied a little history, you’ll know that ultimately there’s coming a time when a ruler will arise who resembles the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes. It was Antiochus Epiphanes who initially fulfilled Daniel’s prophesy, and it’s worth noting that he gained power by deception and cunning, suddenly destroying many (Daniel 8:25). The implication is that—most likely—deception and cunning are the paths to power for the ultimate Antichrist, who is also described as “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Given that description, Christians will not be surprised if the Antichrist doesn’t play by the rules! Paul however, takes pains to warn his readers, that the spiritual power that will be behind the Antichrist—”the mystery of lawlessness”— is “already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Are you surprised when ungodly politicians don’t play by the rules?

Democracy is no real protection against demonic power!

John likewise warns us that many antichrists have already come, and that the spirit of antichrist is already in the world (1 John 2:18; 4:3). Do you really think that democracy as an institution is adequate protection against such demonic powers? We may have elected the people who represent us in parliament, but so long as they are still dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1) they are in fact “following the course of this world” and “following the prince of the power of the air,” who’s also described as “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” (Ephesians 1:2).

Why do Christians place so much faith in politicians? The best of them, if they are not born-again, are still sons of disobedience, and “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air.”

In theory, democracy would be great, if only we had godly leaders to choose from! The problem is, that any potential leader who takes a clear stance on moral issues seems to be ruled out of the running by a groundswell of public opinion that has chosen moral freedom over moral integrity. The sad truth, is that the moment a truly Christian candidate let his views be known, there would be such a frenzied reaction in the media that his hope of being elected would be somewhere between nought and zero. The reality is, that we exist in a democracy dominated by men and women who are “following the prince of the power of the air.” So if you don’t want to be constantly disappointed, get to grips with the reality that democracy is doomed!

So… Down with Democracy? No! Long live democracy!

2. Long live democracy!

We exist under the rule of law, and democracy is enshrined in the law. Romans 13:1 says “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” In our case the authorities that exist have even subjected themselves to the rule of law, which means that if our prime minister breaks the law he too can go to jail. For us as Christians it ought to be unthinkable to break the law, unless it was a straightforward issue in which the law required us to sin.

We are even commanded to pay taxes (Romans 13:6-7) to ungodly governments who will use them to carry out their ungodly policies. Christians have sometimes got themselves tangled-up with a line of reasoning that says, “I’m not paying taxes to support a government that is using my money to abort babies,” or some other grossly immoral activity. However, when Paul wrote to the Romans, Nero was the emperor, and the taxes went to the Roman authorities to be used in all sorts of immoral ways. Peter wrote in the same way, urging Christians to “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” (1 Peter 2:13) by which he meant every layer of human authority people have created, from the top right down to the bottom, including the tax man.

Don’t get caught up with any attempt to resist or rebel against proper legal process.

Christian, note this well: We may see problems with democracy, but we do not have the right to bypass the political process enshrined in law, no matter how noble our ambitions. Don’t get caught up with any attempt to resist or rebel against proper legal process, since that is our authority, “instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). Paul’s immediate application from this thought, in Romans 13:2 ought to be fresh in our minds: “Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.” In verse 4 and 5 Paul explains that when people rebel against authority, and incur judgement, the person in authority using a sword to carry out the judgement, is “the servant of God, and avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer,” (Romans 13:4). “Therefore one must be in subjection,” says Paul, “not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience.”

Democracy is broken… but it’s the best we’ve got… there’s no way out of a corrupt world with corrupt politicians pursuing policies influenced by corrupt ideology

So even if Democracy has major problems, we don’t have the right to bypass democratic process. In case you hadn’t got what I was saying above, I do believe democracy is broken. Politics is broken. Even the legal system is broken, because we are fallen. We don’t get anywhere chasing Utopia, which is often what people advocating rebellion have in mind. In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s no way out of a corrupt world with corrupt politicians pursuing policies influenced by corrupt ideology.

Democracy may have major problems, but so long as there’s the rule of law, it’s also about the best political system invented by men to restrain the evil of ambitious men. As Winston Churchill famously noted:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…

Barak Obama, citing Winston Churchill’s comments above, said democracy “is better than the alternatives, because it allows us to peacefully work through our differences.” For once, I agree with Barak Obama. I agree that democracy is better than the alternatives because it allows politicians to peacefully work through their differences. They fight each-other tooth and nail, but it’s a political fight. The battle to beat your opponents at the ballot box is better than a battle to put your opponents in a box. Political war is preferable to the other kind of war!

Maybe you look at the way our own democracy is going, and wonder—like me—if the days when people peacefully work through their differences are coming to an end! Think of the many young men who would die if the power struggles that take place were not restrained by democracy and the rule of law, and you’ll have many reasons to be thankful for democracy!

So don’t give up on it! Actually, as Christians we don’t even have the right to give up on democracy. It’s the law. It is therefore part of our governing authority—the rule of law—and we are commanded by God to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1).

We ought even to do what we can to participate in democracy. God told the people of Israel through Jeremiah to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf,” encouraging them by adding, “for in its welfare you will find your welfare,” (Jeremiah 29:7). I think that implies we ought to play our part as citizens, voting and participating as we are able in the political process to seek the best for our city/country. I’m personally so thankful for democracy—compared to the alternatives. For those of us not actively involved in politics, the best thing we can do as Christians, beyond prayer—I believe—is to use our vote strategically to secure the lesser of two evils when that is the choice before us.

A side-note on the lesser of two evils argument:

Yes, I know many Christians refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils, and instead insist on voting in line with their conscience. They too are faithfully playing their part as citizens, even if I think they are mistaken in the choice of the most effective use of their vote. I believe, democracy is a gift of God in terms of common-grace, invented by men—as so many good legal structures in history—as mechanism for restraining the evil of our rulers. With that as its purpose, I’d argue that voting in an idealistic way when there is little or no chance of that vote being effective, makes the “conscience” vote something of an idealistic protest/wish for a better world.

Voting for the lesser of two evils can feel wrong in the same way that paying our taxes to people who use it to fund abortion or an immoral war feels wrong. It’s the sense that we are somehow lending our support to something that is evil—and we are obviously right to feel badly about what they do!

If democracy had been the political system in the days of the Judges, would you have voted for Samson, or Barak, or Jephthah? Godless days produce ungodly leaders who do what is right in their own eyes, but as Keith Essex has said, “If I’d had a vote, I would have voted for Samson over the alternatives.” The reality is that God chose his Judges to deliver his people and bring about his purposes in the midst of a terrible mess. In those terrible times, you could say that Samson was the best that God had available. And other than Christ, God has always used flawed leaders.

No matter what you decide about voting for the lesser of two evils, don’t join in any effort to overthrow democracy! No Christian should join in a rebellion against lawfully established authority, even when they are doing things we deeply disagree with.

My son, fear the LORD and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise,

Proverbs 24:21

It’s no excuse to say that those in authority over us are evil. Godly Haman reported on the plot to overthrow the evil king Ahasuerus. Godly Daniel faithfully served one ungodly king after another, and godly Christians didn’t plot to overthrow the Roman empire, but practiced godly submission. Authority has always been understood by God’s people to be at God’s disposal, and never something to be usurped. Laws, therefore, that govern us in a democracy, must never be circumvented in the name of Christ.

But all it takes for evil to prosper, is for good men to do nothing!

The most powerful objection to this attitude of submission and humble, prayerful engagement in seeking the welfare of the society in which we live, is the concern that all it takes for evil to prosper, is for good people to keep silent. Hopefully you’ve gathered from what I’ve said above, that I’m not advocating silence. We are to be submissive, but active citizens, and above all intercessors! Paul urged Timothy to ensure that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way,” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Prayer is not inactivity, and intercession is not silence. To pray is to recognise that God is above the highest authority, and holds the power in his hands to remove them or redirect them wherever he wants (Proverbs 21:1).

Conclusion

Well there are two attitudes towards politics that Christians ought to be holding onto, when the political world we live in moves towards meltdown. The first, is to remember the reality that democracy is doomed, and not to put too much store in it. Certainly we mustn’t be surprised or get panicked if politicians tear the house down! That’s about what we’d expect. The second point however, is to remember that we must pray! Pray, pray, and pray for those in authority over us! Participate as we’re able in the political process, and don’t get caught up in any effort to overthrow or circumvent democracy! Christians—of all people—are duty bound to be exemplary citizens, seeking the welfare of our city!

Next time: Democracy dethroned? A look at the day that’s coming when democracy will be replaced at the coming of the one who’s called the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Click on the image or link below to watch a video of the sermon “The Death of Democracy?” preached at GraceLife London on Sunday 8th September 2019.

Should Christians keep the Sabbath? (#1)

“You’ll have a hard job persuading me that one of the ten commandments no longer applies!” It was a cordial argument between two preachers, but that was my response about 15 years ago when my friend told me he no longer believed Sunday was the Sabbath.

Let me put my cards on the table: I now don’t believe Christians should keep the Sabbath. Either on Saturday, or Sunday… and this is part one in a short series to explain why. I do, however, believe that Sunday is the Lord’s Day, and that it has real significance for Christians. That, however will have to wait till later in the series. For now, let’s look at a few reasons why Christians do not have to keep the Sabbath:

The Sabbath was NOT a Creation Command

This is the argument I used to make: “God instituted the idea of a sabbath rest at creation. It was a creation ordinance. That means it has timeless significance, right?” Well, actually, no:

  1. To be a creation command, it would actually have to be a command. But it’s not. Search and see, but you won’t find one word of command in Genesis 2:1-3. It’s just a description of what God said and did.
  2. There is no mention of the word Sabbath until after the Exodus.
  3. There is no evidence of anyone keeping the seventh day as holy or anything like it, until after it was introduced in Exodus 16.
  4. The sabbath restrictions were all meaningless to Adam & Eve, who received the creation ordinances. Think about it: no toilsome work to rest from, no need to bear burdens, as food was abundant and accessible. No fires to light, no cooking to be done, and no need to stop one day out of seven and delight in God, since that was something you did every day!
  5. Nehemiah 9:14 places the moment that God “made known” His holy Sabbath to Israel in the same time period as their sojourn at Sinai. The implication is that they didn’t know about it before that period, which means it was not a creation ordinance.
  6. The language used in Exodus 16, where Moses first talks about the seventh day being “a sabbath” seems to be introducing something new to them. He uses the indefinite form that we translate with the word “a” several times (Exodus 16:23, 25, 26) before announcing to the people that the LORD had given them “the Sabbath” (Exodus 16:29). If they already knew about the Sabbath command, it seems strange to start by talking about the seventh day as being “a” sabbath. All this seems to confirm the reality that it was not until after the Exodus that God introduced the Sabbath to the people of Israel, and thus it was not a creation ordinance.

Helpful? Well there’s a take-home point from all this:

  • Not every law is eternal. We cannot take laws that God introduced later, and read them back into an earlier period.

For example, even with laws like the prohibition of murder, which were written into human conscience long before they were ever written on stone by the finger of God, there is a development of that law over time. God declared to Noah and his family that if someone takes another man’s life, his own life must be taken. However, much earlier when Cain murdered Abel, God prevented anyone from taking Cain’s life. Much later, when God expounded His law to Israel, the prohibition was expanded to include inflicting injury that did not result in death, and relevant penalties were prescribed. This is just one example of how God’s law was developed over time, and it would be wrong to read those laws back into the early chapters of Genesis and claim that God, or Adam and Eve should have executed Cain.

Perhaps a more striking example is with respect to marriage. In Leviticus 18:9 sibling marriage is prohibited. Clearly this was a new law that was prohibiting an act that was not previously sinful, in and of itself. Certainly not for Cain! God introduced further law at the time he chose, and we cannot read that law back into the early chapters of Genesis.

With all that said, it’s not so hard to accept that God didn’t establish the Sabbath as a law in Genesis 2. Until He made the laws in Exodus, there was no law prohibiting any activity on the seventh day, or prescribing a day of rest. The only hint people had was that God blessed the day and made the day “holy”—but we have no record of how much that was communicated to them, or how much of it was passed on. It’s obvious that we can only speculate about how the people of God in the thousands of years covered by Genesis responded to what they knew about God’s blessing on that day. They may have chosen to keep the seventh day special, but they may not have done so. The point I am making here is that whether they rested or not, it would not have been transgression for them to work on the seventh day. That is clear from Romans 4:15 “where there is no law there is no transgression,” and Romans 5:13 “sin is not counted where there is no law.”

Where the idea of a “sabbath” came from is lost in the mists of time and debated by scholars unable to prove their case. Unless we want to add our own speculation to Scripture, we should be careful not say that the Sabbath was a creation ordinance! It might be possible to talk about example. It could even be possible to talk about principle, but the Sabbath was not a creation command.

The Sabbath was a Covenant Command

Why did God give the Sabbath commandment to Israel? Well, for a start, it was to make sure they rested one day in seven to allow them to be refreshed and worship Him: Obviously, God’s plan for a seven-day week was his original design in Genesis 1-2, and it works. All other attempts to change this design have failed, just ask a historian. If people before the giving of the Ten Commandments had known Genesis 2 and taken a principle of rest from God’s example in creation, that would have been good for them. By giving the law to Israel in Exodus, God ensured his chosen people would get the rest they needed and an opportunity to focus on Him and take time for worship. Exodus 23:12 makes it clear that God was concerned that his people rested and were “refreshed” —and that included their servants, and even their animals and the “alien” or sojourner who were also not allowed to work. God legislated to ensure his original design for rest and worship was not an optional extra for his chosen people.

If you were to stop there however, with the principle of rest for worship, you would miss the explicit purpose that God gave when He made the Sabbath part of the Ten Commandments. The Sabbath command, was a covenant command: it was part of the covenant, but it was also the sign of the covenant.

The Sabbath as the sign of the Mosaic Covenant

The command not to work on the seventh day was a very visible outward indicator of whether an Israelite wanted to participate in God’s covenant with His people. It was something that would serve to remind them of the covenant they had made with God, and to remind them of the rest from which they had been excluded, because of sin. It also served as an obvious indicator of their participation in God’s covenant with his people Israel.

Let’s break this down:

What is a sign in respect to a covenant? When God made a covenant with humanity after the flood, He set the sign of his covenant in the clouds, so that we could know that when He saw the bow (Genesis 9:8-17), He would in effect be reminded of the covenant He had made never to destroy the whole world again in a flood. When we see the rainbow, we can know that God won’t forget to keep His promise! The sign works in both directions but it’s interesting that God specifically talks about its affect on Him, so that when we see it, we are reminded that He is also reminded!

When God made a covenant with Abraham, the sign of the covenant was circumcision (Genesis 17:11). God would give Abraham offspring, a land and blessing (Genesis 12:1-3, 7), and He only gave Abraham one command: “Every male throughout all your generations… shall surely be circumcised,” (Genesis 17:12-13). In this way, the sign of the covenant was a very physical reminder to them that God had made a covenant with them. It was also a very obvious sign to God that Abraham’s descendants were party to his covenant. It’s no wonder then that if anyone refused circumcision, that person was to be cut off from the people of God (Genesis 17:14). By refusing to be circumcised, they were in effect rejecting God’s covenant in its entirety, and so circumcision was the sign of their participation in the covenant God had made. Circumcision served as a very real reminder of the covenant God had made, and their inclusion in it.

The same can be said for the Sabbath with the Mosaic covenant given at Sinai. Exodus 31:12-18 is pivotal. Notice three things:

First, Sabbath keeping would be a very real reminder of the covenant God had made with Israel. In Exodus 31:13 God says that it is their keeping of the Sabbaths that is a sign between Him and them, and it was to remind them that He sanctifies them. Thus, as they kept the Sabbath, they would see the sign, and they would be reminded that God chose them and made a covenant with them, setting them apart for Himself from all the nations around them. God also would see the sign, and in the same sense as with the rainbow and the Noahic covenant, God would see it and “remember” the covenant.

Next, just as with circumcision, if anyone broke the Sabbath, they were to be cut off from the people of God (Exodus 31:14).

Lastly, the Sabbath itself would be a sign to them: “It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel…” (Exodus 31:17). The Sabbath was a law. It stood in the middle of the Ten Commandments that form the heart of the Mosaic covenant. The reality of that law — its very existence would perpetually be a sign to both God and to the Israelites of the covenant that He’d made with them. If they didn’t keep it wholly holy, their failure to keep the Sabbath would remind them of God’s covenant with them which included blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.

Technical moment: It’s highly unfortunate that the ESV chooses to translate the Hebrew word kî as “that” rather than “for” (as per almost all other translations). This gives the impression, especially in the absence of a comma, that the sabbath is simply a reminder that God created in six days and rested on the seventh. It is true that rarely kî can be used “to introduce a clause which explains and fulfils the idea of the principal sentence” (HALOT), but this totally fails to explain the language of the sign being “forever” and “between me and you” just as with the Noahic covenant (see Genesis 9:8-17). It also fails to recognise that this is a direct repetition of the language of Exodus 20:11 “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth.” It seems both bizarre and to me, incomprehensible that the ESV chose to translate kî in Exodus 31:17 as “that,” when every Hebrew speaker would be hearing a repetition of the exact language of the Ten Commandments at this point, and not interpreting the kî as introducing a clause to explain what the sign was.
For Hebrew readers who want to compare the two:
כִּי־שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֗ים עָשָׂ֤ה יְהוָה֙ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ Exodus 31:17
כִּ֣י שֵֽׁשֶׁת־יָמִים֩ עָשָׂ֨ה יְהוָ֜ה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ Exodus 20:11

My point, overall, is simple: the Sabbath command was given as part of the Mosaic Covenant, but it was also given as the sign of the covenant. Since the Mosaic Covenant, was an agreement made by God with the people of Israel, and the Sabbath command was inextricably bound up with that covenant, the Sabbath command was a covenant command, and thus its purpose and significance stand, or fall, with the Mosaic Covenant.

Helpful? Well, here’s another take home point to ponder:

  • Not every law is universal. The Mosaic Covenant was made specifically with the people of Israel to set them apart from the other nations.

I’m not inventing that. God said so. Let’s think about that:

First, when He was about to give Israel the covenant He spoke to the elders of the people in advance: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Exodus 19:5-6).

Next, when God gave the Ten Commandments, He prefaced them with the words, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out fo the Land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” (Exodus 20:2)—effectively addressing the Ten Commandments specifically to the people of Israel.

Then, when the people had all heard the Ten Commandments from the mountain, from the voice of God himself (Deuteronomy 4:12-13), and the covenant had been formally made by God with the people (Exodus 24) and sealed with blood sacrifice (Exodus 24:8), Moses went back up the mountain to receive more detailed exposition on the covenant from God, and for God to give him the Ten Commandments written in stone with his own finger. Before he came down from the mountain, God had some last words of instruction for Moses, and exhorted him to make sure the Israelites kept the sign of the covenant (Exodus 31:12-18). It seems strange to us that God would close his time with Moses by telling him to “speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths,'” etc. However, as we’ve seen, Sabbath observance was to be the sign of the covenant, lying at the heart of the Ten Commandments, so it does make sense.

However, this is a remarkable passage because in a few short verses, God makes it clear He is speaking specifically to Israel: “You are to speak to the people of Israel” (31:13); “this is a sign between me and you” (31:13); “it is holy for you” (31:14); “therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath observing the Sabbath throughout their generations as a covenant forever,” (31:16); “It is a sign between me and the people of Israel” (31:17).

Much later, God inspired a Psalmist to teach the people of Israel to sing that, “(God) declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules,” (Psalm 147:19-20). You could say that God effectively said the same thing to his people in Deuteronomy 4:5-8, and Deuteronomy 4:32-40.

My point? God made the Mosaic Covenant specifically and exclusively with the people of Israel. His law was not universal. The Mosaic Covenant was not made with every nation. The Sabbath therefore, as the sign of the Mosaic Covenant, was not a law for every nation. Instead, it had a purpose within the covenant, as the sign of the covenant God made with Israel, and Israel alone. The Sabbath, was not a creation command, but it was a covenant command, and as such, it is not for Christians to keep, since we are not under the Mosaic Covenant.

Now, someone will object that Christ did not come to abolish the law. Surely, they’ll say, the Ten Commandments make up the moral law, and that continues unchanged in the New Testament era, right? Surely, it’s only the civil and ceremonial aspects of the law which have been set aside for as Christians, right?

In part 2, we’ll look at the question of whether or not it’s possible to divide up the Mosaic Covenant, and the relationship all this has to the New Covenant and to Christians.

Proverbs 41 – The Model Man

What does a Proverbs 41 guy look like?
Just what does a Proverbs 41 guy look like?

You’ve heard of the Proverbs 31 Woman… well, what about the blokes?

You may not have thought about it, but pretty much the whole of Proverbs is addressed to Solomon’s son, teaching him how to become the man who fears the Lord.

That said, it’s possible to sift through the book of Proverbs, and pick out those which particularly deal with the qualities of a good man, so with due care to mention that my tongue is at least partly in my cheek, and I am NOT adding to Holy Writ, here is proverbs 41:

41 Qualities of a Good Man in the Book of Proverbs

An excellent husband who can find?

He is more precious than jewels.

The heart of his wife trusts in him,

and she will have no lack of gain.

He does her good, and not harm,

all the days of his life:

He:

  1. Speaks straight – Prov. 2:12 (not perverse speech, 6:12 not crooked speech)
  2. Takes pleasure in wisdom, not doing wrong – Prov. 10:23
  3. Doesn’t talk people down, or join in when others do – Prov 11:12
  4. Is kind – Prov. 11:17
  5. Is good and favoured by God – Prov. 12:2
  6. Has good sense, and not a twisted mind – Prov. 12:8
  7. Is not weighed down by Anxiety, seeks “a good word” – Prov. 12:25
  8. Is not a backslider – Prov. 14:14
  9. Doesn’t have a quick temper or evil devices – Prov. 14:17
  10. Doesn’t have a hot temper – is slow to anger – Prov. 15:18
  11. Takes no joy in folly – but is a man on a mission – Prov. 15:21
  12. Plots no evil & measures his speech – Prov. 16:27
  13. Is honest, and doesn’t gossip – Prov. 16:28
  14. Is not violent – Prov. 16:29
  15. Has a cool spirit – Prov. 17:27
  16. Has a humble heart – Prov. 18:12
  17. Is a good friend – not just one of the guys – Prov. 18:24
  18. Has steadfast love & truthfulness – Prov. 19:22
  19. Keeps aloof from strife / quarreling – Prov. 20:3
  20. Is faithful – Prov. 20:6
  21. Is not in love with pleasure – Prov. 21:17
  22. Considers his own ways, doesn’t fake boldness – Prov. 21:29
  23. Doesn’t live off credit – Prov. 22:7
  24. Isn’t given to anger or wrathful – Prov. 22:24, 29:22
  25. Sees value in developing skill – Prov. 22:29
  26. Is wise / knowledgeable – Prov. 24:5
  27. Is not a sluggard – but demonstrates diligence & industry Prov. 24:30-34
  28. Doesn’t over promise & under-deliver – Prov. 25:14
  29. Has self-control – Prov. 25:28
  30. Isn’t wise in his own eyes – Prov. 26:12
  31. Doesn’t cover his deceit by saying “I was joking” – Prov. 26:18-19
  32. Is not quarrelsome – Prov. 26:21
  33. Is faithful – Prov. 27:8
  34. Survives the test of praise – Prov. 27:21
  35. Understands justice – Prov. 28:5
  36. Isn’t hasty to get rich – but faithful (in his work) – Prov. 28:20
  37. Isn’t stingy – Prov. 28:22
  38. Doesn’t rob his parents and say “that is no transgression” – Prov. 28:24
  39. Is not hasty in his words – Prov. 29:20
  40. Finds unjust men abominable – Prov. 29:27
  41. Doesn’t think he’s arrived – Prov. 30:2-3

Are you ready? Busy is no excuse!

are you ready

The last three week’s have been busy. I’ve been in California starting work on a doctoral program at my Alma Mater, and —at last— it’s time to go home.

My work here is almost done, and I have to catch that plane, but there are so many loose ends I need to tie up.

Will I be ready in time? Either way I have to go.

Revelation 22:12 contain some of the very last words of Jesus Christ to mankind:

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.”

Quite simply, are you ready?

Either way, when he comes, it’s time to go.

For those who have rejected his rule, it will be time to face their judgement.

For everyone who will repent of sin, turning from it to God for forgiveness, trusting only in his sacrifice on the cross to cleanse them and make them righteous… it will be the day of undeserved reward!

Busy or not, either way, we all have to go.

Loving the Lost (With the Gospel)

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What would you say about a church that lost its love for the lost?

Many churches today would claim to be all about loving people. If you were to ask what it means to express that love, you might be surprised how little you would hear about telling the good news to lost people!

If we’re going to show Biblical love for this world, we need to have a crystal clear understanding of two key truths:

lost at sea with stars2

1. People are lost.

Jesus said it plainly, that he came to seek and to save the lost. Put another way, he said he came to call sinners to repentance. The reality the Bible so clearly teaches is that every sinner is lost–cut off from fellowship with God by sin, and heading for a lost eternity–the punishment prepared for everyone who lives as a rebel against their Creator. That’s lost!

It’s a little bit tragic then, when churches try to ‘love’ people by simply being nice to them, or by trying to meet their physical needs. If Christians actually understand God’s message of salvation from sin through Christ, it’s spectacularly unloving to merely meet people’s physical needs, and not warn them of their danger and tell them the gospel.

No one is saved by joining our group!

If people could be saved by liking Christians and wanting to be part of the church, then it would make sense for churches to concentrate on being as likeable as possible. But they can’t. To be saved, people need to realise they’re lost-rebels, and repent, believing in the gospel message. No one is saved by joining our group!

2. Lost people need the good news.

The greatest need for the people of the world today, is the same as the greatest need for the people of the world in Christ’s day. Poverty has always existed, but Jesus didn’t tell the church to go fix poverty. Sickness has always cursed the world, but Christ did not commission the church to “Go into all the world and build hospitals in every nation.”

Let’s be clear. The greatest need the world faces is its lost-ness, and the one, unchangeable commission given to the church (Part three of our threefold purpose for the church in this series) is to preach the gospel.

Makepovhistory_edin_rjl

Don’t get me wrong, when hearts are changed by the gospel, hospitals will be built. There is nothing wrong with wanting to build a hospital to bless people–in fact, it’s all good–it’s just not the purpose of the church. True, it may flow from the work of the church, but the mission of the church has always been to deal with the greatest need, and that’s the gospel. All the social change we could wish for is intrinsically linked to the transformation of individual selfish human hearts.

making poverty history is not the goal of the church, but when selfishness and laziness are history, poverty gives way to industry and generosity

Viewed this way, making poverty history is not the goal of the church, but when selfishness and laziness are history, poverty gives way to industry and generosity. Individuals transformed by the gospel will always want to relieve poverty and sickness – which is all good, but when churches allow social projects to displace the preaching of the gospel as their primary focus, the greatest need of mankind is left unmet.

Make_Poverty_History_band_plastic

Thankfully one Day, poverty will indeed be history, but in the meantime the mission of the church is to rescue lost souls from an eternity of misery.

Let’s not miss our mission.

 

The Lord is my …

Quote

"New Thought" prosperity preacher - forerunner of Joel Osteen & Co.

“New Thought” prosperity preacher – forerunner of Joel Osteen & Co.

Ps 23 (The Prosperity Version)

The Lord is my banker; my credit is good.
He maketh me to lie down in the consciousness of omnipresent abundance;
He giveth me the key to his strongbox.
He restoreth my faith in his riches;
He guideth me in the paths of prosperity for His name’s sake.
Yea though I walk in the very shadow of debt,
I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me;
Thy silver and Thy gold, they secure me.
Thou preparest a way for me in the presence of the collector;
The fillest my wallet with plenty; my measure runneth over.
Surely goodness and plenty will follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall do business in the name of the Lord forever.

OK – so you can hardly believe it… but yes, that was published in a book about prosperity by Charles Fillmore who died in 1948.

Shocking? Yes. Blasphemy? Yes.  Ahead of his time? Definitely!

 

I decree and declare – a lot of hot air!

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I decree and declare, a lot of hot air, and I wonder why God doesn’t answer my prayer. I have asked him for riches He must surely agree That he ought now to do what is best now for me. … Continue reading

“Merry” Christmas? Bah humbug!

“Merry Christmas…” “Happy Christmas…” Will somebody please tell the world that it’s not going to happen this year… just like it didn’t happen last year!

Forgive me for playing Scrooge for a moment, but it is just a bit ironic that while more people than ever are wishing each other happiness associated with Christmas, practically no one here in Britain seems to know anything of the joy that God designed in the Christmas message!

I’m not exactly in favour of saying it, but “Happy Holidays” is at least a bit more accurate a wish for most people. All the vast majority can expect over the next few days is a short lived blast of the pleasures of food, drink and family-fun.

The harsh reality, of course, is that all the festivities in the world don’t actually solve our problems, and while postponing them for a few days can feel good at the time, we can’t escape the mess we live in. When we surface after Christmas, all the best gifts that this world can offer leave us wondering if it’s all just glitter and ribbons on an empty cardboard box.

“Good news of great joy”

When you hear that the angel announced to the shepherds that Jesus’ birth was “good news of great joy that would be for all the people,” you might be forgiven for wondering what happened to all the joy!

The tragedy is that our generation has missed the joy of the Christmas message simply because it’s almost completely lost the original Christmas message that God designed for our joy.

The double tragedy is that the message is not difficult to grasp. Understanding it is as easy as understanding two words.

It’s my prayer that this Christmas will be a truly happy one for many here in Britain as people come to understand this message of joy!

May this Christmas message from GraceLife London bless you in that way as these two words that hold the key to understanding the first Christmas are unfolded for you.

Happy viewing!

Link

Are you forgetting your CCTV?

Like the absent minded arsonists in this video, most people seem to forget that their movements are being constantly recorded and will one day be used as evidence against them.

How terrible it will be to be in the dock and have the video of your own inbuilt CCTV replayed. There will be no excuses possible, and no question about the verdict, just the crushing realisation that you’ve done what you knew was so terribly wrong, and now you’ve been caught, exposed and are about to be punished. 

Thankfully God offers us all the most remarkable terms for all who’ll accept them:

– Repent of your sin, confessing it and turning from it now, before you’re brought to His court.
– Beg Him for his forgiveness, and he takes the punishment on Himself, placing it upon his Son who died in the place of sinners!

Now that’s quite an offer, considering what we all have recorded!