Tag Archives: Book of Romans

What We Can Learn from the First Century Fulfillment of Prophecy

In the last two posts, I discussed prophecies of Daniel and Jesus, and explained how I believe they were fulfilled in the first century, through the death and resurrection of Christ, the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and the Jewish-Roman War. However, I want to emphasize now is that prophecies are not confined to a particular era. The spiritual factors at play during the first century fulfillment are still at play today. But I believe that recognizing the first century fulfillment enables us to gain insights into what is going on spiritually in the world today.

In the “Daniel 9” part of this series, I mentioned how, in the early church, many Christians, including genuine, spirit-filled believers, were trying to continue following the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament. Paul denounced the mixing of the law with the gospel of grace (Gal. 2:12, 3:1-5), but the controversy never ended. The proof that the outward ordinances of the Law were no longer binding on the world came when the temple was destroyed. The temple was meant to be a physical symbol of righteousness, and a place through which people would come to God. However, the fall of the temple symbolized the end of the flesh trying to do Law. It symbolized the end of outward reforms and ordinances to produce inward righteousness.

When this is realized, it provides insights into the social and spiritual conflict going on in the world today. I want to share my insights on what is happening today with moral condition of the United States. Many Christians believe that we are living in a time of moral decline. However, what I believe is happening, is that many people, especially young people, are realizing that they cannot make their flesh cannot obey what their church is telling them, or even what the Bible is telling them. And there are various forces in the media systems who are telling these people that they should just live in whatever way feels natural to them.

I believe that the spirit behind the Romans’ destruction of the temple is the same spirit that is in the media systems who are telling people they can live however they are inclined. I am not denying that it is a spirit of animosity toward God. However, in both cases, I believe that God allows that spirit to run its course in order to vindicate the gospel of grace. God is not panicking about this generation turning away from conservative morality. There is a method to the madness. We need to understand this in order to properly react to the things going on today.

First, I believe our starting point should be the realization that, were it not for the grace of God shown to us, we would be like the people who are disregarding Biblical morality. The fact that you are different – the fact that you are still seeking to live according to the Scriptures despite being told through the media to live as you please – indicates that God has chosen you for a special purpose and set you apart. None of us were wise enough to choose God on our own initiative.

Once that is understood, we can realize what the gospel of grace produces, or rather, what it fails to produce. A key element in the paradigm of grace is “no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). Thus, we can understand the real problem with the liberal agenda that is turning people away from Biblical morality. The problem is not their denial that everybody can make themselves live a certain way. Instead, the problem is that, instead of believing in the true gospel of grace, they try to redefine morality. They are trying to modify Biblical commandments to fit the 21st century and redefine what it means to be a responsible person.

However, I believe that God is allowing this to happen in order to demonstrate His grace. I believe that God is calling out certain people who are in this situation and leading them to writings and ministries that acknowledge the struggle with the flesh they are dealing with, but also reveal the truth of justification and show how faith in the gospel can bring them into a new way of life, empowered by the Holy Spirit, instead of the flesh trying to reform itself. (Rom. 8:1-11).

Lastly, I want to address the commonly held belief that God allows disasters to happen in order to bring nations to repentance. The war and political unrest of 60-70 A.D. did not make Rome a godly empire. Although there was some unrest throughout the empire, the intense destruction only took place in Jerusalem and surrounding areas. Many worldly, immoral people in other parts of the empire carried on as usual. After the conflict period of 60 – 70 A.D., Rome resumed its peak era for at least another century, despite continued persecution of Christians and Jews, and other kinds of immorality.

I bring this up because many Christians today are directing the “end-times” prophecies at worldly sinners everywhere. But when these prophecies came to a literal fulfillment in the first century, outside of Jerusalem and surrounding regions, life more or less carried on as usual despite some elevated conflict. When Jesus was on earth, he told when to flee Judea, and where to go. Anybody could have left, and been safe through the war, even if they were living in sin. We cannot truly say that this war was a judgment upon the world for its sins.

Yet in current times, I hear many Christians on the internet declaring that any day now, God is going to allow all kinds of calamities to come upon the United States as judgment upon sinners, and that through these crises, God will bring about a great revival. But is that really how God’s judgments work? I have not found historical evidence of a great revival during 66-70 A.D. And the same could be said about times of crises today.

Regarding God’s judgments, J. Preston Eby writes,

Often they [Christians] quote the scripture . . . “When Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” . . .   But have any of these [disasters], even one of them, in the history of the world, ever caused the world to LEARN RIGHTEOUSNESS?  That is the question . . .  Do you suppose the people who died in the twin towers were greater sinners than the rest of the people in America?  . . . When God “judged” southeast Asia with the tsunami, do you suppose it was only the people in the coastal areas that were wicked, and deserving of God’s wrath? . . . [Was God] really out to “teach them righteousness” through these terrible events?  Is Thailand now a righteous nation?  Have they abandoned their false gods and stopped the filthy sex industry?  Is Sri Lanka now a godly country?  Has Indonesia ceased to harass and persecute believers, and now become a sweet Christian nation?  Has anything changed in India since the disaster?  DID EVEN ONE OF THOSE NATIONS, OR EVEN ONE CITY IN ONE OF THOSE NATIONS, LEARN RIGHTEOUSNESS BY THE “JUDGMENT”?  Answer that question correctly and you will know a great mystery concerning the ways and purposes of God!


I believe it is not during this age that the nations of the world will undergo judgment and learn righteousness. It is during the future age of the Messianic Kingdom that a new spiritual order will be established on the earth, and then, judgments upon the nations will bring them to a state of righteousness.

So, then, what is happening with the things going on in the world today? I believe that God can work through crises to bring about redemptive outcomes for those predestined for salvation in this age. Ephesians 1:11 says that believers are “destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will.” Romans 8:28 says that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” The details of how predestination works, or how God is involved or uninvolved with various events in the world, are matters which I am generally not dogmatic about. But I do not believe that God causes or allows disasters to happen as a judgment upon nations for their sins.

When the first-century fulfillment of prophecy is understood, it sheds much light on what is going on in the present day. My next post in this series will examine whether the prophecies from Daniel, and also the New Testament, reveal any things that are to happen in the future before the return of Christ.


Works Cited

Eby, Preston J. “From the Candlestick to the Throne Part 95.” Kingdom Bible Studies. Kingdom Bible Studies, n.d., Web. 9 August 2016.

Anxiety over Judgment is a Type of Judgment

Among Christians, there is a lot of discussion about judgment. There are warnings that individuals are going to be judged for sin, and warnings that countries are about to be judged for sin. In modern times, there has been a shift away from the view of judgment in which God Himself inflicts harm as punishment. Many Christians warning of judgment today have a different view, in which judgment is the loss of God’s help and protection as a result of persistent disobedience.

Some Christians seem to be comfortable with the concept of judgment because they feel assured that they are right with God and are safe. But other Christians feel less secure and worry about judgment. What I will propose in this article is that, many Christians who are worried about future judgment, might already be living in a type of judgment (and have been for a long time), but they don’t recognize it because their minds are thinking about what the future holds.

Let’s look at Romans 8:12-13 – We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

I believe this passage applies in two different ways. Passages like this are often used to say that if you persist in living according to your own desires rather than living for God, then you will experience judgment manifested in either literal death or a figurative type of death such as illness or various crises. And while I think that is a valid interpretation, there is another application of this passage that is not talked about very much.

First off, what does “the flesh” consist of? Since flesh is contrasted with spirit in the passage above, I take it to mean that flesh constitutes all non-spiritual (i.e. biological) aspects of a person. So, a person’s organs, chemistry, and psychology are all part of the flesh. Many commentaries equate living in the flesh with living in sin. That may be a valid interpretation, but I believe it is only half of the story.

So, what is the other half of the story? To understand it, we need to consider the way we feel about ourselves when we do various acts. I believe it is normal to feel good when we do good things, and to feel bad when we do bad things. God made us to be that way; otherwise, there would be no incentive to do what’s right.

But I believe the problem is when we let the presence of that good feeling resulting from good works dictate whether we can feel good about ourselves as a person, or how we feel about our relationship with God. I believe this is a type of living according to the flesh, because our lives revolve around maintaining that positive sensation in our minds.

When we have that positive feeling, we feel good about the future. We think that we’re on the right path and that we’re making progress, so God isn’t going to let misfortune happen to us. In the midst of this bright feeling about ourselves and the future, temptations can be suppressed for a season. That positive feeling can even be a motivation to do good works, because we want that feeling to last.

But even though temptation might be confined to a small corner of one’s brain, it is still alive. Over time, temptation slowly starts reclaiming territory in the back of our minds, but we don’t realize it because the front of our minds are still shining and optimistic. And since we still are not sinning necessarily, there is nothing we have to worry about according to conventional religious logic.

But then there comes a point where, we start to feel the growing presence of temptation. For a while, resisting was a matter of just saying NO to temptation and moving on. But now, it takes more effort to say no, even though we’re still saying it. Our conscience seems to be putting heavier demands on us, and we seem to lack the willpower to meet those demands.

At this point, although we’re still confident that we are living right, and thus feel good about the future, the bright, positive feeling in our minds starts to subside. Then, without that tailwind in our minds, fighting temptation gets really hard. At this point, we may start returning to habits that we thought we had kicked a while back. Or, we might continue to resist those temptations, but lose the motivation to do certain good deeds. Maybe prayer starts to feel burdensome as we lose confidence about our spiritual state.

You see, that good feeling we once had was generated by the flesh in response to the good that we saw ourselves doing. It’s like watching an instrument that gauges your performance and trying to keep the meter rising. This is just as exciting to one’s mind, and just as addicting, as any kind of sensual pleasure.  But we then started living for that positive feeling, and when the feeling slipped out of reach, the drive to continue our progress weakened.

Then we’re worried about judgment again. Now, when people talk about impending judgment upon the nation or individuals, it hits close to home because we’re not so sure what God thinks about us at this point. The bright, positive feeling we once had gets replaced with a sense of dread and anxiety. This dread or anxiety is a type of death, and a form of judgment resulting from living in the flesh during the season when it appeared that everything was going right, morally and spiritually. Furthermore, the anxiety can cause us to fall into habits such as lack of sleep or unhealthy eating habits that can cause health issues or other problems in life. Thus, ironically, by worrying about judgment, Christians can end up facing the same problems in life that they worry are about to come upon others because of sin.

I believe that Christians who are struggling with guilt need to realize that, ultimately, they are right with God regardless of what their performance meter is doing, and they need to let go of the vision of mastering their lives and keeping their meter rising in order to finally become a good Christian who is safe from judgment.

The Apostle Paul wrote that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20).

But here’s a critical observation. Romans 5:20 is not an experiential reality. Even though it is a true statement, it is never going to “feel” true in our own lives. In other words, committing sin does not cause us to feel an even greater presence of grace.

Some Christians try to test out Romans 5:20 to see if it’s really true. I’m not saying that I recommend doing that. But to satisfy the curiosity, I’ll go ahead and say that it doesn’t bring a feeling of grace or peace. Even though God’s acceptance of someone doesn’t waver as they go through the experiment, what they feel is even more inward angst. Furthermore, testing out this principle actually takes a lot of effort. It makes you feel tired.

On one hand, we need to realize that Romans 5:20 does not fail upon application. If we think it will fail when tested, we go back into performance meter fixation. But when we realize that Romans 5:20 is a robust principle, we find a new motivation for doing what’s right. That motivation comes from the fact that putting grace to the test just causes more tension than it’s worth. This realization comes from the Spirit’s work in us. Likewise, doing good works isn’t about trying to become a good Christian. Rather, it is about wanting to see something uplifting and beneficial coming from our lives.

So, to summarize everything, the key point that I have become convicted of is that, anxiety over judgment is actually a type of judgment. It is the Biblical message of grace that sets people free from this judgment and enables them to become what God has made them to be.

Predestination and Human Will – Examining the Options

In the last post, I gave an overview of my views on Romans 9. I stated that, while Romans 9 does not warrant any sweeping conclusions about predestination, there are reasonable extrapolations that may be drawn at ones discretion. In this post, I want to talk about the different options that I have seen or considered regarding what the concepts of predestination or human will mean. This post will examine the extreme views of predestination, the extreme views of human will, and several possibilities in between. At the end of the article, I will describe which options I believe are compatible with Romans 9 and the Bible in general.

The most extreme view of predestination states that God is in direct control of all events, and that He uses humans and spiritual forces (both good and evil) to bring forth His plans. Under this view, humans’ free will is an illusion; people think and feel as if they are free, but ultimately God is directing them. The idea is that evil plays an integral part of God’s redemptive plans by drawing a contrast with righteousness, causing people to appreciate righteousness more fully. The advantage of this view is that it allows the most literal interpretation of Scriptures that reference predestination or God’s purposes (ex. Rom. 9, Eph. 1:11, Dan. 4:35, Isa. 45:7). Many people, however, are concerned about the implications that this view may carry for the character of God. In particular, there are concerns that this view makes God responsible for evil.

There are views which uphold the idea of predestination, but seek to avoid the problematic implications for God’s character. One such approach is to claim that all events (including human decisions and actions) are produced by a cause or a combination of causes. In other words, decisions and actions are constrained to occur by various factors (such as psychology, physiology, social influences, knowledge, experience, etc.). Under this view, human history is deterministic, meaning that, if you were to rewind history then hit play, the same events would unfold the second time. Furthermore, human history is predictable to an omniscient agent who sees everything happening. History could be seen as a chain reaction designed by God. In this view, God initiated human history, and from there, human decisions and actions unfolded through the principle of cause and effect. Some of these effects involve humans seeking God for help and exercising their spiritual authority as believers to cause other things to happen. Even though this view claims that all decisions and events were designed to occur through cause and effect, it does not claim that God was acting in every situation. The idea of this view is that it upholds the concept of predestination without claiming that every event and decision occurred via God’s power. This view allows room to say that humans, or various spiritual forces, were the direct cause of a given event, and that God’s power was not operating in that situation.

Some people may feel that this view still makes God responsible for evil. I think that you could address these concerns by modifying the view to say that, even though history is deterministic (with all events and decisions formulaically occurring through cause and effect) not every event and decision was designed by God. You could say that God designed some events (such as individuals coming to know Christ), but not all events. You could take this a step further and claim that, even though history is predictable to an omniscient agent, God did not specifically design anything to happen; all He did was get the process started. This view could still uphold the concept of predestination (albeit in a more metaphorical sense), by reasoning that God knew how everything would unfold and decided to let it happen, knowing that righteousness would prevail over evil when all was said and done. Under this view, a given event happened because God initiated history and one thing led to another. However, God did not initiate history in a specific way such that the event would occur, and God’s power only intervenes in the world if humans’ spiritual activity prompts it to. Humans’ decisions to engage in such spiritual activities occurs as a result of various factors.

However, some may find it problematic for a person’s life to be deterministic in any way or form. If so, there is a view which allows which acknowledges that people make actual choices that do not simply result from a confluence of factors. However, there are constraints upon the range of options that a person would select. For example, a person may have some problem that causes him to make foolish decisions in certain situations. Now, the exact decision that he makes is up to his own will – nothing can cause him to make a particular bad decision. However, because of certain psychological or spiritual problems, whatever he chooses in certain situations will be a foolish decision. Under this view, God chooses certain people to come to know Christ in this life, and when they come into the faith, they begin to be liberated from the constraints upon their will and they are given a new nature from which they can make wise decisions and overcome problems.

Lastly, some believe that there cannot be any constraints on the human will, at least where decisions regarding faith are concerned. They believe that for a true relationship between humans and God to exist, an individual must be fully capable of choosing God by his or her own will. The rationale for this view is that it is the only view that truly makes humans responsible for their actions; all of the other views are seen as giving people a way to excuse their bad decisions. Proponents of this view often claim that, with the exception of certain divinely-ordained events, God leaves it up to us to determine the future and what He sees are the different outcomes that would arise from different courses of actions we may choose.

As to where I stand in this debate, I think that both the extreme predestination view and the extreme free will view are difficult to reconcile with Scripture when the whole council of relevant passages are taken into account. Regarding the extreme view of predestination, I do not have a way to decisively refute it from the Bible. However, when people raise Biblical concerns about it damaging the character of God, or taking away human responsibility, I am not able to give a Scriptural response to those concerns that makes a lot of sense. I think that the three middle views of predestination described above work just fine with the Biblical passages on predestination and they enable more discussion from Scripture about the need for human action and accountability. Regarding the strong free will viewpoint, which gives humans the full inherent ability to make decisions regarding faith and to determine the future, I find that I am unable to make this jive with the view of the Book of Romans that I described in the previous post.

So, by writing this article, I want to show how there are different ways to look at the issue of predestination and human will. Many people only know the concept by the two extremes, and I think that it is important to see that there are other options.

Contrasts between Romans and Galatians on the Subject of Law

Many Biblical commentators equate the themes of Romans and Galatians and speak of them as if they contain the same message. On the surface, there are similarities, such as justification by faith and salvation through Christ’s finished work rather than works of the Law. However, I think that a close look at both epistles reveals contextual differences which affect the meaning of concepts such as law and grace.

Romans is a comprehensive outline of Paul’s theology. It tackles deep questions involving human nature and shows how Christ’s death and resurrection transforms human nature. Galatians, on the other hand, has a much more specific focus involving a controversy in the early church. The controversy was whether Christians were still required to follow the ceremonial rituals of the Old Testament laws, such as circumcision, dietary rules, cleansing protocols, and observance of special days. Paul’s answer is a resounding no.

Galatians 2:16-17 – And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

2:19-20: For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.

2:21: I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

At first glance, these passages look like the passages I have been quoting from Romans. However, we need to consider the occasion for which Paul wrote these things. Earlier in Galatians Chapter 2, Paul criticized Cephas (the Apostle Peter) for sometimes eating with Gentiles, but other times refraining if he thought Jews would object. For Paul, this was a serious inconsistency. The point of verses 16-21 quoted above was to explain how, because of Christ’s atonement, the barriers between Jews and Gentiles (and thus the ceremonial regulations upholding those barriers) have been eliminated, and reenacting them in a way that excludes Gentiles denies the fundamental principles of the Gospel. In contrast, when Paul writes about dying to the Law in Romans, his example uses the law against coveting, which is a universal moral principle rather than a Jewish custom. I’ll discuss this more later.

While we are on this subject, Galatians 2 makes it evident that, when the Bible speaks of Christians being “condemned” for various acts, that does not have to mean they lose their salvation. Paul said that Peter was condemned because he would not eat with Gentiles (2:11). Do we really think that Peter had lost his salvation?

Moving on, let’s look at Galatians 3:23-25 – “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.”

The religious laws of the Old Testament were designed to protect the Jews from immoral influences in their surrounding cultures; hence, the Law was a “guard” as Paul writes. However, in the current age, Christians can be led by the Holy Spirit in a way such that they avoid immorality without needing all of the religious regulations of the Old Covenant.

More evidence that Paul is referring to ceremonial customs is in Galatians 4:10, “You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.”

Having said all of these things, Paul spends the last two chapters of Galatians addressing the misunderstanding that freedom from the Law means there are no rules for believers. What he emphasizes is that you are free from the Law so that the Spirit can show you what to do.

Galatians 5:18 – “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.”

To help with discerning whether certain convictions come from the Spirit, Paul lists qualities associated with obedience to the Spirit:

5:22 – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Paul also lists signs that a person is living according to the flesh rather than the Spirit:

5:19-21 – “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

It seems like a principle that is simple enough – you are justified by faith apart the Law, but after being justified you may either follow the Spirit’s leading and experience life in the Kingdom of God, or follow your selfish desires and experience corruption outside the Kingdom. But there is a complication to this principle. Are we really able to make ourselves do everything we feel convicted in our heart to do? Can we just wake up in the morning, resolve to do whatever our conscience tells us is right, and push ourselves to follow through with it?

I probably don’t need to tell you that the answer is no for many people. But that is beyond the scope of Galatians. This dilemma involves matters of human nature, psychology, and certain aspects of Christ’s finished work which Galatians does not set out to address. I believe Romans is where those themes are taken up. Earlier I mentioned that Romans uses prohibition of coveting as an example of Law. There is something twisted in human nature that makes people have greed for things they don’t own. We can know in our heart what is right and wrong, but nevertheless lack the power to carry it out (Romans 7:18). Romans describes how, through faith in Christ’s finished work, we can experience deliverance from these problems of human nature so that we can actually have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

I believe the distinction between Romans and Galatians is critical. Imposing the Romans message upon Galatians could lead to a complete disregard of moral principles. On the other hand, imposing the Galatians message upon Romans results in many contradiction and non-sequiturs.

So, this is my overview on the epistle to the Galatians. I’m interested to know what you think about all of this.

Demystifying Spirituality – Part 3

A concern among many Christians is that people will fail to take the initiative to do what is right and instead sit around waiting for God to get them to do something through a dramatic experience. The often-repeated warning is that God will not force us to do anything, and that He is waiting for us to take action. The idea is that God works in us only when we are also taking action; it is viewed as a cooperative process between us and Him.

So, then, considering my own writings on this blog, am I suggesting that we cannot do anything until God drives us into action? Well, I’m not suggesting that, and in this article, I want to explain why.

I do not believe that we need some sort of “push” or dramatic experience with the Holy Spirit to do something. Rather, I think that what we need is a reorientation of our minds and physiological responses. I am going to cover several more spiritual phrases in this article, such as “surrendering one’s self to God, being “separate from the world,” and being “free from Law.”

I’ll describe an experience that has been true for me, and I think it is true for most people in general. As soon as we wake up in the morning, thoughts enter our minds, which in turn cause feelings based on our physiological make-up as discussed in Part 1 of this series. These feelings influence our actions. Now, at times throughout the day, we may try to bypass these feelings by telling ourselves to act contrary to them. However, success may be limited because, even though we are trying to deny those feelings, we live with perceptions of reality that promote those feelings. Thus, we are denying them and promoting them at the same time, which yields little success.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:22-23: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

I think this passage refers to the way we interpret what we see with our eyes – the things we tell ourselves based upon our vision.

Thus, I believe that “surrendering ourselves to God” can be seen as becoming willing to see our lives with new vision and to see the world with new vision. This reorientation of our vision is something that we can pray for and believe for. Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:18, as part of a prayer for the church, “with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he [God] has called you.”

When we see ourselves and our environment with new eyes, our nerves and impulses can be controlled. Anxieties, temptations, and irrational urges do not go away altogether, but believers have the Spirit of God inside of them which can enable them to control these negative feelings and thoughts so that they do not rule one’s life (Gal. 5:22-23). But a readjustment of one’s vision may be necessary to act upon this inward spiritual power. The Spirit works in us so that we have the ability to act on our own initiative if our vision is oriented correctly. I believe this principle also helps explain the results of being “born again.” Through the new birth, God has given us an opportunity to go through a lifelong reorientation of our consciousness through the Spirit.

Another point I want to mention is being “separate from the world.” Christians have a lot of debate over how different from the secular world we are required to be. There are a list of ways in which I am different from many non-Christians of my demographic. However, I do not use these differences to justify myself. One reason is that, some of these difference are due to traits that I was probably born with. But the other reason is that, I myself am not completely sure what a lifestyle apart from the world entails.

Thus, my outward activity (in contrast to non-Christians) is a secondary factor. For me, being separate from the world is primarily about the perspectives and attitudes that I live with. All of the things I write about on this blog are things that I think about as I go about my daily life. I trust that, by focusing on these things, my lifestyle will adjust if there are any areas where it needs to be adjusted.

The last spiritual concept I want to discuss is being “free from law.” I think that, for many people, understanding freedom from law can be essential to experiencing the reorientation of one’s vision needed to solve problems in life.

Paul wrote in Romans 7:4-5, “You have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

I believe the idea of law is that there are rules which you must measure yourself against to determine whether you can be at peace in your life. Paul also wrote that one’s conscience can serve as the law for one’s self (Rom. 2:14-15). The law demands full conformity (ever heard that “the law is the law?”).

How can law prevent us from reorienting our vision? Well, one reason is that law can keep us from seeing the big picture. Under law, we are condemned by any imperfection that we are conscious of. Thus, under law, our attention is fixated with that imperfection, and we neglect opportunities to “bear fruit” in our lives. Why bother to do good deeds in other areas of life when a single imperfection is going to condemn us anyway?

But there is another reason why law can hold us down; law causes anxiety that can lead to more missteps. Suppose that you have a habit of cussing and your conscience bothers you about it. You get self-absorbed with trying to fix your speech, thinking that you’ll be punished if you don’t, and a lot of tension builds up inside of you. Eventually, you can’t contain yourself anymore so you lose your tempter (without cussing) when somebody ticks you off. In this case, your law-driven obsession with not cussing led to a fruit of the flesh rather than a fruit of the Spirit. If you quit worrying about cussing so much, you could have a better temperament overall.

Yet another reason why we need to understand our freedom from law is that, law gets us hung up on sins in and of themselves, instead of looking at what inward problem caused the sins in the first place. The result is that we feel good about ourselves before we sin (because we’re fine according to the law), but we feel bad about ourselves after the sin occurs. This cycle of feeling good then feeling bad keeps us focused on our own faults rather than focusing on our freedom from sin. If our conscience bothers us about a certain habit in our lives, but we have not yet engaged in the habit today, our current abstinence should not be a reason to feel good about ourselves because it’s only a matter of time until we yield to temptation. To break the habit, we need to see our lives, and the habit itself, with new insights.

Demystifying Spirituality – Part 2

In this post, I want to continue the discussion of what it means that we have “died to sin” as the Book of Romans says.

Romans 6:7 (NRSV) – “Whoever has died is freed from sin.”

In this passage, the Greek word translated “freed” (dikaioō) is translated “justified” in Romans Ch. 3-5. In Chapters 3-5 Paul explains that people are “justified” by faith, apart from works. So, “justified” is obviously an appropriate translation there because it conveys the idea of being accepted by God. However, in Romans 6, most Bible translations began using the word “freed” instead of “justified.” I first became aware that the underlying Greek word was the same when I saw the word “justified” in the Concordant Literal New Testament. Then, I looked up Rom. 6:7 in Strong’s Concordance online and saw that the Greek word translated “freed” was translated “justified” in passages from Chapters 3-5. I believe that the word “freed” is fine given that it conveys a true idea; however, “justified” reveals a different dimension to one’s death to sin that sheds new light on Romans 6 and the epistle as a whole.

Sin has a two-fold effect. One effect is causing problems in one’s life. The other effect is creating a burden of guilt, and causing some form of tension between humans and God. However, if we have died to sin, deactivating our burdensome relationship with it, then we are no longer tied to sin, and it cannot ruin our lives anymore. This explains how we are “justified” from sin by having died to it.

The concepts discussed in this article can also be applied to problems in your life that may not necessarily break Biblical commandments, such as procrastination or overeating. The reason is that the problems inside of you that result in procrastination or overeating probably also result in “real” sins. Thus, rather than debating over whether something was a “sin” or not, we should look inside of us and see whether the cause of the issue is connected to the “body of sin” that Paul wrote about.

Let’s put this in practical terms. Suppose you have a bad habit that you worry is going to hurt you in your future. If you get through the day without engaging in that habit, you feel good about yourself. Things just feel “right,” inside of you. You feel good about the future. However, if you slipped and engaged in the habit, then you feel bad about yourself and your future.

I am going to start typing Sin with a capital S in order to personify it. The goal of Sin is to ruin your life. This is why it is so hard to break bad habits. Even though you know that the habit is bad for you, something inside of you wants to ruin your life. However, if you proclaim to Sin that you have died to it and been released from its power to ruin your life, then you disarming sin and dissipating its energy inside of you. Thus, you are justified from Sin in the sense that, whether or not you engage in the bad habit today, Sin cannot ruin your future. If you declare this to Sin, you can soon begin to experience freedom from its power.

I will give an example of how I exercise this principle in my own life. I probably have a mild case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and for years I struggled with intrusive, blasphemous thoughts, which is a famous symptom of that disorder. I worried that God would only forgive me if I was making my most sincere effort to eliminate those thoughts. However, trying to fight off those thoughts didn’t really solve the problem. What finally got me free from this problem is when I started telling those thoughts that they couldn’t harm my spiritual status; even if they were to bring out all their ammo, it would be to no effect because I’ve died to them and they hold no power over a dead person. When I say these things to intrusive thoughts, they rapidly dissipate.

Another reason we are justified from sin by having died to it is that, our lives do not have to be dominated by guilt or shame. Sometimes people joke about dying of embarrassment. However, where Romans is concerned, we have died to embarrassment. Sin wants to make you feel bad about yourself; however, since you have died to it, it cannot inflict guilt or shame. Can you embarrass a dead person? Can a dead person be guilty of anything?

I am not denying that there is an afterlife where a person’s experience reflects the kind of life they lived in this world. This goes to illustrate that physical death is really only a shadow of death. To understand the kind of death that occurred to us with Christ, you have to think about going out of existence completely. If you are completely removed from existence, then you cannot be guilty of anything. Imagine a relationship between two entities: A human and Sin. The relationship is such that Sin inflicts the human with guilt or embarrassment. However, if the human goes out of existence, the bond between the human and Sin is broken. Thus, Sin cannot inflict the person with guilt or embarrassment anymore.

Now, in your own life, it is impossible to avoid feeling guilt and embarrassment at times. The reason is that you have a conscience and a sense of dignity that are bothered when you do something wrong. These feelings are not going to go away simply because you believe something. However, you can tell these feelings that they are not going to ruin your day. These feelings will either get you to do something you are convicted of, or they will eventually subside, but they do not have to bog you down to the point that you are paralyzed by them. You do not owe anything to guilt and shame. These feelings may cause you to do good (that’s one reason why God gives people a conscience), but deliberately entertaining these feelings does not do yourself or God any favors because you have died to these feelings. So, freedom from guilt and shame are another reason why, because you have died to Sin, you are justified from Sin.

Thus, I think that the Greek word dikaioō in Romans 6 could be rightfully translated “justified.” Translating it “justified” would clear up some confusion surrounding Paul’s gospel. As mentioned earlier, almost all Bible translations have phrases like “justified by faith, apart from works” in Romans 3-5. However, Romans 6-8 are important because they show us the basis upon which we are justified apart from works. When we realize that we have died to sin and risen to a new life, and believe this truth as the ultimate reality for our own lives, it starts to become an experiential reality. And God, knowing our destiny to which this process leads, goes ahead and declares us to be justified apart from our present works because He knows the direction our life is headed.

Demystifying Spirituality – Part 1

I want to start a series of posts in which we look at highly spiritual terminology in the Bible, particular phrases such as “dying to sin,” being “born again,” having a “renewed mind,” and being “separate from the world.”

Now, might be thinking, “This is going to be heavy and serious.” Well, I don’t think it has to be. In fact, I think it will be an enjoyable series because I will show how you can relate these phrases to your everyday life. If you are not someone who says these phrases a lot, you may think that Christians who frequently use them are somehow more “holy” or devout than you are. However, I don’t believe we have to think of people that way. In past times, I separated this spiritual terminology from my day to day, secular activities. However, that changed about a year ago as my personal life evolved and I started looking at certain Scriptures more closely. Now, I can relax and think about “dying to sin” while playing games. I am going to share with you how I do this, and you can decide for yourself if it is right to think similarly.

Romans 6:5-7: “For if we have been united with him [Christ] in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.”

All right, let’s think about this. First, consider what it means to be “alive” to something, versus being “dead” to something. Here’s an example: Some people have food allergies. A certain food will prompt a specific part of a particular person’s immune system to overreact, causing adverse activity in that person’s body. When I was young, I was allergic to eggs. My immune system was “alive” to eggs. Eggs would provoke, or “tempt,” my immune system. Then, my immune system would “sin” by reacting adversely, causing a rash. However, by the age of 9, my immune system “died” to eggs. I was no longer allergic.

Now, let’s look at our own lives. If we sin, it is because something provokes us and we fail to react appropriately; either we get agitated and do something bad, or we get intimidated and freeze, failing to do the things we should. Suppose you’re someone who hates the sound of nails on chalkboard. Somebody does that just to annoy you, and it makes you lose your temper.

You lose your temper as a reflex of sorts because your nerves are “alive” to the sound of nails on chalkboard, and your vocal chords become “slaves” to your nerves. But now, suppose a physiologist claims he can fix your reflex to that noise. He gives you a potion that makes you completely unconscious for three days. During that time, people set up a chalkboard next to you and scratch their nails on it day in and day out to see if they can make you lose your temper. But you never do. You have died to that reflex, or to that “sin”. Your brain is not listening to it; your nervous system is not reacting to it; your vocal chords are not reacting to it. The whole “body of sin” that used to trigger that reflex has been deactivated. While you are unconscious, the potion is working on your brain and nervous system. When you return to consciousness, you still don’t like to hear nails on chalkboard, but you can choose to control your temper because the potion adjusted the internal workings inside of you.

I find it significant that Paul used the phrase “body of sin.” I believe that, in many cases, the cause of sin is not our intellect, but rather, it is in our physiological systems. I think that factors such as the nervous system, brain chemicals, hormones, and reflexes, respond to what we see and hear in a way that leads to sin. This is why motivational tactics to change our behavior often fail; the problem is not rooted in the part of our brain where we motivate ourselves. The problem is rooted in our physiological systems that produce sensations in response to what our consciousness perceives. Thus, overcoming sin requires a physiological adjustment, not just mental motivation. And this physiological adjustment is something that happens through the Spirit. Look at Romans 8:11:

“He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

Notice that the Spirit injects life into your body. I believe that living according to the Spirit, or being filled with the Spirit, involves the Spirit working in your physiology so that you respond to situations differently.

So, how do we actually experience this transformation in our own lives? Many of us are still dealing with physiological problems that cause sinful reactions. The deliverance from these problems described in Romans is something that has to be accepted in faith, given that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). So, how can we have faith in this reorientation of our bodies and minds when we see and feel things to the contrary in our day-to-day lives? The next few post will examine that.

Some Thoughts on National Morality

I finished the series of posts on what being a real Christian means, and I feel that a good follow-up topic would be a subject of much discussion among Evangelicals today, which is whether the United States as a whole is turning away from Biblical morality and will face various crises as a result. Now, before we start, I should mention that this is not a political essay or a commentary on current events.

I think that Romans Chapters 1 and 2 have a lot of relevance to the subject of national morality. Here’s Romans 1: 28-32:

“And since they [Gentile pagans] did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.”

Sound familiar? You have probably heard of many people and places in the U.S. today where those characteristics are found. Preachers may cite Hollywood, social liberals, public schools, college fraternities, and so on. Basically, it’s the so-called worldly people. But at the opening of Romans 2, Paul turns the tables against the churchgoing culture:

2:1-4: “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?”

I think that passage is supposed to make Christians say, “Huh? How can you say I do the same things as ___? When was the last time you saw me in a sexy music video? I’ve never committed murder. I’ve never said anything blasphemous about God; I don’t even use His name in exclamatory outbursts. You think I’m proud and boastful? I’m not the one with expensive cars or clothes. And envy? Good grief, I’m still happy with my flip phone!”

Well, the problem with those self-justifications is that Biblical morality, especially in the New Testament, goes beyond outwards acts. Furthermore, many passages challenge Christians to ask themselves whether their lifestyle indicates that they are true believers in the first place as there are both sins of commission and sins of omission (James 4:13-17, 1 John 3:17). I do acknowledge that there are Christian who genuinely live out Biblical morality, both internally and externally. If your conscience testifies that you are at least sincerely trying to live according to Scripture in every aspect of life (Rom. 2:15), then what I am about to say does not apply to you.

Paul wrote in Romans 2 that “in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself . . . do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?”

As for me, my conscience does not assure me that, if the nation were to fall because of its deeds, that I would be spared because of my deeds. I’m a rather introspective person, and I have seen things within myself that do not go over too well with certain Scriptures. Although my sins of commission may not be too long, my sins of omission is probably a longer list. This is why, I personally cannot say that the country will decline because of its deeds. If I say that, I am predicting the same fate for myself. This is not a matter of national unity. If I say that some guy in New Zealand will lose God’s protection because of sins in his life, I’m saying that I myself will lose God’s protection.

Now, if you’ve read the Bible carefully and your conscience tells you that you really are living as the Bible instructs, then you have truly overcome the world, and you have the right to say anything you want about it. You can count on God’s blessing regardless of what happens around you. Some of you out there have reached this point. But what about people like myself, and probably many of you as well, who are not so sure that we make the cut? Is our fate tied to the United States? Well, I believe it doesn’t have to be that way, and there is a special message in the Book of Romans for such people, which is what I wrote about in my “Being a Real Christian” series.

When we come to realize how Christ died and rose again not only as a substitutionary atonement but also to set us free from sin’s control over our lives, and we ask God to help us experience this freedom, it is like God sets us apart from the world and starts a special process in us. Sometimes, intermediate steps involve having certain problems when other people aren’t (Hebrews 12:6-8). But, it’s all about helping us learn deeper truths about life and becoming what we were made to be. And at this point, our future is not tied to any nation.

So, then, if I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist regarding nation affairs, is there a framework to pray for the country? I believe there is, although I do not pray with complete faith that any temporal event will happen or not happen. After all, 2 Corinthians 4:4 refers to Satan as the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), which I take to mean that neither myself nor God can directly force a change in circumstances in a way that bypasses human correspondence. So, I instead pray with faith that, in some way, there will be individuals who experience God’s redemptive processes and come to know the freedom that they can experience in Christ. I do also pray about temporal events as God’s guidance can sometimes influence people in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-3), but my faith is not hinged on any course of events.

Thus, my focus is on individuals rather than the abstract concept of a nation. I want for individuals to be able to gain new insights on life and the Christian faith, so that some people who previously rejected Christianity may see it with new lenses, and that some people who are already believers may gain a deeper perspective that will help them in life, and that regardless of what national events occur, God’s work in these ways will be carried out for certain people. Although I cannot know what will happen to the “nation,” I do know that every day there are people who come into the Christian faith, and Christians who gain new insights from resources made available by preachers and authors, and I pray that this work of God will continue moving forward. As Christ himself said (Matt. 7:7), “search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

Being a Real Christian – Part 5

In Part 1, I mentioned what often happens when we try to change our ways. Although a small percentage of us will succeed, most will not see a meaningful, sustained difference. And I think that in Romans 7, Paul describes why that is the case. It took me many years as a Christian to see that Paul is actually admitting the difficulty that we all face when we try to change ourselves. It was too hard to believe that the Bible was acknowledging these things.

Look at Romans 7:4-5, “In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.”

Notice that Paul mentions “sinful passions aroused by the law.” This is why changing one’s lifestyle through self-motivation can be impossible. You set rules for yourself, but when you push yourself to follow the rules, desires to do the opposite are also energized, so the net result is little or no change, or even a negative difference. The “just do it” mentality breaks down.

Some have said that when Paul refers to the law, he is only referring to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, and that he is not referring to Biblical morality. If we were talking about the epistle to the Galatians, that is probably the right interpretation (I may write an article on that later). However, in Romans, the concept of law encompasses more than religious rituals. The problem that Paul addresses of law stimulating desire to do the opposite, thus nullifying one’s efforts, applies to laws of any type, and I think subsequent passages in Romans 7 make this clear.

Paul writes, “What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” (Romans 7:7-8).

More evidence that trying to follow laws can keep us trapped in bad habits comes when Paul has to address the misconception that the law itself is sin. If Paul were not saying that good laws can trigger bad psychological reactions leading to sin, why would anyone come to the bizarre conclusion that the law itself is sinful? Also notice that Paul uses the law forbidding coveting as an example. This is the ultimate proof that, in Romans, Paul’s references to law are not confined to ceremonial rituals.

Looking at verses 19-20, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

Here Paul is describing a human condition which further explains why the “just do it” mentality can fail us. Notice that Paul says, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” Notice that he used the word “cannot.” Some people say that we should stop using the word “cannot.” But Paul used that word! Many think that if we fail it’s because we’re not trying hard enough. In a sense, that may be true. However, if we’re under a mentality of law, antagonistic parts of our minds will eventually cause us to stop trying. At least, this is what my personal experience has shown.

So, if imposing rules on ourselves causes these problems, should we stop trying to follow those rules and just do whatever we are inclined to do instead? I think we need to find a balance between two situations, the first being insistence on doing what’s wrong even if the temptation to do it isn’t all that strong. This approach makes existing problems worse. The other situation is forcing ourselves to continue noble but vain efforts that contribute to a vicious cycle. I think that Romans 8, which we’ll look at next time, has some clues for how to find a balance between those two situations.

Being a Real Christian – Part 4

In Romans Chapters 3-5, Paul discusses how justification is by faith rather than works. The concept of salvation by faith is mentioned many times in the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s writing and the Gospel of John. But the question which arises from this concept is, are works or obedience still required of us? Are we free to do whatever we want to?

As much as different Christian sects have tried to streamline answers to this question, I actually find that the New Testament gives at least two different perspectives. First, let’s look at how the Apostle James approaches this dilemma.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works” (James 2:14-22).

I think James is saying that faith can only exist when you are acting in obedience to God. He uses the obedience of Abraham to illustrate this. The point is not that you can “earn” your salvation by doing certain works. Rather, the idea is that you are saved by faith, but you have to follow God’s commandments in order for that faith to be genuine faith. But it is important to consider exactly what the faith that James speaks of entails. In James’s epistle, the only references to Christ are on two occasions when James refers to Jesus as Lord. Thus, the “faith” that James refers to, which is dead without works, seems to simply be a claim of faith in the Divinity of Christ. Contrast that with Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in which the whole epistle is centered on what Christ accomplished for humanity through His death and resurrection. Thus, Paul’s references to “faith” encompass a lot more than James’s references to faith alone.

Getting back to the question of, if we’re justified by faith, does it matter what we do, take a look at Paul’s answer to that question in Romans.

“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:1-11).

This is quite a different perspective from what James wrote. James’s answer had a very practical nature, highlighting the obedience of Abraham and Rahab to show that in order to have true faith you must do works in obedience to God.

In contrast to that practical explanation, Paul’s explanation is rather mystical, speaking of being joined with Christ in His death and resurrection and thus dying to sin and being raised to a new life where sin cannot dominate us. It is a very transformative message, and what Paul says is that we should consider ourselves to be vivified with Christ and free from sin’s dominion. What Paul implies in Chapters 7 and 8 is that believing in this transformation, rather than self-motivation to change one’s ways, is necessary to truly experiencing freedom from sin’s power. The next article takes a look at this in more detail.