Thursday, September 29, 2011

What is a Worldview?


Romans 1:18-32 shows us that the natural inclination of fallen man is to eradicate God from the mind.  v28, says that they did not see fit to acknowledge God.  A more literal translation would be, they did not approve of having God in their knowledge.  They wanted to remove God from their conceptual framework.  The rest of v28 shows that because of this, God gave them up to a debased mind, which resulted in their practicing all forms of ungodliness.
Removing God from the picture inevitably leads to lawlessness.  But there is another way in which seeking to scrub God from consciousness affects the human mind.  It leads to a faulty understanding of the world as a whole and how it works.  It leads to a faulty worldview.
Most of us have heard the term worldview, but we may not know what it is.  A worldview is a conceptual scheme by which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and judge reality. It provides the framework for how we live our lives. 
Everyone has a worldview, whether they realize it or not.  Everyone interacts with the world.  Everyone has beliefs, which affect the way they understand the world.  Everyone lives in accordance with that understanding.  The big question is, what is informing our worldview?  On what is it based?
In a world that has largely rejected the notion of the God of the Bible, we should expect there to be many different faulty worldviews, worldviews that cannot sufficiently explain reality, worldviews that are inherently inconsistent, worldviews that do not accord with human experience – in short, worldviews that are wholly at odds with the truths of Scripture.
In our first Wednesday night teaching series beginning October 5, we’re going to be taking a look at the concept of worldview.  That may seem like a completely cerebral endeavor with little practical significance, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Our culture is becoming increasingly pluralistic, that is, society has embraced the notion that there are many avenues to truth, many avenues to God.  Large groups even in the church have accepted this.  For this reason, I see four reasons why an understanding of the major worldviews will be a benefit to us in our everyday lives.
First, understanding worldviews will help us to defend the faith.  The Christian worldview is at its core exclusivistic.  We do not believe that there are many ways to God.  There is one way – salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  As time passes, we will be more frequently challenged about our beliefs.  We must understand our own worldview so that we can speak the truth in love, answer those challenges, and show that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that accords with reality. 
Second, understanding worldviews will strengthen our faith.  We have become so ignorant of our own worldview, as taught in Scripture, that we are ripe for attack from skeptics who would cause us to doubt the faith.  This happens all the time.  For example, young people are going off to college, perhaps knowing what they believe, but not why.  Secular professors are preying on these students, shaking their faith to its core and sometimes destroying it.  Understanding what the Bible teaches about reality will bolster our faith and prepare us for the attacks of an unbelieving world.
Third, understanding worldviews is an invaluable tool in sharing the gospel, specifically, in answering objections.  Though people deny belief in the Bible and belief in God, everyone presupposes the existence of absolute truth everyday.  It is impossible to live otherwise.  The ability to discern a person’s worldview enables the evangelist to know how to bring Scripture to bear on that specific person’s life and beliefs.
Fourth, understanding worldviews will reveal the greatest influences in our personal lives.  As we learn the characteristics of the various worldviews, it may become clear to us that we have been more influenced by our secular culture than by God’s Word. This provides a great diagnostic tool to correct our thinking and help us in our sanctification.
A great book on this subject is James W. Sire’s The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog.  It is a thorough and easy to understand primer on the subject, demonstrating the superiority of the Christian worldview as well as the incoherence of all other major worldviews.  It would be a great supplement to our study.
I look forward to next Wednesday evening. Our time together will run concurrently with the AWANA activities – 6:30-8:00.  I hope to see you there.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Psalm 112 - Happy is the Fearful


  1 Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!
 2 His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
 3 Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.
 4 Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
 5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice.
 6 For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever.
 7 He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
 8 His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
 9 He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor.
 10 The wicked man sees it and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away; the desire of the wicked will perish!

Happy is the man who fears the LORD… That’s what v1 is telling us.  “Blessed” here is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word we find repeatedly in the first verses of Matthew 5, the Beatitudes (which we will begin studying in our Matthew sermon series in a couple of weeks.)  Happy is the man who fears the LORD.  That is why the psalm starts with the exclamation “Praise the LORD!”  The psalmist is celebrating the life that is his by virtue of the fact that he fears the Lord.
But that sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?  How can a person be happy and fearful at the same time?  Occasionally, one of my kids will come into our bedroom in the middle of the night to tell us that he or she is afraid.  The reason for the fear may not always be the same, but there is one detail that never varies: the fear is never accompanied by happiness.  
So what do we make of this verse? The key is the meaning of the word “fear.”  Numerous passages in Scripture exhort us to fear the Lord.  Numerous passage describe the fear of the Lord.  A detailed study of what is meant by “the fear of the Lord” would take more time and work than this blog was designed for.  However, the verse does give us what we need in order to make sense of this usage of that phrase. 
Blessed is the man who fear the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments.  If you have been around PBF for long, you’ve heard me talk about Hebrew parallelism, a literary device in Hebrew poetry where subsequent lines contrast, build upon, explain, or restate a previous line.  In this case the second half of the verse is explaining or restating the phrase “who fear the LORD.”  Whatever else "the fear of the Lord" may entail, we know by this verse that it includes greatly delighting in the Lord’s commandments.  So, happy is the man who fears the Lord, that is, the man who greatly delights in his commandments.  The rest of the psalm details how that plays out in the man’s life.
I’m not going to go through the whole psalm now, but I would like to delve into v7: He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
Everybody is afraid of bad news, aren’t they?  Many of us spend significant portions of our waking hours being afraid of bad news.  It’s called anxiety.  We worry about things that may happen to us or those we love.  But this psalm would tell us that not everybody is afraid of bad news…not the person who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments. 
Someone who delights in the Lord’s commandments is someone who obeys those commandments, who walks in fellowship with God, and who therefore knows what kind of God the Lord is.  The one who fears the Lord is a person who has experienced the blessings that God promises to those who love Him.  He knows the mighty deeds that God has done to save His people.  In fact, the previous psalm, Psalm 111, which declares the greatness of His works, is believed by many scholars to be intentionally connected to Psalm 112.  Psalm 111:7 declares, The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.  That is why the man who fears the Lord does not fear bad news.  He knows that God is always faithful. 
And notice that Psalm 112 does not say that the man who fears the Lord never receives bad news.  Everyone receives bad news, including those who fear God.  The difference is that when bad news comes, “his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.” 
It could rightly be said that the antidote to the fear of the unknown is the fear of the Lord, if we understand fearing the Lord to mean delighting in His Word.  It is there we find what God requires of us, what He has done to save us, and what He supplies to enable us to endure difficult times. 
You may be experiencing anxiety right now.  You may be dealing with a severe trial and you don’t know how it is going to end, or if it will end.  The key to walking through that trial with joy rather than despair is to cling to the Lord in His Word, to delight in His commandments.  Trace the works of God through the Old and New Testaments, the deeds that He has accomplished in order to save His people from foreign oppressors, from hunger and thirst, from slavery, from sin, and from His own righteous wrath.  Be reminded of the greatest demonstration of His love, the giving of His Son for us while we were still sinners.  He is always faithful.  Discipline your mind to dwell on these things rather than the possibility of bad news. 
In the end, for the redeemed there is no such thing as truly devastating news.  God has saved us from eternity in hell and made us fellows heirs with His Son.  Truly, happy is the man who fears the Lord.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Was Jesus really tempted?


I recently had a conversation with someone about the temptation of Jesus.  This person claimed that Jesus could have sinned.  I asked him what made him think so.  He replied, “Otherwise, His obedience was meaningless.”
This is not an uncommon contention.  Some believe that in order for Jesus’ resistance of temptation to be genuine and meaningful, He had to have been capable of sinning.  The thought is that if Jesus could not sin, then He has not really experienced temptation.  He didn’t sin because He couldn’t sin.
However, as we saw in great detail a couple of weeks ago in Matthew 4 during the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted.  Verse 1 of that chapter told us, Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  Pretty clear.  The purpose for His going into the wilderness was to be tempted.  And we looked at how each of those specific temptations would have pulled at Jesus’ humanity.  For example, Jesus was really hungry, having fasted for 40 days.  The temptation to turn stones into bread was real.  His flesh longed for that food.  But He resisted the temptation.
Another classic text on the genuineness of Christ’s temptation is Hebrews 4:15-16: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 
Jesus was tempted in every respect as we are.  There really isn’t any wiggle room there.  There are two phrases here that close the door on any claim that Jesus was not really tempted.  First, “in every respect.”  This doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus was tempted with every specific temptation possible.  Certainly, there are some temptations that wouldn’t apply to Him, like a woman’s temptation to resist her husbands authority.  However, Jesus was tempted in a general way to resist authority – the authority of the Father.  We could say that “in every respect” means in every area of life.  The second important phrase is “as we are.”  He was tempted as we are.  He did not have any special help or leg up that we do not have.  He felt the true weight of temptation as we do.
Verses 15-16 also tell us why the reality of this temptation is import.  Without Jesus experiencing real temptation, He could not be a high priest sympathetic with our weaknesses.  He would not be able to help us in time of need.  Therefore, we would not be able to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.  Christ’s office as our great high priest depended upon His enduring genuine temptation and perfectly resisting it.  This is the unmistakable conclusion of the writer of Hebrews.  Jesus was tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, we can draw near to this high priest to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
So there can be no question that Jesus really experienced genuine temptation.  Yet, we have James 1:13, which would seem to claim the opposite:  Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  Jesus is God.  Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of the nature of the Father.  So do we have a biblical contradiction on our hands?  Strictly speaking, no.  The Bible does not say, “Jesus was tempted” and “Jesus was not tempted,” which would be a contradiction if “Jesus” and “tempted” were being used in both sentences in the exact same sense.  The Bible does give us four propositions:
1)    Jesus was tempted.
2)    Jesus was fully man.
3)    Jesus was fully God.
4)    God cannot be tempted.
Wayne Grudem offers an attempt to use these propositions to answer the question of whether Christ could have sinned.  I’ll quote him at length here.
1)   " If Jesus’ human nature had existed by itself, independent of his divine nature, then it would have been a human nature just like that which God gave Adam and Eve.  It would have been free from sin but nonetheless able to sin.  Therefore, if Jesus’ human nature had existed by itself, there was the abstract or theoretical possibility that Jesus could have sinned, just as Adam and Eve’s human natures were able to sin.
2)    But Jesus’ human nature never existed apart from union with his divine nature.  From the moment of his conception, he existed as truly God and truly man as well.  Both his human nature and his divine nature existed united in one person.
3)    Although there were some things (such as being hungry or thirsty or weak) that Jesus experienced in his human nature alone and were not experienced in his divine nature, nonetheless, an act of sin would have been a moral act that would apparently have involved the whole person of Christ.  Therefore, if he had sinned, it would have involved both his human and divine natures.
4)    But if Jesus as a person had sinned, involving both his human and divine natures in sin, then God himself would have sinned, and he would have ceased to be God. Yet that is clearly impossible because of the infinite holiness of God’s nature.
5)    Therefore, if we are asking if it was actually possible for Jesus to have sinned, it seems that we must conclude that it was not possible.  The union of his human and divine natures in one person prevented it."[1]
The question still remains though, “how could Jesus' temptations have been real if He was not able to sin?”  Dr. Bruce Ware has a great illustration for this.
Imagine a swimmer is going to swim the English Channel.  A boat will trail him by a few yards just in case he experiences cramps or some other problem.  In the event that the boat is needed, it will be there to prevent the swimmer from drowning.  So the swimmer swims.  And swims.  And swims.  Exhausted, he eventually reaches the other side of the Channel under his own power.
Imagine if someone on the shore made the ridiculous claim, “You only made it across the Channel because that boat was behind you.”  The swimmer would undoubtedly be bothered by this since the truth would be obvious: he made it across the English Channel not because of the boat behind him, but because he swam.
You see, just because Jesus could not sin does not mean that that is why He did not sin.  The reason He did not sin was because He resisted the temptation.  And to claim that He did not sin because He could not sin is to denigrate the tenacity with which He resisted temptation His entire life.
We feel the weight of temptation only until we give in.  He experienced the full weight of temptation in an intensity that no one ever has because He upheld the weight of it for 33 years without faltering.  And for that reason, He is a great high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 538-39.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Tempter's Interpretation

As we saw in Matthew 4 last Sunday, the second temptation that Jesus endured entailed an unlikely figure quoting Scripture. That Satan himself would use the Word of God as a tool of temptation should lead us to be very careful when listening to teaching and preaching. Whether or not false teachers believe they are false teachers, they are out there. 24 of the 27 books of the New Testament warn us about false teaching, and a component of recognizing false teaching is to understand how the Word should be handled, that is, how to interpret the Bible correctly. 

This second temptation, found in vv5-7, offers us an opportunity to see the preeminent false teacher at work. There we find two Scripture quotations, one from Satan and one from Jesus. One leading to error and one leading to truth. This post will concentrate on Satan's quotation. It will be very instructive to look at what Satan says, what interpretation he gives it, and how his interpretation fits with the verse in its original context.

Matt 4:-56 reads, Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple
and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, "'He will command his angels concerning you,' and "'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"

Satan is quoting Psalm 91:11-12. How do we know what his interpretation is? By what he is wanting Jesus to do in response to it (and by how Jesus responds, which we covered on Sunday). He is telling Jesus that God has obligated Himself to save Jesus, therefore, it is okay for Jesus to test God.

Sounds logical, doesn't it? God has said He will do this thing, so why not try it out? If God wasn't willing to do it, He wouldn't have made this promise, right? Satan has Scripture to back him up, doesn't he?

Pretend for a second that this isn't Satan, but rather a blond-haired, blue-eyed man with an engaging tone showing not Jesus, but you, from Scripture that some random act is acceptable and encouraged. I'm afraid that many people wouldn't bat an eyelash. Why? Because he's using Scripture.

So how does Satan's interpretation fit with its original context? The first problem is that Satan omits an entire phrase from the quotation. Psalm 91:11-12: For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.

Why would Satan omit this phrase? It is inconvenient for his purposes. This phrase implies a general protection over all of life. But Satan has presented it as a warrant for a specific act, taking a nosedive off the temple: if you jump, God has promised to have angels catch You. The phrase he has omitted doesn't lend itself to that interpretation, so he leaves it out.

Second, the larger context of the Psalm 91, will not allow Satan's interpretation. I don't want to reproduce the whole chapter here, but I would encourage you to look at it. The gist of the chapter is that God is a shelter from danger. The writer mentions a number of things from which God will protect him: snares, pestilence, terror at night, arrows by day, lions, and cobras. All of these are dangers that bring themselves upon the writer. They are not dangerous situations into which the writer can throw himself and expect protection. This chapter is not an invitation to live recklessly or to test God. It is simply an assurance that God will shield from danger the one who trusts Him. It is certainly not a mandate to intentionally put oneself in danger, demanding that God come to the rescue.

That Satan quoted Scripture should be striking. It should be even more striking that he is using it in an attempt to produce sin. It is sobering to think that what Satan has done here is something that happens all over the place every Sunday. No, the intent is not the same, but the treatment of the Word is. Many preachers and teachers are doing through negligence what Satan did on purpose. So we need to be discerning as we listen to preaching and teaching.

But there is a second reason to take note of this. Most of us are regularly in a position to speak the truth to family, friends, and neighbors. We may use Scripture to encourage, comfort, or admonish each other. When we do this, in a limited sense, we are teaching. Accordingly, we need to be very careful to not take Scripture out of context or mold it to fit some particular set of circumstances.

May the Lord build us up in His Word and in the knowledge of how to handle it rightly, so that we will not fall prey to false teaching or pass it on to those we love.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

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