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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jehovah's Witnesses and the Divinity of Christ

Last Sunday afternoon, I was visited by two Jehovah’s Witnesses.  There are several of you in our congregation who also have been visited by JW’s recently, and most of you have been visited repeatedly.  It has been a blessing to hear how you are regarding these visits as opportunities to share the gospel. 
It is quite likely that others in the congregation will be visited at some point.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are very persistent and one of their main requirements is that all of their people do door-to-door proselytizing on a regular basis.  For that reason, I’d like to give you something of a reference sheet that you use in conversing with them. 
One of the telltale signs of a cult is that they do not exalt Christ as the Scriptures do.  This is certainly the case with the JW’s.  They do not believe that Jesus is God.  They believe that elevating Jesus to the level of deity demeans Jehovah.  So they reject the idea that Jesus is divine in the same sense that Jehovah is divine.  The same goes for the Holy Spirit.  In other words, they reject the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.
The problem is that the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is God:
In Matthew 1:21, Joseph is instructed to name the coming child Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”  Jesus means, “Yahweh (or Jehovah) saves.” 
In Matthew 1:23, Jesus is identified as Immanuel, which means “God with us.” 
In Matthew 2:11, the magi worship the young Jesus. 
In Matthew 3:3, John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, is the one who cries out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  John is quoting Isaiah 40:3, where “LORD” is the translation of Jehovah
In John 1:1, Jesus is referred to as the Word: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In John 8:56-59, Jesus claimed that Abraham had seen His day, to which the Jews replied, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”  Jesus answered, “Before Abraham was born, I am.  Jesus was repeating the exact words God used to identify Himself to Moses in Ex 3:14 – I AM.  The Jews recognized that Jesus was claiming to be Jehovah, which is evidenced by the fact that they immediately picked up stones to stone Him. 
In John 10:30-33, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.”  The Pharisees understand Him to be claiming that He is God.
In John 12:39-41, the writer identifies the unbelief of the Jews as being a fulfillment of Isaiah 6:10.  John then writes in v41, Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.  Isaiah 6 is the account of Isaiah seeing the glory of Jehovah in the temple.  Therefore, John is claiming that when Isaiah saw Jehovah and His glory, he was actually seeing Christ. 
In John 20:26-28, Jesus invites Thomas to touch His wounds so that he might believe that Jesus was really resurrected in the flesh.  Thomas does so and exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
Romans 10:13, 1 Corinthians 1:31, 2:16, 10:26, and 2 Corinthians 10:17 all show Paul quoting Old Testament passages about Jehovah and applying them to Christ.
Colossians 2:9 tells us that in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.
Hebrews 1:1-3 identifies Jesus as the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.
The following verses quote Old Testament passages, showing that they refer to Christ.  For example, Heb 1:8, But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”
These references are just a portion of the New Testament witness to the deity of Christ.  So how will Jehovah’s Witnesses deal with these clear references to Christ as God?  They use their own bible translation.
This is one key thing to keep in mind.  The bible that the JW’s use is not the same as the Bible you use.  In many of the above references, they have changed the wording in order to accommodate their view.  For example, John 1:1 in your Bible reads, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was GodTheir bible reads, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god."  
In John 8:58, instead of “before Abraham was born, I AM,” their bible has “before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”  So if you have a conversation with a JW, do not agree to use their bible.  Get your own out and use it.  Show them what your Bible says compared with theirs.  In each case of a discrepancy, it will always be in the favor of their heretical doctrine of Christ.  And in each case, their version will be different than every other English translation.  I can also tell you that in each case, their version diverges from the original Greek text.
Christ is the key.  He must be God because the Scriptures tell us that He is.  Speak the truth from the Word, knowing that the Holy Spirit is the only One who can open their eyes. 
The divinity of Christ is only one area in which this cult introduces false doctrine.  For a much more exhaustive treatment on the JW’s beliefs and how to interact with them, check out, a great resource for Christian apologetics.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What is the Law of Christ?

We are almost to the end of our journey through the maze of biblical law.  It has been a long road.  A three-week sermon series has grown into twice that.  We have done our best to try to understand the relationship between the New Testament believer and the Old Testament law.  Our study has included the essence of the law, the purpose of the law, interpretation and application of the law, and the New Testament “law of love.”  But there is one kind of law that we have not yet addressed – the law of Christ.
Just when this complicated issue seemed to be making more sense, now we have a whole other element to factor in.  Is it back to the drawing board?  I don’t think so.  The law of Christ does not complicate things at all. 
We find the phrase “law of Christ” twice in the New Testament.  The first is 1Cor 9:21 –  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  The second is Gal 6:2 – Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  So what is it? 
Some scholars believe that the law of Christ refers to all the ethical teaching of Jesus.  So all the moral commands that we find in the Gospels would be included.  Some would add all the moral commands in the epistles since the writers of the epistles were taught by Christ.  That would essentially mean that the law of Christ refers to all the ethical teaching of the New Testament.  I do think that is possible, but there may be a better answer.
The translation of the parenthetical phrase in 1 Cor 9:21 is a little clunky.  A more literal rendering would be “not being without the law of God, but with the law of Christ.”  When Paul writes to those outside the law I became as one outside the law, he is referring to Gentiles.  The Gentiles did not have the law of God.  But so that we do not mistake him to mean that he became lawless in order to win the Gentiles, he clarifies that he does not mean he was outside the ethical law of God, since he is governed by the law of Christ.  But this context itself is not super helpful in determining what he means by “the law of Christ.”
Galatians 6:2 is more helpful.  Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.  That seems peculiar at first.  The one act of bearing another’s burdens fulfills the whole law of Christ?  That’s one small body of ethical teaching! 
But the way Paul has phrased this should remind us of something else we’ve seen in recent weeks.  Remember what he wrote in Romans 13:8-10 regarding what has been called “the law of love”? 
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.  
The one act of loving another fulfills the whole law.  That sounds strikingly similar to Galatians 6:2.  Bearing one another’s burdens is a demonstration of loving one another.  The former is said to fulfill the law of Christ, the latter the law of love.  Could it be that they are one and the same?
I think this makes perfect sense in light of the most prominent thing Jesus said about the law in Matthew22:34-40.  There He identified the commands to love God and each other as the two greatest commandments (cf. John13:34-35).  All the other laws of God hang on the commands to love. 
So I would equate the law of Christ with the law of love.  As we have seen in recent weeks, all the moral commands of God display for us what it means to love God and love one another.  For that reason, I would not limit the law of Christ to the ethical teaching of the New Testament alone.  The law of Christ includes all the moral commands of God, which together explicate the pathway of love.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, February 2, 2012

He Makes Sure We Have To

Yesterday, I heard a godly man say, “We usually don’t trust God until we have to.  So He makes sure we have to.”
He then went on to relate one of the most difficult seasons of his life.  He concluded, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars to go through it again, but I wouldn’t take a million dollars to have it erased from my memory either.” 
We learn far more through adversity and pain than through times of smooth sailing.  That is especially true about learning to trust the Lord.  For some reason, when things are going well, we tend toward self-reliance.  We trust ourselves to maintain the status quo.  But God loves us too much to let us stay there.  He wants us to know more of Him.
This seems to be the apostle Paul’s understanding of his own trials.  2 Corinthians has a melancholy feel to it.  Paul had endured horrible persecution in Asia, he was troubled by the false teachers who were preaching a different gospel to the Corinthians, and he was experiencing the pain of strained relations with the Corinthians themselves.  Paul was hurting.  And he demonstrated through his writing that he was clinging to God.  He begins the letter by praising “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (1:3).  Though he knew that all of his difficulties occurred under the control of God, he understood that God Himself was the rock that would bring him through. 
In 1:8-9a, Paul writes, For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.
We don’t know the exact nature or the suffering he refers to.  It is clear from other places in Acts and the rest of Paul’s letters that he endured a wide range of difficulties, from being stoned (Acts 14:19) to being shipwrecked (Acts 27) to suffering from the mysterious thorn in the flesh (2Cor 12:7).  Given the fact that Paul suffered much and did so joyfully (Acts 16:19-25), the affliction that he mentions in 2 Cor 1:8 must have been severe indeed to have caused him to despair of life itself. 
You may be able to relate.  It is certainly not an uncommon thing to suffer.  Most of us can think of times in our lives that were so dark we experienced feelings of despair, trouble so deep that it felt as if it would crush us to death.  Some may be experiencing that right now. 
Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired understanding of his affliction is comforting: But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  This one sentence gives us two important truths.  First, God is the One who raises the dead.  It may not be immediately clear what this has to do with the subject at hand, but I believe it points back to Paul’s comment in the first half of v9: we felt that we had received the sentence of death.  Paul and his companions suffered so greatly that it seemed as if they had been marked for death.  That God raises the dead serves to remind us that no matter how severe a trial may seem, it is under the sovereign control of our Father.  Though a trial may “kill” us, He can bring us back from its darkness.  Our affliction serves God’s purpose for us.  And we know that purpose is good (Rom 8:28-30).
Second, God’s design in our severe suffering is to make us rely upon Him, not ourselves.  And what a gracious thing for God to do.  When we are placed in a situation where we have no choice but to trust our sovereign God, we find that His grace is sufficient and His power is perfect when we are weak (2 Cor 12:9-10).  For Paul, this realization led him to the place where he was content to suffer so that the power of Christ might rest upon him. 
Going through the experience of being delivered from those times of darkness gives us confidence that God is able to do the same again: He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.  On Him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again (1:10).
Whatever you are enduring now, no matter what the severity, it is God’s design that you would hope and trust in Him.  He has brought difficulty into your life for the gracious purpose of teaching you more about Him, namely, that He can be trusted.  May the knowledge of Him that you are gaining now serve to bolster your faith in Him during future trials.  It may not seem like it now, but there will come a time when you will be able to look back and see His faithfulness and praise Him for allowing you to suffer and for using it to bring you to a place of greater faith in Him. 
We usually don’t trust God until we have to.  So He makes sure we have to.  
Posted by Greg Birdwell