Question #1: Hi Dr. Luginbill:
Doesn't it seem odd, when you think about it, that Jesus would say, when
talking about his followers living a lifestyle of self-denial, that they
must each be willing to "... take up his cross daily...", when no one
who was with him knew that he would die on a cross? Since we know that
he did die that way, it makes sense, sort of (I am not sure I know
exactly what he meant), but to his disciples and other followers, it
must have seemed very strange at the time.
Doesn't it also seem odd that Paul wrote, "All scripture is God breathed..." and we consider the very letter in which he wrote that statement to be God breathed itself?
What are your thoughts on these points?
Response #1: Indeed, scripture
abounds with just this sort of thing, and that is a very large part of
the reason why the unbelieving world resists having anything to do with
the Bible. For the Bible proclaims itself to be God's Word, and makes
myriad statements that the natural mind will violently resist. One of
the major Old Testament "controversies", to take but one famous example,
has to do with Isaiah chapters 40-66, a section of the book which many
non-believing scholars have come to call "second Isaiah" (with some even
seeing a "third Isaiah" in the mix here). A primary reason for such
widespread doubt even about the authorship of the book and in the
absence of any external or internal evidence of any value (in my
considered view) is the fact that Isaiah in these chapters clearly
prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity. To
the unbelieving, natural mind, that is impossible, since Isaiah himself
pre-dated these events by well over a hundred years. But to us who
believe in God's ability to see the future (for He has decreed every bit
of it, after all), prophecy is no problem. God exists outside of time
and space and independent of time and space and only created them for
our benefit. In my view both of these questions fall into this category
1) "Pick up your cross" (Matt.16:24; Mk.8:34; Lk.9:23; cf. Matt.10:38; Lk.14:27): You certainly have a point here. Jesus did tell them specifically on more than one occasion that He was going to be crucified (Matt.20:19; 23:34; 26:2), but there are indications that the command "pick up your cross" and "whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me isn't worthy of Me" were given before these specific warnings. I am inclined to see these references to the cross as our Lord's way of planting the idea in the hearts of His disciples somewhat indirectly at a time when they would not have been able to bear let alone understand that the Messiah was going to be put to death in such a gruesome and humiliating way. When Peter is informed in general terms about Jesus' coming rejection and death, he takes our Lord to task and earns the rebuke, "Get behind Me, Satan!" (Matt.16:21-23) – how much more would the specifics of that death have been difficult for Peter and the others to bear? But as to crucifixion itself, that was in fact the primary means of Roman execution for non-Roman criminals and malefactors. Judea was a Roman protectorate, and the Romans were, apparently (although there is some scholarly debate on this point), the only ones with the power of capital punishment. Everyone in Judea would have been very well aware that if they or anyone else was going to be put to death by the authorities it would most likely be by crucifixion. And there is certainly no lack of information in Old Testament prophecy about the fact the Messiah must suffer (see especially Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12, and Psalm 22). In verse 16 of the latter reference, Psalm 22, it says "they have pierced My hands and feet" (cf. also Zech.12:10, "they will look upon Me, the One whom they have pierced"), and while one of the big problems for unbelieving Israel was then and it is now an inability and unwillingness to reconcile the glories of the Messiah with the suffering and humiliation of the Messiah, these passages are very clear and impossible to explain away. When Jesus makes reference, therefore, to us taking up our cross too, if we have (and if they had) read the pertinent scriptures with any light at all, we (and they) could at least not be in any doubt about the fact that Jesus was talking about the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom – not that all who choose for Him will be martyred literally, but, as you suggest, that we all have to have the attitude of willingness not only to die for Him but to truly live for Him, putting Him and His Church first before any selfish consideration, and do it "daily" (Lk.9:23).
2) "All scripture is God-breathed" (2Tim.3:16; cf. Heb.4:12; 2Pet.1:16-21): Indeed, it is very clear that the writers of scripture knew that they were writing scripture, that the Spirit was directing them to pen words that were not merely empowered but truly inspired. For example, Peter clearly attributes divine inspiration and canonicity to the letters of Paul:
And consider our Lord's patience to mean deliverance, just as also our brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him [by God], as he also states in all his letters when he speaks of these matters. There are in [his epistles] some things which are difficult to understand, which the ignorant and unstable are [wont to] distort to their own destruction as they also do the other scriptures.
2nd Peter 3:15-16
Paul's attribution of
divine inspiration and canonicity to Luke's gospel is even more
remarkable when one remembers that Luke wrote under Paul's guidance and
apostolic authority (1Tim.5:18b compared with Lk.10:7). When Moses
chiseled the ten commandments into the stone tablets, he could not have
been unaware that he was writing out the Word of God. Every other
passage of scripture falls into exactly the same category, whether or
not this thought occurred at the time to the inspired writer in
question. Knowing what I know about Paul and his epistles, I would bet
that he was fully aware that these letters were going to be part of
God's Word to us forever.
I hope that this response is helpful to you, and I very much commend your diligence in studying the Word of God and searching out all the questions of your heart. The Word of God is a perfect matrix of truth, elaborately interwoven. No single thread can be fully understood with seeing its interconnection to the others, but when through constant and diligent study such as you are undertaking we begin to see the greater pattern of truth, doubts begin to dispel as light begins to shine through, "illuminating our path" with the lamp of God's true Word (Ps.), till we all walk surefooted up the high road to Zion.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Psalm 119:105 NIV
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
Psalm 36:9 NIV
The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
Proverbs 4:18 NIV
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.
Arise, sleeper! Awake from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!
Keep up the good fight
In Him who is the only truth, the Word of God Himself, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Could you explain Isaiah 54:16-17 for me? I pray for you daily.
Thank you so much for
your prayers. As to your question, Isaiah 54:16-17, here is my
translation of that context:
Behold, if anyone does strive with you, it will not be from Me. Whoever strives with you will fall on account of you. I have created the smith, he who blows the coals into fire and sets his tools to the work, and I have created the destroyer to bring ruin. No weapon forged against you shall prosper. And you shall reprove every tongue that rises up to judge you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and My vindication on their behalf, says the Lord.
This passage comes in the context of the restored Jerusalem during the Messiah's millennial reign. As our Lord's capital city, Jerusalem and all the saints abiding there (you and I as well!) will be secure from any and all assaults, even the final "Gog and Magog" rebellion, the last prophesied historical event before the eternal state begins and the New Jerusalem descends from heaven (Rev.20:7-10; 21:1ff). As with much of OT prophecy, however, these verses are also meant to have a wider applicability. As we saw in the first installment of "Coming Tribulation", the "Day of the Lord Paradigm" is, for example, a very common use of future prophecy for contemporary warning, instruction, and encouragement. That is also the case with Isaiah 54:16-17. These verses bring home with complete clarity the reality that the Lord is in control of everything that happens in the world. He made the world; He made all of its creatures; He holds the world together by "the Word of His power" (Heb.1:3). This is strong comfort for the people of God, no matter when or where they live. No enemy can ever touch us without God's say so, and if He gives His say so, it is always for a definite reason, always for our ultimate good (even if discipline is involved), and always bearable in the end, if only we are faithful to continue in our faith in His ability and willingness to deliver us. Since even the evil and the wicked have been created by God for a particular purpose in His all-wise and all-inclusive plan, we can easily understand the flip-side of this equation, namely, that they are powerless to harm us in any way that God does not allow. If God is with us, who can stand against us (Rom.8:31)? No matter what the odds, no matter what our fleshly eyes may tell us about our chances of victory and survival, if we are truly "servants of God", then He is watching over us, and it doesn't matter what weapons the adversary brings to bear. By the will of God and in the power of God we will prevail and we will be proved right to the glory of God. This is the heritage, the birth-right to all who have chosen to seek God's righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. We belong to Him and He will never let us down. We have been justified in Him and we will never be condemned.
This is an important
perspective to have and maintain for us "upon whom the end of the ages
has come" (1Cor.10:11; 1Jn.2:18). For what these verses most definitely
do not mean is that as believers we will have no troubles, no
tribulations, or that whatever difficulties we do have will be few, or
light, or short, or that material and temporal blessings and happiness
will so abound for us that they will always overwhelm what few reverses
we do encounter. Far from it. What they mean is that God will give us
the ultimate victory, both in time and in eternity. And if our
priorities are truly correct (as opposed to what the world thinks is
important), if what we value is what is truly valuable (as opposed to
what the world values), and if we delight in what pleases God (as
opposed to what the world lusts after), then we can be assured that the
Lord will be with us in our troubles, no matter how severe. Deliverance
isn't instant. Deliverance is ultimate, coming at the end of the trail
and the trial that our Lord has set before us. In my reading of
scripture, in my experience, and in my observation, that trail and that
trial in many, many cases, especially the more advanced the person in
question is in spiritual terms, can be long and difficult –
to test faith, the better to refine faith, the better to demonstrate to
men and angels both the quality of that person's faith. But if we keep
faith with the Lord, He will certainly bring us safe through to the
other side to victory and vindication –
that is our heritage, our
birth-right as those who have dedicated our lives to following and
In our dear Savior Jesus Christ,
I'm touching briefly on of my feelings on evangelism as it is practiced today in the light of what Scripture teaches. Going thru some Proverbs this morning...we are to wait/ watch/pray for an APT (teachable) moment in presenting the Gospel to unbelievers. This is not a performance thing to see how many people we can lead to say a sinners prayer, but an intimate close walk with the Lord where we continuously offer our entire lives as an intercessory prayer for the lost, and for the perseverance of those who are saved. I would guess that 95% of evangelism is our intercessory prayer and the witness of our daily walk, and the last 5% verbally witnessing to the unsaved. Peter tells wives to win their unsaved husbands without a word...this also apples to others to some extent. I send Gospel tracts in my bill payments, and often leave tracts in fast food places and sometimes phone booths. I speak out about Jesus at times too, but I'm still working on overcoming the fear/shame/embarrassment of doing so in this post-Christian society. But Jesus after all did say that if we confess HIM before men (with our lives and words) that He would confess us before His Father in heaven. I sure don't want Him to be ashamed of me!
I think the point made in 1st Peter chapter three is that without a walk of witness, words of witness cannot be expected to accomplish much. For while total strangers may judge the words on their own worth, those who know us and see us daily are inevitably going to be influenced by the medium (us) as well as by the message. And while that might "not be fair", it's nonetheless true, so that the more we truly do walk in love and really do have a genuine desire for the salvation of unbelievers around us, then the more we ought to walk as paragons of the virtues to which Jesus has called us, for their sake as well as for our own. This is a high standard indeed, and who of us does not fall short of it in some way? Still, it's a challenge that we ought to greet and meet with ever increasing effectiveness as we grow in Jesus Christ day by day. Please see these links:
An Introduction to "Virtue Thinking"
Techniques of "Virtue Thinking"
Imitating Christ: Peter #17
Pursuing a Deeper Relationship with Jesus
The Christian Walk
Walking the Path of Faith
In Him did not strive to please Himself but sacrificed everything for our salvation, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear Dr. Luginbill,
I want to thank you for your website. I became a Christian as a child and turn 60 this month. The study of God's word has been a life-long pursuit for me and finding your site was a real answer to prayer, and my seeking to know God and his wisdom more completely. I have usually tried to stay away from too much reading that takes me away from the scripture basically because I have limited time and I want to spend as much time as possible in the Word. I appreciate the extensive scripture references in your writing because it allows me to read scripture along with your study. I am able to quickly look up all the references with my Bible software, and write my own thoughts down as notes attached to the verses.
I have recommended your site to several friends who have done Bible study with me over the years and they also have appreciated the content. The second thing I appreciate is your manner of seeing the "big picture" in God's message to us through Scripture. I have found that the things you present are not new to me, but the way they are put together creates an understandable and revealing picture of God's wonderful and awesome moving in the universe and our lives. This view has been very helpful to me. I always seek to read with a discerning eye, attempting with the help of the Holy Spirit's guidance to weigh what is said against Scripture, allowing Scripture to shed light on Scripture, and I find that your writing assists me in doing this, so I wanted to take a moment to let you know how much I have enjoyed reading and studying the word with the assistance of your writings. The Lord will reward you for this effort on the day He judges our works, for I am sure the present world affords little reward for the great effort you have offered freely to other believers.
PS. - I have been
inspired to share your study of The Satanic Rebellion with my Sunday
Thank you so much for
your thoughtful and encouraging e-mail. It comes at a particularly
critical time for me, and did me quite a bit of good. I am also very
much encouraged that you are not only personally profiting from these
materials, but sharing them with others as well. For, most of all, as
your fellow laborer, I want also to commend you for your work in the
vineyard for our Lord. In my experience, the number of people out there
who are actually trying to contribute to the spiritual growth of others
through diligent study and application of the scriptures is shockingly
small. Please feel free to write me back. And, since you are taking to
the time to look up the verse references, might I ask you when and if
you notice references that appear to be incorrect that you let me know?
Of all the typos I make, these are the most difficult to catch.
Thanks again for all your good words. Looking so forward to that day when we both rejoice in the rewards that last forever!
In our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Thanks Bob, for taking
the time to write such an extended reply to my letter concerning our
fighting men in Iraq (or any other war, for that matter). Just so that
you know your time writing was not in vain, I understand 3 key points
from your discussion: 1) God sees to it that all who will freely choose
Jesus Christ will be saved. If a person does not accept salvation, they
cannot blame bad circumstances or bad example for not choosing for
Jesus. In no way does this invalidate the need for evangelism (which
I'll discuss later) 2) Soldiers, while young, are not babies but are
truly adults, generally more capable of choosing for or against God than
one might think. 3) there is no support in Scripture for salvation after
death: Gods final verdict about each of us at death depends on how we
responded to His offer of salvation in this life; how well we responded
to the light we were given.
Having had a diverse background as far as churches go, I am very cautious about sensationalism in Christian testimonies and about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. I have to know something about the interpreter and his credibility in order to accept his interpretation of Biblical prophecy. Who's agenda is a prophecy interpreter pushing? What lens is he looking through? Is he reporting the unbiased facts as honestly and accurately as he can? Or is he tying to sell books? Is he honest enough to say something like "There are still some archaeological pieces of the puzzle that don't quite fit, but God will give he proper interpretation in His time? Also, if a believer's testimony consistently sounds too good to be true, it probably is (i.e, constant victory). If he never admits to spiritual difficulties, then his testimony is suspect.
In saying things like this, I am not demanding and unreasonable standard of proof but a standard that looks at evidence the way a court of law would. Josh McDowell et al. put it well, "A high standard of proof (in spiritual things) is needed, not an unreasonable one, but one that settles a matter beyond reasonable doubt." One looks at the available evidence, combines it with the correct interpretation of Gods Word, then makes a decision to trust God and act. This is how I make weather forecasts: I look at the computer guidance, than I try to make a decision which guidance to go with based on FACT and my experience, not my feelings. I don't always succeed here, but I keep trying. But evangelism is a thorny issue.
welcome for the reply, and I thank you for sharing your very interesting
personal history. I can certainly confirm a great deal of what you say
from my own experiences which are main line / old line protestant (i.e.,
the Presbyterian church in which I was brought up), the charismatics,
and independent evangelicals (mostly with original Baptist connections).
Talbot, the seminary I attended (as did
McDowell) is (or used to be in the days when I went there) largely a
hybrid of the first and third groups. It was somewhat hostile to
charismatics, although in recent days I have noticed a blending of
evangelicalism's various branches on this score and would doubt that
Talbot draws such sharp distinctions any more.
I appreciate your perspective of caution. I share it. I long ago parted company with all of the above because of the enforced "lens" of interpretation they are all increasingly married to. Evangelicals of all stripes are becoming more crusaders than searchers for truth. That is, they are less and less interested in actually learning and living the Bible even while they are busy dressing themselves up with biblical symbols and taking on supposedly biblical causes (whereas anything political is almost a sure guarantee to be pointless at best in that it seeks human rather than divine solutions, though it may be entertaining). As a result, I don't have any denominational affiliation.
Everyone is welcome at Ichthys. I don't depend upon the moral or financial support of any group. I don't charge for any of these materials, and as a result I am not restricted in my freedom to answer questions truthfully: I want all my brothers and sisters in Christ to come to a full and complete understanding of the truth. This is what I am striving for myself, and I am most pleased to help others along this road as well, but I take no offense whenever someone parts company on the basis of difference of opinion (it happens all the time). In short, while this ministry was never what I had originally anticipated when I set myself to engage in what I felt to be my small role in God's grand plan many years ago, things have worked out in a way so as to allow me to concentrate upon what really matters – seeking out the truth of the Word of God and making it widely available – without personality, power, prestige, money or etc. playing any significant, direct role.
On the issue of prophecy, there is much prophetical information and teaching at Ichthys, and you can find a detailed explanation of the hermeneutics employed in part 1 of the Coming Tribulation series: Introduction. And I quite agree with your point on evangelism. Just because God knows everything and has made everything a part of His plan is no justification for backing off on what it is we are here to do in the world – quite to the contrary. It is precisely because we understand the importance of truth, whether in entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ, or maintaining it, growing it, and producing as a result of it, that we believers ought to be zealous for the Lord at all times (indeed, this is ever what scripture teaches: cf. 1Thes.5:19; Tit.2:14). That said, from the verse below I think we can clearly see that our God's superintendence over the inner-life of all human beings is complete, intense, and undeniably just, so that we need not fear that anyone has ever lived who has had a genuine desire to know God but lacked the opportunity:
I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.
Jeremiah 17:10 NIV
Finally, I heartily
agree with your making your standard of proof the Bible. That is why I
always try to make a point of including the scripture references and the
reasoning behind all of the principles presented at Ichthys.
My best wishes for you and your family for a happy Christmas.
Christos etechthe! Christ is born!