Monday, December 22, 2008

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

In my last post I quoted Paul’s poem about the incarnation of Christ, but ended in the middle of the poem, so I’ll pick up where I left off. Paul in describing the self-emptying and humiliation of Christ as an example to his readers in Philippi, could not stop with his death. He had to go on to speak of the exaltation of Christ.

Therefore also God has exalted Him to the highest
and granted to Him the Name
which is above every name,
so that at Jesus’ Name
every knee should bend --
of heavenly beings,
and earthly beings,
and sub-earthly beings,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father! (Philippians 2:9-11)

Though Jesus Christ in His pre-incarnate state had shared the glory of the Father in eternity past (John 17:5), in some way the Father “has exalted Him” – the One who is now both God and Man – “to the highest” because of His humiliation. Because Christ had not “clung to” His equality with the Father, the Father was exalting Him in a new way, by bringing His deity to recognition by all moral creatures.

When God revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3 as the God of his fathers, Moses asked His name.

And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyah); and He said, “Thus you shall say to Israel, ‘I AM (Ehyeh) has sent me to you!’” And God said further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD (Yahweh) the God of your fathers … has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever and this is My memorial-name to generation of generation.” (Exodus 3:14, 15)

While God (Elohim) could be said to be His generic name, the name LORD (Yahweh) is God’s personal name. It is related to the verb “to be” or “I AM” and has been understood to mean something like “The One Who Is” or “The Self-Existent One.” We’re not even sure how it is pronounced because it ceased to be pronounced by the Jews long before vowel points were added to the Hebrew alphabet. Whenever a Jew, ancient or modern, in his reading comes across the four consonants YHWH, he automatically reads Adonai, a title for God, which means “my Lord” or “my Master.” Most of our English Bibles reflect this by translating Yahweh as “LORD” (all capitals) and Adonai as “Lord” in the Old Testament.

When the Old Testament was translated into Greek about 200 or so years before the time of Christ, the translators rendered both Yahweh and Adonai by the Greek word Kurios, which normally means “master” or “lord” (human or divine) or even simply “sir.” This usage was carried over into the Greek of the New Testament. The Greek word Kurios is usually translated “Lord” in our English New Testament, thus leaving the reader with an interpretation problem: when Jesus is addressed as “Lord” (Kurios) is He being addressed as Deity, or as Master, or simply as Sir? The context determines.

In Isaiah 45, the LORD (Yahweh) is speaking:

I am the LORD and there is none else;
beside Me there is no God. (verse 5)
Thus says the LORD,
the Holy One of Israel and his Maker ... (verse 11)
Thus says the LORD,
the Creator of the heavens, who alone is God … (verse 18)
Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth,
for I am God and there is none else. (verse 22)
By Myself I have sworn …
that to me every knee shall bend,
every tongue will confess. (verse 23)

In Philippians 2:9-11, Paul is alluding to Isaiah 45:23. The “Name which is above every name” (verse 10) is the Greek word Kurios, translated “Lord” in verse 11. Here the word clearly refers to Yahweh in Isaiah 45:23. The Jesus of the New Testament is the Yahweh of the Old, the One to whom “every knee will bend and every tongue confess.”

Paul is saying here that because Jesus Christ did not cling to His prerogatives of deity, because He emptied Himself of those prerogatives, because He humiliated Himself to be born in a stable and to suffer a criminal’s death, He has been granted that every creature must confess Him as Yahweh – as God!

Bill Ball
12/22/2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

HOLIDAY IMAGES

Contrasting images are brought to our minds during this holiday season. One image is that of elves and reindeer and one particular jolly fat elf in a red suit. There is glitz and tinsel all around. There are also signs advertising giant sales, urging us to spend and spend some more, while loud music blares extolling the praise of Santa and Rudolph and sleigh rides.

There is another picture of happy families celebrating together around a decorated tree with brightly wrapped gifts beneath. There is food on the table – a turkey with all the trimmings. Everyone appears well fed and happy.

The last is the simple picture of a poor, road-weary middle-eastern young couple in a stable gazing reverently at a newborn baby, wrapped in ragged cloths, lying in a feeding trough. They are surrounded by a variety of barnyard animals, staring curiously at the baby in the trough. There may also be some rough, dirty men, shepherds standing reverently by.

These images appeal to contrasting feelings and urges within us: greed and generosity; self-centeredness and reverence; loneliness and gregariousness.

Apparently the believers in Philippi to whom Paul wrote were a lot like we are: selfish, ambitious, proud. To counter these negative traits, Paul takes them to another image, that of the incarnation of Christ, the greatest act of self-humiliation.

“Do nothing according to selfishness (or selfish ambition) nor according to empty conceit, but in low-mindedness considering one another as surpassing yourselves, not looking out only for your own interests but also for those of others” (Philippians 2:3, 4).

But Paul doesn’t simply give us “oughts.” In a beautiful piece of poetry, he gives us the example of the One who was God and became Man.

“Set your minds on this among yourselves,
which was also in Christ Jesus,
Who being God in form
did not consider being equal with God,
something to be clung to,
but emptied Himself
taking the form of a slave
becoming in the likeness of man
and being found in appearance as man
He humbled Himself
becoming obedient right up to death
even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Here is what the season is all about. The pre-incarnate Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, equal with God, emptied Himself of His divine privileges and entered His own creation as a human being – an embryo in the womb of a peasant girl, then a baby born in a barn. And if that were not humiliation enough, He humbled Himself even more, even to the point of dying on a cross, a death reserved for the lowest and most despised of criminals.

As we think on the images that we are faced with at this season, I believe this is the appropriate one to think on, a mental picture of the One who gave His all for us.

More later.

Bill Ball
12/19/2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

SPIRITUAL FORMATION

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail asking for my help on an assignment. He was to ask some fellow believers what they think the term “spiritual formation” means and then summarize.

When I first saw the topic I was a bit puzzled. "Spiritual Formation" was not part of my vocabulary. My first thought was that it was just another buzzword, one of those new catchy terms coined by some hipper Christians than I. I thought, this is not a biblical word. Why use it?

So I looked up "formation" in my concordance, just to make sure. The only uses I could find were of a battle "formation" of soldiers arrayed for war. (Would warring angels be in "spiritual formation"?) No help here. So I looked up "form." I found that Rachel was "beautiful of form and face" (Genesis 29:17). So was Joseph (Genesis 39:6). Was I on to something?

I did remember that the latest copy of the DTS alumni magazine had an article (which I had read) on Spiritual Formation, written by a classmate of mine. It seemed to equate Spiritual Formation with discipleship and transformation of character. Now I had somewhat of a handle on it. I like the word "transformation" better.

Then I recalled Galatians 4:19. "My children for whom I am again suffering birth pangs until Christ is formed in you ..." The Greek word is morphoo.

This then is what spiritual formation is! It is the forming in our lives of the character of Jesus Christ. It is what God predestined for us. " ... whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed (summorphos) to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29).

It is, I believe, a lifelong process in the believer, though it gets its jumpstart when we, as believers commit our lives to Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1). We are then to "be transformed (metamorphoo) by the renewing of (our) mind" (Romans 12:2). "But we all with face unveiled, gazing as in a mirror on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphoo) into that very image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So then, what are the ingredients in our recipe for Spiritual Formation?
· Commitment of our lives to Christ based on our knowledge of and experience of God's mercies to us (Romans 12:1).
· Renewing of our minds through study of and prayerful meditation on the Word (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
· Changed behavior patterns based on our renewed thinking -- the application of those biblical principles.
· Constant communication with others who are hopefully more mature than we are, yet are still involved in this process themselves (Philippians 3:13, 14; 1 Corinthians 11:1), people who are concerned about our growth into Christlikeness (Galatians 4:19)
· Involvement with others by helping them move along in the process.
· A continual growth in Christlikeness through this process (2 Corinthians 3:18).
· It never ceases until as John says, " ... when He appears we will be like Him because we will see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2).

Bill Ball
12/16/2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

THE GIRLS IN THE FAMILY TREE

A while back, I received an amazing and exciting gift from a niece of mine: a printed copy of my personal genealogy. Though I had known a bit about my family tree from some research done by an uncle, this one was mind-boggling. I found the names of ancestors on my father’s side going all the way back to the 9th century. There were famous people, even royalty, as well as a few scoundrels.

It’s nice to know one’s family tree, even if there may be a few horse-thieves hanging from it. It somehow makes you feel a bit more connected to history and to the rest of the human race.

The gospels give us the genealogy of Jesus – in fact, two genealogies. Luke gives His genealogy through his mother, Mary; Matthew gives His genealogy through his stepfather, Joseph. Luke’s goes back to Adam, the father of the human race; Matthew’s goes back to Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel. Both trace His lineage through King David. They show us His Jewishness, His royalty, His humanity.

Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy and leads us right into his version of what we would call “The Christmas Story.”

We usually consider during this season, the incarnation of the Son of God, the fact that as John says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Matthew seems to be telling us “start here!”

And as we read through the list of all the “begots,” if we read carefully, we may notice that four women (besides Mary) and four only, are included in the list of Jesus‘ ancestors. Of course, if my math and my biology are correct, there should be one woman for each of the males listed. We may ask, why these four?

Look at the women listed: Tamar (Matthew 1:3); Rahab (verse 5); Ruth (verse 5); and “her of Uriah” (verse 6). That’s all. Who are they?

Tamar (Genesis 38) was probably a Canaanite by birth (this was before there were laws forbidding intermarriage). Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, had three sons. He “took a wife for Er his first-born and her name was Tamar” (38:6). “But Er … was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life” (verse 7). So Judah told Onan his second-born to take Tamar and inseminate her to raise up offspring for his brother. Onan, however, had sex with her but “spilled his semen on the ground,” so the LORD took his life also (verses 8-10). So Judah told Tamar to wait for his third son, Shelah to grow up. But he never gave him to her (verses 11, 12). Desperate for a child (apparently her biological clock was ticking) she disguised herself as a prostitute and had sex with her father-in-law Judah. (This was considered incest in the later Mosaic Law and a capital offense for both parties: Leviticus 18:15; 10:12). When Judah found out his daughter-in-law was “pregnant by harlotry” he wanted to put her to death till he found that he was the father (verses 13-26). And so through this soap-opera union, Perez entered the genealogy of Jesus (verses 27-30).

The next woman mentioned was Rahab (Joshua 2; 6:21-25). Rahab was a genuine prostitute, not just a pretend one. She was also a Canaanite and as such was doomed to die at the hands of the invading Israelites (Deuteronomy 7:1-3). But Rahab hid two Israelite spies and gave a confession of faith in the LORD, “ … the LORD your God, He is God in Heaven above and on earth below” (Joshua 2:11). She and her family were spared death when her city Jericho was destroyed. She is remembered elsewhere in the New Testament as a woman of faith (Hebrew 11:31; James 2:25). Later she married an Israelite man named Salmon and gave birth to a son named Boaz.

Ruth, the third woman on the list (the Book of Ruth), was from Moab, the widow of an Israelite, who came to Israel with her (also widowed) mother-in-law, Naomi. Like Rahab, she, as a foreigner was considered part of a despised group. A Moabite was not permitted to “enter the assembly of the LORD … even to the tenth generation” (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). But like Rahab (her future mother-in-law) she confessed faith in the LORD. She says to Naomi, “Your people shall be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Through faith, divine providence and (it seems to me) a little scheming, she ends up married to Boaz, a rich relative of her deceased husband and becomes the great-grandmother of King David. (I guess Boaz couldn’t be too uptight about marrying a foreigner. After all, his mother was both a foreigner and a hooker!)

The last woman in Matthew’s list isn’t even named. He simply refers to her as “her of Uriah.” Her story is found in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. Her name is given as Bath-Sheba and she is the (former) wife of Uriah the Hittite, a foreign mercenary in King David’s army. She is an Israelite by birth, the only one of the four women who is. (Her genealogy can be found in 2 Samuel 11:3; 23:34). Most of us know the story of David’s illicit affair with her and how he had her husband murdered. Yet she became the mother of both King Solomon (Joseph’s ancestor) and of Nathan (Mary’s ancestor).

Certainly if I were setting down the genealogy of the One whom we claim as God-in-the-flesh, I could have chosen better ones than these, couldn’t I – some of the good wives and mothers of the kings in the Old Testament? On the other hand, if Matthew was looking for some real baddies, he could have found them: Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel, the woman who murdered her own children and grandchildren and almost wiped out the royal line of David.

So why these four? Well they do have some things in common.
· None of them belong here! Each should have been excluded by the Law that God gave Israel. Two were prostitutes; one committed incest; one committed adultery; and three were foreigners, two of whom were to be excluded by the Mosaic Law. By the way, most of the men in this list weren’t fit to be here either!
· Most likely all four were believers. We have the statements of faith of two of them.
· Therefore they are examples of grace, people who can make no claim to privilege, people who are “outside,” or as Paul says, “ … Gentiles in the flesh … separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now … brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13).
· They demonstrate the reality of the incarnation. Jesus chose to be born into a family of sinners. He put it all on the line: He “emptied Himself” of the prerogatives of Deity (Philippians 2:6-8) and took on all the dangers of being human: physical dangers as well as dangers to His reputation (cf. John 8:41, 48).
· Perhaps as well, they are there to tell us that we need to empty ourselves of any pride we may have in ourselves or our ancestry. We need to recognize that we too come from a family of sinners and are sinners ourselves, and place our faith in the One who put it all on the line for us.

Bill Ball
12/11/2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

WHAT ABOUT ROMANS 14?

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I came to faith in Christ in my teens, in a “fundamentalist” church. The Gospel was preached, the Bible was taught, but the Christian life was seen as a set of do’s and don’ts. One’s walk with the Lord was measured by what one didn’t do.

Though it took a long time for me to be free of those standards (I’m still not sure if I am completely), a first step was when I began to study the book of Romans and came to chapter 14. This chapter seemed to stand much of what I had been taught on its head. I had been taught that the strong or mature Christian was one who didn’t do certain things and this chapter said no to that idea.

Paul talks in this chapter about two types of believers: “One has faith to eat all things, but the one who is weak eats vegetables” (verse 2). “One regards one day over another, but another regards everyday” (verse 5).

He refers to the one who is limited as “weak in the faith” (verse 1) and the one who can do all these things as “strong” and puts himself in this latter group (15:1).

This was astounding to me! It was intoxicating! It was frightening. But I kept it pretty much to myself, because one didn’t question “official” teachings. Did Paul’s teachings mean I could feel free to: go to the movies? listen to rock and roll? dance? even (perish the thought!) have a drink of wine?

Later when I attended a Bible church in Houston, I heard this chapter taught in its context and began to experience the freedom I had had in Christ all along.

But there is so much in this passage that every time I study it, I find some “deeper“ truths – truths that I had ignored or just hadn’t noticed. So I’d like to say a few things about its interpretation and its application that I believe need to be said.

I have heard and read many comments and think we may be missing some things. The usual titles for what is covered here are “doubtful things,” “gray areas,” “matters of indifference.” It has often – usually – been applied in areas of entertainment. And I believe those are valid (thought secondary) applications.

But I believe there is much more to the passage than this.

First, we should notice that the differences between the two groups Paul speaks of go much deeper than what they did for amusement. These were people who held to their beliefs with conviction (verse 22). These convictions were not “matters of indifference.”

Underlying the whole Epistle to the Romans seems to be a conflict between two groups of believers from different backgrounds – Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). Paul has had to address each group separately at times. “But if you are named ‘Jew’….” (2:17). “But to you the Gentiles I’m speaking ... ” (11:13).

Some Jewish-background believers may still have held deep convictions about eating non-Kosher foods – Old Testament dietary restrictions. While they may have recognized their freedom in this area, they may have felt that keeping Kosher laws was the best way to honor Jesus Christ. “ … the one who doesn’t eat – to the Lord he doesn’t eat, and gives thanks to God!" (14:6). Some Gentile believers as well may also have restricted their diets for other reasons (see 1 Corinthians 8:17).

On the other hand, Gentile believers (and some Jewish believers, including Paul) may have recognized their freedom and felt that the best way to honor Jesus Christ was to partake freely of all foods that He had cleansed (see Acts 10:15).

Who was right? Though Paul clearly sides with the latter group, he exhorts both groups concerning their attitudes toward the other. “The one who eats must not despise the one who doesn’t eat and the one who doesn’t eat must not judge the one who does eat … “ (verse 3).

Paul didn’t discuss “right or wrong.” He didn’t try to convince those he disagreed with. What he was more concerned about was that both groups behave in love toward each other. I don’t believe he was urging his readers to compromise truth. He seemed to be urging them to recognize that there are some who have a different understanding of truth and to love and tolerate them in spite of their disagreement.

For many years I taught students from differing theological backgrounds and convictions. I have learned that none of us has a complete corner on the truth and that those with whom I differ have much to teach me. I don’t believe I’ve ever had to compromise the truth though many times I have had to revise or clarify my understanding of it.

Today I feel that Romans 14 has been, if I may say it, “over-applied” in some areas. We have become too tolerant in the areas that are essential, and are willing to compromise the essentials of faith. A reading of the first 11 chapters of Romans should make it clear that this is not what Paul is talking about in chapter 14. Nor is Paul urging his readers to be “soft on sin” or false doctrine.

And yet at the same time, I find that there are areas where Romans 14 definitely needs to be applied. One is in the area of ethical conviction. The first time this hit me was back in the early 70s during the Vietnam war, when my home Bible study was interrupted one evening with a heated argument regarding participation in the war. Both hawks and doves felt they had biblical reasons for their positions. As there seemed no hope of resolving the dispute, I took them to Romans 14. I didn’t know why, I believe it was just one of those Holy Spirit moments. We did end the discussion on a peaceable note even though neither side “won.”

Many of my friends “take stands” on various issues, and I have been urged to do the same. I’ve been urged to “take a stand” on: six-day creationism, tongues, political parties, war, even Halloween!

But while I hold strong convictions in many of these areas, I fear that taking a stand would do nothing to promote the cause of truth or of the Gospel. It would simply be a way to cause divisions.

So I say, we should hold our convictions, but make sure they’re biblical. And we should remember that those who disagree with us may hold their convictions as tight as we hold ours. They may disagree with us but that doesn’t mean they’re disagreeing with God. We should neither despise nor judge them.

Bill Ball
12/9/2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I LOVE YOU LORD!

Our Sunday school class has been going through the lessons based on the movie “Fireproof.” We watch clips of the movie and then discuss how to “fireproof” our marriage. It’s pretty good.

One of the questions asked a few weeks ago was something like, “What things can we do for our wives to show them that we love them?” (I’m quoting from memory.)

There was a brief discussion, but something didn’t seem right. I thought for a few minutes and then commented that I thought this was the wrong question. I don’t do things for my wife to SHOW her I love her; I do things for her BECAUSE I love her.

It made me think of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tevye asks his wife Golda, “Do you love me?” She replies in song telling all the things she does and has done for him. Again he asks her, “But do you love me?” (I guess I could get out my DVD and find the scene.)

In John 21, there is a similar dialog. Jesus has risen from the dead and already appeared to His disciples. One morning He appears to them while they are fishing, miraculously causes them to have a huge catch, and has breakfast waiting for them on the shore when they moor their boat.

“So when they finished breakfast, Jesus says to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’
He says to Him, ‘Yes Lord, You know that I love You!’
He says to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’
He says to him again, a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’
He says to Him, ‘Yes Lord, You know that I love You!’
He says to him, ‘Shepherd my sheep.’
He says to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’
Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me? And he says to Him, ’Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You!’
Jesus says to him, ‘Feed my sheep …’” (John 21:15-17).

The dialog goes on.

Much has been made about the fact that two different Greek words for love are used here. The first two times, Jesus uses the word agapaō, while Peter uses the word phileō. The third time Jesus uses Peter’s word phileō and Peter replies using the same word.

There are many different views espoused as to the reason for the use of 2 different words. Anyone who has ever heard a sermon on this passage has probably been exposed to at least one view. I’ll not review all the opinions. I’ll just say what I believe may be a possible reason for this.

While both Greek words translate into the English word love, they do have different meanings.

Phileō speaks of the love of affection; it is the love we have for a friend. In fact, the usual Greek word for friend is related (philos). The word for kiss is also related (philēma). There are many other related words: philadelphia – love of the brothers, philoxenia – love for strangers, philanthropia – love of mankind, etc., etc. It is not a lesser kind of love than agapaō, it is a different kind of love.

Agapaō is the kind of love that God has. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). It is not simply affection. It is the kind of love that we are commanded. “Love the Lord your God …” “Love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:37-39 and others). “Love one another …” (John 13:34 and others). “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). And we are told that God is the Source of that love. “Love is from God” (1 John 4:7); “God is love” (4:8, 16); “We love because He first loved us” (4:19). This love is more than affection. It is more than a feeling. It is that which seeks the greatest good in its object.

Now back to our story.

Peter had denied Jesus three times as Jesus was going through His trial. Luke tells us that when Peter had denied Him the third time and the rooster crowed, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered … and he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61, 62). He was apparently nowhere to be found later as Jesus was hanging on the cross.

Peter must have had that image burned on his brain: his bruised, bleeding Lord looking at him as he uttered his third denial. What kind of look was it? We can only imagine. But it was probably a look that Peter couldn’t get out of his mind, even after Jesus had risen and appeared to him personally.

“Do you love me?” Jesus asks. Of course Peter couldn’t reply using Jesus’ word. He couldn’t say that he had sought his Lord’s good. He had been looking out solely for himself. Peter knew that to say I love (agapaō) you would have been an empty profession that his actions gave the lie to. All he could tell Jesus was that he had a deep affection for Him.

And so Jesus asks him the same question a second time and Peter gives the same reply. So the third time Jesus lets it stand and uses Peter’s word.

Perhaps we English speakers have it easy. We can say, “I love you” to someone and not have to clarify the word’s meaning. We may mean affection, desire, even lust. We can sing to the Lord on Sunday “I love You Lord.” But what do we mean? Would I have a hard time telling the Lord I love Him in the way He commands?

Bill Ball
12/3/2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

ABORTION

It would seem that most of my evangelical Christian friends regard abortion as the defining issue of our day. It is considered to be THE issue on which political decisions must be made. Any political candidate who is pro-abortion (or pro-choice) is considered unqualified for office, especially national: president, congress or judgeship.

I feel that I may, by disagreeing with them, be considered by some to be ignorant, contrary, or just plain “liberal” (There also are probably some who will consider me an ultra-conservative.) I know that those who have known me, while they may disagree, will continue to love and respect me. I pray that those who read this post will hear me out.

Abortion is a sin. It is the taking of an innocent human life, and unless there are justifiable reasons, it seems that it should be considered to be the same as murder or at least manslaughter. (See THE VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE.)

This argument is based on the Bible’s teaching that the unborn fetus is a human being.
-- The creation of man was apparently completed with the creation of the first couple (Genesis 1:26, 27; 2:7). There is no biblical data that speaks of a further creation. The soul as well as the body originate by propagation and are passed on from the parents in some way.
-- Men are said to exist “in the loins” of their ancestors (Genesis 46:26; Hebrews 7:9, 10, commenting on Genesis 14:17-20).
-- The sinful nature is said to be transmitted at conception (Psalm 51:5). When David said, “ … in sin my mother conceived me,” he was not claiming that his parents had an illicit sexual affair, but that he was a sinner from the instant of conception. And, or course, only persons are sinners.
-- There are a number of scriptural passages which imply that an unborn child is a person:
-- “And the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you …’” (Jeremiah 1:4, 5).
-- “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13; see all of verses 13-16).
-- “And it came about, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb (Luke 1:41) … ‘the baby leaped in my womb for joy!’” (1:44). The Greek word translated “baby” here is brephos, the same word that is used in 2:12, 16 to describe the newborn Jesus.

The Bible agrees here with all modern biology which tells us that there is no point at which the fetus cannot be considered human.

There is one passage of Scripture that is claimed to contradict the above:

It has been claimed that Exodus 21:22-25 speaks of a miscarriage resulting from a blow to a pregnant woman. According to this argument only a fine was to be paid as determined by the courts. This proves that the miscarried fetus was not considered human.

However, the passage does not speak directly of a miscarriage. Verse 22 says more literally “if her children come out.” Two things should be noted. The Hebrew word is YELED, which normally means “child” or “children.” It also does not say the child came out dead. Verse 23 and 29 apply the Law of LEX TALIONIS in this case. “But if there is injury … (apparently to either mother or child) … then you shall appoint life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” … etc. This then would seem to assume the humanity of the child.

There are possible exceptions claimed:
-- If abortion is normally considered to be murder, than most of the various reasons for abortion which are often cited, are not valid exceptions (rape, incest, deformity, retardation). These are no more appropriate than the taking of the life of a child already born.
-- One valid exception would be the case where the continued existence of the fetus threatens the life of the mother. The taking of the life of the fetus would be considered a defense of the life of the mother and therefore not murder. The mother's life and person is known, that of the fetus, though actually human, is only potential.

If we accept the above arguments and agree that the unborn fetus has value as a human being, then I believe we have to recognize that many of our currently acceptable methods of birth control are unacceptable. Much has been make of the “morning after” pill, which supposedly keeps the newly conceived embryo from developing. Also would be included would be intrauterine devices, which do the same thing. We need to distinguish between birth control which prevents conception and birth control that prevents development.

We also need to examine artificial means of conception, such as in vitro fertilization, which causes a need to in some way dispose of fertilized eggs.

What is the church’s responsibility toward abortion today?
-- Our first responsibility is to teach, to give a clear biblical position on the issue. We should teach that sin is sin. We also need to recognize that abortion is going on today even among our good church people.
-- We must extend the grace of God to the persons who have had abortions –the mothers and the fathers of aborted children. It is not our responsibility to treat them as criminals. We must let them know that they are sinners, but not simply because of the abortion, and then let them know that there is total forgiveness in Christ.
-- Our evangelistic efforts toward these persons should be motivated by a desire to convert them to Christ, not to enlist them in a political campaign.
-- The church should extend to all forgiven sinners a welcome and a special compassion. Often the person who has had an abortion is burdened with a sense of shame and psychological “guilt.” We should not add to that shame and guilt.

However, there are reasons why I do not believe that abortion should be the one defining issue in our politics.
-- Abortion, like other social evils, cannot simply be voted out of office. The church has responsibilities, as I have mentioned above. “Because it is time for judgment to begin from the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We as a church must clean up our own act first.
-- Single-issue politics keeps us from looking at the total picture. If we see the totality of our politics and our voting as wrapped up in a candidate’s stated position on one or two issues, we may neglect (and I believe have neglected) other issues. It would seem that if a candidate proclaims him or herself “pro-life,” we are willing to forgive them for other sins and inadequacies.
-- The big concern seems to be Roe vs. Wade. I’m not a lawyer, but I believe this was a bad decision. However, it’s been on the books for over 35 years (23 years during a Republican administration, 12 years with a Democrat administration) and there seems no indication of any change in the immediate future. Besides even if it were overturned tomorrow, it wouldn’t be long before most states would have laws permitting abortion. And even if this were not so, abortions would continue. This sin is too entrenched in our society for it to simply be legislated away.
-- There are other “life” issues that need to be addressed, both in the church and in the nation:
-- War – just or unjust (See THE CHRISTIAN AND WAR.)
-- Exploitation of the poor here in America and elsewhere.

I will continue to vote my conscience as a citizen of two kingdoms. I will seek to find the candidates who agree with my “values” in certain areas. But I will be more concerned with whether the candidate is a person of integrity, a candidate who desires to serve his or her country. I will also be concerned with whether that candidate is capable of handling the job.

Bill Ball
12/2/2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

THE BIBLE’S BURIED SECRETS?

About 6 weeks ago I received a forward from a friend. It was an e-mail from an organization that sends out warnings about looming crises in our nation. I don’t remember the name of the organization.

This e-mail was warning us about a program soon to be broadcast on PBS attacking the Bible and attempting to shake our faith. We the readers were urged to write or petition our congressmen to remove this danger by pulling the plug on PBS funding.

My first reaction was anger! I wanted to write back to all concerned and express my views: PBS is the only TV network that has consistently decent programming. It is the only network that provides good entertainment AND balanced news. If PBS were removed I’d be stuck watching all the sex and violence or the sensationalist news coverage on the networks. Yes, PBS programming expresses many of the current scientific views that clash with my Christian beliefs. But God gave us brains to discern.

Well my conscience and my wife restrained me from doing anything rash. I merely decided to watch the TV guide for the appearance of this “blasphemous” program. Trouble was I deleted the e-mail and forgot both the name and the date for this program.

At last it appeared! Tuesday evening there it was: “The Bible’s Buried Secrets.” It was touted as showing archaeological sites and inscriptions that would shed light on the origins of monotheism. This must be it, I thought and settled in to watch.

Well, it was a disappointment. Though it was slickly produced and narrated as if it were some unsolved mystery, it really gave little, if any new information. Its basic thesis seemed to be that man had created God somewhere around the 10th century BC.

Most of the information given was not new, but was arranged so as to raise doubts in the minds of believers. I don’t know if this was deliberate on the part of its producers or not. I suspect not.

Some of the information given:
-- There is evidence from archaeology and contemporary history that verifies the overall biblical story as far back as 1000 BC, the time of David. True!
-- There is little inconclusive data from farther back than 1000 BC that verifies the Bible. Well … ?
-- There is no archaeological evidence of the exodus. True, as far as we know.
-- The archaeological evidence for the conquest of Canaan is still being debated. True!
-- The Israelite people continued to worship idols and multiple deities long after the establishment of the Temple of the One God in Jerusalem. True! Anyone who reads the books of Kings knows this. Archaeology merely verifies it.

Beyond this it gets a bit weird, with the experts using words like “perhaps” and “probably” quite a bit. Hypotheses are presented as though they were facts. The implication was that if we can’t verify a story in the Bible then we can dogmatically assert that it didn’t happen. This allows us to dismiss all biblical history up to 1000 BC, and better yet, to make up our own.

And so we have an alternative history which itself is unverified and unverifiable:
-- There was no mass exodus from Egypt. There were only a few slaves who escaped Egypt and headed for Canaan.
-- There was no covenant with Yahweh made at Mount Sinai. The escaped slaves picked up the name of Yahweh from a Midianite deity on their way to Canaan.
-- The “so-called” conquest of Canaan was really a peasant revolt apparently instigated by the escaped Egyptian slaves.
-- The Torah (the five books of Moses) was not written by Moses because he probably didn’t exist. It was really a composite of four different strands of tradition and these strands were composed at various times during the kingdom period. They were finally pasted together into a whole during the Babylonian captivity. When Ezra read the Torah to the returned exiles (Nehemiah 8:1-8), he was reading from a “hot-off-the-press” new edition – the final draft of the freshly composed work. [For a good and biting rebuttal of the 200 year-old “documentary theory” of the composition of the Torah, read the note on chapter 14 of Herman Wouk’s This Is My God, pages 272-280 in the paperback edition.]

So what are we to make of all this? I think it all comes down to this: if one begins one’s studies with the presupposition that the God of the Bible does not exist, then one will probably come to a conclusion that agrees the presupposition (apart from a work of the Spirit of God). And of course, then there must be a “scientific” explanation to account for the Bible and its claims for the existence of one God who created the universe.

“And even if our gospel is hidden, it is hidden in those who are perishing, in whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the Image of God should not shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4).

By the way, I’ll keep watching PBS.

Bill Ball
11/19/2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

GAY MARRIAGE?

Many of my evangelical Christian friends are concerned about what is termed “gay marriage.” They feel that one of the requirements of a person running for office is his or her stand on this issue. It is seen by them as one of the two defining issues of our day. While I am sympathetic with their views I am not in total agreement.

California recently voted for an amendment denying gay marriage. I’m not sure just how this was worded on their ballot, but I am reasonably certain that it was not, as the media reported a “ban on gay marriage.” How can something be banned which does not exist? That would be like banning unicorns or space aliens.

Webster’s 10th Collegiate Dictionary defines marriage as 1. a: the state of being married; b: the mutual relation of husband and wife: wedlock; c: the institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social and legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family.

There are other definitions, some of which give marriage metaphorical implications. But nowhere do we find any hint that it could be the union of two persons of the same sex.

For most of us our definition of marriage, while in agreement with Mr. Webster, actually goes back to the first book of the Bible.

“For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; quoted by Jesus in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7, 8).

So how can the marriage of two persons of the same sex be “banned”? It does not exist.

When I lived in Texas this issue came up as an amendment defining (if I recall correctly) marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

When I voted for this amendment I voted not out of a fear of or hatred of homosexuals. I voted for it because I oppose redefining marriage as something it is not. To me it was and is an issue of Truth. We cannot make words mean whatever we desire them to mean, like some character out of Lewis Carroll:

“’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more or less’” (Through the Looking-Glass}.

“What I tell you three times is true” (The Hunting of the Snark).

The Bible throughout condemns homosexual behavior as sin (see THE CHURCH AND HOMOSEXUALITY). But I don’t share the fears and concerns of many of my fellow evangelicals. I do not believe that today’s promotion of homosexuality is, as many claim, a threat to the family. I believe it is symptomatic of a sexual revolution that has permeated our culture.

Today we are totally saturated with sex. All we need to do is turn on our television sets. Illicit sex is the norm (and I’m not talking about what is called pornography). And we Christians – and our families – soak it up.

As for the destruction of our families that the so-called gay agenda will bring about, perhaps we have not noticed that our families are already being destroyed – and usually by heterosexual misbehavior.

All we need to do is look at the statistics: the divorce rate, the number of spouses cheating, the teenage pregnancy rate, the number of children conceived and born out of wedlock. I won’t bother to look up the figures. Most of us have seen some of them and besides they’re always changing anyway.

And the really sad fact is that these statistics are nearly the same for Christians as for the population in general.

Is a political solution even possible? Perhaps as a sort of holding action, but only temporarily. There are, however, “solutions” to the problem.

We need to recognize the false thinking of our culture and resist it. “ ... stop being conformed to this age” (Romans 12:2).

We need to be “ ... renewing our mind” (Romans 12:2). This involves biblical thinking. It means that we must make a major shift in both how we think and what we think about.

And this should lead to our being “transformed,” brought more into conformity with Christ.

We cannot expect those around us to behave. That’s not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to live sexually pure lives ourselves and to offer the grace of God in Christ to those who do not.
 
Revised (7/1/2015):  While I still believe that a biblical marriage is between one man and one woman (See:  MARRIAGE, AN EVER CHANGING UNION?), I recognize that current thinking accepts gay marriage.  Webster's 11th adds it to its definition.  I would not today vote against it.  I accept that there are certain rights and responsibilities associated with marriage and would not seek to deny them to any.

Monday, November 17, 2008

HOW WOULD JESUS VOTE?

Since the WWJD fad – “What would Jesus do?” – similar questions have been asked. What would Jesus eat? What would Jesus drive? How would Jesus vote? (Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show? – Ray Stevens).

I think I can give a reasonably accurate answer as to what Jesus would eat. He was Jewish. He would eat foods that were “Kosher” according to biblical (not Pharisaical) standards. Of course, there is the problem that He was reputed to be “a glutton and a wine-guzzler” (Luke 7:34)!

But the other questions cannot be answered because they are nonsense questions. Jesus was the only human being who actually chose the time and place of His birth. And, of course, we all know that He chose to be born in a time and place where there were neither automobiles nor voting booths.

I say this because I fear that it’s possible to be so convinced of the rightness of our cause that we believe that Jesus would vote the way we do. We may feel that anyone who votes differently is not walking with Jesus.

As I said on my previous post, I was pleasantly surprised at most of the responses to my post IS GOD STILL ON THE THRONE? I have since received a few more, which I chose not to publish. A couple of them expressed some deep pain that I apparently opened up. They were too personal to publish. I also received a seven-page Word document rebutting me and telling me to share this new information with all on my e-mail list. I deleted it.

I don’t really care to defend myself, but I do feel I need to make clear both what I said and what I did not say:

-- I did not tell anyone how they should have voted. I didn’t even tell how I had voted. I was not attacking anyone for voting against Barack Obama.
-- I WAS rejoicing over America’s choice of an African-American for president. I have long been convinced that racism is one of the great evils of America and of the American church and has been since before we were a nation. I feel that this singular event was a milestone in a movement away from this evil.
-- I felt that the evangelical white church had dropped the ball on this one, just as we had done many times in the past. I was genuinely grieved by what I perceived as at best a “wet blanket” reaction. I confess that I was at least partially mistaken on this, as so many of the responses demonstrated.
-- I do believe that abortion and homosexual behavior are sins that are on the increase, though they’ve been with us all along. I also believe that my vote has little, if anything to do with this practice.
-- Political action cannot eliminate sin. We live in a fallen world. Because I believe very firmly in the depravity of man, I refuse to put my trust in any political party or position.

Bill Ball
11/17/2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

YES HE IS!

I wrote my previous post with great passion. Knowing that very few people read my blog, I felt I needed to e-mail these thoughts to many of my friends and acquaintances.

It was with some reservations that I did this, feeling that I belonged to a small minority within my circle and that I might lose many of my friends and have to clean off my address book.

I was pleasantly surprised at the responses that I received. Many expressed agreement, most at least gave qualified agreement. Most were civil. Only a small percentage, however, actually responded.

Below are the replies I received. Because these were sent to me via e-mail and contained personal references, I have edited them. I have removed the senders’ names and any material that I felt might indicate who they were. I have also edited for length.

I apparently accidentally deleted at least one. I hope the sender will forgive me.
_____________

ball you're going to burn in HELL!!!!!

Love you much :-)
____________

AMEN!!!
____________

Well done!
____________

Bill,

I certainly agree with your closing reminder: God is still sovereign. And he sets up rulers and takes them down. 'Course, that includes a lot of rogues (the Hitlers, Stalins, and Amins of this world), and certainly doesn't mean God "approves" of such rulers. God raises up some rulers to bring His wrath on those who deserve it. I believe America deserves God's wrath (decades of increasing immorality, forgetting God, denying His creation, flaunting His commands): God may be setting up Obama to bring this

I long ago committed that I would never cast a vote for someone who advocated the killing of babies. This limits my allegiance in our progressively ungodly culture, but I believe reflects the heart of God.

We'll all see what happens in the months ahead. Time alone will tell if what some who warned against an Obama presidency (who are not all "intolerant" -- I think this was a bit of an unfair and certainly not irenic indictment of many who are truly concerned about the direction of our country) comes true. I hope not.

Finally...I think you overstepped a bit when you dubbed those who made accusations or expressed fears about Obama as having a "strange mixture of fear, eschatological zeal, far-right politics, and I believe, down-right racism." You included me in that assessment, and that hurts. I won't argue the point, but obviously, I believe it is untrue. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Opposition to a political candidate may be misguided, just as support for a candidate can be. But we should all try to avoid slipping from the arena of dialogue about a person's positions on critical issues into a broad-brushed impugning of their character.

(My reply: Please reread my e-mail. I did not accuse all those who opposed Obama. I did not (and still do not ) believe you are among those of whom I spoke. I don't think you are one who passed on some of the slander and fear that I was speaking of. Bill )

Thanks, bro.
____________

Bill,

Like Governor Palin and Senator McCain, I too feel good about the fact that the USA would elect a black man—even though I was torn because of Obama’s record on abortion and gay marriage and several other issues that I disagree with him on. I agree with some of the more sober conservative pundits who advocate support for our new president and hope that he will rise to the level of his rhetoric—bringing unity to the politics in Washington.
____________

YES WE CAN, YES WE CAN. I AGREE WITH YOU, THANK YOU. OUR NEW PRESIDENT WILL NEED OUR PRAYERS BECAUSE HE WILL HAVE GREAT CHALLENGES FACING HIM WHEN HE TAKES OFFICE.
_____________

Amen! We voted for McCain, but rejoiced in Obama's election for the same reasons you did! And our God IS still on His throne.

And, the same day, in California, the majority voted AGAINST gay marriage! AGAINST! CALIFORNIA!!!!! Wow!
_____________

My prayer for our new president-elect is that he doesn't meet with the same fate that Kennedy did. Of that I am very afraid because of some of the action of some of the people that are opposed to him. We will support him how ever we can.

Yes, He is still in control and I have to believe that: Dan. 2:21 and Isa. 45:7.
_____________

Bill: You are and will continue to be in my prayers. We are so polarized as a Nation that believers who have come to see their Christianity as a "Republican", "American" and "pro wealth - free enterprise" world view, seem to lack tolerance for other views. The culture views states as "Blue" or "Red" in a black or white sense, when the truth is that the conservative state of Texas is actually something like 47% Blue and 53% Red, and liberal Minnisota is something like 53% Blue and 47% Red. Even in evangelical Churches, surveys tell us that about 65% of evangelicals are politically conservative Republicans, and about 35% are politically centrist or liberal Democrats. This truth seems to be eclipsed by a surface appearance of black and white "Religious Right" contrast. I think this is because the 65% are vocal and the 35% are silent out of a desire to keep peace, or a fear of being shunned for their political viewsThanks for having the courage to be a voice of reason in the current wave of Christian polarization over non-faith issues. I sure do miss you.
____________

Amen!
____________

Thank you so much for your e-mail. I thought I was the only Christian that felt the way you do. The election of America’s first black president is a great historic time in history.

I wouldn't be as brave as you. I am so glad that you were. It heartens me to know others feel as I do. The only person I felt comfortable forwarding your message to was my sister who is for Obama, but not a Christian.
____________

Actually Bill, I agree pretty strongly with this post, but i won't be sending it to my friends ;-)

I think Obama has a pretty good idea what people are thinking, but he will face some very difficult decisions in the days ahead, as did JFK. May God give him grace, not just politically, but theologically and personally.
____________

My wife told me that God is certainly pleased that so many bibles are being opened to see what His word says. The dividing correctly part, well..................

But Bill, He really is going to take my guns away, I just know it, the dirty socialist. We miss you guys terribly. (Kennedy was a socialist too.) I think its absolutely fantastic that we have a black president. It is beautiful, I just wish it would of been Condoleezza Rice. It doesn't matter, God still holds the heart of the king in His hand.

Besides, Obama's chief of staff will be Emanuel, God with us.
____________

Hope he does great things!
____________

God is still on the very sturdy throne and I suspect He was smiling Tuesday night. He has two desires for us, unity and love...He saw both that night. Hopefully, prayerfully, this is a new direction for our country.
____________

Amen. I deleted many of the negative messages we got about Obama during the pre-election months. He wasn't our choice, but I am commanded by Scripture to pray for him and I will. I too was thankful to see blacks and whites embracing and to see "the world" celebrating over our choice. And YES, God DEFINITELY is still on the throne and always will be!! Love in Jesus,
____________

Thank you, Bill. As always, you help me see the big picture better. You can't even guess how many times I've wanted to talk with you about this election. I get a lot out reading your blogs.

Give Uni hugs from me.
With love,
____________

Uni, share this with Bill for me…I am so glad he sent his letter about his view of the election of Obama. I have long thought that Christianity was too influenced by the “fear factor” and not by intellect and reason. I find his views very uplifting. They give me hope that there are other thoughtful Christians out there. I think Pres. Bush will possibly go down as the worst President in US history. He’s a real piece of work and I’ve been saying this to whomever will listen for the last several years. I have always admired and respected John McCain but find I am very relieved he was not elected. There is no way I could support him with his views on the war in Iraq and his choice of Sarah Palin. What a horribly bad choice!

Obama will, I believe, bring a new kind of President to the White House. One that is very much needed in these discouraging times with the war and our economic crisis. I believe he will surround himself with intelligent, experienced, thoughtful people and I love the fact that his wife is such a great role model and intelligent thinker.
____________

Bill,

I agree wholeheartedly with you that God is still on the throne. However, believing that God is still on the throne does not mean that one has to celebrate the election of a person that they believe will support legislation that undermines their values. These are two different issues.

I too was moved by Obama’s election and its impact on racial issues in our nation.

I have no problem with a black man being president. Even one with the middle name “Hussein.” I’m just not that excited about this particular black man. I find it difficult to celebrate the fact that we now have the most pro-abortion President we have ever had. I’m deeply grieved by that. Yes, God is still on the throne, but that doesn’t mean I have to be excited about policy issues that are contrary to God’s Word.

I don’t know who your email was specifically aimed at. But I have to honest, to me it has a condescending, angry tone.

I have prayed for president-elect Obama every day since the election. And I have done so with sincerity, not just out of some sense of duty. I hope he has a very successful, safe term in office. However, I will continue to disagree with his pro-abortion stand and some other key policy issues, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe God is in control.
___________

Bill, I don't share your enthusiasm for our next president and it has nothing to do with skin color, it’s about values. As a Christian I am grieved that our next president is not opposed to abortion ("Determining when life begins is above my pay grade") and in fact will probably get to appoint another pro-abortion supreme court justice which will ruin any chances that we might have to get Roe vs Wade overturned. He has also stated that he will support equal rights for same sex marriages which of course is in direct conflict with Scripture.

We agree on God's sovereignty. He has certainly allowed Obama to prevail in the election. But, we must remember that He also allowed pagan foreign kings to rule over his people in order that their hearts might be turned back to Him.

It is my Christian responsibility to pray for my leaders and I will be doing that, but I will be no happier that he is president that the people were when Nebuchadnezzar over ran Judah.
_____________

Hi Bill, Thank you for your e-mail on "Is God still on the throne". I would say absolutely! Do we support President Obama, he was not our choice, but absolutely, God is solidly in control. I wouldn't presume to guess what my other Christian friends think who have their own opinions on this subject. I'm a conservative thinker politically which has little to do with my Christian belief. But I Do still have questions about President Obama, which are not just rumors, that will hopefully be answered in the future. What that will show hopefully will be good, not bad, for our country. Incidentally the color of a person's skin has nothing to do with a person's qualification for office.

Bill, I write letters to the editor from time to time in answer to people who have been very hateful toward the Bush administration for the last eight years. I have tried hard to maintain my Christian testimony throughout. And believe me it has been a real challenge. They talk a lot about how we should be more tolerant towards others but their rhetoric oozes with intolerance against those of us who think differently than they do. I find that hypocritical to say the least. In this mornings paper these same people, now that they haven't got Bush to bash anymore are starting on the Republicans. I guess that will keep me in material to write about. I just wish people would just start being civilized.

I know none of us have all the answers and are not ever going to be perfect until we get to heaven so we just have to keep our eyes on Jesus and pray that God will guide our leaders in everything they do.

In Christ love,
____________

Bill Bsll
11/10/2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

IS GOD STILL ON THE THRONE?

Back in 1960, I was a fairly young believer and attending what I regarded then as a Bible-preaching church. It was an election year, my first in which I’d get to vote for president. The Democrat candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic was running against Richard M. Nixon, a Quaker and well-known Communist hunter.

Meetings were held at various churches, fundamentalist and others, including the one I attended, denouncing the evils of Catholicism and foretelling the horrible dangers that would befall our Protestant nation if Kennedy were elected. Not only was He Catholic, but also a liberal!

Rumors were circulated by mail and tract (I wonder what would have happened if we’d had the Internet).

Well, of course, all of us true believers voted against this horrible evil, but to no avail. Kennedy won! Fear struck our hearts! America was doomed! But few, if any, of our fears were realized.

When Barack Obama was campaigning for election, rumors were spread, only now we have the Internet.
-- He’s a secret Muslim.
-- He’s an Arab.
-- He “pals around with terrorists.”
-- He’s not even an American.
-- He’s going to promote gay marriage.
-- He’s going to take our guns away.
-- And, of course, he’s the anti-Christ!

And a few truths:
-- He’s a liberal (so were the signers of our Declaration of Independence).
-- He’s black (actually, he’s mixed-race)!
-- His middle name is Hussein.

The evening that Obama gave his acceptance speech huge crowds gathered in cities across the nation. Uni and I were moved to tears when we saw the images on our TV screen. Blacks and whites embracing; tears rolling down the cheeks of older black people.

A half-century after the Civil Rights Movement, after the demise of Jim Crow (our American version of apartheid), an African-American was elected President of the USA. We felt it was a great moment in the history of our nation, a demonstration that “all men (really) are created equal.” It was truly historical. Here was a moment all Americans, whether Democrat or Republican, whether black or white, no matter whom they’d voted for, could celebrate.

But such was not the case. Instead, we were told by our Christian friends (and others) that the reactions we witnessed were the same sort of reactions that the anti-Christ will get when he appears; that America may no longer be a “Christian nation” (whatever that is!). A friend of mine was told that the second coming must be near because of this.

This strange mixture of fear, eschatological zeal, far-right politics, and I believe, down-right racism is unbecoming to those who name the name of Christ.

And even those who claim that they are not afraid say something like, “Well, we have to remember, God is still on the throne.” Apparently though in their thinking, the throne is wobbling and God is barely hanging on!

Our God is Sovereign! He reigns! He sets up rulers and takes them down. He has a purpose in setting up Barack Obama. Perhaps the church through this will learn a little more tolerance, as some of us did 48 years ago.

Bill Ball
11/7/2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

DO NOT PASS IT ON!

Uni and I frequently receive e-mails from friends which contain tirades usually attributed to some well-known person: Jay Leno, Paul Harvey, Andy Rooney, George Carlin, Billy Graham. They often have a recent date, or have some time marker such as “just last week, ___________ said.”

Yet a quick check at one of the following sites shows that the alleged source is false, except sometimes for some small fragments. Often they are a “string of pearls,” various portions by various persons:
http://www.nonprofit.net/hoax/
http://www.snopes.com/
http://www.truthorfiction.com/
http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/virushoaxes1/Computer_Virus_Hoaxes.htm

These tirades are generally aimed at some group for which the sender has a disdain: blacks, aliens (legal or illegal), people who don’t speak English, liberals, homosexuals, people who pierce various areas of their bodies … and the list goes on.

The folks who send us this trash are usually “nice people.” They wouldn’t say things like these themselves, but feel that they’re OK as long as someone famous said them – even if the “famous” person didn’t say it!

When we say something in reply, we’re often given some excuse like “I didn’t realize __________ didn’t say that,” or “You don’t think I agree with this, do you?” (Of course we assume you agree with it; why else would you forward it?) Or we are accused of being harsh or judgmental. Or worst of all, “I’m sorry I offended YOU.” Over the years, only one friend asked forgiveness for sending on such an e-mail and he apologized to everyone to whom he had forwarded the e-mail.

This stuff is not just an offense to us. We believe it’s an offense against God and our neighbor. When we attribute hate speech to someone who didn’t use it we are lying and slandering them.

“And he who spreads slander is a fool” (Proverbs 20:19).

But worst of all is the hate that is spread in this way.
“He who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor,’ and ‘You shall hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, Love your enemies …” (Matthew 5:43, 44).

If you are one of those persons who simply clicks “send to all” whenever you receive such e-mails, we beg you to hit “delete” instead. If you are not, simply ignore this post.

Bill Ball
11/3/2008

CITIZEN RESPONSIBILITIES

Now back to XLT’s questions in his comment on my post, WHAT ABOUT ROMANS 13? “I think I understand what you are saying here...but is there a distinction to be drawn then? If we can't hold them accountable for obeying the laws of the land as it pertains to immigration, how are we to hold them to the laws of the same land in regards to other crimes? I think I understand what you are saying here...but is there a distinction to be drawn then? If we can't hold them accountable for obeying the laws of the land as it pertains to immigration, how are we to hold them to the laws of the same land in regards to other crimes?”

These questions seem to point to an ethical dilemma. There are no easy answers to them, but I’ll try. First, I believe we need to distinguish our responsibilities as citizens of the Kingdom of God from our responsibilities as citizens of the Kingdom of Man. (See THE TWO KINGDOMS.)

As citizens of the Kingdom of Man (the USA), we are to support government laws as they apply to immigrants. However, we do have a say in regard to these laws. We should seek legislation that is just and compassionate. I don’t think that we should regard the undocumented immigrant as a criminal such as a thief or murderer. These are people in need, most of whom came here because of that need. Just what forms though, that just laws may take, we Christians may have differences.

As citizens of the Kingdom of God (in this age, the church), our responsibility toward undocumented immigrants (or any other kind) is to love them as ourselves (Leviticus 19:34), to seek to win them to Christ (see STRANGERS AND ALIENS), to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20.

Apparently, God sees immigrants, not as criminals, but as people in need. Notice how He names them along with other needy groups as especially in need of Israel’s care:

“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:9, 10).

“When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 26:12).

I don’t believe that God’s care for the “stranger” has changed from Old Testament times to today.

Also, we can’t always tell which immigrants are documented or which aren’t. Do we have the right to ask them?

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). Nothing said here about which strangers we are to be hospitable to.

It troubles me that so many Christians don’t see the difference between our dual responsibilities. Often I hear them speaking with fear and hatred toward those needy people all the while believing that they are speaking as Christians.

Bill Ball
11/3/2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

THE TWO KINGDOMS

In my previous post I make some assertions concerning the Christian’s responsibilities toward God and toward human government. I feel I need to say more about these two relationships which frequently conflict.

Old Testament on Human Government
At least as early as the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:5, 6) man has been given the authority to take the life of another man. Whether we should call this the institution of human government has been debated, although it is the first place we read of God authorizing the use of force in governing. Chapter 10 tells of the division of mankind into nations after the flood and the establishment of at least one kingdom.

It is in the book of Daniel that we find some of the clearest teachings on the establishment of the nations. “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation” (4:3b). “The Most High is Ruler over the kingdom of mankind and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men” (4:17b, 25b). This book is the story of Hebrew believers living in a Gentile kingdom. It emphasizes over and over that God is sovereign and that all human government has been set up by Him. Even though elsewhere in the book the nations of the world are seen as ravenous beasts, they are still under the sovereign control of God.

There are, of course, many more passages of Scripture which teach this, though I hope these will suffice.

Earlier God had made a covenant with Abraham and promised that He would make him “a great nation,” which, of course, would be Israel (Genesis 12:1-3). Later God established a kingdom in Israel under the rule of David and his descendants (2 Samuel 7:5-17), “ … I will raise up your seed after you … and I will establish his kingdom … I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12, 13).

The “nations” and “peoples” of the earth are, however, in opposition to this established kingdom. “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed” (Psalm 2:1, 2).

So we see something of a paradox in the Old Testament. God has established a particular nation/kingdom as His own, and He had also established every other nation of the world, even those which were in opposition to His nation.

The New Testament has a similar situation except that the follower of Christ does not have an earthly kingdom. He is expecting a future kingdom to be established at the return of Christ. He is both a citizen of that future kingdom and he is presently a member of the body of Christ, the church.

Jesus recognized the tension between the worldly kingdom and the heavenly in His well-known “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God that things that are God’s” (Mark 15:17; Matthew 22:21). Of course, we should be careful to interpret that saying in its context. He had been posed a question designed to trap Him. Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar or not?” A “yes” or “no” answer would have gotten Him into trouble, so He asked to see a denarius, the tribute coin. The denarius had Caesar’s image and so it was due him. But man is the image of God, so what is due to God is man himself.

Paul in Romans 13, recognized the fact that God established human government. He tells us that the governing authorities are established by God,” that these governing authorities are “the ordinances of God,” “God’s servants,” “God’s religious servants.”

Both Paul and Peter tell us that governing authorities have responsibilities.

They are to minister “for good” (Romans 13:4); they are to be “an avenger for wrath upon the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:4); they are to promote tranquility (1 Timothy 2:2), which I would assume means a maintaining of order; they are to punish evildoers and commend those who do good (1 Peter 2:14). To sum up: they are to promote and execute justice.

Paul tells us that we also have a responsibility toward government: to submit; to pay to them what is their due: taxes, tribute, fear, honor (Romans 13). Elsewhere he tells us that we have a responsibility to pray for “kings and all in positions of authority” (1 Timothy 2:1, 2). “To submit to rulers, authorities, to be obedient …” (Titus 3:1). Peter says much the same (1 Peter 2:13-17).

But we should be wary of any simplistic legalism which equates the two spheres and makes blind obedience to government equal to obedience to God. The New Testament has much more to say on the subject than the above passages: in fact the picture of human government is pretty negative.

Jesus twice paints a seemingly negative picture of the “leadership style” of the world’s rulers. The first time is when James and John are jostling for front seats in the future kingdom and the other ten disciples become indignant. Jesus calls them to Himself and says, “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority over them. It will not be so among you …” (Matthew 20:25, 26; Mark 10:42, 43).

The second time is at the last supper when the disciples were having a dispute over which one was the greatest. Again Jesus uses similar words, “The kings of the nations lord it over them and those who exercise authority are called benefactors. But not so with you … “ (Luke 22:25, 26).

It would seem that Jesus saw the political leaders of His day as serving as negative examples of leadership for His disciples. We should note, however, that while He does not speak favorably of these leaders, neither does He condemn their actions. I believe He is simply stating the difference in leadership “style” within the two spheres. Interestingly, Peter many years later uses the same term (katakurieuō) when he tells church elders, “ … shepherd the flock of God … not as lording it over … “ them (1 Peter 5:2, 3). Apparently he got the message.

When Jesus was on trial before Pilate, He acknowledged two kingdoms. “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting so that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). Later in the trial when Pilate threatened that he had authority to either release or crucify Him, Jesus reminded him, “You would not have authority over me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

Paul, writing to the Corinthians believer who were fixated on wisdom, tells them that there are two types of wisdom: “the wisdom of God” and “the wisdom of men,” or “the wisdom of the rulers of this age” (1 Corinthians 2:5-7). “ … we speak God’s wisdom … which none of the rulers of this age understood, for if they had understood, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (2:7, 8).

This goes along with the statement in the prayer of the early disciples after persecution had begun. They quoted the second Psalm (see above) as being somehow fulfilled in the crucifixion of Christ. “For truly in this city, there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate along with the nations and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27).

So where am I going with this? If I may summarize:

God, in both Testaments is seen as having established two different and sometimes conflicting entities: human government (the kingdom of man) and the kingdom of God. The believer will always find himself in tension between the two, as he in a sense is a citizen of both kingdoms. Our first allegiance, of course, must always be to the kingdom of God.

The established human government – in our case, the USA – has responsibilities, both towards its citizens and also toward God. It has its laws and has a God-given right and responsibility to enforce them, by physical force, if necessary. They are to hold people accountable for obeying their laws.

But this is not the responsibility of the church or the believers. Our responsibility is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Where we are convinced that the laws of the land are just, we are responsible to obey them.

But where we feel the laws are contrary to the law of God, we are responsible to disobey. For example, there are thousands, even millions of Christians in Muslim and communist dominated lands who regularly break the law by gathering for worship or reading the Bible.

More later.

Bill Ball
10/31/2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

WHAT ABOUT ROMANS 13?

When I have taught the book of Romans, one of my favorite questions I’d ask students on Romans 13:1-7 was, “Could you have signed the Declaration of Independence?”

Answers were always varied; some were very confused; some students gave a tentative “No”; some gave a positive “Yes.” I found that many of us really aren’t sure what to do with this passage.

Romans 13:17:
1. Every person should submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been appointed by God. 2. So then, the one who resists the authority has resisted God’s appointment, and those who resist will receive judgment on themselves. 3. For rulers are not a cause of fear for the good work, but for the evil. Do you want to not be afraid of the authority? Do good and you will have praise from it, 4. for it is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do evil be afraid, for it does not bear the sword for no purpose, for it is God’s servant, an avenger for wrath to the one who practices evil.
5. So then it is necessary to submit, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’s sake. 6. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s religious servants, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7. Pay to all what they are owed: tax to whom tax is due; tribute to whom tribute is due; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

It seems pretty clear and straight-forward, until we consider our own national history. Or until we compare it with other passages of Scripture, or biblical examples. Or until we attempt to apply it in our own lives.

What bothers me lately about this passage is how it is being used as a sort of mantra in situations where I don’t believe it has a direct application. Two uses in particular trouble me, both by friends of mine – evangelical Christians.

One was used in a blog condemning those who oppose the current (or any) war. My friend rages against (among others) conscientious objectors. He said, “To those who may be conscientiously objecting to bearing arms, I say, ‘Study God’s Word here in Romans 13,’” and then paraphrased a portion of it.

My comment was “ … weren’t Peter and John conscientious objectors when they said, ‘We ought to obey God rather than Men’ (Acts 5:29)? I believe there will be times when those who follow Christ will have to conscientiously object to those in authority over us.” I went on to tell about some personal experiences that Uni and I have gone through, when we had to refuse to do something we were told to do by someone in authority.

Apparently because these authorities were employers and not governmental he saw no connection. He also told me that Peter and John were disobeying a command to refrain from preaching, so that is the only proper application.
The second use of Romans 13 was by a friend of mine in response to my post STRANGERS AND ALIENS. According to him, Romans 13, trumps all this about loving the stranger. If the “stranger” is an illegal alien he is breaking the law; he is not submitting to the governing authorities. Though my friend didn’t say so, he apparently felt that our obligation to love is therefore cancelled.

So does this passage take preeminence in all of our ethical discussions? I think not?

This passage is one of many passages in the New Testament commanding the believer to submit:
We are to submit to those who labor in the ministry (Romans 16:15, 16).
We are to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21).
Wives are to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22, 24; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:15).
We are to submit to all those in authority (1 Timothy 3:1).
We are to submit to every human institution (1 Peter 3:1).
Servants are to submit to their masters (1 Peter 3:18).
Younger men are to submit to the elders (1 Peter 5:5).
Of course, the overarching command is to submit to God (James 4:7).

We’re told that we are to submit to those whom God has set in positions in authority over us for a number of reasons. The first is that God has established these authorities – ALL authorities. These passages do not make distinctions between good or bad ones. Both Paul and Peter wrote when Nero was emperor of Rome. Their readers were soon to suffer persecution under this authority (1 Peter 4:12). Paul and Peter themselves were going to be martyred under Nero. Many would die because they refused to submit to imperial commands to confess Caesar as lord. Were they disobeying the injunction of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 3? Whether they were or not, when are we ever allowed to refuse to submit to authority? Is this some sort of ethical dilemma?

I believe the answer is much simpler than all our theorizing and theologizing. Look at those passages in Acts where Peter and John are commanded to stop preaching in the Name of Jesus. Their reply was clear.

“Whether it’s right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you be the judges, for we’re not able not to speak of what we’ve seen and heard” (Acts 4:19, 20).

“We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

I believe that they are giving a general principle that goes way beyond the context: What God commands supersedes what man commands. We are obligated to obey God, whether or not man’s commands agree with His.

Understanding this helps us to understand Romans 13. God has clearly revealed His will on many matters. Our ethics must be in line with His commands. Where God has not spoken we are obligated to submit to human authority. This authority can only demand and expect submission in two areas. First, in areas where government agrees with God: laws against murder, theft, etc. Secondly, in areas that would be considered amoral: speed limits, building codes, etc. When government legislates in these areas they take on a moral tone simply because God has commanded us to submit.

There is another area that needs to be considered: the commands given in these passages are given to followers of Christ; they are not there for our use against those who do not know Christ. Our obligation to those who do not belong to Christ is to win them to Christ, not to pass judgment on them. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9-12; See SIN, POLITICS AND RELIGION.)

So then in the matter of illegal immigrants (See previous post. Danny Carroll prefers to call them “undocumented”.) my obligation is not to condemn, but to love. To see them as people in need of Christ, sometimes in need of material care.

There are many people who are in need who are in disobedience to the laws of the U.S. our responsibility, toward them, as toward all others, is to obey the Law of Love, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s quite simple, though it may not always be easy.

Bill Ball
10/27/2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

THE IMMIGRATION QUESTION

Having spent much of my ministry reaching across racial and ethnic lines, and having studied what the Bible has to say, I have become quite passionate on these matters and have been a bit outspoken in this blog, as well as elsewhere.

I am saddened by the fact that many of my Christian friends hold views that I feel are unbiblical and sometimes even downright unchristian. Some feel that these issues are political and/or economic and have little to do with our Christian faith. This is especially the case in regard to illegal immigration. That is why I was overjoyed to find the book, Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church and the Bible, by M. Daniel Carroll R.

Uni and I have known Danny and his wife Joan for over 25 years, and though I would not consider him a close friend, I have known him well enough to be impressed by his deep and humble walk with Christ.

Danny is presently Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and is adjunct professor at El Seminario Teologico Centroamericano in Guatemala. He is the son of a Guatemalan mother and an American father and in a real sense has a foot in each culture.

He tells us the title to his book is a double entendre. Yes, there is a literal physical border to our southwest which divides the United States from all of Latin America, but he tells us that “for Christians there is an additional border. It is a metaphorical decision point.” We must choose whether our stand in the debate is “based on the Word of God” or “on other grounds” (page 23). We “Christians must think about and act on Hispanic immigration as Christians.”

Before diving into the biblical teachings on the issue, in the first chapter the book gives us some background: a brief history of Hispanic immigration, questions of identity and questions of economics. The book also points out the impact of Hispanic immigration on the churches.

The second chapter is devoted to showing that much Old Testament history is the story of immigration. Peoples were on the move from Genesis on: Abraham, Jacob and Joseph. (Was Ruth an “illegal alien”? See the book of Ruth, cf. Deuteronomy 23:3.)

The third chapter deals with the Old Testament teaching on hospitality – care for the stranger. The various Hebrew terms for stranger or sojourner are discussed. Provisions were made for the alien along with those for other at-risk people: widows, orphans, hired workers, servants and the poor. Danny sums it up in a rather eye-opening statement: “ … the arrival and presence of sojourners were not a threat to Israel’s national identity; rather, their presence was fundamental to its very meaning. The people of Israel could not be who there were supposed to be before God and the world if they forgot who they had been and from where they had come” (pages 109, 110). See Leviticus 19:33, 34.

In chapter 4, we are taken to the New Testament to see Jesus’ attitude toward outsiders. We also see Peter’s teaching on Christians as sojourners. Each section is concluded with “implications for today.”

I especially appreciated the fact that Romans 13 was dealt with in this chapter, albeit only briefly. For many of my Christian friends, the mantra on this issue is Romans 13. Danny answers that “Discussion on legality cannot be limited just to questions about complying with the present laws” (page 133). Though I agree, I wish he had dealt with it at greater length.

The book concludes with some final thoughts and the repeated admonition that we must approach this matter of immigration as Christians.

This is a brief book and can be read in a few hours, though it will take longer if the reader checks out all the Scripture references.

If anyone who reads this is forming or has formed an opinion on the immigration question, I would beg you, read this book before you set your ideas in concrete.

Bill Ball
10/22/2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

INHERIT THE KINGDOM

Re: XLT’s comments and questions on previous post.

I have many theologian friends who claim there is a difference between “inheriting” the kingdom and “entering it.” In their view, “entering” the kingdom has to do with receiving eternal life. “Inheriting” the kingdom has to do with rewards. All who believe in Christ enter, but only a certain few inherit. I agree with you that this “sounds like hair-splitting without biblical support.”

The phrase “inherit the kingdom of God” is only found in Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 15:30. The phrase “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” is found in Matthew 25:34 and is equated with entering “eternal life” in verse 46.

The phrase “inherit eternal life” is found in 3 places; 2 of which are parallel passages: Mark 10:17 = Luke 18:18; and Luke 10:25.

Interestingly the passage in Mark 10 seems to equate a number of phrases: “inherit eternal life” (verse 10); “enter the kingdom of God” (verses 23-25); “be saved” (verse 26); “in the age to come, eternal life” (verse 28).

It seems to me that all of these speak of present salvation and the guarantee of citizenship in the kingdom of God which is yet future. This seems the simplest understanding (Occam’s Razor?).

I believe that 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Galatians 5:16-21 are similar passages, though they speak to different problems.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”

This passage seems to be the clearest. This passage speaks of 2 different groups of people. Paul refers to the first group as “the unrighteous” and describes them in verses 9 and 10. These people will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, they are lost people. They have not received the righteousness of God in Christ. It is not their behavior that bars them from the inheritance. It is their unrighteous state.

In verse 11, Paul describes his readers, the Corinthian believers. Though some of them could at some time in the past have been described thus, they are so no longer. They have been “washed,” “sanctified” and “justified,” all words describing what had happened to them at conversion. The implied command is “STOP IT” – stop living like this, because you are not such persons any longer.

When we compare the Galatians 5 passage, we find a similar exhortation.

Galatians 5:16-21: “But I say, walk in the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: fornication, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealously, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Paul is here speaking of the struggle that goes on in the life of the believer. Though the believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God, he still has “the flesh,” in the sense that his old nature still is alive and well and has desires contrary to those of the Spirit.

Again, as in the Corinthians passage, Paul is speaking of 2 different groups of people: one group is those “under the Law,” who are “in the flesh” (see Romans 8:8). These are lost people, those who are attempting to please God by the works of the Old Testament Law. But all they can produce are “the works of the flesh” (verses 19-21a). They belong to the same group mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10. They “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

But the Galatian believers are of a different group. Two truths are mentioned about them. First, they “are led by the Spirit” (verse 18). Paul is not exhorting them to BE led, he is assuming that they ARE led (first-class condition in Greek). Notice Romans 8:14: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the Sons of God.” These are positional truths. They are led by the Spirit and secondly, they are not “under the Law.” Therefore, as Paul tells the Romans, they are able to please God (Romans 8:9-11). They are able to produce the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22, 23, if they “walk in (or by) the Spirit” (verses 16, 25).

Josh, I hope I have contributed to answering the question.

Bill Ball
10/21/2008