Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Most of us Christians do not really understand grace.  When I think of much of the preaching I’ve heard in my life and the books I have read, when I hear the moralistic political rhetoric that’s thrown around, when I talk to Christians, both “mature” and “immature,” I’m forced to this conclusion.  Of course, none of us have a complete understanding, but I believe most of us don’t even have a “working” understanding.

So when I received a request to teach a series on the topic in my Sunday school class, I jumped at the chance, even though I’d never taught it as a topic before.

But when I agreed to take on a study of grace in our Sunday school class, I didn’t realize what a huge task I was taking on.  Not far into my study and thinking on the topic, I realized that a complete study would involve the whole Bible, as well as its application in every area of our lives.  As I don’t have enough years left in my life for that, I decided I need to break the topic down into small bites.

So I begin with some word studies and definitions.  First, we need to have a working definition; I believe a simple synonym will do in most cases.

Grace is “favor.”  We could replace nearly all references to grace in our Bibles with this simple word.  As a matter of fact, many translations seem to use the words interchangeably.  Some would add to the definition the adjective “unmerited,” but isn’t that idea already included in the word?  Aren’t all favors unmerited?

The Old Testament is full of this word, even in what we might term a “secular” or non-religious usage.

Jacob, for instance, sends a message to his brother Esau hoping “…that I may find favor in your eyes” (Genesis 32:5).  “Joseph found favor in the eyes” of Potiphar (Genesis 39:4).  These are common expressions and all use the word “favor,” which is the same Hebrew word elsewhere translated “grace.”

For starters I’d like to look at the biblical words – Greek and Hebrew – that are usually translated “grace.”

First, the Greek words used in the New Testament:
·        Charis (pronounced khah’-ris) is found 156 times, usually translated “grace,” “favor” or occasionally “thanks.”
·        Charizomai (pronouned khah-ridz’-oh-my) is found 22 times, usually translated “grant,” “give freely,” “forgive.”
·        Charitoo (pronounced khah-ri-tah’-oh) is found twice, usually translated “bestow favor,” “favor highly.”

The Hebrew words used in the Old Testament:
·        Chen (pronounced khane) is found 67 times, usually translated “grace,” “favor.”
·        Channun  (pronounced khah-noon’) is found 13 times, usually translated “gracious”
·        Chanan (pronounced khah-non’) is found 80 times, usually translated “be gracious,” sometimes “beseech” (request grace).

So there are at least 340 references to grace in the Bible besides other similar words, such as “mercy,” “compassion.”

I plan on rambling through this study in the near future.  There are many thoughts still rushing through my mind.

Also see:
            CHEAP GRACE
            FREE GRACE

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Something to think about this season.

Philippians 4:4-9 

Rejoice in the Lord always,
again I will say, rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to all men.
The Lord is at hand.

Be anxious for nothing,
but in everything by prayer and supplecation,
with thanksgiving,
let your requests be made known to God;
and the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.

Finally, brethren,
whatever things are true,
whatever things are noble,
whatever things are just,
whatever things are pure,
whatever things are lovely,
whatever things are of good report,
if there is any virtue
and if there is anything praiseworthy ~~
meditate on these things.

The things which you learned
and received
and heard
and saw in me,
these do,
and the God of peace will be with you. 

Merry Christmas and a blessed 2012! 

Uni and Bill

Monday, December 19, 2011


As the American Civil War divided families and friends, so has our latest conflict.  I am grieved to have friends on both sides of it.  Because of this I have sought for ways to alleviate the tensions before they lead to actual bloodshed.

I have, on the one hand, many friends who feel that their enjoyment of the current holiday season is lessened by an incursion of the enemy into their sacred territory.  This is known as “The War on Christmas.”  As evidence, they can point out that one can walk all through any shopping mall and note that while it is decked out with all the trimmings of the holidays – elves, red ribbons, greetings of every sort, 40% off signs, a fat guy in a red suit – yet, nowhere can be found the word “Christmas.”  I can attest to the truth of this assertion, having conducted such a search on my own.  (It should be noted, however, that the music on the PA does occasionally use the word:  “Holly, Jolly Christmas,” “Blue Christmas,” “White Christmas,” etc.)  This is perceived by my friends as an attack, not only on them, but also on Jesus and on the American Way.

I have also a few friends who consider any religious overtones to be offensive, not only to them but to those of other religious persuasions who do not recognize the person referred to in the first six letters of the word.  They believe that we must be tolerant of all views.  To promote one religious view on the holiday would be an attack on all other views as well as on the American Way.

I believe I have a solution which would, or at least should, satisfy those on both sides in this strife.  I propose that we rename the holiday – the whole season – with a name that I believe will be inoffensive to all.


I arrived at this new name by combining words:
n  Syncretism, which Mr. Webster defines as “the combination of different forms of belief or practice.”  This word is related, of course, to the verb syncretize, which Mr. Webster defines as “to attempt to unite and harmonize, esp. without critical examination or logical unity.”
n  Christmas, defined by Mr. Webster as “A Christian feast on December 25 (or January 7) that commemorates the birth of Christ and is usually observed as a legal holiday.”

I had originally thought of calling it Syncretismas but after some thought realized that the shortened title sounds a bit closer to that originally used of the holiday (the title under attack).  Perhaps some could even be allowed to capitalize the C in the middle of the word.

The new holiday name would fit within our traditional songs of the season, replacing the former name without altering the rhythmic structures of the songs.

I also propose that we use this title for the entire season, which would officially begin in November on Black Thursday (formerly known as Turkey Day, formerly known as Thanksgiving) and run through the middle of January, thus including all the holidays of the season, including my birthday.

This should satisfy all celebrants, not only those of the secular persuasion, but also those who are worshippers of a Deity, by whatever name they choose:  Jesus, Yahweh, Allah or Mammon.

Of course, there are a number of minor details to be worked out, such as the use of the word “Merry” to precede the title when used as a greeting.  Many see religious significance in the word and its non-use is perceived, as to some extent, blasphemous.

I realize that it is too late to start using the new name during the current season, but if we begin to work on the changes, perhaps we can have them made by next year.  I urge any readers to petition their congressmen to take action quickly, which they of course are in the habit of doing.

I also realize that even if my proposal is adopted, there will still be some (relatively few) who will continue to celebrate in an outdated manner, who will worship the One whose birth is observed at this time – the Man who is also God, who came to “save His people from their sins.”  But they will be few and their numbers will undoubtedly diminish rapidly as time passes and the advantages of the new holiday become more and more evident.

Have a Joyful SynCresmas!

Monday, December 12, 2011


Continuing with the questions from the previous post:
- - - - - -
Did he know who he was? It seems so in the only story we have of his childhood. If so, how? If it was from his mom, well, I’m thinking that would make the whole sibling thing I mentioned above even worse!!! Or did he have a knowledge of God that we don’t have that might have helped in the temptation resisting department?

- - - - - -

I’d like to rephrase this question and put it in the form that it is usually phrased.  It is really two questions.  And I’ll add a third.
·        How much did Jesus know and when did He know it?  i.e., Did He know who He was and when?
·        Was Jesus able not to sin or not able to sin?
·        Related question:  How did He resist temptation?  As man or as God?  Was there “some supernatural interference or predisposition”?

The question of Jesus’ knowledge, especially His self-awareness has perplexed the minds of scholars and saints, probably from the beginning.  There are many views and theories.

There are those, of course, who believe that Jesus at birth understood all, that He could have looked out at the stars from His manger bed and known the names of all, that He knew from the beginning that He was God and knew what His mission was.  However, the Gospel accounts don’t present us with this picture.  They seem to present Jesus as a human being who gradually came to understand His divine nature.  Notice some of the things the Bible says about Him.

Luke 2:52:  “And Jesus was progressing in wisdom and stature …”  This statement follows the account of His precocious behavior and of His words in the temple at the age of 12 stating that God was His Father (verse 49).

Though most of the questions Jesus asked were rhetorical, at least some appear to have been asked out of honest ignorance.  “Who touched My garments?” (Mark 5:30).  If so, this could imply ignorance of other matters.

During His Olivet Discourse, He clearly stated His ignorance of the time of His return.  “But concerning that day and hour, nobody knows – not the angels of heaven, not even the Son – but the Father alone!” (Matthew 24:36).

Hebrews 5:8 tells us that “He learned obedience from the things that He suffered.”

We are told that the pre-incarnate Christ “emptied Himself” at the incarnation (Philippians 2:7).  It is believed that what He emptied Himself of was the independent use of His divine attributes.”  Though He was infinite, He confined Himself to a human body; though all-powerful, He did not utilize that power; and, though all-knowing, He did not utilize that knowledge.

So we have a Man, who was also God, gradually increasing in knowledge (in a way similar to that of others) and gradually coming to a full knowledge of His divine nature through various experiences.

By the time of His temptation experience as recorded in Matthew and Luke, He was aware of His divinity.  But how much knowledge He had as a child we can’t be sure of, nor how this would have been of help in His earlier temptations.

So we come to the old question:  Was Jesus able not to sin or was He not able to sin?  This question, like the previous one, has been debated almost from the beginning and I don’t have much to add to it.  There are essentially two views. I should note that those who disagree on this question do not disagree on the fact that  Jesus did not sin.  All agree that He lived His life free from original sin and from actual sin.

This may seem to many to be an irrelevant debate, but there are important issues here.

Those who believe that He was not able to sin argue that “it was impossible for Him to sin because of the essential bond between the human and divine natures” (L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 328).  Some who hold this view feel that to believe otherwise would be blasphemous.

Those who take the opposing view argue that “If He was a true man He must have been capable of sinning …  If from the constitution of His person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then His temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with His people” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, page 457).

And so the debate goes.  There are godly persons on both sides, much godlier and wiser than I, so I would hesitate to be dogmatic.  However, I lean toward the second view given above.  I believe the Book of Hebrews makes this clear.

“For in that He has suffered, being tempted, He is able to come to the help of those who are tempted” (Hebrew 2:18).

“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One Who has been tempted in all things as we are, without sin.  Let us come then with boldness to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help at the right time” (Hebrews 4:15, 16).

So I’d have to say that if Jesus was tempted as a human being, He also resisted as a human being.  This would include those childhood temptations, as well as, those elaborated in the Gospels and related to His adult life and ministry.  If there was some providential “bubble” around Him in the form of His knowledge or some miraculous provision, we are not told.


I deleted my original post on this topic because it made me extremely uncomfortable.  I was uncomfortable with the questions asked me, I was uncomfortable with my attempts at answering them and I was uncomfortable when I had finished.  So I thought I’d start over.

I had received a long comment on my post A SPIRIT DRIVEN MAN.  The comment contained some thoughts and raised some questions that I felt it was my responsibility to answer.  Though some were not specifically stated as questions, I perceived that they needed to be addressed in that manner.  Questions of fairness seemed to stand out.  They could be restated this way:

Is our fallen condition (our “sin nature”) a punishment for Adam’s sin?  Is it fair?  Is there a possibility that without our sin nature we could actually be sin free?

The answer to the first question is clearly ‘No.”  Our sin nature is not a punishment for Adam’s sin but a consequence.  When Adam and Eve sinned the whole human race sinned.

As far as any questions of fairness, I believe they are off limits.  God is not answerable to our concepts of what is and what is not fair.  God is just in all His doings, even when we can’t make sense out of them.  If that sounds like a copout, I suppose it is.

I felt I wasted way too much time on attempting to answer the third.  I tried to imagine what a world would be like in which each of us was born without sin and had the opportunity, as Adam, to decide.  I failed.  I couldn’t really do that.

“What if?” questions have always seemed to me to be dead ends.  Matters are the way they are.  If we recognize that God is wise, just, loving and completely in control, we have to admit that God is doing what He feels is best and that He has made the correct choices.  If we speculate on what God “could have” done, it seems a short step to talking about what He should have done.  I don’t want to go there.

Though there are many of His actions that are not explainable, there are many that are, by study of the Scriptures.  I believe we should continue to seek understanding, but we should be satisfied when and where He chooses to be silent.

So, though I may not be comfortable with God’s actions, I’ll accept them and seek greater understanding and leave it at that.

My teaching stops where my ignorance begins.