The First Fruits of Another World


I did a previous blog article on the radical nature of the Gospel Paul preached, a Gospel he received directly from Jesus, that was confirmed by the closest disciples of Jesus. I ended the article by noting that this Gospel was not primarily about cultural and societal change. Jesus didn’t come merely to transform culture and society, as the Zealots of the First Century supposed the Messiah would.

Jesus came preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom into which we can be born again by receiving Jesus, by believing in his name. The paradigm shift begins here and now, in this world, giving us “the right to become children of God, … born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Though the reality of the kingdom of God begins here and now, the ultimate fruition of that new birth, that adoption as children of God, still awaits us. The Zealots didn’t understand that in the First Century. They wanted to overtake the Roman government by force and establish the reign of the Messiah then and there in the First Century. When Jesus died on the cross, not even the disciples understood what was going on. Paul understood, however, we he said:

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23)

Paul expanded on these thoughts in his letter to the Corinthians when he spoke about death coming into the world through the first Adam, while resurrection from the dead came into the world through Jesus (1 Cor. 15:20-28-42-55) First is the perishable, followed by the imperishable. What is perishable doesn’t beget the imperishable. We must be born again (the ultimate paradigm shift), from natural people into spiritual people.

This paradigm shift begins in this natural life when we are born again, but the seed of that new birth is spiritual, imperishable. When the last trumpet” will sound, “the dead will be raised imperishable”. (1 Cor. 15:52) We await in this life the fruition of the ultimate paradigm shift (from the perishable to the imperishable) in which those who have been adopted as children of God are ushered into the kingdom of God with “the whole creation” following behind in the transformation from natural world to an imperishable world where there are no tears, no pain, no sorrow – only the ultimate fulfillment of all that we could possible hope for.

We won’t see the fruition of these things in this life; rather we look forward to the resurrection from the dead and our inheritance of the imperishable life that swallows death up in victory. This is where I left off in the previous blog post: Paul… the Radical Countercultural? Picking it up from there, I want to begin here with second half of the passage quoted from the letter to the Galatians in that first article.

Paul spoke to the Galatians about the”adoption as sons” for all people who believe in Jesus. He alludes to the centuries old Greco-Roman tradition of adoption of men by men – the passing on of inheritance and legacy through the male line, which was the entrenched cultural structure of a long patriarchal society. But then, Paul did the ultimate mic drop when he said:

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3:27-29)

In one sentence, Paul eliminated the disparity between genders. And not only that, the differences between religious, philosophical, cultural, societal and all other things that divide people from each other.

But this was no cultural revolution. The rest of the story is found in the verses that follow in Chapter 2 of the letter to the Galatians.

Continue reading “The First Fruits of Another World”

Paul… the Radical Countercultural?

Neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female: we are “all one in Christ Jesus”

Paul Mosaic at Chora Church in Istanbul

People today don’t give Paul (or Jesus or the Bible) enough credit for “forward thinking”. We like to think that modern man has pulled himself (and herself) up by the bootstraps, a notion that emerges from our modern view of ourselves, of beings that have made ourselves after a long, doggedly determined climb out of the primordial slime.

Paul is often called patriarchal and even misogynist. He is blamed for the “backward thinking” that prevails in some areas of the church. Bronze age ideas and norms, they say, enslave the church in primitive thinking that quashes the rights of more sophisticated modern people.

There are dozens of examples in Scripture that this isn’t true. When we read the Scripture through a modern lens and don’t understand or appreciate the context of the time when it was written, we fail to appreciate the radical nature of Scripture.

I have written on these things many times in the past, but my attention is drawn to one example today. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote:

“[I]n Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 3:26-4:7)

Let’s unpack this a bit, and I think you will see what I am talking about. First, we need to consider the context of the time in which this letter was written. Then we need to look closely at what Paul is saying.

Continue reading “Paul… the Radical Countercultural?”

The Danger of Getting What We Want

We often choose earthly treasures that we can’t keep over eternal treasures that we can’t lose.


Tim Keller paraphrased and quoted a columnist back in the 1980’s in a recent sermon he gave. The columnist knew a number of celebrities personally. Keller paraphrased the columnist: “I knew them when they were working behind the counter the cosmetic counter at Macy’s, and I knew them when they were bouncers at the village clubs, and all that, and then they became famous, and they became movie stars, and then they became more unhappy then they were before.”

Keller paraphrased further: “That giant thing they were striving for, that ‘fame thing’ that was going to make everything OK, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them personal fulfillment and with ‘ha ha happiness’, it had happened and nothing changed. They were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable.”

Keller then quoted the columnist, who said, “If God really wants to play a rotten practical joke on us, He grants your deepest wish and then giggles merrily as you suddenly realize you want to kill yourself.”

God made us for Himself.

Of course, the idea of God “giggling merrily” is obviously not biblical, but the rest of it is. God made us for Himself. He weeps at our choosing to follow after the things we want instead of Him. He weeps for us because it can never fulfill us.

I write this on the heels of my last article in which I reflected on celebrity Christianity. More accurately, celebrities who have recently become Christians. In the article, I also reflected on “celebrity” Christians, people who were thrust into the Christian limelight at an early age, before a firm foundation of spiritual growth and relationship with God.

And I wonder how those celebrities turning to Christianity will fair into the future. They are used to the warm (and sometimes harsh) light of public celebrity. That is where they live, but what they need is the nutrient rich soil of God’s word, prayer, relationship to God, fellowship and all the things God must do in us in the dark recesses of our hearts, well out of the light of public life.

Like the rich young ruler who was searching, but found it too difficult to leave behind all his wealth to which he had become accustomed, celebrity  fame and fortune may difficult to give up. Even though it doesn’t satisfy the deepest longings of the soul, it is still (likely) everything they thought they wanted.

Riches, and celebrity, and comfort, and recognition become a trap. We are lured in. Our own desires propel us hard in the direction of the sunlight. We strain our whole lives with all of our effort. All of our thoughts, hopes and dreams carry us along, and the things we gain along the way, even if they turn sour in our hands, are difficult to give up…. If it was all we wanted.

Continue reading “The Danger of Getting What We Want”

Though Every Man Be a Liar

The flaws of humanity that exist in the church negatively affect people and are a stumbling block for many.


In Romans 3, Paul asks whether a lack of faith nullifies God’s faithfulness. It’s a rhetorical question that Paul answers this way: “Even if everyone else is a liar, God is true.” (NLT)

Our faithlessness, of course, doesn’t make God faithless. Our actions don’t change God’s character. Though every man be a liar, still God is true.

This is the backdrop to this piece that is inspired by the interview of Lisa Gungor and Alisa Childers by Justin Brierley on the Unbelievable? podcast.

Alisa Childers and Lisa Gungor both grew up with evangelical Christianity. They were both Christian musical artists. They both went through a period of doubt and “deconstruction”. Alisa Childers emerged from that period of deconstruction with her faith intact, stronger than it was before, while Lisa Gungor has evolved into a progressive Christian – holding on to the title “Christian”, while letting go of nearly everything that distinguishes Christianity from other religions.

Of her own experience, Childers says that the flaws and errors in her construct of God, scripture and doctrine were removed in that process of deconstruction and replaced. Instead of giving up on Christianity, she doubled down in her testing of the faith. What could not stand up to the scrutiny, she let go. What remains is a solid foundation.

While the church, and people generally, seem to fear doubt, and shy away from it, the Bible actually encourages us to meet doubt head on. Paul urges us to “test everything” and “keep [or hold fast] what is good”. (1 Thessalonians 5:21) This is the route Alisa Childers took when faced with doubt and challenges to her faith.

More to the point of this article, though, Childers observes that many people who go through “deconstruction” of their faith often cite the behavior of the church, and the people in the church, as a primary reason for leaving the faith. It might be hypocrisy, judgmental attitudes, failure to live up to “Christian standards”, ignorance of modern science, an adherence to a blind faith that refuses to admit facts that are contrary to their understanding of Scripture.

Or worse – it might be experience with the ugliness of sin that we expect should not be present in the church. Church people can be cliquey and unapproachable. Church people can be greedy, petty, quick to get angry, lustful and worse – even church leaders. The evidence of sexual abuse and pedophilia that has come to light in Baptist churches recently reveals an ugly underside to quintessentially evangelical churches that hadn’t before come to light.

I would add that non-church people level similar complaints at the “the church” as former church people who have left.  The reasons they give for not going to church, or being “religious”, or having faith in God include apparent hypocrisy, negative personal experiences and bad behavior of church going Christians.

While people may give other reasons for “not believing” or not having faith, the examples of people who hold themselves out to be Christians is almost always one of the reasons given, if not the most compelling reason given by people who don’t consider themselves (or no longer consider themselves) “Christian” (at least in the sense of born again, evangelical (whatever that still means) Christianity).

To this point, I am reminded of what Paul says, “Though every man be a liar, still God is true!” Let me explain.

Continue reading “Though Every Man Be a Liar”

Questioning the Skepticism about Some of Paul’s Letters

A little skepticism of the skeptics might be in order in questioning the rejection of the authorship of some of the “questionable” Pauline epistles.

Old Engraving of the Conversion of Paul

I first learned that some of the “Pauline epistles” were not written by Paul in my religion courses in college. That was the scholarly consensus then, as it is now, among the elite New Testament scholars in colleges and universities around the world. This consensus grows out of the “school of higher criticism” that began in the 19th Century in Tubingen, Germany.

The so-called “school of higher criticism” is textual criticism with a heavy emphasis on the text. (I will explain that comment below.) Not that textual criticism, itself, should be suspect. Textual criticism is “a branch of textual scholarship, philology, and of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification of textual variants, or different versions, of either manuscripts or of printed books…. The objective of the textual critic’s work is to provide a better understanding of the creation and historical transmission of the text and its variants.” (Wikipedia)

And by the way, there are differences among the New Testament manuscripts. Many differences. That fact shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone in this information rich age. If you aren’t aware of that fact, you would do well to consider the work of Daniel Wallace on the subject. I have addressed this issue before (Can We Trust the Bible?). But, I digress….

I have no issue with textual criticism applied to the Scriptures. We have learned much about the Bible from the method of study called textual criticism. “Criticism” here doesn’t mean, necessarily, rejection or doubt, but is more of a method of study that recognizes textual differences between manuscripts and attempts to identify the text that is most true to the original text, among other things.

Because we have so many manuscripts, well over 25,000 of them in various languages, there are variants that need to be addressed and understood. Textual criticism helps us with this understanding. (I should add that we have such a high degree of certainty about what the original text says precisely because we have so many manuscripts. If you want to dig in to the topic of textual criticism as applied to the Bible, I recommend The Basics of New Testament Textual Criticism.)

Some people take the fact that there are many differences among the manuscripts as a reason to reject the New Testament as Scripture, believing it to be inherently unreliable, questing whether we even know what the original authors wrote. This is an extreme view, in my opinion, though one that skeptical intellectuals seem to like. Perhaps, their fondness of this view is that it eliminates the need to take Scripture seriously or to apply it to their lives (to apply a little skepticism to the skeptics).

The fact is that we have such a wealth of New Testament manuscripts (5800 Greek, 10,000 Latin and 9800 Syriac, Coptic, etc.) that we can know with a very high degree of accuracy precisely what the original text was (like 98.5% per Dr. Wallace). Even if we didn’t have a single manuscript left, there are some 36,000 quotations of New Testament text by the early church leaders. Wallace observes that we could assemble the entire New Testament from those quotations alone, without the need for a single manuscript of the text.

But, I digress. Only a little. The point is that we should be as skeptical of the skeptics as they are skeptical of the text. In fact, Skepticism is the hallmark of the higher school of criticism. Skepticism is their starting place. They assume a skeptical approach. They don’t just wipe the slate clean, and start from neutral; they assume that the plain meaning of the text, the authenticity of the text and the reliability of the text has the burden of proof. And for this reason, we have good reason to be skeptical.

This form of skepticism is the flip side of what some might call blind faith. There is a danger in being skeptical that will not admit a positive result. There is a commitment to skepticism that is counterfactual. We can be as “committed” to skepticism as we are to belief to the exclusion of the facts and reality. I believe this is the case with the Pauline epistles that scholars reject.

Continue reading “Questioning the Skepticism about Some of Paul’s Letters”

The Face of Love


“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[1]

This is an iconic, timeless description of what love is from the Bible. This passage has been quoted at countless weddings. Most people are familiar with the “love passage”, even if they have no familiarity with the Bible itself.

We know there are different kinds of love. There is the intimate love between couples, erotic love, the love between parent and child and brotherly love among friends. These kinds of love sometimes overlap. For instance, the love between married couples, at its best, incorporates something of all of these types of love.

Perhaps, the most popular notion of love today is the love between two people – the Disney type of love at first sight and love ever after. A mix of erotic thrill and passionate commitment.

Google “love”, and images of young, good-looking men and women goggling each other is what you will find. This love is almost mythical in its ubiquitous celebration in popular culture, and it’s, perhaps, just as mythical in reality. Few, if any of us, really experience the love that we collectively aspire to (as demonstrated by the money we spend on love-themed entertainment ).  And, those of us who have “felt” this kind of love all know how fleeting it is.

This kind of love involves commonality of interest and affection. It’s a two-way street. When the commonality ceases and the affection is lost, the one-way street can only operate so long – especially in a society that emphasizes the emotional value of love. We build in a qualifier to the age-old phase, “til death do us part”: when the affections die, I am outta here!

Other kinds of love include the love of parent and child and brotherly love – the love between friends who have common bonds of experience, interests and friendship. Though the entertainment value is much less than the former, we all instinctively know that this kid of love is good. It is very good.

Friendships, still, can be fragile. Rare is the friendship that survives indefinitely. Even familial love, including the love between parents and children, can die on the rocky shores of turmoil and circumstances that tear it apart and undo it. I see this constantly in my practice of law, representing people in the administration of their estates.

The biblical definition of love is something different altogether.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[2]

None of these descriptors of love depend on affections. They are timeless in that respect. They describe a love that is not qualified. The very next statement in this passage is that “love never fails” (or never ends).[3] In other words, this kind of love never dies.

Do you know this kind of love?

Continue reading “The Face of Love”

The Plans God Has for Us – Part III

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him. 

I


n the previous two blog posts on The Plans God Has for Us, we considered the fact that the often-quoted verse about the plans God us for us – plans to prosper us and to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)[1] – should be viewed in historical context. (Part I) That historical context was the 900-year history of disbelief and disobedience of God’s people ending in 40 years of warning of impending judgment that culminated in the judgment coming to pass with the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and exile. (Part II) In this post, I will try to draw some conclusions in the application of this verse and relevance to our modern lives.

This letter was the message of God through the prophet, Jeremiah, to God’s people that He gave them at the very beginning of their exile. In this letter, God tells them that they will remain in exile for 70 year![2] In fact, this shocking statement – you will be here 70 years – is the statement that immediately precedes the famous verse we all know:

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

In a sense, God is telling them, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that I have imposed my judgment on you, and it will last 70 years. But the good news is that I have plans for you, good plans to prosper you and to give you hope and a future.

70 years! In an age in which the average life expectancy was about 35 years, that’s two generations! For the vast majority of the exiled people, this meant their lives would end in captivity. What kind of hope and future is that?!

The exile was the judgment God warned them about. God’s people had been so disbelieving and disobedient that God virtually banished them from the very land He promised them about a millennium before.  But even in the midst of this judgment, we need to look carefully at what God is saying. Just before announcing that this judgment thing is going to last 70 years, God gives them instructions:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”[3]

Imagine the 40 years of warning and the weight of that impending doom on those who actually took it seriously. As with most things we fear, the fear is worse than the reality.

During this time of judgment in exile in Babylon, God says to them, basically, “Don’t despair! Go about your lives. Embrace the circumstances into which I have brought you. Live life. Make plans. Bless those around you, seek to better the those around you, and I will bless you.”

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him.

Continue reading “The Plans God Has for Us – Part III”