Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Having just returned from a quick trip to Minnesota to see Daniel, I was reminded of quote from Enzo Ferrari.

I truly believe that when a man tells a woman that he loves her he means that he desires her. The only true love can be a father's love for his son.

While I disagree with Ferrari's extremism (I truly love my wife and daughters) I understand how his sentiments arise. Ferrari's emotions toward his son were ancient and instinctive. A man's love for his only son is special.

I was explaining to Lisa the other day the Old Testament concept of eternal life. Embedded within the pages of the Old Testament, the expectation of eternal life was coupled to progeny – independent of the resurrection of the dead. God promised Abraham, ". . . your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him." Genesis 17:19 (NIV) Likewise, God's promise to David states,

I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant,
"I will establish your line forever
and make your throne firm through all generations

Psalm 89:3-4 (NIV)

In the Old Testament spiritual economy, eternal life and eternal consciousness were not intertwined. A father lived on through his son, and the son's identity reflected his father. Solomon, in a dream, spoke to God, saying, "You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day . . ." 1 Kings 3:6 (NIV) Solomon understood that he was the beneficiary of God's promise to David.

The relationship of unity between a father and his son was emphasized by Jesus' own teaching. Jesus declared in John 10:30, "The Father and I are one." When Phillip asked Jesus to show the disciples the Father, Jesus replied, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." These expressions of relationship were well understood by the Jews; however, not many received the message that Jesus was indeed the Son of God.

The power of a father's love for his son is encapsulated in the concept of monogenēs. The offspring extends his father's life. This was particularly true regarding the monogenēs. Monogenēs is frequently translated from the Greek as, "only begotten" or "only son." According to Hebrews 11:17, Abraham's monogenēs was Isaac. Nevertheless, Abraham also fathered Ishmael and another son by Hagar, six sons by Keturah (Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah), and the innumerable "sons of his concubines" according to Genesis 25:6. Isaac wasn't special because he was the only son of Abraham. Isaac was special because he was the chosen son of Abraham. Isaac was Abraham's monogenēs. Isaac encapsulated all the hope of God's eternal promise to Abraham.

When Enzo Ferrari spoke of a father's love for his son, he understood it to be special. Though he did not express it in Biblical terms, he understood the concept of monogenēs. A father's love for his monogenēs transcends all capacity of words to express.

When the Apostle John speaks of Jesus being the monogenēs of the Father, he leverages this expression to convey the closeness between Jesus Christ and God the Father. The fact that Jesus was the monogenēs of the Father does not mean that he was a created being. According to John and the writer of Hebrews, the Christ was indeed the Creator (John 1:3 and Hebrews 1:2). Just as in Abraham and Isaac's case, the word monogenēs expresses a special relationship, but does not literally mean only offspring. The Son of God pre-existed the incarnation of Jesus. At the incarnation the nature of the Son of God became also the Son of Man. Jesus Christ embodies both the Creator and the Creation. As such, Jesus special relationship to the Father was strongly expressed as monogenēs in the writings of the Apostle John.

Paul expressed the relationship between Christ and the Father a little differently, saying, "In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." Colossians 2:9 (NIV) Jesus Christ was God in human form. John predicates his Gospel on this same assertion.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God;
his name was John.
He came as a witness to testify concerning that light,
so that through him all men might believe.
He himself was not the light;
he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
and though the world was made through him,
the world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own,
but his own did not receive him.
Yet to all who received him,
to those who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God —
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband's will,

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory,
the glory of the [Monogenēs],
who came from the Father,
full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-14 (NIV)

Why did he who was most special to the Father become a man and dwell among men? The Apostle John writes, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:10 (NIV) The Father loved us so much that he would send his Monogenēs to suffer and die as the propitiation of our sins. If a father's love for his monogenēs, is the supreme love, as Enzo Ferrari declared it to be, how great is God's love for man?

Where Adam and Adam's race failed in faithfulness and obedience to God, God sent his monogenēs, a very part of Himself, to become the propitiation for our sins. Whereas Adam had been disobedient to God, Christ . . .

. . . became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:8 (NIV).

The writer of Hebrews tells us, "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek." Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV)

Not coincidentally, God's promises to Abraham and David, converge in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul explains that by faith in Jesus Christ we become partakers in God's promise to Abraham, "Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. [Abraham] is the father of us all." Galatians 4:16 (NIV). Not only was Jesus Christ the seed of Abraham as promised in Genesis and recounted in Galatians 3, Jesus was also the rightful heir of David's throne.

In the Old Testament, the concept of eternal life dealt with progeny, in the New Testament, eternal life is sharing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ the two concepts of eternal life converge. Jesus, the man was a descendant of Abraham and of David. Promises to the Patriarchs are fulfilled in Christ. Nevertheless, as children of faith, we share in Christ's death and resurrection. The writer of Hebrews demonstrates the better promise we have in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11 recounts how the believers of the Old Testament walked by faith. Nevertheless, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." Hebrews 11:39-40 (NIV) John closes the Book of Revelation with a quotation from Jesus,

"Behold, I am coming soon!
My reward is with me,
and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.
I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the First and the Last,
the Beginning and the End.
"Blessed are those who wash their robes,
that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.

Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts,
the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters
and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.
I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star."

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!"
And let him who hears say, "Come!"
Whoever is thirsty, let him come;
and whoever wishes,
let him take the free gift of the water of life.
Revelation 22:12-17 (NIV)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Off topic

I assigned Claire to read Paul Johnson's A History of the America People. I remember the histories I studied in school were synoptic, impersonal, and boring. It took me years to realize that I love history. Johnson is a great writer with a love of history and a fondness for America that has little to do with liberal or conservative politics. His narratives are both informative and entertaining. Nevertheless, Johnson is a bit difficult for a 12-year old to read, so it has been important for Claire to keep track of new vocabulary. Her daily reports provide me the opportunity to reinforce what she's learning, but they also provide me opportunities to teach off topic.

Sometimes, the most important lessons are learned tangentially.

The other day Claire sent me her vocabulary list including the word, "antinomian." She defined antinomian as, "A member of a Christian sect holding such a doctrine." Well, I think I can spot a non-answer when I see one. I challenged Claire to explain whether she was antinomian. Further, I asked her to look up the meaning of the Latin phrase, "Sola Fide."

At dinner we discussed that antinomianism holds that salvation comes without keeping the Law. Sola Fide asserts that salvation comes by faith alone. A few days later we continued the discussion as I asked Claire, based on her understanding of Sola Fide, to also define Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. English derives itself from the Latin and Greek, so it wasn't too difficult for her to grasp:

Sola Fide: by faith alone

Sola Gratia: by grace alone

Sola Scriptura: by Scripture alone

Solus Christus: through Christ alone

Soli Deo Gloria: unto God's glory alone

In support of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria, I offer you Romans 5:1-11 (KJV):

Therefore being justify by faith,

we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand,

and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

For when we were yet without strength,

in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die:

yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

But God commendeth his love toward us,

in that, while we were yet sinners,

Christ died for us.

Much more then, being now justify by his blood,

we shall be saved from wrath through him.

For if, when we were enemies,

we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,

much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

by whom we have now received the atonement.

Sola Scriptura is implicit in this passage as well, because for one to receive the message of grace by faith through Jesus Christ unto God's glory one must believe that the Scriptures are true.

While I'm thankful for the opportunity to teach theology on a tangent from Claire's American History reading, I'm most hopeful that the Five Sola's will mean for her more than mere vocabulary. Encapsulated within those five Latin phrases is the hope of eternal life.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All the comfort I need

Gabby came into our bedroom the other night and was visibly upset. She was having trouble sleeping, and she asked me to read her a comforting Bible verse. I told her, "Bring me my Bible." She asked, "Do you want your fat one?" I told her that my other one would be fine. She returned with my well-worn NIV, and I read for her Psalm 91. A couple months ago The Wall Street Journal featured a powerful photo from Afghanistan. I've been thinking about Psalm 91 ever since. The verse partially quoted in the print edition of the Journal reads,

You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day . . .

You can read the whole Psalm here. I read Gabby the entire Psalm, after which she looked at me and said bluntly, "That's all the comfort I need," and then she ran off to bed.

Lisa was somewhat puzzled why I would read Gabby Psalm 91 as a comfort. Anyone with general knowledge of the New Testament would recognize Psalm 91 as a Messianic Psalm. The devil quoted Psalm 91:11-12 at the temptation of Jesus in Matthew chapter 4. It reads,

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

If even the devil knows that Psalm 91 is a specific promise to the Christ, why would I be reading it to my seven-year old who is seeking comfort? Why wouldn't I try to find a passage that applies to her?

My explanation is simply this: because I am in Christ, I partake in the promises to Christ. Likewise, it is proper for Gabby to seek her comfort from God even if she can't yet understand theologically how the promises apply to her.

Do I think that God will send his angels to keep me from ever stubbing my toe? No, but I believe that the angels guarded the Christ as Psalms prophesies they would. In fact, Matthew 4:11 says, "Then the devil left him, and the angels came and attended to him."

"Where is the comfort in that?" you might ask. The comfort comes from my realizing that the promises to Christ are eternally significant promises. The promise that the Christ would not strike his foot against a stone meant that God would ensure that Jesus, the Christ, would remain an unblemished sacrifice until the time ordained when he would carry my sin into death and grant me hope through his resurrection.

I inherit that greater promise through faith, and I benefit from that greater promise for an eternity . . .

. . . and that's all the comfort I need.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hamartia: take 2

by John D Ramsey

These questions came to my phone this afternoon, and it was great to think through them tonight.
Thank you for responding to my question about "whats it mean not finding repentance" I was reading your blog about hamartia, my other question is do you know or have an idea what the sin unto death is in 1 John 5:16? in the same letter he says if we confess our sins or our missing the mark, and then he says if we see a brother sinning a sin not unto death, pray for him and there is sin not unto death, so what will be the nature of this sin unto death? By they way I am growing alot from your blog articals, thank you so much.  

Blog posts are compact (even some of my long-winded posts), and so sometimes the brevity of the medium means that ideas are incomplete. Blog topics are not exhaustive. My point in writing "Hamartia" was to examine the word we commonly translate as "sin" from a more accurate perspective. That is to say, sin is more a condition, than an action.

That doesn't remove man's responsibility his actions, rather it points to the source of the actions rather than on the actions alone. Because sin is a condition, a baby can be born into sin having never acted sinful. When we think of sin as a condition rather than specific sets of actions, we realize that God is most interested in our hearts.

When my oldest daughter was very little, and we would see some outlandish fashion on someone in public or on television, I would tell her, "If you never dress like that, I'll give you a dollar." Of course, it didn't take her very long before she realized she would never be able to collect. I tried to bribe her with a million dollars, but again, regardless of what I promised, she realized she would never collect because she could never (as long as she lived) attain the standard of "never" doing something. As long as she lives, there remains the possibility. In a similar way, we can never, by acts of obedience to God, undo the fact that we have been disobedient to God nor can we overcome the fact that we inherited Adam's sin. We can never attain sinlessness by our actions or lack of actions. Paul says, "All sinned and lack the glory of God." It was from this condition that we are justified by his grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

This all said, I think that in 1 John 5:16, you cannot separate the condition from the action. A literal translation from the Apostolic Bible: "If anyone should see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give to him life, to the ones not sinning to death." Now the John's pronouns and antecedents may need sorting out (most English translations help out adequately here), but the word "sinning" in the context indicates a continuing condition and the word "sin" indicates behavior. So in this passage, I concede that John is using the word sin (hamartia) to indicate behavior. In truth, it is difficult to separate attitude from action. In fact, the next verse John says, "Every unrighteousness is sin." Perhaps he sees the distinction between the words and drives home the point that from his perspective attitude and action are the same thing.

The hardest part of this passage, then, is inferring what John meant by a sin unto death and a sin not unto death. To answer this, I defer to James, who wrote about lust or evil desires saying, "once desire conceives it gives birth to sin, and when finished sin gives birth to death." There is an escalation from evil desire to sin and eventually to death. But James is not fatalistic about sin and death because he closes his letter saying, "Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover a multitude of sin." There is hope that someone can be turned back to the truth.

John's "sin not unto death" and "sin unto death" seem to be in agreement with James. Sin will lead to death, but there is time to turn back. It isn't that there are lists of minor and major sins. It is that sin, like a disease, progresses until it accomplishes death. Sin destroys man's relationship to God. In fact, sin always, in some capacity, supplants God in our lives. John drives this home in the last sentence of this letter, saying, "Sons, guard yourselves from idols."  Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul talks about overcoming temptation saying, “Flee idolatry.” Paul told the Colossians that greed was the same as idolatry. Sin effectively replaces God’s will with our own, and this leads us away from God and ultimately to death. The nature of sin is still attitude even when it is played out in our actions.

James talks about turning a sinner back to the truth, but John tells us how, ". . . pray, and God will give him life."