Blog Note: Repeat Email Updates

Friends, if you are subscribed to my blog via email through Feedreader, you have probably gotten multiple email updates for the same blog posts in the last couple weeks. I apologize for that and I am working on the problem! In the meantime, if you want to change the way you receive updates, you can scroll all the way to the bottom of this page and click the “FOLLOW” button to receive email updates directly from WordPress.

If you are experiencing a problem with Feedreader, please drop a note in the comments or email me to let me know what blog(s) have repeatedly shown up in your inbox.

Thank you and I apologize for any inconvenience!

Roundup of Posts on Scripture Application Questions

Over the past several days, I wrote several posts about questions to ask to help with meditating on and praying Scripture. Ultimately, these questions help us to aid in heart-level application of Scripture. This is the only kind of application that will have lasting value. Now, these questions are not the only ones we should ask, but they are important ones. For quick reference, here are the links to those posts with a brief summary.

From General Principles to Christ’s Fulfillment

When we read the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, we often find a general principle that we want to immediately apply. For example, the Bible says, “Don’t lie.” So we put down the Scripture and “apply” this passage by saying, “Ok. I won’t lie.” Then we pray, “God help me not lie today.”

This is only a partial way to apply the Bible. If we just say, “The law says I need to be just, so I’m going to be just,” then we neglect that Christ fulfills the Scriptures and we make the Bible first about us, rather than about Jesus. We must switch the order! We must do the prior work of understanding how Christ fulfills it first. Only then can we go on to applying general principles. 

Take Leviticus 19:9-10 for example:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.

The general principle is obviously “don’t be greedy, be generous, etc.” (or something like that). This is right and God demands this of us. The New Testament reinforces it (Matt. 5:42; 1 Tim. 6:18). It would be a failure to apply this in a Christ-centered way for us to say, “Okay, I need to be generous, so I’ll go out and do that.”

We know that we must first understand how this testifies to Jesus (see John 5:39; Luke 24:24-27, 44). If not, then we simply make the passage about “what we must do” rather than first “what Christ has done.” This “gleaning” law in Leviticus is in the context of the Mosaic covenant. Israel failed to keep this law perfectly and, of course, the whole law perfectly. We have also failed to keep it. We have even failed our own personal and modern civil laws concerning generosity—no one is as generous as they should be. But not Jesus—he has fulfilled this individual rule, and the whole law, completely. Though Jesus did not have a literal field of his own to share with the poor, we know that Jesus, though he had the riches of heaven at his disposal, he left them and became poor that we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). As you may have heard before, “Jesus did not tithe his blood. He gave it all.”

Thus the principle (“be generous”) is seen most fully in Jesus who did not leave a little margin for the poor, but gave his whole life. He did not horde his harvest gleanings, but lost his inheritance on the cross so that we might be heirs with him. Only when we see Jesus doing this and worship him because of it, will we be generous people. Through the Spirit’s inner working, this fuels our desire and ability to become the generous people God wants us to be. 

So consider these questions to help move from general principles to Christ-centered application that fuels repentance, faith, and worship:

  • What’s the general principle?
  • What is the immediate context of this principle (time, location, covenant, etc.)?
  • How have I broken this too? What heart idol am I worshiping when I do this? (See last post.)
  • Does the New Testament reinforce or modify this principle?
  • How does Jesus uniquely fulfill this for me in a way I never could?
  • How does the Spirit empower me by grace to walk in obedience?

How would you phrase these questions? What ones would you add that have been helpful to you? 

Jesus, the Greater Satisfaction

Last week, I wrote two posts (1, 2) with questions to ask when you read the Bible. Today, I want us to think about how to identify the false gods we worship and seek Christ as a greater affection as it relates to Bible reading.

In any particular situation, we sin because we do not truly believe the gospel. There is some part of us that is still not fully redeemed and we therefore put our hope in things other than God. We have, in the words of the First Commandment, other gods before us. The Bible calls these other gods “idols.” Therefore, when we are asking questions to aid our meditation and prayer, we need to understand how to find the “sin beneath the sin.”

Think about this example. If I am told to not be harsh with my children (Eph. 6:4) the problem is not simply that I might yell at my kids from time to time. Yelling is a symptom of the harshness that lives in my heart. But what is the cause, the root issue? Where is the anger coming from? There is an idol (i.e. false god, a greater affection than Christ) that I am looking to for salvation. It may be that I think I deserve the right to a quiet night (comfort idol). It may be that I feel that their misbehavior makes me look or feel inadequate (reputation or approval idol). It may the that I feel they shame the family when they act a certain way (family idol). The external behavior of our sin is never the main problem. It’s always the heart. I don’t just get angry for anger’s sake. I get angry because I am worshiping a false god. 

When reading any passage, you must find out what the passage exposes in your attitude, behavior, and emotions, and then uncover what idol lies beneath it. Thinking about it this way might help (thank you, Tim Keller):

  • Power idol.“I only have worth/meaning when I am in control of ______.”
  • Approval idol. “I only have worth/meaning when ______ approves of me.”
  • Comfort idol. “I only have worth/meaning when things works out to my liking.”
  • Family idol. “I only have worth/meaning when my family is functioning well or if they are happy with me.”
  • Dependence idol. “I only have worth/meaning when ______ keeps me safe.”
  • Achievement idol. “I only have worth/meaning if I can achieve ______.”
  • Helping idol. “I only have worth/meaning if others need me to help them.”
  • Political idol. “I only have worth/meaning if my ideals/candidates/issues makes progress.”
  • Reputation idol. “I only have worth/meaning if I succeed at ______.”
  • Theological idol. “I only have worth/meaning if others embrace my beliefs/convictions.”
  • Money idol. “I only have meaning if I have a certain amount of money in the bank.”
  • _____ idol. The human heart is an idol factory, said John Calvin. Fill in the blank.

Ultimately, we have idols because they are more attractive to us than Jesus. When we fail to be compliant with Scripture, it’s not that we experience a cognitive dilemma. The problem is not that we fail to remember what God told us to do. It’s that we love something more than Jesus in the moment. Here are several questions we can ask after we have identified idols to move toward repentance and faith and love for Jesus:

  • What is more attractive to me about ______ than Jesus?
  • What things (i.e. triggers) propel me toward looking to _______ instead of Jesus?
  • How does Jesus meet my need in a way ______ cannot?
  • Why should Jesus be a superior satisfaction?
  • What specifics in the passage—or in other passages—bring me to worship Jesus for who he is and what he’s done?
  • What specifics in the passage give me the grace I need to fight this idol and walk in obedience?

How would you phrase these questions? What ones would you add that have been helpful to you? Be sure to check back in a couple days for one last post on questions to ask when reading the Bible. 

Law & Gospel: Four Questions

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Yesterday, I wrote a post on how to ask questions that facilitate meditation and prayer when you are reading Scripture. In that post, the focus was on the character of God (utilizing the A-C-T-S acronym): What is God like? What does a text reveal about him? The questions below are related, but slightly nuanced: what does God require of us? This nuance gets at weight of the law and the glory of the gospel. It’s important to recognize this when reading Scripture, so let me briefly explain this concept known as “Law and Gospel.”

In some way, every Bible text is calling us to be something, feel something, believe something, or do something. This is law. (Note: This is often implicit, but because the Bible is a covenant document between God and his people, every part of Scripture is designed to conform us to be a certain kind of people.) Yet the problem is that we are unable to do what Scripture commands in ourselves. However, in his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus fulfills the law on our behalf, takes the punishment we deserve, and is raised to life triumphant. This is gospel–good news! Finally one has overcome sin and death! He has earned God’s favor because he, unlike us, did obey God’s law. And he has turned away God’s wrath because he, unlike us, satisfied God’s wrath on the cross. When we receive this gospel and it takes root in our lives, we are transformed from the inside-out. We participate in Jesus’ victory with him and are now empowered by God’s Spirit to actually do what God requires.

Thus the law drives us to the gospel, and the gospel frees us to obey the law. As you read Scripture and come across laws, commands, exhortations, etc., ask yourself the following four questions.

  1. What am I required to be/do/feel/think, etc.?
  2. Why can’t I do this? How do I specifically struggle with this?
  3. How did Jesus do this in my place (think of specifics from the New Testament)?
  4. How does the Spirit now transform me to obey from the heart?

How would you phrase these questions? What ones would you add that have been helpful to you? Be sure to check back in a couple days for more questions.