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Archive for Grace

The Fountain Head of Grace

God has given us the great privilege to have been born and raised in arguably the greatest nation on this earth – the United States of America. It is my view that my homeland is greater than Greece, the mighty Roman Empire, and even Babylon, in their prime. As incredible as this may sound, one of the strangest incidents in Scripture holds the key for the founding of this country.  I speak of Ham’s involvement with Noah, his drunken father recorded in Genesis 9.  Noah gave a prophecy which I believe holds the key to all of human history – but in particular to the history of the United States of America. This history is fleshed out in the identity and dispersion of the seventy nations which are the product of Noah’s three sons, Ham, Shem, and Japheth (Gen. 10-11). Understanding who these nations were and where many of them ended up is crucial in the formation of world history.

 

Bible students have spent much time focused on the meaning and purpose of the words “cursed be Canaan” – and rightly so. But this attention has lessened the impact of two other parts of the prophecy. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem.May God enlarge Japheth and may he dwell in the tents of Shem” (Gen. 9:26-27).  Here is the basis for the genealogical line of the Lord Jesus Christ and the people who will be used of God to bring Him into the world and to help Him achieve His purpose. Zero in on the words, “Blessed be YHWH, the Elohim (the living creator God) of Shem.” In order to understand this more clearly, we must go back to the fountainhead spring – the original source for God’s water of life.

 

Remember that this water of life stream began with Abel, who brought to God the right sacrifice of blood. Both brothers, Cain and Abel realized that God had covered their parents with animal skins (Gen. 3:21). This had to stick in their memories. These skins covered the couple’s fig leaf clothing and clearly marked God’s way back to the garden. The boys obviously knew that these coverings had been taken from animals who had been killed. When it was time for the boys to sacrifice to God, Abel seized on that event and brought a blood offering. Cain brought an offering of the work of his own hands. The Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain, and his. Cain became very angry (Gen. 4:3-5)! But why? They both had the same info. The answer is clear!  Cain rebelled. Cain knew what God required, yet he rebelled. He had probably reasoned in his heart, “I will bring my own sacrifice.” Do the words “I will be like God” ring a bell? God gave Cain a window of time to make things right. God told Cain that sin was at the door ready to consume him, but he must conquer it (Gen. 3:7). Conquering it meant bringing the right offering. But Cain would not! Cain’s rejection caused him to be furious with God, and his seething anger and crushed pride drove him to kill his bother Abel.

 

There was much more to the scene than meets the eye. John said that “Cain was of the wicked one” (1 Jn. 3:12). Satan was the force behind Cain’s rebellious offering. Jesus called Abel a prophet. Prophets speak for God though it is never recorded that Abel said anything.  Abel spoke through his offering. He made the right sacrifice (Matt. 23:35; Heb. 11:4).  Amazing! God was not shocked. He simply moved around Cain and plugged His stream of living water into Seth (God’s appointed one), Adam’s third son (Gen. 4:25).  The living water then flowed from Seth’s generation to Enosh (weak, no power in self). It was through Seth’s people and the people of Enosh that people began to call upon the Lord before the flood (Gen. 4:26; 1 Cor. 1:26-31).  The water kept flowing to the generation of Mahalalel (praise of God) and then through Cainan (deplorable) to the generation of Jared (decent). Jared’s name reminds us that God will always have a people throughout all of human history.

 

No matter how dark life gets, God always reserves for Himself a people (1 Kings 19:18). God’s line moved through Enoch (to put trust in God) who walked with God and was not, because God took him (Gen. 5:23-24).  Jude wrote that Enoch preached against the sin that was moving quickly to take over the world (Jude 14-15).  God may have removed Enoch from the earth in order to spare his life. This is a beautiful picture of the Rapture that will keep believers from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 3:10).  Methuselah means “when he’s dead, it [the flood] will come.” God passed the living water to Noah (Gen. 4:25-5:21). Noah’s ark landed on Mount Ararat and Shem, Ham, and Japheth and their families stepped off on dry land (Gen. 8:18).  The first thing that Noah did was to build an altar and offer a sacrifice to God. Noah knew without question Who had miraculously spared him and his family. And he paused to give glory to Him. This is always a good idea! More to come. Blessings!

 

Amazing Grace!

What happened to the curse of the law?  “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having blotted out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, and contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross” (Col. 2:13-14). The curse imposed by God’s Holy Law was erased at Calvary!

 

By bearing in His body the curse of the law, Jesus Christ fulfilled completely what He said He had come to do. “Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). Because of His sinless life, He met the righteous demands of the law because He kept it perfectly. By His death on the cross, He filled-full the just demands of the Law in that He bore its curse, satisfying forever the divine justice of the judgment of death demanded by God. He did not leave one ounce of God’s divine judgment against our sin unsatisfied. This is the very basis for the teaching of the grace of God. There is absolutely nothing we can add or remove. To think we can add to it is satanic to the core.

 

I was attempting to repair a ceiling fan at my mother-in-law’s home. It is an old home, and the wiring is antiquated. I really thought the power had been turned off, so I reached down and connected two hot wires. I saw the most beautiful blue flash and heard a distinct ringing in my ears. All the power in the house went off. Needless to say, there was a violent electrical reaction. There was, likewise, a violent spiritual reaction on Calvary’s tree when the Son of God bore the curse of the law for me. God spiritually touched His law to my sin which had been placed on Christ. God’s holy law immediately judged me in the death of His Son.  When this happened, the curse of the law, like the lights in my mother-in-law’s home, went out. The curse of the law was completely done away with because it had done all that it could do. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4).

 

The law serves as tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24). At that point, the law has done what the law was designed by God to do – to convict of sin and point to Christ. What then? After faith comes, there is no longer the need for a tutor.  The necessity for the schoolmaster had passed (Gal. 3:25). The law was never designed to make anyone a son. So how do we become sons? “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26). We could never become sons of God by keeping a list of statutes or religious instructions, rules or regulations, orders or ordinances, codes or commands. Laws cannot give life.

 

By faith in Jesus Christ we become sons of God, not slaves. There are a number of differences between a son and a slave. A son has a father, but a slave has a master. A son has the same nature as the father, but a slave does not have the nature of his master. The son is connected by blood to the father, but the slave is not related to the master. A son obeys out of love, but the slave obeys out of fear. “Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so, we were children of the world in bondage under the elements of the world” (Gal. 4:1-3).

 

But there was a point in time when we became who we always were – children of God by faith in Jesus Christ. God always knew His children – even when we were lost and undone. The Christian life becomes a father/child relationship. As a Christian, we have the wonderful privilege of referring to God as our Father. We can come to Him crying, “Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). We do not live our Christian life by rules but by relationship. When faith in Jesus Christ comes, we are no more children under the watch-care of a slave, but we become a part of God’s family through adoption as His children with all the rights and privileges which that relationship brings. The child who is a son, unlike the slave, owns the whole estate. Those of us who have believed in Christ are no longer under the dominion of the law. We are saved and disciplined by grace. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14). Amazing grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, Was blind but now I see. Blessings!  

Partial Knowledge Until . . .

There is coming a time for Israel when God will comfort those who mourn in Zion and give beauty for ashes (Isa. 61:3).  It appears that Israel, God’s chosen people, have been left on the ash pit of history (Deut. 7:6-10). Not so!  The Jews will once again be at the head of the table and not the foot.

Romans 11 stands high above the fray when discussing Israel’s future. Paul asked a simple but extremely important question: “Has God cast away His people?” He shouted with his pen, “Certainly not!” Paul was living proof. To make his point crystal clear, he mentioned that he was from the seed of Abraham and that he was of the tribe of Benjamin. He was obviously making the case for his Jewishness and not the fact that he had become a new creation in Christ (Rom. 11:1-2).  

Paul used Elijah’s experience at Mt. Carmel as an illustration of God’s preserving a Jewish remnant. God had aligned Elijah against the prophets and priests of the pagan god, Baal. Elijah posed an ultimatum to the Jews hiding in caves. If Baal is God, serve him, but if Yahweh is God, serve Him. After the gods of the prophets of Baal failed to produce a fire, Elijah asked the living God to send down fire from heaven. God responded with a fire that consumed the sacrifice and the entire altar. It was a graphic, powerful victory for Elijah and the Jews (1 Kings 18:25–39).

After the victory, Queen Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah, and he ran like a scared child. Lying on his face, he cried out to God, reminding Him he was all alone – as if God needed the information. God’s response was clear. “Get up, Elijah!” God said that He had reserved 7,000 people for Himself. This was sovereign choice. It can mean nothing else. God had set apart for Himself a specific number of Jews who had not worshipped false gods. Does one think that God asked the 7,000 if they wanted to be set apart or not?  God had reserved for Himself a remnant. There will always be a remnant, according to God’s election of grace (Rom. 11:5–6).

There is a believing remnant of Jews in the church today. They are both the physical descendants and the spiritual descendants of Abraham. In Romans 9:6, when Paul said that not all Israel is Israel, he meant that not all Jews believed in the Messiah (by faith), so not all of them were being born like Isaac. Many Jews still held on to the law to give them life. This was not going to happen. God made Isaac happen by faith, not by keeping the law. Only God could make Sarah’s dead womb alive and give Abraham’s dead body the seed necessary to birth Isaac.

Paul was teaching that the Jew is not a Jew – outwardly – because of circumcision. Physical circumcision is a sign, a symbol of real circumcision – a circumcision of the heart. This spiritual circumcision is a spiritual severing of the flesh from the spirit (Romans 2:28–29).  Physical circumcision cannot give life. This life can only come through the Spirit of the living God. There were then and there are today many sincere Jews depending upon their keeping the law and their physical connection to Abraham by circumcision to give them life before God. It will never happen!  

In Galatians 6:16, Paul referred to saved Jews as “the Israel of God.” He was not saying that the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan for the ages. Not at all!  There are Jews today who are believing the gospel thus rejecting the religion of the Pharisees. They are being given life like Isaac. They are Jews who are indeed the Israel of God. Paul quoted Hosea to remind us that Gentiles, who were once on the outside, were now sons of the living God” (Rom. 9:26). This miracle happened only because of Israel’s blindness (Rom. 11:11-33). Paul quoted the prophet Isaiah, saying that though the number of the children of Israel were as many as the sand of the sea, the remnant would be saved. Paul used the article “the” to single out that remnant. Quoting Isaiah again, Paul said of the Jews that unless God had left them a physical line, they would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah (Rom. 9:27–29).

The vast majority of the Jews, during Paul’s day and even today, are still in unbelief.  A remnant of Jews is being saved, but as a whole, most are wandering about in a God-inflicted, blind stupor. And blind they will remain “in part until.” “In part” is a fraction and “until” is a time word. Only a fraction of the Jews will be saved until the fulness of the Gentiles comes in, at which point “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). Paul called this a mystery, and a mystery it is.

Many Gentiles are receiving God’s grace all around them, yet as a nation the Jews remain oblivious to what is happening. One day God will remove the blindness and the Jews will see. The Carpenter from Nazareth – He is the One. They will then be grafted back into their own olive tree (Rom. 11:24). They will be given beauty for ashes. Amazing! 

 

Grace in the Life of Mephibosheth

by John Howell, Jr.

2017 Glimpses of Grace Conference

This is the transcript of a message delivered by John Howell, Jr. at the 2017 Glimpses of Grace Conference.

 

 I. Introduction: How would you define “grace”?

We know from the Bible that, if you are a child of God, you are a beneficiary of something called “grace.” It is the word in our language associated with how God saves sinners, so it is a word of extreme significance. We use the word “grace” quite a bit, and we often sing out this word in our songs of praise.  Nevertheless, I am convinced we scarcely begin to understand how amazing is God’s grace. God issued forth His grace in order to save us sinners. Grace is what erupted from the cross, and flows mightily even now. Grace is what happened when God’s justice met God’s love in that sacrifice of the Lamb. “For by grace are ye saved through faith…” (Eph. 2:8).

I am quick to tell people that “grace” is my favorite word. But, I struggle to define grace in a way that describes this concept sufficiently. I know we can point to the acrostic G-R-A-C-E and say, “Grace is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.” We can also use the helpful word play: “Justice is getting what I deserve. Mercy is not getting what I deserve. Grace is getting what I do not deserve.” But, really, do these attempts to explain give me a rich, full definition of God’s grace.

How would you describe God’s saving grace?

There is some good news for those who truly want to understand the beauty and scope of God’s grace. In the Bible, grace is defined and “fleshed out” through real-life events and actions of real-life people (the Word of God is living and powerful! Heb. 4:12). So, to assist our limited mental reach, God has been “gracious” to show us what grace looks like, so that our hearts and minds can get a better grasp on His grace. As you study the Word, be looking for those living, breathing illustrations of this majestic attribute of God that we call “grace.”

 

II. Grace in the Life of Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9)

A pitiful existence

 Mephibosheth’s life was sad and painful until King David sought him and showered much grace into his life.

The grandson of Saul and son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth was born in a time of great conflict. King Saul lost his mind and was often on the offensive against David and men who were loyal to David. Saul was also on the defensive against Israel’s traditional enemies, the Philistines. After Saul and his son Jonathan were killed by the Philistines, a period of civil war ignited between Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Saul’s son Ish-boseth attempted to keep the throne but was assassinated. In this time of violence, Mephibosheth was a five year old boy. A nurse attempted to help the child flee the violence as Saul’s short-lived dynasty was crumbling, Mephibosheth suffered a fall which inflicted a serious injury that damaged both feet and crippled him for life.

As was prophesied, David ascended to the throne, eventually unifying Israel and Judah. Nothing is heard about Mephibosheth for many years. One can imagine that he had a bleak life, enduring a severe handicap as well as a realistic fear that he could be assassinated! In this time, descendants of a former king were usually eliminated by the new king to avoid any possibility of rebellion by those loyal to the former king. That was the code of conduct for this period. Mephibosheth, as the grandson of Saul, would never have been able to rest comfortably, and probably spent a lot of time looking over his shoulder, maybe even in hiding. As a crippled man, he was defenseless. As a descendant of Saul, Mephibosheth would also have no claim on any former property or wealth due to the downfall of the family.

So the man Mephibosheth was crippled and impoverished. As the last survivor of Saul’s family, he was always aware that he was operating on borrowed time.

Grace behind the scenes

Though Mephibosheth likely had little hope for joy and meaning in his life, there were some things that he did not know or fully understand—very important information about his daddy (Jonathan) and King David.

God in His sovereignty had knitted the hearts of David and Jonathan in a beautiful friendship when they were growing up. Despite Saul’s hatred for David, Saul’s own son, Jonathan, deeply loved David. What’s more, Jonathan respected the plan of God, which called for the leadership of Israel to shift from Saul to David. Jonathan’s loyalty to David on occasion saved David’s very life as Jonathan helped David avoid the insane violence of Saul. In return, Jonathan’s request to David was this: “If I continue to live, show me kindness from the LORD, but if I die, don’t ever withdraw your kindness from my household—not even when the LORD cuts off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth” (1 Samuel 20:14-15). Jonathan and David then made a covenant, centered around that request from Jonathan. Why did David do this? David made this covenant because he loved Jonathan “as he loved himself” (1 Sam. 20:17).

Years after that covenant was struck, this beautiful, godly friendship still lived in David’s heart. The kingdom had been established, and David’s enemies had indeed been “cut off” as Jonathan had prophesied. Reminiscing, David’s thoughts turned to Jonathan. “David asked, ‘Is there anyone remaining from the family of Saul I can show kindness to for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1). And then, learning that there was a remaining descendant, David turned those thoughts of love into actions of grace!

This is what grace looks like!

Through an elderly servant of Saul’s former estate (property now controlled by David, of course), David learned that Jonathan’s son Mephiboseth had survived the bloody years and now lived as an adult at Lo-Debar under the charity of a man named Machir. So David had Mephibosheth fetched from that location and brought to the king.

Don’t you know those were some anxious moments for Mephibosheth! Logically, he would have concluded that David perceived him as a potential threat. Mephibosheth probably thought that he was being summonsed to his imprisonment, or worse! Here is the scene when Mephibosheth finally arrived in Jerusalem and made his way into the very presence of the king: “Mephibosheth son of Jonathan son of Saul came to David, fell facedown, and paid homage. David said, ‘Mephibosheth!” ‘I am your servant,” he [Mephibosheth] replied” (2 Samuel 2:6).

What a scene! The poor, crippled descendent of an untrustworthy former king brought into the presence of the mighty King David. Mephibosheth’s life was in David’s hands. What was about to happen to him? This man was frightened and not hiding it. David’s first instructions to him: “Don’t be afraid.” Huh? What’s going on? David explains, “’Don’t be afraid,’” David said to him, ‘since I intend to show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan…’” (2 Sam. 9:7a).

So here is the message from David to the crippled man: “Mephibosheth, you are not in danger. You are not unwanted. Mephibosheth, I have brought you into my court to show you checed (an important Hebrew word for lovingkindness/grace) because of a covenant and a friendship I had with your father Jonathan.”

Whoa! Imagine Mephibosheth’s mind trying to process this development. But wait, there’s more! David continues, “I will restore to you all your grandfather Saul’s fields, and you will always eat meals at my table” (2 Sam. 9:7s).

Friends, this is grace. This is mind-blowing, inexplicable, beautiful grace. Mephibosheth is not hated. He is not in trouble. He is not in danger. He is now loved and protected. Mephibosheth is no longer poor and an outcast. He is now wealthy! Very wealthy! The estate and property of King Saul was now to be transferred to his ownership. Verses 9 and 10 reveal that David instructs a capable manager, Ziba (who formerly served Saul, and who also had 15 sons and 20 servants in his employ), to manage Saul’s fields on behalf of Mephibosheth,. This meant that Mephibosheth’s job would be to just pick up the check when the harvest was sold. And the icing on the cake: Mephibosheth would eat all of his meals from this point forward at the table of David and his family. David orders Ziba to carry out the work and tells him again how it all will work: “But Mephibosheth, your master’s grandson, is always to eat at my table” (2 Sam. 9:10).

This helps me to wrap my mind around the concept of grace. Grace brings off-the-charts blessings. Grace brings mysterious, humbling, unexpected outcomes. Grace actually is “getting what you don’t deserve.” If you and I can get in Mephibosheth’s mind at this point, as he digests David’s promises to him, we can get a glimpse of God’s grace. God’s grace is so amazing, so big, and so breathtaking that it takes scenes like this just to give us that glimpse.

The only proper response to grace

One key in the work of understanding God’s grace is to see just how unmerited it is and how unworthy are the recipients of His grace. Mephibosheth didn’t stick out his chest, take a big breath, and orate about the return of Saul’s glory. Mephibosheth didn’t let this stunned audience in David’s court know that it was about time that someone recognized Saul’s grandson as worthy of attention and honor. No, not all. Here is how he responded: “Mephibosheth paid homage and said, ‘What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me?” (2 Sam. 9:8).

Homage. Servant. Dead dog. Mephibosheth’s heart melted upon exposure to God’s grace. There was no response other than the proper response of brokenness and humility. There could be no label more humble or more crude than the label of a “dead dog,” especially in the culture of the Middle East.

At that moment, David didn’t respond by putting his boot on Mephibosheth’s prostrated body and say, “Boy, you got that right. I’m the grace-giver and you are nothing but a dead dog.” Instead, David just lavishes more grace as that is when he gives Ziba his instructions put his team to work for Mephibosheth’s business interests.

It’s just crazy beautiful to see grace flowing. But is also breathtakingly humiliating when God pours His grace into my life.

 

III. I am Mephibosheth

The parallels between Mephibosheth and me are spot-on. Look at this encounter in God’s Word again, and catch the truth of its application to me and to you.

A pitiful existence

Mephibosheth was in bad shape—crippled and a descendant of a disgraced dynasty. He was living a sad life and had a bleak future. Mephibosheth in this illustration from God’s Word represents me, and you. We are broken. As sinners, we are in bad shape. We come into this world spiritually dead to God. Romans 3 spells out just how bad our predicament is from the perspective of a holy God:

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one…for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10-12, 23).

Because of our sin, we deserve death and eternal separation from the holy God who created us. As sinners, we are in bad, bad shape. You and I are Mephibosheth.

Grace behind the scenes

Thankfully, just as grace enters this chapter through the heart of King David, grace enters into our rebellious, messy world through the heart of God. Consider something very, very important that went on behind the scenes, long before we lived, before this universe was even created.

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit put a plan into motion before the world was created whereby the Father covenanted to send the Son to come to this sinful world and to die on the cross for the sins of us all. God the Son convenanted to come, and to die this sacrificial death—the sinless lamb of God! God the Spirit covenanted to draw men, women, boys and girls to the Son. This mighty work of God is what is referred to in Hebrew 13:20 as the “blood of the everlasting covenant.” The result of this work of God is the mighty flow of something that the Word calls His grace!

This is what grace looks like

When King David saw Mephibosheth, he didn’t see a sad, crippled man from the lineage of a Saul (a guy who repeatedly tried to kill David!). Instead, when David saw Mephibosheth, he saw Jonathan, whom David dearly loved. Never once in this chapter do you hear David refer to Mephibosheth’s crippled condition. Instead, David said, “Fear not: for I will surely shew thee kindness for Jonathan thy father’s sake…” (2 Sam. 9:7a).

This is a picture of how God sees the person who is in Jesus Christ. When God looks at us, God sees His beloved Son. That is why the Bible tells us that the believer is clothed in “the garments of salvation” and covered with “the robes of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). What a manifestation of grace! In Christ, we are not seen as sinners of the race of the first broken Adam; we are seen by God as being in the last Adam, the righteousness One, Jesus Christ.

And grace keeps getting bigger and more spellbinding the more I study the Bible. Mephibosheth sat at the king’s table, and was given possession of Saul’s important and valuable estate. Likewise, because I am in Christ, God considers me to be His adopted son. And being in Christ, I have a seat at God’s table! Always and continually! I am a child of the King! I am the recipients of spiritual blessings and power, even now. And I am the recipient of eternal blessings.

The only proper response to grace

When King David poured grace onto the life of Mephibosheth, we see Mephibosheth respond by accepting this outpouring of grace in great humility. We don’t see Mephibosheth manifest any pride. We don’t see him attempt to do any negotiations with David, or in any way proclaim his own worthiness. No, we see that Mephibosheth “fell on his face, and did reverence” (v. 6) Mephibosheth responded to David by saying, “Behold, thy servant!” (v. 6). Mephibosheth submitted to David’s gracious authority by bowing before David and saying, “What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?” (v. 8).

Likewise, when the gospel is presented to a sinner, and the sinner learns that God provides forgiveness and eternal life through His Son, the sinner’s only proper and saving response is to bow down and show reverence, and say, “Behold, thy servant!” Who am I, Father, that thou shouldest look upon me, a dead dog of a sinner? The sinner accepts the grace that God has chosen to pour upon him, and he walks in newness of life, a saved man! A blessed man! A beneficiary of God’s amazing grace!

 

“For by grace are ye saved by faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking out of the Box

November 15, 2011

A seminary professor often said that if we are going to make an impact with the Word of God, we must allow the Spirit of God to move us to think outside the box.  He did not mean that we should think beyond what is written in Scripture but that we should seek through observation and meditation to fully grasp the truth that is revealed from what is written.

I would like to take such a step while thinking of God’s perfect creation and the fall of man.  What we learn about the sinfulness of our sin has tremendous bearing on what we eventually believe about His immeasurable grace. Let’s begin, well, at the beginning.  Believers should recognize that the God who created us became our Savior.  The one who saves us, the Lord Jesus Christ, has all the attributes of deity.  He is eternal, co-existent with God, and co-equal with God, just to name a few.  A life-changing, out-of-the-box glimpse of the miraculous God that we serve is the realization that the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the very one who created us. The Bible says that all things were made by Him (John 1:3); by Him were all things created (Colossians 1:16); and God made the worlds by Him (Hebrews 1:2).

Since all things means all things, the words, “In the beginning God created” take on a fresh new meaning.  These words imply that the first works of creation recorded in the Bible – the heavens, the earth, the light, the plants and animals – were accomplished with the direct involvement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It follows, then, that He was also involved in the creation of Adam.

Now we are walking freely out of the box. God’s words, “Let Us make man in our image, according to Our likeness” has enormous implications. Catch this glimpse! The “Us” points to our Trinitarian God’s participation in creating man and in particular the involvement of the Creator of all things, the Lord Jesus Christ. It has been assumed by many that when God said, “Let Us make man in our image, according to our likeness,” He was speaking of the invisible likeness of personality. This is because the Bible makes clear that God is spirit, and spirits have no visible characteristics.  While likeness could very well point to unseen spiritual traits, image does make one think of a physical feature. It is possible that the second person of the Trinity appeared in a recognizable preincarnate form in the Old Testament.

Although Jehovah took upon Himself a human body in Bethlehem, that may not have been the first time that He revealed Himself in a recognizable form. Think of the first wedding – when Jehovah walked Eve down the isle to the man, so to speak.  We read that God fashioned Adam’s rib into a woman and “He brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:22). Is it possible that Adam saw a preincarnate form of the Creator? It is hard to imagine a disembodied spirit presenting a woman to a man.

Following their rebellion against God by eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve heard the sound of Jehovah God walking in the garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Adam heard someone walking! It is difficult to conceive that a spirit could make walking noises as he approached. The guilt of the fallen couple impelled them to hide from God among the trees in the garden. How could one hope to hide from a spirit?

The first visible act of God in providing grace is recorded for us. Adam and Eve had compensated for their new feeling of guilt before God by stitching for themselves designer clothes made of fig leaves (Genesis 2:7). Their clothing did not meet with God’s approval, however, so He made tunics of skin, and clothed them (Genesis 3:21). Again, it is difficult to imagine a spirit stitching clothes and then putting them on someone.

What conclusions can we draw from God’s work as a tailor? First it was an obvious contrast to the couple’s tailor work. Second, it was God who initiated the gracious act. The couple was not asked whether or not they desired the clothes.  Finally, it was God who did the work.  He obviously killed animals – and this was long before the Mosaic Law was given. The picture given the reader is the very first foreshadowing of God’s future work in Jesus Christ.

Now back to the subject of Jesus Christ being the Creator of all things.  The Bible says that Jehovah Elohim formed man from the dust of the ground and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).  There may have been more to this creative act than meets the human eye. God created us as triune beings made of body, soul, and spirit (1Thessalonians 5:23).

God first created the visible part. One can just visualize the Lord Jesus Christ hovering over a large lump of clay like a potter would do and then reaching down and picking up slabs and shaping it. Slowly the clay began to take the shape of man. Then we picture the divine Potter creating the inward, invisible parts, leaning down and exhaling His breath into the nostrils of that clay form. At that moment, Adam awakened as a conscious being.  The lifeless lump of clay received life from God.

Again, out of the box we go! What is the true meaning of the English translation the “breath of life” in Genesis 2:7?  The original text of the Old Testament is the Hebrew language. The Hebrew manuscripts are those writings that are truly God breathed and totally inerrant. While it is true that the translators rendered the phrase “breath of life,” and surely they had reasons to do so, the literal Hebrew says that God breathed into the man the “breath of lives,” plural.

“Breath of lives” in the Hebrew is nephesh chayyim. Chayyim is a plural Hebrew word. In order to make a word plural in English, we simply add and “s” or an “es.” At the risk of sounding exceedingly simple, we could have one pear or two pears; one house or two houses. In order to make a Hebrew word plural, “im” is added. One might think of one cherub (angelic being) or two cherubim (two angelic beings), or one seraph (one angelic being) or two seraphim (two angelic beings).  You get the idea. God actually breathed into Adam the breath of lives.

In contrast, God had earlier created the animals giving to them nephesh chay, the breath of life (Genesis 1:21).  This is the major way that animals differ from humans. True to our triune nature, Jesus Christ created Adam with a body and then breathed into him a soul with an attached human spirit.  The animals do not have this human spirit. The words soul and spirit are often used interchangeably in the scripture, but there is a difference. The writer of Hebrews says that the word of God is living and powerful and sharp enough even to divide the soul from the spirit (Hebrews 4:12). This implies that they are not the same!

Allow me a little speculation. The soul connects human beings to the earth, giving them the ability to know, to feel, and to choose, in the earthly realm. It provides the appetites for securing food, shelter, protection, and the desire to procreate. In man the soul also had the human spirit attached to it. Adam’s soul connected him to the earthy realm, but his human spirit linked him to God.

Before the fall, Adam had ability and the desire to think and to reason accurately, not only about worldly things but also about heavenly things. Said simply, human beings were created to know God. Their living human spirits gave them the ability to appreciate their relationship with God and to choose to continue in it. With this knowledge, Adam understood the reason for God’s creation and in his innocence he knew that he was created to have dominion over the earth.

After his sin – as God had warned – he died! He did not fall over dead physically, but his human spirit died toward God. He no longer had the ability to use his mind, emotion, or will toward God. As a result of their spiritual death, the fallen couple hid themselves from God. The residue left upon them was still the image of godlikeness, but it was a defective image. Adam and Eve continued with their human appetites in tact and their intelligence – the ability to think and to reason, to feel and to choose in a limited earthy realm – but still far beyond that of the animals. Adam and Eve had become natural, soulish human beings. This is the very nature that this fallen couple passed to all generations of the human race (Romans 5:12). All sinned and died in Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22).

We are all born with Adam’s death image upon us. The fallen race has the desire to worship gods, but they worship gods coming from their own corrupt imagination. Paul wrote that the soulish person “cannot understand the things of God (human ability) neither can he know them (human ability) for they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  In clothing the first couple with the animal skins, God established a prototype. If we want to know how God saves today it would not be a bad idea to go back to His original pattern.

God must initiate salvation. The spiritually dead can do nothing to help.  He does not clothe us with animal skins as an act of His saving grace, but He does clothe us. He clothes us with His special sacrifice. The fall did not catch God by surprise. He prepared a Lamb before He created the world (1 Peter 1:20). He eventually gave that Lamb to die on a Roman cross for us, and then He raised Him from the dead (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 4:25).  He lovingly calls us to Himself as a shepherd does his sheep and gives us the free gift of faith to place in His Lamb (John 6:37-39; John 10:28; Ephesians 2:8-9). He then wraps tightly those believing in His Lamb with the covering of the Lamb. Every believer is said to be “in Christ” (Galatians 3:26-28).  This is thinking out of the box.