1 Timothy chapter 1

The first letter to Timothy gives the Apostle Paul’s instructions to a young pastor. Timothy’s job was to teach people the gospel and urge people to trust Jesus Christ and live thankful lives in obedience to the one who rescued them from sin and death.

In reminding Timothy of his responsibilities, Paul first deals with false ideas that must be corrected.

These false ideas embolden people to abandon the good news (and so becoming ‘shipwrecked’), and instead to trust in their pedigree or their keeping of God’s law. This is why Paul refers to the vanity of genealogies (my mum/dad was so-and-so, and so I’m fine) and the unlawful use of the law (I did such-and-such, and so I’m fine).

Paul indicates that the law is not for good people, because the only person whose whole life may be called ‘good’ is our Lord Jesus Christ. The law is for bad people like us.

Paul then gives a list of bad behaviour of which the law is intended to convict us. We need to know our ‘bad’ before we can see the ‘good’ in the gospel.

In this list, Paul identifies bad attitudes and actions: disrespect for God, lack of submission to him, slanderous talk, murder of parents (the extreme end of ‘not honouring’), sexual sins, kidnapping, lying and the rest.

Paul says that church people who are indulging any of these sorts of sins are acting against pure teaching. That is, either they do not really believe that the law applies to them, or that they think God’s free mercy in Christ is a licence to do any wicked thing that they might wish.

In opposition to this, Paul says that God’s mercy to bad people like him (Paul called himself the ‘chief of sinners’) creates real changes in the attitudes and behaviours of those who are in Christ. While we are still sinners, we become saints by the new birth. We should be people who keep confessing and turning from our sins, not people who glory in our sins.

If the Lord Jesus Christ, who became a man to live a truly good life to replace our bad lives, to die in order to take responsibility for our sin, and to rise to give us righteousness so that we are pleasing to God — if Christ did all that for us, and we know it — then our lives ought to be conformed more and more to his pattern. He saves bad people that they might do good in this world for his glory.

As Paul writes elsewhere, there is no room for Christian boasting, except boasting of Christ and his doing, dying and rising for us. Timothy’s job was to remind church people of these things.

Not all disciples are Christians

Just to be clear from the beginning, this post is not about how disciples of Plato are not Christians. Nor is it about the fact that disciples of Islam or Buddha or Hinduism are not Christians. I intend discussing the proposition that being a disciple (the term means ‘learner’ or ‘student’) of Jesus Christ does not necessarily mean a person is a Christian.

Why should I bother with such a topic? Mainly because the Bible bothers with the topic.

In the first few verses of Matthew 18, we have the disciples of Jesus asking him which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Our Lord Jesus replies by setting a child before them and saying. ‘l tell you the truth, unless you be converted (changed), and become like children, you will in no way enter the kingdom of heaven.’

In this statement, Jesus is not simply telling Christians to be humble if they wish to be great, nor is he saying that humility itself is greatness.

In fact, this is a ‘Nicodemus’ moment. These disciples were told that they were being presumptuous. They were wondering which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven in the mistaken belief that they were already within the kingdom. Jesus words indicate that things were not as the disciples imagined.

He said. ‘unless you be converted, and became like children, you will in no way enter the kingdom of heaven’. They thought they were in, but Jesus — the one who would know — said, ‘No, you are not yet in the kingdom of heaven. You must be changed.’ This looks all the world like the statement that Jesus made to Nicodemus. ‘Unless you are born again, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.’

Jesus is no respecter of persons. The same condition applies to all. These students of Jesus were not yet Christians, or, if you prefer, they were not yet saved people. They did not see themselves as weak and dependent. As yet, they were not born again.

There is, I think, sufficient corroborating evidence from Matthew and the other gospels to show that while the twelve were disciples, they had not yet received the gift of saving faith.

In Matthew 16:17, for example, Peter declares his faith that Jesus is the Christ. the Son of God. This conviction he received from the father. True enough, but notice what happens next. Jesus tells his disciples that he must be betrayed to the religious leaders, be condemned, die, and then rise from the dead.

This message, which is the Gospel, Peter utterly rejects at this time. This is no small matter. Jesus declares that Peter’s thinking is aligned with that of Satan. The evil one had suggested that Jesus might gain the kingdom without dying on the cross, and Peter thought that he could be in the kingdom as Jesus’ associate without the cross. Despite his faith in Jesus as the ‘Christ’, Peter at this stage rejected the idea that he needed saving. Jesus, however, knew how necessary it was. It is more than likely that Peter thought of Jesus as just a divine teacher/king who would establish an eternal kingdom for nice people like Peter.

You might notice that every time Jesus mentioned his going to Jerusalem to die, the disciples avoided those opportunities to ask what he meant, and often they changed the subject to ‘which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 17:22-23 & 18:1-4, Matthew 20:17-21, Luke 22:14-24). Even up to the point of Jesus’ death (and, it seems, even until they saw him alive again after he had suffered), the disciples exhibit clear signs that they were yet to receive the gift of regeneration. Except for Judas, the eleven did eventually come to trust Jesus Christ as he intended, but this required the powerful work of the Holy Spirit before it could happen.

We need to be sure, if we are disciples of Christ, that our only hope is Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on our behalf. We have been warned not to be presumptuous. We must see our great need of Christ’s saving work, and of our equally great need to be born again, if we are to have a part in the Kingdom of Heaven.

When people come knocking… Part 1 – Jehovah Witnesses

Talking to people about the good news of Jesus Christ is a vital (and it can be a joyful) part of Christian living. Not every Christian gets the same opportunities to do this. Some places have a cultural reluctance to talk about Christian teaching. In many areas of our lives we meet people who have a determined hardness against discussing the gospel. But occasionally, we meet people who are at least interested in talking about the Christian Bible and about Jesus Christ. Some even come to our front door to do so. I’m talking about Jehovah Witnesses and Mormon Elders. I’d like to encourage Christians, people who know the Lord Jesus Christ and love him in sincerity, to talk with these people. They have a zeal for God, but they don’t know Him. I’ve a few suggestions of things to talk about when they come knocking. This post will focus upon things to mention when talking to Jehovah Witnesses. There are so many ways in which JW people deviate from the Bible’s teaching. It is often hard to find a helpful topic upon which to speak. I usually concentrate on three areas:

  1. The absolute sovereignty of God in saving otherwise un-savable people.
  2. The divinity and humanity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
  3. The need for new birth if anyone is to be part of the Kingdom of God.

The first and second points tend to go together in my conversations with JWs. They have to do with our utter sinfulness and rebellion, and God’s extraordinary mercy, love and power. We are God’s creatures, but we disobey him daily. Even our best efforts fall short of righteousness and deserve death. More than this, because of Adam’s role as our representative before God, his failure is ours. In Adam we broke the agreement that God made with us. We have forfeited life and are bound over to death, everlasting death. We cannot do anything to save ourselves. But God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit made a second agreement between themselves. The Son of God would come as the second Adam to represent his people (Genesis 3:15). Jehovah-Jesus, as the Good Shepherd (compare Ezekiel 34 and John 10), would come and put right all that we had done wrong. Jehovah-Jesus would take to himself a human nature to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Jehovah-Jesus is Saviour; beside him there is no other saviour (Isaiah 43:11 and Acts 4:12). Our right standing with God depends completely on who Jesus is and what he has done for us. He alone is our righteousness. The third point is a gift from God to sinners. We cannot bring ourselves to new birth. It is the Holy Spirit’s work in applying the salvation, that Jesus won, to individual sinners. He brings us to new understandings and attitudes. He makes us a new creation in Christ Jesus. Our Lord Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again or he would not be able to enter, or even see (perceive/understand) the Kingdom of God. This is important, because the people from the Watch Tower organisation who come to your door will tell you that they are not born again. Yet, the place where they meet is called a Kingdom Hall. They say that they are in the kingdom (as long as they remain faithful and survive the final battle), but they say they are not born again. Only 144000 special Christians are re-born; the others are not. These others deny that they need to be born again. Against such thoughts, Jesus says that it is essential that people be born again, or they will never enter nor understand the kingdom of God. Note that before he was born again, Nicodemus did not understand or see the necessity of the new birth. Our JW friends are in the same condition as he was. They too need what Nicodemus received by God’s grace. They, along with anyone else who is saved, must be born again.

Some… will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God

Luke 9: 27

‘ I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God (coming in power).’

 This verse is much debated. Some think that ‘the kingdom of God’ is a reference to the transfiguration of Jesus, which Peter James and John were to witness. Others understand it as foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Again, some say it refers to the second coming of Christ. But, along with some other commentators, I believe Jesus is referring here to regeneration.  In other words, he is saying that some of the people there would become Christians.

 I think this is the best explanation because of what came before this statement.

 Jesus had asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter’s answer, ‘The Christ of God’, was the trigger for Jesus explaining what his mission was – that the ‘Christ must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders and high priests and scribes, and be killed, then rise on the third day.’

 All this talk of Jesus dying was too much for Peter. He thought to snap Jesus out of this morbid state of mind by a few strong words. By this reaction, Peter showed that he was not yet thinking about his relationship with Jesus in the right way. Peter thought that he was fine as he was. There was no need for Jesus to die in Peter’s opinion. Besides, it seems that the disciples at that time were looking for some kind of nationalistic salvation, and thought that Jesus would be a king like David who would deal with the Roman oppressors. This thinking had to change.

 Our Lord Jesus knew far better than Peter what was needed for Peter, and any one else, to be reconciled to God. Sin had to be dealt with. Later, in a garden, Jesus prayed that a cup might pass from him. It was the cup of God’s anger and judgment against sin. But Jesus knew that he must take that  cup in the place of his sinful people, if they were ever to be saved from the condemnation due to their sin.

 Jesus knew that his death and resurrection were necessary so that the Holy Spirit could apply the benefits of His finished work to people like Peter. Peter needed to be born again, to use the language of John chapter 3 and I Peter chapter 1, or he would never understand or enter the kingdom of God. Our Lord implied as much in his address to the crowd (Luke 9: 23 – 26).

 Jesus started his talk with the word ‘if’.

 ‘If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.’

 He was talking to a mixed crowd of people, and his message is one of repentance. His words declare that their lives are wrong, and they need to admit it to themselves. This sort of confession, if it is to be real and permanent, has to be the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. It is a turning from death to life. If left to ourselves, we would continue to have an all-too-good opinion of ourselves. Such a change as Jesus describes is effected only by regeneration or the new birth.

 At the new birth, a person abandons their old Christ-less way of life. They then realise that, if they were to reject Christ, they would lose everything on the day of judgment and receive a well-deserved condemnation. They see that in losing their old way of life they gain instead eternal life in Jesus. Their former attitude to Jesus Christ  and his words is fundamentally changed. They begin to see him as the one who has the words of eternal life. They will follow him.

 Jesus implies that this change is for sinners; for people who in the past had been ashamed of Jesus’ words, as Peter had been. Jesus told the crowd that some of them would see the kingdom of God before they died. Some, like Peter, would be born again. They would take up the cross (the gospel) and follow Jesus.

Jehovah Witnesses

I had some visitors yesterday morning, and I was happy to see them. We had a good, long chat. They weren’t intending to stay long. They just wanted to share an encouraging verse from the Bible with me. The passage was Psalm 37:10-11:

For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more.Indeed, you will look diligently for his place, but it shall be no more.
But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

I asked how people might know whether they were ‘wicked’ or ‘meek’, in terms of this passage. I told them that from my reading of the Bible, no one except the Lord Jesus Christ falls into the category of ‘meek’. Everyone else has earned, by their attitudes and behaviours, the description of ‘wicked’.

If I remember correctly, my new friends told me that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice deals with our past sin if we are baptised, and Jehovah then gives us the tools to avoid destruction at the end of this age; bible study, doing his will and witnessing. I was also told that no one could know whether they were saved until the judgement of the last day.

For my part, I said that unless Jesus does everything to the rescue a person from sin and death, then no one can be rescued. Unless a person is reborn by the Holy Spirit (I know that JWs believe that only 144000 can be born again), people like us will have no interest or liking for our Creator. The life, death and rising again of Jesus is both most necessary and is also all that is necessary to reconcile us to God. We are simply to trust  Jesus: who the Bible says he is, what the Bible says he did, and what the Bible says these things mean. This sort of faith is just as much a gift from the God as the work of Jesus on the cross. The Saviour of the world has left nothing to chance. You can know you are (have been) saved when you trust yourself to Jesus.

They asked about those who do trust in Jehovah for a time and then stop. My answer was that some people, who never really trusted Jesus but were attracted by an ‘idea’ of Jesus for a time, do come and go. But Jesus said that He is the good shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep (his people) and no one can take them from his hand. Those who are really his, the ones whom the Father had given Jesus, these shall be saved because Jesus came for them.

They said that God gives us free will to make a choice, like Adam had a choice. I said that before Adam sinned, he could freely choose to continue as a loving creature of God, or he could freely choose to rebel and make war with his creator. He chose to make war. After that point, he and his children (except for the intervention of Jesus) always will choose to make war. This choice they make freely as they have no desire to do otherwise. This is why Jesus had to act for his people before they had any love for him — while they were still his enemies. This also is why a mighty work of regeneration (re-birth) is necessary to bring a person to trust Jesus.

My new friends thanked me for my time, but they had to move on. I was happy they came. I have respect for them. They work very hard and are zealous. I’ve been to one of their meetings (it went for two hours) and they study the Bible and watchtower materials with unflagging attention. But I believe it is zeal without knowledge. They read their Bibles, but it is through a foreign lens. As they left, I urged them to deal seriously with the parts of the Bible that do not line up with what they are being told.

You must be born again — Part 1

John 2:23-3:21

John’s Gospel remind us that something is very wrong with people:

  •  John 1 tells us that  Jesus came to his own, but his own received him not. Yet
  • John 2 records that many ‘believed’ on Him because of the miracles he did.

What did they believe about Jesus, and what were they trusting him for? Why didn’t Jesus entrust himself to them? (John 2)

  • John 6:15; The people saw Jesus’ miraculous sign of feeding, but they only wanted to make Jesus a king like David.
  • John 6:60; Some disciples rejected the idea that they needed Jesus to die for them (give his body and blood) in order that they might have eternal life.  They stopped following him because Jesus insisted on the point. They did not think that they needed to be reconciled to God.
  • John 8:31-36; Again, those who are said to have believed in Jesus rejected his teaching that they were sinners and needed him to set them free from their terrible slavery to sin and death.
  • This attitude is true of all people.  Note the flow of the last few verses of John chapter 2. The Lord Jesus knew all human beings (pantas), and he had no need to have someone explain human beings (anthropou) to him. He already knew what was in human beings (anthropw ). This is perhaps a reference to Jeremiah 17:9. What is true of one is true for all.  There was a human being (anthropos), named Nikodemos. He was a person just like every other person. He is our case study.  He had seen the signs that Jesus had done. He concluded that Jesus must have come a teacher from God, yet something was very wrong with Nikodemos.

People must be born again:

This is another way of saying that God must act if any human being is to be put right with him. This is not something we can manage for ourselves.  Nikodemos did, and did not, see this. Jesus had said to him:

Unless a man/woman/child be born again (or from above), he or she cannot see the kingdom of God,” nor can they enter in. [1]

One of our problems is that we cannot see that we are out of favour with God. Unless we are born again, we will either deny the existence of God, or, if we claim to believe in God, we will deny that there is a problem with the relationship.

Another problem is that we cannot do anything ourselves about the problem even if we acknowledge there is one. What did you do in order to be born?

Again, we cannot appreciate God’s way of dealing with our sin problem, unless we are born again.

Nikodemos thought of the solution which Jesus offered merely in physical terms, ‘How can an old man like me be born again?’ Surely, he thought, this is impossible (mee dunatai).

Jesus’ reply to Nikodemos contrasted the life of a human being as Adam left us …

  • in a condition of sin and misery
  • which is implied in the words ‘that which is born of flesh is flesh’
  • that is, dead in sin because of Adam’s sin and doomed to die for that reason.

… to the life which Jesus Christ alone can provide us

  • in a condition of acceptance and forgiveness
  • which is implied in the words ‘that which is born of spirit is spirit’ (or ‘spiritual’),
  • that is, alive in Christ, because of who his is and what he has done.

Even a learned Pharisee, steeped in the Scriptures from his youth, did not see what Jesus was talking about. But he should have understood. “Are you a teacher in Israel, and you don’t know these things.” God had revealed what he meant to do for sinful people in Old Testament, namely that God would come and save.

God acted for us.

  •  The Spirit of God acts sovereignly in the new birth (John 3:8) changing heart, mind and will. The Spirit gives us the ability to trust Jesus by applying work of Christ to us.
  • The Son of God was lifted up (John 3:14-15) just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert. Moses was told to make a model of the snakes that God had sent as punishment for sin.  People who were bitten by the snake were simply to look to that bronze snake and they would be healed. If they did not, they would die.  Being ‘lifted up’ was the way Jesus described his death on the cross.  It is the same language that he used in John 12:32-33.
  • God the Father sent the Son to do these things for us (John 3:16).

Please see Part 2.

[1] Compare Matthew 5:20 – Our righteousness has to exceed that of the Pharisees and Scribes. E.g., We need Christ’s righteousness, which comes to us with faith in the new birth.  Who is the great one in the kingdom of heaven? The one who teaches and does every scratch and tick of the law, namely, Jesus Christ the righteousness one. He becomes our righteousness if and when we trust him.

You must be born again — Part 2

This post follows on from Part 1.

This is the way God’s love comes to the world.

In the Greek language there is a way to distinguish between ‘natural’ and ‘actual’ consequences.

Houto … hoste + infinitive indicates a statement of natural consequences. For example, ‘He is such a generous person that he would give you the shirt off his back’ – this is true whether he actually does or does not give you his shirt. It is a statement about the nature of the person.

Houto … hoste + indicative indicates a statement of actual consequences: ‘He is such a generous person that he actually did give me the shirt off his back’. This is not just what the person would do, but what he really did do.

John 3:16 indicates a statement of actual consequences. Jesus really was sent, and he really did save.

In this way God loved the world.’  People might think the ‘so’ in translations of 3:16 means ‘so much’.  The force of the word ‘so’ is about manner, not amount. It says, ‘This is how God’s love is shown. In this way particular way.’

God the Father gave the Son, who in his humanity became the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin.

For whom did Jesus die?  For all and any who will trust Him — those to whom the Holy Spirit brings new birth. What is the effect? Everlasting life rather than the death penalty. ‘We judge in this way: that if one died for all, then all died; and he died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again.’ 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.

To ignore Christ’s death for sinners is to ignore God’s love for sinful humanity.  To reject Christ’s life, death, and coming back to life again as the necessary condition for our peace with God is to reject God’s love.

The message of the Bible is NOT primarily one of condemnation.  It is first and foremost a message of hope, of rescue, of life.  It is Good News.  If God intended simply to condemn, the Bible would have been unnecessary.  The Lord Jesus came to seek and save that which is lost.  To give his life a ransom for many.

Trusting Christ is the way a person receives God’s gift of life.  Not to trust Christ simply leaves a person under the judgment that is due to our sin.  What makes the difference between a Christian and someone who is not a Christian?  Jesus Christ.

Back to the problem and the solution.

Jesus Christ has come as the light of the World.  Our natural reaction as sinners is to run away from the light (like cockroaches do, I suppose).  The light is hated because it shows up our sin; our rebellion against God.  Jesus came to save his people from their sin.

So, if we come to Christ on His terms and in His way, that is a demonstration of the power of God at work.  What is the work of God? That we trust in the one whom God has sent.  We must trust Jesus Christ. If we trust him, we ought to tell the good news of Jesus to others.