Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Six Principles for Pursuing Holiness from Hebrews 12

The holiness we must pursue is perfectly seen in Jesus, who was separated from all sin, blameless, pure, and righteous (Heb. 1:9; 4:15; 7:26). Hebrews 12:1–13 outlines at least six means by which we are to pursue holiness.

First, we pursue holiness by laying aside every weight (Heb. 12:1). Marathon runners shed every ounce that slows them down. If there is anything that is hindering your pursuit of holiness, you must lay it aside! Media, money, music, pride, relationships—it doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s impeding your progress in holiness, it’s past time to get rid of it. Have you laid aside every weight in your pursuit of holiness?

Second, we pursue holiness by laying aside the easily ensnaring sin (Heb. 12:1). Weights aren’t the only things to be laid aside. The easily ensnaring sin must go, too. What is this sin? It’s the one to which you most easily fall prey. All believers easily fall prey to self-centeredness, the primary manifestation of our corrupted nature. We lay aside this sin principle by coming to Christ for the cleansing of His Holy Spirit. Yet, even after your heart has been purified by faith, there will be sins in which you may be easily ensnared. We lay these sins aside by doing all that Scripture prescribes for guarding ourselves from sin: make use of the means of grace (Psa. 119:11; Matt. 26:41; Eph. 6:13–18); make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts (Rom. 13:14); flee from temptation by associating with those who pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace and who call upon God out of a pure heart (2 Tim. 2:22); and walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). Have you dealt with the sin that easily ensnares you?

Third, we pursue holiness by looking unto Jesus (Heb. 12:2). Every runner knows that an unwavering focus on the finish line is a key to winning. A distracted runner is a losing runner. The word translated “looking” means to “direct one’s attention without distraction, fix one’s eyes trustingly” on someone. We must undistractedly and trustingly fix our soul’s gaze upon Jesus. Why? Because He is the model for holiness. A sure way to falter in our pursuit of holiness is to look around and compare ourselves with others. To be holy as Jesus was holy, we must run focused on Him. Is your gaze fixed on Jesus?

Fourth, we pursue holiness by persevering in the fight against sin (Heb. 12:3–4). These verses should jolt us free from any thought of sprinting easily to holy victory. Yes, every weight and the easily ensnaring sin may have been laid aside, but we are in a fight! We do battle as we pursue holiness. The enemy will contest every advance in Christlikeness. There is no age, maturity, or state of grace which exempts us from this clash. The danger of becoming wearied and faint in our minds dogs us all. We persevere by considering Christ’s endurance. Our Captain won through the devil’s throng. By His grace, we may too! Are you persevering in the fight against sin?

Fifth, we pursue holiness by submitting to the Lord’s chastening and enduring it thankfully (Heb. 12:5–11). If we’re pursuing holiness, we should not experience God’s chastening hand, right? Wrong! That’s not the way He works. In fact, God sovereignly permits and ordains hardships, as the case may be, to help us grow in Christlike holiness. The old adage, “No pain, no gain,” speaks truly to our condition. We pursue holiness by humbly accepting Providence’s rebukes with thanksgiving, for they testify of His loving passion for us to partake of His holiness. Are you thanking the Father for His holiness-inducing chastenings?

Sixth, we pursue holiness by strengthening one another (Heb. 12:12–13). The world’s motto is “every man for himself.” Not so with the pursuit of holiness. Holiness must be pursued in community. We grow in Christlike holiness best when we live in structures of mutual accountability and edification. We run the race to holiness best when we link arms with fellow runners. If one stumbles, his partners help lift him to steady pace. Have you linked arms with fellow pursuers of holiness?

Pursue holiness!

Friday, February 17, 2017

How to Pursue Peace and Holiness (Heb. 12:14)

Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” To know how to follow peace and holiness, we need to understand several things about this verse: (1) what it means to “follow,” (2) what peace is, (3) what holiness means in this context, and (4) how Hebrews 12:14 ties into the previous thirteen verses of chapter 12.

Although the verb “follow” sounds passive and lackadaisical, that is the opposite of its actual meaning. The Greek word translated “follow” means “to seek or pursue aggressively.” In other words, this verse teaches us that we must be passionate and fervent in our pursuit of both peace and holiness.

The word “peace” refers to a state of harmony and tranquility in one’s relationships. Negatively, peace is a relational state in which there is no unresolved conflict or trouble. Notice that the writer of Hebrews said to pursue peace “with all men.” It might sound odd, but God wants us to be aggressive pursuers of peace in all our relationships. No Christian should allow conflict to fester unresolved in his or her life. Just as we cannot love God without loving others, we cannot pursue holiness without pursuing peace with all men. If we are currently at peace with all men, we pursue peace by aggressively maintaining and promoting peace in our relationships. Romans 12:21 tells us how to pursue peace with those who are our enemies: “be no overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In other words, we pursue peace with all men by doing good to all men.

The first mention of holiness in this chapter occurs in Hebrews 12:10, which tells us that God chastens us so that we may share in His holiness. The holiness in focus here is God’s ethical holiness (as distinct from his positional holiness due to his incommunicable attributes). God’s ethical holiness is, negatively, His separateness from sin; positively, it is His purity, righteousness, and goodness. When we reject desires, attitudes, or actions that are sinful and choose those that are in harmony with God’s word, we share in God’s holiness. We must aggressively pursue sharing in God’s separateness from sin and His purity, righteousness, and goodness. We are to pursue being holy just like God is holy (1 Peter 1:15–16).

It is a mistake to read Hebrews 12:14 in isolation from its context. Not only does the previous context teach us what the author means by holiness, it also shows us how we are to pursue it. After recalling the great heroes of the faith (Hebrews 11), the author pictures the Christian life as a race in which we pursue holiness. He gives us six principles to guide us in our pursuit. We pursue holiness by:

Laying aside any hindrances (Heb. 12:1).
Laying aside the sin that easily ensnares us (Heb. 12:1).
Fixing our gaze on Jesus (Heb. 12:2).
Persevering in the fight against sin (Heb. 12:3–4).
Submitting to the Lord’s chastening and enduring it thankfully (Heb. 12:5–11).
Strengthening one another (Heb. 12:12–13).

Before looking at these six principles, we ought to note that the writer’s command to pursue peace and holiness does not imply that his readers were lacking these graces. As Gareth Cockerill notes, they had already “appropriated Christ’s cleansing of their consciences (Heb 9:14)…and had experienced the transformed heart available through the new covenant (Heb 10:15–18). Yet, by the daily practice of concrete obedience, they must intentionally make this holiness before God…a reality in their conduct.”

Friday, February 10, 2017

When the KJV and Modern Translations Disagree: What to do

What to do when the KJV and modern translations disagree (notes from my Greek Ib class today)

1. Check to see if the KJV has a marginal note that agrees with the modern translation or vice versa. If so, it means the original text is subject to more than one interpretation. The KJV translators chose one option whereas modern translations have chosen another. For example, John 14:18 has ‘comfortless’ in the text and ‘orphans’ in the margin of the KJV, whereas modern translations have ‘orphans’ in the text.

2. Check to see if the English words used by the KJV have changed their meanings. Use the Oxford English Dictionary online to do this. It may be that the KJV means the same thing, but our use of English has changed enough that we wouldn’t realize it. A great example is the word ‘conversation’ in Phil. 3:20. In 1611 it could mean ‘the action of living or having one's being in a place or among persons,’ which is much closer to the meaning of the Greek word politeuma = “citizenship, commonwealth” than the meaning of the modern English word conversation.

3. Check to see if the textual basis of the KJV is different from that of the modern translation. Checking a technical commentary is one of the best ways to find this out. Examples include the Baker Exegetical Commentary, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary, NICOT or NICNT. In the OT, the KJV sometimes follows the Septuagint (Greek OT) rather than the Masoretic text (Hebrew OT). For example, Prov. 18:24 – ‘must shew himself friendly’ (KJV) and ‘may come to ruin’ (NASB). In the NT, the KJV was translated primarily from the 1550 edition of Stephanus Greek NT. Most modern translations use a critical Greek text which tries to reconstruct the original text of the NT based on the over 5000 manuscripts available at the time of their translation. An example of this is in Eph. 5:9 - ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (KJV) and ‘fruit of the light’ (NASB).

4. If 1-3 aren’t the case, then it’s possible that we have learned more about the biblical languages and so better understand what the authors were communicating than we did in 1611. For example, in Prov. 27:16 the KJV uses the word ‘bewrayeth’ which meant ‘reveal, expose, discover (unintentionally, and usually what it is intended to conceal).’ Modern translations have ‘grasps.’ It appears that our understanding of the Hebrew meaning of yiqra’ in context has improved.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Baptismal Regeneration vs Sola Fide

I was asked the question, "How can I help someone who believes in baptismal regeneration to see that salvation is by faith alone, while at the same time acknowledging the importance of baptism?"

I believe Scripture teaches the importance of baptism. Jesus’ commission in Matthew 28:19–20 identifies its importance. Jesus commanded His disciples (and us by implication) to make disciples of all nations by teaching them and by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From his command, we can infer that baptism is a required step of obedience for a disciple, that is, a person who is already saved.

Baptism is not, however, a required step to receive salvation. To help people see this, you have to show them that the Bible teaches that faith alone is necessary for salvation. Once you demonstrate that faith alone is necessary for salvation, then it logically follows that baptism is not necessary for salvation.

Romans 3:21–5:11 and Galatians 2–5 are the two places in the NT designed to teach us what is necessary for salvation. Paul argues that “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28 NASB) He expands this argument in Romans 4 by demonstrating that both Abraham and David were saved by faith alone (Rom 4:1–11). Paul’s opponents were arguing that faith plus circumcision were the necessary conditions for salvation.

This is the same argument used by those teaching baptismal regeneration when they say faith plus baptism is necessary for salvation. Paul’s point is that salvation has always been by faith alone and nothing else, including circumcision. Since Abraham and David serve as examples of what is necessary for NT believers to be saved, we can safely say that baptism is not a necessary condition for salvation.

Paul also develops this argument in Galatians 3. The Galatians received the Spirit by the hearing of faith (Gal 3:2). Later in the chapter, Paul argues from Habakkuk 2:4—“The just shall live by faith”—that faith alone is the basis for justification (Gal 3:11).

Admittedly the phrase “saved by faith alone” is not found in Scripture. However, neither is the term “trinity.” Nonetheless, both are not only legitimate inferences, but I would argue that they are both necessary inferences from Scripture.

Several biblical stories support this conclusion. In all the following cases, people were declared justified or saved, without any indication that they were baptized: the repentant tax collector (Luke 19:8–10), the woman at the well (John 4:1–42), and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43). There are more examples like this, but I think this is sufficient to make the point. Key point: don’t use these stories without first arguing for justification by faith alone; otherwise, you are just arguing from silence without providing positive proof for your position.

On the other side of this issue, the most common error that baptismal regenerationists make is the fallacy of the negative inference. For example, “if you were born in the US and are a resident of Ohio, then you are a US citizen,” does not imply “if you were born in the US but are not a resident of Ohio, then you are not a US citizen.”

Some baptismal regenerationists read Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” and wrongly infer the negative, ”If you believe but are not baptized, you will not be saved.” This conclusion is a classic example of the negative inference fallacy. Some commit the same fallacy regarding Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21.

In conclusion, I'd like to highlight the fact that dealing with theological errors requires a good working knowledge of logic. This is an important reason why the study of logic ought to be a part of every child’s education, whether formally or informally.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Hebrews 12:14 - Holiness or Hell?

Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Some have concluded that this verse teaches one must be entirely sanctified to make it to heaven (e.g., Creffield, Godbey).

There are several things to consider in determinin what this passage is teaching: (1) the relationship between the word “holiness” in Hebrews 12:14 and NT Greek; (2) what the words “holiness” and “sanctification” mean in the NT; and (3) the relationship between regeneration and sanctification.

The Greek word translated “holiness” in Hebrew 12:14 is hagiasmos (ha-gee-oz-móss). This word occurs ten times in the NT (Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Cor. 1:30; 1 Thess. 4:3, 4, 7; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:2). Hagiasmos normally means “the condition of moral purity that results from being or living separated unto God from all that is sinful.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and 1 Peter 1:2 it means “the act of separating someone unto God from all that is sinful with the result that they are morally pure.” Hagiasmos is translated in the KJV five times as “holiness” and five times as “sanctification.” Since these two words are translated from the same word, we shouldn't assume they have different meanings unless the context requires it.

That brings up the question: “What do holiness and sanctification mean in the NT?” This question is much broader since there are at least four Greek word-groups that are translated variously “holy,” “holiness,” “sanctify,” or “sanctification.” However, the bottom line is still the same. In the NT, the words “holiness” and “sanctification” never refer specifically to entire sanctification unless they are modified by terms like “entire, complete, perfect, wholly, etc.,” as in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. As John Wesley said: “The term sanctified is continually applied by St. Paul to all that were justified…. By this term alone, he rarely, if ever, means ‘saved from all sin.’ …Consequently, it is not proper to use it in that sense, without adding the word wholly, entirely, or the like.”

The deeper issue is this: the words “holiness” and “sanctification” are regularly used in the Holiness Movement as synonyms for entire sanctification. This is a major problem for at least three reasons.

First, this is not how the NT uses these terms. When our use of NT terms doesn't match their NT meaning, we undermine our theological credibility. 

Second, using the terms this way leads us to misread the NT. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:3–7 and Hebrews 12:14 have often been misused as texts for entire sanctification. In neither case is the author talking specifically about entire sanctification. 

Third and tragically, our non-New Testament use of these terms often hinders our efforts to “spread Scriptural holiness.” Why? Because Christians who hear us equating “holiness” and “sanctification” with “entire sanctification” go read their Bibles and can’t see what we’re talking about. As a result, believers who are sincere students of God’s word wrongly conclude that since we use holiness and sanctification in ways the NT does not, our doctrine of entire sanctification must not be a NT doctrine. In other words, we mislead our listeners and hinder the spread of Scriptural holiness (which includes but is not limited to entire sanctification) when we refer to entire sanctification as “sanctification” or “holiness.” 

In conclusion,Hebrews 12:14 does not teach that a believer will go to hell if he/she is not entirely sanctified. The word “holiness” in this verse does not mean or refer to “entire sanctification.” On the other hand, Hebrews 12:14 does teach us that we must be holy to see the Lord. “The holiness essential for seeing the Lord (Heb 12:14),” Richard S. Taylor rightly explains, “is a state of rightness with God right now.” In other words, anyone who is saved and walking in the light is holy and ready to see the Lord.

Are you pursuing peace with all men and holiness without which no one shall see the Lord?