Textualism

Scalia

Antonin Scalia passed away in his sleep last Saturday (February 13, 2016). As I have been reading a bit about his life, one thing caught my attention: his view of the Constitution. He was a textualist. That is, he looked intently at the ordinary meaning of the words of the constitution to determine how to apply it. This is in contrast with the view of judicial activism, where a judge’s personal views impacts his (or her) decisions.

Scalia famously said, “If you’re going to be a good and faithful judge, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.”

The issues surrounding the interpretation of the Constitution are similar to the issues surrounding the interpretation of the Bible. The text of the Bible stands as God’s Word to us. Our task is to understand the ordinary meaning of the words of the Bible and act upon them. There will certainly be some things that we don’t like, especially when our well-loved sins are confronted. At these moments we can either accept the authority of the Bible or reject it. We can either be a textualist or a judicial activist.

The Bible clearly understands these two positions. First of all comes the textualist. This one will read the Bible and seek to apply in. Whenever something difficult to believe comes his way, he will cry out, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). When he fails, he will confess his sin, admitting that his behavior was in error and seeking the forgiveness of our gracious God (1 John 1:9).

On the other side is the judicial activist. He will interpret the Bible in accordance with his own views. So, if there is something he reads that he doesn’t like, he conveniently denies the Bible. Of these people, Paul writes, “Although they know God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking” (Romans 1:21). If something confronts his lifestyle, he will suppress truth so he can continue to live as he wants. Paul said that these are those who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).

When it comes to the Bible, are you a textualist or a political activist?

The Iceberg

Iceberg

Icebergs are large chunks of ice that float freely in the open water. Some are small, measuring only a few feet across. And some are gigantic, being the size of a small country. They are formed when chunks of ice break off from glaciers, ice shelves, or even a larger iceberg.

The common feature of all icebergs is that only a tenth of the volume of an iceberg is above the water. This is because of the relative densities of ice and seawater.

The iceberg is a picture of many facets of life. The books we read have been through an untold number of edits that we have never seen. We simply see the final product. The cars we drive have unknown hours of research behind them. We simply enjoy the opportunity to use them for transport. Marriage problems that come to the attention of others will have a depth of other issues below the surface. We only see a little of what is wrong. The people we know and love have untold backgrounds and experiences that have shaped who they are. We only enjoy their presence today.

When it comes to living life before God, there are many things going on all around us that we have little knowledge of or little control over. But for those of us who love God, we can rest in the assurance that God is working in the unseen details of our lives. This is true of our present circumstances. “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASB). This is true of our future circumstance. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, ESV).

So live life trusting God with the unseen details in your life.

Ladder or Mirror?

LadderMirror

When people look at the law of God, they can view it in one of two ways. They can either see it as a ladder or a mirror.

When People view the law of God as a ladder, they think that they can climb the ladder to God. In other words, they think that by obeying the commands of God they will come close to God. These are those who think that their good works are enough to please God.

When people view the law of God as a mirror, they look to the law and use it to reflect upon their own lives. What they see is not good. They see how they have failed to live in the ways that God prescribes. The law causes them to see their sin.

The teaching of the Bible is clear. The law is not a ladder, but a mirror. Paul wrote, “By the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

Paul’s experience bore this out. He said, “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet'” (Romans 7:7). Seeing his sin, Paul was drawn to the Savior.

You won’t be justified before God by climbing the ladder of works. The only way to God is to see your sin and trust in Jesus. We are “justified by faith” (Romans 5:1) not by works. 

 

 

 

The Amazing Gift

Gift

Suppose someone came up to you and offered to give you a car. Wouldn’t that be an amazing gift? Suppose they offered to give you a million dollars. That too would be amazing. Suppose they had the power and ability to offer to you the promise that you would never be sick the rest of your life. That would be incredible. Now, finally, suppose that you were offered the opportunity to live forever. Would you take that gift?

Incredibly, this is what God has offered to us in his son, Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Eternal life is God’s gift to us if we would but receive it by believing in Jesus. If we refuse, we can expect to receive the wages of our sin.

This is an amazing gift.

Wesley, Bohler, and Romans 10:1-4

CharlesWesley

On a cold winter’s day in 1738, Charles Wesley was sick in bed with a tooth-ache. The pain was great enough that he thought that his soul and body would soon separate. So Wesley asked his good friend, Peter Bohler to pray for him, which he did. Wesley then explained their discussion:

[Peter Bohler] asked me, “Do you hope to be saved?” “Yes.” “For what reason do you hope it?” “Because I have used my best endeavours to serve God.” He shook his head, and said no more. I thought him very uncharitable, saying in my heart, “What, are not my endeavours a sufficient ground of hope? Would he rob me of my endeavours? I have nothing else to trust.” (Source)

At that point in time, Charles Wesley was just like the Jews of whom Paul wrote, “I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:2-3). It’s no wonder why Peter Bohler went away sorrowful. He longed for Charles to know true grace, just at Paul did the Jews: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1). It is only through Christ that one is made righteous, as Paul wrote, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).

But, such was the state of Charles Wesley’s soul at this time. He was trusting in his religious zeal for his salvation, not in the finished work of Christ. This was the thrust of the “Holy Club” that Charles and his brother John formed during their days in Oxford together. They were pursuing zeal for Christ, with (or without) faith in Christ. Rather than their efforts leading them to see their own sin (i.e. Romans 3:20), it drove them to continue working and striving for their own righteousness. Such striving gave no hope for them.

The good news is that a few months later, Charles came to trust in Christ alone for his salvation. In his journal on May 21, 1738, he wrote, ” I saw that by faith I stood. …  I went to bed still sensible of my own weakness, … yet confident of Christ’s protection.” (Source) Charles Wesley was never the same.

This was Paul’s hope for the Jews, … that they too would come see that we stand by faith, not by our works. Believe this and you will never be the same.

Weeds

This summer in Illinois has been one of the dryest on record. It has hardly rained in two months! To make it worse, we have experienced record heats. Everything around here is brown. The grass isn’t growing. The crops are stressed. And yet, I have noticed that some things are growing: weeds. I find it amazing that even in the harshest of conditions, you cannot prevent the weeds from growing. They grow in the rain. They grow in the drought.

This is so like our sin. Sin can grow when we are healthy spiritually. Sin can grows when we are unhealthy spiritually. Even when conditions are difficult for sin to take root and grow, it will somehow find a way.

Yet, the good news is that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).  Praise be to God.

 

 

Creation and the Power of God

The creation account in Genesis 1 speaks of the greatness of the power of God in creating the world.  Scientists have spent thousands of years attempting to understand what God created in six days.

God spoke on the first day of creation, and the universe came into existence. Complete with all of the laws of chemistry and physics created and working perfectly — gravity, the speed of light, electro-magnetics, protons, neutrons, electrons, the periodic table of elements. But, God brought them all into a functioning reality in one day.

God spoke on the third day of creation and the plants came into existence, complete with all of the workings of plant physiology in place, working perfectly. Plant tissue, photosynthesis, respiration, cellular structures, genetics, cell division, seeds that reproduce, … all working together to sustain plant life. We are still studying plant life, in attempts to understand what God created in a day with His spoken word.

God spoke on the fourth day of creation and the vast number of stars come into existence. Billions and billions of galaxies, each containing billions and billions of stars and planets, spanning millions and millions of light years. We are still trying to see the end of what God created in a day with His spoken word.

God spoke on the fifth and sixth days and all of the animals came into existence. Complete with all of the workings of anatomy and physiology in place for the various species in the world, and all working perfectly. Skeletal systems, muscular systems, nervous systems, cardiovascular systems, respiratory systems, digestive systems, reproductive systems, endocrine systems, metabolism, DNA, the brain, the ability to speak. Just the anatomy and physiology of human beings is enough to chart the course of a life-time of study. But God created not only humans. He also created sharks and whales and salmon and lobsters, eagles and owls and bats and hummingbirds, tigers and bears and rabbits and anteaters, Each of them unique. Each of them fully functional and able to reproduce according to their kind. And God spoke it all into existence, working perfectly the day He spoken them into existence.

It’s no wonder that throughout the rest of the Bible, we hear verses that describe the glory of God in His creating work. “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20).