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?

He Loved Us

One of the most basic elements of the gospel is love.  Not our love for God, but His love for us. John said it well, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us” (1 John 4:10). God took the initiative and sent His Son to be a sacrifice for us. That’s true love. He gave Himself for sinners. Our love is a love of response. We love a righteous and holy and perfect God.

The Sun is Up!

When we walk outside on a hot summer day, rarely are we concerned with the question, “When did the sun rise?” Unless we listened carefully to the weather report in the morning, we don’t really know exactly when it rose. We know the approximate hour, but not the exact moment. However, we feel its heat. We see its light. We can squint into its surpassing brightness. And we can say, “I’m not quite sure when the sun rose, but I know that it rose, because the sun is up.”

You can apply this to our Christian lives. There are many Christians who are constantly thinking about the day they were converted to Christ. It becomes their consuming focus. They tell others of the day they repented of their sin and trusted in Jesus. It even becomes their assurance. “I know that I’m a Christian because of what happened on such and such a day.”

However, the distinguishing mark of a believer in Christ isn’t a prayer that was prayed on a day that can be recalled with joy. Rather, the distinguishing mark of a believer is that Christ is a reality in their lives. They sorrow over their sin. They feel His heat. They walk in His light. Well might they say, “I can’t tell you the exact day and time that I believed. But, I sure can tell you that Christ is a real presence in my life. The sun is up!”

“If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

 

 

Propitiation

Propitiation is a great word that’s used in the Bible in a handful of cases. However, because we don’t use it very often in our regular conversation, the glories of its meaning for us who believe in Christ is often lost on us. Thus, an illustration of the meaning of the word might be helpful to you.

Propitiation is the subsiding of wrath. Where once there was anger, propitiation brings peace. For instance, when King Ahasuerus found out that Haman had conspired to destroy all of the Jews in Persia, his anger burned against Haman. “And so they hanged Haman on the gallows, … and the king’s anger subsided” (Esther 7:10). It took the death of Haman to satisfy the anger of the king.

Regarding God’s anger toward us for our sin, it took the death of God’s Son, Jesus, to do satisfy His wrath.  He is now at peace with those who trust in Jesus Christ, who “is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2).

Like a Snowball

Sin is like a snowball. One sin will often lead to another sin, which will lead to further sin. Those who crave their drugs will steal to get the money to support their habit. Those who are engaged in secret sin will lie to cover it up. The Bible contains many examples of this sort of behavior. I’ll give you two.

Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard. When Naboth refused to sell it, Ahab was upset and angry. It lead his wife, Jezebel, to bribe two worthless men to testify lies about Naboth, which led to Natoth’s execution, … all for a vineyard (1 Kings 21). King David is another example. He committed adultery with Bathsheba. In attempting to cover up his sin, David deceived her husband, Uriah, and ordered that he be killed in battle (2 Samuel 11).

What to do? Deal with sin quickly by confessing it to the Lord.  Don’t give it a chance to progress to further sin. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Heaping Burdens

Dealing with the commands in the Bible is a tricky task for any Christian preacher. The easy way to deal with these commands is take them and use them to call people to live holy lives. In this way, Christian preachers become like the Pharisees, who were good at tying up heaven burdens and laying them on the shoulders of men (Matthew 23:4).

But Jesus was different. He said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Rather than piling burdens on the backs of people, he softened the load. He made it easy. So must Christian preachers.

The only way to do this is to direct people to Jesus, who will take away our burdens and help us keep  the commands given in the Bible. “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

A Helping Hand

While on vacation in California, our family had the opportunity to visit Alluvial Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. The falls were caused when a man-made dam broke loose and brought millions of gallons of water down the hillside. Everything in its path was carried away by the water and strewn everywhere, including many big boulders. The entire family had a blast climbing up the falls, maneuvering around the big boulders in place.

I’d like to draw attention to my 11-year old daughter. Upon coming down the falls, she took it upon herself to help her 4-year old little brother negotiate the boulders (which were large and difficult for him). She held his hand when needed. She carried him when needed. She helped him down some of the large drops. She did so willingly. Nobody told her to do this. Rather, she saw the need, cared for her brother and willingly helped him in his time of need. This was a simple expression of love for her brother.

Such ought to take place in the church. We ought to see one another’s needs and be stirred to help, not because we are told to do so, but as an expression of our love for other believers. This isn’t anything new. John wrote, “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11).