The Story of Scripture – Genesis to Revelation – Part 2: Sin, Rebellion, Separation from God, and Death

Sin, Rebellion, Separation from God, and Death[1]

Why do we miss it? Because in Genesis chapter three, that tree of knowledge of good and evil comes into play. It is a unique chapter because we have a serpent that is present, and the text does not really tell us why, other than the fact that the Lord God had made the serpent. The serpent talks and they seem to have a straightforward dialogue. The dialogue is about this tree and the instruction of the very words of God. The serpent takes the very words of God and quickly twists it: ““You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” (Genesis 3:4–5, NIV) It is quest for power, and that’s interesting because it even goes back to that word “crafty.” Now the serpent was craftier than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.[2] With that language it was telling us that the serpent was an individual that was acquiring wisdom and power. We find that connection in the words that the serpent uses of basically saying, “Hey, you too want power.” Well, sure enough, the deception occurs, and Eve makes the decision here. It says very clearly in the text that Eve took, and she ate, and she gave some to Adam, who was right there with her. From that point in the story, things are a little different. Immediately their eyes are opened, and they realize they were naked. So, the first thing they did was cover themselves up. This issue of covering was probably more than just physical; it was also an issue of their spiritual exposure that has now taken place. So, we get this storyline of them trying to hide in the garden and God comes and walks in the garden, which apparently was a repeated thing. The great question occurs: “But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”” (Genesis 3:9, NIV)

God knew exactly where Adam was, but he wanted Adam to realize where Adam was. Instead of repenting of his sin, the very first thing Adam did was blame Eve. Eve blames the serpent. God banishes the serpent and makes him crawl on his belly, and God makes a statement about one from the seed of woman would come, and there was going to be a great conflict. The word used in our English texts a lot of the time is “enmity.” There is going to be a struggle between one of the seed of woman and the serpent and his offspring. Even more specific is that there is one that will one day come and crush the head of the serpent.

At the end of chapter 3, God made garments of skin. And it was God who drove them from the garden, so they could not have access to the tree of life, and therefore stay in that condemned state. One of the main points from chapter 3 as well is that where there is sin there is death.

Then in chapter 4 of Genesis, there is death. Cain kills Abel. In chapter 5 of Genesis, there is a genealogy of death, where they live, and they die. They live, and they die. They die. They die. All except for Enoch, who walked with God and then he was no more. There are these anomalies along the way.

Another unique anomaly is in chapters 6-9, where we get the story of Noah. Noah was not better than anybody else, but he found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Instead of washing the entire system away, God preserves Noah and his family. This is a picture of incredible grace because when Noah gets off the boat, there is sin.

Then in chapter 10, we have the Table of Nations, and it tells us and shows us that, post-Flood, the entire world was populated again, and then we get a microcosm that led to a lot of sin. In chapter 11, we have the Tower of Babel. It is there we see humanity coming together to make their name great. It is all about making their name great. God intervenes, and their language is confused, and people are disbursed.

[1] J.  Scott  Duvall  and  J.  Daniel  Hayes,  Living  God’s  Word:  Discovering  Our  Place  in  the  Great  Story  of  Scripture(Grand  Rapids,  MI:  Zondervan,  2012),  22.

[2] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ge 3:1.

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The Story of Scripture – Genesis to Revelation – Part 1: God Creates a Wonderful World and Places the First People in a Fruitful Garden

Structure

So, let us start with the structure of the Bible. There are some important numbers to start with: 5-12-5-5-12. This makes up the 39 books of the Old Testament. The first five books are referenced as the Pentateuch, or the Torah (which means The Law). They can also be referenced as the Five Books of Moses. The books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

There are 12 books referenced as theological history, where the author is always doing something with

what the author is saying. The 12 are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st & 2nd Samuel, 1st & 2nd Kings, 1st & 2nd Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. Up until this point, all the books are in chronological order.

Then there are 5 books of poetry: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Songs of Solomon.

Then there are 5 books referenced as major Prophets and 12 books that are referenced as minor Prophets. The only difference is the major Prophets are bigger books than the minor Prophets.

You can put your arms around the books of poetry, the minor Prophets, and the major Prophets, pick them up, and drop them into the theological history section, which is where they belong chronologically, for the most part.

That is the Old Testament. Now for the New Testament. The numbers to remember here are 4-1-21-1. That adds up to the 27 books of the New Testament. They start with 4 books called the Gospels, that are very similar: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Then there is one book that’s theological history, called Acts.

Then there are 21 Letters. They are also referenced as Epistles. But they are really letters from a person to a person or form a person to a group.

So, in the Old Testament, there are 39 books. In the New testament there are 27. You put these two together, and you have the 66 books of the Bible. That is the structure of the Bible.

God Creates a Wonderful World and Places the First People in a Fruitful Garden[1]

The story starts way back in Genesis chapter one. The text starts off, “In the beginning God created.” The thesis sentence of the book of Genesis, and arguably the entire Bible is that there is a sovereign God, and He is the Creator God. That is seen vividly in the chapter. He speaks, and it comes into existence. There is a cycle of days where God speaks; He creates; and the text basically says: and God creates, and it is so, and it is good. And God creates again, and it was so, and it is good. And God creates, and it is good. Then it goes all the way through the created order and it comes to day six. Now that day is unique. Because there, God creates in His own image; male and female, and it is very good; and they are given dominion. That means they have rulership over everything else God created in the previous days. We already see this story is going to be about a Creator God and man and woman created in the image of God. That is anticipated in the storyline. On day seven God rests, not because he is pooped out, but because it is a position of satisfaction and appreciation of what He had done. Because of that, that day was designated as a day in remembrance of the fact that God is the Creator God, and all provision comes from Him.

Then we step into Genesis chapter two, which really takes us back to the creation of man, who was placed in the garden, and woman, who is eventually created. There are two trees identified – one in the center of the garden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the other is the tree of life. So, man and woman and all the other animals are present in the garden and we find out that there is one instruction. The instruction was to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because the day you eat of it, you will surely die. By the time we get to the end of the chapter we realize that all is right with the world. Man and woman are in the garden, and they were naked, and they felt no shame. It is a picture of shalom, or peace. Really, we all long to get back to that garden because we know we miss it.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hayes, Living God’s Word: Discovering Our Place in the Great Story of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 22.

The Whole Bible Story

I recently read The Whole Bible Story by Dr. William H. Marty, and I wrote this blog to analyze the overall organization of Marty’s presentation, why I think he ordered the structure in the manner he did and what components he utilized that I found helpful in telling the biblical narrative.

Marty presented The Whole Bible Story in a fluid chronological way of telling the story of the Bible. It does skip information like the laws, messages, prophecies, and parables. It also does not include Old Testament poetry (wisdom literature) and prophecy, and it does not include the New Testament letters.

He organizes the story into nineteen chapters and an epilogue. He starts with the time of Creation to Babel. Chapter two covers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s sons. Chapter three goes over Moses and the Exodus. Chapter four is the wandering in the wilderness. Chapter five covers more of the wandering in the wilderness, and then Moses’ death. Chapter six introduces the promised land with Joshua. Chapter seven covers the time of the judges. Chapter eight is titled “The Kingdom Unites”, which goes over the introduction of Samuel, Saul, and David and how they are playing their roles after the time of the judges. Chapter nine goes over the reigns of David and Solomon. Chapter ten and eleven highlight the period when the kingdom is first divided into the northern and southern kingdoms. Chapter twelve covers the Israelites (God’s people) being exiled and living in those conditions. Chapter thirteen marks the first point of his book of the New Testament. This chapter comes to the point of the birth and childhood of Jesus. Chapter fourteen covers Jesus’ early ministry. Chapter fifteen goes over his Galilean ministry. Chapter sixteen covers his later Judean ministry, Perean ministry, and journey to Jerusalem. Chapter seventeen covers Jesus’ crucifixion. Chapter eighteen wraps up the four Gospels with the burial and resurrection of Jesus. Chapter nineteen covers the story of the Church. Marty then closes with an epilogue that covers the main ideas and narrative of the book of Revelation.

Most of the order makes sense to me because it is flows in chronological order very well. I think the reason he may have excluded the laws, messages, prophecies, parables, poetry and letters is because, although it is still God’s word and important, he may not view these parts of the Scripture as critical to the master narrative or story of the Bible. I can see how including those could possibly cause a reader to be hung up and bogged down trying to understand the details and proper interpretations. Furthermore, there is a lot of teaching, doctrine and prophecy in that part of the Scripture that provides a lot of explanation and details in between major actions, but it does not add a whole lot of movement to the main story. This indicates to me, he is only interested (with this book) in the parts of Scripture that move the narrative forward.

There were several components Marty utilized that I found helpful in telling the biblical narrative. From the start, he provided each book of the Bible in parenthesis in the sections within the chapters in the table of contents. I found this helpful because I was able to keep checking where the narrative matched up with the Scripture, and it was easy to be aware of where in the Scripture Marty was describing.

There was a lot of identifying, yet simple, language Marty used in his book that made it easy to identify where I was in the narrative and how it was moving forward and connecting to what had already been covered.

For example, on page 46 Marty states “[God] assured Moses if Israel honored him as their ‘great king’ by obeying the covenant, then they would be his treasure people, ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” This made it very easy to see this is the part of the story the Abrahamic Covenant occurs, and that was the Abrahamic Covenant that was described.

Then Marty states on only a few pages later (page 49) “Though Israel had broken its covenant promises, God had remained faithful to his promise to make the descendants of Abraham into a great nation. He told Moses ‘Go to the land I swore I would give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’” So as the reader, I know a few things about the narrative of the Bible just from the helpful language Marty uses: God is still staying true to His covenant; this covenant has not gone away and it is still part of the story; Israel messed up, yet God is still holding up His end of the deal.

More helpful langue Marty used is something I identified on page 61. Marty writes “He predicted the defeat of Israel’s enemies and the emergence of a powerful king in the distant future: ‘A star will rise from Jacob, and a scepter from Israel.’ (Christians believe this prophecy refers to the Lord Jesus Christ.)” The language Marty uses, the quote he has from the Scripture and the statement in the parenthesis were all helpful for me to connect that the coming of Jesus is already a theme in the background and helps me identify that his part of the story does not come out of nowhere and there is now some buildup to it, from at least this point on in the narrative.

On page 65, Marty uses more helpful language in telling the biblical narrative.

“But Moses also warned that failure to fulfill their covenant obligations would bring disaster. God would drive them out of the land and scatter them over the earth. However, even then, if Israel would repent and return to the Lord, he would forgive them and restore them to the Promised Land.

Moses said Israel had a choice ‘between life and death, between blessings and curses.’ They could choose by faithfully loving and fully obeying the Lord their God.”

This language of the Abrahamic Covenant showing up again helps me to see that the covenant is still in play during this point of the biblical narrative, and it sets the stage for what to look out for going forward in the narrative.

Marty continues with this language on page 73 to show that, even after Moses, Joshua is still concerned with the Abrahamic Covenant and it is still a part of the story.

“Joshua also summoned all the people to Shechem for renewal of the covenant. He reminded them of their special relationship with the Lord. God had promised Abraham and his descendants a home, he had rescued them from slavery, and he had given them victory over the inhabitants of the land.”

And if Joshua is renewing the covenant, then it must still be a part of the story moving forward as well.

Moving forward in the book, I thought Marty did an excellent job at the beginning of the chapter called “The Time of the Judges”. On pages 75 and 76 he sets the stage for the chapter by summarizing the cycle of Israel’s failure and God’s faithfulness. Without this quick summary and explanation, as the reader, I would probably not have understood how the biblical narrative was connecting, but he does an excellent job keeping it fluid with these two pages at the beginning of the chapter.

Then, just towards the end of the chapter Marty writes about Ruth and did an excellent job of portraying just how refreshing Ruth’s role was in this great narrative story. He writes “Not everyone was trapped in Israel’s destructive cycle of sin and oppression. An outsider named Ruth became the great-grandmother of David and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.” So just when I am feeling beat down and tired from reading Israel’s repeated failure, Marty highlights some good news among a lot of sad news in this chapter. Not only was she not trapped in the destructive cycle of sin, but Marty makes sure to point out that Jesus Christ comes from her lineage. This even emphasizes the point that Jesus still has not been forgotten about at this point of the story, and He is still coming.

One part of Marty’s book cleared up some personal confusion I had with the biblical narrative. I probably had not read or studied carefully enough, but I had not understood how or why Saul was already considered an antagonist even before he started plotting to kill David. On page 92, in chapter the titled “The Kingdom Unites”, the way Marty recapped Saul’s “mess ups” as I would call them really helped me understand that part of the narrative better and gave me an even better understanding of the significance of the transition from Saul to David.

In the next chapter, on page 103, Marty gives his iteration of the Davidic Covenant:

“Because he was living in a palace and the ark was only in a tent, David summoned the prophet Nathan and told him he wanted to build a temple for the ark. Nathan was certain the Lord would honor David’s plans, but instead the Lord promised he would establish David’s dynasty forever, saying, ‘Your house and kingdom always will endure.’ One of his descendants, not David, would build a house for the Lord.”

This component helped with understanding there is a new covenant in play, and the narrative of the story is slightly shifting and focusing more specifically on this covenant

Yet, within the same chapter, on page 109 Marty writes “In his final counsel to Solomon, David gave spiritual and practical advice. He told Solomon that if he courageously and faithfully obeyed the decrees of Moses, the Lord would bless his descendants for generation after generation.” This tells me the Mosaic Covenant and that part of the narrative still applies to the narrative going forward, and the it has not been forgotten about after the passing of time to this point.

I use all these examples and quotes from the book to show that one of the major components I found helpful in the way Marty told the biblical narrative was his perspective and language. He could have chosen language that was not easy to understand. He also could have used several different perspectives to focus on various parts of the Bible. But instead his perspective was focused on the entire metanarrative of the Bible, and he chose language that was simple and made it easy to identify how the biblical narrative flows and builds upon itself.

Questioning Evangelism

The main idea of the book is that responding to questions from skeptics with questions is more affect than responding with answers. Newman splits the book up into three parts. Part One tells the reader why asking questions is so effective. Part Two gives examples of some of the frequent questions skeptics are asking today, as well as some ideas for how to respond to those questions. Part Three covers some of the questions, we as evangelists ought to be asking ourselves.

The best quote of the book is “Any phrase that leaves them wondering what else we’re thinking, rather than wishing that we’d just shut up, is worth a try. It could get them to listen to us – which is what we were hoping for when we started listening to them.” (pg. 253) I chose this quote because I thought it summarized the main point of the book well. I have also come to know from experience, that what Newman is saying here is very useful. I know this from both a secular and evangelist view. In a secular way, I found this point helpful when trying to aid people with their finances, and when trying to get a message across to anyone (in general) who may think differently than I do. In an evangelistic way, I have found this to be very helpful in my own experience with skeptics, and even believers who need more spiritual food.

A new discovery I learned from this book was something Newman said about marriage. He stated

“Marriage makes us better because it shows us how bad we are. Lifelong, unconditional commitment makes us more giving because it exposes how selfish we are. Loving someone who doesn’t deserve love makes us more like the God who loved us ‘while we were still sinners’ (Rom. 5:8). Unlike any other tool, then, marriage drives home the two-pronged message of the gospel: that we are ‘more wicked and sinful than we ever dared believe but, in Christ, we are more accepted and loved than we ever dared hope.’” (pg. 184)

For starters, I am not married; which makes me an outsider looking in (or forward). But I found this to be very insightful and believe it to be true, based on my experience in my own committed relationship. Reading it again, even now, hits deep and strikes me as extremely profound. I find it amazing how both honorable and challenging marriage can be, and yet so useful and gospel driven.

A personal application I learned form the book is not something new, but more of a confirmation and reinforcement. I learned the hard way, being a financial planner at Fidelity Investments, it was not effective to communicate how much I knew about financial planning (although it was right, and I was trying to help them), unless I spent the time asking them questions, listening to their story, hearing their point of view, and trying to put myself in their shoes and empathize with them and validate their thoughts and feelings. Only then, was I able to give them my message and guidance. What I have found confirming and reinforcing from this book is it works the exact same way when communicating the gospel message. It is more effective to ask questions, listen, empathize, and validate first. Then, if they feel comfortable enough, we can share our message.

The Reason for God

In The Reason for God, Tim Keller, splits up the book in two parts. The first part, titled “The Leap of Doubt, is Keller writing about the major challenges that bring on doubting God. Each chapter in “Part 1” is designated for a specific doubt. They are as follows “There Can’t Be Just One True Religion”, “How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?”, “Christianity Is a Straitjacket”, “The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice”, “How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?”, “Science Has Disproved Christianity”, and “You Can’t Take the Bible Literally”. He not only names and talks about the points of view of each of the major doubts, but he has an apologetic rebuttal for each of them as well. Then in “Part 2: The Reasons for Faith”, Keller gives all the major reasons to believe in God, with each chapter focusing in on one. The chapters are titled “The Clues of God”, “The Knowledge of God”, “The Problem of Sin”, “Religion and the Gospel”, “The (True) Story of the Cross”, “The Reality of the Resurrection”, and “The Dance of God”. In these chapters, he not only explains the reasons to believe in God, but he lays out the basic beliefs and doctrines of Christianity. Lastly, Keller ends the book with an epilogue titled “Where Do We Go from Here?”, where he talks through the possible places skeptics may be at the end of the book and (as the title implies) how they might move forward.

In my opinion, the best quote of the book is:

“Jesus’s miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce. You never see him say something like: ‘See that tree over there? Watch me make it burst into flames!’ Instead, he used miraculous power to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead. Why? We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.” (pg. 99)

I chose this quote because I had never thought about Jesus’s miracles that way; with so much meaning and greater intention. I guess the only thought I had given to them was that they showed his amazing compassion and power, as the Son of God. I had also thought about what I would do if I could perform miracles. But I had never thought about it this way before, or even connected them to Jesus as redeeming the world and promising what is to come.

The one discovery from this book that stuck out the most is that serving God is very similar to serving your love-mate. Keller gave an example of this in the chapter “Religion and the Gospel”. He pointed out that you are already thinking of ways to serve your mate because of your love for them, and that is the same servant love we have for God. We are (or should be) thinking of ways to serve him naturally because we love him. That was another connection I had not made before.

There is so much from Keller’s book that can be personally applied for me. In summary, the things I took away from it is a deeper understanding of people’s points of views with their doubt, a deeper understanding of the Gospel, and a more intelligent and knowledgeable way to have conversations with skeptics. With the last once especially, I think I can have a conversation with a greater level of tact, understanding their point of view, and being able to respond in reasonable and thought provoking ways.

True Evangelism

In his book True Evangelism, Lewis Sperry Chafer first approaches evangelism by identifying and discussing the “false forces” in evangelism in Chapter 1. He explains these forces consist of “a false issue”, “a false assurance”, “backsliding”, “discredit to the covenant of God”, and “dishonor to the Spirit of God”. Essentially, this chapter warns the reader of any wrong methods and messaging that were currently being done in evangelism and why they are detrimental. In Chapter 2, Chafer explains salvation is the entire objective in evangelism and discusses that in detail. Chafer then uses the remaining chapters to discuss his view of the essential elements of evangelism and how to implement them to accomplish the objective of salvation. The chapter titles reveal the main ideas of the elements: “Conviction by the Spirit”, “The Prayer of Intercession”, “Suffering with Christ”, and “The Cleansing of the Priests”. He then ends the book with an appeal of what the reader should now do with the information just acquired.

The best quote of the book is “The work is all accomplished by the Spirit; for it is the Spirit Who inspires the prayer which is the only relief for the one who is suffering with Christ through the divinely given burden for the lost; it is the Spirit Who convinces of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment in answer to prayer which He inspires; and it is the Spirit Who meets the willing soul with the power of God in salvation.” (pg. 95) I chose this quote because I felt it summarizes the book well.

One new discovery I learned from the book is the warning of pressing people to make a public confession of faith when they are becoming a new believer. I had not thought about the dangers involved with that. My natural thinking was that of course they had to ultimately make the confession to follow Jesus in their heart, and that is what mattered the most. However, I also thought they proved what was in their heart by performing a public action. I now know not to press or promote the public confession so much, and to let the new believer make that decision without so much voluntary influence from me. That is an immediate personal application I took away from the book.

Another personal application is the reminder of how important intercessory prayer is for saving souls. I work with kids in my ministry, and I keep finding myself thinking that the most important part of helping them receive salvation is to tell them about Jesus and demonstrate love. This book was a good reminder the most important part is in fact intercessory prayer.

 

My Evangelistic Testimony

I always believed in God, as I grew up in the church, and was baptized in high school, with my father and younger brother. I never wavered in my faith, but I had a control issue. I did not let God be in control as often as I could, and it left me searching for a deeper purpose and selfishly striving for success, purely for my own personal gain.

As I grew wiser, I started recognizing this pattern of me being in control instead of God. I was coming up with my own plans and holding on too tightly to these plans and my own will. It took me getting to the brink of a total collapse of an intimate relationship that would have also tainted the view of Christ to someone who was desperately searching. I knew then, I could not succeed or do anything positive in the relationship if I did not surrender and let God take control.

I happened to be in Israel at that point, and the next morning, I was re-baptized in the Jordan River. This pivotal moment gave me a chance to reflect on what God had done for me and what my public display of faith and surrender really meant to God and to me. The fact that God sent His only son to die for my sins, become buried, and be raised again to conquer death and forgive me of my disobedience and release me of my stronghold of control was a moment of pure grace I will never forget. I did not deserve to have any man die for my sins in the first place, let alone the Son of God, the only perfect man. I did not deserve a second chance either, but God gave me grace and gave me the fresh start He knew I needed in life at this point. I felt a weight lifted and a burden taken from me that allowed me to have more joy, peace, patience, and compassion in my heart.

Immediately after surrendering to His lead and being re-baptized, my relationship improved, and the girl I was with found Jesus. I started holding on more loosely and try to stay out of God’s way.

That moment of surrender became the catalyst for the rest of my journey. I have become more relaxed and laid back, knowing that God is in complete control. My hopes and dreams are no longer about what I can do for myself, but what I can do, through Christ, for others. I now see that God made me to help lead others to Him and strengthen their relationships with Christ. I see this in my volunteer roles at my church, studying at Dallas Theological Seminary, working at New Horizons of North Texas, and following God wherever else he may end up leading me. I am what I am today because of God’s grace toward me and in me.

The Quest for A Life That Is Spiritual

The story of the quest for a life that is spiritual begins when mankind is created by God. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27, ESV) He creates two humans named and Adam and Eve and gives them a task to bear His image, and to be fruitful and multiply. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28, ESV) Therefore, this task becomes representative of the task for all mankind to fill the earth with the image of Him. Thus, this task and quest becomes personal for every believer.

This quest is extremely difficult because of the nature of God. He is Holy, which means He is distinct from us in several ways. He is a creator that existed before anything. He is outside of everything else that exists, and is not of this world. He is eternal and infinite, and we are temporal. He is Spirit and we are physical flesh. “…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2, ESV) God is also loving, just, merciful, gracious, angry, and jealous. He is all these things perfectly at every moment, always; one characteristic never sacrificing another. In being Holy, He has called us to demonstrate these characteristics perfectly, always, and everywhere. This is something we cannot do, yet we strive for it because this is the quest for a life that is spiritual that He called us to live out.

Adam and Even quickly fail at this quest and rebel against Him because they chose to image and exalt themselves. This was the original sin of mankind. The results of this sin is that we live under curse (Genesis 3:16-19) and God’s wrath that gives us over to our sinful desires (Romans 1:18-32). This means we are dead and not able to do anything on our own to give ourselves life. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1, ESV)

Since this original sin, or fall, mankind is repeatedly given a chance to image God and repeatedly mankind fails by seeking out self-exaltation instead of exalting and imaging Him.

One example of this rebellion and consequence is when God sees how corrupt mankind has become and how they have filled the earth with violence. Because of this rebellion, God commands a righteous and blameless man named Noah to build and ark to save his family while God floods the earth and destroys mankind. God saves Noah and his family to start over with the quest for mankind to live a life that is spiritual and gives them the same task to be fruitful and multiply and image God. (Genes 6-9:17) Noah lasted only a few verses and then fails at this too. (Genesis 9:21-24)

God gives mankind another chance, but they rebel again by building the Tower of Babel, specifically designed to exalt themselves. As a result, God decides to confuse their language and disperse them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)

Yet God does not give up on mankind and the quest. God calls Abram to lead the chosen people of Israel to carry on the quest:

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” (Genesis 12:1–3, ESV)

Later, God pulls the chosen people out of Egypt and they come to Mount Sinai and God says they will be a Kingdom of priests. “and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”” (Exodus 19:6, ESV) The rule of God upon the earth is now going to be established through Israel to function as a kingdom of priests to bring the other nations forward in imaging God and the quest for a life that is spiritual. Yet Israel rebels.

These are just a few examples and, as you can see, mankind continues to rebel and fail, and God continues to give mankind another chance when He would be so clearly justified in giving up and canceling the quest. However, God sends His Son to come to earth and demonstrate the rule of God on the earth, and what it is really like to image and love God and love our neighbor. His Son lived with mankind in fully human form (and fully God also) and fulfilled the law perfectly. In response, His Son, Jesus, is put on trial for blasphemy and insurrection (accused of leading a rebellion against the rule of Rome), and mankind sleighs Him. The act of God sending His Son to die is an intentional sacrifice and exchange of a perfect man who died for the sins of all mankind.

In this sacrifice, God gave us grace. Grace invigorates us and seats us with Christ in heaven. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Ephesians 2:4–5, ESV)

Yet, we do not like grace because we cannot contribute anything. Grace always comes from superior to subordinate. To accept grace is to say, “I cannot do this without you,” and recognizing we have nothing to contribute because of our sin. There is only one way to overcome the curse, wrath, and death; and this is complete dependence on God and his grace.

In The Grace Awakening, Chuck Swindoll explains grace this way:

“In order for anyone to stand securely and be at peace before a holy and just God, that person must be righteous. Hence our need for justification. Remember the definition of justification? It is the sovereign act of God whereby he declares righteous the believing sinner while still in his sinning state. It doesn’t mean that the believing sinner stops sinning. It doesn’t even mean that the believing sinner is made righteous in the sense of suddenly becoming perpetually perfect. The sinner is declared righteous. God sovereignly bestows the gift of eternal life on the sinner at the moment he believes and thereby declares him righteous while the sinner still lives a life marked by periodic sinfulness. He hasn’t joined a church. He hasn’t started paying tithes. He hasn’t given up all to follow Christ. He hasn’t been baptized. He hasn’t promised to live a sacrificial, spotlessly pure life. He has simply taken the gift of eternal life. He has changed his mind toward Christ (repentance) and accepted the free gift of God apart from works. Period. Transaction completed. By grace, through faith alone, God declares the sinner righteous (justification), and from that moment on the justified sinner begins a process of growth toward maturity (sanctification). Day by day, bit by bit, he learns what it means to live a life that honors Christ. But immediately? No way.”

This is grace. Grace reigns over us and must reign over us the entire quest because we have nothing to contribute for our spiritual progress.

The prior law of the Old Testament does not even help us on this quest, because the flesh responds to the law with rebellion. Furthermore, the law inflames the disobedience of our flesh.

As Swindoll alluded, the quest for a life that is spiritual does not end with grace or Jesus’ death. God raises Jesus from the dead and He sends the Spirit to create a new people (the church) to continue the quest of being a kingdom of priests to image God. In this we have been identified with Christ in His death and resurrection. This makes sin our master no longer, because that relationship is dead. The new relationship is with grace as our master. (Romans 6) Furthermore, through Christ, we are no longer under law, but under grace (Romans 7).

Yet we still sin because the flesh did not die with us. The flesh is a set of sinful desires that rebel against God. We are not free from the flesh until Jesus comes back and gives us a new body. Until then, we must engage in this battle against flesh (Romans 7:21-25). What delivers us from this is living according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-11). The Spirit has some primary ministries of use in this battle on the quest: indwelling (the highest level of intimacy that two beings can have – God has given us the Spirit of Jesus so that His presence is as close to us as possible), transforming us to be like the image of Christ, leading us in this battle with the flesh so that we might have deeds that lead towards eternal life instead of death and unrighteousness.

So, it becomes our responsibility to practice certain spiritual disciplines that help us become more and more Spirit lead. Dallas Willard in The Spirit of the Disciplines names a few disciplines in categories of abstinence (solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice) and engagement (study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission).

In Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith argues that the human person is a “lover.” He states, “The point is to emphasize that the way we inhabit the world is not primarily as thinkers, or even believers, but as more affective, embodied creatures who make our way in the world more by feeling our way around it.” This in mind, it is important to have at least a few spiritual disciplines engrained in our lives to help us practice and train our desire to be more Spirit lead. Without them, we do not grow in the Spirit. Smith points out “habits are inscribed in our heart through bodily practices and rituals that train the heart, as it were, to desire certain ends.

The trick is to balance on the tightrope of being disciplined without being legalistic. Legalism is the idea that you need to follow rules to obtain holiness and blessing. This abuses the concept of grace because God says we are already blessed and our performance does not matter. A pure heart does not come from standards, rules, and laws. Impurity comes from the heart.

Thus, the quest for a life that is spiritual still carries on with the same mission of imaging God, but we have been given the powerful gifts of grace, eternal life, and the Holy Spirit to aid us on this quest and guarantee a glorifying conclusion. Said conclusion is being united with God in Heaven, experiencing perfect shalom, for eternity.

Spiritual Discipline

Over the summer, I was challenged to engage in a daily spiritual discipline for two consecutive weeks, keeping a personal journal of the process. I chose the spiritual discipline of journaling at least one prayer every day for two weeks. Journaling my prayers is something I have always wanted to do consistently. I have done it from time to time in the past, but never consistently and deliberately like I did over the two weeks this summer.

There were some benefits of practicing this discipline. I found it beneficial to write out my prayers because it influenced me to be more thoughtful and organized with my prayers. Before I started practicing this discipline, I would pray randomly throughout the day and then pray at night before bed. My random prayers throughout the day really were random thoughts or feelings I wanted to share with God on the spot. My prayer before bed at night was supposed to be more robust, thoughtful, and deliberate. However, some nights I would be so worn out emotionally or mentally that I just could not spend the energy on having a deeper, intimate, thoughtful prayer with God. Instead of being deliberate about some things I wanted to talk to him about (that I even have recorded in the “Prayers” section of my Logos software), I would take a shortcut and express one main point on my mind and call it good. Part of me wished I had more time and energy to spend with God, but part of me thought it was fine because He knew what was on my heart without me having to intentionally express it every day. So, when I journaled my prayers, most of the time, it forced me to have a more intentional and thoughtful conversation with God.

The detriment to this became the battle with the Spirit and my flesh and legalism. After a certain point during the two weeks, I did start to have a few “lazy” nights where I was mentally and emotionally drained and could only journal just a main thought and that was it. Sometimes it was as short as one sentence long. One night, I just plain did not do it because I was so tired. What is interesting to me here is I am still not completely certain how to evaluate this behavior. At first, I thought my flesh was winning the battle against the Spirit because I was getting lazy with my spiritual discipline. However, after some of thought, I began to look at it with a different perspective. That was with the perspective of legalism being an influence. I realized that perhaps I was feeling unnecessary guilt because the sin of legalism was rearing its ugly head and making me feel as though if I did not do my spiritual discipline, I was not as Holy or would not be as blessed.

Overall, I think the experience was very beneficial from both points of view though. I think the times I did practice the discipline, I grew closer to God and became more in step with the Spirit because I was being more faithful and opening myself up more to God and to be led by the Spirit. However, I thought it was also beneficial to see how it made me feel when I got “lazy” or the one time I did not do the discipline, and think about how legalism affects my everyday life and the disciplines I do try to implement. So, what I will keep in mind the next time I am intentionally engaging in spiritual disciplines or even noticing myself inadvertently engaging, is how beneficial it can be to be disciplined and become more engaged in God and the Holy Spirit, but also that it is ok if I slack off from time to time because it does not make me any less Holy or blessed. God still knows my heart and His will is still going to happen regardless. I am sure He would still prefer more engagement as any of us would, but He is also not going to force us to practice a certain discipline for a certain amount of time. He gave us freedom and free will, and it is ok to cherish that to avoid the sin of legalism and circumvent the joy, love, and peace that comes with the freedom and free will.

The Flesh, Legalism, and the Holy Spirit

(1) How does the Flesh influence a Christian’s pursuit of holiness and how can the Christian minimize the influence of the Flesh?

The Flesh influences a Christian’s pursuit of holiness because the flesh works directly in opposition to holiness. The Flesh is a set of sinful passions inside of us that is in direct opposition of the law, the Spirit, and where God wants to take us. The Christian can minimize the influence of the Flesh by being led by the Spirit. The Spirit is in opposition to the Flesh and moves the Christian toward God and away from the flesh. The Spirit puts to death the deeds of the Flesh confirming, therefore, we are children of God.

(2) What is the root error of legalism and how does it show itself in the life of a Christian?

The root error of legalism is that it minimizes God’s holiness and supports the idea that you need to follow rules to obtain His holiness and blessing. The way this shows itself in the Christian life is the abuse of grace. Legalism covers grace, because it promotes obedience to receive blessing. Grace says we are already blessed, and our performance does not matter. Standards, rules, and laws fail to make us pure or keep us pure because impurity comes from the heart. A pure heart does not come from standards, rules, and laws.

(3) How does legalism relate to the Flesh?

Legalism can relate to our Flesh in ways. For example, sometimes my Flesh does not want to practice a spiritual discipline because I do not feel like I have the time, or I am too tired, etc. However, I typically end up forcing myself to do it anyway because I feel as though it is something I must do to obtain holiness and blessing. This is legalism directly relating to my Flesh.