On Elementary Doctrines

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Hebrews 6:1-2)

Three pairs of foundational teachings are the Hebrews instructed to leave:

  1. Repentance of dead works and faith toward God;
  2. Instruction about washings and the laying on of hands;
  3. The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment;

Now, although it’s true that many Christians have not digested this milk yet and have no clue about these things and are not mature, yet this is not the writer’s point. We have to remember that the writer is talking to Hebrew Christians here. And so the question we should ask is how this relates to their immaturity specifically.

The writer is admonishing them not the lay again a foundation, by which he refers to the old Jewish practices rather than Christian doctrine. You have to ask yourself the question what is distinctively Christian about this list. Where is the mention of Jesus or salvation by grace alone? Can you believe or practice these things and not be a follower of Jesus Christ, believing Him to be the Messiah? No!

Let’s look at them again:

  1. Something has changed regarding the way of repentance and faith towards God. Our faith should now be in Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2). Repentance should now be based on conviction from the Holy Spirit, which is now available through the resurrection of Jesus, and sin should be put to death. “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10-11)
  2. The specific ancient Greek word translated baptisms is not the word regularly used in the New Testament to describe Christian baptism. It is the word used on two other specific occasions (Hebrews 9:10 and Mark 7:4) to refer to Jewish ceremonial washings. Yet these washings will not save you. Only Jesus’ blood will save you, and Christian baptism should only be seen as an outward sign in obedience to Jesus of an inward change which is a work done by the Holy Spirit. The laying on of hands is also a reference to these washings.
  3. The object of their hope has changed! No longer should they aim to please God through works, thereby escaping the final judgment and be resurrected from the dead. Now their hope should be in Jesus! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

Now, these elementary principles to move beyond are all items in the “common ground” between Christianity and Judaism. This was a “safe” common ground these Jewish Christians retreated to. Because Christianity did grow out of Judaism, it was a more subtle temptation for a Jewish Christian to slip back into Judaism than it was for a formerly pagan Christian to go back to his pagan ways. Of course, these Jewish Christians did not want to abandon religion, but they did want to make it less distinctively Christian. Therefore, they went back to this “common ground” to avoid persecution. Living in this comfortable common ground, you would not stick out so much. A Jew and a Christian together could say, “Let’s repent, let’s have faith, let’s perform ceremonial washings,” and so forth. But this was a subtle denial of Jesus.

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Five Exhortations From Peter

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:13-15)

1. Prepare your minds for action (v.13)
To prepare our minds for action is to get rid of loose and sloppy thinking, and to bring the rational and reflective powers of your mind under control. It means to control what you think about, what you decide that you will set your mind upon. “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6) “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2). The same concept is talked about by Paul in Ephesians 6:14 where we are to gird our loins with the truth (or fasten on the belt of truth). Putting on the belt prepares you for action, it frees your movements, and it put him in a battle frame of mind. The belt of truth can be described as the whole of what you believe about Christ. It is a foundation you live upon all the time, your understanding of and confidence in the basic doctrines of the faith. In effect we should never take off the belt of truth. We should always be ready for action.

2. Be sober-minded (v.13)
To be sober-minded basically means to have the ability to take a serious look at life. It is an attitude of self-discipline that avoids the extremes. It is one of character qualifications of an elder (1 Timothy 3:2), it is Paul’s charge to Timothy to withstand the apostasy in his church (2 Timothy 4:5), it is something that comes with years (Titus 2:2). Paul links being sober-minded with “having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (2 Thessalonians 5:8). I wrote a blog post about this once, which you can read here

3. Set your hope fully on the grace […] of Jesus Christ (v.13)
Peter has told us a lot about God’s grace. He greeted us with grace (1 Peter 1:2). He told us of the grace that came to us in Jesus, predicted by the prophets of old (1 Peter 1:10). Now he goes further, writing of the grace that is to be brought to you when Jesus comes back. The only way we will be able to stand before Jesus on that day is because of the unmerited favor He gives and will give to us. Grace isn’t just for the past, when we first gave our lives to Jesus. It isn’t only for the present, where we live each moment standing in His grace (Romans 5:2). It is also for the future, when grace will be brought to us. God has only just begun to show us the riches of His grace.

4. Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance (v.14)
We should not be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). We should “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14). We should “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). But I think Paul describes it best in Titus 3:3-7, where he says, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

5. Be holy in all your conduct (v.15)
This is really the summary of Peter’s statement. God says repeatedly in Leviticus to be holy (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7; 20:26; 21:6). We are to be holy as the Lord has set us apart, or as Leviticus 20:26 says, “separated… from the peoples, that you should be mine.” Paul picks up this theme as well when he says that “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4). We are to train ourselves in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7), and we are to pursue godliness (1 Timothy 6:11). Our conduct should translate in our works (James 3:13)

All in all, these exhortations are all words of action and are linked together. As we set our hope fully on the grace of Jesus Christ we realize that He calls us to be holy in all our conduct. This should stir in us a desire to then not be conformed to the passions of our former ignorance, which means that we should prepare our minds for action and become sober-minded.

The Challenge of 2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

There are some prerequisites here:

  • We need to be a people who are called by His name
  • We need to humble ourselves
  • We need to pray
  • We need to seek His face
  • We need to turn from our wicked ways

All these steps are necessary, and can only happen in this order. It is so easy to think that we are called by His name. I mean, how many people are out there calling themselves Christians (to whatever extent), saying they believe in God. But it is God “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:9-10)

Yet even when we are sure of our calling, we need to humble ourselves. Being humble provides us with a set of character traits or attributes which will put us in a position in the world in which we can show the love of God through our good works and sincerity of heart. Secondly, being humble is not an end goal to be achieved, but a starting point to obtain from which all our transformation into Christ-likeness happens. Strangely enough a great book to study humility is James. I did this once, and it was really amazing.

When studying the book of James on the theme of humility my aim was to go through each verse and see if the character of humility was to be found in there. The main two distinctions is what character humility will produce, and what humility will give us. Humility is being patient (James 1:4, James 5:7-8, James 5:11), being self-controlled (James 1:19-20; 3:2), being content (James 4:1-3), being receptive to the Word (James 1:21), being repentant (James 4:8-9), being submissive (James 4:15), and being self-sacrificial (James 5:4-5). Humility will give us glory (James 1:9-10; 4:10), will give us grace (James 4:6), will give us rewards for work (James 1:25), and will give us spiritual healing (James 5:16). For each of the above, we at least need to find the humility to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5; 3:13).

Our humility should (and maybe can only) drive us to our knees, to pray. The reason prayer has such great potential for changing things is God. And the reason prayer is surrounded by such difficult problems is God. If it weren’t for the power of God over natural process and over the human will, there would be no hope in praying for change in the world or in people. And it is that very same power and prerogative of God that creates the problems we stumble over in prayer. This is what Spurgeon said:

“It is our full belief that God has foreknown and predestinated everything that happeneth in heaven above or in the earth beneath, and that the foreknown station of a reed by the river is as fixed as the station of a king, and “the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses.” Predestination embraceth the great and the little, and reacheth unto all things; the question is, wherefore pray? Might it not as logically be asked wherefore breathe, eat, move, or do anything? We have an answer which satisfies us, namely, that our prayers are in the predestination, and that God has as much ordained His people’s prayers as anything else, and when we pray we are producing links in the chain of ordained facts. Destiny decrees that I should pray — I pray; destiny decrees that I shall be answered, and the answer comes to me.”

And prayer is hard work! “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). The Greek word used here for “devote yourselves” is “proskartereō” and means to “to be devoted, steadfastly attentive, persevere, constant readiness, be strong”. Wow, to be devoted to prayer means to be constant ready, to be steadfastly attentive. Prayer is hard work. I never considered prayer to be hard work. I mean, do you ever need to take a shower after you’re done praying because you sweat so much of the hard work? I don’t! The other verse is “Epaphras… always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12). The Greek word for “laboring earnestly” is “agonizomai” meaning “to contend with adversaries, fight, to endeavour with strenuous zeal”. So it’s not only hard work, it’s a fight.

But not only pray, but also seek His face. The Bible talks about this in a number of verses:

  • Jehoshaphat sought God’s face on the eve of a great battle (2 Chronicles 20:2-4);
  • We are commanded to seek His face (Psalm 24:5-6; 27:7-9; 105:4; Hosea 5:15)
  • We receive justice through it (Proverbs 29:26)
  • Daniel sought His face in his prayer about the 70 weeks (Daniel 9:3)

Turning towards God, seeking His face, means being confronted with His glory. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are being transformed – progressively, degree by degree – into the image of Christ the Lord. This work of transformation is a process. We are becoming like Christ. We are growing in our capacity to show Christ by being like Christ. That is God’s will for us. That we be progressively be conformed to the image of Christ. When we behold the glory of God we see the face of Jesus Christ, and it transforms! God’s life in us is started or brought into existence and our human heart life, love, thoughts and power is replaced by God’s supernatural life, love, thoughts and power. It cannot be that we are beholding the glory of God and are not being transformed. Yes, we have our own willpower, but “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) must have as a result that we turn from our wicked ways…

And the result? God will listen, and respond. Isn’t that amazing!

Does God Know Math?

Yes, He does! And that’s great, because I love math too, and I love God. It’s a perfect triangle 😉

There are two instances that I want to discuss here, and then give some thoughts about these.

Instance 1: Genesis 1:1
As you may know, Hebrew letters have numerical values. If you examine the numerical values of each of the Hebrew letters, and the numerical value of the words, and apply them to this formula: (The number of letters * the product of the letters) / (The number of words * the product of the words), then the result is 3.1416 x 10-17. The mathematical value of pi to four decimal places! Coincidence? Maybe. The ancient Hebrew sages believed, of course, that God created the heavens and the earth. However, some of them believed that the Word of God was the very template with which He did it. This strikes some of us as simply a colorful exaggeration that goes beyond any direct evidence. But there are hints here and there…

Instance 2: John 1:1
Also Greek letters have numerical values. And so let’s examine the numerical values of each of the Greek letters as well, and the numerical value of the words, and apply the same formula as above. The result is 2.7183 x 10-65. The mathematical value of e to four decimal places! Curious to say the least.

Each of these is another of those puzzling ostensible “coincidences” that are too astonishing to dismiss, and yet present challenges in suggesting any real significance. And taken together, they do evoke some conjectures. There are, however, at least two problems: why just four decimal places (they both deviate from the fifth place onwards) and what do you do with all the “extra zeroes”? It could be a hint of something deeper maybe.

OK, enough math… What does this all signify? Simple. It signifies the beauty of God! Let’s see what the mathematicians say about pi (quotes taken from the above mentioned source):

pi is an irrational number, meaning that it cannot be written as the ratio of two integers.
Integers are mathematically the natural numbers. They are numbers that can be written without a fractional or decimal component. They are the “simple” numbers. God is irrational in the sense that you cannot just get a clean picture of Him by just working with some simple things. You can in the way of just believing in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, but then you conclude that God is 3.14. Yet there are so many more digits to take into consideration when trying to get a full picture.

pi is also a transcendental number, meaning that there is no polynomial with rational coefficients for which pi is a root. […] An important consequence of the transcendence of π is the fact that it is not constructible.
God is also transcendental in that He is superior, supernatural, one, true, good, etc.

Let’s see what the mathematicians say about e (quotes taken from the above mentioned source):

The mathematical constant e is the unique real number
God is also unique and real.

e is one of the most important numbers in mathematics
God is the most important person in the universe.

The number e is irrational; it is not a ratio of integers. Furthermore, it is transcendental
Same explanation applies here as with pi.

So, in summary, what does it signify? That everything, absolute everything in our universe points to God. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17)

A Simple IF-THEN-ELSE

The whole Proverbs chapter 2 is really amazing, and definitely a holy calling for a lifetime. What is great about this chapter is that it is a “simple” if-then-else structure. If you do this, then this will happen. Plain and simple! Actually, let’s just write it down like that to make it clear.

IF YOU

{
receive my words (v.1)
treasure up my commandments with you (v.1)
make your ear attentive to wisdom (v.2)
incline your heart to understanding (v.2)
call out for insight (v.3)
raise your voice for understanding (v.3)
seek [wisdom] like silver (v.4)
search for [wisdom] as for hidden treasures (v.4)
}

THEN YOU

{
will find the knowledge of God (v.5)
will understand the fear of the LORD (v.5)
will understand righteousness (v.9)
will understand justice (v.9)
will understand equity (v.9)
will understand every good path (v.9)
will have wisdom come into your heart (v.10)
will have knowledge which will be pleasant to your soul (v.10)
will have discretion watching over you (v.11)
will have understanding guarding you (v.11)
will walk in the way of the good (v.20)
will keep to the paths of the righteous (v.20)
will inhabit and remain in the land (v.21)
will be delivered from the way of evil (v.12)
will be delivered from men of perverted speech (v.12)

{
who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness (v.13)
who rejoice in doing evil (v.14)
who delight in the perverseness of evil (v.14)
who have paths that are crooked (v.15)
who are devious in their ways (v.15)
}

will be delivered from the forbidden woman, the adulteress with her smooth words (v.16)

{
who forsakes the companion of her youth (v.17)
who forgets the covenant of her God (v.17)
}

}

ELSE

{
your house sinks down to death (v.18)
your paths will sink to the departed (v.18)
you will be cut off from the land (v.22)
you will be rooted out of the land (v.22)
}

How can we be sure of this? Because of the amazing character of the LORD

  1. the LORD gives wisdom (v.6)
  2. from his mouth comes knowledge (v.6)
  3. from his mouth comes understanding (v.6)
  4. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright (v.7)
  5. He is a shield to those who walk in integrity (v.7)
  6. He is guarding the paths of justice (v.8)
  7. He is watching over the way of his saints (v.8)

Aren’t these amazing promises! I love how the conditions are few yet the outcome is great. It gives me great enthusiasm to go for it! I think the conditions can be summed up as one who by grace of God is pursuing humility and diligently searches for God’s heart and is eager to have an unveiled face to behold the glory of God (2 Corinthians 3:18), to see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) and be transformed into His image. Wow!