Can you understand the Bible?

Don’t be deceived into thinking you cannot understand the Bible. The Bible is the richest resource we possess for guiding us in life. It reveals to us the nature and character of God. Through the Old Testament stories we begin to see how God relates to his people. We gain an understanding of the heart of God.

There was a time when only priests had access to the Bible. In fact lay people were discouraged from reading the Bible because it was presumed that they would incorrectly interpret the Bible. There is some room for incorrect interpretation, but the danger of not reading it is much greater.

When you read the Old Testament, look for a common theme. I had a Bible scholar teach me that the theme of the Old Testament is found in Exodus 3:5-7.

5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

While reading through the Old Testament, think about the character of God. You will see he is consistent throughout. Ask his Holy Spirit to guide you as you read. Jesus promised that when he left he would send a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to guide his followers into all truth.

The Bible is a great source of strength to those who study it and try to understand its message. It is like a treasure in a field. Not everyone will search it out, but those who do are richly rewarded.

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Freedom from the fear of death

The first consequence of evil, when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, was a sense of guilt and separation from God. In the Old Testament God instituted an animal sacrifice ritual to atone for the guilt of the people. This was a temporary remedy pointing to the coming of Christ.

The Bible teaches us that sin results in death.”The wages of sin is death….” (Romans 6:23). The ordinance of sacrifice was instituted as a reminder that there was a great price to pay for sin, but the blood of goats and lambs could not take away sin indefinitely.

With the coming of Christ, animal sacrifices for sin were done away with. Jesus, God’s Son, born of a virgin and without sin, died and rose from the dead. He was the, “spotless lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Because Christ was without sin, death could not overpower him and keep him in the grave. Similarly, everyone who believes in him and accepts his gift of “salvation” from sin will experience the resurrection power of Christ. They will live with him for eternity.

This gift of salvation and eternal life is offered to everyone. However, people do not automatically receive forgiveness of sins. We must acknowledge Christ as our “Saviour.”

It is really very simple, but surprisingly difficult at the same time. The reason is that it is not just a matter of praying a prayer asking for forgiveness. If you believe that Christ is the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world, it follows that accepting his forgiveness also means you are committed to his kingship in your life. The Son of God deserves no less than our surrender and worship.

The prayer of acceptance of salvation and commitment to Christ may go something like this,

“Heavenly Father, I believe that Jesus died and was raised from the dead. His life was sacrificed for the sins of the world. I ask you to forgive my sins, in Jesus’ name. I give my life to you. I invite your presence to indwell me and empower me to live for you. Amen.”

When you have prayed this prayer you will want to tell someone about it and you will also want to find a group of people who have come to a similar faith. You may encounter resistance from those who do not believe. This is not uncommon. There are many groups of believers, some meeting in churches, some in homes, some in schools or other facilities.

If you do not find a group of believers immediately, you can still have a growing relationship with God by praying, talking to him daily about all aspects of your life, and by reading his word, the Bible. I encourage you to start reading the New Testament, that is the second section of the Bible. It is easier to understand and more relevant for daily living. It also begins with accounts of the life of Christ.

If you desire you may email me at: friesentina@gmail.com.

Peace with God

Many times I summarize teachings of the Bible, but today I am including an excerpt, from the fifth chapter of the book of Romans, in the New Testament. The letter, or epistle, was written by the apostle Paul to the Christians in Rome.

If you find the reading a little stilted it is because the translators have tried to remain as close as possible to the earliest Greek manuscripts. There are 6,000 manuscripts of all or parts of the New Testament available for reference today, many dating as early as the second and third century. This great quantity assures us of the accuracy of the text. For additional reading on the subject, consult Bible Texts and Versions by Russell Fuller and Charles W. Draper, as found in The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 2003.

I am presenting two versions for comparison. The first is the New International Version of the Bible (NIV) and the second is from the more recent English Standard Version (ESV). You can find these and other Bible passages at www.biblegateway.com

This portion explains how sin entered the world through the trespass of one man–Adam, and similarly reconciliation to God is made possible through the righteousness of one man–Christ.

Romans 5

New International Version (NIV)

Peace and Hope

5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned–

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Footnotes:

  1. Romans 5:1 Many manuscripts let us
  2. Romans 5:2 Or let us
  3. Romans 5:3 Or let us

Romans 5

English Standard Version (ESV)

Peace with God Through Faith

5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith[b] into this grace in which we stand, and we[c]rejoice[d] in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Death in Adam, Life in Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men[e] because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass[f] led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness[g] leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Footnotes:

  1. Romans 5:1 Some manuscripts let us
  2. Romans 5:2 Some manuscripts omit by faith
  3. Romans 5:2 Or let us; also verse 3
  4. Romans 5:2 Or boast; also verses 311
  5. Romans 5:12 The Greek word anthropoi refers here to both men and women; also twice in verse 18
  6. Romans 5:18 Or the trespass of one
  7. Romans 5:18 Or the act of righteousness of one

How do we experience the presence of God today, without the Ark of the Covenant?

What is it like to experience the presence of God? Well, for Uzza it meant he was struck dead. Not very comforting. In fact, this does not fit well into our theology today.

Some people might dismiss it as an Old Testament story, but I wouldn’t be so quick to do that. After all, we have a New Testament parallel. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for pretending they were giving all the money from the sale of their land when they were keeping back a portion (Acts 5).

There is an interesting verse in the book of Proverbs that says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The truth is that anyone who takes on the challenge to read the Old Testament will discover that the fear of the Lord was woven into the fabric of faith, so to speak.

Our popular concept of love is one that rules out fear in a relationship. In some ways it is right. There is a verse in the New Testament book of 1 John, that has been a comfort to me, which declares, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, for fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”

Another version of the Bible says, “fear has to do with punishment.” That is why it is not part of perfect love. My understanding of this would be that when we have been perfected by love, we will no longer be in fear of punishment.

So, what is the presence of God like? Is it a feeling? Is it a vision? How can we know God is present?

The experience will vary from person to person. Some do indeed experience a feeling. Others have a vision or may even hear God’s voice, as we read that Paul did, in the book of Acts. Feelings may include a sense of awe, a feeling of being loved, or being flooded with peace. There may also be less pleasant feelings of conviction of sin, and fear of punishment.

Feelings are not always reliable indicators of the presence of God. At times a Christian can be flooded with feelings of condemnation and worthlessness. These feelings are most often an indication of the oppression of the devil who seeks to rob, kill and destroy. God, on the other hand, offers hope and release from bondage. He wants to lift us out of this dark pit of despair. He may chastise us for a moment, like a father disciplines a child, but it is for the purpose of bringing us back into a closer relationship with him. Remember, God is love.

God is everywhere. There is no place where he is not. But at times he makes himself personal to us. This presence, I think, has more to do with our personal awareness. We can experience his presence when we read the Bible, or listen to a teaching about God. We can experience it when we pray or worship. The Bible says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Christians throughout the centuries have endeavored to practice the presence of God through various spiritual disciplines like fasting, silence, giving, ministering to people in need, and other means. Some Christians compare the feeling that God is distant to going through a wilderness experience, a time of testing similar to what Jesus experienced as he was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by the devil, at the beginning of his ministry. A sense of distance from God can be a test, or it may be the consequence of disobedience.

In the early chapters of the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible ,we read two stories about the presence of God. Adam and Eve heard the sound of God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day. I wonder how many pleasant evenings like this they had spent with God? But on this particular day they hid themselves from his presence because they had disobeyed him. Disobedience tends to move us away from God.

The other story is the brief account of Enoch in Genesis 5. Here it is: “When Enoch had lived sixty-five years he fathered Methusela. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methusela for three hundred years and had other sons and daughters. Thus Enoch lived three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”

This is truly one of my favorite stories of the Bible. Enoch did not die. God took him. After he walked with God for three hundred years on earth, God thought it was time to take him to be with him forever in paradise. Talk about extraordinary!

This illustrates the ultimate experience of the presence of God. One day God promises he will come back for all “who love his appearing,” in other words, who love his presence, and take us to be with him for eternity.

The presence of God

In 1 Chronicles 13-16 we find a story of King David returning the Ark of the Covenant to the city of David where he had pitched a tent for it. It is an interesting story that raises some questions particularly surrounding the death of Uzza who reached out to steady the ark when it looked like it might topple off of the cart being used to transport it. After this David left the ark at the home of Obed-edom and it took awhile for him to get up the courage to make another attempt and finish the journey. We read that God blessed the house of Obed-edom and understand this was because the ark was at his house.

So what is the Ark of the Covenant? Essentially it was a box that was fashioned according to the design God gave Moses when he was on the mountain where he also received the Ten Commandments. Along with the Ten Commandments there were instructions for sacrifice and for building a tabernacle that would house the Ark of the Covenant. God’s presence would reside with the Ark of the Covenant. This was why David sought to bring it to his own home city. He wanted the presence of God and subsequently the blessing of God to be with him.

The ark was housed in the Holy of Holies, a separate area of the tabernacle that could only be accessed by the high priest once a year. Yet here we see the ark, unsheltered, in the midst of the people. This was because during time of war the ark had been captured by the enemy, who thought it was the ark that was giving the nation of Israel success in battle.

When Uzza died trying to steady the ark David was angry with God. Picture all of Israel, worshipping, “rejoicing before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets,” and suddenly one of the men driving the cart on which the Ark of the Covenant rested was struck dead. David, understandably, could not conceive why God would cause such a thing to happen. There is no question that he blamed God.

What impresses me about this story is David’s love for the presence of God. He expected God would be pleased that he was restoring the ark to its proper place, but evidently not even David fully understood the ways of God. It turned out that the instructions for transporting the ark had been disregarded. The ark was later carried by the Levites, on their shoulders with poles, as Moses had commanded them and safely reached Jerusalem.

In the New Testament we read that when Jesus died on the cross the curtain in the temple that separated the Ark of the Covenant from the area where the common people gathered, was torn from top to bottom. To the Jews this was a miracle that symbolized that Jesus opened the way for everyone, not only the priests to have access to the presence of God.

We can read of David’s love for God’s presence in the many Psalms that he wrote. David understood this New Testament truth of the accessibility of God. The death of Uzza merely showed that we must not consider God as common. We cannot presume that he will put his stamp of approval on all we do, even if we are worshipping him with all our heart. He has a pattern, a plan. We must seek it and heed it.

No chance to repent, seriously?

I have always been troubled by the reference to Esau in Hebrews 12 where it says that his repentance was rejected.

This morning I was reading in Hebrews, portions of chapters 11-13. This little story of Esau is tucked into the middle of chapter 12. The full story is found in Genesis 25. I related it to my meditation yesterday in the book of James on the subject of the fruit of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law”

How many of these qualities were absent in Esau’s decision to trade his birthright for a bowl of food? He wanted what he wanted and he wanted it now, without any consideration for how this would affect his future. I would say he definitely lacked patience and self-control. I think he also fell short in the faithfulness area. He failed to be a good steward of his inheritance.

His brother Jacob, knowing the value of the birthright, saw his opportunity. It was a devious thing for Jacob to do, to ask Esau to trade his birthright for food, but if Esau was foolish enough to go along with the plan, well, too bad for him.

Jacob visualized his future with the inheritance of the firstborn, while Esau remained focused on his current need and pleasure. Esau gave up something which later he was not able to retrieve. A hasty decision in the moment caused him to forfeit his future happiness and security.

When the time came for Esau to receive his inheritance and he learned it had been given to his brother Jacob, Esau tearfully sought the blessing that should have come to him. But the privileges of his birthright could not be reinstated. He could not go back to the way things were before his decision.

What lesson can I learn from this story? I think the lesson here is to place value on what is truly of worth. It is important to think long term and be patient. It may be necessary to delay satisfying immediate, short term desires in order not to jeopardize the more important long term benefits.

Esau “found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” It does appear that some consequences are irreversible. The result of certain choices cannot be undone. We need to think about this beforehand. Afterward it may be too late.

What changed after Easter?

We have just celebrated Easter, the resurrection of Christ. What is the significance of the coming of Christ to earth? What changed after Easter?

The answer is found in the Bible. The significance of Christ appears in the Old Testament as well as the New. A great deal of richness is lost if one does not know the “back story.” There are many layers of truth to be uncovered, not unlike an archeological dig. I find the process fascinating.

I had a small insight concerning Christ in my devotional time this morning. My reading was from the book of Ezekiel, portions of chapters 42-44. In these chapters instructions are given for sacrificial purification. One very marked historical difference after Easter is the discontinuation of sacrifices in the Jewish tradition for those who called themselves disciples of Christ, later known as Christians.

Animal sacrifice for cleansing from sin and atonement of guilt were prescribed by God after the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham, were delivered by Moses from slavery in Egypt. In chapter 42 of Ezekiel we read of the necessity to make “…a separation between the holy and the common.” Throughout the Bible we are reminded of the holiness and righteousness of God and we see him at work to make a way for an unholy and unrighteous people to approach him. “I will accept you,” he declares in Ezekial 43, when the conditions of sacrifice are met.

This ritual of sacrifice was a considerable burden for the nation of Israel. If the people were straying from God, one of the first signs was the forsaking of sacrifices or the profaning of  sacrifices by disregarding instructions.

Jesus is metaphorically referred to as the “lamb of God,” because he came to put an end to animal sacrifice. He became the final and perfect sacrifice for sin. When Moses was leading the Israelites through the wilderness there was an occasion when God sent poisonous snakes among them to punish them for their disobedience. Moses, according to God’s instruction, made a serpent of brass and fastened it to a pole and lifted it up for the people to see. Anyone who looked at the snake could be healed (Numbers 21). Just like the snake-bitten Israelites in the wilderness were saved on the day when they looked at the serpent, so anyone today can be forgiven, healed of their sin by looking at Jesus their Saviour. It is so simple.

What stood out for me in my reading was the fact that God’s attitude towards sin has not changed. He still separates the holy and the common. Another translation says, “the holy and the profane.” Forgiveness through Christ is a remedy for sin and disobedience. It is never an excuse to continue in our snake-bitten, and poisoned condition.

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:18-23