Friday, March 26, 2010

Lawlessness, Part 1: anomia

“Who gave himself for us,

that he might redeem us from all lawlessness”

Titus 2:14

“You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.

Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the

oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

Hebrews 1:9

When I began to work on my New Testament translation, a particular Greek word, anomia, caught my attention. That word, anomia, is usually translated “iniquity” in the King James Version even though it actually means “lawlessness”, or more literally, “without law”. In the beginning, I followed the example of the King James and other translators by translating anomia as “iniquity”, but something about doing that did not settle with my spirit. The more I worked on the translation, the more I began to think that “iniquity” did not adequately express what the writers of the New Testament intended with the word anomia. In the end, I decided that “lawlessness” is the only word that communicates what they intended to say.

John defined what sin itself is in 1John 3:4, using anomia. He wrote, “Everyone who does sin also does lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness [anomia].” By using the word anomia, John was teaching the children of God what sin really is; that is, sin is whatever is not according to God’s law. If in 1John 3:4, one were to translate anomia as “iniquity”, it would read, “sin is iniquity”. But what good would that statement be? Everybody knows that sin is iniquity. But not everybody knows that sin is living contrary to God’s law! Not everybody understands that sin is lawlessness! One can say “sin is iniquity” or “iniquity is sin”, and nothing is explained because both mean the same thing. But when John said, “sin is lawlessness”, he was educating us in the things of God. Iniquity is defined for us when we accurately translate John’s words.

Law Provides Social Boundaries

All of us need boundaries. We need to live with an awareness of what is appropriate behavior and speech. That is why God gave His law to man. Before God gave His law to Israel, rulers of other nations had devised laws of their own. I have studied several of these law codes, such as the famous Code of Hammurabi, and I am sure that they seemed very good to the people who crafted them. But those laws fell far short of teaching men what is truly right and wrong. God’s law, however, was perfect. It revealed a righteousness that no other law code had shown to mankind. God’s law taught men what kind of conduct was truly appropriate. People could please God and benefit their neighbors by walking in His law.

In our debased culture, we see lawless behavior everywhere we look. It is common now to hear foul language on street corners or in cafeterias, from the mouths of the old as well as the young and foolish, and to see people, young and old, dressed inappropriately in public places. Many people now seem to lack a sense of decency and order. That is lawlessness. That is what sin is. It is behavior that is not governed by the wisdom of God; it is life without an awareness of God’s presence. Lawlessness is to live without being guided by the law of God, without being aware of the boundaries of right conduct. In short, lawlessness is to walk in the flesh rather than in the Spirit because the flesh is lawless.

In this covenant, to be lawless is to be Spiritless. When we receive the Spirit, we receive the law of God into our hearts; God’s feelings, God’s thoughts, God’s will becomes a part of us. This is what Peter meant when he said that the children of God “have been made partakers of the divine nature.” Because God knows what is right, those with His Spirit can feel that knowledge guiding them. Because God loves people, those with His Spirit can sense what is appropriate behavior around people. Because God is wise, those with His Spirit within discern it when an unclean spirit of this age draws near. That being guided by the Spirit, that inner sensing of what is good, that discernment, is living, as Paul said, “under law to God,” and every other way of living is sin because every other way is lawlessness.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The “Self-Esteem” Agenda

I am a worm, and no man.”
Christ, in Psalm 22:6

What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
David, in Psalm 8:6

An essay on self-esteem by Token Embry.

Self-Esteem is an important component of society today. Society frowns upon criticism of a child’s character. Yet the gospel teaches that in us, “there is no good thing” (Rom. 7:18) The point of the gospel is that we are born in need of some help from Jesus. We do not know how to choose what is good and right without the spirit to guide us in all truth. We are inherently bad creatures. We are inherently wrong in our hearts because we do not know God. This is opposite of what so many teachers, counselors and even parents will say to children today.
When I was a child in elementary school, the whole school was brought to the auditorium for an assembly on “Self-Esteem”. In an effort to teach us how wonderful we were, we sang over and over a one-line song, “I am special; I’m important; I’m unique.” I and many of my classmates were embarrassed. We avoided the microphone as it was passed around for us to sing into. But our teachers all encouraged us to sing it and sing it loud! This incident shows just how self-focused we were taught to be, and that symbolizes the whole approach to education that I received growing up by well-meaning adults.

In order to reach Jesus at some point, every child who was asked to sing that song will have to come to a different place where they say in their hearts, “No. There is nothing good about me. It is your love, Jesus, that has given me the wonderful life I have. I did not inherently deserve it or even know how to desire what was right. But you do, and I want what you want for me, not my own ways. I need your help to find what is right.” The point of the Gospel is that we need God’s help. We should seek him and pray to get it. It is a “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:46). But if we are so “special, important and unique” then how can we admit fault and our need of help?

The Gospel teaches us that if there is anything good about us, it comes from above, from God’s life in us. It is His spirit that shows us how to love the ones we love and how to be good, like our Father. While it is God’s “good pleasure to give us the kingdom” (Luke 12:32), we can not forget it comes from him. What we need today is to know that God’s thoughts and feelings in us are not our own. We cannot have right thoughts without God. And we need to stop taking credit for what God gives us, confusing them as our own, but rather to enjoy freely the wonderful gifts they are. We need to esteem them so highly that no man can persuade us otherwise. To be so thrilled that God has rescued us, we do not let go of his instruction. To be so hungry for His Voice, that the sound overtakes any other sound around us. What we need is God-Esteem, not self-esteem.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

God’s Chambers

He brings the wind out of His treasuries

Psalm 135:7

When the Spirit came upon king David and moved his hand to write out the pattern for the temple to be built in Jerusalem, that pattern included chambers within and around the temple. Into some of these chambers were brought the tithes and offerings for the priests, and into others were kept some of the other things necessary for the maintenance of the temple and cult of Israel. Chambers in which the king’s treasures were kept were referred to as “treasuries”, as in the verse above. Sometimes, prophets or prophetesses occupied some of the temple’s chambers, such as the prophetess Anna who came out of her chamber to greet the baby Jesus when his parents brought him to the temple for the first time (Lk. 2:36-38): “And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (a widow about 84 years old), who departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in at that moment, she gave thanks unto the Lord, and spoke of him [the baby Jesus] to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”

The author of Hebrews let us know that the temple in Jerusalem was a figure of heaven itself (Heb. 8:5; 9:23), and so, it should not surprise us that the Bible often speaks of God’s chambers, or treasuries, in which He holds things in store. The “treasuries” mentioned in the psalm above is a reference to the chamber in which the wind is held, to be brought out and used when and where it pleases the Lord. God asked Job, “Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war?” (Job 38:22-23). David said that God “waters the hills from his chambers, and the earth is satisfied” (Ps. 104:13).

Winds, precipitation, sunlight, and whatever other essential elements of nature there may be, are all stored up by God to be used as it pleases Him. “By faith, we understand” that “mother nature” is a fantasy of man’s darkened heart and that this universe is held together and operates by the power and choice of God, not by the so-called “laws of physics”. This universe does not operate by it’s own power but by the power of God, through Jesus Christ His Son: “For by him were all things created, things in the heavens, and things on earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities, all things were created through him and for him, and he is before all things, and all things are held together by him” (Col. 1:16-17).

Jeremiah understood this. He asked the rhetorical question, “Can the heavens give rain?” (Jer. 14:22). The answer is, no. Rain can no more come from heaven than it can come from rocks. God gives us rain, and when we understand that, we perceive something about the goodness and wisdom and power of God.

Hiding Places

The most touching reference to the chambers of God is found in Isaiah 26. This portion of Scripture is a prophecy of the end of time, when God will strike the earth with merciless plagues – but only after sending His Son to take the saints up into chambers prepared for them in heaven, safely out of the way of the wrath on earth. Isaiah spoke of that wonderful mercy with these words: “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee. Hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (Isa. 26:20-21).

God has already prepared a hiding place for us, to keep us in those days when death and disaster will cover the earth. When the time comes, our heavenly Father will send Jesus to take us up, and to cover us with his love until God’s indignation against the wickedness of this world is past. In spirit, David was moved again to sing of that time (Ps. 57:1): “Be merciful unto me, O God! Be merciful unto me! For my soul trusteth in thee. Yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until the calamities be overpast.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Honoring Children above God

“Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded,

and honor your sons above Me,

to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel My people?”

God, to Israel’s high priest, Eli, in 1Samuel 2:29

The only way to truly honor God is to follow His example and obey His counsel. Merely to agree that God is right about something brings Him no honor. We honor Him by doing things the way He says to do them. And if we are to honor God in all things, that must include the way we rear our children.

We are told by Paul to bring up our children in a caring, godly manner. He said, “You fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” To nurture means “to feed or nourish; to support and bring up to maturity; to rear”. It is to provide a child with a sense of order and goodness. When children are not provided with those things, they are more susceptible to spirits of self-will and lawlessness, as in the case of the two wicked sons of Israel’s high priest, Eli.

Eli failed to set a standard for his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. When they were young, he failed to chasten them, and the results when they were grown men were tragic for everyone in Israel. This same unwillingness to correct disobedient children and teach them how to behave is rampant in our society. On every hand, in public and in private, children, not Jesus, prove themselves to be their parents’ masters. By such ungovernable conduct as we commonly see now, parents everywhere are made to look weak and foolish. And they are. But God has the answer for those who are willing to receive it.

In our time, society has shifted away from the acceptance of spanking as a means of punishment. It is my understanding that children can be legally taken from their homes now if a parent spanks a child. Through Solomon, God said that the blueness of a wound would “cleanse away evil” (Prov. 20:30). But this culture seems to be saying that the blueness of a wound is sufficient grounds to forcibly take your children away from you. Thinking themselves wise, men often become fools (Rom. 1:22), and the tragic results for our society of the present mind set toward punishment of children, especially corporal punishment, has yet to be fully realized.

Solomon’s friend Agur described the spiritual condition of some youngsters of his day: “There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up.” But this condition is not the fault of the young people who have not received godly love and guidance. It is almost always the fault of parents who are so self-indulgent that they cannot bring themselves to chasten their children when it needs to be done. Every godly parent feels the pain of a child who is being punished; nevertheless, every godly parent will put himself through that pain if his child demonstrates a need for the punishment. Who wants to see one’s child sad? But better to make them sad now than to deny that correction to the child and let him grow increasingly self-indulgent and rebellious, and then suffer the awful consequences of self-indulgence and rebellion as an adult.

Some people characterize corporal punishment as brutality, and all children who receive such punishment would agree with those fools. I know that, as a child, I certainly would have characterized my spankings as brutality. But that is only because “no chastening for the present seems joyous, but grievous” and because “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child”. But as Solomon said, “the rod of correction will drive foolishness far from them” (Prov. 22:15). And once that is done, the chastisement children receive “bears the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” I can only imagine now how lawless and self-consumed a person I would have become without my parents’ discipline. I know they loved me because as long as they had me under their roof, they would not allow me to live in a way that was destructive to myself and others. They set a standard in their home and made certain that we children lived by it – for our good, not just theirs.

Foolish parents love themselves too much to spank their children. In refusing to give their children discipline if they need it, they are loving themselves more than their children, and honoring their children above the God who tells us how to bring up our children. The only hope for such ill-trained young people is that God will call them into His kingdom. If He does, He will certainly chasten them, sometimes severely, and He will do so with no fear whatsoever that any government will come and take His precious sons and daughters out of His hand. “For whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:6).

Here are a few Scriptures that concern the chastening of children by their elders, and the chastening of the saints by God:

God’s Instructions concerning the chastening of children

Proverbs 19:18:

“Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.”

Proverbs 13:24:

“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him chastens him betimes [that is, early].”

Proverbs 23:13-14:

“Withhold not correction from the child, for if you beat him with the rod, he shall not die. You shall beat him with the rod and shall deliver his soul from hell.”

The Way God Deals with His Children

2Samuel 7:14 (concerning David’s young son Solomon, when he would become King):

“I will be his Father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men.”

Psalm 94:8-14:

“Understand, you brutish among the people! And you fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see? He who chastises the heathen (see Deut. 11:1-4), shall He not correct? He who teaches man knowledge, shall he not know?

“The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are vain.

“Blessed is the man whom you chasten, O Lord, and teach him out of thy Law, that you may give him rest from the days of adversity until the Pit be digged for the wicked. For the Lord will not cast off His people; neither will He forsake His inheritance.”

Psalm 118:18:

“The Lord has chastened me sore, but He has not given me over to death.”

Job 34:31-32: “Surely it is fitting to be said to God, ‘I have borne chastisement; I will not offend any more. That which I see not, teach me. If I have done iniquity, I will do no more.’”

1 Corinthians 11:30-32:

“For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord that we should not be condemned with the world.”

Revelation 3:19:

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.”

Proverbs 3:11-12:

“My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary of His correction, for whom the Lord loves, He corrects, even as a father the son in whom he delights.”

Note: Proverbs 8:30 and Hebrews 5:7-9 and 2:9-10.


Leviticus 26:14-45: In these verses, we see God refusing to give up on His people. He loved them too much not to punish them for their sins.

Isaiah 1:1-9: As with any parent, God at times became frustrated with stubborn children. Here in Isaiah, God says there is no use for Him to continue to chasten them, but He continued trying to help them, anyway.

Jeremiah 31:18-21: God’s heart aches for His chastened people. But He loves them more than He loves Himself, and so, He does for them whatever they need Him to do, including punishing them.

Hosea 11:8: When the time came for God to give His people over to the heathen because He could no longer reason with them, it broke His heart. He knew what horrible suffering they would have to endure at their hands. But for their good, He did it. We can feel God’s pain in these words: “How shall I give you up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver you [to your enemies], Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboiim? [These two cities were destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah.] My heart is turned within me! My repentings are kindled together.”

Hebrews 12:1-17: This portion of Scripture is an exhortation for us to have faith in God’s love for us, even when He chastens us.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Keeping the Sabbath

A thought inspired by a conversation with Brother Earl Pittman

God was determined that His Old Testament people would honor His sabbaths. Not only were the Israelites commanded to rest on the sabbath, but foreigners who sojourned within the borders of the promised Land had to cease from their work on God’s Sabbaths. Even the slaves and animals that people owned were not allowed to work. Indeed, even the land itself was given a sabbath from being cultivated, every seventh year. God said to Israel, “the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the Lord. You shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard” (Lev. 25:2-4). And God warned the Israelites that if they failed to keep their sabbaths, and failed to allow the land to keep its sabbath, then He would send them into captivity so that the Promise Land could at last keep the sabbath days that they had refused to give it.

This came to pass. After centuries of patient forbearance, God sent the Assyrian army, and then the Babylonian army, to conquer the Israelites and carry them away. When the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar overwhelmed God’s people, we are told in 2Chronicles 36:20-21 that “those who escaped from the sword, he carried away to Babylon, where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia . . . until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths, for as long as she lay desolate, she kept sabbath.”

We who live under this New Covenant are also commanded to keep God’s sabbath, the sabbath of walking in the Spirit and resting from our own works and ways. And God is just as determined that we will keep this new sabbath as He was determined that His Old Testament people keep their form of the sabbath. When the Corinthians failed to keep the Lord’s sabbath by ceasing from their own ways, Paul told them that because of their failure to walk in the Spirit “many are feeble and sick among you, and quite a few have fallen asleep” (1Cor. 11:30).

God is going to get glory from His people. If we give it to Him willingly by walking in the Spirit and keeping His sabbath while we are in these mortal bodies, we will be blessed. But if not, God may force us to cease from our own ways in this world by taking us out of this world altogether.

Let’s cease from our own ways and rest in the Spirit. Let’s keep God’s holy sabbath, and live!