Berean Blog

Random thoughts from a Doulos Theos (servant of God)

Location: Rocky Point, North Carolina, United States

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Doctrine of Justification in Romans

The word justification is one of those two-dollar theological terms bandied about with little comprehension by those who use it and even less by those who need it. This post attempts to clear the fog at least a little.

Its Explanation (What it is)

Justification is defined by Webster as, "1.) ... a showing to be just or conformable to law, rectitude or propriety; vindication; defense; 2.) Absolution"; but most notably "4.) In theology, remission of sin and absolution from guilt and punishment; or an act of free grace by which G-d pardons the sinner and accepts him as righteous, on account of the atonement of Christ." [1] .

In the New Testament, the Greek noun most commonly translated justification is δικαίωμα (dikaioma) from the verb δίκαιος (dikaios) with a primary meaning "to render righteous or such he ought to be" [2] .

Justification would thus appear to be a state of being in which a human is completely free from any feelings of guilt or fear of condemnation that would ordinarily be brought on as a result of sin incurring the wrath of a holy G-d. In that sense, justification seems to be merely an abstract ideal and, for any honest thinking person, an unrealistic expectation.

Its Exigency (Why it’s needed)

Paul's epistle to the Romans begins by introducing three categories of humans: pagan, moral, and religious. He logically defines each group and demonstrates that regardless of external categorization, all are equal in standing before Yahweh.

The beginning of Romans chapter three paints an undeniably bleak picture; whether Jew or Gentile, there are none that are righteous regardless of whether they are under the law as given in the Torah or the law as dictated by their conscience. The next chapter (Rom. 4:15) includes the caveat that there is no escape clause, since the law brings wrath through its definition of transgression.

In verses 10-18, Paul quotes from Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, Psalm 10:7, Psalm 36:1, and Isaiah 59:7-8 [3] , summarizing in one statement (Rom. 3:10) the universality and totality involved in transgression. Failure encompasses all of mankind and all attempts at righteousness as Paul states: "there is none righteous". As if this indictment were not sufficiently emphatic, he adds:"no, not one".

This condemnation reaches its climax in verse twenty, as Paul asserts that "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight". Righteousness is elusive to all and justification as a result is non-existent. The assertion is made against all flesh, with no differentiation or allowance for exemption made for any sex, race, nationality, religion or lifestyle; no one escapes this pronouncement. The assertion addresses being justified in the sight of G-d, with no attention paid to justification in the sight of any other. In other words, it matters not who you are and it matters not what anyone else thinks of you. What a grim perspective! Thankfully however, Paul does not stop at verse twenty.

Its Exercise (How it’s applied)

Having painted a dark picture with the grimmest of colors to this point, verse 21 introduces a gloriously bright new hue. The beginning of this change in tone is in two simple words: "But now". The weight sturdily and inexorably built through three chapters is effortlessly lifted and carried away in two syllables: "but now"! The law was the sternest of schoolmasters (Gal. 3:23-24), forever dictating and never satisfied in the past, "but now" comes graduation (Gal. 3:25). Only those that fulfilled the law to the letter (Rom. 2:12-14) were justified in the past, "but now" comes latitude. The law could only inform of transgression (Rom. 3:19-20) with no promise of deliverance, "but now" comes freedom.

This graduation, latitude and freedom comes through the righteousness of G-d Himself (verse 21). With hope for righteousness demonstrably found in no other source to this point in the epistle, this is supremely sweet news. This righteousness is not only utmost but unmistakably demonstrated; "manifested" in the King James Version is translated from φανερόω (phaneroo), which is the same word used after the resurrection of Christ when He suddenly appeared to the unexpecting disciples (Mark 16:12, 14; John 21:1, 14) [4] !

The righteousness previously unattainable is now available, but only through faith (verse 22). Verse 22 plainly states that even as all have equal condemnation under the law (verse 23), all have equal pardon through this channel (verse 24). This singular avenue affords the righteousness of G-d to be applied to or into ("unto" in verse 22 from εἰς or eis [5]) its adherents. It also overtakes them to be superimposed upon them ("upon" in verse 22 from ἐπί or epi [6]) to eclipse their baseness with His glory. Even as our sin was laid upon Christ (II Cor. 5:21), His righteousness is laid upon us. In other words, His righteousness is not simply added to our efforts in order to complete them, but it replaces them altogether.

This writer is reminded of his desire to be a faster runner in grade school. He was utterly convinced that if he could only obtain "faster shoes" that he would achieve this goal. He diligently saved his money until he was at last able to procure the brand name shoes that he desired, only to discover that new shoes did not supplant former legs! In the same way, since our righteousness is as filthy rags (Is. 64:6), His must cover ours completely rather than merely add to it.

Verse 24 develops this concept further in three parts: justification is 1) by His grace, 2) through redemption, and 3) it is in Christ Jesus. It is by His grace because it could never be earned (Rom. 3:28, 5:1, 8:33). It is through redemption, carrying the imagery of a ransom to be paid (as Yeshua spoke in John 8:34 and Paul later develops in chapter six of Romans). It is in Christ Jesus (I Cor. 6:11, Phil. 3:9), because He is the only One that Yahweh has declared worthy.

An additional (and refreshing) aspect of this justification is that it is given freely (verse 24). Although it cost the Savior dearly it is nonetheless free to us who were eternally unable to pay.

Its Effect (What it does)

Having the righteousness of G-d through Christ Jesus applied to us through faith in Him, we see in verse 25 in the third chapter of Romans an indication of the primary result of the process leading to justification. Paul asserts that Hashem exercises self-restraint (ἀνοχή or anoche [7], translated in KJV as forbearance) to affirm remission of sins. Remission is brought into English from πάρεσις (paresis [8]), which is only used in the Bible within this verse, but carries from its root a sense of tolerance through ownership. It is not that the Holy Almighty owns our sin, but rather owns responsibility for restraining His judgment upon One that He has already declared righteous.

The Apostle John touches on this concept (I John 1:9) when he states that G-d is faithful and just to forgive our sins when we confess; to simply forgive is not justice, until we take into account that our sin debt was paid upon the cross of Calvary (John 3:16-17). That idea is why Paul calls the death of Christ “propitiation” (Rom. 3:25). To quote one commentator, “The Bible word means to expiate by sacrifice. G-d has been propitiated through the work of Christ at Calvary; that is, His holiness has been so fully satisfied that He can now look again in favor on men.” [9]

Hence are men justified: not by our own works, but through despairing of them to the point of dependence upon the works of Him Whom G-d sent (John 9:4) to be our Redeemer. Through surrender to His path (John 14:6), we are adopted (Rom. 8:13-16) and made joint heirs (Rom. 8:17) to give us a future (Rom. 8:18) that we could not otherwise expect!

To quote a play on words heard in my youth, to be justified is as “just as if I’d” never sinned. To Him be all honor and glory both now and forever (I Tim. 1:17)!

Works Cited

(1) Webster, Noah.
1828 Dictionary of American English. e-Sword Version 7.9.8. Rick Meyers. Franklin, TN. 2008
(2) Strong, James.
Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers. Nashville, TN. 1995, 1996
(3) Guzik, David. "Study Guide for Romans 3." Blue Letter Bible. 7 Jul 2006. 15 Jun 2008.
(4) Strong, James.
Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers. Nashville, TN. 1995, 1996
(5) Ibid.
(6) Ibid.
(7) Ibid.
(8) Ibid.
(9) Phillips, John.
Exploring Romans. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. 1969. Page 85


Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, King James Version, AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN, 1984, 1991
Romans: Everyman’s Bible Commentary, Alan F. Johnson, Moody Press, 1974,1976,1984,2000
The Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible: Romans Volume 1, Leadership Ministries Worldwide, Chattanooga, TN, 1994
New Topical Textbook, R.A.Torrey, E-Sword Version 7.9.8, Rick Meyers, Franklin, TN, 2008
Romans Curriculum; Lesson 4: The Provision of G-d’s Righteousness (Rom. 3:21-4:25), Moody Bible Institute, 2003

Judgment of those who never heard

In Romans this semester, one of our paper options posed the issue, "The Problem of the Person Who Has Never Heard the Gospel and the Justice of G-d". What follows is one explanation that can be offered:

The Standard - Holiness

The problem of those facing the wrath of a holy G-d begins with that holiness itself. Indeed, of all of Yahweh’s many attributes that could be acknowledged at the throne of the universe, His holiness is that which is proclaimed (Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8).

Holiness springs from a sense of being completely clean (hence the primary Hebrew word qadash) or sacred (hence the primary Greek word hagios). Scripture gives a clear sense that Hashem possesses this quality to the extreme without equal, while mankind invariably falls short without exception. It is little wonder then, that when the Bible records encounters between humans and G-d, that they are commanded to remove their shoes (Ex. 3:5, Josh. 5:15, Acts 7:33) as the best attempt that they can make toward acknowledging the very holiness of His presence!

As the supreme possessor of the quality of holiness, Yahweh has every right to expect His creation to meet His standards (Lev. 20:17, Matt. 5:48, Eph. 1:4, I Pet. 1:15-16). Since He personifies the measure and created all that exists, it is not an unreasonable expectation. It is unreasonable, therefore, for His creatures to expect His condescension to our level.

As the supreme proprietor of the standard of holiness, Yahweh can not simply overlook disobedience of His Law or disdain for His sovereignty. Surely, a justice that ignores infraction is faulty, and in Him lies no fault.

The Situation - Depravity

Thus enters the second part of the problem of those facing the wrath of G-d, that being the fact that we are unable to meet His standards! Because of the failure of, and subsequent curse upon, our ancestors, we are genetically predisposed to failure (Rom. 5:12). Because each of us is related to Adam and Eve, each of us is lacking.

The depth of our depravity is not so shallow as to mean we need assistance to reach holiness, but rather so deep that we are beyond hope of attaining that status. The primary Greek word for sin, hamartano, carries the imagery of missing a mark (like an archer). In Romans 3:23, Paul emphasizes this point by doubling its image with that hustereo, meaning to fall short. “For all have sinned (hamartano - missed the mark) and come short (hustereo – fall short) of the glory (doxa, the standard of His dignity) of G-d.”

It is no wonder that Paul lamented that nothing good dwelt in himself (Rom. 7:18)! This sorrow was in spite of the fact that he could have been counted most favored among Jews by Yah (Phil. 3:4-6), yet even he recognized his own failure to measure up (Phil. 3:7-9). It is not hypocritical then, that in the first three chapters of Romans he demonstrates the inability of any human to overcome depravity, whether pagan (1:18-32), moral (2:1-16) or religious (2:17-3:8).

The Salvation - Christ

Looking back to the standard of total holiness, mankind would appear to be without hope. A shining beacon of hope emerges in the person of Christ; as our supplement states concerning the contents of the first chapter of Romans, “G-d’s righteousness is revealed in two ways – in salvation (1:16-17) and in judgment (1:18).” Judgment is certain for all, but Christ is available for salvation (Rom. 10:9-13) to “whosoever will” (Rev. 22:17).

As stated previously, it is unreasonable for fallen creatures to expect a faultless Sovereign to condescend to our level. Regardless, that is precisely what He has done, sending Christ to attain the mark for us that we were forever incompetent to reach (Rom. 5:8). This was not because of any redeeming quality in and of ourselves (Titus 3:5-6), but to show His unmatched love for all of eternity (Eph. 2:4-10).

While this is cause for joy and celebration for those who have forsaken the unworthiness of their own attainment (Is. 64:6, Rom. 3:10) for the unmatched righteousness of Christ (Rom. 3:20-22, 10:4, Phil. 3:9), what of those who have never heard of Him?

The Supplication - Ignorance

The third part of the problem for those facing the wrath of G-d is that countless multitudes are unaware of the only solution that He has provided. Compounding their dilemma is the fact that Paul makes it very clear that they will still be held accountable.

Romans 1:19-20 plainly states that the nature of G-d as a supreme power of order and logic can be readily observed throughout His creation. Psalm 97:6-9 powerfully expresses how nature bears witness to its Creator, and Psalm 19:1-6 manifests that its witness prevailingly transcends human language.

Since mankind’s depravity is universal and Yahweh’s justice is unimpeachable, punishment must be meted (Rom. 1:18), regardless of the level of ignorance claimed by the transgressor (Rom. 1:19-20). Judged by their actions in light of limited revelation (Rom. 1:21-32), they are doomed (Rom. 2:1-6).

For those who rightly see this as a tragedy, it should hone our zeal to fulfill our calling as “ambassadors” (II Cor. 5:20) to share Christ with those who have not yet heard the Gospel.

The Solution - Evangelism

To illustrate the process from common experience, we can consider a driver with no money in his possession that is exceeding the speed limit in an area that is unfamiliar to him. As a result, he is pulled over by a police officer and given a ticket that must be paid on the spot. The standard is the maximum allowable legal speed limit, while the driver’s situation is that he is breaking that law. His salvation could be found in either maintaining the speed limit or paying the fine, both of which are beyond his ability. His supplication by pleading ignorance of the speed limit falls upon deaf ears. He could have observed the fact that paved roads and signs of civilization clearly bespoke legal sovereignty to which he would be held accountable. His only solution would be others who could inform him of the speed limit to avoid judgment and pay his fine to avoid penalty. While admittedly a crude illustration, it can serve as a token for mankind’s responsibilities as stated thus far.

We see then, that the problem of the person who has never heard the Gospel in the conventional understanding of open Scriptures and proclamation of the good news, is not only a problem for the lost but for the saved! Since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word (Rom. 10:17), we are under enormous responsibility to fulfill our mandate (Matt. 28:19-20). We must redeem the time (Eph. 5:15-16) to share the good news of the Gospel with those who have not heard, but are still accountable (Rom. 1:20). Let us take up the creed of Paul as stated to the Corinthians (I Cor. 2:2, II Cor. 5:9-11) to focus only upon Christ.

“Therefore, knowing the fear of the L-rd, we persuade others.” (II Cor. 5:11, ESV)

Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, King James Version, AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN, 1984, 1991
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 2007
Romans: Everyman’s Bible Commentary, Alan F. Johnson, Moody Press, 1974,1976,1984,2000
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., 1890
Illustrated Bible Dictionary, M.G. Easton, M.A., D.D., 1897
Romans Curriculum; Lesson 1: Background and Introductory Material, Moody Bible Institute, 2008
Romans Curriculum; Lesson 2: The Power of the Gospel and the Need of the Pagan World (Rom. 1), Moody Bible Institute, 2008
Romans Curriculum; Lesson 3: The Predicament of All Humanity (Rom. 2:1-3:20), Moody Bible Institute, 2008

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Happy Birthday and rest in peace to my dear old friend, "Juice". Fifteen years has gone by so quickly.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Abrahamic Covenant

This is a paper I wrote for my Old Testament survey class. I had fairly good feedback on it (although my professor wasn't as impressed as I would have hoped!).

The Abrahamic Covenant is a fascinating study, and one with far-reaching implications and ramifications.

The word “covenant” appears 293 times in 273 verses of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. The overwhelming majority of those appearances are in the Tanakh. The KJV Old Testament contains 272 uses of “covenant” in 254 verses; that is approximately 93 percent. Although the concept of covenants is all but forgotten by our modern society, they were obviously fundamental to the lives of people in Biblical times, particularly in the times chronicled in the Old Testament. Therefore, before looking into any particular covenant itself, one should first understand Biblical covenants in general.

The Easton Bible Dictionary (1) defines covenant as, “A contract or agreement between two parties. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word berith is always thus translated. Berith is derived from a root which means “to cut,” and hence a covenant is a “cutting,” with reference to the cutting or dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between them, in making a covenant (Genesis 15; Jeremiah 34:18, Jeremiah 34:19).” As Easton notes, every time we see the word “covenant” in the KJV (in eight occurrences, it is implied only, rather than a direct translation [2]), it originates from the Hebrew בּרית, beriyth (H1285 in Strong’s Concordance [3]), which comes from the root barah (Strong’s H1262), or בּרה. The root means “to select”, which gains significance shortly when we look more closely as the covenant between Yahweh and Abram.

Lateral and Unilateral Covenants

Two types of covenant appear in the Bible, lateral and unilateral. Lateral covenants are agreements between two parties that hold responsibilities for both involved. If one of the parties participating in a covenant failed to uphold their covenant responsibilities, the other party was relieved from his responsibilities by default. Deuteronomy 11 contains an example of such, wherein Yahweh promises blessing and protection as long as the nation of Israel obeys His commandments. I see Zechariah 11:10 as a pronouncement by Yahweh that He would no longer honor His responsibilities under this covenant (this passage then continues in verses twelve and thirteen with a powerful and keenly accurate Messianic prophecy).

Unilateral covenants make Biblical appearances, as well. A prominent example is the Davidic Covenant, found in the seventh chapter of Second Samuel, verses 12 through 16, wherein Jehovah identifies the reign of the Seed of David, or Messiah, as forever. This is reconfirmed in Jeremiah 33:20-26, a passage that mentions not only the Davidic Covenant, but also the Abrahamic Covenant.

The Unilateral Covenant with Abram

The Abrahamic Covenant has its origins in the first three verses of Genesis chapter twelve. Abram receives divine promises of inheritance and blessing. The inheritance promised is a substantial tract of lands from Egypt to the Euphrates (in modern Iraq), a parcel that has never been fully occupied by Abram’s descendants. The blessing extends to Abram personally, as well as his descendants, to include “many nations”. This is the first hint that Israel will not be the only beneficiary of this promise.

The promises are reiterated in the next chapter. Verses 14 through 18 of Genesis chapter 13 must have caused Abram great awe in consideration. They should also cause the modern reader to realize that the inheritance was indeed an earthly and literal possession, particularly when coupled with the first ten verses of Deuteronomy chapter 30.

The Covenant Ceremony

As we reach the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, Abram is already beginning to doubt the veracity of Jehovah’s promises. The divine answer assigns him the impossible assignment of counting the stars in the night sky. In my mind, I can see Abram throwing his hands up in sheer desperation at the feat, then hearing the reassurance that his offspring will rival that multitude of heavenly lights. Verse six records that Abram’s belief counted for righteousness, a declaration reiterated by the Apostle Paul in the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Romans. Verse three records the transmittal to Abram, and verse five records a similar transmittal to all that believe likewise.
Abram desires a covenant ceremony at this time to signify the promises, and he receives divine instructions toward that end. We see a fascinating development, however, as Abram falls into an unusually deep sleep (one that I believe is divinely orchestrated). As Abram sleeps, Yahweh walks the beriyth alone, in the form of a burning lamp. This aspect identifies this covenant as unilateral. By this arrangement, Abram was under no obligations whatsoever, nor were his descendants. They were promised the inheritance and blessing regardless of their conduct.
Jehovah continues to reiterate His blessing in chapter 17 of Genesis, and institutes the sign of circumcision as a reminder of His promises to what will become the nation of Israel. It is interesting to note that those who are not circumcised are to be “cut off from his people”, but no mention is made of being cut off from Almighty. It is also at this time that Yahweh changes the names of both Abram and Sarai. The slightest knowledge of Hebrew construction reveals that the name changes were affected by merely adding one character, the “Heh”. This is also the character representative of the Holy Spirit, which becomes significant to the New Testament believer.

Jehovah further repeats the promises of the covenant through Isaac, the promised son of Abraham, in Genesis 21 (verse 12) and Genesis 26 (verses three and four). Isaac’s son Jacob also receives confirmation in Genesis chapter 28 verses 14 and 15. The unilateral nature of the covenant is apparent in the fact that both of these offspring were undergoing times of rebellion at the time of their receipt of the promises! Even after all of these patriarchs have passed away, the entire nation receives an assurance of the covenant in verse 42 of Leviticus chapter 26.

The Covenant's Modern Applicability

Moving forward in time to today, we might ask, has the historical nation of Israel truly been beneficiaries of the Abrahamic Covenant? They are truly a nation that has flourished in spite of circumstances. Never in history have a people been recipients of such focused attacks at completely wiping them from the face of the earth. From the attempts of Pharaoh in the book of Exodus, to the attempts of Haman in the book of Esther, to the maniacal efforts of Hitler’s Third Reich, and even the modern aspirations of the so-called Palestinian Arabs, the Jewish people should, by all rights, have vanished from human history. The most callused observer, if honest, would be forced to admit Divine protection on this unique group of people. I have heard it stated that, “every time you meet a Jew, you have witnessed a miracle”. (4)

While the personal and national blessing might be simpler to prove, the inheritance portion of the covenant seems to remain unfulfilled. The Jewish nation has certainly never completely inherited the entire Promised Land. Indeed, modern efforts by Israeli administrators seem bent on reversing that very hope.

Many in the fundamentalist camp have argued that Israel, by rejecting Yeshua as Messiah, forfeited their rights, which then default to the church. Without digressing, one can accept this heresy only by completely disregarding several entire portions of Scripture, most glaringly chapters nine through eleven of Romans.

If the Abrahamic Covenant is truly unilateral, Israel has not and can not forfeit her rights to blessing and inheritance promised through Abraham. This fact points then, to a yet-future fulfillment of Jehovah’s covenant promises. Jeremiah spoke of this in chapter 31 of the book that bears his name, from verse 33 to the end of the chapter.

Yeshua Himself pronounced a judicial blindness upon His chosen people in the nineteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel, as He also foretold the coming destruction of the beloved Jerusalem in 70 AD. Paul quickly clarifies in chapters nine through eleven of Romans that individual Jews can still receive the blessing through faith, although national acceptance is still future.

Not Forgotten

As we see the seventieth week of Daniel (9:27) rapidly approaching, we are seeing the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones (in chapter 37 of Ezekiel). Israel is being gathered back into their homeland, never to be scattered again. The stage is set for national revival after the oppression of the Antichrist forces them to turn back to Yahweh for help (Hosea 5:15). As their King returns to earth with ten thousands of his (church) saints (Jude 14), He will set up the Messianic rule promised to Mary (Luke 1:32) and fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant in full during the millennium (Revelation 20:2, Isaiah 65, Hebrews 8:6-13).

"Many nations..."

All of this does not exclude the church, however. Our lives are intertwined in the unfolding of this real-life drama. Remembering that Israel is one nation among the many nations that were promised to Abraham, and seeing that promise echoed before the Heavenly throne in Revelation (5:9), we look outside the national borders and lineage of Isaac to others touched by this far-reaching covenant. David hints at this in Psalm 25, verse 14: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant.”

Galatians chapter three is the linchpin of this glorious hope for us as Gentiles. Verse six recounts that Abraham’s faith was counted for righteousness. Verse seven develops the thought that all that are of faith are his spiritual seed. Verses eight and nine complete the concept that the fulfillment of the covenant is found in this precept.

As New Testament believers, we have received the literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). As Abram was changed in name by the addition of the “Heh”, we are also changed. He received a new name and purpose under the Abrahamic Covenant. Under the same covenant, we receive a new name (Revelation 3:12) and a new character (Second Corinthians 5:17). Although we don’t all share the outward sign of physical circumcision (Galatians 6:15), we have the lasting circumcision of heart of which Paul speaks in Romans chapter two.
The Abrahamic Covenant may be misleading in name. While it was made with Abraham, it affected so many more, the number of the stars throughout history who are the “whosoever will” who become his offspring through faith in His lineage through David, Yeshua ha Meshiach.

Works Cited

(1) M.G Easton, M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1897
(2) I Samuel 11:2, 20:16; I Kings 8:9; I Chronicles 16:16; II Chronicles 5:10; Nehemiah 9:38; Psalm 105:9; Isaiah 57:8
(3) James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, 1890
(4) Unknown

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Where's my gas mask?

Greetings once again to all after a lengthy silence. For those of you who still check in from time to time, I thank you and pray this will be rewarding.

School has started again, and this semester finds me enrolled in Elements of Bible Study and Old Testament Survey. One of our first assignments for the latter involved studying the lives of the patriarchs and applying their circumstances to a current life situation in which we may find ourselves or someone we know. A conversation at work last week reminded me of a story from my days in the Corps that merges perfectly with a lesson I gleaned this week from the life of Abraham.

Combat Town

We were training in urban situations, and I should lay the background first. Another sergeant and I each had a small squad with differing missions surrounding Camp Lejeune’s Combat Town. My squad had a primary mission to reconnoiter the town, with a secondary mission to map the area; the other squad had the same missions in reverse. We both knew the town was occupied by a small platoon, but our mission briefings merely stated that the area contained no friendly forces and we had support from neither artillery nor air. Simply stated, “you’re on your own, baby”. No problem – it was a gorgeous spring day, and I was ready.

The town itself is actually a small one, with several one-story buildings and one or two two-story buildings surrounding a three-story town hall. I was positive that the enemy would at least have observers in the town hall, but the whereabouts of the rest of them was a mystery. I had the benefit of knowing each of the members of the enemy force, as well as knowing that they classically had poor “window discipline”, coming too close to windows when observing the area, thereby revealing their own positions.

Coming up to the outskirts of town, therefore, my initial strategy was to lie in wait in the underbrush just outside the town and merely observe. My purpose was two-fold: to possibly force impatience to override discipline on the enemy force’s part, and to allow the other squad’s sergeant to ignore primary orders and force an engagement.

After probably 45 minutes, with my first purpose surprisingly disappointed, my second was predictably not. The other squad entered the town and a firefight erupted. I was shocked to discover that the platoon occupying the town had apparently chosen to man only the town hall, leaving every other building presumably vacant.

This is going to be easier than I thought,” I was thinking as I led my squad through a ditch that paralleled the town and dashed into the back of the town. Although there was a wide open field behind the town that spanned approximately 100 yards, we were unspotted. The enemy had their attention focused on the other patrol that was attempting to take cover in the buildings of the town.

The sun was shining down in North Carolina Spring fashion, and my patrol was intact, unscathed and in good spirits as we got into town and assembled in a building directly across from town hall. Several smoke grenades had merged in the streets with the smoke from hundreds of rounds that had been fired, intermingled with the sweet combined smell of sulfur and gunpowder. I was feeling good!


As I was mentally calculating the logistics of getting my patrol across the street and into the front door of the town hall to begin clearing it, I turned to notice my assistant patrol leader had donned his gas mask, and my feeling of euphoria began to dissipate into irritation as I noticed at least one of my troops was frantically following suit. I interrupted my reverie of bloodlust to admonish this corporal for overreacting and spreading his fear of CS (tear gas) to the rest of the patrol. He apparently assumed the whirls of white smoke swirling through the town from the grenades were actually gas.

We were carrying smoke and CS grenades, so it was a safe assumption that the enemy had equal supply. My irritation sprung from the fact that even if it were gas, the wind was blowing briskly enough to render the gas a minor irritation at best, and the harm he was inflicting on morale and effectiveness far outweighed the effects of the gas – assuming it were gas in the first place.


I had just calmed this young warrior sufficiently for him to sheepishly remove his mask (and made a mental note to make further, sterner follow-up when this was over) when this encounter’s allegedly neutral observer “popped” a grenade on the blindside of the building where we were sheltered. As thick white clouds billowed around the corners of our building into the windows both front and back, that same corporal began to move more quickly than I had ever seen from him, fumbling to once again don his gas mask.

Even more quickly than his jerky, unpracticed motions, my irritation turned to anger. Yelling over the noise of the firefight, I assured him it was only smoke. To prove my point, I took a dramatically large and over-exaggerated inhalation. It was a split second later that my body let me know that I had just taken in two lungful of CS!

My assumption of control over the situation and foolish sense of familiarity had lulled me into a false sense of security. I tried to keep my composure, but I think I still got my gas mask on before he did!

Spiritual Assumption

This story came into my mind as I read of Abraham’s life. Christians occasionally have the tendency to place great heroes of the faith on theological pillars, overlooking the fact that they were human just as we are. An honest look at the life of Abraham reminds us that he was certainly no exception.

The most obvious example that occurred to me was in Genesis 12:10-20, where he presumes upon God’s protection and feels he must lie about his marriage to Sarah. This is a mistake he repeats with Abimelech in Genesis 20:1-18. Glaringly in the first instance, he had just received the promise of blessing by God (12:1-3)! In both of these circumstances, the ill effects caused consequences beyond just Abraham, but all of those involved.

In attempting to understand why, I noticed that an earmark of Abraham’s existence was his communion with God; we see obvious evidence of this in 12:7, 13:4, 21:33, and 22:13-14, in recorded instances of purposeful worship. Yet these blatant errors in judgment I’ve mentioned were times when Abraham leaned on his own understanding instead of letting God direct his paths (to paraphrase Proverbs 3:5-6).

The lesson is that when we wander from the protection of regular communication with our loving Father, we risk stepping into areas from which He would prefer to keep us (and those with whom we come in contact).

But I'm not Abraham

Dear Christian, have you ever noticed that the times you fall the hardest is when you thought you had the firmest grasp on the situation? Ignore the warning signs, overlook the possibilities, pay no heed to others around you, and just forge ahead – what could possibly go wrong?

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to
will is present with me; but [how] to perform that which is good I find
not. (Rom. 7:18)

Oops, forgot about that one. That’s why Paul urged the Philippians to have no confidence in themselves:

For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in
Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Phil. 3:3)

As Christians, we have an enemy…one more real than the enemy I faced that day in the town. He’s watching us (much like I watched the town before entering), and like my patrol that day, we’re on his territory. That’s why Peter warned us:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion,
walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: (I Pet. 5:8)

I know that picturing the Christian life as a battle, or anything remotely resembling difficulty, isn’t exactly in vogue these days. If I were to listen to the Osteen ilk, I could expect nothing but placid prosperity and incessant victory without effort by simply demanding deliverance from God as my cosmic genie.

I’d rather stick with what God Himself said (I Cor. 9:24-27):

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?
So run, that ye may obtain.
And every man that striveth for the mastery is
temperate in all things. Now they [do it] to obtain a corruptible crown; but we
an incorruptible.
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as
one that beateth the air:
But I keep under my body, and bring [it]
into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I
myself should be a castaway.

Don’t assume safety, beloved. Paul pictured this life as a battle in Ephesians six. Keep that armor on…and that gas mask handy!

Monday, December 25, 2006


You scored as Anselm. Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'



Karl Barth


Jonathan Edwards


John Calvin


Martin Luther


Charles Finney


Jürgen Moltmann


Friedrich Schleiermacher




Paul Tillich


Which theologian are you?
created with

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Back by semi-popular demand (at least three people)

It has been such an active past few months; I scarcely know where to start. I have spent a small amount of time on and Yahoo! 360, and have even begun a page on the newly released, but the lion’s share of my time has been occupied by work, with church and school coming in a distant second and third.

Work has been quite enlightening. As I deal with the public of New Hanover County, I am in awe on a near-daily basis at the multiplicity of ills that humans can inflict upon themselves and each other. It serves as a regular reminder of the ancient curse enacted by our first ancestors’ disobedience and the very modern need of mankind’s need for a Savior.

I am also occasionally frightened by the similarity between some of the calls I take and my previous life before coming to Christ nine years ago. It has become a weekly cause for humility and thanksgiving that “there, but for the grace of God, go I”.

Memorial Memories

With Memorial Day yesterday, I began to think of some of the fine warriors with whom I had the privilege to serve through the years. Two in particular came to mind; both were extremely young, one still in her teens and the other just beyond that point.

In this health-conscious society where the average life span is growing exponentially, we often choose to forget our true frailty and mortality. Even in the military sector, where death is a daily threat, it’s easy to shove those thoughts to the back of one’s mind, particularly in peacetime, during which both of these fatalities took place.


Ebonee was a precious girl, effervescent, vibrant and energetic. My favorite memory of her involves one particular day when she walked into my office during lunch break to discover me playing solitaire. She stood behind me for a minute before pointing out a card placement which I had overlooked. My response was an obviously rhetorical question, “What’s the name of this game?” to which she replied, “Let Ebonee hep yoo so’s yookin weeyun (Let Ebonee help you so you can win!)” It was such an unexpected and unconventional answer that I had to laugh, although unexpected and unconventional were her defining characteristics.

It wasn’t long after that, she took leave to drive home and make preparations for her wedding. From the police reports, she took a curve too fast and rolled her car several times, throwing her unbelted body through the open window and crushing her during one of its rotations. At her memorial service, I wept unashamed at the loss of such a truly beautiful young American.


Chris was as unique as his name was ordinary. A self-imagined pool shark who rarely won, he too, was full of the energy and ambition of youth. Barely into his third decade, he left our unit to be temporarily assigned to a shipboard unit bound for a six-month presence in the Mediterranean Gulf.

Halfway through the tour, Chris began to cough up blood, and was promptly returned Stateside, where he was examined at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia. (I have long held that particular hospital liable for many incompetent diagnoses, this case among them.) They ran some tests, which they determined in their folly to be inconclusive, and sent him back to our unit with instructions to seek further help at our Battalion Aid Station if his condition got worse.

As even the most medically ignorant could presume, it did in fact worsen. He was sent to the Naval Hospital at Camp Lejeune, and they were prepared to refer him back to Portsmouth. I urged Chris to request Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland instead, which he did. There at that first-class facility, they were able to determine in short matter that he had developed lung cancer in the Gulf; medical inaction had allowed the cancer to spread into both lungs. It was too late at that point to do anything but house him in a terminal cancer ward and await the inevitable. He died far too soon after that.

Where from here?

Thoughts of both of these young people yesterday coupled with my experiences at 911 to reinforce the foolishness of the presumption of longevity. We are on this earth for such a short time – some shorter than we would think equitable. Either way, we are confronted with the challenge of James 4:13-15:

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and
continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:
Whereas ye know not
what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that
appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
For that ye ought to
say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

Why? Because this life is merely preparation for what is to come. In light of eternity, our spans here on earth are less than a drop of water in the ocean!

Dear reader, if you have not settled this issue in your own mind and life, know for a certainty that none of us are immortal (in the conventional sense), and none of us have the power to presume upon tomorrow. Life is too short to merely exist, vainly hoping for some legacy or blindly searching for some reason or meaning.

Jesus Christ settled once and for all the mystery of eternal life. We all will live forever, but the question of where we go when we pass from the land of the dying into the land of the living is up to each of us. The resolution lies in how we respond to the source of all truth.

If you are reading this and are unsure of how to put this matter to rest in your own life, may I point out to you the link to the left entitled, “What Christ is all about”? Please visit that site, and if it leads you to a decision, I’d love to hear about it. Either way, please don’t put it off.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Yeshua said:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in
heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my
burden is light.
(Matthew 11:28-30)

So much has happened in the month since I last posted that I have material in abundance, but I wanted to break the silence with some brief thoughts. I have felt twinges of guilt for not remaining regular, but more so of late. This little page has received visits from all over the world as a result of searches on some serious queries. I’m choosing to take that as my own small contribution to Biblical studies, and continue as I can!

The passage above has become more real to me in the past few months. It brought me back in my mind to my time in Okinawa about twenty years ago.

I was out on a run, and decided to leave the base and explore the back roads of Gushikawa, a charming little town directly outside Camp Courtney where I was stationed. It was a lovely day, not too humid or sunny, so I was in great spirits as I passed a field where some local men were harvesting sugar cane.

I have to pause to describe the scene. The road was narrow and unpaved, sharply elevated about six feet from the field alongside which it traversed. Parked on the road was a flatbed truck upon which they placed the cane they were cutting and bundling. They were wizened old fellows who looked to have an average age of 60-70, and were about half my size. They were lugging bundles that looked to be roughly their size and weight.

My desire to be a good ambassador overrode my critical thinking as I decided that I could add to my workout by helping them carry these bundles to the truck while simultaneously proving that I was not an “ugly American”. With visions of Rocky IV in my mind (which had just been released a few years prior), I communicated to these bemused farmers my intentions through broken Japanese and gestures.

In immediate retrospect, I realized the reason behind their good-humored reluctance to allow me to “help” them. I failed to understand that these men had been doing this for decades and their bodies had been toughened to the strain, something that was not apparent to my young and naïve eyes – until I attempted to copy their practiced routines. In short, those bundles were HEAVY! In fact, they were a little heavier than I was prepared to carry, but I put on a brave face as I literally staggered under the weight to the edge of the road.

If you recall, the road was on a sharp incline above the field, and that area became the place where a brave face no longer mattered. I could NOT manage that sugar cane up to the road, and the farmers all had a good collective hearty laugh at this American’s expense as they not only had to help me out of the field, but had to do so without the bundle on my back. I think I managed my embarrassment only marginally, as I bowed and continued my run straight back to the barracks, where I collapsed in exhaustion.

Draw this into the spiritual realm, as we so often struggle with loads that are beyond our capacity. Good-naturedly, our Father tries to deny us the effort, but we brusquely insist upon our pride, whereupon He meekly steps aside and patiently waits for the moment He knows is coming, where we have to turn to Him and admit what He already knew -- that we are too weak.

Beloved, Christ knows better than we do what we are capable of carrying. He has been trapped in frail human flesh and can empathize with every fear, every joy, in fact every circumstance. If we sometimes wonder why we face struggles, it may be that He is either proving to us what we can bear, OR He is waiting for us to put it down so He can carry it.

If we are truly in Christ, we may be lonely, but never alone. We may be burdened, but need never be overcome. If you are facing trials, ask Him if you were meant to do so. If not, take His yoke upon you, and learn the sweetness of laboring in His strength instead of your own. His strength is made perfect in your weakness (II Cor. 12:9), and you can do all things through His strength (Phil. 4:13), then thank Him for counting you faithful (I Tim. 1:12)!