Category Archives: Sunday School Notes

Sanctify Us with the Truth

Introduction

I’ve been a big fan of the Bible all my life. As a child I was amazed by the miracles God did. As I got older it was His character that captivated me. These days I’m intrigued by His wisdom. I want to know how He thinks, what He’s planning, how to make sense of His creation. The Bible is at the center of my relationship with God, and it always has been.

But the Bible isn’t God, and the Bible isn’t the whole of my relationship with God. So why is it that I always come back here? I believe that God reveals Himself in Creation and in the Church; I believe I have His Holy Spirit. So why does my relationship with Him keep coming back to a book?

One passage that gives us some clues is John 13–17—known as the Upper Room Discourse. It’s Jesus’ last teaching time with His disciples before He goes to the cross. It’s a time of transition.

Up until now, having a personal relationship with God was as easy as ever. You just spend time with Jesus—the Jewish guy. You want to talk to God? Just go find Jesus. You want an answer from God? Ask Jesus a question. You need divine intervention? Call Jesus for help.

In fact, not only is Jesus God in the flesh as the second person of the Trinity, but we see that He also manifests the Father and is indwelt by the Spirit. This goes beyond the perfect unity of the Trinity: all three persons are present in unique ways.

But in the Upper Room, Jesus is about to leave. He won’t be there to answer questions, to heal the sick, to right the wrong. And if He’s gone, so is the manifestation of the Father, and so is the Holy Spirit within Him.

So what does a personal relationship with God look like when God leaves the building?

The Spirit of Truth

First and most importantly, God hasn’t really left. Even though God incarnate has ascended into heaven, He did not leave us alone. The Holy Spirit is God’s special presence in this age.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16, 17 ESV)

The same Spirit that indwells Jesus will indwell His disciples, and if we skip ahead to Acts, we can see that this Spirit of Truth indwells all believers. He is described as a Helper—which should come as no surprise from the God who just washed His disciples’ feet. And at least one aspect of His ministry is to point back to Christ.

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26 ESV)

But it’s not as though the Spirit is a consolation prize. Even though His ministry is all about Christ, Jesus seems to say the Spirit’s ministry will be better than His!—at least for the next phase of God’s plan.

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7–15 ESV)

There’s a lot to unpack here, but first I just want you to notice: when we lost the Savior, we gained the Helper, and He’s exactly what we needed next. Even though Jesus fully paid for our sins, we need a Helper to teach us the perfect obedience that Jesus modeled, to realize the change that Jesus purchased for us.

Now we get a fuller picture of what the Spirit of Truth has come to do. To the unbelieving world, He is a source of conviction, confronting sinners with the reality of who Jesus really was and what He did. To believers, He is a source of wisdom and knowledge.

This is a ministry of words and truth. We usually call Him the Holy Spirit, which rightly emphasizes His character and the work that He does in our hearts, but He is also called the Spirit of Truth. He draws us back to the words Jesus spoke, which bear the Father’s authority.

The Sanctifying Word

These days we’ve become cautious about putting our trust in words or staking claim to truth. We’re allowed to have our own truth, and we’re expected to have our own interpretations. But to go beyond this is to invite conflict.

Some of us have also grown weary of knowledge because we’ve seen people devote themselves to a dead orthodoxy that devours truth and then does nothing with it. So we associate the Christian walk with a ministry of love and compassion and holiness—which it is—and try not to get too distracted by the rest.

But it’s clear that Jesus spent a good deal of time ministering in words and teaching truth, and that the Holy Spirit is also committed to a ministry of words and truth.

“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:24–26 ESV)

When Jesus prays, He even emphasizes this before the Father:

“Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” (John 17:7, 8 ESV)

It’s a precious thing to have the words of God. They came from the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit. These words have been compiled in Scripture—the Bible—and it’s not God’s leftovers. At the heart of the Trinity’s ministry is a message. When we put our faith in Christ, we confess and believe specific realities.

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:14 ESV)

But this word is not some passive collection of propositions to be absorbed. Just as the Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of Truth, so the true words and message of Scripture are given to make us holy.

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:17–19 ESV)

This truth has a purpose. God’s message—the words of the Father—they are to make us holy. They are to wash us and set us apart. We are to be purified by this message, and at the heart of these instructions is love.

 “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:10–12 ESV)

God has not left us alone. We have the Holy Spirit of Truth, and we also have the words of the Father.

I think this must be what Jesus alluded to in John 4, when He told the Samaritan woman at the well about those who would worship in spirit and in truth. Jesus clearly leaves us here with His Spirit and His truth. These are the twin lights guiding us on our pilgrimage. These are the two ways God is present with us today. Even though He is not with us physically, He is with us personally, spiritually, and verbally.

Truth is good for its own sake, and sanctification is, too. But we must not forget that our relationship with God as Spirit and through the Word draws those two things together. We pursue truth in order to be sanctified. We are sanctified by the truth.

Conclusion

When we talk about how we relate to God, our first thought is often the Cross, and that’s not wrong. Without Jesus’ work on the Cross we could have no fellowship with God. But even though it is what made a relationship with God possible, our relationship with Him goes much deeper. God is specially present in the world today by His Holy Spirit, Who indwells each and every believer. And the words of the Father have come by the Son and the Spirit to us in the form of the Bible. It is the Holy Spirit of Truth together with the Holy Words of God that mark God’s presence in our lives. They are what guide us and sanctify us.

This is why we can’t get away from Scripture. This is why our relationship with God depends so much on our relationship with this book. Creation reveals God by what He has done, but it does not offer His words to us. The Church is united and empowered by the Spirit of God, but it cannot speak His words either. The Bible is how the Holy Spirit speaks to us; it is one of the means by which God has chosen to sanctify His people. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

The Story of Death (2/15/15)

Outline

  1. Intro: The Matter of Life and Death
  2. Death as Punishment
  3. Death and God
  4. Chinks in Death’s Armor
  5. The Death of Death
  6. For Now We Wait
  7. Closing Thoughts: Ash Wednesday

Introduction: The Matter of Life and Death

A friend once told me that Christianity is a “culture of death.” This was of course a reversal of Pope John Paul II’s 1995 condemnation of the modern culture of death, which sees the weak as useless at best—a burden to be eliminated. He pointed to the crucifixion, the Old Testament sacrificial system, and the way we seem to look forward to death so that we can go to heaven.

In a strange sense my friend was right: Christianity has a lot to say about death, and sacrifice is central to our theology. Of course, in context Christianity is anything but a culture of death, but if we’re not careful we can definitely sound the way my friend described us. We sometimes get confused about the role death plays in God’s plan.

So today we examine what the Bible says about death and reconsider what role it plays in our lives.

Death as Punishment

It’s interesting: there’s a way in which you could read the Bible as a book about death. That’s obviously not all it talks about, but the “story arc” of death spans the entire book.

Let’s take a stroll, shall we?

The first mention of death is in the second chapter of the Bible: “in the day you eat of [the forbidden fruit] you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). This promise was the center of the debate between the woman and the serpent in Genesis 3, and they ate of the fruit. But they didn’t die. God was gracious not to put them to death physically, but there is a kind of spiritual death that took place then. Since the Fall, mankind has been unresponsive to God.

But make no mistake, physical death was coming. We know from Romans that death entered through Adam’s sin—it wasn’t part of the original created order. And as proof, we see in Adam’s genealogy the reign of death: each one dies. We read “and he died” over and over here. Romans 3:23 tells us “the wages of sin is death.” All sinned, so all die. Death had become a part of life.

But Genesis is just getting warmed up! Because next comes the Flood where—you guessed it—everybody dies. Then the Patriarchs die. Then the book ends with the death of Joseph. Who ends a book that way?!? This is not a happy ending.

But then there’s Exodus, where the Egyptians die, Leviticus where animals die, Numbers where unbelieving Israel dies, Joshua where the Canaanites die. Death is everywhere! It’s all over the Pentateuch.

Why would this be? Because death is the punishment for sin. All crimes against God are capital offenses. That doesn’t mean He immediately smites everyone the moment they sin—but technically speaking, He could. That would be just. And if it doesn’t feel just then maybe we don’t understand sin as well as we thought we did.

Death and God

In Ezekiel, God tells us He gets no pleasure from the death of the wicked. Does this surprise you? He would much rather see the wicked turn from their ways—to repent and live. But those who will not get what they deserve.

Sometimes if we’re not careful this is a way that we distort God’s character, as though God somehow hungers for death and blood. God isn’t pleased by animal sacrifice, but He requires some recompense for sin. God didn’t send the Flood on a whim but because evil on the earth had become unbearable. If we take death out of the context of grace and patience and kindness, we get a very wrong view of God.

But because death is part of life in a fallen world, we sometimes get confused about our relationship with death on the one hand and God’s sovereignty on the other. The author of Ecclesiastes notes that people are just as dead as animals in the end. The wise man for all of his wisdom still ends up just as dead as the fool. The nice thing about being dead is you don’t have to live in fear of death anymore! It’s a bleak way to look at things, but not wrong. What’s the point of life if the only thing we can be sure of is death?

Chinks in Death’s Armor

If this is getting depressing, good! Sin is serious business and so is death. Christianity has a lot to say about death because it takes sin seriously.

But there’s a whole lot left to be said.

It turns out contrary to popular belief, death can be undone. Yes, you heard me: the end might not really be the end after all. Elijah and Elisha are both able to raise the dead. Jesus raises the dead. Jesus’ disciples raise the dead. Of course, these were all temporary. But it’s a start!

God promises us that it gets better than this. In Isaiah 25, He promises to swallow up death forever. How is this possible?!? The wages of sin is death. A holy God can’t just get rid of death.

He’d have to get rid of sin somehow.

The Death of Death

This is where everything gets turned on its head. This is that part in the movie where you fly through the black hole and end up in a different dimension, or where Alice jumps down the rabbit hole. God swallows up death by letting death swallow Him up. Jesus, being fully God, lives a perfectly sinless life—a life not meriting death—and dies on our behalf, paying for all the sin of the world.

Let that sink in for a moment: God dies. But the death of God becomes the death of sin, and the death of sin becomes the death of death. And death’s final defeat is announced through the resurrection of God back from the dead. The God of life is alive! And He offers eternal life to all.

As Tim Keller likes to put it, Jesus died the death we deserved so that we could live the life He deserved. Because Jesus submitted to death on our behalf, our relationship with death gets really complicated. It’s still the enemy. It’s still the wages of sin. It’s still not good. But every good thing—salvation, resurrection, eternal life, peace with God—these all came from one great death: the Crucifixion.

So now all death is bad, but that one death brought us everything good. We praise the God of life, but we celebrate His death. God took a horrible, terrible, rotten, no-good thing and redeemed it.

I suppose that shouldn’t surprise us either.

We may sometimes look like we’re rejoicing in death itself, but really we rejoice in that one death that God used to bring eternal life. Our problem isn’t that we sing about death too much—we probably don’t sing about it enough! But we have to keep it in the context of the bigger story. We can’t make any sense of the Crucifixion apart from the Fall, the Resurrection, and Return of Christ.

This is the theme we see in the Book of Acts: God raised Jesus from the dead. It’s all about resurrection now! We baptize in the likeness of His death—and resurrection. We take the bread and cup to remember His death—all the while waiting for His return.

In Romans, death takes on a whole new meaning: since our sins were buried with Christ, we are now alive to God and dead to sin. Spiritual death is over now. Death has become just a metaphor for our relationship with sin.

But make no mistake, death didn’t just die spiritually. We might think that because we still see death all around us. Christians still die. But at the very end of the Bible we see that when Christ returns, death will finally be thrown into the lake of fire and be no more. All the dead will come to life—but this time never to die again.

I can’t help but think of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet X: Death Be Not Proud:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou thinkst thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow
And soonest our best men with thee do go
Rest of their bones and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppies or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke. Why swellst thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!

 

For Now We Wait

Today we sit knowing that we are no longer spiritually dead, and instead we are dead to sin. Christ has risen from the dead, but He has not yet returned. Physical death is still a reality. It’s still cruel. But it’s not the end.

I have another friend, a learned scholar who is emphatic about how much he hates death. He doesn’t want to die. Yet Paul almost seems to disagree. In Philippians he writes, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Is death gain? Is there something good about death—our deaths? Is my death-hating friend overreacting?

Insofar as my friend is only talking about death, he’s right. You can’t really hate death enough. And our hope is in the resurrection, when we get our new bodies and live with Christ forever. Paul’s not saying that death isn’t really so bad after all. He’s saying Christ means so much to him that he would even suffer death to be with Him. It’s not that death is lesser; it’s that Jesus is greater.

This is how we make sense of Paul’s taunt in 1 Corinthians 15, which talks at length about the resurrection: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Ultimately he’s talking about the end of death when we are raised, but there’s a sense in which death’s sting is tempered by the sweetness of life with Jesus.

When we lose a loved one, it’s hard. If he or she is a believer, we’re comforted by the fact that even though they died they enjoy the sweetness of Christ’s presence. Don’t let anyone take that away from you. Just don’t forget: that’s not the end of the story. It gets better!

They won’t stay dead.

Who is this God who can even bring good out of death?

Closing Thoughts: Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday. Many Christians will receive ash on their foreheads and be reminded, “You are dust, and to dust you will return.” Not a message we particularly like to hear. We often think of ourselves as souls who just happen to be in bodies, that our parts are interchangeable—maybe even expendable. But these words are the words God Himself spoke to Adam after the Fall. You are dust. A sobering thought. Our bodies are a part of us, and our reflection is a daily reminder that we’re not as strong as we think we are.

That’s not the whole truth about us, but it’s a part we can’t afford to forget. Considering our frailty and our mortality shouldn’t lead to despair; it should bring us to our knees before our Savior. We confess how much we need Him, and how grateful we are that we have Him. Recognizing our insufficiency is just one way we deepen our appreciation for all we have in Christ. We humble ourselves not to make Him greater but because He is greater! He has brought us forgiveness and eternal life, sent us His Spirit. If we were left to our own devices, we would have no hope. But because of His love, rich in mercy, we have this gift from God.

Bonus: Christ is Risen by Matt Maher

We Didn’t Stay Perfect (2/1/15)

Outline

  1. The Unfolding of the Fall
  2. Fractured Relationships
  3. Total Depravity—but not Extreme Depravity
  4. Comparing Theories [new! not discussed in class]
  5. So What Do We Do Until Then?
  6. Conclusion
  7. Bonus Thoughts

The Unfolding of the Fall

We all know the story of the Fall from Genesis 3. Perfect woman with perfect husband in perfect garden meets talking snake. He tempts her to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit, then she hands some to her husband who does the same. God comes and gives them a spanking and sends them out of the garden.

Ok, so the details might be a little off… maybe even a little forgettable. But the story is familiar and the consequences tragic. We live in those consequences. So what does this story have to tell us about the world today and our lives in it?

You can learn a lot about sin and humanity by really chewing on the details here. Consider:

  • The serpent (we’re later told it’s also Satan) begins with questioning what God has said.
  • The question overgeneralizes and invites a conversation.
  • The woman adds to God’s commandment.
  • The serpent challenges God and offers a desirable half-truth.
  • The woman (although perfect) is tempted. That temptation draws her to inspect the fruit.
  • Looking at the fruit, the woman focused on the positive side of the equation.
  • She risked her life trusting the serpent over God, because eating the fruit should have meant certain death.
  • The man ate without any signs of a struggle.
  • Their eyes were open. Before they knew only the good; now they knew good and evil.
  • Their first response to sin is to cover up, which indicates fear and probably shame.
  • Their response to God (their creator whom they knew personally!) was to hide. Apparently they either didn’t know or forgot that God is everywhere and knows everything.
  • God asks the man a question for effect.
  • The man blames his wife and even seems to accuse God.
  • The woman blames the serpent and even seems to deflect by saying she was tricked.

At this point God punishes the serpent, the man, and the woman by cursing all creation. Work will be hard, childbearing will be painful. But there is hope in the promise of One to come who will crush the serpent.

I love how the Good News glimmers even in that first dark moment.

It’s so tempting to read more into the story because there are so many more details we wish we had. The gaps in the story invite our imaginations to jump in, but we need to be careful not to put words in God’s mouth.

Fractured Relationships

One theme we see in the Fall is one broken relationship after another. We noted last week how we were created to need one another and how that’s a good thing. But after the Fall we see husband and wife blaming each other. Worse yet, we see them hiding from God. After creation is cursed there’s really nothing left: man’s relationships with God, with others, with creation, and even with himself are all broken. And so our need for each other grows even greater, but our incapacity to find what we need and be who we need to be for others makes meeting this need impossible.

But let’s be honest here: the biggest problem is this broken relationship with God. He is their Creator and Sustainer. He knows them personally, guides them, and has given them all they need. What’s more, He’s perfectly good. This fall into sin was an act of rebellion against a God who had been nothing but loving and giving. Everything depends on Him.

Is it any wonder He warned them they would die?

Now the astute reader will note they didn’t drop dead. Does this mean the serpent was right? Not hardly! This broken relationship with God is sometimes thought of a “spiritual death,” a state of unresponsiveness to God. I’m generally fine with this idea—after all, they certainly became separated from God! What else could you call a state apart from the God of life? Death makes sense.

But we know that this is where physical death enters the picture. Mankind wasn’t supposed to die. YOU right now reading this: you were never supposed to die. Now we tend to say death is a part of life. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Death was never a part of life. Death is a reality we have to live with, but it’s not good.

So I think spiritual death metaphorically happened, but physical death literally happened. And the only reason they walked out of that garden alive has to have been God’s grace and mercy.

Total Depravity—but not Extreme Depravity

Another observation we can make is that Adam and Eve weren’t immediately as bad as they could have been. This is sometimes what we think when we talk about “total depravity.” If you want a really bleak picture you have to turn ahead a few pages to the state of the world before the Flood. It took a long time to get there.

No, extreme depravity wasn’t the result of the Fall, but total depravity still is. Total depravity is the doctrine that says sin bent every part of man. Sin pollutes man’s reason, man’s emotions, man’s willpower, man’s desires, man’s imagination, man’s memories, man’s senses, man’s body, and even man’s conscience. Nothing is safe. Nothing is pure.

And this is intimately wrapped up in the image of God. Remember that man was made in God’s image, unique among all creation. But sin now pollutes that image. It’s still present—we still can’t help but “image” our Creator when we act rationally, make wise decisions, love others selflessly, and so on. Instead the image is defaced but not erased. What should normally reflect God’s character instead reflects a mixture of good and evil.

This is bad.

Comparing Theories

Now if we take a step back, we all recognize that we live in a broken world. Very few people would argue that everything is perfect, that sin, suffering, and death somehow don’t exist or aren’t really bad. We (generally) all agree that there’s a problem. But there’s little agreement about why it is the way it is.

People who don’t believe in a literal Adam and Even tanking the human race are generally stuck. For example, if you only believe in the natural world, evil is just a part of nature. Death is a part of life. Suffering is a biochemical response to destructive conditions. And if you’re just one organism out of millions competing for resources, all you can really say is that you don’t like these things. They are distasteful. Maybe you’re hard-wired to show empathy with others because of some evolutionary imperative, but objectively speaking what can you say?

Well, you can say lots I suppose, but you can’t be consistent without ending up a nihilist.

Other religions have the same problem: either evil belongs as some part of the bigger cosmic plan or it’s an illusion. Either way, it’s hard to take evil seriously. Either it belongs in some way, or it doesn’t exist at all. Either way it’s hard to justify our natural reactions to injustice, suffering, and death.

But let’s forget about consistency and get to work: what problems can we name and how do we fix them?

  1. If the problem is society, the cure is social change.
  2. If the problem is pride, the cure is humility.
  3. If the problem is bad decisions, the cure is right decisions.
  4. If the problem is lack of love, the cure is love.
  5. If the problem is a broken relationship, the cure is forgiveness.
  6. If the problem is rebellion, the cure is submission.
  7. If the problem is demons, the cure is their destruction.
  8. If the problem is illusion, the cure is truth.
  9. If the problem is original sin, the cure is death of the old self.
  10. If the problem is doubt, the cure is faith.
  11. If the problem is in every part of us, the cure is a new creation.
  12. If the problem is death, the cure is eternal life.

Of course this just scratches the surface. But what I want you to notice is that for all of these problems, Christianity offers the solution. And for all of these problems, the solution is the same: that one seed of woman that God promised, the One to come that would crush the serpent. His name is Jesus.

Some of these things were addressed in His first coming, when He died on the cross for our sins and rose to life to offer us eternal life. But the work isn’t done yet. He’s coming back to finish the work, to make all things new. Think about that. We’ll explain further another time.

So What Do We Do Until Then?

As a wise poet named Tom once wrote, the waiting is the hardest part. If we as Christians are a new creation (we are), have eternal life (we do), are filled with the Holy Spirit (yup), and are no longer slaves to sin (seriously!), then why is the world still messed up? And more to the point, why are WE still messed up?

Frankly, we still suffer the effects of sin in all our faculties. Our wills have been freed from slavery, but they’re still polluted. We won’t be fully free from the effects of sin until Jesus comes back.

So we’re no longer slaves, but we’re still polluted and live in a polluted world. We have the Holy Spirit, but we still choose to disobey. In theory you should be able to live a perfect life after you’re saved, but because we’ve already been marked by sin in our lives and live in an imperfect world, we will never be perfect under our own power.

What do we do then? Give up? Of course not! We beat our bodies into submission. We learn right and wrong from Scripture, and we challenge our motives day to day.

But if we want to go the extra mile, we can’t do it alone.

There will be times you trick yourself into thinking you’re doing what’s right. There will be times you misread Scripture and misunderstand what God expects. And to guard against those times you need to surround yourself with fellow believers. You need people who know you, who know the Word, and who are committed to following Jesus with you. They can provide that outside check to make sure sin isn’t getting the best of you.

Because let’s face it: some days it’s hard to tell the difference between the Holy Spirit’s promptings and our own desires. Nothing can do better to counter that than other Spirit-filled people who bring a different perspective.

Conclusion

We ended up talking a lot about sanctification today, but that’s because it’s how we cope with the effects of the Fall in our lives. I don’t ever want to teach about sin and suffering and death without also pointing to the hope we have in Christ! The sin we as Christians struggle with is our bad choices day to day. If you’re saved, all you can do is persevere in what’s right and help others to do the same. We’ll say more about suffering and death another time.

My challenge to you is this: who do you have in your life who can give you that outside angle to your struggles and decisions? Where can you go to make sure you’re on the right path? If you’re not sure, start looking!

We need each other more than ever.

Bonus Thoughts

Isn’t it interesting how hard it is to remember the details of a story we’ve heard dozens of times? Our memories aren’t perfect. It sure helps having other people to lean on…

Historically speaking, the discussion of the effects of the Fall gets really fun with Augustine and Pelagius. In a nutshell, Augustine argued that we are always in need of God’s grace, but Pelagius believed we didn’t suffer from original sin and could become perfect if we try hard enough.

Regarding different relationships with sin, Augustine put it this way: God is not able to sin, Adam was created able not to sin, the Fall left us not able not to sin, and those in Christ are back where created Adam was: able not to sin.

God Designed Us to Need Each Other (1/25/15)

The Gist

  1. God Created You to Need Other People
  2. We All Need a Suitable Helper
  3. Marriage Is a Great Community—But Not the Only One!
  4. You Need Community and Community Needs You!

Introduction

We’ve been trying to understand just what God says about us—who we are, why we’re here—and distance ourselves from what the world says about us. So far we know that we’re made in God’s image, unique in all of creation. But the creation story didn’t end in Genesis 1. There’s another story within that story that needs to be told. And it begins in Genesis 2:18.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:18-25)

It Is NOT Good

This story focuses on a single tension, a single problem. If you remember from Genesis 1, you know that God says “it was good,” “it was good,” “good,” “good,” “good,” “good,” and now finally something is—not good. Something is wrong with creation.

What’s the problem? “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Now is this Adam’s fault? Is Adam the problem? Did God make an “oops”? No. This was part of God’s plan. God intended Adam to be incomplete. God designed Adam to need someone else. And this is before the Fall! You know what that tells us? God designed you to need other people.

Now think about this for a moment: Adam already had God. We know God is sufficient for all of our needs. Yet God created Adam to need more than God. In other words, “you plus God” is not enough!

And that might sound scary at first, but think about it: even as we believe God is “enough” for us, we know that He provides for us through other things. He created us with a need for food, for air, for water. Nobody says “all I need is God” then stops eating. It’s no sin to recognize that we need more than God—the sin would be to think He had nothing to do with providing for those needs.

What Did Adam Need?

So what exactly did Adam need? What’s the problem again?

It’s not that he’s single—although that would be a problem if Grandpa never got married. That would make for a really short story. We know from Paul’s teachings on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:25–40 that being single can be very good, maybe even preferable to marriage. So even though it’s not good for the father of the human race to be single, the problem is bigger than that. The problem is he’s alone.

Now the solution tells us a little more about the problem. What solution does God have in mind? “A suitable helper.” Sometimes we get the idea that a helper is the subordinate—like you have the administrator and the administrative assistant. But that’s not the case here. The word for “helper” is used in other places to describe God. Just because someone brings you help doesn’t mean they are lower than you.

And this idea of “suitable” has to do with complementing. Not like “Wow, Chad, looking sharp in that suit today!” It’s the idea that one makes up what the other lacks. Adam is just one guy, and even before the Fall he had his unique set of strengths and weaknesses. On top of that he has a whole lot of responsibilities. He needs someone who can provide what he lacks, someone who can help shoulder the burden.

One last clue about the problem and solution is where God has Adam begin his search: the animals. Surely some animals can be useful for tending to the garden. They offer some help, but nowhere near what Adam needs. And if Adam were looking for a mate, he would never have looked here. Even though God is going to provide a wife, I think this search shows us that a suitable helper could be someone else. Just because a suitable helper could be a spouse and was one here doesn’t mean it has to be.

Marriage as an Example of Community

Now we’ve been dancing around the subject, but we might as well come out and say it: this whole passage is about marriage. It’s obvious! God gave Adam a wife, and Eve is the suitable helper God graciously provided for him. They begin as “one flesh” since Eve was made from Adam, and they define for us what marriage is: one man and one woman committed to each other for life. This is the example Jesus points to and the example we should tend to.

This passage is about marriage—but it’s not JUST about marriage.

Because we know God designed us to need other people, and because we know there’s nothing wrong with being single, we know that man’s real need is for community. And as this passage defines marriage for us it gives us an example of community. In fact, I think we could say that a healthy marriage is the purest example of community we can see. (For the purest example we can’t see, think about the Trinity—one essence, yet three persons in perfect harmony.)

But in our lives today, we are surrounded by community. We’re part of families, businesses, neighborhoods, teams, clubs, churches, and more. Thankfully we almost never have to worry about being alone. If we have any problem today it’s probably that our relationships don’t go deep enough. Our communities lack the quality they should have—the quality that we need.

So how do we work on this? What is the goal? I think we can learn a lot about what our communities should look like by looking at a healthy marriage. In a healthy marriage, there is sameness and difference, commonness and complement. There’s good communication—and sometimes tough communication. There’s acceptance, affirmation, encouragement, praise. Servant-heartedness. Self-sacrifice. And that’s the tip of the iceberg.

Now please understand: I’m not trying to make you feel guilty about your marriage! Nobody is perfect. Every marriage has its struggles. The point isn’t to see how well or poorly your marriage measures up, but to see what we can learn from marriage itself about how to live together in other communities.

You Need Community—and Community Needs You!

Not only do we need to pursue quality in the communities we’re in, we need a special kind of community. We don’t just need a bunch of relationships, we need those few relationships that matter most—our suitable helpers. And we need to be suitable helpers as well.

So where is that community for you? Where do you belong? Where are your strengths and weaknesses complemented? Where are you known and accepted and affirmed? You’ll probably never find that kind of community at work, maybe not even in your neighborhood. You should find it in your marriage, if you are married. But if all else fails you should at least be able to find it in the Body of Christ, your local church.

And often times we need more than one person. Even if you have the best marriage in the world, you’re still two fallen people in a fallen world. Your spouse can’t be everything you need—and you can’t be everything your spouse needs either.

Sometimes we isolate ourselves, whether by accident or on purpose, and we rob ourselves of something God created us to need. The fact that we need others is a good thing! It’s part of our design! Don’t fight that. You need community.

But the flipside is even better: your community needs you! Instead of looking for people to serve us or complete us or make us feel better, we should be looking for people we can serve, people we can encourage and listen to. You can be that suitable helper, that complementary equal that rescues another from being alone.

Self-centeredness destroys community. But in a world that praises the self-made man, we serve a God that praises the self-giving man. And that should come as no surprise; after all, that’s the example God has set for us time and again. God is always giving of Himself, graciously, and not for His own gain. He gave us His Son who gave Himself up on the cross for us when we were His enemies.

So finally—and this is my plea—look around you. This Sunday School class is your community. Your community needs you. And you need good community. We’re not the only community you have, maybe not even the most important community in your life. But as brothers and sisters in Christ, members of this class together, we can be there for each other. We can make this a good community, a place where no one has to be alone, a place where we pool our strengths to cover our weaknesses. And it won’t be easy, but I promise you if we’re all on board, it will be worth it.

Random Bonus Notes

The Creation of Woman & Institution of Marriage

  • Women, be proud: God spent a lot more time telling us about Eve’s creation than Adam’s. And believe it or not, the Bible is the only Ancient Near Eastern text that says anything about the creation of woman!
  • Just think: God didn’t make Eve from the dirt like He did Adam. They aren’t two separate creations, two separate races. They are intimately related, physically connected as members of the same race. It’s like the mystery of having a child, where this person is a part of you but completely separate and unique.
  • Adam was not involved in Eve’s creation. She was a gracious gift from God.
  • Something for the softies: Matthew Henry wrote “. . . the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.” (Cited in Constable’s Notes on Genesis.)

Community and Alonenes

  • For more on this idea that you + God is not enough, Moses and Elijah are good examples. For Moses, see Exodus 18 and Numbers 11; for Elijah, check out 1 Kings 18 & 19.)
  • One powerful passage about the importance of community can be found in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.
  • Not to beat a dead horse, but Adam looking among the animals for a suitable helper and not finding one hammers home the truth that we are not one of them!
  • For more on the church as community, check out Acts 2:41-47 and Philippians 2:1-8.
  • It’s hard to have deep community in a big group. We as a Sunday School meet in order to be a better community within West Cannon. But if you want to go deeper still, you need to get into a small group. That’s the only place you will find the personal accountability and encouragement that you need!
  • The world says we are independent, self-sufficient, and self-made. But God made us interdependent, insufficient, and self-giving.

Made in the Image of God…Really! (1/18/15)

Outline

  • Introduction: The Challenge from Evolution
    • Can we be made in God’s image if science says we evolved?
    • Are we misreading the Bible?
  • Not the Whole Debate, Just the Bible
    • The Bible is our authority as the very words of God.
    • We submit to it whether we understand it or not.
    • The first place we go to understand a passage of Scripture is the rest of Scripture. Scripture interprets Scripture!
    • The clash isn’t science vs. Scripture but one interpretation vs. another.
  • What Does the Bible Say about Adam?
    • Three genealogies portray him as the first father, the end of a real lineage.
    • In two long passages, Paul ties Jesus’ work to Adam’s sin, so our understanding of one is tied to the other. A real Jesus saved us from the real problem of sin and death that came to all men through one man.
    • Paul explains that his church order is based on the creation order and the consequences of the Fall.
    • Hebrews says we accept God created everything by His word, and it treats Abel as a real live example of faith.
  • Conclusion: Faith in Jesus First
    • Our faith and trust is in a person that we personally know!
    • If someone ever shakes our faith in creation or in Scripture, it doesn’t have to shake our faith in Christ.

Introduction: The Challenge from Evolution

Last week we discussed how mankind is made in the image of God, how men and women are together unique in all of creation. And we noted that this is not what we hear in the broader culture. We’re often characterized as highly evolved animals and biochemical machines.

And if this were just another religion talking, it would be easy enough to shrug it off. We might not even notice. But because we often hear this from scientists, it’s more unsettling.

As Christians we believe that God is the God of all truth, and that the way God has revealed Himself in the natural world works together with the way He has revealed Himself in Scripture. And so when people who don’t have religious motives look carefully at the natural world and come to different conclusions, that bugs us.

And it should.

So today we’re going to talk about that elephant in the room: how can we be sure we’re created in God’s image if science tells us we’re just highly-developed animals? What does it look like for us to take Scripture seriously—to take Genesis seriously?

Not the Whole Debate, Just the Bible

Now, even though it’s tempting to try to tackle the whole creation-evolution debate in one sitting, it’s just not possible. We can get into the science another time, we can get into the philosophy of science another time, we can get into the interpretive theory another time. But today I want to ask and answer one simple question: what does the rest of the Bible say about Genesis?

We as a church very proudly stand in the tradition of Sola scriptura, or “Bible alone.” Sometimes we mistake this for the idea that the Bible is the only source of truth or the only source of revelation. But what it really means is that the Bible is the sole authority. No other book, no group, no person, no angel, no one can contradict what it says.

Why? Because we believe these are the very words of God. And because God has highest authority, His words carry that authority. When God speaks, all other mouths are silenced.

Now, can things outside the Bible help us understand what’s in the Bible? Absolutely! God spoke in our language at a certain time and place, and so we certainly rely on translators, archaeologists, philosophers, scientists, etc. to help clarify Scripture. But before we go to them, we affirm that whatever the Bible says—whether we understand it or not—it has authority over us.

One thing that’s helpful to keep in mind is that when we discuss the conflict we often confuse terms. We think of it as being an issue of science vs. Scripture, but that’s not quite right. It’s the interpretation of the facts of nature by the scientific community on one side vs. the interpretation of Scripture by Christian readers on the other. We believe that the conflict isn’t between the facts of nature and the text of Scripture but between interpretations of both.

Science and Scripture

So then, we’re not out to interpret the facts of nature today or evaluate the interpretations of the scientific community. We’re only looking at Scripture, and specifically the clues the REST of the Bible gives us for understanding this part of the Bible.

What Does the Bible Say about Adam?

Since we’re specifically interested in what it means to be human, we can narrow things down a bit more. What does the rest of the Bible say about Adam? Was there a real first person? Was he more than just another animal?

Exhibit A: Genealogies

Adam is mentioned in three different genealogies in the Bible: Genesis 5, 1 Chronicles 1, and Luke 3. In each case he’s part of a long line of fathers and sons. The plain reading is that he’s a real father who had real sons.

Exhibit B: Hosea’s Transgressor

In Hosea 6:7, the prophet declares that Israel has broken God’s covenant just like Adam did. Now this phrasing doesn’t require a literal Adam. I could say Samson was strong just like Superman and it would be true because Superman represents this idea that we can actually apply to Samson. So not much help for this study. (Although I should note that the NET Bible translates this passage differently, in ways that make Adam a much stronger figure here.)

Exhibit C: As Adam, So Christ

Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 are the strongest evidence that the Bible truly treats Adam as a real person. Jesus is the second Adam, the one who came to undo the work of the first Adam. This is worth quoting at length:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 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.
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.
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. 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. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 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. (Rom 5:12-19 ESV)

Wow!

Beautiful stuff. But if you start messing with Adam and the problem he created, you end up messing with Jesus and the salvation He brings.

Here’s more:

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1Co 15:19-22 ESV)

Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1Co 15:45-49 ESV)

Sin and death came through Adam to all mankind. I know there are Christians out there who think Adam is just a myth, but reading these passages, I just can’t see how! How do you have a real effect from an imaginary cause? Either there was a single, real set of first parents who fell and spread the effects to all their children, or Paul is in trouble. And so is our concept of what Jesus did for us.

Exhibit D: Family Order

I don’t want to linger here because I don’t want to start any fights about women in church and get us side-tracked. Bottom line: in 1 Timothy 2, Paul argues for a certain arrangement of men and women in church based on two facts: Adam was made before Eve, and Eve was deceived, not Adam. The only point I want to make is Paul is basing rules of conduct on historical events. If these things didn’t happen, why would Paul appeal to them in this way?

Exhibit E: By Faith We Understand

The famous Hebrews “Hall of Faith” has a few relevant references. First off, we have this:

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Heb 11:1 ESV)

Seems pretty straightforward, affirms what we see in Genesis. Then there’s a reference to Abel’s faith as an example for us all. Now, in a list of people who are examples of how to live, a list where most of the people are most assuredly historical, what should we make of the inclusion of Abel? Only that he was real. The real son of the real Adam.

Conclusion: Faith in Jesus First

I’ve adopted kind of a defensive tone today, but not because I think our class is full of people who deny Adam’s existence. It’s because we live not only in a culture but in a church context that is more and more hostile to these ideas. Formerly conservative seminaries and Bible colleges are ready to concede that evolution is true, and so the challenge isn’t just from outside but from within.

My goal today has not been to demonize scientists. I’m not a scientist and I don’t think it’s my place to judge how scientists do their work. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But it’s important to recognize that science isn’t the only voice in this conversation—not even the most important.

My heart is for people who struggle with doubt, and this is one of those areas where believers sometimes get shaken in their faith. If that’s you, I want you to know that I’m here for you and I’m not out to pick fights. I want to listen and help you find your way back to confidence in Christ.

But if you don’t struggle with this, I hope talking about it now helps strengthen you against future troubles. Most importantly, I want you to see that we don’t believe in Jesus because we believe in creation. We believe in creation because we believe in Jesus. The Bible may have introduced me to Jesus, but my faith is in Him first, my personal relationship is with Jesus Christ, and it’s because of that bond that I trust the Bible.

Do you see the difference? A time may come when someone shakes your confidence in the Bible or in creation. If so, just remember it doesn’t have to shake your faith. The foundation is the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And because I know Him, I can trust Him, and because I trust Him, I can trust Scripture.