A Model for Christian Life: Part 1 of 3

Long ago, when we were children, someone taught us how to assemble a puzzle. It was hard at first, frustrating. In time we learned that each piece has a specific shape that fits a hole somewhere. That helped, but it still took a while to try out each piece in the hole.

Finally our minds developed to the point where we could use the biggest clue of all — the picture on the front of the puzzle box. That made things so much easier! Soon we were able to do the whole puzzle without even using the picture. Our minds had learned a pattern, a picture of wholeness.

Our Christian lives are a puzzle of staggering complexity. Many spend a lifetime trying to bring the many parts into a coherent whole. That’s where this article fits in. It gives a sketch of the picture on the puzzle box—a vision of wholeness and maturity in Jesus Christ.

Toward a Better Conception

What many Christians desperately need today is a change in their frame of reference. To understand what I mean by “frame of reference,” consider an example from history. Until the sixteenth century scientists shared the belief that the earth was the center of the solar system with all other heavenly bodies moving around it. But then Copernicus and Kepler found that astronomical observations matched the assumption that the sun was at the center rather than the earth. That totally changed people’s frame of reference.

The important point is that the old earth-centered system was eventually replaced by a new, different and more useful one. But that didn’t happen easily or quickly.

Like those who wrongly believed the earth was the center of the solar system, Christians often reach a block in their growth because they are still using some simplistic frame of reference for their Christian life, a frame that cannot integrate the complexity of their lives. Seemingly useful alternatives such as “let go and let God” or “you must die to self” eventually lead to disappointment for many Christians. Other inadequate alternatives include perfectionism and the teaching that a second work of grace makes you mature in Christ. I do not accept these alternatives as the biblical means for achieving maturity in Christ.

Other ideas divide the nature of man into either two or three parts. The first approach is often expressed as a two-part model of body and soul. The three-part model is usually expressed as the combination of body, soul and spirit. In my view, these concepts lead to psychological/spiritual speculation that cannot be adequately supported by biblical revelation. Instead, I find it more useful to view redeemed man as a whole person, the “new man” of Colossians 3, Ephesians 4, and Romans 6 (more on this later).

A Metaphor To Express Our Life Situation

All of us take cues from our situation to help us know how to behave. A football player acts one way and a chess player quite another. A gardener exhibits certain behaviors and a father holding a new baby shows totally different actions. People who get their situations and behaviors mixed up (e.g. a football player trying to dance at the forty yard line) usually wind up in institutions. So it’s vitally important to fit our behaviors together in a sensible way with our context.

I believe that Christians can use one, central metaphor that will describe all their activities. This single metaphor provides a master conception that will guide our behavior in situations where limited formulas about Christian life break down. The guiding metaphor for Christians is that we have been appointed life-managers on behalf of Christ.

The biblical basis for this metaphor starts with Gen. 1:26–28. Jesus imposed this duty on his followers while they await his return (Matt. 25:14–28 and Luke 19:12–27).

Naturally, the life you manage is your own, although as a parent you may help manage children’s lives for a time. Even our physical lives come as a delegated resource from God. He also provides “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), which includes such resources as the Holy Spirit, the Bible, our own capable minds and our Christian relationships.

Though our first priority is to love God, he redirects our attention toward obedience and the expression of love. As life-managers for Christ, we enjoy wide latitude of choice and action. Part of our responsibility includes the active pursuit of Christian growth, but the most frequent focus of our management falls on the expression of love toward others, whether by kindness or evangelism. By using all these resources wisely, we bring lasting benefit to Christ’s kingdom and ourselves. And he generously rewards us for such efforts. On the other hand, any disobedience or sin results in discipline from our Master.

Life-Management during Christ’s Ministry

During Christ’s earthly ministry, the practice of managing another person’s wealth or estate was common. We can best view the arrangement as a capital-services partnership with one partner supplying the capital and the other partner providing the expertise in making a profit.

A servant could function as his master’s financial manager and the servant’s actions were legally binding on his master. In other words, the servant/manager had broad authority to act on his master’s behalf.

In those times it was entirely possible to turn a minimum profit of 100%, and even 1000% was not beyond reason. A servant who returned no profit at all would actually represent a loss to the master who was paying for the servant’s daily living expenses. A servant who made a profit would share in that profit and would likely be given even more to invest or manage in the future.

These typical arrangements stand behind the parables Jesus told about stewards: the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–28 and Luke 19:12–27), the parable of the shrewd steward (Luke 16:1–15) and the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:23–35).

Approaching Our Goal

No one starts Christian life as an effective life-manager for Christ. Over time, God intends that we move from spiritual infancy into adulthood (Gal. 4:19; Eph. 4:13).

We can illustrate the development of Christian faith with a journey metaphor. No one ever took a journey by standing still! First, a person accepts the need for the journey and then moves out. But even that is not enough. Without an accurate map, a person can wind up farther from his intended destination than when he started; which leads us directly to the role of truth in spiritual development.

Truth and Spiritual Development

It will also prove helpful to use the metaphor of a map for our journey toward Christian maturity. First, we can imagine the reality in which we exist as a vast land. Our mental “map” represents our understanding of that terrain.

We all have such a map. For example, our map contains the concept of grocery stores. Unlike people in some parts of the world, we do not fish, hunt or raise crops to get our food because we know we can get it at the grocery store. But if we tried to use that part of our map while traveling in central Greenland, we would be in for a rude shock!

Sticking with the metaphor, I can define “truth” as God’s map of the terrain. The challenge each Christian faces is to get his internal map to look more like God’s. This happens by transforming our minds (more on that later) and by gaining a greater understanding of what God has revealed through Christ and the Word of God.

Part 2 will show how God helps us correct our “map” of reality.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Kevin and Colleen Green join FamilyLife staff

My wife and I have joined the support and prayer team for Kevin and Colleen Green, new staff members of FamilyLife. For those who may not know, FamilyLife is a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ that seeks to strengthen families using biblical principles and other well-accepted methods (e.g. conferences, counseling, and resources).

Kevin and Colleen are ideal for this ministry, and I believe our own home church, Christ Fellowship, will greatly benefit from their ministry along with many other churches.  For more information, contact me at [email protected] and I will put you in touch with the Greens.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

A few words about judging others …

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “You have no right to judge!” Sometimes they quote Jesus as their authority in saying so.

Yet all of us make judgments about people in the common course of life. We do it almost unconsciously when we look for a “good” doctor or want a “dependable” babysitter. In business, friendship, or marriage, people want someone they can trust; that means that some others cannot be trusted. And parents must often decide which of their children is telling the truth. So, what exactly did Jesus say about judging?

Right before Jesus made his famous statement about judging, he said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). So, the context of his statement about judging others was one of showing mercy to others!

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37–38)

In Luke 6:37 we run smack into the main problem: What did Jesus mean when he said, “Do not judge”? That question can be readily solved, if we assume that Jesus knew we would need further elaboration and that he gave it immediately. In other words, when Jesus said, “Do not condemn,” he was explaining what he meant by saying, “Do not judge.” Believers are not to judge in the sense of condemning another person with harshness and finality.

Matthew also describes the Sermon on the Mount and presents what Jesus said about judging others. Right after Jesus spoke about judging, he gave his disciples another command that made it obvious that they would not be able to avoid evaluating other people. He said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matt. 7:6, italics added).

Jesus wasn’t talking about house pets and barnyard animals; he was describing certain kinds of people. To follow this command, his disciples would have to be discerning and make value judgments about people, distinguishing the “dogs” and “pigs” from more receptive people. By using those terms, Jesus was referring to people who treated the Word of God and the miracles of his Son with contempt.

So, Jesus was not saying that we can never evaluate other people or form opinions about them. He knew that his disciples would have to do that. That’s simply part of life. But the spirit in which it is done makes a great difference; the Lord requires that mercy be infused into our judgments.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Excerpted from The Path to the Cross (forthcoming).

Bibles: The Heritage of NIV for 2011

The New International Version (NIV) first came out in 1973 (NT) with great fanfare. It was the first major English translation to abandon the King James Version and its successors as a baseline for English Bible translation. The full NIV Bible was published in 1978 and underwent a minor revision in 1984. NIV1984 is currently the most widely used English translation of the Bible; in August, 2010, The Committee on Bible Translation said that more than 400 million copies of the NIV had been printed.

The successor to the NIV1984 was meant to be the Today’s New International Version (TNIV) published in 2002 (NT) and 2005 (whole Bible). However, opponents attacked its gender-inclusive language and the publisher proved reluctant to quit promoting the profit-producing NIV1984 instead. As of now, TNIV is effectively dead, though it is reasonable to argue that it has risen again as NIV2011.

Now the new kid on the block is NIV2011, scheduled for print publication in March 2011. Electronic versions are already available. NIV2011 is a definite improvement over NIV1984. I’ll be saying a lot more about this new translation, but for now you may want to see the statistics presented in graphical and tabular form by John Dyer, who works at Dallas Theological Seminary. Here is the link: Dyer’s Data & Chart.

The message I get from examining Dyer’s data is that NIV2011 substantially approves of the changes included in TNIV and takes them a step further. One change from NIV1984 to NIV2011 is the cautious shift to gender-neutral language; for example, “brothers” becomes “brothers and sisters” and “men” becomes “mankind.” However, nothing of this nature was done in relation to references to God.

An excellent statement about NIV2011 has been prepared by The Committee on Bible Translation. It is available here. I will discuss this statement in more detail another day.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Taking Sides: Joining Jesus When It’s Hard

As I was doing my new Bible reading plan this morning, I was reading about the time when Israel was camped below Mount Sinai and Moses returned from meeting God on the mountain. Consider this bracing passage in Exodus 31:19–29:

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”

22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” [END]

Clearly, God was not playing games! As believers, we are compelled to acknowledge that life is God-given, and he can also take that life whenever he chooses. Set that issue aside and consider that this story is about taking sides. Who is on the Lord’s side? One answer, based on this story, is that those “running wild” in defiance of God were rejected by him. Another answer is that those who were willing to serve God no matter the cost were blessed.

A more personal question is this: would you have stood with the Levites on that day? Jesus challenged the following crowd in a similar way in Luke 14:25–27:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus challenges all to take a side! Following Jesus may cost a lot. The cross that we carry is a symbol of our death, and death severs all relationships except one.

To deal with a distraction, the word translated “hate” (Luke 14:26) by NIV2011 might better be rendered “disregard” according to the standard Greek lexicon (BDAG-3).

So, the Luke 14 passage ties to Exodus 31 in regard to taking sides. But I think Exodus 31:27 may relate to another enigmatic thing Jesus told his disciples: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36, NIV2011). Both passages feature a sword. The swords in Exodus are literal, but I think the ones in Luke 22 are metaphorical. Jesus is telling his disciples to get ready to take a stand for God; the decisive hour is upon them, and they will be forced to take a side at risk of their lives.

The idea of taking sides may also explain Matthew 10:34, where Jesus  says: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” You may have other passages to suggest as well.

When all is done, the message is clear: Stand with Jesus, no matter what!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Searching for Answers in Romans 8:9-17

Bruce Miller (senior pastor at Christ Fellowship), Lisa Scheffler (director of the women’s ministry at Christ Fellowship) and Barry Applewhite exchanged the following comments during an ongoing e-mail discussion about Romans 8.

Bruce, Barry and Lisa enjoy trusting friendships in which they sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron, with humor. The following dialogue involves seeking after truth among detailed interpretations over which good students of the Bible differ. All three of us share the same theology, but we differ on exactly how to understand some details in interpreting certain phrases. We respect each other and, in grace, give each other space to differ. Many statements are tongue-in-cheek as we poke at each other in fun while we strive together to understand just what Paul was saying.

We thought it might interest you to “overhear” one of these regular sessions. Due to electrical-power blackouts in Plano, it got a bit thrilling at times!

[START]

[Bruce] Struggled with meaning of S/spirit in verse 10, finally convinced of Spirit.

Struggling still with meaning of death and life in vs. 13; not convinced this is eternal life and death, but rather quality of living or dying for “brothers” who live according to the flesh or put to death the deeds of the body and then experience more death-like living or more life-like life; meaning a closer connection with the Life giver and the Living Spirit, or they quench the Spirit, reaping death in the sense of distance from the Living One.

[Barry] Oh I can see how you would think that, being a philosopher and all. What I can’t see is how Paul would have expected people he had never met to get that meaning out of his text (8:13). Should I apply similar reasoning to verse 11 and conclude that Jesus was not really dead prior to his resurrection, just feeling less lively after a hard day? Making death metaphorical has baggage.

I would not make a great deal out of “brothers” (8:12) since Paul has never met them, and any large group has its questionable members.

I agree on Spirit (8:10).

[Bruce] Nice points, and so — oh wise sage — how would you take death and life in 8:13??

Moo, Osborne and Cottrell take three different perspectives along theological lines.

I think Stott and John Owen make good sense on the point.

[Lisa]

Don’t pretend to know as much as you and Barry, but I was thinking the same thing as Barry about verse 13. To me it seems like Paul is bottom-lining it — making sure they know the ultimate outcome.

However, if he is talking about eternal life and death, I do think people will wonder if this somehow negates the security we have as believers.

Like the outline but I’d love to see a point about 8:16 — how the Spirit testifies with our spirit — since he’s the star of the chapter and all.

[Bruce]

“Brother” does not mean Christian? — Barry likes that nutty notion :)

Paul is bottom-lining it . . . [but there are] implications.

The whole chapter is about assurance, so now we are shaking that with a potential that a brother will be eternally damned?

So, this brother is not really a brother (false profession) or brothers can lose salvation [?] . . . just thinking it through.

[Barry] Uh, I believe I did say that Paul had never been to Rome upon writing the letter. He does not know these people, so I doubt he is playing spiritual fruit inspector with strangers. The chapter is big picture, not micro-focus.

“Implications” in BruceWorld is spelled T-E-M-P-T-A-T-I-O-N. Never spin a philosopher’s head!

“For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” [Romans 8:13]

I take the 2nd and 4th italicized words as eschatological [i.e. end times] — live or die eternally.

The 1st italicized word means to live one’s life day by day. Anyone who lives day by day with the outlook of the flesh will die eternally.

The 3rd italicized word means the same thing we see in Rom. 6:11–13. Anyone who day by day considers themselves dead to sin and refuses to allow their members to serve unrighteousness will live eternally.

Romans 6 has the commands which Romans 8 lacks. Romans 6 takes the perspective of our responsibility to live for God after trusting Christ. Romans 8 takes the perspective of what God does through his Spirit to make possible the resistance to sin and death.

Romans 8:13 is a good example of how Moo drops into theological-partisan mode when some Calvinist principle is at stake. A pity because his exegesis suffers when that happens.

[Bruce] I agree that the second and fourth highlighted words appear to be eschatological – eternal death and life — however I am struggling with the referent of “you” back to word “brothers” in verse 12 (I know there is not a personal pronoun in Greek, but implied by the verb). The brothers to whom he is talking are the ones who are in Christ, in the Spirit assured of life even though they have mortal bodies. In 12–13 Paul is not making another statement of fact (although it is indicative, there is an implied imperative/exhortation) because this is now our “obligation” as those who have received the Spirit and are now in the Spirit. That’s where I am struggling. So my solution is to find a wider meaning in “die” and “live” which is possible in the field of meaning and use in other NT passages, but I grant that the more common meaning is eschatological.

So, troublesome facts in the text:

Brothers
and
Obligation

Back to you authors (whom I may contradict on Sunday! :) —

P.S. agree on Moo — so sharp and then . . . I do not see this passage addressing Calvinist/Arminian issues — I do not see the “perseverance of the saints” as the topic. And in my view, not even an implication one way or the other. What’s at stake is our ability to experience life today in the Spirit which is contingent on our  putting to death the misdeeds of the body by the power of the Spirit.

[Lisa] My postmodern education must be showing, because now I can see how you could both be right. <sigh> That’s exhausting.

So it really couldn’t be another statement of fact? Could the “you” be more proverbial – sort of a general summation of the contrast he’s been making? It just seems odd that Paul would be so literal in discussing death and resurrection in 8:11, but switch to something more philosophical in this verse.

All that being said, I like this…”What’s at stake is our ability to experience life today in the Spirit which is contingent on our putting to death the misdeeds of the body by the power of the Spirit” precisely because you’d preach it without it being a perseverance issue. And it does seem to stay with the assurance theme that Paul has been developing.

So…what do you do for the poor Life Group leaders when you two disagree like this?

[Barry] You two are making my bald head hurt!   :)

Romans 8:9 is the key to this entire section because it can only go one way. Only those who have the Spirit are in Christ; the others do not belong to him. This isn’t quantum physics where maybe you are a Christian or maybe not, or maybe more life-like or maybe not.

Also, how can you have assurance without perseverance? Looks like a riddle to me.   :)

[Bruce] My post-modern education leans me the same way — he may be speaking proverbially or metaphorically — I don’t think it is philosophic. It is a tough issue. Barry has stated the other view well, even better than most of the commentators I’ve read. Either you explain how “therefore” and “obligation” are contingent on the fact that “brothers” means something more like attenders OR you explain that life and death are not eternal damnation but the experience of more of less of God’s life available by the Spirit today — tastes of real life — we know eternal life starts today and it is a quality of life not just duration.

[Barry] Okay … I’m laughing at the idea that post-modernism is not philosophical.

I’m waiting for you to apply your “more or less of God’s life” theory to Romans 8:9.

[Bruce] Apples and oranges, my friend.

I stand in the rich tradition of John Owen and John Stott against those modern commentators, Moo, Schreiner and Osborne! Joined by two others who shall not be named!

[Barry] Well, I do agree you are standing in something …  :)

[Bruce] a umph,

Trace the concept of life in vs 9 “The Spirit gives life” then connect to the minority view someone [i.e. Barry in the Romans 8 study guide] took of “will also give life to your mortal bodies” — just what “life” is this? Well of course the same life that is referred to in verse 13. By the Spirit we can experience life today, but the extent of our experience varies by our death-dealing to deeds of the body.

BTW — not sure about that view of 11 — weighing explicit reference to Christ’s resurrection against the word “mortal” — you have a point that makes sense (at least you are not irrational or crazy), but I’m not sure “mortal” weighs enough against resurrection reference and analogy to Christ, but I like your view because it supports my view of 13!

[Barry] Holy cow — quoting me against me!! That’s got to be cheating of some kind.
:)

In verse 11, my view says that the Spirit provides all the power necessary for the person in a mortal body to say no to an act of sin. I do not hold that the Spirit gives sometimes more power/life and sometimes less. I fully admit that I do not know how the Spirit does these things; just as John 3 says, we are in the dark about all that.

So, under your theory of sometimes more life and sometimes less … is an act done with 75% life an act done while “walking according to the Spirit,” or not? How about 85%? At what point is the person “walking according to the flesh”?

[Bruce] That’s an engineer for you — applying percentages to wonderful spiritual truth — ruining metaphors with numbers  :)

So, we get an injection of power that we can use or not?

[Barry] Yeah, it’s kind of like a total and complete salvation that we can accept or not. Odd, isn’t it?

[Bruce] So confused, once again.

Justification vs. sanctification — already and not yet — one is total the other is partial — unless you don’t sin . . .

[Barry] You didn’t leave your meds at home again, did you?

[END]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Mercy Triumphs

Sometimes I hear Christians say that God looks at us objectively. They talk like that is a wonderful thing, but I assure you it is not!

Paul tells us exactly what we were like before we gave our allegiance to Jesus when he says we were “helpless … ungodly … sinners … enemies [of God]” (Romans 5:6 and 5:10). I’ll stand aside and let all of you who are so excited about objectivity rush forward to claim those qualities! Face it — objectively speaking, we all deserved death from a righteous, holy God.

How fortunate we are that sandwiched in between all that objectivity is a warmly subjective reason for our hope: “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

So, if you want to know how to balance objectivity and subjectivity, listen to what James tells us: “Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom. For judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:12-13, NET Bible.

I’ll take God’s subjective love every time!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.