Imagine a little Texas girl who grew up sometime in the last 50 years. She goes to a Bible-preaching church twice a week with her family, and a fine public school system five times a week with her friends. Both the school and the church intend to influence her for good. They both aim to teach her what is true, there’s no doubt about that. They both aim to equip her to live effectively in this world. They both carry a strong sense of responsibility about what they must do for this little girl. But from the girl’s perspective, something is wrong. For some reason, these two institutions that influence her the most (underneath her immediate family) can’t seem to agree on the things that matter most. They teach contradictory truths. The nearly constant disagreement is implicit everywhere, but shows up nowhere so explicitly as science class. The church tells her that God is everything, but the school tells her that God is just one thing, a thing that has nothing to do with serious academic inquiry. They don’t have to say it out loud, their actions say it well enough.
What does the little girl conclude? The same thing that the school has long since concluded – that matters of faith and matters of fact dwell in two different arenas. She decides that learning about the Word of God and learning about the world are two different things entirely, as separate as night and day. She adds a strange new word to her vocabulary…secular. The very acknowledgement of such a term gives away her new assumption that there are some things in life which are not sacred. She would never put it in these terms, but the fact is that her concept of truth has been bifurcated. Science and faith are viewed as incompatible. She wouldn’t say it out loud, but truthfully she fears science, with all its confidences and boasts. She adopts the assumption of the school – that on the one hand there are matters of fact that the public school teaches, and on the other there are matters of faith and value that church teaches. The former (whatever it may claim) cares less for value or morals, the latter (whatever it may claim) cares less for objective fact. The American way of separating church and state has put God on an island in her mind, isolating him from everything else there is to know or interact with. She’s infected by a false dichotomy that informs everything she sees. Her worldview dwells nearer than a contact lens.
This is the story for so many of us, both little boys and little girls. The very admission of a so-called “secular” world gives away our assumption that there are some things that have nothing to do with God. Unfortunately, the Bible knows nothing of such a separation, because it doesn’t exist. The Word of God is not a science book, fair enough. That is because the world is the world of God, and he has equipped us to write our own books of discovery about it. But rest assured that there is one body of truth, defined simply as “things as God knows them to be.” Those truths discovered through science, while they may be less relevant to salvation, are just as true as those found in Scripture. The things we discover in mathematics may have less nourishment for the soul than, say, the book of Philippians. But 2+2=4 is just as true as the fact that Jesus Christ took the form of a servant (Phil 2:7). Obviously, the two statements have varying degrees of relevance to the human plight. I hold the truth about Jesus more nearly and dearly than the truth about math. But they have the same degree of truthfulness – 100%. All truth is God’s truth. And all the truth we will ever apprehend will be apprehended because of God’s grace in revealing it to us. Christians have nothing to fear of science, because the God who reveals things through the study of creation is the same God who reveals things through the study of the Bible, and he will never contradict himself. Should scientific findings disagree with properly interpreted Scripture, science has simply made an error. Surely charging the creature with making an error is less audacious than charging the Creator with writing one.
To give an example of the integration that will resolve our false conflict, think of biochemicals in a lab. They will behave the same way for Christians and non-Christians, that’s for sure. But while the non-Christian will be content to answer the question “What is there?”, the Christian will strive just as strongly to answer this question and then also to inquire, “Why is it there?” Science cannot answer the question of “why,” and honest scientists will admit as much. That is the task of philosophy, or for the believer in God, theology. Therefore theology is tied to everything, even biochemistry. All those minute chemical details come into better focus when we remember that Jesus “holds all things together.”
The Creator and Sustainer of everything that exists is relevant to all things, and they are relevant to him. Christian learning, whether from the Word or the world, seeks to locate that relevance. Christian inquiry is not a side-show to “real” science and learning. It is a rising above and going beyond it. It is looking for the real purpose, already knowing that that purpose is gloriously Personal. Christian learning is realizing that the truths of the Christian church and the truths of the school (insofar as they are actually true and not simply erroneous theories purported to be true, as is often the case) emanate from the same God. A Christian learner is one who goes beyond studying the mere state of things and begins to discern what their true relationship and significance in the universe is. Science cannot lift our eyes to the royalty of God in creation, but theology can. That is why theology is called queen of the sciences.
Imagine the freedom, now, to explore the inerrant Word of God and the fascinating world of God with the goal of integration, rather than division. English class is now a Bible reading training class. Biology now reveals the details of the creation account. Anatomy shows the beauty and terror of the cross of Jesus.
And here will our worldview be reassembled, when the idea of “secular” is properly labeled “illusion.” There is nothing in the universe that has nothing to do with God. Positively stated, everything has to do with God. And that gives license to fearlessly study everything.
When the pursuit of truth, in whatever field, becomes the pursuit of God, we are free to explore and arrive at real Truth. And, as a wise man once said, “the truth will set you free.”
Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of the certainty of where our story ends. There are ups and there are downs in the Christian life, and some of the highs are really high and some of the lows are really low. Just as your plane of vision changes while riding a roller coaster, sometimes we get confused on where we’ll actually end up, afraid one of those dips may not pull up in time to avoid disaster. How comforting, then, to look to the Word of God and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that every one of us who belong to Jesus will also be made like him in the end. We can know this because sanctification is ultimately his work anyway – work that he has promised to do. Here are a few passages.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). There are some loud theological words in this passage that raise some important questions, like, “What exactly does ‘foreknew’ and ‘predestined’ mean?” But for this writing, these pursuits are not the point. The point is this – if you a believer in Christ, you will ultimately be changed into the likeness of Jesus. It is as sure today as it ever has been, regardless of what your recent or not-so-recent experience has been. It’s up to him, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That is not constraining, it’s comforting.
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the Spirit of him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11). Everyone who belongs to Jesus has the Spirit (Rom 8:9). And if you have the Spirit, life is yours. There are no surprise endings.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17-18). The Holy Spirit is God and brings freedom everywhere he goes, and your person is no exception. We all are becoming more like Jesus, from one degree of glory to the next. Progress may be unsteady from our wavering perspective, but it is as certain as the Word of the Lord. How do we know this? Because “it comes from the Lord.” Who, in case you forgot, is the Spirit.
“And I am confident of this: that he who began a good in work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). You have a role to play in your sanctification. You are to battle the flesh and “let not sin reign in your mortal body” (Rom 6:11). God equips you ”to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). But in all these things, never forget that it is God who began the work. And it is God who will finish the work.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). The Shepherd takes care of the sheep, and he’s never lost any. Not even one.
“We eagerly await a Savior from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:20-21). If you trust in Jesus, you are included in that “our.” By his own authority, Christ is going to make your sin-filled body like his sinless, perfect body.
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification, and its end, eternal life” (Rom 3:22). This is the clearest of all, perhaps. Man I love this verse. Easy and beautiful observations: 1) Sanctification has an end. 2) That end is eternal life.
“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:30). The “Golden Chain” of salvation. This verse is sweet sweet sweet. It means that salvation is an inextricable web, a work of God from start to finish. No one has ever begun who has not finished. There are no exit ramps on the highway of salvation. You will arrive safely at glory.
All this is to encourage you and let you know that even though the struggle hurts, it doesn’t go on forever. If you’re at the top of the spiritual stratosphere right now, take the time to encourage another believer. And if you’re in the midst of the struggle, know that the struggle has an end. And, because of the grace and lovingkindness of God toward you, you will win. Until then, keep seeking that next degree of glory.
How do you define “theology”? Our first inclination in answering this question is to use the garage toolbox method we all learned in grade school. I don’t dislike the garage toolbox method; as a matter of fact, it’s downright helpful sometimes. Let’s give it a go with the word “theology”:
- Get your saw out and cut the word “theology” precisely in half.
- You now have two Greek word roots (theo and logy), one in each hand. Translate them into English.
- Use a drill to stick ‘em back together.
If you follow the instructions to this proverbial game of Operation correctly, you’ll get a definition that goes something like this – “Theology is the study of God.” Done, right? Not so much.
This definition doesn’t seem to float the boats of theologians. Not because it’s wrong or because they don’t like the garage toolbox method. They do. But mere word root translations are only bare-bones introductions to whatever topic they propose to encompass, and as such they are usually insufficient for definitional purposes. I was told in grade school that the phrase “solar system” meant “sun system” because sol means sun. None of that is incorrect, and I have no complaint with it. However, there is much more about the solar system that could be included in a more proper definition, yes? Using word roots to understand our solar system as the “sun system” is a great way for a tiny person to start, but it is just that – a place to start. As we mature, a richer understanding is necessary. So let’s use our understanding of theology as “the study of God” in a similar way. It is not defined incorrectly as such, but rather incompletely. It is a great place to start, but a terrible place to finish. If we aim to describe the very loftiest pursuit which avails itself to mankind, simply translating word roots and sewing them back together will not do. Theology is queen of the sciences. What description shall fit?
Read what Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) offered on the subject and be blessed.
“I do not try, Lord, to attain your lofty heights because my understanding is in no way equal to it. But I do desire to know your truth a little, that truth that my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, but I believe so that I may understand. For I believe this also, that unless I believe, I shall not understand.”
Quite beautiful, yes? Here’s is Anselm’s derived definition of theology (shorter, even, than the one provided by the garage toolbox method, but decidedly more attractive). Anselm says that theology is faith seeking understanding. That’s it. Theology is faith seeking understanding. In studying the depths of the Lord, we trust everything that he has revealed up to the present moment, and find ourselves very nearly begging for what he may reveal next. This is why the Bible is inextricably tied to theology and the reason it is so inexhaustibly interesting to us…it’s God’s revelation of himself. And best of all, he has promised to reward those who diligently seek him (Prov 8:17, Heb 11:6). Doing theology is earnestly trusting what God has already shown you and asking him to show you more – which he has guaranteed to do.
Now, some people don’t like this definition. “It excludes non-Christians,” I’m told. “It’s really short,” I’m told (which happens rarely in theology). “It’s really old,” I’m told (which happens quite often in theology). Concerning the first of these objections, many people prefer to define theology more broadly, claiming that all people are theologians because all people without exception contemplate life’s questions of ultimacy (which must at some point include considering at least the possibility of God). I can’t say that I’m inclined to agree. Considering the possibility that God exists doesn’t make someone a theologian any more than considering the possibility that sick people exist makes someone a doctor. No, I think that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe he exists” (Heb 11:6). Don’t be bothered, however. To say that one must be a Christian in order to properly do Christian theology is not an exclusive statement – not when the invitation to become a Christian is inclusive of all.
Theology is faith seeking understanding. Ponder this as I pray Paul’s prayer over you.
I bow my knees before the Father, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that you may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)
Anyone who has lived with their eyes open long enough to see clearly has lived long enough to witness one human being (or group) taking advantage of another. It is an undeniable symptom of a sinful nature that we will use as leverage whatever we can to gain advantage over another. “The rat race,” “keeping up with the Jones,” call it what you will – apart from the sanctifying work of Christ, life is an endless jockeying for position against your
opponents fellow person. And the teaching of Jesus is diametrically opposed to this system. Jesus did the opposite, although if anyone ever had the right to use their station to their advantage, it was he. But instead of considering his station something to be LEVERAGED, he made himself nothing (Phil 2:6-7). It is impossible to understand this apart from the Spirit’s enablement. That’s why “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him” (1 Cor 2 :14).
And while people have used anything they can get their hands on as leverage against others, I can’t think of anything that has been used more than race, economic station, and gender. In every injustice, far more often than not, the criteria that garnered undeserved discrimination has been the color of someone’s skin, their economic freedom (whether monetary status or freedom itself), or their gender. In America alone, we’ve seen all three of these in the last 150 years. We’ve seen people oppressed because they are not white. We’ve seen people oppressed because they are not free. We’ve seen people oppressed because they are not men. If you find this history (and, in some parts of the world, present reality) to be repulsive, the word of God in Galatians 3:28 will be particularly delicious to you.
Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” You can strive all day long until your days run out to gain leverage over others, but nothing you get can gain you a single thing in your standing before God. All that ultimately matters is your standing in Christ, in whom there are no racial distinctions, economic distinctions, or gender distinctions (as it pertains to justification; concerning practical daily living, many of these distinctions are imperatively kept, as evidenced by Paul’s addressing each group one at a time in Scripture). Salvation comes by faith (Eph 2:8), not by leverage or coercion.
The Jewish man once proudly prayed a prayer each morning thanking God that he was not a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. He literally thanked God for his worldly leverage over other people groups. To this, the gospel of our Lord says, “No more.” In Christ, there is no such thing as racism, no such thing as slavery, and no such thing as sexism. Rather, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11).
Christians hear all the time that the Bible inflames hate toward certain segments of the population. Groundless charge, I’m afraid, since the Author of the Bible created and loves every segment of the population. His acceptance is free, and his salvation is no respecter of persons.
Life is not a rat race. It is the race (2 Tim 4:7), won by Christ’s effort, not ours.
Legalism is oft-used word and an oft-followed philosophy (although many do not realize they are trapped in its snare). So what is legalism, anyway?
In its more explicit application, legalism refers to the Law of Moses in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) and the belief that by following the Law one can be justified before God (by justified, think “made right” or “saved”). This kind of explicit legalism isn’t the legalism that typically entangles us most of the time, because it’s so easy to spot (and because it is so clearly obliterated by Scripture – see entire book of Galatians). I don’t find many people who are trusting in the Law of Moses for their justification/salvation.
But the principle behind this “Old Testament” legalism still plagues us. What, exactly, accomplishes justification according to legalism? Following the Law. And what is following the Law? An action which I do by my own effort. The legalism of our day has the same ultimate driving force behind it as explicit legalism – the belief that my merit before God comes from me. I trust in myself. I justify myself. We say in our minds, Not me. But our practice of running from God after spiritual failures and yet sprinting toward him proudly after spiritual successes says, Yes, you. Legalism at its core is justification by self-effort. In common usage today, Christians give the word “religion” the same definition.
Jesus gave a truly profound warning against this idea that comes so naturally to us all (John 5:45). Addressing a group of Jews (explicit legalists), he said, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope.” Do you have ears to hear what he is saying? There is no need to accuse or condemn those who trust in the Law, because the Law will do that for itself. The very standard in which the Jews were trusting for deliverance would become the standard that would sentence them. What does that mean for you today? That if you set your hope on your own behavioral merits before God, your own behavioral shortcomings will stand to condemn you before God. Belief in self-propelled reward leads to the reality of self-wrought destruction. Trust in your own good, and your own bad will sentence you. Your penultimate success will not prevent your ultimate failure. Your good will not outweigh your bad – not when the standard is perfection. Do you have ears to hear these things?
What is the solution, then? The estate of humanity looks pretty bleak at this point. Are we helplessly and hopelessly condemned forever? By no means!
By trusting in a substitute, we can be made right with God. The light of Jesus Christ breaks into our darkness, and by faith in him we apprehend a right relationship with God. He prevents our failure. His good outweighs our bad. His merits overcome our shortcomings. His reward becomes ours. The question is not whether we deserve reward from God; that question has been already answered with a resounding no. What we deserve is punishment, because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). But forgiveness and life are offered to us anyway, with the affection of God the Father as the motivator. It’s grace, when you least expect to find it. It’s freedom, when you thought you already had it. Read John 3:16 with new eyes. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
But, sadly, we don’t naturally like grace, do we? When we’re rewarded, we want the credit. We don’t want to depend on anyone or anything else for our lot in life, this one or the next. The legalist from within emerges, threatening to stomp out the hope of the gospel of grace. So the question you must ask yourself becomes, Can I bear to live in the light of a love I did not earn?
If you can, you will live a very long time, indeed. Forever. And this will be your song:
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace!
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my all in all,
Here in the love of Christ I stand!
I always chuckle at the cleverness of those posters that says, “Everything I need to know, I learned in kindergarten.” Under this headline will be several painfully obvious ideas that most adults are painfully bad at applying – things like “I shouldn’t take things that aren’t mine” and “I should treat other people how I want to be treated.” Simple, beautiful (and unmistakably biblical) truths to live by.
And as much as I enjoy seminary and “deep study,” sometimes I think that “everything I need to know about God, I learned in kindergarten.” Don’t mistake my meaning; I know not everyone was in Sunday School as a five year old learning basic things about God. I also don’t mean that we shouldn’t progressively grow in our understanding of God and develop knowledge as time goes on. By no means are we to remain children when it comes to the knowledge of God, as Paul prayed for us in Scripture, “that our love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (Philippians 1:9). So what I mean, precisely, is this: “The most important things that any human being needs to know about God, a small child is capable of understanding.” Even better, they’re both in a single verse.
Psalm 62:11 says, “Once God has spoken, twice I have heard this: That power belongs to God, and that to you, O God, belongs steadfast love.” God has power, and God has love. God is infinitely strong and infinitely loving. He is omnipotent and omnibenevolent. You learned this as a child, but you prayed it like this: “God is great, God is good.” Is this not the gospel? The gospel is unavoidably about a God who is not only inconceivably strong, but a God who is for people. He has the power to do whatever he likes, and what he likes is what is good for people - namely, to save our souls from the destruction we’ve earned for ourselves and bring us back into relationship with himself. God is great and God is good.
God is. And God is for you. And if you leave these things behind for “deeper study,” you will impoverish yourself.
Don’t get me wrong – the beauty of God is the deepest reality that anyone can experience. Delight yourself in knowing him, and lose yourself in finding him. Lose sleep in searching for him. It will take effort to do deep study, and the Bible does not yield its fruit to the lazy. Besides, the payoff of doing deep study is obviously much greater than giving a mere surface-level scratch. Raking is easy, but you only get leaves. Digging is hard, but you may get diamonds. Don’t waste the Bible.
But no matter how deep you go or how many diamonds you’re given, don’t forget that the most valuable diamonds of all are easily found, even for a kindergartner – that God is great. And God is good.
“Satan is the father of lies,” says Jesus. He invented the practice. He employed it to perfection on our first parents, Adam and Eve. He tempted them through lies. He trapped them by presenting believable falsehoods. How could a falsehood ever be made believable? Turn to Genesis 3 and observe the Master Deceiver.
Before being tempted, Eve accurately recited to Satan the warning of God: “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, or you will die’” (Genesis 3:3). Obviously, God was correct – to eat the forbidden fruit would be a sin, and sin always…always…always…leads to death (Romans 6, James 1). But the Liar, Satan, flat out contradicts this in the very next sentence, saying five words that don’t have a speck of truth in them: “You will not surely die.” LIAR.
Now pause right here. I am certain that if this had been the end of the conversation between Satan and Eve, there would have been no Fall. There would have been no deception. Sin would not have entered the world. Satan’s lie would have been spotted for what it really was. It would have been painfully easy to know that Satan was blatantly lying at this point. Their conversation so far is basically Eve saying, “God said I’ll die if I do that,” and Satan saying, “No you won’t.” I doubt this simple contradiction would have been enough to trick Eve into eating the fruit. It took no genius whatsoever on Satan’s part to simply contradict God. But it took incredible, terrible genius to say what he said next.
His complete thought: ”You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Is this second sentence a lie? No. You see, part of being innocent is being unaware. Adam and Eve were blessed to be beautifully unaware of evil in the Garden before they sinned; they knew only good. They had no knowledge of evil, which is exactly what Satan promised them – that their eyes would be opened, and they would know good and evil and thus be like God (who is aware of all things). And guess what? Satan did not lie when he said that. That is exactly what happened. Adam and Eve ate the fruit, learned of the existence of evil, and became like God. God himself says so later: “The man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22). Satan lied when he promised Eve she wouldn’t die. But he didn’t lie when he promised her that her eyes would be opened. Her eyes were opened, indeed – in a more terrible, shameful way than any of us can imagine. That’s the part Satan conveniently left out. He told a lie followed by a half-truth. He made his falsehood believable.
If you want to be a good liar, this is a great pattern to learn. Don’t just lie head-on or you’ll get laughed at. But dress your lie up in some great-looking half-truths and you’re in business. Plant some doubt and then go for the kill. It worked like a charm on Eve, and it still works on us today. Satan has yet to update his methods. He still plants lies painted with truth. For instance, how about this faulty logic: ”God created sex for people to enjoy” (TRUTH). “That means I’m free enjoy it whenever and however I want.” (LIE). Just because God created a gift does not mean they’re aren’t guidelines for enjoying it. How about this one? “My decisions don’t define me; I am more than just my decisions” (TRUTH). “Therefore my decisions don’t matter” (LIE). Your decisions are not isolated events that are made in unrelated vacuums. They are steps that are going to lead you somewhere and they matter. A lot.
Here’s the punch line. The Deception will not come to you uncamouflaged. Temptations do not announce themselves. Effective lies are not apparent. They are cleverly clothed in half-truths and on the surface they seem hopelessly attractive. This has been Satan’s procedure from the beginning – he won’t try to take you all at once; it’s a slow fade. It is time to understand that Satan has a plan for your life, too. A specific one. And he’s trillions of times smarter and stronger than you. But thankfully, because of Jesus, “in all these things we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). And since “we lack wisdom, we should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault” (James 1:5).
Pray for wisdom. Expose the lie. “And then you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).
“If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:10
Let’s do this inductively. I ask. You answer.
If you are trying to please man, are you a servant of Christ? _________________________
Is it even possible to be a servant of both man and Christ? _________________________
Who are you serving? ________________________
Who should you be serving? _________________________
This is an illustration spoken by Jesus that details what takes place in the life of a person when they come to value him above anything else. It shows a powerful reaction that a man experienced upon realizing the treasure that Jesus Christ is. The central element around which the story turns is the treasure itself; the treasure represents Christ, or, more specifically, the salvation that comes through him/the joy of following him. The dynamic (or “changing”) figure in the parable is the man who finds the treasure; that is, finds joy in trusting and following Christ.
First, be sure to note the inherently obscure nature of treasure hidden in a field. It is not easily or often found. This is consistent with the prediction of Jesus that most people on the planet would not be His followers: “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14).
Within this one-sentence story, it is obvious that something happened to this man that has elicited a truly radical reaction. This wouldn’t have taken place if the treasure had had moderate value; this man didn’t find a hundred dollar bill or his lucky coin. He found a treasure that was worth more than everything he owned. This man’s entire value system was turned upside down in an instant; he found something of unspeakable value. So it is when a person sees Christ as He truly is for the first time – as the perfect Son of God, a sufficient sacrifice for sin that enables us to have a personal relationship with the all-powerful God of the cosmos. While it’s true that some people turn more quickly and dramatically than others away from the things they formerly valued (in the story, what the man sold) and to Christ (the treasure), this has no bearing on the significance of the story: one by one or all at once, the former things that we loved and cherished pale in comparison to the value of following Christ and serving Him. This is the kind of value exchange that Paul writes of in his letter to Philippi: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”
It is difficult to overstate the importance of noticing the order in which these events take place. The selling of possessions comes after the treasure has already been found, not before. The treasure cannot be bought or earned in any way; no selfless act or good deed can merit it. Salvation is found by grace alone through faith alone. The selling of possessions to buy the field is used to illustrate that the treasure has unfathomable value, not that we must perform some self-sacrificial act to become saved. Absolutely nothing can be given by us to obtain salvation; but much must be given for the sake of it, after it has been obtained through faith. This explains the place of good works in the Christian life – good works are performed not in order to be saved, but because a person already is.
Finally, note the state of mind that the man in the parable is under at the time he sold all his possessions – he is in a state of joy. There is no dutiful moseying, no sorrowful glances as his life’s inheritance slips away. The value of the treasure is so compelling, he willingly and joyfully gives up all he has for the sake of it. He is enthralled at the proposition of the treasure; he is a new being, born again.
This conversion is the kind of dramatic change that songs of joy are written about: “I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.”
I want you to see Jesus for the treasure that he is.
Jesus was called “Teacher” more than any other title, and he was (and is) the greatest teacher of all time. Literally millions (if not billions) of people have contemplated his words, applying this interpretative method or that, trying to understand exactly what he meant by what he said. No question about it, sometimes it takes a huge amount effort to decipher the mysterious words of Jesus. The Bible does not yield its fruit to the lazy.
That’s why we should be extra-thankful when Jesus does choose to speak directly rather than enigmatically, in open principle rather than in parable. And you can’t get much more clear than what Jesus says about prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 (the Lord’s Prayer). There’s no story, no illustration, no parable, no mystery, no enigma. Jesus looks right at the disciples and goes straight at them. Here’s the text of the Lord’s Prayer:
“This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’”
Don’t you love that? “Hey guys, here’s how to pray.” Can’t get much more clear than that. And since these words are inconceivably famous (and important), I want to make sure that Jesus’ words are understood the way they were spoken – clearly. So here’s a simple commentary on Matthew 6:9-13. (Notes are compiled from the ESV Study Bible, NIV Life Application Study Bible, and Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary. That’s it. You’re like, “Hey, I could have learned all this stuff and compiled it on my own!” Exactly, so go do it. Learning firsthand will thrill you, and the Bible does not yield its fruit to the lazy. Oh wait I already said that.)
The prayer consists of an introductory address followed by six petitions (or requests). The first three petitions involve the preeminence of God, and the last three involve personal needs within the community. The order of these priorities should be noted.
v.9 – This, then, is how you should pray does not mean to pray using only these words, but to pray like this, to pray with this kind of attitude and these kinds of priorities. Repeating this prayer from the heart is a great idea, but people often reduce it to empty, mechanical recitation of these exact words. Interestingly, that’s exactly what Jesus had just warned against doing (v.7)! Jesus himself repeated a different version of this prayer in Luke 11:2-4. The motivation of the one praying is more important than the words themselves (although the words are important).
v.9 – The word for Father is “Abba” in Aramaic (not Greek. Jesus mostly spoke Aramaic and the gospels were translated to Greek as they were written by the apostles). To say that the term means, “Daddy”, might be going a bit far since Greek and Aramaic-speaking adults also used this term of their parents in a respectful way (“Dad” might be a better fit?). However, the word definitely carries the connotation of familiarity and fatherly affection. We can be comfortable calling God “Father,” because he himself has invited us to do so.
v.9 – Hallowed be your name is one of the most important phrases to understand. It is not a description of God’s name, and it is not an ascription of praise to God. It is not another way of saying, “God’s name is hallowed.” It is actually a petition, or request. The verb form in Greek is in the imperative form. An accurate rephrasing would be, “Let your name be hallowed” or “Cause your name to be treasured”. The Lord ’s Prayer starts by asking God to act in such a way that would make his name great.
v.10 – Your kingdom refers to the kingdom of Jesus Christ that is present in the hearts of believers right this moment. This same kingdom is the one that will ultimately be fulfilled when Christ returns to earth to set up his eternal kingdom. Your will refers to the “revealed will” or “moral will” of God, which involves conduct that is pleasing to him as described in Scripture. In heaven, the moral will of God is followed perfectly; therefore we pray that we will do likewise on earth.
v.11 – The prayer involves praying only for daily bread. These words would have clearly been understood by Jesus’ audience to refer to the daily supply of manna that Israel had collected in the desert 1400 years before. During this time the Israelites were not permitted to try to gather more than one day’s supply of bread, but only to depend daily on the Lord’s provision (the only exception was gathering two days’ worth of manna on the day prior to the Sabbath).
v.12 – Forgive us our debts does not refer to a request for justification (salvation), since we are once and for all justified at the first moment of saving faith. It refers to a request for the restoration of day-to-day fellowship between the believer and God, fellowship that gets broken when we sin and do not follow God’s will in our lives “as it is followed in heaven” (see v.10). Note the immediate result of the restoration of this fellowship – we also have forgiven our debtors. True gratitude for forgiveness will inevitably carry over to our relationships with others. Vertical grace leads to horizontal grace.
v.13 – Lead us not into temptation does not imply that God would ever directly cause us to sin or to do evil. However, he does allow us to be tempted and tested, situations which we should face with joy (James 1:2). Even so, it makes sense to pray to avoid these times of trial if possible (Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane). An accurate rephrasing of this petition would be, “Spare us from situations that would cause us to be tempted/tried”.
The words, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” were a later scribal addition, not part of the original Bible text. However, they are theologically accurate and there is no harm in concluding the prayer with these words.
There it is. Now go get prayed up.