This morning, my old friend Nate left an insightful comment on the Facebook post of my review of David Platt’s book, Follow Me. I think he raises many valid points, and I would like to take the time to address them. I’ve chosen to do that here, on the blog, rather than on the Facebook thread so that I can better interact with his comments. To see what he is commenting on, please click here, and scroll down to the section titled, My Criticism. Nate’s comments will appear in the gray boxes, with my responses to each immediately following.

My first contention is with your statement that basically God initiated our salvation at the Cross and now he’s waiting for us to “make that salvation available.” What does the Holy Spirit do? Isn’t he the one who convicts and convinces of sin (John 16:7-8) and also the one who initiates our spiritual birth (John 3:5-8), or are these verses “metaphorical” as well? What is his mission? To wait around until we build up the gumption to surrender to Christ and then he moves in? That’s not Biblical in the slightest.

In my attempt to be brief, I left out a lot of important information, as you have pointed out. Certainly, the Holy Spirit is actively wooing nonChristians to Jesus through a variety of means, particularly convicting of sin. God is not sitting back in his heavenly arm chair waiting for us to accomplish his mission. But here’s the point I wanted to make–neither are we sitting back in our sinful arm chairs waiting for God to save us and everyone else. We are active agents in the Great Commission. We were told by Jesus, “Go. Make Disciples. Teach. Baptize.” (And surely he is with us, always.) God did what only he could do–pay the price for the sin of humanity on the cross, then destroy death through his resurrection. Then, as Matthew 28 makes explicit, he told his first disciples to tell the rest of the world about what has happened, and in that telling they would bring the message through which all could be saved. (Acts 11:14) God has partnered with his people to bring about salvation for all who will believe. Paul makes the point most clearly, I think:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:9-15)

To sum it up:

  • We are saved by calling on the name of the Lord;
  • We call on the name of the Lord because we believe in him;
  • We believe in him because we have heard of him [and the Gospel];
  • We have heard because someone has preached to us.

I’m not saying that you or I can save anybody. Nor am I saying that God has nothing whatsoever to do with our salvation, now that the crucifixion and resurrection have happened. What I am saying is what I think both Jesus and Paul are saying, which is that God has sovereignly chosen to make his disciples active agents in his plan of salvation. Isn’t that what missions is all about? I think Platt would agree with me on that, at least.

Regarding your statement about the parable of the treasure; I think you’re missing an important component. Namely, how does this man know the treasure has value? I know that seems simplistic, but seriously, what tells this man “this is worth my life savings”? If you say it’s obvious that it’s valuable, then why don’t some people see this value? Why do many people who are saturated with the Gospel never see its worth? Are they not as smart as us? Not as spiritually sensitive? Are they simply more in love with their sin than we are? If you say the difference between them and us is anything but the grace of God (and the work of the Holy Spirit), then you have just added works/merit to our salvation and stepped into potential heresy (I’m not accusing you of intentional heresy, simply that you are treading on thin ice).

I thought this was a great point, and I thought about it for a long time. Then it struck me that Jesus may have had something to say about this.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred,sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

[Jesus then goes on to explain the parable.] “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13)

It seems to me that Jesus is describing four types of people that characterize four different responses to the Gospel. Jesus says that there are three reasons for why people reject the Gospel: 1) They don’t understand it, and so Satan has snatched away the message that was sown in their heart; 2) Trouble and/or persecution comes upon a new believer who has no root, and so they give up; and 3) The worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke out the Gospel, so that it fails to bring forth fruit. The fourth soil–the only one in which the Gospel bears fruit–produces a thriving crop because, as Jesus says, someone heard the word and understood it. Jesus did not say that this was because of the grace of God or the work of the Holy Spirit. He says that the Gospel took root in them and was fertile because they heard and understood it. So I will say what Jesus said: The difference between those who receive the Gospel and those who reject it is that the ones who receive it understand it.

At this point, it may be tempting to ask, “Why did they understand it?”, and then to answer, “Because of the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.” But that’s not what Jesus said. He left it at “someone who hears the word and understands it.” To explain the mechanism of understanding is to eisegete the text. You said, “If you say the difference between them and us is anything but the grace of God (and the work of the Holy Spirit), then you have just added works/merit to our salvation and stepped into potential heresy.” But this is precisely what Jesus has said. I would argue that if your theological system puts you in the position of accusing Jesus of “potential heresy,” then it is time to abandon your theological system.

Your treatment of Ephesians 2 is confusing. If Paul didn’t mean that we are spiritually dead, then what exactly did he mean? Paul used the word nekros there, and while I don’t know Greek perfectly, that means dead. A corpse. Without life. You mentioned that it may be metaphorical. Honestly, if he were referring to our physical bodies, you would be correct because obviously the reader was alive and able to read. But our physical life isn’t what he had in mind, he was referring to our spiritual self. This isn’t Gnosticism, this is Biblical. Gnosticism is that the spiritual and the physical are unrelated so what happens to one is independent of the other. That’s not what he was teaching.

Also, I don’t think I need to go into detail that the Bible considers unsaved people to be dead. That is clear. To think that when I was unsaved I was ALMOST totally dead, but I had a spark of divinity that could choose God is semi-Pelagian at best. I don’t want to get aggressive here, but it concerns me that every time a passage is presented that contradicts your theological view, instead of trying to reason it out within Scripture, your default response is that it must be metaphorical. You’ve done it with both creation and prophecy in the past. I don’t argue those because they are not critical to the faith. But to say that the clear Biblical teaching that we are helpless corpses in our sin is simply metaphorical is untenable. If we start throwing this word around then we run into problems such as was the virgin birth simply metaphor? What about the miracles? What about the nature of the atonement? Was the resurrection metaphorical or literal? The Second Coming? I’m not trying to be belligerent, and I’m not questioning your fidelity on these issues, I’m simply saying you enter a slippery slope whenever you throw the word “metaphor” around loosely when the Bible doesn’t intend to be taken metaphorically.

You’re correct in identifying the basic teaching of Gnosticism. John saw this Gnostic storm brewing in his church at Ephesus, and so we got the incredible book of 1 John, which just so happens to be my favorite book in the Bible. But if Paul is saying that the spiritual can be dead while the physical is alive, isn’t he saying the same thing (though with the opposite side being dead or useless) as the Gnostics? Isn’t this kind of division of the spiritual and physical Gnostic, in and of itself?

As for Ephesians 2, perhaps I ought to go back to Ephesians 1 to help explain why I think Paul is using a metaphor. Ephesians 1:12-13 says this: “…we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…” (I’ve italicized the portions I think are relevant to this discussion.) Can dead people put their hope in Christ? Can dead people believe? Platt argues that dead people can’t invite Jesus into their hearts. In fact, dead people can’t do anything! But Paul says that these people, whom he calls “dead in your transgressions and sins” in chapter 2, believed in Christ. Paul does not say, in chapter 1, that they were infused with belief by God. Rather, he plainly states: When you believed. They were dead in their sins, and then they heard the Gospel and believed. (This sounds quite similar to the parable of Jesus I quoted above.) This, as well as the contrasting vocabulary Paul chooses in chapter 2 (You were dead in your…sins in which you used to live), leads me to believe that Paul is using the term dead metaphorically.

As for your concerns about interpreting Scripture, I try to remain as faithful as possible to the text, which, for me, means understanding the text within its original context, however much a thing is possible. I’ve used this quote from Fee & Stuart again and again, and I live by it: The Bible cannot mean what it never meant. What it meant when it was written is what it means today, though obviously we apply the text in a vastly different context. I’m not afraid of becoming liberal anymore. Many people believe that I’ve already arrived there. No, my greater fear is being unfaithful to Jesus and the Scriptures. The reason that I rail, at times, against certain Calvinistic doctrines is because I believe that they are, in fact, unfaithful to Jesus and the Scriptures.

Finally, (and this is turning out to be longer than I expected) while I agree with you that Genesis 1&2 are eternal and will return someday, the fact is that Genesis 3 distorted that image, like it did everything else. Certainly, Christ began the reversal of the curse on the Cross, and someday he will reverse it completely when he returns, but until then, sin rules this world and blinds the eyes of the lost. Before I was saved, I was dead, blind, and useless. When God gave me life and raised me from the dead spiritually, I was able to enter a relationship with him again. Not because I’m better than anyone else, but because God is gracious.

I agree with so much of what you write here, but I would say this: sin does not rule this world, Jesus does. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Jesus, not sin, is Lord. Jesus is presently reigning from the right hand of the Father, that glorious place of cosmic authority from which he is presently putting all his enemies under his feet.

The core of our disagreement, I think, is that, in my opinion, you give sin too much credit. The creative act of God is more powerful and more enduring the destructive acts of Satan or humans. If Jesus is Lord, then sin, death, hell, Satan, or anyone or anything else is not. The Genesis 3 world is passing away, and the Revelation 21-22 world (which is really just the mirror image of the Genesis 1-2 world) is coming. Jesus has already defeated sin, evil, and death. He is defeating them. And he will defeat them.

I hope that I have sufficiently answered your concerns, and I look forward to continuing this discussion.

Imagine this fictitious scenario: Mark Driscoll walks to the stage this Sunday morning, looks straight into the camera as he lets out a wry smile. “This whole Jesus thing is nothing but a bunch of *bleep*. You pansies that believe this stuff are ignorant fools, more equipped to knit your grandma a pair of socks than do anything useful to society.” He goes on for 45 minutes mocking Christians, berating Scripture, and blaspheming God. For the rest of his life he writes books and gives lectures for the sole purpose of destroying Christianity.

This, of course, if it actually happened, would raise all kinds of issues for people who know and love Mark, but one of the most important ones is this: What is Mark’s eternal destiny? In the face of such a fall, it would be difficult to say that Mark will still enjoy eternity with God. He has, after all, abandoned Jesus. If, then, his eternity will be spent apart from God, in hell, what are we to make of his fruitful years of ministry–years in which he prayed, worshipped, preached, and evangelized? What are we to make of his faith during this time? Was it genuine? Or was it a farce? In other words, can someone move from genuine, saving faith in Jesus to genuine, damning rejection of Jesus?

A Long FaithfulnessThis is, essentially, the question Scot McKnight poses in his new ebook A Long Faithfulness, where he exegetes the five warning passages of Hebrews. The book of Hebrews sternly warns its readers about falling away: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallenaway, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (6:4-6) This is just part of one of five major passages that warn about the dire consequences of leaving the faith.

One of the core tenets of Reformed theology, what McKnight calls “resurgent Calvinism,” is “meticulous sovereignty,” which means that God determines everything, whether good or evil. The recent tornado that destroyed Moore, OK, for instance, was, in this view, sent from God. He even determined which elementary school would be destroyed, which children would perish, and which would be spared. In terms of salvation, meticulous sovereignty logically leads to a doctrine called double predestination, which means that God determines, beforehand, which people will receive salvation and which will receive damnation.

If God determines all things, including salvation, then it is impossible for any human to choose or un-choose God. If meticulous sovereignty is true, then nobody has any say in their eternal destiny–each one is subject to the choosing (or not) of God. If God determines all things, then it is impossible for someone to move from genuine, saving faith to genuine, damning unbelief because God either chooses you or he doesn’t. You do not choose God. You do not choose to believe or disbelieve. There is no room for the human to switch positions.

The question then arises: Is this view consistent with biblical teaching? This is an important question to explore and answer. Does the Bible teach that God is the sole determiner of all things? Through his exegesis of the five warning passages of the book of Hebrews, Scot McKnight sees that God is not the sole determiner of all things, but that he has sovereignly given human beings the freedom to choose, and to un-choose, him. The author of Hebrews, McKnight observes, is addressing true Christians with genuine faith who face the very real threat of becoming apostate–that is, of walking away from Jesus and forfeiting their salvation.

The text calls the audience believers, and it warns them that they must obey or they will not enter the rest. It does not say, as so many have claimed, that if they don’t obey it proves they did not have faith. Instead, it calls those who have believed to continue in obedience or they will not enter the rest. If the argument works like this, the case is all but finished. The author thinks believers can disobey in such a way that they do not enter the rest.

Going back to our fictitious example of a potentially-apostate Mark Driscoll (the sad reality is that many pastors have followed the path laid out above), it would be intellectually lazy and biblically unsound to say that, because he renounced Christ, that he never in his entire life actually believed in Jesus. To say that those who fall away never truly believed conflicts with the testimony of the author of Hebrews. Those to whom the unknown author wrote were baptized believers, full-participants in the local churches. They were operating in the gifts of the Spirit. They were living the full Christian life.

If [the original audience of Hebrews] are not Christians, then no one is. If they are Christians, then the nerve of meticulous sovereignty has been severed, for the author conceives of the audience as Christians who not only can, but, in some instances apparently have, apostatized from the faith. That means they are damned. They have un-chosen God.

Scot’s exegesis is sound, and his conclusion is devastating to the doctrine of meticulous sovereignty. According to the book of Hebrews, human beings have the freedom to choose or un-choose God. If a couple gets divorced, does that then mean that they never loved each other? Of course not. In the same way, the act of apostasy does not mean that the apostate was never a true believer. We are free creatures. We have been granted this freedom because God loves us, and desires an agape-love-based relationship with us. Agape love is only possible where there is freedom.

This is an important essay, and a relatively quick and easy read. If you have questions about eternal security, human freedom, and God’s sovereignty, I highly recommend you download this ebook (it’s only available electronically) and give it a careful read.

One of my seminary professors, a systematic theologian named Dr. Richard Lints, told me that all good theology begins in Genesis 1. If this is true, which I believe that it is, then we must think about Genesis 1 correctly if we are going to think appropriately about God. This first chapter of Scripture lays the foundation for the way in which we understand God. It’s no wonder, then, that this is one of the most contentious and hotly-debated texts in all of Scripture. Coupled with the trajectory of modern science since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, the interpretation of Genesis 1 has served for many as a litmus test for true belief. Yet even within evangelicalism, there is a vast spectrum of belief on this text, ranging from Biologos to Answers in Genesis, and many in between.

There are many different ways to interpret Genesis 1, just as there are many different ways to interpret, for example, the book of Revelation, or Daniel, or the Psalms. It is worth noting, though it should go without saying, that people who love Jesus very much can come into sharp disagreement over the interpretation of biblical passages–especially Genesis 1. The litmus test for true belief, however, is not what one believes about Genesis 1, but whether or not one believes the Gospel–that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. With that said, I’d like to lay out what I take to be the meaning of Genesis 1.

What God Wanted to Say

The first and most important question we must ask with any biblical text is this: What did God intend to communicate through the original author to the text’s intended audience? We ask this question because the meaning of a text cannot change. As Fee & Stuart have written in their excellent work, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, “The Bible cannot mean what it never meant.” While personal and communal applications of a text may change across time and culture, the meaning of a text does not change.

So when it comes to Genesis 1, we must ask the question: What did God intend to communicate through Moses (or Abraham, or Ezra, or whoever actually wrote the passage) to the Hebrew people in the hymn that is Genesis 1? Approaching the question this way, one thing should come immediately to mind: Moses did not write Genesis 1 as a polemic against Darwinian evolution. Darwin’s book was published roughly 3,000 years after Genesis 1, so to assume that this text is about evolution/creation is to commit an historical anachronism of the first order. It’s simply not possible. 


The litmus test for true belief is not what one believes about Genesis 1, but whether or not one believes the Gospel–that Jesus died for our sins and rose again.

When we step into the culture of the Ancient Near East (which you can’t physically do, but two books, The Lost World of Genesis One and The Bible Among the Myths, can help you understand a great deal more about it) we see that Genesis 1 is not a polemic against Darwinian Evolutionary Theory or naturalistic materialism; it is, however, a polemic against pagan pantheism. The real problem that Genesis 1 sets out to address is not the mechanism by which God created the universe, but rather which god is the true creator.

In fact, the unique genius of Genesis 1 is that it presents a monotheistic theology of creation that holds humanity in high esteem. Typically, the creation myths of Israel’s neighbors presented a pantheistic (many gods) view of creation with the heavens and the earth being the byproduct of some cosmic war. In this pagan scenario, humanity is an unwelcome addition to this world of chaos, thereby establishing their bottom-rung value in the universe, useful for little more than serving the needs of the gods.

But in Genesis 1 we get something radically different. We see a singular God speaking the heavens and the earth into being by himself and on purpose. What is more, in this story humanity is the pinnacle of creation, bearing the very image of this all-powerful, speaking Creator God, who called humans “very good.” Even more radical than this, the text declares that God created humanity male and female, meaning that women have as much inherent, created dignity, worth, and purpose as men. You might say that Genesis 1 erases and rewrites everything–EVERYTHING–that Hebrews, inundated by Ancient Near Eastern cultural values, knew about creation, divinity, and themselves. It may just be the most powerful, worldview-deconstructing and -reconstructing text ever written.

Imagine that you are a Hittite, or an Egyptian, or a Babylonian living around 1400 BC. You believe in many gods, and they are all powerful, vengeful, angry, and often possess little or no moral character. They are strong, but they are not good. You also believe that humanity exists to be, in essence, the slaves of the gods, and are completely subject to the whims of the members of the divine pantheon. Furthermore, whatever dignity exists within humanity is entirely invested in males, especially firstborn males. Women are good for child bearing and little else. This is your worldview. These beliefs, more than anything else, form the way you look at the world. And then you find the text of Genesis 1. What happens to you? No one has ever even conceived of these things before! You have no category for what you read here. Creation comes into being, not through divine warfare, but through divine proclamation. All creation is called “good.” Human beings, both men and women, are called “very good.” This changes everything.

The Pattern in the Days

I had been reading Genesis 1 for a long, long time before someone pointed out to me the pattern in the days. Have you ever noticed it before? The first three days line up with the second three days. In other words, day 1 is associated with day 4, day 2 with day 5, and day 3 with day 6. Check out the tabbed table below for more info on the days.

[tabs] [tab title=”Day 1″] On the first day of Creation God made light, separating it from the darkness. He called the light “day” and the darkness “night.” Notice that he hasn’t yet created any celestial bodies to shine or reflect any light, much less anything for the light to shine upon. No light-producers–no sun, moon, or stars. He has simply created light. It’s as though light exists as an empty field or canvas, unpopulated and unmarked. [/tab] [tab title=”Day 4″] Three days later, God created the celestial bodies–the sun, moon, and stars–to govern the passage of days. In other words, God filled or populated the empty field called “light” he made on the first day. Now, light does not simply exist, but serves the function of the passage of time. [/tab] [tab title=”Day 2″] The second day is really interesting because it is the separation of the waters. This concept comes from Ancient Near Eastern cosmology, in which it was understood that there was water behind an “expanse” or “vault” in the sky. This was how they understood the process of rainfall, which, given the scientific understanding of the time, is perfectly reasonable. What happened on this day, though, was that God separated two realms–the sea and the sky. Like on the first day, there are not yet any inhabitants of these realms. They are empty. [/tab] [tab title=”Day 5″] On the fifth day, God created the fish and the birds–the inhabitants of the sea and the sky! He painted an empty canvas on the second day, and then, just as with day four, he filled it up, though this time with beautiful, powerful, awe-inspiring creatures. [/tab] [tab title=”Day 3″] The third day was when God pulled back the waters of the sea and created dry ground. An interesting note about this day is that, unlike with days 1 and 2, the land produced something on day 3–vegetation! This points to the Hebrew understanding that vegetation and land are one and the same, and that the land exists to produce vegetation for… [/tab] [tab title=”Day 6″] Animals and humans! Day 6 is connected with day 3 just like the other two pairs in that God first created an empty field, and then filled that field with his creatures. God created spaces, and then he filled those spaces with creatures. [/tab] [/tabs]

There is an unmistakeable, and, I believe, a God-breathed pattern in the first six days of Creation. God creates a space, and then God fills that space with creatures who give it purpose and life. The order of the Creation text is no accident, and is, in fact, meant to lead us to an understanding of the order of Creation itself. But it leaves us with a question, doesn’t it? What about that seventh day? Why no pair for that day? What does it mean?

Divine Enthronement

The design of Genesis 1 is meant to point us to a profound cosmic reality, one that gets lost in the modern debate over the age of the earth and the origins of the universe. The three pairs of days are meant to point our attention toward the final, unpaired day, and make us ask the question, “What is so special about this day?”

Of course we all know that the seventh day is the Sabbath, the day that God rested. We imagine that this is the day God kicked up his feet, drank some lemonade, and maybe read a good book. Or took a nap. Whatever he did, we think of it as God taking a break from work. But there’s a crucial question that we haven’t been trained to ask, and that is this: “What did it mean, in the Ancient Near East (the culture in which Genesis 1 was written), for a god to take his rest?” In his excellent book The Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton writes that an ancient god always takes his rest in his temple.

So what happens on the seventh day is not so much a prolonged divine lunch break as it is a moving day. God takes his rest in his creation. Creation is God’s temple. God moves into creation. God is present within, while at the same time distinct from, the cosmos he has just created. All creation is God’s holy place. The creation myths of Israel’s neighbors begin, so to speak, with a world already thrust into chaos, sin, and death. But the Hebrew creation story begins with a good creation inhabited by a good and beautiful God–a holy world functioning in perfect harmony because of the presence of its Creator.

It is vital, I believe, for us to understand the world, and ourselves, primarily in the light of God’s original creation. Too many Christians functionally believe that Genesis and 1 and 2 are nothing more than happy myths, faerie tales, and that the Bible doesn’t really start telling the truth of creation until Genesis 3, the fall. Too many Christians think of themselves, the world, and even God, as though Genesis 3 were more true than Genesis 1. But Genesis 1 describes reality as it was and will be again, while Genesis 3 describes reality as it is now but will someday no longer be.

The Living God

Genesis 1 isn’t about geology or biology; it’s about a good Creator creating a good world, a home suitable for creatures that are more like he is than the angels are. On that sixth day, God made human beings, and he made them in his image. This is significant.

In the Ancient Near East, every god’s temple had to have an image–a statue, an inscription–to signify whose temple this was. For example, Dagon’s temple would have an image of Dagon in it. Baal’s would have an image of Baal, and so forth. So what did God choose to put as his image in his temple? Us. Humans. We are the inscriptions, the living statues on earth that testify to every living creature to whom this temple belongs, what sort of God he is, and how we might know him.


Genesis 1 tells us that God is alive because you are alive.

If you understand human beings from a Genesis 3 perspective, you would naturally conclude that the God in whose image they were created is a foul, nasty, cowardly, shallow deity bent on sex, food, and power. But if you understand human beings from a Genesis 1 perspective, you would see the Creator God as a good, wise, benevolent deity who sought the best for his creatures. (It’s important to note that Jesus was a Genesis 1 kind of human.) But here’s the most important part: all the images of all the other gods were made of wood, stone, or metal. In other words, they were dead. The breath of life was not in them. But the image of the Hebrew God is made of flesh and blood. It breathes. It moves. It is alive. And if God’s image is alive, how much more alive is that God? Genesis 1 tells us that God is alive because you are alive. You are a living apologetic to the existence of God.

God is not like the other gods. He does not need anyone to make him a house or a temple. He made his own temple and came to dwell within it, setting up his own living images to govern and care for it. His intention was and is for his living images to spread over the earth, subduing it, caring for it, ruling over it in the same way he rules over the cosmos–with wisdom, strength, and mercy. These living images, however, were not merely his minions, created solely to do his bidding. They were and are individual lives, minds, and personalities, meant to know and be known by one another and, most importantly, by God himself. God’s intention has been, from the very beginning, to dwell with humanity within his creation–within the beauty and holiness of his temple. This is the way it was, and to the praise of his glory and grace, the way it will be again.

Creation

The manner in which God created all that exists was a rather humble undertaking, especially when compared to the creation myths of ancient Israel’s cultural relatives. Many other ancient creation myths tell the story of cosmic war, of a battle being waged between the gods where the loser’s carcass becomes the earth and its drops of blood becomes humans. (Or other such things.) In this scenario, all humanity is meant to serve the victorious god as his slaves, providing for his various wants and needs. But in Genesis, we see creation accomplished by the mere act of God’s speech. There is no violence; there is no victory. There is only, “And God said…and it was so”.

Humanity, in Genesis, is not placed on earth to be God’s slaves, providing for his miscellaneous divine needs. Instead, they are placed on earth to rule and subdue it, to be fruitful and multiply. They are, most profoundly of all, created in God’s image. God is neither so immanent that he requires human slaves to meet his divine needs, nor is he so transcendent that he would not deign to have a creature represent himself on earth. God, in his deep humility, created human beings just a little less than himself, and set them apart from creation to bear his image and rule the world for its and their own good.

We bear God’s image in that we are free moral agents. God intentionally created us with the freedom to choose to obey him or disobey him. This is remarkable! God had every right to create intelligent beings without freedom; beings who would always choose to obey him no matter the circumstances. Instead, he created us: intelligent beings who could freely use their powers for evil—people who would set themselves up as rivals to God. God knew this would happen, and yet he showed such unconcern for his own unique majesty that he created free moral beings, a little lower than himself, and gave them the charge of ruling creation. In this he has revealed not simply his all-surpassing power, but the infinite well of humility out of which all else that is true of him flows.

Abram

When human beings used their God-given freedom to rebel against him, sin entered the world and poisoned everything good that God had made. At that time, when confronting Adam, Eve, and the serpent, God promised that, one day, one of Eve’s offspring would contend with the serpent and overcome him. This is the first promise of a Savior, or a Messiah. Thousands of years passed, however, before God began to set that plan into action. The man he chose was a pagan named Abram, whom God called to leave his homeland and go to Canaan.

When reading the account of God and Abram, the humility of God is not necessarily self-evident. It crops up here and there, but really the story is about God creating a nation through Abram’s offspring—of which he has none, though he is quite old. But there is one strange passage that holds the whole story together, and in it we see God’s humility on display unlike anywhere else in the Old Testament.

Genesis 15 | The Lord Makes a Covenant with Abram

1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites,20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites,21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

In the ancient near east, covenants like this were made (literally cut—because of the cutting of the animals) between two parties, one greater (the suzerain) and one lesser (the vassal). The suzerain determined the terms of the covenant, and the vassal was required to obey them. The vassal symbolized his agreement to the terms by passing between the pieces of the animals, saying, in essence, “If I break the terms of this covenant, may it be to me as it has been done to these animals”. But in this covenant, the vassal (Abram) does not pass through the pieces. Instead, the suzerain (YHWH) does. In this act, God is saying to Abram, “If you [or your descendants] break the terms of this covenant, may it be done to ME as it has been done to these animals”. God kept his promise, but Abram’s descendants failed to keep faith with this or any other covenant they made with God. He knew this would happen, and yet God made this covenant with Abram anyhow. Nothing shows his humility more than God’s willingness to die for the faithlessness of his creatures.

There is a lot of debate about marriage – what it is, who can participate, and why it exists. Gay marriage is obviously the hot button issue of the day, but I suspect in coming years we’ll be talking about polygamy (or polyamory), human-animal relationships, human-robot (for lack of a better word) relationships, and pedophilia. When I say these things, I’m not trying to be an alarmist or to invoke the “slippery slope” argument. Rather, as I look into the future, these are the sexually-oriented discussions/debates I see coming in our society.

In order to respectfully and effectively engage with an unconfessing society on these issues, it is important for Christians to have a proper understanding of how the Scriptures define marriage. The standard Christian definition of marriage is this:

one man + one woman = marriage

As I look into the Scriptures, I can affirm that a committed, monogamous relationship between two people of the opposite sex is God’s biological design for marriage and sexual intercourse. However, to say that the Bible defines marriage as one man + one woman is far too simplistic and fails to take into account the incarnation, a New Testament ecclesiology, and a fully biblical eschatology. The most biblical definition of marriage is this:

marriage = Jesus + Church

Let’s look at this passage from Ephesians 5.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wivesas their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Paul is going on and on about marriage, even quoting from God’s blessing upon the first marriage in Genesis, but then he makes this strange statement: This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. He was talking about marriage, but he was really talking about Christ and the church. The relationship between Jesus and the Church is the theological and cosmic reality that explains flesh and blood marriage. In other words, human marriage is a metaphor for the relationship between Jesus and the Church. Our marriages are but shadows of the ultimate relational reality, which is founded on the greatest demonstration of agape love the universe has ever known.

Marriage, according to Scripture, isn’t the inevitable, relational conclusion with the person you “love” most. Rather, it is a flesh and blood demonstration of the agape love of Christ for humanity, and the Church’s reciprocating agape love for Jesus. Biblical marriage is a parable of God’s great love for humanity.

[toggle title=”A Semi-Tangent on Revelation 21-22″ state=”open”] One of the most important passages in all of Scripture is at the very end: Revelation 21-22. In this text, we see the bride of Jesus coming down out of heaven from God – a glorious city. Now we should immediately ask ourselves this question: “Is Jesus really going to marry a city?” No, of course he’s not. So what does the city represent? The city represents us, the Church. The message of Revelation is essentially this: Through all the trials and tribulations meted out against believers (particularly by the Roman Empire, symbolized by the great city Rome/Babylon), God has been preparing a bride worthy of his Son. When the bride finally makes her appearance, her beauty, glory, power, and vastness is almost beyond description. The image is of a city that far surpasses the beauty and glory of Rome, so as to make the so-called center of the world seem like a small, insignificant, backwater hamlet. We can take heart, then, that God is preparing us in character and capacity to be betrothed to his Son for eternity in a marriage based not on eros (romantic) love, but on agape love. In other words, at the end of the Bible is a wedding. Jesus is the groom. The Church is the bride. Therefore, biblical marriage = Jesus + Church. [/toggle]

So, if the biblical definition of marriage is Jesus + Church, what does that mean for our marriages?

First of all, it means that we evangelicals need to repent of our idolatry of marriage. While the wider culture has prostituted themselves to the god Eros, the Church has prostituted herself to the gods of marriage and family. Rather than run to Jesus, we have turned to a “sanctified” outlet for our own uncontrollable sexual impulses. We have normalized marriage and marginalized singles. Because of our idolatry, God has turned Christian marriage into Shiloh (look at Jeremiah 7 and listen to this sermon for more info on Shiloh), and as a result we evangelicals have lost all moral authority to speak on the “sanctity” of marriage. It’s time to repent of our idolatry.

Secondly, it means that agape must be the definitive love of marriage. Romantic love is a beautiful gift from God, but it is only a temporary endowment from our Creator. The eschatological marriage between Jesus and the Church is founded exclusively on agape love, and because our flesh and blood marriages are metaphors and shadows of this eternal reality, agape is essential in Christian marriage. Our marriages most clearly reflect the cosmic reality to which they were designed to point not when we are most “in love” with our spouse (though that is certainly a beautiful gift for which we ought to be extremely grateful), but when we willingly lay down our lives, surrender our rights, and forgive offenses for the sake of our spouse.

Thirdly, it means that all sexual immorality is out of bounds for Christians because marriage is foundationally about Christ and the Church. So what is sexually immoral? All sexual activity that does not reflect the relationship between Jesus and the Church. Premarital sex is out of the picture because we patiently wait and persevere for Jesus to return, at which point we will be betrothed to him in agape forever. Adultery is out of bounds because Jesus is faithful, even when we are faithless. Polyamory/polygamy is immoral because there is one Jesus and one Church. Homosexual activity/marriage is out of bounds because of the “otherness” expressed within the eternal marriage – Jesus (the bridegroom) and the Church (the bride) are fundamentally different, and yet are united forever in agape love.

There is so much more that could be said on this topic, particularly as it pertains to abuse, divorce, children, and a host of other issues. But the point I wanted to make was that there is a theology of marriage that we often miss in our knee-jerk, reactionary opposition to gay marriage, and that without this theology the rest of the argument falls apart. Marriage is between one man and one woman because marriage is biblically defined as Jesus and the Church; to start anywhere else when engaging our culture on the issue of marriage is to put the cart before the horse.

We Christians ought to be leading the world in marriage, but we’re not. We have substituted politics for theology. We have shirked Jesus and worshipped the gods of marriage and family. We have used marriage as a safety-zone for our out-of-control sexual impulses rather than as the fertile ground of agape love. We have, frankly, been no different than the unconfessing world in lust, selfishness, divorce, ignorance, and sexual immorality. Is it any wonder that they won’t listen to us?

Our destiny is to live in agape-based, eternal marriage with the crucified and risen Son of God. No one on earth should have a higher view and practice of marriage than those who understand that it is a parable of the eternal reality that awaits those who believe. Let’s change that. Let’s get the foundation right, seeing marriage for what it is – the undying commitment in agape love between the Risen Savior and his Church.

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