Category Archives: doctrine

Union with Christ

If I were to ask you to explain what it meant to be a Christian, what would you say?

Many would say it involves mostly rules. Others think it’s doing good things for other people. Or maybe church attendance. Perhaps intellectual belief. But how does the Bible define following Jesus?

Overwhelmingly, we hear descriptions about being in Him.

  • Paul says “in Him” 11 times just in the opening chapter to the Ephesians.
  • The same phrase, “in Him,” occurs 73 times in the New Testament [1].
    • Just a couple tantalizing examples,
      • In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:5-6)
      • Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

We also hear descriptions about Christ being in us.

  • To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
  • I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
  • So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)

So frequent are these terms used to describe the Christian, and so extensive is the scope of each, that for simplicity’s sake, the entire mystical endeavor is often simply called Union with Christ [2].

What is Union with Christ?

Christ put it rather succinctly, “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, you are in Me, and I am in you” (John 14:20, HCSB). I think Wayne Grudem’s definition is helpful here: Union with Christ is “a phrase used to summarize several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit of salvation[3]. In other words, everything noteworthy about salvation–from start to finish, from conversion to glory–is inextricably tied to our union with Christ! We do not have any Christianity apart from our union with Christ.

It underlies all the works of God in our lives: election, calling, regeneration, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. To study union with Christ is to explore all of these particular blessings, and therefore the vast range of meaning in that little word in. – John M. Frame[4].

Why should you care?

Some of you may think of union with Christ an abstract doctrine, useful only for arm-chair theologians who like to spend endless hours nitpicking ethereal concepts that never touch the human experience. I hope to relieve you from this state of indifference!

There isn’t anything in the Bible that touches the human experience more than this. [5]

When a person becomes a Christian, they are not merely brought into a new set of beliefs, a list of behaviors, or a social club; it is a mysterious, all-encompassing, multi-faceted relationship and realm involving a divine Person. God himself invades our mess in the most literal way possible. Divine beauty and sinful flesh converge in a miraculous display. That mystical relationship has tremendous implications. I’ll just share from my experience of life in union with Christ.

It explains who I am.

  • I’m justified in Him (Rom 3:24; 2 Cor 5:17,21; Phi 3:9)
  • I’m identified with Him (Eph 2:6,10)
  • I’m adopted by Him (Eph 1:5-6)
  • I’m brought near to Him (Eph 2:13)

To name a few.

It fuels how I live.

To name just a few.

It shows where I want to go.

Perhaps you answered my original question by saying, “Christianity has to do with following a set of rules,” or “It is mainly about being a good person.” I would say Christianity may include or overlap with some of those popular definitions of religion—I certainly hope Christians can be identified with good people, who are consistent in their beliefs and convictions. But I would also suggest that being a Christian is more. It’s about being the version of humanity that God originally intended. But for that to happen, you must be indwelt with the Divine (2 Pet. 1:4).

In his Magnus Opus, The Divine ConspiracyDallas Willard suggests that a person cannot keep Christ’s law by trying to keep Christ’s law. That person must aim for something higher. “One must aim to become the kind of person from whom the deeds  of the law naturally flow” (142).

I believe our Lord put it this way: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4, ESV).

Back to my point, where I want to go. 

Well… I want health in my entirety. A healthy Christian is someone who is made more like the Christ who indwells them. Paul said that God’s good purpose is that we would be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:28-29), which is also to “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). This involves the health of the whole person. To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matt 22:37). It’s what Jesus said was the most important command; the one to write home about, certainly, the one to remember if you are prone to forgetting such things.

I’m sure you’ve heard of nominal Christians. Perhaps judgmental Christians. Or [fill-in-the-blank] Christians. But my obsession is with healthy Christians.

I’m obsessed with how Christians can become healthy. So far, I’m convinced that it has to do with our union with Christ. So I obsess about that too. Mostly because I want to be a healthy Christian. And I want everyone I know to become one too.

What this blog offers

This blog exists in great part to take this far-reaching, all-encompassing, glorious doctrine of our union with Christ, and show it’s daily implications in everyday life. Union with Christ is not for the armchair theologians.

It’s for you. And it’s for me.

How do you experience Union with Christ?

The apostle said, “When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). That’s a great place to start.

Your experience of Jesus starts by believing the truth about Jesus. As J. Todd Billings writes, “Full humanity is humanity in complete union with God” [6]. So most of these posts will explore the realization or practical application of this truth. Even if it’s subtle. For example,

So, stay tuned!

Works Cited… Read the rest of this entry

The Discovering Christ lectures

This past month, over 200 people came to a four-part series hosted by Reality in the city of Santa Barbara on basic Bible interpretation. With a clear thirst for God’s Word among us, this lecture series included an introduction, followed by “three gaps”–or obstacles–to understanding the Bible, as well as how to cross over them. I am pleased to announce that these lectures are all posted below! You can also download the notes here.

Introduction

The beginning of the series started out fairly philosophical, seeking to answer the “what” and the “why” behind biblical interpretation, before getting to the “how” in the next three lectures.

Bridging The Language Gap

Words only have meaning in sentences. This lecture deals with the words and sentences of the text, and how to find out the author’s main point.

Bridging The Cultural Gap

Since Biblical cultures are far removed from ours, we must “hop the gap” and listen to the text from their historical perspective. This lecture is concerned with the social and cultural norms familiar to the Biblical authors and audiences.

Bridging The Literary Gap (genre)

This lecture is primarily concerned with genre, those artistic styles of writing that are sometimes peculiar to the Biblical authors. In this lecture we delve into historical narrative, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, wisdom literature, gospels, parables, and epistles.

Discovering Christ ~ part 1

Reality Santa Barbara is hosting a four-week class that I am teaching on studying and understanding the Bible. This video is the introduction. If you missed the first class, or are far away, but want to deepen your understanding of God’s Word, join in with us and watch the video! You can find the attached notes on our website.

James Abbreviated: Chapter 5

This is our final chapter in the series, James Abbreviated!

If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:

  1. Christians grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties; God’s Word renews the way you think. (Chapter 1)
  2. Christian’s must look after their own poor; generosity within the family of God is evidence of genuine faith. (Chapter 2)
  3. Holiness is manifest in your speech. (Chapter 3)
  4. True faith makes the church grow in holiness and generosity. (Chapter 4)

The last chapter is James’s concluding exhortation to persist in Christian maturity amid difficult situations by trusting in God. It’s almost as if James in applying his theology directly to different groups of people in his Jerusalem congregation. For these purposes, we can identify three different categories in James 5.

  1. Rich people in the church (vv.1-6)
  2. Persistence (vv.7-12)
  3. Prayer and confession (vv.13-20)

Let’s look at each category to find the thread of James’s overall message woven throughout the chapter. Starting with vv. 1-6

Once again, key verses will be in italics, followed by brief exegesis of key themes, and a summary in red. I will highlight prevailing motifs and themes in green.

James 5:1-6 “Come now, you rich people! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. Your wealth is ruined and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your silver and gold are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure in the last days! Look! The pay that you withheld from the workers who reaped your fields cries out, and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived luxuriously on the land and have indulged yourselves. You have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned—you have murdered —the righteous man; he does not resist you.” (HCSB). 

The problem being identified is not the wealth that a person may have, but what they do with the resources given. In this case, some of the more well-to-do in the Jerusalem congregation were hoarding their wealth for themselves, while refusing to assist those struggling within their own church family. James here is accusing them of having “murdered” the righteous man in this case (v6), and taking them back to his exhortation in chapter 2, which was to care for the poor in the church. If those who are wealthy (as is the case with these particular individuals) are not also generous, they are heaping up “miseries” for themselves in the life to come (v1), for their faith is in vain—indeed, they are proving themselves unregenerate!

James is just contextualizing his theology on a particular people group, reminding them that, (more…)

James Abbreviated: Chapter 4

We’re approaching the end of James Abbreviated!

If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:

  1. Christians grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties; God’s Word renews the way you think. (Chapter 1)
  2. Christian’s must look after their own poor; generosity within the family of God is evidence of genuine faith. (Chapter 2)
  3. Holiness is manifest in your speech. (Chapter 3)

Now let’s glue these together and see if we can get something that flows better. Here is my best attempt:

As a Christian, we must grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties, and His Word will help us by renewing the way we think about our circumstances; in other words, we are immersed in the messiness, yet unstained by it. With this in mind, getting messy requires that we look after the poor in our own church, because God loves them, and generosity is evidence of genuine faith in us. To be unstained by the world requires keeping a firm watch on the things we say, since holiness is manifest in our speech.

A shorter version of this might be:

True faith makes the church grow in holiness and generosity together.

Chapter 4 starts to feel a bit like disjointed proverbs (more so than before!). But a close look reveals a steady pattern. Let’s read through the text all at once before we dive into the details. Remember that what I believe are key verses will be in italics. Any suggestive motifs I’ve put in green; these are useful in identifying the dominant idea of the chapter which is what we’re going to need when we do Biblical Theology (or any sweeping study). I’ve included the entire chapter this time.

James 4:1-17 “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. AdulteressesDon’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously? But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it” (HCSB).

First I read the chapter without stopping. Then I looked for naturally occurring segments that seem to carry a unified thought. For example, the first three verses are all about an inner war going on in every Christian. The next two verses are about two kingdoms opposing one another (and so on). After I’ve done this through the chapter, I created a bit of an outline to help me make sense of James’s driving themes. Here they are below… Read the rest of this entry

James Abbreviated: Chapter 3

Continuing our series, James Abbreviated, let’s tackle chapter 3!

You should read the first post in the series because it sets up every chapter to come. The intent is to show God’s desire for his people to grow to a mature faith, birthed in the kiln of our trials, and shown by the right way we treat one another; all seen in the Christ-like balance between immersion in the world to love our neighbor, and the setting apart for holiness unto God—something only the wisdom of God can help us navigate.

James chapter 2 and 3 are a thoughtful unfolding of James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” We saw in the last blog post that chapter two is an exposition of the command to look after orphans, widows, and more broadly, those who are in distress. Interestingly, as the chapter progresses, it emphasized this call to show mercy, specifically on those in the family of God. A good summary of chapter two is, “If you are a Christ follower, you will love all of Christ’s people”

Now, in chapter 3, James gives an explanation for the first half of v 27, namely, “to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

There are many great points made in James chapter 3, but I suggest one that emerges as the most definitive of the chapter (in bold). As usual, I will offer what I think are the supporting verses, with key verses in italics.

Holiness is manifest in your speech

James 1:1-12 “Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment, 2 for we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who is also able to control his whole body. 3 Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. 4 And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell. 7 Every sea creature, reptile, bird, or animal is tamed and has been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 We praise our Lord and Father with it, and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it. 10 Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way. 11 Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water” (HCSB).

While this section of Scripture is easy enough to understand on it’s own terms, I always wondered how it fit in to the rest of James.

For example, how does “experiencing trials” (1:2) relate to the tongue? Or “keeping oneself unstained by the world” (27b)? Or the sin of favoritism (2:1)? Fortunately, chapter 3 is easy enough to understand that most people can apply it to their life niche. Pastors and school teachers may think of their vocation when reading the stern warning of “stricter judgment” found in vv. 1-2. Some are reminded of the fiery hell that is our tongue in vv. 3-6 when we gossip or lash out verbally. Maybe others just think of the zoo when they read of horses (v 3), sea creatures, reptiles, and birds (v 7) :-) But verse 11 sharply refocuses our attention by providing us with a summary of chapter 3:

“Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening?” (v 11)

I’m bringing our attention to verse 11 as the key verse because it unifies the first 12 verses of James’s warning over the destructive nature of the tongue, words, and speech. James defines the tongue as lit by hell itself—it’s not on fire, it is a fire (v 6); he implicates anyone that teaches verbally (v 1); he describes the tongue’s ability to destroy other people (v 8); and after launching into more analogous indictments against human speech, his deep theme emerges: “Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening?” (v 11). James is prosecuting the human heart as the real culprit behind our sinful speech, for if we were holy, only sweet water would pour out of our springs; likewise, bitter waters flow from dead faith (2:26). These first seemed like a bunch of unrelated proverbs, but from a bird’s-eye view of the text, James’s point is overt: holiness of heart is manifest in holiness of speechOur words do not save us, but they do identify us.

This, of course, flows seamlessly from chapters one (God matures our faith with trials, in and through right relationships with Christ’s people) and chapter two (Christ followers love all of Christ’s people).

Now, this brings us to the sudden shift at the end of chapter 3:

Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.

James is setting up an ultimatum.

This may seem disconnected from the rest of the chapter, but remember, we are looking at everything from a view of 30,000 feet so we can leave with a broad and unifying theme that holds these chapters (and book) together. With that in mind, read that paragraph again (vv. 13-18) and see if you can spot some repeating words, phrases, thoughts, or themes.  Read the rest of this entry

James Abbreviated: Chapter 2

This is the second post in our series, James Abbreviated!

This one shouldn’t be as lengthy as the first one, but you will need to read the first post in the series because it sets us up for every chapter to come. The summary of chapter one went something like this: God desires for his people to grow to a mature faith, birthed in the kiln of our trials, and shown by the right way we treat one another; all of which is the Christ-like balance between immersion in the world to love our neighbor, and the setting apart for holiness unto God—something we need the wisdom of God to help us navigate.

Before we move on, I want you to take special notice of the underlined sections of that summary towards the end. I got these two ideas from James 1:27,

“Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

The first half of James’s sentence (“to look after orphans and widows”) suggests the immersion in the world to love our neighbor, while the second half (“keep oneself unstained by the world”) is where I got the setting apart for holiness unto God. I’m bringing this up, because I think James chapter 2 and chapter 3 are a thoughtful unfolding of these two concepts. James chapter 2 unpacks the imperative to look after orphans, widows, and more broadly, those who are in distress. What is interesting is that as the chapter progresses, it focuses our call to show mercy specifically on the family of God.

Here are the two main points that stand out in James chapter two (in bold), followed by what I think is the supporting passage, with key verses in italics.

Christians must look after their own poor

vv.1-8 “My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. 2 For example, a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and a poor man dressed in dirty clothes also comes in. 3 If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or, “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” 4 haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him? 6 Yet you dishonored that poor man. Don’t the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Don’t they blaspheme the noble name that was pronounced over you at your baptism? 8 Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself , you are doing well. “

This lengthy paragraph suggests three things:

  1. James addresses a church of believers (not just anyone). He uses Mediterranean strong-family terminology: “My brothers” (v 1, 14); “my dear brothers” (v 5); “a brother or sister” (v 15).
  2. James brings up a specific discrimination in the church. He points out that certain believers were giving preference to other believers based on their affluence; and points out the irony of the act, accusing the discriminate believer of “dishonoring that poor man” (v 6).
  3. James condemns discrimination in the church. We see this in his quotation of the Great Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (v 8), and roundly exposes favoritism as the antithesis of the Law (v 9).
  • These three points show us that favoritism in the church, especially in relation to those who are poor, lowly, or discriminated against, is a shameful transgression of God’s heart.

But watch how James connects this ongoing thought to the rest of the chapter…

Read the rest of this entry

A Gentle Answer

The F Market streetcar joins the Embarcadero to the rest of Market street. Brianna and I rode one with Abby after a strenuous day of walking the streets of San Francisco; it wasn’t the city itself that we found exhausting; rather, my kid was throwing up, it was raining, and we forgot to pack an umbrella. Or jackets. There was little else on our minds except to get back to our hotel and pass out.

Out of the corner of my eye, two older women began raising their voices,

“Excuse me. Yeah, you!” she shouted to the driver as he was transferring shifts.

“What?”

“You shortchanged me a dollar, and thought I would forget! But I’ve been keeping track and I want it back before you get off this car.”

The last thing I needed: a flare-up next to me. I suppose if Abby isn’t vomiting on one of us, it might as well be a tourist. At the same time, another driver (I will call him Dale) hopped up the steps of the streetcar to change shifts with the driver who by now was getting chastised by these two women over a dollar.

“What’s the problem?” Dale asked as the other driver turned his back, clearly wanting to clock out and head over to a pub.

“Well that young man right there told me that the price was such-and-such and I gave him gibba-gibba-gibba and he said this-and-that and he just needs to refund me the amount of blah-blah-blah….OH!!! Nevermind, just go. I’m done with this. Get out of here! Just go. Go go go!”

(Crickets)

Brianna and I looked at each other and exchanged sympathetic grins. People may think city dwellers are snippy, but tourists can have a fierce bite of their own. The original driver stepped off the bus at the nearest stop, leaving Dale with the two jolly guests in the front row. As we all continued down the Embarcadero, the awkwardness of the silly conflict began to dwindle, until the daughter got up before their stop-off and approached him to gently explain the situation. Dale turned around with a big smile on his face, and pulled cash out of lockbox. As the grandmother began to storm off the car, Dale stopped her, cupping her hands in his, and implored: “I don’t want you to be mad; here’s your dollar back, ok!” They soon exchanged laughs, and the two women left the car with smiles. As the streetcar began to move up Market Street, Dale whipped his head around, and shot a grin our way; Brianna smiled back. This guy was contagious.

I couldn’t help but think of Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away anger” (HCSB).

Soon a new slew of tourists filled the car, and another obnoxious rider began to bark orders at Dale with his head glued to the side of a smartphone. “I’ll call you back; I just hopped on the bus, and will be there in a minute.”

“Bus???” Dale exclaimed. “You call this is a bus??” The streetcar roared with unexpected laughter.

“I’m sorry, Sam, apparently it’s not a ‘bus.” I’m on the trolley and I’ll be with you shortly.”

“TROLLEY????”

(More laughter) Read the rest of this entry

James Abbreviated: Chapter 1

This is the first in our series, James Abbreviated, blogging through every chapter in James to determine the overarching themes of this wonderful book.

Since every book of the Bible has a point, we should start by identifying a basic flow, argument, or exhortation as we read along. Don’t worry about finding the meaning behind every verse yet, but do use key verses to help you put together that flow. A key verse is an emphatic point or crux buried in the chapter, supported by a lot of the surrounding paragraph. To use another example, news articles and blogs often emphasized their main points in bold lettering above the rest of the text.

Here are the two main points that stand out in James chapter one (in bold), followed by what I think is the supporting passage, with the key verse in italics.

Christians trust God in difficulties

vv.2-6 “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. 5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways.”

Do you see how I developed a short, five-word point (Christians trust God in difficulties) from an otherwise sweeping paragraph? I’ll show you my train of thought…

  1. The Christian’s trials can result in an endurance that makes us “complete” (v 2-4)
  2. For this completion to happen, one must ask God for wisdom (v.5)
  3. Faith–which in biblical terms often refers to trust–defines the wisdom we receive.
  • These three points show us that we must ask God for wisdom in difficult situations, while responding to that wisdom with faith in God! This is what separates those who know God, as shown in verses 5-8: the person who trusts in God (“asking in faith”) is saved, and the person who does not (“an indecisive man”), will “not receive anything from the Lord.” (v. 7)

Woo! Let’s move on to the next emphatic point that James makes (I will be gliding over many supporting verses)… Read the rest of this entry

James abbreviated: an introduction

Last week’s blog was about our need for orthodoxy.

A privatized understanding of Scripture presents a common problem: we interpret passages individualistically, without any sensitivity to what the author originally intended.

You’ve heard it said in a Bible study: “What does this verse mean to you?” But that’s the wrong question to ask. If it is the objective meaning of the text that God inspired (2 Tim 3:16) and not our subjective interpretations of it, then a better question to ask is, “What did the author mean?” So while reading Bible verses does not make you orthodox, reading Bible verses in their proper relationship to the rest of the Bible is at least a first step in aligning you with the orthodox views of the ancient church. Some like to call this “when Scripture interprets Scripture.” Let the whole thing speak for itself.

Here’s another way of thinking about it: You would never read one line from an urgent email without reading it in its entirety, because each part only makes sense in its relationship to the whole. The “whole” part of Scripture is often referred to by the Apostle Paul as “sound doctrine” (1 Tim 4:6) or “sound words” (1 Tim 6:3; 2 Tim 1:13). To really grasp the depth of each verse, you need to know what the chapter means. And what the letter means. And what the Bible means…well, you get it. Here’s where I’m going with this…

For the next few weeks I’m going to blog through every chapter of the epistle of James!

James is a great place to think about broad themes, because it seems to present itself as a disjointed grouping of proverbial statements. Our propensity is to treat James like a fortune cookie wrapper—a proof-text that we can apply to whatever situation we’re dealing with at the moment and according to our own personal interpretation—sometimes we do this without any context for what the author was originally intending. Case in point,

James 1:17, “Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning.”

How often have we used this verse in general terms, like this:

If anything good comes my way, it’s because God is blessing me; after all, every perfect gift comes from the Father! And I’m always gonna be blessed, because with Him there is no variation. God always makes good things happen to me!

But when something bad happens to us, as it inevitably will, we never quote that particular verse, do we! Perhaps we search for another general verse or passage that sounds a little more inspirational. But James 1:17 is not an arbitrary or general proverb. The “perfect gift” that the Apostle James refers to is more like a special empowerment that the Father sends to strengthen us in times of suffering. Good exegesis allows the Christian to make direct applications of God’s Word to dire situations, knowing that it will not return empty (Is. 55:11), as opposed to guessing widely and shooting blindly. Here’s some examples of what I mean…

  • Are you feeling depressed? Read Philippians, which is largely a book about joy in any circumstance. As you read it with intentionality, God will speak to you through each of Paul’s words.
  • Are you going on a long, difficult journey or calling? Read the Psalm of Ascents (Psalm 120-134), which is what the Jews have done for centuries in their tumultuous travels.
  • Are you suffering? Read Job.
  • Hopeless? Read the Gospels.
  • Feeling dirty and unwanted? Read Hosea.
  • Feel unqualified? Read Ruth.
  • Feel overwhelmed by the world? Read Romans.
  • Want to read the Cliff Notes version of all time? Read Revelation.
  • (I adapted this list from my post, Religious Sensory Override)

Make sense? So what is James about? How can we begin to apply it to real situations? Well… you’ll just have to discover that with me!

Here’s the plan…

Instead of spending too much time unpacking every verse, I will summarize each chapter by looking at the relationship these verses all have with one another.

I will also include what I think is the key verse of the chapter, and show how the overall theme is being developed in each chapter. When we’re done with all five chapters, the summary of the epistle of James should sit before us in a few, brief sentences! When we know what the book is about, all the details (verses) will become more vivid, more relevant, more exciting. Instead of arbitrarily applying verses to our lives and hoping they fit, we will know what life situation to which James wrote, and how our situations are directly addressed by Scripture. At least, that’s my hope; perhaps I’m aiming too high, haha.

I am not able to bare every detail of the text here, so you are more than welcome to do some exegeting of your own in the comment section or on Facebook.

Bible study is best done in community, so perhaps we can cultivate some meaningful conversations. In case you’re wondering, I will be using the HCSB translation of the Bible. Please join me as we study to show ourselves “approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB)

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