Responding to the Fall

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This article follows what I shared six months ago about how work was impacted by the fall in Genesis 3.  See original post entitled “Thorns and Thistles“.

In summary, Adam’s sin and God’s subsequent pronouncement of severe consequences directly impacts our work.  This is the new normal – work will be unproductive, painful, unnecessarily difficult, filled with strife between co-workers, and set in an environment that is counter to God’s original design of Edenic perfection.  In some cases, work can be far more than just really hard.  There are many people who die each year on the job due to stress or other job-related health issues, fatal accidents due to dangerous conditions in the factory or on the football field, etc.  The truth of the matter is that this is the way work will remain until the Lord Jesus Christ returns to set us and the creation free from this bondage (see Rom. 8:19-22).

So, how do we respond to these challenges that face us all from 9-5 and beyond?

In a presentation on the theology of work that I prepared last year, I provided some points worth considering.  Most of these suggestions are from Sherman and Hendricks, in Your Work Matters to God (p. 109-117). The first observation is encouraging; the next two are not so much; yet they are true nonetheless, and need to be accepted.

  • Christ’s death does not change work, but it does change the worker (2 Cor. 5:17)
  • The work environment remains uncooperative and marked by futility (Eccl. 1:2-9)
  • People are going to be sinful (including you)
  • Although we cannot completely change the world, nor those we work with, we can be agents of reform (be salt and light)
  • Understanding the impacts of the fall puts a different perspective on trials

The fourth bullet reminds us that even though we must accept the fact that this world will be as it is until Christ’s return, it doesn’t mean that we cannot be agents of change. Jesus spoke of being salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16) to challenge us to influence others.

The last bullet is one I recently grasped while reading a book on this subject. It became obvious to me that many of the trials I have experienced in life have come while on the job, and are good examples of the “thorns” and “thistles” we talked about earlier. By remembering that we live in a fallen world, I can lower my expectations a bit. Instead of expecting things to be perfect all of the time and surprised when trials come our way, perhaps we should expect things to be hard all the time, and joyfully surprised when a blessing comes our way.

I found a great example of a work-related major trial that is a direct result of the Fall in Habakkuk 3:17: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”   This is the same advice that James gives in his letter (James 1:2-4); we are to choose to rejoice in our trials because the testing of our faith develops perseverance.

Whenever I come against one more computer outage, one more disgruntled employee, one more unreasonable demand, one more paper jam in the copier, or one more weakness in myself that makes my job more difficult than it needs to be, I am reminded that these trials are a direct result of sin: either Adam’s, mine, or others’.  I purposefully call to mind that God will provide the grace to get me through it and that my character is being built through suffering (Rom. 5:3-5).  This gives me hope and a sense of God’s presence at work.

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Covenant Living

This is a paper I wrote for my Old Testament Biblical Theology class that I took in June 2013.  I enjoyed writing it.  I got to focus on themes I had known for a long time and expand my thinking a bit and go a little deeper.  I hope this is encouraging to some.

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Covenant Living

I. Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to present a lesson summarizing key truths in the Pentateuch to remind, motivate, and challenge the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Promised Land.

By the end of this lesson, believers will be able to:

  • Recall the mighty acts of Yahweh that He initiated on their behalf
  • Teach their children and grandchildren to remember His acts and obey His law
  • Determine to be careful to obey all of the requirements of Yahweh out of love for Him
  • Appreciate the countless blessings of Yahweh and not grumble
  • Fulfill their part as members of the covenant community by loving their neighbors
  • Follow after Yahweh wholeheartedly, obey His laws, requirements, and commands
  • Avoid the wicked ways of those around them to become His unique people

II. Cognitive Objectives (To Know)

A. Recall the mighty acts of Yahweh

We must never forget that Yahweh’s love and faithfulness to us is based on His covenant with our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 2:24).  From the beginning, we know how Yahweh has cared for us in miraculous ways to demonstrate that He alone is God (Dt. 4:32-35).  Let us recall key highlights of our history (His story), where Yahweh made promises, delivered, provided for, and was present with his chosen covenant people.

  1. Promises.

Among other things, Yahweh promised Abraham that he would make His people a great nation and would bless them (Gen. 12:1, 17:3-8).  We know that Yahweh remains faithful.  Even in spite of our unfaithfulness, Yahweh kept His promises (Dumbrell 2002, 51).  Look all around – we are more numerous than the stars in the heavens (Gen. 15:5).  Look ahead – the land we are about to enter has been given to us (Gen. 17:8); we will possess it because He said so.  Yahweh has promised good things to His people (Num. 10:29).

  1. Deliverance.

We have all heard numerous times how we were slaves in Egypt and how Yahweh delivered His people from under Pharoah’s bondage with His mighty hand (Ex. 15:1-12, 19:4, 20:2; Dt. 5:6, 26:5-8).  He did this because He loved our forefathers and chose to bless their descendants after them (Dt. 4:37).  Yahweh brought us out of Egypt so that He could bring us in to the Promised Land where He will reign as King (Ex. 15:13-18; Dt. 6:23).  Once we cross over and enter in, He will be with us to bring victory in every battle so that we might possess the land (Dt. 20:1-4).

  1. Provision.

Remember that Yahweh provided for the Israelites when they were small in number by bringing Joseph into Egypt before there was famine in the land (Gen. 50:20).  In order to prove that we were the people of God, Yahweh miraculously fed hundreds of thousands of us in the wilderness (Num. 11:7-9, 31-32) with manna, quail, and water (Dumbrell 2002, 53).  More than just providing for our physical needs, Yahweh also led us through the desert for forty years, to humble, test, teach, clothe, and discipline us (Dt. 8:2-4).

  1. Presence.

Yahweh dwells with us; we know that He is our God (Ex. 29:45-46).  Yahweh showed His presence in the wilderness journey by providing a cloud by day and a fire by night; here in the camp, He remains in our midst (Ex. 40:36-38; Num. 9:15-23).  The weekly keeping of the Sabbath (Ex. 34:21) also points to the idea of resting in the presence of Yahweh, which is the goal of redemption.  His presence ensures our permanent occupation of the Promised Land; it is the only guarantee we will be victorious as we take possession of it (Dumbrell 2002, 40, 53).

B. Teach the children

Never forget the mighty acts that you yourselves have seen the Lord do; teach these things to your children and to their children (Dt. 4:9).  Someday, your sons will ask you the meaning of these laws that Yahweh has given us, and you must tell him about how Yahweh delivered us from slavery in Egypt (Dt. 6:20-22).  Furthermore, these commandments and laws have been given to us to observe in the land so that our children and grandchildren may fear Yahweh and continue to obey Him (Dt. 6:1-2).  We are to teach them daily by talking about Yahweh when we get up, move about, and when we sit down; inside and outside (Dt. 6:6-7).

III. Affective Objectives (To Be)

A. Determine to be careful to obey

Based on all that I have reminded you, you need to make it a priority to carefully obey the commandments of Yahweh; hear, learn, and follow (Dt. 5:1).  Yahweh is the only true God, and you are to love Him with all your heart, mind, and strength (Dt. 6:5, 11:1).  You also need to fear Him, walk in all His paths, and serve Him with your whole being (Dt. 10:12).  You know that He expects us to be pure and holy because He is holy (Lev. 19:2).  This is a reasonable demand, considering all He has done to deliver us from Egypt (Lev. 11:45).

B. Appreciate the countless blessings

Never forget all of the goodness that Yahweh has shown to you personally and to all of us as a people; we have seen with our own eyes all the wonderful things that Yahweh has done (Dt. 11:7).  The previous generation was often characterized by their grumbling (Num. 14:26).  Yahweh punished them because it demonstrated a lack of trust in and gratefulness for His abundant provision of their needs; we have suffered for their unfaithfulness (Num. 14:33).

IV. Behavioral Objectives (To Do)

A. Fulfill your part of the covenant community

Your primary motivation to action should be love; not only for Yahweh, but also for your neighbor (Lev. 19:18).  This behavior matches Yahweh’s holy nature.  Two qualities describe how we as a nation should treat one another and the alien in the land: justice and love.  Justice means fairness and deciding matters of right and wrong by the laws that Yahweh has given us.  We express this love for neighbor in deeds of kindness and compassion (Dumbrell 2002, 47).

B. Follow after Yahweh wholeheartedly

Now that we have been reminded of what Yahweh has done for His people, and have chosen to keep his covenant, we need to respond appropriately.  We need to carefully obey His every command so that we can live, increase in number, and possess the land He promised to the patriarchs (Dt. 8:1).  If we do this together, Yahweh’s abundant blessings will be on us, our family, our land, and our people (Lev. 26:3-13; Dt. 30:16).  If we truly want to enjoy His blessings in the Promised Land, we must follow His precepts and be holy (Dumbrell 2002, 50).

C. Avoid the wicked ways

You must be undefiled.  Do not be like the Egyptians (where you were delivered from), and do not be like the Canaanites (where you are going to) (Lev. 18:3).  Only those who choose to be free from wickedness will be permitted to remain in His presence (Longman & Dillard 2006, 85).  In addition, when we are separate from the world, this identifies us as the people of Yahweh (Dumbrell 2002, 45).  If you do not love the Lord your God, obey His precepts, and closely follow His ways, there will be curses on you, your family, and all of us (Lev. 26: 14-39; Dt. 30:17-18).  It is easy; choose life!

Bibliography

Dumbrell, William J. The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Longman III, Tremper, and Dillard, Raymond B. An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

The Instrumental Value of Work

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Sherman and Hendricks, in Your Work Matters to God, opened my eyes back in 1989 when I first read their chapter on the Instrumental Value of Work.  This follows their chapter on the Intrinsic Value of Work (which I posted on a couple of weeks ago.)  They maintain that work fulfills a number of functions.  This list is modified from what they propose are some of the main purposes of work; they are what God does for us and others through our work:

  • Through our work, God meets the needs of people who are of eternal value to Him (Ps. 104:10-31)
  • Through our work, God meets our needs and our family’s needs (1 Thes. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 5:8)
  • Through work, God provides extra money to be able to give some of it away to those in need (Eph. 4:28)
  • Through our work, we love God and our neighbors by serving them both (Matt. 22:37-40; Luke 10:27)

Keller, in Every Good Endeavor, reminds us, “God does not simply create; he also loves, cares for, and nurtures his creation. He feeds and protects all he has made. But how does his providential care reach us? . . . God’s loving care comes to us largely through the labor of others. Work is a major instrument of God’s providence; it is how he sustains the human world.”

Hardy, in The Fabric of This World, explains that Martin Luther, Protestant reformer, had this unique view of work: “Through the human pursuit of vocations across the array of earthly stations the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the sick are healed, the ignorant are enlightened, and the weak are protected. That is, by working we actually participate in God’s ongoing providence for the human race. . . in the activity of work, God is present as the one who provides us with all that we need” (47-48). Let me repeat that last sentence: “in the activity of work, God is present.”  I hate to admit it, but it looks like the concept of “Immanuel Labor” originated with Martin Luther long before I came up with the phrase.

Sherman and Hendricks share a story that I have read a number of times as I have taught on this topic off and on over the last 25 years in various Sunday School classes, Bible studies, and other venues.

“A friend of mine operates a pallet company. Pallets are the platforms used extensively in the transportation industries, designed to make it easier for forklifts to load and unload stacks of goods.  My friend’s company manufactures these pallets. 

Now how could my friend’s pallets possibly fit into the work of God in the world?  Actually they are an important, albeit humble link in a complex chain that God uses to meet my needs and your needs.  Those pallets are in indispensable part of the trucking industry — an industry that delivers ruby-red grapefruit from the Rio Grande Valley, boxes of cereal from Battle Creek, Michigan, and milk from Coppell, Texas, to a supermarket near my home. 

All of these come together at my family’s breakfast table.  Before we eat, one of my children thanks God for the food.  Why?  Because He has brought to our table something we need.

We must recognize, however, that God has used a rather extensive system of workers to give us this food.  He has used farmers to plant and cultivate citrus trees and wheat, and to raise dairy cows.  We might also mention the scientists who have checked the food for purity, and the bankers who have arranged for the financing.  Then, too, there are the dealers of farm equipment, and behind them the builders of that equipment.

Then we should remember the trucks and their drivers that God has used to haul this food our way.  And we should appreciate the truck stop operators along the way who have provided diesel fuel and coffee.  And, of course, someone had to lay down those miles of interstate that connect our country.

And finally, we should thank God for the supermarket employees, for the guy who carries the bag to our car, and for my wife who puts it all on the table.

By the way, did you notice my friend’s pallets?  They were tucked away under those crates of grapefruit, boxes of cereal, and gallons of milk.  Though obscure, God used them to meet my family’s needs. . . .

Consequently, my friend is actually contributing directly to God’s work in the world.  Through his work, he is serving the needs of people like my family.  In a similar way, God uses your work to meet the needs of people.”

Keller in Every Good Endeavor indicates that Martin Luther had something similar to say regarding the Lord’s Prayer: “When you pray for ‘daily bread’ you are praying for everything that contributes to your having and enjoying your daily bread.”

The implications of this are two-fold. It means that whatever job we have is significant, has value, and contributes to what God needs done in the world.

It also means that whatever job anyone else has is significant, has value, and contributes to what God needs done in the world. We need to treat all people with dignity and respect.

Witherington, in his book, “Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor”, states: “A Christian understanding of work emphasizes the intrinsic value of the worker first and foremost. . . The value of the workers reflects not merely the work they do, but is grounded in the persons they are, and whose they are, God’s.”

This is a lot to digest.  I hope you find as much encouragement in these truths as I do.  Your work matters to God!

(For a short video clip of this message given to a small group of local college students click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCKKndNQ3QM.)

Resting in God’s Forgiveness and Grace

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few months about “accountability” and forgiveness.  I think there are many Christians who have been taught that they will somehow have to face some sort of judgment by God for what they did or failed to do in this life.  This leads to fear or concerns about how it is going to go when we come face to face with the Judge.  However, this clearly contradicts Paul’s statement in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  If there is no condemnation now, there will not be any condemnation on Judgment Day.  This idea also reflects a lack of understanding of what God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice really means.

Back in November, I heard a preacher on the radio say something about God “holding fathers accountable for how they raise their children”.   I have heard others preach similar ideas.  I had a brother that I love and respect dearly say about the same time that he “hoped” the sins he has committed would all be forgiven and that he is very concerned about facing God.  Other people I know and love have mentioned that certain people (believers) will have to “answer to God” for this or that sin, usually in context to what has been done to them.  And, of course, we have all heard that God will judge America for its many sins as a nation.

I began to do some research on the topic of whether Christians will face a judgment when Jesus returns at the end of the age.  This was timely, as I was preparing to teach Romans 13 in our adult Sunday School class.  This passage speaks of “understanding the present time . . . the day is almost here” (vv. 11-12), where Paul is exhorting the church to be mindful of Christ’s imminent return (i.e., it could come at any moment).  As I dug a little deeper than I have in a long time (I felt like I was in seminary again), I discovered a few things about what happens when Jesus returns.  I have also begun to break the code on why there is so much confusion and ignorance about what accepting God’s forgiveness really means for Christians.

This is not just another exploration into a merely academic theological discussion.  This topic has serious implications for how we live out our Christian faith, how we experience God’s presence on a daily basis, how we are to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ, and even on how we view the topic of work.  Understanding these truths will indeed, as Jesus taught us in John 8:31, “set us free”.

Do Christians Face Any Kind of Judgment When Jesus Returns?

Some say “Yes.”  Believers will face the “Judgment Seat of Christ”.  This will be special event after Jesus returns where the quality of believers’ works will be tested by fire. It is where rewards are given.  Two passages seem to support this idea:

1) 1 Cor. 3:12-15. The traditional interpretation is that our works have either contributed to building the church with wood, hay, or straw; or gold, silver, or precious stones. The Day of Judgment will reveal which it was through fire. If it is not burned up, we will receive a reward. Although this verse does seem to mention an eschatological event, in the context of Paul’s letter he is addressing divisions in the church. His point is that believers need to be careful to make lasting contributions to the church. The emphasis is on rewards, not embarrassment.

2) 2 Cor. 5:10. Paul states that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, to receive what is due, whether good or bad.  This sounds very similar to what Jesus said in Matt. 25:31-45, where He tells of separating the sheep from the goats, the wicked from the righteous. It is a judgment that appears to be based on works.  However, we know from Rom. 3:20-26, that no one is justified by works or by “observing the law”, but it is only be faith in Christ.  The good works are the demonstration or fruit of true faith, which is what it clearly says in James 2:14-17.

However, I say “No.”  As Christians, our sins are totally forgiven, forgotten, and removed from us when we receive Christ because He has paid the penalty for all our sins.  There is only one eschatological judgment at the end of times, and it is for the wicked.  Believers need not worry about it if their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.  There are several passages that support this view:

1) Hebrews 10:11-23. The author is contrasting Jesus’ sacrifice with that of the OT priests, whose sacrifices could never really take away sins (v. 11).  (If you go back to verse 2, you see that these sacrifices could never completely cleanse or remove the feelings of guilt either.)  But Jesus offers a better sacrifice!  Jesus’ death on the cross finished the job; the atonement for our sins is complete (v. 12).  We are declared to be perfect in His eyes (the doctrine of justification), even though we are still growing in holiness (v. 14). He remembers our sins no more (v. 17, quoting Jer. 31:33).  Our sins have been forgiven and there is no longer a need for any more sacrifices (v. 18).  This means total forgiveness of all my sins: past, present, and future.  He took away my guilt and shame.  I have been reconciled with God; there is no longer any animosity or separation between us.  This is irreversible; I can’t mess it up because it is not based on my performance, but on His atonement.  There is no penalty or fear of punishment to dread on Judgment Day over anything I have ever done.  Because of what Jesus did for me, I have complete confidence to enter into His presence daily (v. 19).  I can draw near to God without fear in full assurance of faith (v. 22) because my heart has been cleansed from a guilty conscience (v. 23).  Also, I can boldly come before the throne of grace to find help in times of need when I do sin (Heb. 4:16).

2) 1 Peter 5:4. This and other passages (see Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:27-28; 2 Peter 3:10-14; 1 John 2:28, 3:2-3) paint a picture of Jesus’ second coming as a joyous occasion for all believers.  It is something we should look forward to and anticipate.  There is not even a hint of anything to fear, like some kind of “accountability” for things we either did or did not do.  There is a consistent call to perseverance in light of Jesus’ second coming, but that is to encourage us to continue to demonstrate our faith and be faithful until the end.  There are no eternal consequences based on our own failings; we are exhorted to press on to save us from regret or embarrassment.

3) Rev. 20:11-15.  Here is a description of the “Great White Throne” judgment.  Those whose names are not found in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire.  Rev. 21 describes the new heaven and the new earth that only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will experience.  This ties in with what Jesus said in John 5:24: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

With respect to this question, it seems very clear to me that believers have absolutely nothing to worry about with respect to a final judgment.  We must read every reference to any kind of judgment based on works (i.e., Matt. 25, the sheep and the goats) through the lens of what Jesus and Paul have clearly said throughout the NT regarding forgiveness, atonement, and redemption.  Those who have placed our faith in Christ are not judged by our works.  We are judged based solely on our faith in Jesus.  Since our debt has been paid by the blood of Christ, there is nothing else for us to pay.  See Ps. 103:12, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”  See also Ps. 32:1,2, which is quoted in Rom. 4:7,8: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”  This is indeed good news, and is truth we should meditate on and rest in.

There are a few classic hymns which communicate these truths confidently, allowing us to sing boldly of this understanding of total forgiveness as I have described above:

“Amazing Grace”

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved.

How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed!”

“On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”

“When He shall come with trumpet sound, oh may I then in Him be found.

Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne.”

“It is Well With my Soul”

“My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part, but the whole

Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more!

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

There is more that can be said about this topic, but I will have to close with an appropriate greeting from Peter’s first epistle: “Grace and peace be yours in abundance” (1 Peter 1:2).