Thursday, July 7, 2011

Will of God vs. Will of Man

Chapter Four:
Will of God vs. Will of Man

Humans have a will that must be brought in line with God’s will in order to manifest the fullness of what God has willed. Humans must respond to God’s will as it is revealed in natural revelation and special revelation.

God has revealed himself in written form through the Christian Scriptures, but God, the creator and rule of the universe, has also revealed himself through natural things and events such as nature, history, mankind, and sciences such as math, music, chemistry. His very nature, power and desires are revealed in nature and can be seen, known and understood by all men. This is called natural or general revelation:

“What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse.” – Romans 1:19-20

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”    - Psalm 19:1-4

So, even today, God’s creation continues to be explored and studied as man continues to unravel the natural revelation of God that is given to humanity through general revelation. At times our ideas and opinions are locked in with God’s ideas and opinions due to this natural revelation. Things like gravity, the need for food and the need for sleep are universally followed either willingly or by sheer natural force. Man in a sense willingly follows these “rules,” “laws” or the natural will of God. But, there are also some aspects of God’s natural revelation (“rules,” “laws,” principles,” “common sense,” etc.) that man can choose to live in harmony with or he may willfully choose to rebel against.

God has given each man has his own will (Genesis 2:16) but since the fall of Adam man’s will now exists in rebellion to God’s will since it was corrupted by the sin nature (Ephesians 2:1; Romans 5:12). At times our human wills can follow God’s natural order by their own free volition, but often, very often, we rebel against what God has naturally established: things like marriage, a work ethic, civil obedience and moral behaviors such as honesty, courage, respect, generosity, kindness, etc. Man’s sin nature is only united with Satan and the world system (kosmos) in the sense that they are all three in rebellion to God’s will as it is revealed and empowered by his Word.

Man is responsible to know, understand and follow God’s general revelation of himself as seen in the natural world.

“Gentiles (Pagans) who do not have the law (written Word of God), do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts (by creation; created in image of God), their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” – Romans 2:13-15

But, God has also chosen to reveal himself through prophets and apostles. These prophets and apostles came primarily through Israel, Jesus Christ, and then the church.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers (Israel) through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (Jesus Christ)…This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord (Jesus), was confirmed to us by those who heard him (Apostles of the church).”        – Hebrews 1:1-2; 2:3

Our human wills need to respond positively towards the message from the special revelation that is recorded in the written Word of God. The Apostle Paul writes concerning this revelation from God that was recorded in the written Word of God in the New Testament:

“I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generation, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”                                             – Colossians 1:25-27

“This grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.”                   - Ephesians 3:8-9

Peter confirms this apostolic revelation given to Paul and recorded in his letters when Peter writes:

“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”                              - Second Peter 3:15-16
The means of salvation and deliverance from sin, death and eternal damnation is not revealed in general revelation, but in the special revelation we call the Word of God (Bible). The Gospel, or “Good News,” concerning salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is not clearly seen by mankind through the study of math, chemistry, psychology, geology or history. These areas of study can reveal God’s character, power and his general will, but God’s Gospel of salvation is only found clearly in God’s Word.

“You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”   - Ephesians 1:13

“We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.”    - Colossians 1:3-5

“I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved.”  - Romans 15:1-2

“This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher….What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you.”   - Second Timothy 1:9-14

Once we hear, understand and believe the words of special revelation we must continually discipline ourselves to continue in these Words of God. Our advancement into spiritual maturity as a believer is based on our hearing, knowing, understanding, remembering, and doing (walk in) the words of special revelation (God’s Word). The Words of God that showed us the means of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ are the same Words of God that will lead us to a mature productive life. A mature believer in Christ will produce a life filled with the fruits of righteousness (good deeds) that he will not be ashamed of as he stands blameless before Jesus on the Day of Judgment.

The need to continue in the Word of God that we began in can be seen in these examples:

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to (Greek: remain in, continue in, abide in) my teaching (Greek: “my word”), you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”        - John 8:31

Above, in John 8:31, the word “believed him” indicates these Jews had placed faith in Jesus. The word “believed” in the Greek is perfect active. The perfect tense suggests “the lasting effects of the past action.” (Linguistic Key, p. 202-203) The active voice means these Jews had of their own volition chose to believe Jesus’ words. The phrase “hold to” is the aorist subjunctive active of the Greek word “meno” which means “to remain.” The aorist tense here* means a point of action, the subjunctive is the mood of potential and the active voice once again means these Jews will be the ones who make the decision to continue in the Word of God. So, if those who had believed on Jesus wanted to continue their spiritual growth they would have to take advantage of the potential they had of choosing to always continue in Jesus Word. If they did then they could know the Truth and, by that Truth, be set free. (* “For instance, outside of the indicative mood it is often customary to use the tense that implies a 'simple occurrence', the aorist tense. The aorist places no emphasis on the progress of the action, but only shows a simple occurrence (or summary occurrence), the action viewed as a whole. If the writer does not wish to emphasize or focus on the progress of the verb's action (whether continuous or completed) he will use the aorist tense. The term 'aorist' means 'unspecified' or 'unlimited'. It signifies nothing as to the progression or completeness of an action, it just indicates 'happenedness' or simple occurrence. If one has the mistaken concept that aorist tense means past time, many passages of the New Testament will be very confusing if not altogether nonsensical. Only in the indicative mood does the aorist indicate past time. Many times the action of a verb in the aorist subjunctive or aorist imperative forms, for instance, will actually take place at a future time, not a past time.” – from )

Paul and John also explain the importance of continuing in the Word of God that saved the believer’s spirit for the “salvation” (renewal) of the believer’s soul or mind:

“I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”    - First Corinthians 15:1-2

“Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” – Galatians 1:7

“That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”   - Ephesians 4:20-21

“As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.”  - First John 2:24

After being saved (phase one) we must continue (phase two) in the original word that provided us the knowledge and understanding for that salvation. We must avoid counterfeits and false teaching that lead us away from the source of salvation. Losing the salvation (phase one) is not the issue, but failing to grow and produce the fruit of that salvation is a daily possibility. Good deeds, godly character and fruit of the Spirit are the production from the seed of the Word of God. The same seed that produced the new birth will also produce the fruit of righteousness.

“For you have been born again (phase one), not of perishable seed, but of imperishable through the living and enduring word of God…And this is the word that was preached to you….Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation (phase two).”                                                                 - First Peter 1:23-2:2

Peter is encouraging the early Christian to realize their salvation is a result of the Word of God being planted in their lives. These believers had heard and believed “the word that was preached.” Now, that they have been born into the kingdom of God (“newborn babies”) by the seed of the Word of God they should “crave” more of that same Word. The Greek word for “crave” is “epipothesate” is aorist imperfect active and means “to long for, to desire, to crave. This preposition in compound indicates intensive desire directed toward the object of the word. (Lingustic p. 570) The actual desire in this word is seen in Psalm 42:1-2, 
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”   - Psalm 42:1-2
“pure” is “adolos” which means “without deceit, unadulterated, uncontaminated. The word is commonly used in this sense of corn, wheat, barley, oil, wine, and other farm products. (Linguistic, p570)      

“may grow” is “auxethete” is aorist subjunctive passive and means “to cause to grow.” These words could be translated “in order that you might be nourished up.”

This verse ends by saying that this craving for the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God will result in the believer making progress in their salvation. Please notice, it is the healthy baby that hungers, and even cries, for milk. So it is with a Christian. A spiritually healthy Christian hungers for the hearing, teaching and instruction that comes from the Word of God. Also, note the use of “milk” in First Corinthians 3:2 and Hebrews 5:12-13 is a metaphor for the basics of faith. Here the use of the word “milk” is a metaphor for the nourishment that comes from the Word of God. There is no negative reflection or immature connotation on the concept of the milk of the Word here in First Peter. In First Corinthians 3 and Hebrews 5 the negative imagery is aimed at the believers who had entered into salvation (phase one) but had not progressed in their salvation (phase two). The believers being addressed in Corinth and in the book of Hebrews where quenching their spiritual hunger on things that were NOT the Word of God. They had lost their appetites like children who eat candy before dinner. These believers’ growth had been stunted by false teaching, legalism, worldly philosophies, religious rituals and mysticism. The very fact these believers were not seeking God nor craving his Word would be a symptom of an unhealthy spiritual life.

“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly.”                                       - First Corinthians 3:1-2

These Corinthians were producing the fruit of the worldly religious life: jealousy and quarreling (3:3)

The author of Hebrews is equally disappointed in the believers he is addressing when he writes:

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk being still an infant is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting we will do so.”                                                                     - Hebrews 5:11-6:3

The writer of Hebrews says he has “much to say about” the subject he is writing about which is the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The teacher says it is “hard to explain” or “difficult to explain” to his listeners because he says they “are slow to learn.” The phrase “slow to learn” is the word “nothros” in the Greek and it does NOT mean these Christians are dumb, academically challenged or have some type of first century learning disability. Nor, does it mean the writer of Hebrews is struggling with his teaching gift or with his ability to communicate his thoughts.

The problem is seen in the word “nothros” which is translated here “slow to learn.” “Nothros” means “dull, slow, sluggish.” It is also translated as “slothful” or “lazy” in Hebrews 6:12 where it says, “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy (nothros), but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” The word “nothros” is used to refer to the numbed limbs of a sick lion. (Linguistic, p. 526) The lion in this example had been hit by poison tipped darts that numbed the feeling and the use of the limbs. The word “nothros” is also used in an ancient Greek story to describe the vain hopes of a foolish wolf who had heard a child’s nurse threaten to throw the child out to the wolves. The wolf had an opinion and an interpretation of the nurse’s words, but since the wolf’s doctrine was wrong so was the hope he had based in the false understanding. “Nothros” can refer to the intellect as in this statement by Polybius around 150 BC: “There was not one who was foolish enough or stupid (nothros) enough to hope ever to return to his country by fleeing.” (Polybius, 3.63.7) But, “nothros” is also used to describe the actions and achievements of the “nothros” person: “Aratus, in every undertaking and in all combat operations, showed timidity and indolence (nothros).” (Polybius 4.60.2) A Christian inscription from 250 AD by a man named Aureliuis Lykidas reads this way: “I call God to witness that I built this tomb at my own expense, since my brother Amianos was negligent (nothros), and I order that Phronime and Maxima, my sisters, be placed in it.” (Tehological Lexion of the New Testament, vol. 2, Spicq, p. 553)

The Hebrew believers had drifted from the Word of God, became nothros, and now their lives reflected this lack of spiritual vigor and competitiveness. This is a two-fold problem of cause and effect. The failure to have the inhale of Bible doctrine is followed by the inability to exhale a mature (spiritual) life. These Hebrew believers are not hearing and believing the Word of God which means their faith is not growing. The result of this spiritual malnutrition is the collapse of their confidence and the loss of their hope. This problem is reflected throughout the book of Hebrews.

Besides the interesting meaning of the word “nothros” (“slow to learn”) it is very insightful to look into the original meaning of the word translated “are" in the English NIV translation. This word  “are” is used like this in the NIV: “it is hard to explain because you ARE slow to learn.” The word “are” in the Greek is “gegonate” which is the perfect tense (complete action in the past with abiding results), indicative mood (the mood of reality), active voice (the subject causes the action, or these “dull” Christians had made themselves dull) of “ginomai” giving it the meaning “you have become.” These believers had at one time heard and understood the teaching of the Word of God, but they had been distracted by some other form of teaching, ritual or philosophy. The perfect tense of “gegonate” in 5:11 and again in 5:12 implies that these believers have not only failed to grow at a reasonable rate in their Christian maturity, but they have begun regressing in their spiritual capacity. This is confirmed in Hebrews 6:10 and 10:32-34 which mentions their previous growth and production. Their previous spiritual heights included good works, love, helping others, standing faithful in the face of a variety of persecutions and supporting other persecuted believers in prison while they looked forward to eternal rewards in heaven. These fallen believers were at one time strong and active, but when they drifted from the Word of God and turned to myths, rituals and human opinion they became ineffective and non-productive. This dull, sluggish, unspiritual, immature condition was an acquired one.

The diagnosis of the Hebrew’s problem leads the author to prescribe this remedy: “someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” “You need milk.” The milk here is the elementary truths of God’s word that are so necessary that we should never lose track of them nor allow them to escape our understanding. The author wants to build on these foundational truths. He says that these Hebrews must not only know these truths but become skilled in using them in their daily lives to make decisions and determine right from wrong and good from evil. Study his words:

“Solid food is for the mature who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”                                                   - Hebrews 5:14

“Solid food” is the teaching that is built upon the basic elementary truths of God’s Word. It is necessary for the Christian to progressively be hearing, learning, knowing and understanding the Word of God. The “mature” believer is the one who constantly uses this Word of God (“solid food”) to lead their lives, make decisions, motivate good behavior and produce good works. By using the Word of God over a long period of time to make decisions and to determine a correct world view the believer will find that they have “trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” The acquired technique of a mature believer is the ability to use the Word of God to “distinguish good from evil.”

The ESV translation captures the Greek words better than the NIV:

“Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”     - Hebrews 5:14 (ESV)

“Mature” is “teleion” meaning “perfect, mature” referring in this case to those who are able to assume adult responsibilities and are able to produce the fruits of righteousness.

“Their powers” is “hexin” means “habits” referring a developed and finished skill developed from experience and practice such as is used in a craft, sport or dance routine. This is the final product of hours, days, years of practice and drills. It is the result of past exercise that forms the body and its routine to perform this way. In this case it is the disposition of the character.

“Discernment” is “aistheteria” means “organ of perception, faculty” or the organs of the senses such as seeing, tasting, smelling and hearing. This refers to the faculty of perception.

“Trained” is “gegumnasmena” (“having been trained”) is perfect passive of “gumnazo” which means “to practice naked in the gym or during the games.” The concept is to exercise or train by exercise. It is an athletic term referring to training and practicing in the Greek gym. It began to take on the meaning that also included the training and exercising of the mind. Paul uses this word in First Timothy 4:7 in a warning to Timothy to avoid the false doctrines and distracting philosophies and to continue in the Word of God which will produce godliness:

“If you point these things (teaching of the Word of God) out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up (“nourished”) in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.”

The writer of Hebrews has already used this word in Hebrews 12:11: 

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”   
- Hebrews 12:11

But, Peter also uses it in reference to false teachers having exercised the hearts in covetousness:

“They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed.”                                     - Second Peter 2:14 (ESV)

“Distinguish” is “diakrisin” means “distinguishing, deciding, making a judgment between two things. The issue in focus in this book is to tell the Hebrew readers that they should have been able to discern that returning to temple worship instead of continuing to grow in Christ was a bad choice. The fact that they turned away from New Testament revelation to resume the practice of the Old Testament law indicated that they could not yet discern right from wrong and good from evil.

“Good” is “kalou” (kalos) means “good” in the sense that something is beautiful, valuable, virtuous in a useful way. It is something beautiful to see. It is something excellent that suits its purpose or mission. It is the word used by John the Baptist to define the “good” fruit produced on the “good” trees (Matthew 3:10); used by Jesus to also describe the “good” fruit and “good” tree (Matthew 12:33); Jesus called the ground “good” which produced the thirty, sixty and a hundred fold crop (Matthew 13:8); the “good” fish are separated from the bad fish at the judgment (Matthew 13:48); Paul said every creature of God is “good” and should be received with thanksgiving (First Timothy 4:4); Paul calls the minister of the word “good” and his doctrine “good” (First Timothy 4:6)

Evil” is “kakou” (kakos) means “worthless.” Just as the word “good” above indicated something that was useful for its purpose, this word means “worthless, useless” for its purpose. “Kakos” indicates the lack of something that should be found in a person or a thing. (Strongs Dict., p.1160) Because it is lacking the good that is needed for the person or thing to function correctly or appear as it should, the person or thing is now worthless, lacking and, so, dangerous and destructive. It is the concept of driving on bad tires. The tires are lacking in quality and so become dangerous. A similar situation occurs when using a dull chisel or dull saw blade. The dullness, or badness, makes the tool or blade dangerous, and thus evil. The bad tires, chisel or blade are all evil because they cannot produce the good and will do the opposite of good.

So, Hebrews 5:14 is saying something like this:
“Bible teaching is pursued, understood and believed only by the man who has proven he is already living responsibly with the Truth he knows. He has drilled himself to apply the Word to his daily techniques and reasoning, so with skillful separation he can discern between his own productive actions and attitudes and his behaviors, words and opinions that are worthless, empty and destructive.”

Galyn Wiemers
Generation Word

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