Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Question Concerning Homosexuality

Q: How should we be engaging and responding to the gay marriage debate, as Christians? I know what I believe as a Bible believing Christian, but how do we show that stance, in love? How do you think the civil recognition of gay marriage affects our spiritual definition and our culture. You must admit with the current divorce rate, in and out of the Church, the meaning of "marriage" is already watered down. Is this a battle the Church has already lost in our society? In my experience, I'm often quieted by words like "bigot", "narrow-minded" and "right wing kook", but I want to be bold in speaking and upholding the Truth, in a loving way, even when we are "losing the battle" on moral issues like this and abortion (to name a couple).

A: Another great question, and definitely a difficult one. The difficulty comes, not from difficult interpretive issues, but because the nature of the "debate" is so inflammatory. The name-calling that the Questioner refers to above as the "quieting" remarks made in the middle of conversation/argument are not uncommon.

Part of the issue (only part), is that this particular debate touches on issues of "identity" -- which is deeper than simply discussing conduct. Despite the common cliche that is touted by so many Christians -- "God loves the sinner, but hates the sin" -- often discussions of homosexuality blur this line because the individual identifies themselves with their particular sin. Never mind that this bumper sticker theology doesn't really fit with what the Bible teaches (see Psalm 5:4-5, especially the last half of verse 5, for example).

As a result, even if (and that's a big if!) the Christian is conducting themselves in perfect love and kindness, the person to whom you are discussing these matters, especially if they are themselves a homosexual, likely hear you calling them a name when you say that homosexuality is wrong/sinful! Therefore, name calling on their end is simply a response to what they hear from you ... even if you're not intentionally calling them names or being inflammatory.

If my identity is wrapped up in, at least in part, my sexual orientation and you say that this orientation is wrong, then you are saying I'm wrong ... and no one likes to be told they're wrong! Especially about something that is deeply ingrained in who they are. A possible analogy would be someone telling you that having blue eyes is sinful.

What's interesting (to me, anyway) is that this particular understanding of this particular sinful disposition creates responses of biblical proportion when the truth is spoken.

What I mean is this: when Jesus and the Apostles preached the gospel and told the world about sin, the world wanted to kill them for it. Now, often when the church (in America) preaches about sin ... no one cares. Why?

I think that the reason for this, at least in some part, is that we have separated Jesus' understanding -- which He taught to the disciples -- of the nature of human beings. We are evil. Every one of us. To our very core and the deepest part of our being.


This was Jesus' message... the perfect example of One who always spoke the truth in love.

In Jesus' sermon recorded in Matthew 5-7, He is speaking to a crowd and explaining the character of God and He contrasts this against the character of the people listening:

"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11, NASB)

God is good. Humans are evil.

Jesus addressed the Pharisees, who by their conduct and religious zeal were considered to be the holiest people on Earth at the time -- the name ("Pharisee") implies that they are set apart in holiness -- and Jesus told them they were evil.

"You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. (Matthew 12:34, NASB)

This would be like Jesus walking up to a Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and the Pope and telling them they are evil.

That's bold!

We must always remember that the world didn't love Jesus, they hated Him. A riotous mob called for the release of a known murderer so that they could brutally execute Jesus on a Roman cross! And Jesus explained why the world hated Him so much then (and by extension, when the world really understands His message still hates Him and His followers today):

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. (John 3:19, NASB)

The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. (John 7:7, NASB)

Here's an interesting thing that Jesus said to His disciples -- notice how He tells them to love each other and prepares them to be hated:

This I command you, that you love one another. If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. (John 15:17-18, NASB)


Many people who claim to follow Jesus and the teaching of the Scripture, and even more people in the world today, try and tell you that if people hate your message, then you must be doing something wrong. Jesus, however, said if you love one another and speak the truth -- God's truth -- the world will respond to your love for them by hating you. That's what they did to Jesus.

They crucified the Lord of life. They crucified the Prince of peace. They crucified love incarnate. Why would they like you?

Here's the thing: The whole world is evil ... not just homosexuals, but certainly including them. In writing about Jews and Greeks, Paul said something that would be just as true if we replaced these terms with "homosexual" and "heterosexual":


If the price of rebellion and sin is death and hell, then the only loving thing to do is to speak the truth. It is more loving to shout the truth than to keep silent under the guise of "tolerance" and "love them" directly into hell.

The truth is, homosexuality is a sin.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NASB)

Of course, homosexuality is not the only sexual sin on that list. Fornication and adultery are both listed as well. God is serious about sexual morality all throughout the Scriptures. Some people make a big deal about homosexuality being particularly heinous in the sight of God, and I believe this case is scripturally sound. My opinion of why God is so serious about this particular sin is as follows:

In fornication, humans are rejecting part of God's plan for sexual morality in that they are being irresponsible and merely gratifying the lusts of their flesh. In adultery, humans are rejecting part of God's plan for sexual morality in that they are being unfaithful and impure. In homosexuality, however, humans are rejecting God's plan for sexual morality entirely (see Romans 1:24-27) -- as they are making reproduction an impossibility and are denying the essence of why "God made them male and female."

This is a good lead-in to the second question listed above: which is how do I think the civil recognition of gay marriage affects our spiritual definition and our culture. I am not all that interested in making an economic or political argument against changing the definition of marriage, especially since that is not my area of expertise. Instead, I encourage anyone who is interested to simply read through Romans 1:18-32 to see why I, as a Christian, believe this is so dangerous. I don't want to live as an individual or as a nation under the wrath of God. Therefore, I don't want to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18) or approve of those who practice godlessness (Romans 1:32).

The Questioner is absolutely right about the sad state of marriage in America. Re-defining marriage, of course, is not the answer.

The reality is that homosexuals are not the only ones who struggle with "the lusts of their flesh." Heterosexuals also struggle, which is why God's word declares that He hates divorce, that He hates adultery, and that He hates fornication, too. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals struggle with physical attractions to people they should not engage in relationships with -- physically and emotionally.

We all struggle against the lusts of the flesh. We all need a Savior every moment, because only Jesus can set us free!

A brief article claiming to be from a sister in Christ who struggles with homosexuality can be found here and is worth reading in its entirety. The author of that particular note hits the nail on the head when she says (underline added for emphasis):

To those of you who would change the church to accept the gay community and its lifestyle: you give us no hope at all. To those of us who know God’s word and will not dilute it to fit our desires, we ask you to read John’s letter to the church in Pergamum. “I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore!” You are willing to compromise the word of God to be politically correct. We are not deceived. If we accept your willingness to compromise, then we must also compromise. We must therefore accept your lying, your adultery, your lust, your idolatry, your addictions, YOUR sins. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

We do not ask for your acceptance of our sins any more than we accept yours.

This sister in Christ understands that her particular lusts and inclinations are wicked and evil ... but she also understands that everyone else's are too.

Yours are. Mine are.

We can't start re-defining "sin" to make ourselves comfortable. That's idolatry.

What we need to do, is repent. All of us.

And we need to keep speaking the truth in love, even though the world will continue to hate us for it, because our love motivates us to tell them that without repentance and faith in Christ, no one will enter the kingdom of heaven.

If you saw someone eating poison, would you tell them?

What if it looked like they were really enjoying it? Would that make a difference to you?

Would it matter to you if they got mad at you? If they said, "This is who I am!"?

I'm hoping that you wouldn't be dissuaded. The love of Christ compels us to testify to the truth, and the truth is that homosexuality is sin and that you cannot be a practicing homosexual and a follower of Jesus Christ (e.g. Romans 6:1-2; 1 Peter 2:24-25; Hebrews 10:26-27, 12:16-17, 25-29; and 1 John 1:6, 3:7-10).

We need Jesus to set us free from the various lusts and impulses of our flesh. All of us.

For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:22-25, NASB)

To be as clear as possible, my best advice is to continue speaking the truth, but do so as one who recognizes that you, too, are exceedingly wicked and in need of the transformative grace of God. We who know Jesus do not proclaim a message of superiority, but of gratitude that we have found mercy and redemption at the expense of another: Jesus.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, NASB)

We want them to be saved in the same way we have been saved ... not by the righteous things we have done, but by the righteous act of the living God who wants none to perish, but all to come to repentance (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9).

The Apostle Paul's advice to Titus is directly applicable to us in this situation:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. (Titus 3:1-8, NASB)

Monday, March 18, 2013

More Info... Please!


"Hi, I have come across this passage again and it confuses me.

1 John 5:16-17 - "If you see a Christian brother or sister sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it. All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death." (NLT)

Particularly the last part...I thought ALL sin led to death. (Romans 6:16 is an OK verse talking about it.)


This is a really interesting and difficult question to answer because it involves one of the more "difficult" passages to translate and also because John just didn't give us all the information we would need some 2,000 years later to understand exactly what he was talking about. I've wrestled with this for a few weeks now and haven't gained much ground! I don't believe there is any "hidden" or "secret" truth to be revealed or dug out... which is good, because that's why John wrote the letter in the first place... to silence people in the early church who said there was "secret knowledge" beyond what Jesus and the Apostles had taught (a false and heretical teaching called "gnosis" or "gnosticism").

Lets start with some known assumptions (Yes, i realize that is something of an oxymoron, but hang in there with me):

1 - You are correct in believing that all sin that is not covered by the blood of Christ leads to death... both physical and spiritual. These concepts were covered pretty extensively in several other blog answers here so a search using the words "sin" and "death" should bring up plenty of answers. Check out "God, Evil, and Satan", "The Origin of Diseases", and the excellent "What is Salvation" series for a start.

2 - You are also correct that Romans 6:16 is an "OK" verse that talks about it... "Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?" (NASB, underline added for emphasis)

You can also check out:
  • Genesis 2:17
  • Romans 5:12
  • Romans 6:23
  • James 1:15
These should all help support the truth that (unforgiven)sin = death.

3 - There is information left out of this letter that John would assume the original readers would have known; information that we aren't "privy" to.

John knew what he was talking about... the original recipients would have known... but we who are thousands of years removed are somewhat left in the dark. I believe there is a reason for this... let me explain by giving another example:

After establishing a church in Thessalonica, Paul had been forced to leave before their "education" was complete. When he sent Timothy back to check up on them there were some things they needed more teaching on. One specific thing that had risen up was a fear that perhaps they had missed the "Second Coming" of Christ. They were also concerned about what might happen to those who had died or who would die before Jesus returned. Paul wrote two letters to the Thessalonians to help further explain the theology of "end times"... among other teachings and encouragements.

In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul is refuting some false information they had received concerning the "Day of the Lord" and trying to re-assure them that it hadn't happened yet. He introduces them to the "apostasy" and the "man of lawlessness and says something very interesting...

2 Thessalonians 2:5-7 - "Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way."

Umm... No Paul, we don't remember, because we weren't there!

The Holy Spirit didn't inspire Paul to include the information about what he had previously taught them when he was there. Because we don't know what he previously taught, we can't know for certain what or who "restrains" the lawless one now. This has caused much speculation, controversy and even division in the church in later centuries... and still does today.

Churches, denominations, and even friends and families have split up over who is "right" in their assumption of who or what "now restrains" the Man of Lawlessness, or Antichrist. Lines have been drawn and minds have been closed... over what?

Why didn't the Holy Spirit or Paul include the identity of the restrainer? Because that's not what that passage is about! The purpose of what Paul wrote was to "reassure"... Jesus is coming back... He hasn't come back yet (you didn't miss it)... and before He does, here are some things that will happen. If they haven't happened yet... and they haven't... you didn't miss the "rapture" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

I think that the above is an example of what is happening here in 1 John 5:16-17.

So, what was John trying to say? Was he suggesting that there are different levels or classifications of sin? That some are "deadly" and some are just "boo boo's"? No way!

John was writing this letter for a specific reason, at a specific time, and to specific people who were being led astray by false teachers and false teachings. These false teachers (primarily Gnostic's) were trying to teach that there was "special" or "secret" knowledge (the Greek word for knowledge is "gnosis" which literally means "to know") that was known only to them and was very contrary to the truth of Scripture, especially the Gospel of Jesus. (You should take some time to research some of the Gnostic heresies that threatened the early church because they are still around under different names, like Universalism or New Age.)

Some of their "special knowledge" taught things like:
  • God is distant and not involved in human creation.
  • Because the material universe is corrupt (evil) it could not have been created by a good God.
  • Jesus could not have been "human" since flesh and blood is created and is therefore evil... so they didn't believe in the "incarnation" of the Christ. (The reason John starts the letter the way he does, speaking of Jesus as someone who he has "heard" and "seen" and "touched" with his ears, eyes, and hands is to refute this right from the start.)
  • Salvation comes through "special" knowledge, not through Christ.
Gnosticism is, of course, much more complicated than this, but you should get the point by now... these were very dangerous false teachings. That's why John wrote "purpose statements" in his letter like:
  • 1:3 - "...what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
  • 1:4 - "These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete."
  • 2:1 - "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;"
  • 2:26 - "These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you."
  • 5:13 - "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life."
So... what was John saying about sin? I'm not sure that I can give you a definitive answer, because I'm not sure that it is the "sin" that is the focus of 1 John 5:16-17.

While the NLT is a decent English version and one of the most modern, it tends to be directed toward readability and helping modern readers catch the "concept" of what is being said, rather than trying to be a direct "word for word" translation. It is not technically a "translation" at all, but is a "paraphrase" -- probably the best paraphrase available (at least, in Pastor Joe's opinion!), but still it is a paraphrase and not a translation.

The NASB is, in my opinion, one of the better attempts at a word for word, English translation... here is what it says:

"If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death." (1 John 5:16-17)

Notice that there are two words that are italicized: "leading" and "God." These are not found in the original Greek manuscripts, but were placed there by the translators because they believed that they were "implied" by the content and context of the scripture.

What is John actually saying? First, this passage is about your actions... not the one who is sinning!

He is saying that if a believer (Christian) -- remember that he is speaking to believers -- sees another believer committing a sin (one that doesn't "lead to death") he is to pray to God (intercede) on behalf of the sinning brother and God will "give life" to the sinning brother.

Still confused? ... Yep!

Here is what I think is happening...

1 John 5:11 is important to this. That's why its important to take the whole context into consideration. It says that "God has given us eternal life" and that that life is in Jesus. Because of Jesus (not us!) we (believers) have been set free from the curse of spiritual death associated with sin.
  • Romans 8:2 - "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death."
  • Colossians 2:13-14 - "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."
1 John 5:12 reaffirms that "he who has the Son (Jesus) has life (eternal)" ... so I am not sure at all that the "death" that John mentions in 16-17 is referring to "spiritual death." I honestly believe that John could simply mean "physical death" since he is speaking about a believer who is sinning (perhaps un-aware, or blinded by deception, otherwise they would be convicted and repent... unless they are being openly disobedient, which could lead to apostasy if they don't repent).

He points out that all unrighteousness is sin... but not all sin leads to immediate physical death (1 John 5:17).

John's purpose as stated in 1 John 5:13 is so that believers can know they have eternal life... which also leads me to think that it isn't spiritual death he is speaking of.

He then gives us two verses (14-15) that encourage us to pray... "according to His (God's) will." Is it God's will that if we see a brother or sister in Christ sinning, that we intercede for them? Is that not an act of Christ-like love? Is it God's will that believers who are sinning repent? I would have to say yes, yes, and yes!

After 1 John 5:16-17, in verse 18 he once again tells us that no true believer (born again, alive in Christ) continues in or practices sin (1 John 3:9) but Jesus "keeps" them. I believe He does this by convicting us of our guilt and need for repentance through the indwelling of His Spirit.

I think that is what the point is here... if we see another Christian sinning, and they don't immediately die as a result of it, we should love them enough to pray that God will convict them to repentance. And, if we do, God hears us because it's according to His will.

Of course... this idea hinges on the presupposition that some sins can cause immediate physical death and some don't... which makes sense to me. If my sin causes me to have a heart attack, or fatal accident, then it's too late for you to intercede for me!

It did to Paul as well... as he rebuked the church in Corinth for allowing divisions and factions to exist and for not taking the Lord's supper in the proper "manner" that reflected Christ's love for us! They were neglecting the poor, getting drunk, and generally being unworthy and unloving!

1 Corinthians 11:29-32 - "For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world."

Some had become ill because of their continued sin... and others had physically died (that's what "a number sleep" means)!

I think John was saying that we need to pray for other believers who are sinning, but making sure that he stressed that we should not pray for the dead, since they are beyond our intercession.

I'm not sure why John doesn't tell the recipients of 1 John to "tell" the brother who is sinning (continuing to sin) to stop as well as intercede in prayer for them... except that it comes on the heel of his teaching of why we can pray with confidence that God hears us if we ask according to His will... and it is His will that believers who are sinning... STOP! (1 Corinthians 15:34). And, it is possible that since this letter was written to refute the Gnostics, who adamantly denied the truth of scripture and refused to "repent" from their immorality... there were many "believers" who were too stubborn to take loving rebuke from another believer and repent... so prayer for God to "intercede" was needed.

After all, it is God who is the source or "giver" of "life" regardless of who is doing the praying! (1 John 5:11)

Bottom Line:

I just don't have enough information from the text to tell you "this is exactly what it means" or "this is exactly what John meant"... but here is what I believe the "main idea" or "takeaway" from 1 John 5:16-17 is:

If you see a fellow Christian sinning, the love of Christ in you should compel you to intercede in prayer for God to cause them to repent by whatever means necessary. Since it is God's will that we "do not sin," and that no one who is "born of God sins" (continues in sin) you can be assured that you are praying according to His will, and He will hear and act.

Whew... let me know what you think! And pray for me... I'm always open to learn!

P. Scott

P.S. I'm thrilled that you continue to read and study your Bible... and to keep seeking even when you come across the passages that "confuse" you... again! Just keep on seeking... and you will find! I'm sure I read that somewhere!

* Addition: Be sure to read P. Joe's comment on this post. He gives an excellent example of John as a first-hand witness to the truth he exposes here. Thanks P. Joe!

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Note on Translations

Q: I was studying in Philippians 1 when I came to verse 6. In the NASB version the verse reads, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." In both the NIV and the KJV, the word "He" is not capitalized.

Why is it different? Are the NIV and KJV indicating that God is not the "He" that began a good work?

A: This is a really great question and actually touches on a very important aspect of Bible study that is often neglected. I say that up front, because you may be disappointed with how simple of an answer this really is!

At the outset, I must say how thrilled I am to hear that a part of your "studying" method is to compare your passage in different translations! This is a really excellent practice that is very helpful, because -- as you've noted -- the translations often read slightly differently. In this particular case, you'll see that the difference isn't substantive, but in other cases this practice of comparing translations will really bear good fruit in your study... so keep up the good work!

Why is comparing translations such a helpful practice?

We must understand that the original documents were written in three different languages: the Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew, with some portions in Aramaic, and the New Testament documents were written in Greek. If you've ever studied languages in even the briefest fashion, you know that languages do not have an exact "one-to-one" correspondence. That means, that there is not an exact word in English to match every word in Greek and that covers the same range of possible meanings.

Part of the beauty and genius of language is that it is flexible.

In some cases, translation from one language to another is extremely straight forward and simple. However, language contains many possibilities for "word plays" and intentional ambiguities, which are easily "lost in translation." This is why it is incredibly difficult to translate a joke from one language to another. Very often, jokes play on contextual meanings beyond what is simply on the surface, or they play off of various word plays or ambiguities.

Here's an example in my son's favorite joke:

"Knock Knock"
Who's there?
Boo who?
"Oh, don't cry! It's just a joke!"

You see how that plays off of your understanding and fluency in the English language? To translate that into other languages may be much more complicated, or the "punch" may simply be lost in translation.

Since the Bible contains such a diverse range of writing styles and genres, we really do see everything from riddles and poetry to historical narrative to fictional stories being told to illustrate poignant truths (i.e. "parables").

When comparing translations, you may find that the translator(s) tried their best to bring out some of the original nuance, but their focus on one aspect necessitates their neglect of other "translational" possibilities. Comparing different versions will help you to identify these areas.

A quick example, compare John 3 in the following versions:

KJV Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

NAB Jesus answered and said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."

NASB Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."

NET Jesus replied, "I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

You'll notice that these translations read very similarly, but there is some disagreement between whether or not Jesus said "born again" or "born from above." So which is it?

In this case, the original Greek contains a word that is ambiguous and contains both as a possibility, even though the difference in the English words ("again" and "above") are not very similar in meaning at all! Comparing translations will help alert you to possible ambiguities in the text so that you can study them more closely.

A second category of differences are not in the words used, but in the grammatical decisions. This is the category that the Questioner's question falls into.

Something that most Christians that I know have never done is read the Translation Note in the front of their Bible which explains the philosophy of the Translator(s) and also explains some of the translational conventions that they use throughout.

Understanding these different conventions will be helpful for both understanding your primary translation better (whether you read KJV, NIV, NASB, or whatever) and will also enhance your ability to compare translations while studying.

In the above question, the differences arise between the grammatical convention of capitalizing pronouns (He, Him) when they refer to God in the NASB and not capitalizing pronouns (He, Him) when they refer to God in the KJV and NIV. This decision is consistent throughout the translation, so consistently the NASB will capitalize these pronouns every time they are referring to God, but the KJV and NIV never capitalize these pronouns, even when they refer to God, unless of course other grammatical rules would necessitate capitalization (e.g. the first word in a sentence).

This grammatical convention of capitalizing He/Him when referring to God is customary for some, but is not necessitated by grammatical rules. It is a stylistic question, not a substantive one.

Therefore, to answer the above question directly: the lack of capitalization is not making any commentary on the NIV or KJV thinking this does not refer to God. The difference is merely in style.

There is another translational convention that is used in the above example which many people may not notice, so I want to briefly point it out.

Did you notice that the first three words ("For I am...") were italicized? Often in writing, italics are used for emphasis... but that is not what the NASB translators are trying to communicate. Instead of emphasizing these words, they are making it explicit that these three words do not appear in the original Greek, but are simply being supplied for context. This helps explain why this part of the passage reads differently than in the KJV and NIV as well, because the translators of the NASB want you to know they think these words are rightly supplied because they are implied in the original, but they also want you to be aware that they are adding something that is their opinion.

A final type of decision in this last category includes the decision of translators to end and begin new sentences in English as a result of the Greek tendency to include many "run on" sentences that are uncommon to our modern English sensibilities. The writings of the Apostle Paul are a good example, because there are some cases where a single sentence spans nearly an entire chapter! Translators feel compelled to break this up, and comparing translations will expose that these decisions are not uniform. To gain a better understanding of Paul's intent (or any other author in Scripture), it is always a good idea to study these passages by reading them in several different translations -- especially across different translational philosophies.

"Translational philosophies" range from as "literal"/"word for word" as possible (sometimes referred to as "formal equivalents"), to "idea for idea" translations (sometimes referred to as "dynamic equivalents"), to "paraphrases" which are not really "translations" at all, but actually closer to an interpretive commentary. Paraphrases (e.g. The Message, NLT) should never be your primary Bible, but have an appropriate place being read alongside and with genuine translations during your study process.

I hope that this brings clarity, and doesn't muddy the waters for you...

To recap, the difference you noted does not imply that the KJV and NIV are saying that it's not God who does the work. All of these translations indicate the same understanding that God is the one at work and who will complete the work He has begun.

As an action step, I encourage all who desire to understand their Bible as well as possible, to take a few minutes to turn to the front of your Bible and read the Translational Note to see what the philosophy of the translator(s) really is, and what conventions they employ to communicate the translational decisions they have made.

May the Lord bless you as you continue to seek Him and follow Jesus in this life!

***NOTE: This post was updated on 4/11/2013***

Friday, March 8, 2013

Am I Really A Christian?

Q: How can I truly know that I am a Christian?

Paul says to test yourself and see if you are in the faith … what is the “test” and how can I know if I’ve passed it?

A: What an incredibly important and sober question!

I know that I am often shaken by the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'" (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB)

I'm not kidding when I say that this passage chills me to the bone. What a terrifying declaration from the lips of our Lord and Savior! The scariest part to me is the word "many" which means that the number of people who profess to follow Jesus, even calling him, "Lord, Lord" is large!

If we keep this passage in its immediate context, a couple of things emerge that we should immediately note. First, Jesus tells them to depart and judges them as those "who practice lawlessness" (quoting from Psalm 6:8). Jesus dubs their deeds as wicked, while they were appealing to their deeds as if they were righteous. Even though they are living a "Christian flavored life" they have failed to "do the will of [the] Father."

In the surrounding context (read Matthew 7:17-27 at least) we see Jesus identifying a principle that is picked up elsewhere: you can identify a tree by its fruit. The appeal to "good deeds" separated from a relationship with Jesus ("I never knew you") is an attempt to hang dead fruit on a rotten tree. This does not fool Jesus.

So what does this have to do with the question that was asked?

It should become immediately apparent that "the test" that most people use to determine whether or not someone is a follower of Jesus -- a "Christian" -- is not what Jesus is pointing to!

Most people would think that being born in America makes you a "Christian" by default. But this isn't true. Being raised in a Christian home, regular and/or sporadic church attendance, membership in a Christian organization, facebook statuses, survey answers, or any other form of self-labeling does not make someone a Christian.

This may sound strange, but it's true.

Consider the tree example again for a moment. Let's say that an orange tree has a sign hanging on it that says, "This is an apple tree."

Do you believe the sign?

Or do you believe the fruit?

In the same way, Jesus is pointing to something very important about the reality of what it means to follow Him -- it's not based on our own labels, it is based on a genuinely changed nature. We must be changed from those who are dead in our trespasses and sins, into those who are alive in Christ. (For more information of this, please read our What is Salvation? series).

The ones to whom Jesus is telling to depart in Matthew 7 are like orange trees who are pointing to a few apples that they've picked up and hung on their branches and trying to convince Jesus that they are something they are not. In fact, they have wrongly believed that they are actually apple trees as a result of their fruit collecting efforts.

Many people are deceived into thinking they are Christians because they wear a cross necklace or attend church on a regular basis (hey... even Christmas and Easter is "regular"!). I often tell people that sitting in a church building doesn't make them a follower of Christ any more than sitting in a tree makes them a banana!

This is the poverty of a "works based mentality" or a "religious spirit" that seeks to change the internal nature and reality of who we are by dressing up the outside, or that simply thinks we need to have our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds because "good people" go to heaven. This just isn't true -- and even if it were, there are no good people (e.g. Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21; Mark 10:18; Romans 3:10-18)!

All of this might seem a bit confusing, especially since we're supposed to look at "fruit" (which is on the outside), but now here I am saying that what we normally think of as "fruit" (i.e. "Christian"-flavored activities) doesn't actually qualify. Before you dismiss this as simply my opinion, go back and read what Jesus said in Matthew 7 again.

They appealed to their "Christian"-flavored deeds (bigger stuff than most self-labeled Christians I know are doing!), and Jesus declares that their deeds are lawless and wicked. The poverty of "religion" without genuine "relationship" is constantly pointed to in the Scriptures. Read through Isaiah 1:11-20 if you aren't familiar with it, and see how God is fed up with their half-hearted obedience to His commands!

So, if we shouldn't look at church attendance or ministry service as good indicators, then what does the Bible tell us we should examine? What is a valid test?

The questioner points to Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 13:

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-- unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6, NASB)

Many in the church today tell you to never question your faith. They are simply wrong mistaken.The Bible teaches us the exact opposite.

But what is the test?

Look carefully at what Paul says: "Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-- unless indeed you fail the test?"

The test to see if you are in the faith is fairly simple and straightforward: Is Jesus Christ in you?

If yes, good news! You pass!

If not, according to the Bible, you fail the test.

It's better to know you fail now while you can still do something about it, then to think you're following Jesus and find out you're one of the many on Judgment Day who are commanded to depart.

Of course, this raises another question... what does it mean to have "Jesus Christ in you"? Is this the same as "inviting Jesus into your heart" at a prayer meeting or at VBS when you were a kid?

Not likely. Certainly some will tell you this is exactly what it means, but Paul's encouragement is to take the test now, to examine if Christ is in you... he doesn't ask you to remember if there was a time in the past when you raised your hand with every eye closed and every head bowed. Paul is much less interested in the past than he is in the present.

If your decision to follow Christ back then was genuine, then you should still pass the test today. If your decision back then was a result of something less than a genuine conversion experience, then you will fail the test today.

The recipients of this letter to the Christians in Corinth had an advantage that we are missing today -- they first believed in Jesus as a result of Paul's preaching (Acts 18:1-10; 1 Corinthians 1:14-16; 1 Corinthians 15:1) and he stayed and taught them the Word of God for a year and a half before moving on (Acts 18:11) with his missionary efforts.

In this time, Paul discussed with them the true, historical Jesus. Today, views of Jesus range from silly to just plain bizarre.

The reality of myriad different perspectives on who Jesus is does not change the reality, any more than people thinking different things about you makes you different than you really are! Jesus is a real person and the Bible reveals who He is. Paul would have covered this in his time with the Corinthian believers, so his test to them is qualified by this understanding -- is the real, living Jesus actually in you?

This is not an emotional or intellectual question. This isn't asking about how you feel or whether you consider yourself to be "a spiritual person." This isn't a question about how close you perceive your relationship to be with God or an inquiry into how often you pray. This isn't a question about whether or not you've ever felt tingly listening to Christian music. This isn't a question about your understanding of what the Bible teaches or your comprehension of deep spiritual truths.

The question is: is Jesus in you?

Be aware that "I don't know" is a scary answer.

While we don't have the privilege of knowing exactly what Paul taught in Corinth for that year and a half, we do have the completed Bible which gives us further insight into how we can know exactly what this question is asking us and how we can know for sure.

In fact, this is exactly what the Apostle John writes in his first epistle:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13, NASB)

Christianity is not supposed to be a guessing game! If you are headed to heaven after this life is over, you should know for sure because the evidence should be abundant in this life!

It's important to notice that John writes "I have written these things..." in the last chapter of his epistle, meaning you'll need to go back and read what came before to see what things he's talking about! Here's a brief survey of the things, but you should probably take the time to read the entire epistle yourself since it's kind of important:
  • 1 John 1:5-7 – Walking in the light
  • 1 John 1:8-10 – Confession of sin
  • 1 John 2:3-6 – Obedience
  • 1 John 2:9-11 – Love for Christians
  • 1 John 2:15-17 – Hatred for the things of the world
  • 1 John 2:24-25 – Perseverance in right doctrine
  • 1 John 3:10 – Righteousness
  • 1 John 4:13 – The Spirit’s testimony
As much as we often want to shy away from checklists (and rightly so when they are used to earn salvation!), these things are written as a sort of self-inventory checklist to examine if we actually are what we say/think we are; namely, Children of God.

Are you walking in the light? Do you continue to confess your sin? Are you living a life of obedience to God? Do you have love for fellow Christians? Do you hate the things of this world? Are you persevering in right doctrine? Is righteousness evident and abundant in your life? Does the Spirit testify internally that you are a child of God?

For the genuine Christian, the answer to all of the above should be an unqualified, "Yes." If so, then you can know that you have eternal life (according to John).

Here's some more teaching on what it means to be a child of God from Paul:

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Romans 8:14, NASB)

Once again, it is important to ask, what does that really mean? Is this some subjective statement that we can answer confidently with, "I feel like I'm being led by the Spirit of God, so therefore I must be?"

Well... no.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1, NASB)

There's that scary word again: "many."

Many people "feel led" to do things contrary to the Word of God and sound teaching. I cannot and would never deny this. We're all "led" in some way or another.

Remember what Paul was saying in Romans 8? He tells us the exact same thing leading up to verse 14:

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh--for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:9-13, NASB)

Notice how Paul is telling us there are competing forces at work -- both want to lead us somewhere. Notice also how Paul is using the same language he was using with the Corinthians: the Spirit of Christ/God in you is the most important thing!

How does Paul teach elsewhere that we can identify "The Spirit of God" is in us?

He tells us to check the fruit.

Galatians 5:22-24 further explains and describes the same truths discussed above, but adds a very clear-cut description of the "fruit of the Spirit":

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB)

An incredibly important thing to notice is that the "fruit" is singular, although it has many facets and aspects to it. These qualities are not the "fruits" of the Spirit, as if the "Christian" tree produces many different fruits (apples, oranges, bananas, pears, etc.).

This is not what the Bible is teaching. Instead, the Bible tells us the "fruit" we should see if you are truly a Christian is the singular fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If any of these aspects are missing (i.e. you demonstrate all of them, yet lack self-control), then this is counterfeit fruit.

Many people may object to this, saying simply: "That's too hard! I can't do that!"

Which is exactly the point.

You can't do that.

The Spirit, however, can.

Which gets us back to the test: Is Jesus Christ in you?

If the answer is Yes, then you should see genuine fruit that is impossible for you to produce -- which serves as proof positive that Christ is, in fact, in you.

The "Spirit-filled" life will produce genuine fruit of the Spirit.

Don't believe the label. Don't believe the "signs." Believe the fruit.

For many, they view this as "heavy." But it's not intended to be that way. It's intended to be freeing!

If I know for sure that I am a follower of Jesus, because I see the fruit of the Spirit in my life, and because I've passed the test because I know Jesus is in me... that takes a huge weight off my shoulders! Now, I'm not worried about me at all!

Others hear this kind of teaching and immediately retort: "So, you think Christians can never sin anymore? You must be perfect then! *end sarcasm font*"

But the answer to that is, no. John was realistic (isn't that cool?):

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. (1 John 2:1-3, NASB)

Christianity is about walking in the freedom of our salvation (e.g. John 8:36 and Galatians 5:1). This freedom allows us to live more and more for the glory of God. The problem is, we are easily deceived and distracted.

When we stumble, the Lord disciplines those who are His own; which is another "test" -- see Hebrews 12:1-13; those who live in willful disobedience to God's word without "feeling convicted" are at the very least under the passive wrath of God described in Romans 1:18-32, and at the worst are illegitimate children according to Hebrews 12:8 and not part of the family of God. If you are not feeling convicted about something the Bible clearly teaches is wrong, this is a terrible indicator of your spiritual well-being and is "rotten fruit"!

If we've passed the test, we can then recognize the discipline of the Lord as an act of God's kindness, which leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), and we can resist the devil's lies by claiming with full certainty the truth of Romans 8:1 -- Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (NASB)

The promise is for those who are truly in Christ, and those who are truly in Christ will pass the test!

So... what about you? Is Jesus Christ in you?

If not, pay careful attention to the first sermon ever preached in the history of the church:

Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:38-41, NASB)