SECOND TREE

THE BIBLE AND CHRISTIANITY EXPLAINED



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TESTING CHRISTIANITY


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JEWS AND GREEKS

During his ministry, the apostle Paul frequently interacted with two groups of people, who he referred to as 'Jews' and 'Greeks'. Many of the Jewish people were moralists, who were proud of their Jewish heritage and of the Law (the 10 commandments) that their leader, Moses, had given to the world. In their minds the Christian message, that men are justified through faith in God rather than through a knowledge of the Law, represented a moral 'stumblingblock' that led people astray, and contradicted God.

The cultural tradition of Greece emphasized mankind's capacity to reason; to use our minds to discover 'practical' truths. While the Greeks were religious, their ultimate heroes were men who were able to achieve progress in the sciences; in astronomy, geology, medicine, mathematics, engineering and political science (government).

In short, what characterized both of these two groups was their confidence in knowledge. The Jews placed confidence in moral knowledge, and the Greeks placed confidence in general, intellectual knowledge. Paul described these two groups of people, and their responses to the Christian message:

But we preach Christ crucified; unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness. But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 1:23-25

TWO GOOD QUESTIONS

As I have explained in my Faith and Judgment web pages, the Christian message is built upon two claims:

    1) That God gave mankind one Law to live by: 'You shall not learn the difference between right and wrong' (Genesis 2:16-17). The message in this commandment was clear; that righteousness is a matter of believing God (faith), and that righteousness cannot be achieved through a knowledge of right and wrong.

    2) That when Adam (the father of the human race) disobeyed God's commandment in the Garden of Eden, each and every member of the human race was present within him, simultaneously committing the same act of sin that Adam was committing.

In response to these two claims, the 'Jews and Greeks' of Paul's day (and in our own day as well) might have responded with two questions.

The apostle Paul provided God's answer to these questions in his letter to Rome. In the process of answering the question 'Why did God give us His Law', Paul answered the question of both the Jews and the Greeks. God gave His Law to the world for two reasons: to show us both the PENALTY and the POWER of sin.

ANSWER #1:
GOD GAVE US HIS LAW AS A MORAL STANDARD; A DEFINITION OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT IS EXPECTED OF US. WITH THIS CLARIFICATION OF RIGHT AND WRONG COMES THE UNDERSTANDING THAT BREAKING THE LAW REPRESENTS WICKEDNESS DESERVING OF DEATH.

ANSWER #2:
GOD GAVE US HIS LAW SO WE WOULD DISCOVER THE SPIRIT OF SIN WITHIN US, AND THAT ENSLAVES EACH OF US. WITH THIS DISCOVERY OF SIN WE COME TO REALIZE TWO THINGS: 1) WE TRULY DID SIN IN EDEN, AND 2) THAT WE ARE POWERLESS TO ACHIEVE RIGHTEOUSNESS THROUGH A KNOWLEDGE OF RIGHT AND WRONG.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 'sin' AND 'Sin'

In order to understand this twofold purpose of God's Law, we must first understand the two meanings of the word 'sin' in the Bible. The first meaning of 'sin' refers to sinful actions and thoughts (or sometimes a failure to do what we know is right). This use of the word 'sin' refers to our behavior, and the punishment that one might deserve for that behavior. In this website acts of 'sin' are spelled with a small 's'. The first purpose of God's Law is to show us that we have committed acts of sin. And so rather than being a means of achieving righteousness, the Law can only condemn us.

But there is another kind of sin that the Bible refers to; the spirit of 'Sin'. It is a living, thinking spiritual Being that plays the same role on the side of evil, that the Holy Spirit plays on the side of righteousness. In this website this spirit of 'Sin' is spelled with a capital 'S'.

In order to understand Sin's role in our world, it is necessary to understand what God's original intention was in the Garden of Eden. God's plan was that, as Adam and Eve believed Him and obeyed His primary commandment not to learn right from wrong, God Himself would enter their bodies through the Holy Spirit and share His own righteousness with them. As long as they continued in the primary righteousness of believing God, Adam and Eve would experience a secondary righteousness. They would know, in a very powerful and practical way, what it it is like to be God.

The problem is that when Adam and Eve (and the rest of us) disobeyed God, instead of being indwelt by the Spirit of God, we became indwelt by a Spirit that works together with Satan in opposition to God; the Spirit of Sin. We became the property or 'slaves' of Sin, and entered into moral bondage. The second purpose of God's Law is to reveal this bondage to us; to expose the spirit of Sin within us, and to let us discover that when we most yearn to do what is right, it is then that the spirit of Sin will overpower us and cause us to do the very thing that we hate.

THE FIRST PURPOSE OF THE LAW: TO SHOW US OUR ACTS OF sin

In the first three chapters of his letter to the Christians in Rome (a letter that some refer to as the 'Constitution of the Christian Faith'), Paul explains that God gave His Law to the world to show us that we stand condemned for our sinful actions:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.

Romans 1:18

Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whosoever you are that judge. For wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you that judge do the same things.

Romans 2:1

What then, are we better than they? No, in no way. For we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin. As it is written "There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way. They are together become unprofitable. There is none that does good; no, not one.

Romans 3:9-12

Then Paul explains the reason why God gave the 10 Commandments to the world:

Now (therefore) we know that what things soever the Law says, it says to them who are under the Law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.

Romans 3:19-20

Paul said that God did not give His Law to the world to help men achieve righteousness, but rather to show them that we have failed to achieve righteousness; that we are sinners condemned by the Law.

In all of his writings Paul is consistent in his claim that righteousness starts with believing God (faith), and cannot be achieved through a knowledge of right and wrong. His message is that those who try to achieve righteousness through a knowledge of right and wrong are fundamentally disobedient to God; that their use of the Law is unlawful! Paul makes this point in his first letter to Timothy:

But we know that the Law is good, if a man use it lawfully. Knowing this, that the Law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient; for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers (kidnappers), for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.

1 Timothy 1:8-10

THE SECOND PURPOSE OF THE LAW: TO SHOW US THE SPIRIT OF Sin

After writing (in Romans 5:12) that every member of the human race sinned with Adam in Eden, the apostle Paul went on to make an amazing statement about why God gave the 10 commandments to the world:

Moreover the Law entered, that the offense might abound.

Romans 5:20

Paul was saying that God gave the 10 commandments to the world so that our sin in Eden would have a greater impact on our lives. In fact, Paul was saying that God gave His Law to mankind so that we would sin more! This is an startling thought! What was Paul talking about?

First, we must recognize that people are made up of 3 things:

    1) Our Body
    2) Our Soul
    3) A Spirit
Human Silouette

As I have explained in my web page about Faith (in the section titled 'God's Plan'), God's original plan was that when each of us made the righteous choice to trust Him, He would enter our bodies through the Holy Spirit and share His own righteousness with us. The Holy Spirit would be a mark, or seal of ownership, indicating that we had given ourselves to God. And we would actually discover how it feels to be like God; to love as He loves.

But when God created mankind, there was a moral battle going on for control of the universe, and we had a choice to make. We could give ourselves to God, and receive His Spirit, or we could join God's enemies, and receive a spirit that the Bible calls 'Sin'. We would become the property, or slaves, of whichever side we chose. This idea was taught by Jesus and the Apostle Paul:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever commits sin is the slave of Sin.

John 8:34-35

Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his slaves you are to whom you obey; whether of Sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

Romans 6:16

LIKE GASOLINE ON A FIRE

God's message is simple; because each of us sinned in Eden, we are born with a spirit called 'Sin' in our bodies. Sin owns our bodies. We are born in slavery. As we begin to live our lives, we are not conscious of this evil spirit within us. God wants us to discover Sin within ourselves, so that we will see our dangerous condition, and turn to His Son, Jesus Christ, for deliverance.

Sin loves to break God's Law. Giving the Law to a person who has not been 'born again' is like pouring gasoline on a fire. As that person thinks about the Law, and attempts to put that knowledge into practice, Sin roars to life at the opportunity to break the Law more deliberately. Though such a person may agree that the Law is good, and may want to obey it, Sin deceives and overpowers the person, causing him to do the very things that he hates. The apostle Paul spoke of how Sin uses the Law in 1 Corinthians 15:

The sting of death is Sin, and the strength of Sin is the Law.

1 Corinthians 15:56

This interaction between Sin and the Law is the means that God uses to show us our slavery, and to show us that a knowledge of right and wrong cannot save us. In addition, we realize that if we were born enslaved to Sin, then we must have sinned before we were born (because we know, through the Bible and our conscience, that bondage to Sin cannot be inherited, and can only result from personal choice).

THE PICTURE OF MOSES

The impact that Moses first had upon the lives of the Israelites in Egypt is a perfect picture of the impact of the Law in a non-Christian's life. Moses is known throughout the Bible as the great 'Lawgiver', and his initial arrival in Egypt is symbolic of the Law's effect upon a person's life when he first comes to truly understand and appreciate it. Moses was warmly received by the Hebrew people after they saw the miraculous signs that he performed, and heard his message about God's concern for them (Exodus 4:29-31). But when Moses proceeded to confront Pharaoh and demand that he release the Hebrew people, Pharaoh greatly increased the workload upon them. Instead of being a deliverer, Moses became the cause of intensified bondage and overwhelming misery. The Israelites complained about this to Moses, and he in turn cried out to God about his powerlessness:

And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh, and they said unto them "The Lord look upon you, and judge; because you have made us to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us." And Moses returned unto the Lord and said "Lord, wherefore have You so evil entreated this people? Why is it that You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all."

Exodus 5:20-23

It was only after this 'weakness of the Law' became evident, that God proceeded to reveal a salvation that does not come through 'the works of the Law', but through the shed blood of His Passover lamb. Once God had shown the Israelites the powerlessness of Moses (the Law), He was able to turn them toward Himself (in simple faith) as their only hope.

DAVID AND PAUL

Both King David and the apostle Paul were Jews who understood and loved the Law of Moses, and desired to serve the God of Israel. But they were ignorant of Sin within themselves, and of the fact that a knowledge of right and wrong could not save them. They were both men after God's own heart, desiring to do what's right, but ended up doing the very things that they hated.

As king of Israel, David brought great dishonor upon God, stealing a man's wife and then murdering him (2 Samuel 11-12:25). Although he wanted to honor Israel's fathers, Abraham and Isaac, he did the very thing that Abraham and Isaac had feared kings would do to them in earlier times; murder them in order to take their wives (Genesis 12:11-13, 20:11, 26:7,9). Paul found himself persecuting the very God whom he wished to serve (Acts 9:4). Both men described their discovery of Sin within their bodies:

Behold, I was shaped in iniquity and in Sin did my mother conceive me.

Psalm 51:5

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I desire I do not do, but the evil which I reject, that I do. Now if I do that which I wish not to do, it is no more I that do it, but Sin that dwells in me.

Romans 7:18-20

CHRISTIANS HAVE BEEN FREED

Many people believe that Romans 7:14-24 is Paul's description of a Christian struggling with Sin. But in Romans 6:1-7:13 Paul made it absolutely clear that Christians have been freed from the bondage of Sin through union with Jesus in His death. Because every born-again Christian has been crucified with Christ, his old body (and the Sin that lived within that body) is dead. Christians have new bodies indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Paul gives no reason for anyone to think that he is describing a Christian in Romans 7:14-24.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of Sin and death. For what the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin; He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

In Romans 7:1-6, Paul used the concept of marriage to describe the union between a person's body and soul. When Paul refers to the law in this passage, he is referring to the law of marriage, which says that a husband and wife are joined until death. Paul used the analogy of marriage to explain that a non-Christian's soul is 'married' to a Sin-possessed body, and that he cannot be set free from that 'marriage' until that old body has died. Because the Christian's old body has been crucified with Christ, he is free to be 'married' to a new body indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and to experience a wonderful new life.

Wherefore, my brethren, you also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that you should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

Romans 7:4

MORAL REASONING

It is commonly taught that when Adam sinned, he brought himself into spiritual bondage to Sin, and that this bondage is inherited by all of us through biological reproduction (a concept known as 'hereditary depravity'). This is largely based upon a misinterpretation of the words of David:

Behold, I was shaped in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

David's Psalm 51:5

It has been assumed that, because David said that he had sin and iniquity within his mother's womb, that he must have inherited it through his mother. This idea, however, contradicts the word of God and the God-given conscience that each of us has within us. God would never create a situation where one person's sin would cause another person's bondage to Sin. Nor does God impute or charge one person's sin to another. Such ideas portray God as a liar, and as a promoter of Sin (see The True Nature of Original Sin). Sin is personal; condemnation and bondage can only come upon a person who has personally chosen to sin.

The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying "What mean you, that you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'?" "As I live", says the Lord God, "you shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine: the soul that sins, it shall die".

Ezekiel 18:1-4 (see also Jeremiah 31:29-30)

Then Peter opened his mouth and said "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. But in every nation he that fears Him, and works righteousness, is accepted with Him.

Acts 10:34-35

God will render to every man according to his deeds. To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life. But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that does evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile. But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God.

Romans 2:6-11

If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him (God) a liar, and His word is not in us.

1 John 1:10

And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

Revelation 20:11-12

Hence, David's discovery of the Sin that had existed within his body since his conception, could only lead him to one conclusion; that he had sinned before his body was conceived. And as the apostle Paul has pointed out in Romans 5:12-14, the universal death of all mankind (including those who never sinned in any outward, visible way) points back to one event; the rebellion of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Hence David must have realized (as all who discover indwelling Sin will also realize), that the Biblical account of mankind's rebellion in Eden is a historical reality. This is how the claims of the Bible and Christianity can be tested and proven; by seeking to obey the Law.


PROVE IT FOR YOURSELF

God has no fear in the marketplace of ideas. He knows that His way works. The question is not 'Do we have to keep God's Law?', but rather 'How can we keep the Law?'. When people believe that they can fulfill the Law through their knowledge of right and wrong, and doubt that righteousness is a matter of faith, God simply points them to the Law and says 'Do this, and you shall live'. (Leviticus 18:5, Romans 10:5).

This is why, when people asked Jesus what they must do to enter heaven, He often pointed them to the Law (Matthew 5:17-30, Mark 10:19, Luke 10:25-28). Jesus knew that the Law would 'instruct' such people, leading them to faith in Himself as the starting point of righteousness. He commented on the testability of His words:

Jesus answered them, and said "My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me. If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself".

John 7:16-17

This is also what the apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote that the Law was not given as a means to achieve righteousness, but as a means of showing sinners their true condition. Are Christians obligated to keep God's Law? Yes, absolutely. But a knowledge of the Law cannot enable us to obey it. It can only show us our guilt and bondage, and point us to the only One who can deliver us from it.

Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Galatians 3:24

Some people believe that Christianity is based upon a poor self-image and low self-esteem. It is indeed true that many professing Christians have used false guilt to manipulate people, supposedly 'winning them to Christ'. Many of these 'guilt-mongers' have then proven to be hypocrites themselves, committing the worst of sins. As a result many people have been turned off regarding evangelical Christianity.

God, however, does not want to build a relationship with us based upon false guilt and false faith. We have real guilt, and we are in real danger. God wants us to come to Him willingly, and because we have discovered and understood the truth for ourselves. If we reject His message concerning our sin in Eden and our need for the Savior, He challenges us to put His claims to the test; to use our knowledge of right and wrong to sincerely pursue righteousness. Those who do not care enough to take up His challenge will have no one to blame in the day of judgment but themselves.

Some say that they will believe in God if they can be shown that the Bible does not conflict with science. Others demand that miracles be shown them. But God's Law, clarified for mankind through the 10 commandments of Moses, has always been the way that people are brought into a right relationship with Himself. It is in the moral realm of the conscience that our sins and our need for a Savior are seen, and genuine faith in God begins.

Jesus told the story of 'The Rich Man and Lazarus'. Both the rich man and Lazarus died. Lazarus went to paradise to be with Abraham, and the rich man went to a place of torment. In torment, the rich man called out to Abraham and begged him to send Lazarus to warn his brothers not to come into that place. But Abraham gave God's answer to the rich man's request. It is the same answer that God gives to a skeptical world today; that the Law of Moses is all of the warning and proof that any of us need:

Then he said "I pray thee therefore, father Abraham, that you would send Lazarus to my father's house. For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment". Abraham said unto him "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them". And he said "No, father Abraham; but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent". And Abraham said unto him "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead".

Luke 16:27-31

OUR BORN IDENTITY

In recent years I have enjoyed a series of three movies, based upon novels written by Robert Ludlum. They are about a fictional American secret agent named Jason Bourne. The movies are The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. There is an interesting parallel between Bourne's fictional experience, and the experience of a person who, while trying to do what is right (obey the Law), comes to discover an evil decision that he made long ago.

The story begins with Bourne floating unconscious in the Mediterranean Sea. He is pulled from the water by the crew of a fishing boat, but he has amnesia; he cannot remember who he is or how he got there. The three movies describe Bourne's search to discover his true identity and his past life. Bourne's initial circumstances are not unlike how each of us enters the world; finding ourselves in the great 'sea of humanity' with death pursuing closely at our heels, and not remembering anything prior to our birth.

In the third and final film, Bourne's search to understand himself leads him, ultimately, to the discovery that he volunteered to become an assassin. He comes to realize that all of the superior knowledge and combat skills that he has were 'brainwashed' into him, but that it was he himself who made the initial decision to be a part of that program. The third film ends with Bourne jumping off of a building into New York City's East River, where he has a 'death and resurrection' experience that allows him to break with his past, and start a new life. This watery ending parallels the 'born again' Christian experience that is symbolized by water baptism.

It is my understanding that Robert Ludlum did not have any religious concepts or 'truths' in mind when he wrote the Bourne novels. But I could not help but be struck by the parallels between Jason Bourne's embrace of 'ethics' (the Law), and how it brought him to discover his own ultimate responsibility for everything that he was, and the parallel experience of a person who embraces the Law of God, and in the process comes to discover his past in Eden. I have shared these thoughts about the 'Bourne' movies because I believe that they illustrate, in an interesting way, the process of self-discovery that the apostle Paul described in Romans 7:14-25, and that I am seeking to explain in this web page.


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(Bible quotations are from the old King James version, with modifications by the author.)