Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: sinner

Pharisee to sinner

Saul of Tarsus was a devout man, zealous in the service of God. He was a pharisee, taught by Rabban Gamaliel, grandson of Hillel the Elder and the most renowned Jewish teacher of his day. Saul scrupulously obeyed the teaching that he received and counted himself to be faultless in keeping the Jewish laws.

His desire to serve God filled him with zeal to eradicate all aberrant forms of the Jewish religion, especially the one that was based on the life and teachings of a certain Jesus of Nazareth. He was still a young man when he witnessed with approval the stoning of Stephen, but soon made a name for himself as the most ferocious enemy and persecutor of the followers of Jesus. His fame extended far beyond Jerusalem, even to Damascus in Syria.

As Saul saw firsthand how threats and persecutions could not make the followers of Jesus deny their loyalty to Him, his conscience must have begun to question whether his zeal was truly from God. When he met Jesus in a supernatural encounter on the road to Damascus, Jesus told him “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” In that moment Saul knew that his zeal had been misguided, that he had been fighting against God, not for Him. Addressing Jesus as Lord, he asked “What wilt thou have me to do?”

The answer to that question transformed Saul, the self-righteous Pharisee into Paul, the sinner and apostle of Jesus Christ. Later, he would say that all the things that he had counted on as righteousness while a pharisee were nothing but dung.

Now he saw himself in the light of day: “ For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). “ This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Paul the apostle carried this awareness of his sinfulness the rest of his life. He had nothing more to boast of but the grace of God. And that was enough.

Is it enough for Christians today? We have been given much, but let us remember who gave it and why we needed to have it given. We cannot claim any credit for our heritage, the things we have been taught, the way we live. It is all a gift from God. As soon as we think we have some merit of our own, an odour of dung clings to us and people try to keep a certain distance upwind.

Written in the earth

An interesting detail in the account of the woman taken in adultery told in chapter 8 of the gospel of John is that it is twice mentioned that Jesus wrote on the ground. This appears to have some connection with the fact that the woman’s accusers left one by one, from the oldest to the youngest. We are not given any more details than that, but I believe the following takes into account all the details of the story in the gospel..

Some have speculated that Jesus was writing the sins of the accusers. I doubt that was necessary. These men were scribes and pharisees, men with a deep and thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. They will surely have remembered the words of Jeremiah: “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 17:13).

To have one’s name written in the earth would be the opposite of having one’s name written in heaven. The woman’s accusers may have been surprised that Jesus knew each of them by name, even more surprised that He knew their ages, writing their names from the oldest to the youngest. They began to suspect He also knew the exact nature of their sin and thought it best to escape the presence of such a man.

Consider the accused woman. She was a sinner, she knew it. Now she was left alone with a man who had silently struck fear into the hearts of all her righteous accusers. What would He say to her?

He did not condemn her, He forgave her, set her free. With just one warning “Go and sin no more.”That is still the way of Jesus–judgment for those who think themselves righteous, mercy for those who know they are sinners.

Someone may doubt the connection between the passages in Jeremiah and John because one speaks of earth and the other of ground. This is simply the work of the translators. The Hebrew word in Jeremiah is erets, which is translated in different places in our Bible as land, earth, ground and country. The Greek word in the gospel is ge, which is translated by the same four English words in our Bibles. They are, in other words, exactly the same word.

Just open it and read

[First posted June 13, 2014]

What is the best way to read the Bible?

Just open it up and start reading. It’s that simple.

I quit attending church when I left home. I had heard all the old familiar Bible stories that are taught in Sunday School. I had also absorbed a lot of contradictory teachings in school, through the media and through the books and magazines I read. I had begun to consider myself too intelligent to believe the Bible. Some parts of it were probably true. If there was a God, He probably inspired people in ancient days to write the good stuff, but there was a lot in the Bible that just wasn’t believable. Sound familiar?

I started to get curious, though, and wanted to take another look at the Bible for myself. I didn’t want to be seen buying a Bible, though. Neither did I want to ask my parents if I could borrow a Bible. But I knew the place in my parents’ home where the old worn-out Bibles were stored. One weekend when I was home, I went to that old cupboard, selected a Bible that was pretty much intact and not too big and packed it away in my stuff.

I began to read, trying to separate fact from fiction, searching out the accounts that I found unbelievable and reading them from beginning to end. I found references to these accounts in other parts of the Bible and read them carefully. As I read more and more in the Bible, trying to understand the context in which these events happened and what the Bible writers were saying about them, I started to get the uncomfortable feeling that this wasn’t going to turn out quite like I had expected. I could see that a life based on the teachings of the Bible would be an admirable thing, but all the stories that I didn’t want to believe seemed to be inextricably linked to those teachings.

Jesus evidently believed that all that was written in the Old Testament was completely factual. Was He deceived? If He was wrong about that, how could He be right about anything?

Slowly it dawned on me that this collection of books, written by 40 different men over a period of sixteen centuries, was not a collection at all, but one unified book. I could not choose to believe some parts and reject the rest as mythology or mere records of often bloody history. There were only two choices before me: believe it all from beginning to end, or dismiss it all as a work of fiction.

It was at this point that a crisis arose in my life and the Bible revealed to me that I was a sinner destined to be forever rejected by God, unless I repented. I repented, without fully understanding the significance or the ramifications of what I was doing. My life changed at that moment, yet it took months, years even, for the full reality of that change to sink in.

So here is my advice for anyone who wants to read the Bible but is afraid of getting confused. Read the Bible. Get the whole story.

Don’t trust any Bible reading plans that chop the Bible up into little pieces and have you skipping here and there without ever really getting a picture of what is going on. Don’t trust books about the Bible to steer you right. There are Bible dictionaries and Bible commentaries that can be helpful, but don’t start out letting someone else guide you through the Bible. Let the Bible reveal itself to you.

It might be good to read accounts here and there to start with, but soon you will want to read books of the Bible all the way through to get a grasp of the context. Pray for direction. Once you begin to get some sense of what the Bible is all about, it would be a good thing to read the whole Bible through. Don’t bite off too much at one time, expect it to take four years to make it all the way through. Along the way you will find that the Bible “heroes” were really not very good people. And if you are honest with yourself, just at the point where you become indignant about the weaknesses and failures of David, Elijah or Rebekah, you will begin to see the same weaknesses and failures in yourself. That is why Jesus had to die.

You will never understand it all, and that’s OK. The Bible never gets old; there is always something new to discover.

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