Category Archives: Theology in Practice

To Let Go and Let God or Strive to Enter

 

Several years ago, I was introduced to the popular phrase, “Let go and Let God.”  It’s popularity with the influence of social media has only increased in the last decade because it fits easily into posts, tweets, memes, or whatever the latest medium pithy quotes might fit best (t-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, etc.).  In these uses, and in a wide variety of others, you’ll often find this saying used in reference to struggling through daily life issues independent of whether or not they are spiritual.  For instance, it could be work/employment, financial, family/relationships all which might require the individual to simply, “Let go and Let God.”

Summarizing the origins of this phrase in his helpful overview, No Quick Fix, Andy Naselli, notes its roots may be found in the theology of Hannah Whitall Smith’s The  Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, in which she provides the basis for this phrase as “entire surrender”, i.e. letting go, and “absolute faith”, i.e. letting God.  Since then, circa 1885, the concept has evolved through the teachings of the Higher Life movement and Keswick theology proponents, including more recently by dispensationalism, which was heavily influenced by these aforementioned teachings.  While this phrase, Let go and Let God, may sound like good advice or even a proper exercise of spiritual maturity, it is in fact wrong, misleading, and potentially dangerous.

In Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 we are introduced to the wilderness generation, i.e. those who were delivered out of Egyptian captivity by God through the leadership of Moses up to the doorstep of the Promised Land.  This group is held up as an example of unfaithfulness and disobedience in their rebellion against God and His subsequent punishment of prohibition from entering the Promised Land.  For more, see this post on Hebrews 3 The Builder of the House.

This is the context upon which the Author draws support for his exhortation for believers not to be like the Wilderness Generation, which fell at the hand of God’s wrath, but instead we are to strive to enter His rest

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:11

The word translated in the ESV as strive, spoudazo, carries the idea of exertion or diligent effort.  It’s root is also used in Hebrews 6:11, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end “

The word of exhortation in Hebrews 4:11 is for believers to exert themselves by faith and obedience, with a constant, diligent effort until they reach the finish line and enter God’s rest.  It is an effort that is led by the Spirit, fueled by grace looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who has secured our victory and will bring us to the completion of our race.  Nevertheless, it is an active Christian life, not a passive one.  It is a Spirit-led life in which we are clothed with the armor of God and equipped to wield the sword of the Spirit with the expectation of battle.

Letting go and Letting God tells us to, “lie quietly before [God].  Open all the avenues of our being, and let Him come in and take possession of every chamber.  Especially give Him your heart – the very seat of your desires, the throne of your affections. ” (Naselli, pg. 39-40)  However the book of Hebrews presents a drastically different, less passive approach to our pursuit of holiness, which culminates in the finality of reaching God’s eschatological* rest.

It calls us to strive.  To earnestly pursue.  To diligently make it our business.  There is not a letting go, there is a holding on, yet in our Christian duty to pursue Christ with a passion and mortify the deeds of the flesh we may become faint and weary, as did the Wilderness Generation.  We may encounter opposition from within and persecution from without.  Yet it is especially in these moments that we are exhorted to keep on believing and keep on obeying, persevering to the end.  It is here that we may realize that the holding on was through no efforts of our own, but by the preserving hand of Almighty God who has held on to us every step of the way.

 

 

*eschatological – final; ultimate end.

Praying for Others

 

Perhaps there can be no greater responsibility for a community of believers than praying for one another. Coming before the throne of God on the basis of our Lord Jesus Christ for the purposes of intercessory prayer for fellow believers is one of the great privileges that God in His mercy has granted us. But I wonder how often we take advantage of this gift? Do we know in what ways to pray for one another?

The Apostle Paul, writing to the saints of Colossae, provides for us the model substance of intercessory prayer and its essence is much more than bless them and be with them today or help them to feel better. In the inspired Word of God we read,

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:1-14

The elements of the Apostle’s prayer are intertwined with his message to the saints, but if we take a minute to digest this passage, it will reveal for us Paul’s method of prayer and the substance of his prayer.

In verse 3 we find that Paul is not praying for them by himself (we) and that his prayers are not one time events, but are persistent intercessions before the Lord God Almighty (always). This is reemphasized in verse 9 as he expresses the unceasing nature of his prayers for them. In verse 3 we also find the first element in his prayer for others, thankfulness. Paul writes that he is thankful to God for them. Why? Because he has heard of their “faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints” and this gives him reason to give thanks. In our petitions for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we should thank the Lord for them. Thank Him for granting them faith, thank Him for granting them fellowship with you. Thank Him for the love that they express for you and others.

  1. The Apostle thanks God for their faith in Christ and love for others.

The next element in his prayer for the saints follows a lengthy summary of how this particular church came to faith picking back up on the substance of the prayer in verse 9 with, “asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”. The Apostle entreats the Lord on behalf of the saints that they may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and with all spiritual wisdom and understanding of it. Succinctly stated, he is asking that God would grant that His will be made known to them and that they subsequently would have the wisdom and understanding to recognize, adhere, and apply it.

Where does knowledge of God’s will come from? Is it an ethereal knowledge implanted mystically into the minds of the saints at Colossae or our own minds? Does it come by way of special meditation or extra-biblical revelation via dreams, visions, impressions, or voices from above? No! God has revealed His will in His word. That is the only infallible source of His will. Paul’s prayer is that God’s will be revealed to them through what He has proclaimed through His divine revelation.

  1. The Apostle requests that God’s will, the source of which is His divine revelation – The Word, be made known to them and that they be granted wisdom and understanding in application of it.

An implied question may be asked at this point, why is Paul praying for this in particular and perhaps primarily? This is answered in the next verse beginning with the word, “so”, “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” The reason Paul makes petition #2, knowing and doing the will of God, on behalf of the saints is so their actions would reflect positively on the Lord. God’s Word is our infallible source for knowing AND doing the will of God.

As believers we are the called ones, literally set apart for the purposes of God. Because of this, and our public confession of faith, it becomes all the more important that our lives match our confession; that we “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”; worthy to bear His name; worthy to have received grace and mercy; worthy to be called sons and daughters of the most high God. When we do, this pleases the Lord. Put another way, all that we do in our lives should glorify God.

Notice a second reason for this particular petition of knowing and understanding the will of God, namely that they might increase in the knowledge of God. Does this mean simply rehearsing facts about who God is? Doubtful. It would seem to lean more on the experiential side. In other words, by being filled with the knowledge of God’s will that comes only through His divinely inspired Word, applying this to a way of living that bears fruit, which is pleasing to the Lord, the saints (and us) thereby become more knowledgeable of God. More knowledgeable of His character because we inherently become more Christ-like. More knowledgeable of what God desires. More knowledgeable of the purposes of God. Summarizing:

  1. The Apostle prays that their life match their confession and the calling God has placed on them.
  2. The Apostle prays that they would bear fruit in their lives, the product of their good works.
  3. The Apostle prays that they would increase in their knowledge of God by becoming more Christ-like.

The next petition, found in verse 11 is for God to grant the saints strength, literally power from God such that in their Christian walk, i.e. putting into application and practice what God has revealed, that they would not grow weary, but instead would persevere joyously. “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy”.

Oh what need we have believer to persevere. Would that God would grant each one of us, as Paul requested, patience and endurance to finish this marathon with joy. It is not enough for us to finish the race set before us through a pattern of murmuring and discontentment, but to finish with joy regardless of the circumstances, trials, or tribulations that we may be faced with.

  1. The apostle prays that they would be strengthened by the power of God to persevere with joy.

Finally, the Apostle Paul finishes his discourse where he began, with giving thanks to God. His petition is that the saints would give thanks to God the Father because of the gift of salvation He has granted them through His grace. In doing so, he lists 5 reasons for their thankfulness:

  • Because God, in Christ, has qualified them to share in the inheritance
  • Because God, in Christ, has delivered them from the domain of darkness
  • Because God, in Christ, has transferred them to Christ’s Kingdom
  • Because God, in Christ, has redeemed them
  • Because God, in Christ, has forgiven their sins

 

  1. The apostle prays that they would give thanks to God the Father for His grace in granting them the gift of salvation and all the blessings and benefits that are associated with it.

Dear Christian, how power would it be if we modeled our prayers for other saints after the Apostle Paul. He has petitioned the Lord for true, worthy, and eternal requests. It’s not that temporary requests shouldn’t be made known to God, like financial, health, or other material concerns. Those are important to God, but they should not be primary. May this be an encouragement to you as it has been for me to pray so much more than bless and be with so and so. May our prayer lives be rich and flourishing for the glory of God and the good of the saints!

 

*image credit: rimrockchurch.com

The Deity of Christ in Hebrews 1:8

 

The book of Hebrews stands as a beacon in the night shining forth the superiority of Christ above angels, Moses, the Levitical priesthood, other priests (namely Melchizedek), the priestly ministry, including its location, covenant, tabernacle, and sacrifice. Without question, if one wants to understand more deeply, more convincingly who Christ is, they needn’t turn too far away from Hebrews to find Him fully on display.

However, there remain those who are not only unconvinced by the Christology of Hebrews, but those who have taken its words and distorted it to fit their own agenda. One particular group is the Jehovah’s Witness. In their translation ( I use that term loosely, as you will see), known as the New World Translation, the biblical truths of Christ are distorted in order to mask Christ’s deity in seeking to establish Him as a mere man, created in the image of God like other men though having His origin as a spiritual being. Without going into detail regarding their beliefs, they make it clear that 1) They deny the Trinity and 2) They deny the deity of Christ. This was made crystal clear to me during a recent encounter I had with several of them.

One particular verse where this biblical distortion becomes evident is Hebrews 1:8,

“But of the Son he says,

‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,

the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.’”

The passage above is in clear reference to the Son from its context in Hebrews and it gives great insight into the intra-Trinitarian conversation between the Father and the Son by quoting a passage from Psalm 45:6. If you knew nothing of the doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witness, if you knew nothing of the Old Testament use of the New Testament, or nothing of the biblical languages, you would still be able to observe what is being said in the verse and the grammatical manner in which it is being said. It is crystal clear that the Son is the One to whom this statement is directed. Likewise, it is crystal clear that this passage calls the Son, God, a point of fact that the Jehovah’s Witness denies.

Additionally, the grammar of this sentence should be clear, namely that the subject of the sentence is “throne” in the first part and “scepter” is the subject of the second phrase as the author of the Psalm develops a parallelism with the two kingly objects, throne and scepter. God, as used in this verse, is what’s known as the vocative, i.e. to Whom the sentence is addressed. From our usage in Hebrews it is clear that this is addressed to the Son. This seems straightforward enough, right?

Well, not for the translators of the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation. In order to hide this clear indication that Christ is God and thereby divine, being distinct in person but the same in essence as the Father and Holy Spirit, the “translation” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses distorts the grammar of the passage by saying:

“But about the Son, he says: “God is your throne forever and ever, and the scepter of your Kingdom is the scepter of uprightness.”[1]

At first glance, it may not even seem to be a big deal that the NWT translates this passage differently. But, when you understand that their philosophical understanding of Christ is radically different than orthodox Christianity, then it becomes of the utmost importance to understand what is being communicated in their “bible”. When asking the Jehovah’s Witness about the difference in this verse, their comments are typically centered around similar statements such as “Jehovah is your rock”, “Jehovah is your shield”, or that Christ’s authority proceeds from the Father and that this is simply a better way of saying that. Those statements in their given biblical context may be true, but that is simply not what is being communicated in this passage. As was pointed out earlier, the subject of the first part of this phrase is the throne and of the latter, the scepter. In the NWT the subject is changed to “God”, to avoid the vocative use of God that appears in the original Greek and that is made evident in formally equivalent English translations, such as the ESV quoted above. Again, this may not seem like a big deal, but it actually serves to undercut the assertion being made that Jesus is God. Yes, as a David-like King, Christ derives His authority (throne/scepter) from the Father that is clear from the statement, “of the Son he says”. But much more is being communicated and that is that this King, is none other than God-incarnate, the God-Man Jesus Christ.

This is not simply a matter of grammar and punctuation; it is deception for the purpose of distorting the divine nature of Christ. Like their forefathers who promoted the heresy of Arianism, the Jehovah’s Witness have drastically deviated from orthodox Christianity and have created for themselves another Jesus. The Apostle Paul warns of those who proclaim another Jesus in 1 Corinthians 11:4, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed,” all the more reason to be diligent in studying the Word of God to recognize and correct those who do such things.

Understanding the significance of this passage from Hebrews as a testimony to the Divine nature of Christ will go a long way in the conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness. Their translation is simply indefensible. Be aware that there will be attempts to refute this, but largely they will be unaware of the translation inaccuracy and their own religion’s attempt to mask the deity of Christ. Be patience and confident in the power of God’s Word and proclaim the deity of Christ at every turn.

Update 4/30/2015: In reading Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses by Ron Rhodes (2009, Harvest House Publishers), the author concedes that “God is your throne” is grammatically possible in the Greek, but as shown in the post above is contextually invalid (pg. 93).  Further evidence that the context is in favor of this reading can be found in Psalm 45:5 of the Septuagint (Greek OT) which includes the phrase “Thy weapons [arrows], Oh Mighty One, are sharpened”.  Read in combination with  verse 6 from the post above, “Thy throne, O God” reveals additional Hebrew parallelism between the verses (Rhodes, 95).  I didn’t include this in my original post because I think most faithful English translations recognize the grammatical structure within verse 6 that holds the tension between the subjects “throne” and “scepter” and the discussion of Christ’s Kingship, “O God”, in Hebrews 1 and that is easier to work through if you lack knowledge of the Septuagint.

[1] New World Translation, 2013. http://www.jw.org/en/publications/bible/nwt/books/hebrews/1/