Our High Priest and Unnecessary, Distracting, and (the) Wrong Questions

I enjoy studying and discussing theology, provided the discussion is edifying. Theology can raise a lot of questions—some very difficult ones. Note, many of our questions must remain unanswered. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9, ESV). God is perfect in holiness, love, justice, and all His ways. Will we choose to trust Him?

Sometimes our questions of curiosity are simply irrelevant (i.e., the classic “Can God make a rock so big He can’t move?”). However, some of our questions are distracting to more important ones. For example, Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Sometimes the question—even debate—arises, “Could Jesus have sinned?” The differing answers go back and forth. The question is not insignificant, but neither is it the most important. Furthermore, it distracts from the wonderful truths being revealed. Two more important questions are: Did Jesus sin? And can He truly sympathize with us when we struggle with our sinfulness? Could He have sinned? Some say yes, others say no. However, what we do know is He was genuinely tempted—therefore, He can sympathize—but He did not sin. Good thing! Otherwise we would not have a Savior.

Could Jesus have sinned? Does He know what it is like to be tempted with the same sins as I am? Maybe, maybe not. What I know with utmost certainty is I can—and do—sin, and I have High Priest and Savior who can sympathize with me—and you. 

You and I will continue to have questions, but may we learn to ask the right questions, instead of being distracted by the unnecessary and wrong ones.

God (Part 2): The Importance of Correct Perception of Him

In his book, Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer writes how modern man tends to think of idolatry in terms of people bowing to figures carved of stone, metal, or wood. However, idolatry begins in the mind, even if no overt worship takes place. Tozer goes on to explain that idolatry is any entertaining of thoughts about God not worthy of Him, not only worshipping something other than Him.

This has great relevance in our society that views God in so many different ways other than what He reveals in the Scriptures, and that tries to use Him for political and financial gain. This also has great relevance within modern Christendom where many of its adherents often seem to stress more as to whether or not they like the worship services, rather than truly considering if He likes them.

Nearly across the board people believe in God’s love. Certainly love is part of God’s character. The Scriptures declare, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8 [ESV]). However, it is imperative we understand His overarching attribute—holiness! This attribute is the umbrella to every other one. Holy means “set apart; other; extraordinary; transcendent.” It is the only attribute of His mentioned to the third degree—and in both the Old and New Testaments:

“And [the seraphim] called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” (Isaiah 6:3)

“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:8)

God’s love is a pure, holy love. His love will never be separated or go against His holiness. Jesus says the Father desires worshipers who worship Him in spirit and in truth (see John 4:23-24). So, to profess God’s love while disregarding His holiness is to make a mockery of true worship and to plummet heart first into idolatry, which leads to holy judgment.

One of the tragic cycles we read of in the Old Testament is the Israelites’ regression into idolatry. Integrating the customs, behaviors, and beliefs of the people around them into the worship of God, only to drift away from Him without even realizing it. Perplexed and angered by the prophets’ rebukes and confrontations, all the while indulging in the immorality of the cult religions of Baal and Astarte, and the child sacrifice of Moloch (something God declares that never even entered His mind [see Jeremiah 7:31]).

One of my great concerns for many churches today is the adapting of customs, behaviors, and beliefs of the secular and pagan society around us, trying to integrate these into the Christian faith, dismissing the very attributes and ways of God He reveals to us in the Scriptures. 

Jesus said of some of the religious people of the day, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me’” (Mark 7:6-7).

And one of the most haunting things He says is, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

God is holy, but He is also loving. Although He is loving, may we remember He is also holy, holy, holy, and His love is a holy love. If we try to tweak these to accommodate our desires or to condone or justify our beloved sins, we are guilty of idolatry. To not desire God as He is is merely to desire a god of our own making.

Are Christians Commanded to be Nice?

This question is a bit misleading, initially, because often the words “nice” and “kind” are used synonymously, although the two words are distinctive. “Nice” has to do with being pleasant and agreeable—even in a hypocritical sense. “Kind” has to do with being benevolent, considerate, and humane genuinely.

So, are Christians commanded to be nice? We are commanded to be kind and loving. In fact, kindness and love are two of the fruits of the Spirit (see Gal. 5:22-23). Nowhere in the Scriptures, however, are we commanded to be nice. 

This might come as a surprise to some. Please understand, we are not to be mean spirited in any way. However, there are times it is okay to not be agreeable. For whatever reason, in American Christendom many have come to believe that we must never upset or offend others. Yet, when we observe Jesus in the Gospels, He never watered down His message, He was willing to speak truth although it sometimes upset people, and He was willing to let people walk away. Mind you, He was always respectful and He recognized the value of persons. He spoke the truth in love. Nevertheless, He called a spade a spade, and He refused to bend the truth to accommodate anyone or their sins.

Jesus was not striving to be nice when He told Nicodemus, a religious leader, that he must be born again. He was not being nice when He accused the Pharisees of being white-washed tombs, as He declared their hypocrisy. And He was not being nice when He allowed a number of people to stop following Him because they did not like His hard message of eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

Jesus loved each of these people. He valued each of them enough to give His life for them. Nevertheless, He never compromised the Gospel. He never condoned sin. He never budged an inch just to keep a person from walking away from Him. 

So, are we commanded to be nice? No. We are to speak the truth in love (see Eph. 4:15), but we are to stand for truth even if others are offended. Certainly we are to try to keep the peace, but never at the expense of truth.

Does Doctrine Matter?

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive” (Romans 16:17-18).

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3).

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).

Not long ago I came across some books by a particular *author. In his books, as well as on his website, he describes himself as an author, philosopher, and storyteller. He boasts of overturning traditional religious notions and ideas. One of his desires, by his own admission, is to do away with Christian doctrines. He claims they are distracting and divisive. This reminds me of people who say, “Don’t give me doctrines, just give me Jesus!” 

No doubt this man is intelligent, as his showcase of academic achievements reveal. Nevertheless, his desire to eliminate Christian doctrines is not only wrong, it reveals his own ignorance of the matter. While it is true people do allow secondary doctrines to divide,  it is also true that primary doctrines will divide! Truth is offensive and divisive to those who do not desire it. 

Doctrine simply means “teaching.” Thus, there are teachings that are in accordance to the truth, and there are teachings that are not. Does it all really matter? 

Does it matter if Jesus is, indeed, God and the only way to heaven? Does it matter if hell is real, and whether or not it is eternal? The importance of these doctrines are more evident, but what about the doctrine of the virgin birth? If Jesus was born simply in the same manner as us, He would have our sinful nature—leaving us without a Savior!

The Bible supports the importance of sound doctrine, and the apostles declare that purity and godliness are in accordance with sound doctrine. So, does doctrine matter? Absolutely. To jettison doctrine, truth is cast off along with it. To cast off truth, one must also throw off Jesus and His teachings! While the author I mentioned shows himself to be quite smart, beneath all his theological verbiage you will find that he is simply promoting his version of unbelief.

*The reason I do not share his name is twofold: first, in no way is my intention to slander the individual, and second, I do not desire to advertise his works.

Can We Trust the Bible?

Persons attacking and casting doubt on the Bible is nothing new, but these used to come more from secularists. There are a number of so-called ministers, however, rising up to bring doubt and confusion concerning the Scriptures, questioning their reliability, denying their authority, and writing about “lost books” of the Bible.

“Did God actually say …?”

“You will not surely die … you will be like God….”

Do these sound familiar? These words used to cast doubt on God’s words come from the serpent in Genesis 3:1, 4-5. The same kinds of words coming out of the mouths or onto the pages of men and women masquerading as persons of God. Paul warns us, “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14-15).

So, can we trust the Scriptures? Let me ask a couple of questions: Did God create the heavens and the earth? Did Jesus die, then rise from the dead three days later? If God can create from the sheer power of mere command, and if He can overcome even death itself, does it not stand to reason that He can preserve His Word? 

The four Gospels are our primary sources for learning about Jesus. We find throughout that Jesus has complete trust in the reliability of the Old Testament (and the O.T. is quoted and referred to many times in the N.T.). But what about the New Testament? Jesus says to His disciples in John 15 that the Holy Spirit would come, and that they will testify about Jesus (see vs. 26-27). The disciples testified of Him through speaking and the writing of the New Testament.

But what about the alleged “lost books”? Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13a). The Holy Spirit would fill His people and guide them into truth. The canonization of the Scriptures was a process, and one not done haphazardly. The Holy Spirit bore witness to the truth in the lives of Christians in the churches. The supposed “lost books” were not lost, but were not found to be the words of God.

Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Peter writes, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21).

The Holy Spirit somehow spoke through His prophets and apostles, and guided them in their recording of His words. The Holy Spirit guided His people in recognizing His Words. And the Holy Spirit faithfully preserved His Word for future generations.

Beloved, let not the doubts of others make shipwreck of your faith. If God can create the universe by the power of a mere command, then He can most certainly preserve His truth for His people.

The Necessity of the Resurrection

If the resurrection is true, then miracles are possible; however, if miracles are not possible, then there would most certainly not have been a resurrection. And if the resurrection is only a mere fable, then the whole Christian faith collapses like a house of cards!

There was a prominent Episcopalian preacher and author who denied miracles, the virgin birth, and the resurrection, all the while professing to be a “Christian” and having the audacity to say Christianity must change. Yet, even a well-known atheist, who was very antagonistic towards the Christian faith, understood that one cannot be a Christian and deny the resurrection at the same time.

My purpose here is not to try to prove the resurrection or to point to the evidence thereof. There are plenty of great men doing this. Rather, I want to declare the necessity of the resurrection. There are a number of preachers and authors in “pop Christianity” and liberal churches who deny crucial tenets of the Christian faith, but who still want to deceptively wave the Christian banner.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not only that He died for our sins, but that He also rose from the dead! Paul writes to the believers in Corinth, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). As Paul continues, he notes that if there is no resurrection, then Christ has not risen, and if He has not risen then our faith is futile. Furthermore, he and the other apostles are found to be liars as they have been proclaiming the resurrection, and it there is no resurrection we are still condemned in our sins (see vs. 12-19).

Christianity is not about a bunch of pointless rituals, but is about having a relationship with the living God through His Son who literally died in the flesh and literally rose from the dead.

If you do not believe in the resurrection, then you do not believe in the gospel. If you do not believe in the gospel, then you are not a Christian. 

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

The Invalidity of the Excuse, “Too Many Hypocrites!”

One of the accusations railed against the the church is “too many hypocrites!” I will come back to the issue of hypocrisy in the church, but first I want to address the hypocrisy of the accusation itself, as well as the invalidity of the excuse before God.

Hypocrisy within the church is no new issue. The apostles were confronting it, as is evidenced in the New Testament. However, over the last several years I have noticed that, for the most part, the only time people are upset about it is when it comes to Christianity. Not religion, but Christianity in particular.

There are nominal Muslims, as well extremists, but do you ever hear people accuse them as hypocrites? The same can be said of Buddhists and Hindus, etc. This is not a criticism, but simply the stating of fact.

The realm of politics, the very cesspool of hypocrisy, forked-tongues, and double standards! Even standing like champions on the mountain of corruption, so many people cheer and applaud them—ignoring the corruption and hypocrisy.

Atheism, the very antagonist of religion, declaring the foolishness—even the evil—of religion (again, Christianity in particular). Atheism uses terms like “good” and “evil,” but what are either of these apart from a solid standard (i.e., truth)? Furthermore, while atheism accuses Christianity of hypocrisy and evil, atheism’s own ideologies have produced communistic leaders who have oppressed, tortured, and murdered millions of people! But who talks about this?

And what about some of the apostates of late who are accusing the church of being filled with hypocrites? For years one person has taught fidelity, and has recently divorced his wife. Another who once wrote songs of the worthiness of Christ has essentially declared that Jesus is not so worthy after all. Then these individuals want to condemn the hypocrisy in churches???

Now, it is true there ishypocrisy within the church. There is no doubt or argument about this. But for those who want to judge the church so harshly, do youlove others perfectly? Have youmastered justice, integrity, and equity? I have been deeply wounded by other Christians. Being fair, I have also deeply wounded some. We are human. At the end of many days we pray, “God, I blew it!” The next day we try to do better. If we were perfect we would not need a Savior. This is not to excuse our failures, but there is often unrealistic expectations of Christians. I can probably say this for many, but with certainty concerning myself: If you think I am bad now, you should have known me before I came to know Christ!

In the end, the hypocrisy of Christians (nominal or genuine) will not be a legitimate excuse for rejecting Christ. Jesus is the standard, our example, and to whom each of us are accountable to. 

Let actual hypocrites play their little masquerades, give grace to those who are genuinely trying but still falter and fail. You are responsible for your own integrity (or lack thereof).