Three ways to live

Which is your way?

Three ways to live

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 11:07 am on Sunday, July 15, 2007

“Two ways to live” is a popular Australian gospel presentation – you can live according to your own way or God’s way. While this is clearly true, it is important to see that there are two quite different ways of living “your way”.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, starting from Matthew 7:13 Jesus gives a summary of the sermon in a list of two contrasting types: two roads (wide and narrow), two trees (with good and bad fruit), two builders (wise and foolish). A common interpretation is that these two ways are men’s way and God’s way. If that is true, then this should be alluded to in the body of the sermon. But Jesus does not compare those who give to the poor with those who don’t, he compares those who do it to be commended by people (e.g. for their own sake) with those who do it for the God’s sake (Matthew 6:1-4). Jesus does not compare those who pray with those who don’t, he compares those who pray for their own sake with those who pray for God’s sake (Matthew 6:5-8). To summarize, the sermon compares the gospel’s way with the way of hypocrites, Pharisees, who claim to serve God but are really serving themselves.

So the three ways to live are:

1) Rejecting God and living your way
2) Believing God, but serving Him to benefit yourself (salvation by works) – still living your way
3) Serving God for God’s sake, in response to what he has done (salvation by grace) – God’s way

The second way (serving to get a reward) is our default mode of operation, whether we claim to believe in God or not. We all are serving something for our own benefit, be it God, our job, spouse, body. The gospel offers a complete reversal of this pattern – Jesus got what we deserved (death) so that we can receive what Jesus deserved (a new status of being a part of God’s family). Only to the degree that we can understand this truth, we will be able to live “God’s way”.

You might also want to hear a shorter definition given by Tim Keller, the original author of the phrase “Three ways to live”.

What is the gospel?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:46 am on Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What is the gospel? The answer is not as easy as it seems. Many tend to think of it as a simple set of beliefs that make us Christian. If that is true, then why did Paul kept constantly reminding Christians about it? Because of their poor memory?

One of the key verses to understand this paradox is Galatians 2:14 (NIV)

14 When I (Paul) saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”

What is the connection between following Jewish customs and the gospel? The way Paul saw it (and how we should see it) is that the gospel is not only the way to be saved – it is the way to live. In other words, we should think of it as a worldview that defines how we see all other things.

Since the gospel is a worldview, this explains why it is so difficult to put it into a nutshell or give it a definition. Instead, Timothy Keller, a senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, suggests concentrating on the following three aspects (or perspectives) of the gospel:

1) Historical perspective. Gospel is primarily a good news about what Jesus Christ has done, not just a teaching about how to live. We are saved not by Jesus’ teachings, but by Jesus himself. All other religions could potentially exist without their founding leaders because there you are saved by following a set of rules. But Christianity cannot exist without Jesus, because the salvation is based on what he has done not what he has taught.

2) Sonship perspective. Gospel is primarily a status you receive now, not just the reward you hope to receive later. It’s not only that your sins are put on Jesus (historical perspective), it is also that his righteousness is put on you.

3) Kingdom perspective. Gospel is a complete reversal of world’s values. In the world you are accepted when you bring in something of value. But in the gospel, you don’t get accepted by saying I lived a good life, you are accepted by acknowledging spiritual bankruptcy. Gospel’s salvation is achieved through the reversal of values also. Jesus, God and king of the world, chose to come in weakness not in power.

Here are some examples how these aspects can change the way you see things or think about the world:

1) From historical perspective. When you sin, you should repent not because you are afraid of going to Hell or of God not hearing your prayers – this is impossible if you understand that your salvation did not come because of what you did or didn’t do. Instead, you repent because you miss the intimacy with Him.

2) In our desire to serve God we often serve ourselves (serving God to make him accept us), because a) we don’t really understand we are sinners saved by grace and have absolutely nothing to give him and b) we don’t really understand we work not to earn God’s favor but in response to it.

3) From the kingdom perspective. Current generation insists on freedom to choose. Yet, in reversal to world’s values, the gospel says if we try to be free, we will never be free, we will just be (unintentionally) enslaved to things we are trying to serve (our family, career, looks). But if we release our freedom to Jesus, we can become truly free. The way to save life is to lose it. Kingdom perspective should change our attitude toward poor, homeless and powerless. Gospel’s way up is down, the way to receive power is to lose it, the way to be rich is to give your possessions away, and so on.

These gospel aspects are not the three parts of the gospel, they are three slightly different ways to see the same whole. And the core of all is the salvation by grace. Indeed, it is because you cannot save yourself by your own works that Jesus had to die for you (Historical aspect) and it is because of grace all the good things that Jesus has done are now transferred to you (sonship aspect). Finally, the whole world operates on the “salvation by works” idea, so the salvation by grace completely reverses world’s values.

On three types of bible study and the role of a leader

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 6:52 pm on Monday, July 9, 2007

Over last two months I was looking into various ways to conduct bible studies but realized that there are almost no books on this subject. On the other hand, there are many books, articles and online discussions on various types of preaching. Despite obvious differences between the two (preaching is a one-person act, bible study is a discussion), with a certain degree of direction from the group’s leader, a bible study can be made to follow the same pattern as a sermon.

Three main types of contemporary preaching:

1. Topical – Preaching where the minister decides on a topic and then searches Scripture for biblical texts applicable to the topic.

2. Textual – Preaching that refers to a passage of Scripture but does not use the main point of the text as the main point of the sermon.

3. Expository (expositional) – Preaching that takes the point of the text as the point of the sermon.

There is a great debate between which type of preaching is the best. Most evangelicals now use expository preaching, while topical preaching is more popular in liberal and charismatic churches. All have their pros and cons: expository is considered the safest but also likely to be dull and impart pure head knowledge.

For a typical bible study I have a strong preference for the “textual” type. Here is my reasoning. No matter what passage you take, there is always the main point and many secondary points that it makes. In many cases it is impossible to cover all points in the span of a two-hour discussion, so a certain focus is necessary. Expository (also called inductive) bible studies constraints you to only focus on the main point, regardless of its importance to our lives. Very often it is the side points that are more applicable to us. On the other hand, textual bible study will free you to choose the point to focus.

I must say that I have already tried textual study several times in my bible study group. It was interesting to observe that some easily accepted it while others were left puzzled. Eventually, it led me to lengthen the study so that I can cover as many points as possible, but this is not the best way.

This leaves me with a question I am still not able to answer completely, “What is the role of a bible study leader?” I see it as an interplay between two options:

1) The leader is aware of all points the passage makes but arrives at the study without a preconceived idea of which direction the study will take. He/she then observes the natural direction the discussion takes and provides necessary input.

2) The leader is aware of all points the passage makes but decides which points he would like the group to concentrate on prior to study. He/she then stirs up the discussion in the preferred direction.

My grace is sufficient for you

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:37 am on Sunday, July 8, 2007

Karl Barth, probably the most influential theologian of the 20th century and a very prolific writer, often visited prisons to preach to the convicts. Here is an excerpt from one of his prison sermons:

“My grace is sufficient for you”, 2 Corinthians 12:9. This is a very short text, a mere six words. The shortest I’ve ever preached on. The brevity is an advantage for you – you can contain it better. I might say in passing that every time I come here, I am very concerned that not so much my sermon but the text that it follows may really sink in and go with you. This time then, my grace is sufficient for you. The wonderful spice of the saying lies in its brevity. The six words are enough. Some of you may have heard that in last forty years I have written many books, some large. I will freely and frankly and gladly admit that these six words say much more and much better things than the heaps of paper with which I have surrounded myself. They are enough, which cannot be said even remotely of my books. What may be good in my books can it mostly be that from a far they point to what these six words say. When my books are long since outdated and forgotten, and every book in the world with them, these words will shine with everlasting fullness. “My grace is sufficient for you”

To believe or not to believe?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:04 am on Friday, July 6, 2007

This is the title of an article published in Economist magazine on June 2, 2007. The topic is two recently published books, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” by an atheist Christopher Hitchens and “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief” by Francis Collins, who is a Christian and a scientist.

I especially like the point that the article makes regarding why some people believe in God and some do not. There is really little to distinguish the two types – they often have the same education and occupation. And neither can convincingly explain what made him believe or not to believe. Conclusion is that there seems to be some intrinsic feeling that makes you get it or not.

Funny thing, the Bible makes a similar point. Jesus says in John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

It is the God who gives you ability to get it or not – there is no mystery. How do you know whether you have it or not? Very simple, the answer is just a few verses earlier in the same text:

John 6:40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

Catholic view of biblical interpretation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 12:55 am on Wednesday, July 4, 2007

My brother, Kirill, continues to supply with some unique alternative views on the topics I am studying. This time, he quotes a Catholic view on biblical interpretation as described in Cathechism of Catholic Church:

The senses of Scripture

According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”

The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.

2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.

3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.
A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.”

I shall post some reflections (and personal critisisms) of this view in one of my future posts. For now, just a few comments:

1) The literal meaning of the text the Cathechism is talking about is not the same as the original writer’s intended meaning, I was talking about in my original post.
2) “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.” is a very vague statement. From the description of the allegorical sense, it seems by “being based” they mean “looks like” or “resembles”.

Otherwise, there are some nuggets in these statements that when polished will become absolutely true.

Want to attend a seminary for free?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 6:52 am on Tuesday, July 3, 2007

I stumbled upon Biblical Training website some time ago and what a gold mine it is. The website contains some 20-30 (and growing) seminary level courses presented by some of the most gifted seminary teachers. There you have John Piper teaching a course of “Pastoral Theology”, Bruce Ware – a course on systematic theology, Timothy Tennent – several courses on Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Bill Mounce (famous for several of his Greek language books and dictionaries) – a course on Greek language, Craig Blomberg (one of my favorite theologians) – Introduction to New Testament.

All lectures can be freely downloaded in mp3 format – I, personally, keep them on my iPod to listen while I am driving.

Covenant Seminary is another place that puts its sermons online for free, but the quality varies (personal opinion!)

Judging others – according to Dostoyevsky

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:21 pm on Sunday, July 1, 2007

My brother, Kirill, quoted Dostoevsky‘s opinion on the topic of judging others (from “Brothers Karamazov”, book 6, chapter 3.). I am posting a shorter version here – for complete quote , see Kirill’s reply to my original “Judging others” post.

Can a Man judge his Fellow Creatures? Faith to the End.

Remember particularly that you cannot be a judge of anyone. For no one can judge a criminal until he recognizes that he is just such a criminal as the man standing before him, and that he perhaps is more than all men to blame for that crime. When he understands that, he will be able to be a judge. Though that sounds absurd, it is true. If I had been righteous myself, perhaps there would have been no criminal standing before me.

If the evil-doing of men moves you to indignation and overwhelming distress, even to a desire for vengeance on the evil-doers, shun above all things that feeling. Go at once and seek suffering for yourself, as though you were yourself guilty of that wrong. Accept that suffering and bear it and your heart will find comfort, and you will understand that you too are guilty, for you might have been a light to the evil-doers, even as the one man sinless, and you were not a light to them. If you had been a light, you would have lightened the path for others too, and the evil-doer might perhaps have been saved by your light from his sin.

Do note that Dostoevsky is not advocating abstaining from judgment, as superficial reading might suggest. Instead he says, “When he (a man who wants to judge) understands that (that he in some sense is as guilty as the criminal), he will be able to be a judge.” I will probably make another post clarify this point.

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