Three ways to live

Which is your way?

1 Corinthians 15:35-58 – summary of study

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 10:06 am on Friday, November 30, 2007

How do you explain a blind from birth person what is red color? The only choice you have is to appeal to his other senses (hearing, smell, touch, taste). But is the taste of orange is like red color? Or maybe touch of wood is like a red color? Well, not really.

But this is exactly what Paul is trying to do in this passage, explain to us what’s going to happen at the resurrection. The main question is in v.35: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”. Verses 36-50 provide the answer to the second question, while the first question is quickly addressed in verses 51-52.

1. Key observations about the nature of the new body

  • The new body is as different from our current body as the plant is different from the seed – v.37. Pushing the metaphor a bit, just as a plant is much more alive than the seed, we will be much more alive than we are now
  • Everybody’s bodies will be different, just as animal bodies are different from human and from heavenly bodies – v.38
  • The new body will be a spiritual body rather than a natural body – vv.44-49
  • The current body is perishable, the new will be imperishable – v.42
  • New body shall bear the likeness of Jesus – v.49

2. What is the difference between the natural and spiritual bodies mentioned in vv.44-49?

It is a common mistake to think that physical means material and spiritual means immaterial. That is not what Paul means. If the new body is going to be immaterial, why talk about body at all? Why not just call it spirit? Or earlier in 1 Cor 10:3-4, when Paul talks about spiritual food and drink, does he imply that these are immaterial? No, there by spiritual he means that their source was the spiritual rock of God. In 1 Cor 2:15, Paul addresses a spiritual man as somebody who has the Holy spirit.

One of the sources of confusion is the translation “natural body”. A better translation is “soulish body”, body formed from and for the soul. Spiritual body is then a body formed from and for the spirit, which does not mean it will be immaterial.

3. In the last two verses Paul is basically saying, Now, since you understand these facts about resurrection, devote yourself to the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. What’s the connection?

One possible answer is that proper understanding of the resurrection might help you do your work better. It could also mean that in the view of resurrection, some work matters and other not. I think both statements are true – there is a work that is not in vain because of resurrection and understanding this connection will help you do this work better. Just as our new bodies will be different from the current ones, as the plant differs from its seed, both have something in common – the share the DNA. There is some continuity between the current and the new creations – something that we do here now will be in some sense preserved in the life to come.

One obvious example is evangelism – a saved soul now will become a new resurrected inhabitant in the New Earth – a clear connection between now and then. Another example is giving away your earthly possessions that Jesus equates to storing up treasures in Heaven. This is clearly work not in vain.

However, it is also important not to push this idea too far. What you believe will matter in the life to come should not be the only guiding principle to what you do now. For example, if this Earth will be completely destroyed and nothing from it will be carried out to the New Earth, why care about rare species, global warming, pollution, etc? Yet what about God’s command to take control and care for his creation in Gen 1? Another example is marriage – there will be none in the new life. So why get married now, if it’s not going to last?

There is more to life that just trying to do what we think will matter in the next life. First, we have to admit we do not always know what will matter. Will there be music and, if yes, will my skill and appreciation for it be preserved? Will there be science? If doing something helps strengthen the character, will it be preserved? Second, some things are worth doing only because they serve to represent God or obey his commands, whether we think the results of such actions will last or not.

Do they believe the Bible?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:43 am on Thursday, November 29, 2007

I think this is a neat way to test the leaders who want to run your country:

However, let me point out what I think is a deficiency in all three answers. The question should not be whether you believe the Bible literally or not, it should be whether Bible has authority over you. What do you do when you encounter a passage that requires a change in you behavior or attitude? Do you tend to write it off as something cultural or outdated? Or do you think long and hard how to properly apply it to your life? This makes all the difference.

Very often those who say they don’t believe Bible is literally true are those who end up picking and choosing what to believe from it. They might like “Love your neighbor” and discard “Take up your cross and follow me”, accept “Forgive your brother” and reject “I am the truth, the way and the life. No one comes to father except through me”.

How are you doing?

On John Piper and Christian Hedonism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 10:27 am on Sunday, November 25, 2007

John Piper is probably most famous for promoting so-called Christian Hedonism. In case you are wondering, a hedonist is one who lives a life devoted to finding and experiencing maximum pleasure or happiness. Sounds incompatible with Christianity, does it? Wrong, says John Piper.

Here is his logic, very simplified but hopefully still true to the original.

  1. There is nothing wrong with the desire for pleasure, but there are many wrong ways to go about achieving it.
  2. Since God is our creator, he intended that ultimately we achieve this desire by taking pleasure in Him
  3. God has created the world and us for His own glory
  4. These two things (God seeking his own glory and us seeking pleasure in God) must go hand-in-hand. We find the deepest pleasure – God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him

When I first heard these ideas, I readily accepted points 1 and 2, due to my familiarity with numerous C.S. Lewis notes on these, see my earlier post. But point 3 came to me as a big surprise. What? God is so selfish as to seek his own glory? If you have a similar issue, you might want to to take a look at a long list of scriptural references that supports this view.

If you are interested in learning more, read Pleasure of God, by John Piper, where all these ideas are presented in much greater detail. The first three chapters are also available as a free download here.

The purpose of thanksgiving prayer?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:40 am on Thursday, November 22, 2007

I’ve been talking to some friends about importance of prayer recently, and I shared with them I don’t have a problem with thanksgiving or meditation prayer, yet I don’t completely understand the petition prayer – why ask God for something if He already knows what you need. One of them pointed it to me that the same can be said about thanksgiving prayer – why thank God if He already knows you are grateful. Well, I thought, if you put it that way, I don’t understand it either.

Just now I came across this post with a mystery quotation that, in opinion, addresses this issue very well:

Jesus’ encounter with the ten lepers illustrates the importance of thanksgiving. Countless sermons have been preached about the healing of the ten lepers, focusing attention on the theme of gratitude. The thrust of many of these sermons has been that Jesus healed ten lepers, but that only one of them was grateful. The only polite response to such preaching is to call it what it is—nonsense. It is inconceivable that a leper enduring the abject misery he faced daily in the ancient world would not be grateful for receiving instant healing from the dreadful disease. Had he been one of the lepers, even Adolph Hitler would have been grateful.

The issue in the story is not one of gratitude, but of thanksgiving. It is one thing to feel grateful; it is another thing to express it. Lepers were cut off from family and friends. Instant cleansing meant release from exile. We can imagine them deliriously happy, rushing home to embrace their wives and children, to announce their healing. Who would not be grateful? But only one of them postponed his return home and took time to give thanks. The account in Luke 17 reads: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan” (verses 15-16; italics mine).

Avoiding resurrection – an evangelical trap?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 3:29 am on Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Don’t you ever feel that things come in clusters? Like you discover something and suddenly come across an unexpected relevant material. Happens to me all the time!

Soon after I finished my last post on the importance of resurrection, I came across this post by Adrian Warnock. Here Adrian is wondering whether Evangelicals, in general, or John Piper, in particular, are falling in all-too-common evangelical trap of not mentioning resurrection when citing Bible passages that talk about the gospel. While it’s likely to be just a slip on the Piper’s side, Adrian acknowledges that in his own gospel presentation he is often guilty of not even mentioning the resurrection.

Looks like it is a problem and I am not alone.

1 Corinthians 15:1-34 – summary of study

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:32 am on Monday, November 19, 2007

Unlike my typical summaries, this time I want to simply highlight an important lesson that this passage offered to me personally. The lesson can be summarized as follows: Christ’s resurrection is an integral part of the gospel, just as the fact that he died as the sacrifice for our sins. I realized that in all of my gospel definitions and presentations I barely mention the resurrection part. And many Christians make the same mistake. We often think it is the Christ’s atonement for our sins that makes us right with God, and the resurrection is just there to prove that we will also be resurrected.

Of course, it is true that Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of all who has fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:20) and through him we will be resurrected on the last day (1 Cor 15:23). But according to v.17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins”, it appears that the resurrection is important not only to our future life but also the present condition of our sins. And this is not the only place where this idea is conveyed; for example, Romans 4:25 says “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification“.

Now, there is no universal agreement on how to understand this statement. The most common interpretation is that by raising Jesus from the dead God confirmed that His sacrifice was acceptable. I am not really convinced; after all, there is no Biblical pattern that would confirm this practice. Others suggested a parallel between “in your sins” and “in Jesus”, meaning that we are saved from our sins not into nothingness but into the relationship with the living Christ. Unless we are brought into Jesus, we are still in our sins. Again, I do not find this interpretation very convincing.

For now, the best interpretation I can provide is that resurrection was the proof that Jesus is the Messiah and that we can believe every other word he said. The disciples of Jesus knew that his death was sacrifice for our sins yet were scattered in fear because of His execution. It is only after Jesus reappeared in the new bodily form, that they were ready to take courage and proclaim the gospel. So, the Old Testament scripture predicting Christ’s sacrifice, John the Baptist testimony, Jesus’ own teachings and miracles were not sufficient for them to believe. What had changed them was the proof that Jesus was raised to life.

No matter what interpretation you prefer, one thing should be clear – Jesus’ death for our sins and resurrection are two equally important parts of the gospel. Hence if we seek to live a gospel-centered life, resurrection should have equally strong impact on what we do.

How to avoid pride – advice by A. Kuraev

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:54 am on Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pride is the most serious of human sins as it is what makes us self-sufficient and thus turns away from God. Yet is there anything wrong with taking pride in what we do, our successes and achievements? A short answer is usually No, but these may become bridges that lead us to real pride.

One common way of avoiding taking pride in our achievements is thinking of them as lesser achievements. Yet, this results in false humility which is in some sense another kind of pride. A. Kuraev suggests, what I think, a better solution:

When you are proud of having done your job well, try to think of something else where your performance is sub par. For example, yes, I am a good teacher, but I am a not such a good husband. Yes, I am a good friend, but I often get angry toward those whom I don’t know as well.

This approach helps to combat pride by reminding you where you stand as a whole person, yet avoids false humility.

Blog readability level

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 10:18 pm on Tuesday, November 13, 2007

cash advance

Anyway, I don’t think these guys are serious.

Dostoevsky on the meaning of life

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:44 am on Tuesday, November 13, 2007

From Dostoevsky’s famous “Brothers Karamozov”:

Much on earth is hidden from us, but to make up for that we have been given a precious mystic sense of our living bond with the other world, with the higher heavenly world, and the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not here but in other worlds. That is why the philosophers say that we cannot apprehend the reality of things on earth. God took seeds from different worlds and sowed them on this earth, and His garden grew up and everything came up that could come up, but what grows lives and is alive only through the feeling of its contact with other mysterious worlds. If that feeling grows weak or is destroyed in you, the heavenly growth will die away in you. Then you will be indifferent to life and even grow to hate it.

Integrating faith and work – summary of study

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:41 am on Monday, November 12, 2007

In the secular world, the attitude toward work is best expressed by Adam Smith, that father of western economic theory – work functions in capitalism as a means of attending wealth and ease. We work so that the rest of our life can be better. But we, as Christians, are called to put our faith at the center of everything that we do, even our work, i.e. to integrate our faith and work.

By integrating faith and work some mean rules of ethical behavior that our faith imposes on our work practices, such as honesty, respect for customers, trustworthiness, fairness, etc. Another opinion is that it means we should try to evangelize at work, either explicitly or implicitly (by providing a good example of Christian behavior). However, there are several problems with such understandings:

  1. Ethics has substantial overlap between religions and even secular law, so there is not much special about Christian ethics in terms of what actual dos and don’ts.
  2. Ethics establishes a very superficial connection between work and faith, where faith provides a set of boundaries, operating within which is considered ethical. But faith has no influence on what happens within these boundaries
  3. Ethics tells you what to do without explaining why. This makes it difficult to comply with when it may hurt you financially.
  4. Trying to evangelize at work might be against your company’s rules. If one hopes to provide a great example that will attract non-believers to Christianity, that is a noble goal. However, it is very likely that work pressures, stress, conflicts, may actually make you a poor example.

I think that a better way to understand the relationship between our faith and work is to remember that God has chosen us to be a holy nation to represent him here on Earth. This means two things:
a) He may use us to accomplish his work
b) Since non-believers will be making judgment about Him by looking at what we do, the purpose of our work, in addition to sustaining us materially, should be to give people a correct impression of what God is about, what He is doing and what He wants us to do.

What is God’s work and what would He want others to understand about him through our actions? God creates, either something from nothing (only God can do this!) but often something orderly out of something disorderly. In fact, the latter is something Adam and Eve were asked to do – take care of the garden, to maintain its order, see Gen 2:15. The fall of men led to several new problems – separation of people from God (Gen 3:8), conflict between people (Gen 3:12), conflict between people and nature (Gen 3:17-18), and disintegration of creation – pain and death (Gen 3:16,19). Since the fall, the God’s work is to do undo the effect of the fall – bring people back to him, back to each other, restore the creation, or reEden the world, as Tim Keller once put it.

If this is true, except for a few obvious examples like a criminal or a drug dealer, there is no such thing as good or bad work. Yes, we often view full time ministry, helping the poor or disadvantaged, counseling, as more “Christian” or more useful to God. But working in the financial industry helps to bring order into our economical dealing with each other. Insurance helps us to pool the risks and hence deal with difficult situations in life, like disease or a loss of family provider. Creating music is about bringing beauty out of chaos of sounds and allows us to better understand the beauty of God’s creation. The doctor’s job is to bring a falling apart physical body back into unity.

Yet, despite general goodness of almost every work, human sin can make it give a wrong impression about God or go against God’s purpose. How exactly this might happen should be studied on a case-by-case basis. Consider, for example, marketing, which is often looked down upon in the Christian church. Negatively, marketing is often defined as “Creating need in somebody else for your profit, whether they need it or not”. But on the positive side, marketing is communication – its goal is to be heard and understood. God’s revelation through the written word, Bible, can be consider a case of marketing. But here are few potential things that can go wrong:

  1. Not every need that marketing tries to satisfy is good. Some needs lead to unraveling of creation rather than reweaving it back. Take smoking for example.
  2. The need might be fine, but is marketed through wrong channels. For example, there is nothing wrong with trying to look beautiful, desire for beauty is inherent to all of us. But the beauty products are often marketed through making women feel inferior about their own bodies, something that clearly goes against God’s intention.
  3. The need might be fine, but may be over-marketed, which may make people buy more than they need or buy something they don’t need. This can provide a fertile ground for sin: greed, idolatry, pride.
  4. Misrepresentation of the product by highlighting its positive sides and avoiding the negative, which basically amounts to lying.
  5. Promoting consumerism and competition. It is through marketing that we become aware of all possible providers, which increases competition. This can have both positive and negative aspects. On one hand, competition is good as it improves the quality and reduces the cost. But it often leads to over-work, break-down of family relationships, etc.
Next Page »