Daniel Rowlands

Pineapples and Biblical Interpretation—What’s the Connection?

The very first fallacy theologian D. A. Carson lists in his classic book Exegetical Fallacies is “the root fallacy.” What is the root fallacy and why is it of such importance to merit being first of many potential errors we risk committing while interpreting what the Bible says and means?
The etymology of a word is its history of development over time.
In short, Dr. Carson defines the root fallacy as determining the meaning of a word in the Bible by its etymology or component parts. The etymology of a word is like its genealogy—its history of development over time. For example, consider how English words have changed over the years.
“Awful” used to mean full of awe and worthy of respect or honor. However, awful now tends to mean terrible or bad. In fact, “terrible” once had a meaning similar to “awe” and “wonder”; but the negative side of the word has won out, and today it means something extremely bad. Word meanings change over time as cultural usage redefines them.
This brings us to the root fallacy of biblical interpretation—exegetical root fallacy.
How does someone commit the error of the exegetical root fallacy?
When people try to define the meaning of a biblical word by appealing to its etymology (its history of how a word’s meaning changes over time) or to its component parts, they are committing the error of exegetical root fallacy. They are trying to say a word now means such and such because its meaning used to be such and such or because its parts mean such and such.

“Firm in Faith”: Trusting God in Uncertain Times

Our hope is in God, just as it was for Ahaz. If we are to stand in the days of our own troubles, we must be firm in the faith. We must trust our Lord God, the sovereign ruler of all creation, because he is faithful to his promises. We can trust that God will continue to keep all his promises.

In our own day there is much to be afraid of. Many of us have experienced not only the recent pandemic but also violence, turmoil, broken families, tragedy, illness, death of loved ones, political upheavals, and an uncertain future. How can Christians be firm in faith when they are fearful?
Our hope is in God, just as it was for Ahaz in the book of Isaiah.
In chapter seven of the book of Isaiah, King Ahaz was experiencing fear of the unknown and the anxiety about what was coming next as he faced an impending attack and siege against Jerusalem. But God sent his prophet Isaiah to him to tell him not to fear. God ends his encouragement to Ahaz with a short and memorable principle. Capturing the meaning well, the New International Version translates Isaiah 7:9b as follows,

“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”

This is a call for Ahaz—and us—to believe and to trust God. It is a call to put away the fear and anxiety and to “be careful, be quiet, not fear, and not let your heart be faint” (Isa. 7:4).
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Faith or Repentance—Which Comes First?

True faith is grounded in Christ’s work alone, not in anything we do. Yet, let me be clear: there is no pardon of sins without repentance (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30). Repentance proceeds from faith; it does not precede faith. The cause of our pardon is Christ through faith. If repentance preceded faith, then our work of repentance would seem to be part of the ground for God to pardon us, which Scripture doesn’t teach.

The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance. — John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 119.

Repentance is a critical teaching of the Word of God. We are called to proclaim it in the name of Christ Jesus everywhere (Luke 24:47). Yet a question arises: must people repent of their sins and show a changed behavior, that is a changed life, before God grants justifying faith—faith that is the instrument by which God reconciles a sinful person to himself? Or does repentance follow faith? Which comes first—faith or repentance? And how do we know?
How should we define repentance and faith?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism has a helpful, biblically-based definition of repentance:

Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

The Heidelberg Catechism gives a good biblical definition of true faith:

Question 21. What is true faith?
Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

Repentance is turning from sin to obedience. Internally, it is a hatred of sin and a motivation to live in gratitude and love by obeying God’s commands. Externally it is changed conduct. Saving faith is a gift of God in our hearts leading us to trust him alone for our forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation, only because of what Christ has done for us.
So, which comes first—faith or repentance? The answer is faith precedes repentance; it is a fruit of saving faith—not the other way around. A person is reconciled to God (justified) by faith alone, not by faith plus works. Yet, faith without repentance is not saving faith. Let me explain by considering what the Bible teaches.
The Bible contains various passages regarding the need for repentance.
The book of Acts records examples of the apostolic call to repent, believe, and be baptized; the call goes out in various combinations and order.
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Immanuel: The Son Revealed in the Old Testament

Many centuries before he was born in Bethlehem, God revealed his Son to his people, the man who would be called Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). God fulfilled his promise to send his one and only Son so that all who believe in him may have eternal life (John 3:16).

Try to imagine God taking on a human body. With God all things are possible of course—the incarnation is not too difficult for God, even though our thinking about it might make our finite heads swirl. Yet, should we be surprised that God came in the form of a suffering servant—the man Jesus Christ, who would save his people from their sins? Let’s go back to the biblical writings a number of centuries before the incarnation.
“The virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (Isa. 7:14).
About 700 years before Jesus was born in the flesh, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed,

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” [which means “God with us”]. (Isa. 7:14; see also Matt. 1:23)

A child would be born who would rule on the throne of David forever:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).

Isaiah wrote that “the zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isa. 9:7). In other words, God would bring a child into the world to save and rule his people forever.
“You are my Son; today I have begotten you” (Ps. 2:7).
The prophet Micah, also writing about 700 years before Jesus’ birth, said the king would come from Bethlehem:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Mic. 5:2)

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Growing in Holiness

If a person is to bear the fruit of holiness, they must be abiding in Christ, and that only happens by faith—by a hearty trust in him. Trusting Christ means loving him, and loving Christ means obeying him (John 14:15).

The word of God places holiness in a very prominent place when God reveals that his people are to strive for holiness, “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). If we want to see God, to live in his presence in heaven forever, we must possess holiness. But what exactly is holiness, and how do we obtain it?
Holiness is the fruit that shows the image of Christ.
Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God,” according to J.C. Ryle (Holiness, p. 42). It is a desire and ability to love God by keeping his commandments, namely obedience. It is a visible display of God’s grace in a person’s life, the fruit that shows the image of Christ that is being renewed in his followers. Being of one mind with God means “hating what He hates, loving what He loves” (Ryle, p. 42). But, holiness is no small endeavor because it is a battle—hating the sin that remains in our flesh while loving the Lord, who draws us by his love to faithful obedience grounded in gratitude for God’s great salvation in Christ Jesus. The aim of God’s work of sanctification is holiness.
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“Fact-Checking” the Resurrection

The resurrection of Christ Jesus was not a fantasy or a vast conspiracy. There were too many witnesses and too much written testimony to easily dismiss it. Today, skeptics should be encouraged to examine the historical evidence and then consider the evidence of Christ’s church.

Is Christianity private or public? Does the truth about Christ Jesus, who is the object of my faith, depend on my own private beliefs, or is there something verifiable that can be “fact-checked”? The reason I pose these questions is because we are living in a time when the determination of truth and untruth have turned inward, making one’s own personal beliefs the measure of what is true or not.
While examining and verifying evidence and testimony may be found in courts of law, in the press and many political and personal interactions it is common to observe persons passing off as truth what are merely their own feelings, opinions, and beliefs, often without evidence or verifiable testimony.
The resurrection of Jesus was a very public miracle.
Not so with the resurrection of Christ Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus was a very public miracle witnessed by many and supported by evidence at the time it occurred and afterward. The evidence is recorded in Scripture. There are about 5,250 ancient Greek manuscripts of books and parts of the New Testament that record Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The earliest is dated to about 90 years after his death (Rylands Library Papyrus 52).
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3 Good Things to Remember When You Feel Overwhelmed by Your Sin and Failures

When you feel overwhelmed by your sin and failures, remember the finished work of Christ on your behalf and ascribe blessing and glory to God for the love and forgiveness we enjoy at the hand of our loving, kind, compassionate, and merciful Father.

Although we may not be acutely aware of every sin, our conscience testifies to our sense of weakness and failure. In particular, our memories remind us of times in our lives when we may have sinned miserably—angry tempers, selfishness, divorce, harshness, neglect of children or parents, and pride are just a few transgressions we may have committed.
We recognize how the trials we have brought upon ourselves have originated in our own sin. Yet the Lord uses them to train us, to discipline us. The author of Hebrews declares:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Heb. 12:5-7)

1. The Discipline of a Loving Father
It is good to self-examine and learn from our failures. Yet, perhaps more important than lessons learned is the question: how is God glorified in this? Is it possible that even in our self-inflicted trials—when we are acutely aware of our fallen, sinful nature—the glory of God is manifested by his work in and for us? Absolutely.
2. We Are Weak and Dusty Creatures
Consider our weakness as dusty creatures made from earthy clay.
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Are Good Works Good Enough?

If you want to boast in your works, or even in your work of faith, James reminds us that you must keep every point of the law, since even one miss justifies our condemnation for the entire law (see Gal. 5:3-4). And there is only one man who kept the law perfectly, the man Christ Jesus (Heb. 4:15).

Works—they are what we do—our actions. But what does it mean if we add “good?” What makes a work good?
Some may answer that they know a good work when they see it; others may say it is anything that is helpful or loving to another person. But who determines what is good? Does each person decide for themselves? No, it is only God. He is our Creator who has revealed to us what is a good work. Let us consider what he says.
How does God define good works?
When we look at God’s definition of good works in the Bible we find three criteria. A good work is an act that:

Any work we do that fails to meet God’s criteria of what constitutes a good work is sinful and cannot please God (see Mark 7:6-7; Titus 1:15).
What about works done by people who do not believe in Christ Jesus?
Surely some of what unbelievers do can be deemed a good work? No. By the biblical definition of good works, the reprobate—that is, those who are not in Christ Jesus by faith—cannot do good works. Their works may appear good and even be in accord with God’s law and of benefit to others; however, because they do not proceed from a heart purified by faith, they are sinful and cannot please God nor merit anything from him (see Mark 7:6-7; Titus 1:15).
The point the Lord is making is that good works are not merely external. In order to be good, they must proceed internally from a heart purified by God with an internal motive that aims at God’s glory.
What about works done by people who do believe in Christ Jesus?
We must first understand that even as redeemed sinners we are still battling sin. Perfection does not come to us in this creation, but only in the new creation (see Job 9:20; Gal 5:17; 1 John 1:8). Apart from Christ Jesus our works are like filthy rags (Isa. 64:5-7), and even when we have done what was our good duty, we are still unworthy servants (Luke 17:10).
Yet, God sovereignly created us in Christ Jesus for good works, having saved us by grace through faith, not by our own works, so that we cannot boast in anything we have done (Eph. 2:8-10). It is only in Christ Jesus that we do anything that can be called a good work, for such acts proceed only from the Spirit of Christ.
In John 15:4-6, Christ Jesus reveals that any fruit (i.e., good works) that comes from us is only because Christ abides in us and we in him; apart from Christ we can do nothing good—absolutely nothing.
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