If I’m trying to understand something in the Old Testament, then reading widely—or reading across the Testaments—means I’m allowing more authoritative and inspired texts to illuminate the passage I’m studying. Reading widely increases clarity, enriches meaning, and demonstrates the coherence of the Word of God.
The practice of biblical theology is concerned not just with the trees but with the forest—the Big Picture. Biblical-theological instincts want to read parts in light of the whole, and that means seeing specific texts within the larger context of Scripture’s progressive revelation.
Let’s take an example from Genesis 3. According to Genesis 3:1, a serpent came to Eve and began to tempt her to eat from the forbidden tree. Now this serpent isn’t named in the chapter at all. Genesis 3 has twenty-four verses, and throughout them the figure is only called the “serpent.” But who is this oppositional figure? The chapter doesn’t give more information. In fact, the serpent isn’t mentioned throughout the rest of Genesis. Moreover, the serpent isn’t mentioned in the rest of the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy).
Yet the interpretive instinct of Bible readers is to understand the tempter in Genesis 3 as Satan. Is that because the serpent is named thus in the chapter? No. The reason Bible readers make that identification is because of later biblical revelation.
In the book of Job, for instance, the being known as Satan wants to destroy Job’s integrity and turn him against the Lord. That agenda sounds like the same goal the serpent of Genesis 3 had for Adam and Eve. In the Gospel of Matthew, Satan comes to Jesus in the wilderness to tempt him by twisting God’s words—a strategy familiar to us because of Genesis 3.
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By Stephen Kneale — 1 year ago
We are not called to produce a certain yield, we are called to be faithful. The results, in the end, are his alone. And we can be happy with that because it frees us from the tyranny of thinking they rest upon us.
We all know that the results in ministry aren’t up to us. You do know that, right? My working theory is that enough of us didn’t know this, or acted as though we didn’t know this, that the Lord brought covid to us so that he could show us in no uncertain terms how little he needs us.
When we were entirely shut down and could not readily meet, the Lord seemed to grow our people. When we could run no programmes nor spend time with anybody meaningfully, the Lord seemed to be at work saving people. It is a lesson I am slow to learn and so the Lord continues showing me again and again. He does not need me to do what he wants doing.
I am minded of the person who became a believer whilst we were locked down and couldn’t do any outreach. I am reminded of the other person who trusted in Christ by engaging with all sorts of stuff I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. I am reminded of the person who, though a believer themselves, was in a church with radically different doctrine and a faulty understanding of the gospel. They figured what they were hearing wasn’t right simply because they were reading the Bible and saw it didn’t tally. I can think of several other stories besides.
In all these cases, we had very little (if anything) to do with it. The Lord worked by his Spirit through his Word to achieve what he wanted to achieve. In one case where something we did seemed to play a part, it did not lead to someone joining our church. They went to another church (a good, gospel preaching church) for various reasons. In the other cases, we had nothing really to do with it at all yet the Lord blessed our church as a result.
By Scott Hubbard — 2 years ago
The pursuit of assurance may last long. We may find, moreover, that doubt can return after a long season of confidence, for assurance once enjoyed does not mean assurance always enjoyed. Our peace can rise and fall, requiring a fresh pursuit of assurance through the means God has provided. But however long we have to travel this road, and however often, remember: the preciousness of assurance outweighs all the world.
Soon after becoming a Christian, I started wondering if I really was a Christian. The first doubt struck unexpectedly, like lightning from a cloudless sky. Am I real? I seemed to love Jesus. I seemed to trust him. I seemed to bear the marks of a changed life. But, the thought crept in, so too did Judas.
Though the long night of wrestling slowly passed, I emerged from it like Jacob, limping into the daylight. Assurance has been, perhaps, the main question, the chief struggle of my Christian life over the years, sending me searching for what Paul and the author of Hebrews call “full assurance” (Colossians 2:2; Hebrews 10:22).
The topic of assurance is complex, to put it mildly. Genuine Christians doubt their salvation for many different reasons, and God nourishes assurance through several different means. So the needed word for one doubter often differs from the needed word for another. Nevertheless, for those who find themselves floundering, as I did, perhaps unsure what’s even happening to them, a basic guide to assurance may prove useful.
Possibility of Assurance
By assurance, I simply mean, to borrow a definition from D.A. Carson, “a Christian believer’s confidence that he or she is in right standing with God, and that this will issue in ultimate salvation.” Assured Christians can say, with Spirit-wrought conviction, not only “Christ died for sinners” but “Christ died for me.” Though sin may assault them, and Satan may accuse them, they know themselves forgiven, beloved, and bound for heaven. And the first word to offer about such assurance is simply this: it’s possible.
Your faith may feel small, and your hold on Christ shaky. Even still, it is possible for you to feel down deep that he will never cast you out (John 6:37). It is possible for you to cry “Abba!” with the implicit trust of God’s children (Romans 8:15–16). It is possible for you to “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). It is possible for you to have “confidence for the day of judgment” (1 John 4:17) — indeed, to “know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
God’s desire for his people’s assurance, even for the most fragile of them, burns brightly through the Scriptures. He has knit assurance into his very name, whether old covenant (Exodus 34:6–7) or new (Matthew 1:21). He has spoken assurance in promise upon promise from a mouth that “never lies” (Titus 1:2). And as he once wrote assurance with a rainbow (Genesis 9:13–17), and flashed assurance through the stars (Genesis 15:5–6), so now he has sealed assurance with the greatest sign of all: the body and blood of his dear Son. Week by week, we eat the bread and drink the cup of his steadfast love in Christ (Matthew 26:26–29).
If God’s new covenant is sure (and it is), if his promises are true (and they are), and if his character cannot change (and it can’t), then full assurance is possible for everyone in Christ, no matter how strong our present fears.
Enemies of Assurance
If, then, Scripture testifies so powerfully to the possibility of assurance, why does anyone ever lack assurance — and why do some seem to struggle with it ongoingly? Because Christian assurance is not only possible, but opposed. Of the enemies that assail us, three are chief: Satan, sin, and our broken psychology.
We might expect “the accuser of our brothers, . . . who accuses them day and night before our God” to war against the Christian’s peace (Revelation 12:10). And so he does.
In his classic on assurance, Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards reminds readers that the devil assaulted even the assurance of Jesus (172). “If you are the Son of God, command these stones. . . . If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” (Matthew 4:3, 6). The Father had just said, “This is my beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17), but the devil loves to trade his own if for God’s is.
Many a true Christian has, in turn, heard that dreadful if: “If you are a Christian, why do you sin so much? Why is your faith so small? Why is your heart so cold?” And though Satan’s charges cannot condemn those whom God has justified (Romans 8:33), they certainly can ruin our comfort.
The devil knows that well-assured Christians threaten the domain of darkness more than any other. And so, he protects his property with one of his most-used weapons: doubt.
Alongside Satan, Scripture presents sin as one of the foremost enemies of assurance. Now, of course, assurance in this life always coexists with sin. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Nevertheless, habitual sin, unrepentant sin, or particularly grievous sin darkens our assurance as surely as drawn curtains darken a room — and it should.
“By this we know that we have come to know him,” the apostle John writes, “if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:5). And therefore, when a pattern of commandment-keeping gives way to commandment-breaking, and a pattern of repentance to stubbornness, and a pattern of confession to secrecy, we cannot “know that we have come to know him” with the same confidence as before. We may be secure in Jesus’s grasp, as Peter was even when he denied his Lord, but our sense of that security is rightly weak until we “have turned again” (Luke 22:31–32), and again have heard his pardoning voice (John 21:15–19).
By Tim Challies — 1 year ago
In the next two chapters Raymond focuses on those who have nothing to give and those who are weak before turning to those who still sin, people like you and me who have been saved by his grace but who still commit deeds that are so very rebellious and so very dark. “Run your finger across the pages of the Bible, and you find many examples to prove that God delights to lavish his forgiveness on sinners.
We are at an interesting point in history in which, when people look to the past, they seem more likely to cringe than to celebrate. It has become customary for people to look to their forbears and then disavow them or apologize for them in what has become almost a ritualistic purgation. There are many who are ashamed of their roots, ashamed of their family, embarrassed to admit who and where they have come from.
But isn’t it interesting that this is not the case with God? God has been adopting people into his family for thousands of years and along the way has welcomed many whose pasts are shady at best and scandalous at worst. And despite their sins, despite their scandals, he loves them and refuses to turn away from them. God’s enduring and unashamed love for his people is the subject of Erik Raymond’s new book He Is Not Ashamed.
If we were to assemble a great portrait of God’s family, “we’d find people with unflattering stories. Some are known as the chief of sinners, the sinful woman, the thief on the cross, and the prostitute. We’d also see those who were overlooked and disregarded by society. We’d find weak people unable to give God anything. We’d even see those who wore the uniform of opposition to God. Here in the portrait of grace, we’d find a multitude of misfits. It would be quite the picture.” It would be the kind of picture we might be embarrassed to hang on the walls of our homes. Yet in the very middle of this picture we’d find Jesus, the very best of men, standing side-by-side with some of the very worst. “At first glance, we might think that Jesus doesn’t belong with people like this. What business does majesty have with outcasts? But poring over the Scriptures, we see something else. In this family photo, Jesus may seem out of place, but in reality he’s exactly where he belongs. Even more, he’s right where he wants to be. Instead of being ashamed of them, he calls them family.”
In this book, Raymond examines the kind of people who would be included in this portrait which is to say, the kind of people God delights to identify with. And thankfully, “nobody has a story that can make Jesus blush” for his heart is oriented toward those who need him most, no matter what they may have done or how they may have sinned.