Who’s Up (today) for An Honest Reading? John 6:37-40

image Theological discussion in various venues often pits one position of belief against its opposites. Supporters of one position or another like to issue proposition statements of the form ‘If they would give _____ an honest reading’, ‘once I gave ______ an honest reading’,’ you can’t read _________ honestly and still believe’ or various other permutations that are meant to couch the idea that your position is unsupportable in the light of clear interpretation. In other words, the veiled inference is that theological presuppositions have colored your interpretation of the text and if you would put them aside and engage an honest reading of the text, you would certainly see the validity of the opposing position. Let’s see if that’s a valid argument…

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 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.”  (Jn 6:37–40)

It’s All Greek to Me

Yesterday we looked at the various contextual levels in which the reader encounters a bible passage. To avoid mishandling a text or inappropriately proof-texting out of context we need to recognize the material that surrounds the passage to varying degrees of immediacy. We close by turning our attention to the language used by the original author and how well our modern translations accord to the original meaning of the words used. This will come as a shock to some but the Bible was not delivered in Elizabethan English. God elected to transmit His truth through authors in Hebrew and Greek for the most part and if we are going to delve beyond our English (or whatever translated language we read) we need to dive into the original texts. Caution is advised here; words in Greek and Hebrew often have ranges of meaning just like their English counterparts and it is easy to manipulate the interpretation of a passage

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Who’s Up (again) for An Honest Reading? John 6:37-40

image Theological discussion in various venues often pits one position of belief against its opposites. Supporters of one position or another like to issue proposition statements of the form ‘If they would give _____ an honest reading’, ‘once I gave ______ an honest reading’,’ you can’t read _________ honestly and still believe’ or various other permutations that are meant to couch the idea that your position is unsupportable in the light of clear interpretation. In other words, the veiled inference is that theological presuppositions have colored your interpretation of the text and if you would put them aside and engage an honest reading of the text, you would certainly see the validity of the opposing position. Let’s see if that’s a valid argument…

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 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.”  (Jn 6:37–40)

A Text Without a Context May Be a Pretext

We closed our discussion yesterday with a brief discussion of the necessity for recognizing context in interpreting biblical texts. In all cases, we want to avoid the interpretive error of proof texting which, unfortunately, has become a substitute for sound exegesis. In our pursuit of an honest reading, let’s have a look at the context in which this passage occurs, starting from the immediate and moving outward.

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Who’s Up for An Honest Reading? John 6:37-40

image Theological discussion in various venues often pits one position of belief against its opposites. Supporters of one position or another like to issue proposition statements of the form ‘If they would give _____ an honest reading’, ‘once I gave ______ an honest reading’,’ you can’t read _________ honestly and still believe’ or various other permutations that are meant to couch the idea that your position is unsupportable in the light of clear interpretation. In other words, the veiled inference is that theological presuppositions have colored your interpretation of the text and if you would put them aside and engage an honest reading of the text, you would certainly see the validity of the opposing position. Let’s see if that’s a valid argument…

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 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.”  (Jn 6:37–40)

Given the earlier promise of Jesus recorded by the Evangelist John in 3:16-17, the power of the good news that brought many to believe in Samaria recorded in 4:39, and his repetition of the earlier promise for any who believe spoken in 5:24, an honest reading of this passage leads the reader to two conclusions.

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Psalm 7 – Acquit Me O Lord

The psalmist expresses his innocence against all charges in this prayer by casting his fate completely into the hands of the Lord. We are not told what the charges are, but they must rise above the level of even human judgment. David cries out his appeal;

O Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.

O Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands – if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe – then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust. (vv 1-5)

Only the pure of heart can make this bargain for we who approach the throne must know that God searches our hearts and knows what a human judge could not decipher without proof. This becomes even more critical if we follow the psalmist in crying out for satisfaction in judgment against our accuser.

O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure. (v 9)

Before this becomes our prayer, we too must walk the path of light. If any portion of us remains in the shadows we will be tempted to hypocrisy in accusing others of similar guilt. The Spirit searches us day and night and, if we listen, will exert a pull to us out of the dark and convict us when we choose to stay. We are thankful for the imputed righteousness that we have received as believers but our task is to be transformed so that we reflect to a higher and higher degree the source of the righteousness.

I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. (v 17)

Leaving the past behind

Last night as our family gathered to study the word we looked at one of my favorite passages of encouragement, Philippians 3. There are many verses that are especially meaningful in this passage but the two that really caught my attention last night were 3:13 – 14:

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

I am confronted by Paul’s model (and I’m sure I’m not alone) in forgetting what is behind, good or bad. Putting the past behind in return for the newly generated hope in what lies ahead should be an easy thing given the overwhelming greatness of our destination. A newly reborn heart that holds nothing but promise can be stubborn though. I don’t have a problem trading what I thought was really great about my life before Christ renewed me for a different but greater life now. My struggle lies in releasing old injuries, real or supposed, and moving forward.

Why is this such a challenge? Do we hang on to a grudge because we still lack sufficient faith to trust that God works all challenges for good? This might be a partial explanation. Some human notion of fairness pervades our lives and if we interpret an action to have wronged us, our hearts cry out for reprisal in some form. Our souls are turned inside out though and we being forgiven creations are to be forgiving creations. Do we hold on to hurts because it gives us an excuse for our own hurtful behavior? This could also be a remnant of our old being, something to be gotten rid of as we mature. The trouble is the difficulty in doing so.

Perhaps today, as the sun begins to brighten the eastern horizon, I can leave the past behind and commit fully to moving on towards the prize for which God redeemed me. I can only pray.

The Dispensational Perspective on Sanctification

Does the dispensational believer hold a unique view of sanctification that differs from those we have examined thus far? Not particularly. For those not familiar with Dispensational theology, it is an interpretive system that separates the interaction of God and His creation into various economies or ‘ages’. In each of the ages, God placed man under a specific trust, the periods delineated by major crisis events. The system maintains that there is a thread of unity that weaves through the Scriptures and proclaims the glory of God. These theologians arrive at this system by a consistently literal interpretation of the Bible.

As with any theological discussion, we must remember that within any group there are a variety of view, and within Dispensationalists it is no different. Many hold a view of Sanctification that is consistently Reformed in its definition. It is seen in two parts, a positional change occurring at the moment of justification and continuing progressively through the life of the believer by the Grace of God. Unique to the Dispensational view is an idea often credited to theologian Lewis Perry Chafer in which the believer’s sanctification is viewed through the filter of their two natures. The progressive sanctification occurs as the believer yields to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This progressive action is separated from the initial justification, requiring a separate act of faith for its initiation.

This view of humankind and its two natures has its roots in Augustinian thought. Used in discussing sanctification, it is presumed to explain why the Christian continues to sin after their justification by God. Moreover, if this powerful influence remains in humankind, how much sanctification can be reasonably be assumed? The old nature, referred to as the ‘flesh’ is not eradicated by the new birth; it exists side-by-side with new nature that is desirous of holiness. As Charles Ryrie succinctly describes,

The moment one accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Savior he becomes a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). The life of God within him begets a new nature which remains with him along with the old as long as he lives. Understanding the presence, position and relationship of the old and new within the life of a believer is essential to experiencing a wholesome and balanced spiritual life. [Balancing the Christian Life, Ryrie]

He argues against the use of nature to visualize two men living side by side as this give opportunity to assign blame for one’s sinful behavior to ‘the little man’ that lives inside of the new creation. Ryrie instead recommends that the word nature be replaced by capacity.  In doing so, we see that despite our new birth, we retain the capacity for sin. The goal of sanctification then is to reduce this capacity by a commensurate increase in one’s capacity for righteousness. The regeneration and new birth leads us to another important concept in understanding Dispensation sanctification and that is the filling of the Holy Spirit. Regeneration coincides with the baptism in the Holy Spirit for the Dispensationalist and it is not seen as a subsequent crisis event. The filling of the Holy Spirit is altogether a separate matter.

In this perspective, all Christians are regenerated, baptized, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit but not all Christians are filled with the Spirit. This vital concept is the explanation for the wide difference in the spiritual power and experience exhibited by the members of the Church. The Dispensationalist states that the infilling of the Spirit, the power for all ministry and the source of sanctification of the believer is a work of God subsequent to the regeneration. It occurs repeatedly throughout the life of the Saint and is the source of fruitfulness. Pointing to Eph 5:18,

Do not get drunk on wind, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

leads back to the twin capacities suffered by man. Just as wine changes ones capacity to act, the infilling of the Spirit changes one’s capacity and enables him or her to fulfill the will of God. Putting the verse to the grammatical test, it is well known that the verb “be filled” is in the present tense, giving it the meaning to “keep on being filled.”  This filling is not automatic however. The believer must be fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit in order to receive these fresh infusions, making progress in sanctification conditional and sometimes halting.  (Here the Dispensationalist departs from their generally Calvinistic view to realize that human will affects plays a role in this process of the Sovereign God. They would not go so far as to commend Arminian theology but rather, they refer to this a more moderate Calvinism.)

Conclusion

Dispensational sanctification views the process as a twofold occurrence in the life of the Christian. It is at once positional, placing the sinful human being into a righteous relationship with God and progressive, changing the new creature over the span of their life. There is no perfection in this life with that event only occurring when the believer moves into the next life in the presence of the Lord. Uniquely Dispensational is the view that one must act a second time in faith to initiate this progressive pattern of change.

The Pentecostal Perspective on Sanctification

Summarizing the Pentecostal doctrine on sanctification is either very easy or extraordinarily complex. The reason for this is the wide range of Christians that congregate under this umbrella and the corresponding wide range of application for this important aspect of the believer’s life. The doctrinal range extends from the very conservative two step positional-progressive sanctification to holiness as a second work of grace to be followed by baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Myer Pearlman (Knowing the Doctrines) provides the most general definition of the Pentecostal doctrine as including separation from sin and the world and dedication or consecration to the fellowship and service of God through Christ. This may translate into different practices among the believer groups; some will abstain from ‘wordly’ thing (e.g. tobacco, drink, short dresses) while others interpret this more liberally as simply the search for holiness according to specific biblical standards. In general however, the Pentecostal observes sanctification as occurring in the three familiar events. It is instantaneous at the moment of belief, where the new Christian is immediately set apart from sin. Sanctification is progressive as well, continuing throughout the term of one’s life as we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. Finally, using a term that can have a variety of definitions, there is entire sanctification. This final state is almost universally seen as occurring only at glorification when the believer passes into the immediate presence of the Lord.

Progressive sanctification is viewed as a tri-cooperative effort. Our progress comes through the work of the Holy Spirit, our cooperation as we surrender to His work, and through the Word of God (John 17:17). The Word of truth comes alive only through the intervention of the Spirit as He interprets for each believer how that truth applies to our lives. All of this combines to attain a maturity that God desires for us, continuing in this process until we return to our heavenly home.

Controversy arises when the doctrine of Baptism in the Spirit enters the discussion. Many of the Oneness (Jesus Only) Pentecostals take the extreme position that one cannot be saved (thus be sanctified) until receiving the baptism in the spirit and giving evidence through the gift of tongues. Trinitarian Pentecostals view the Baptism as a secondary event subsequent to regeneration. The Assemblies of God for example, sees the progressive sanctification and the visible change in their life as evidence of the infilling of the Spirit.

Conclusion

As stated in the initial paragraph, there is a wide range of belief in the Pentecostal congregations regarding sanctification and its application. For the most part, the combined instantaneous and progressive nature of this doctrine can be found in the statement of belief of nearly all of the churches. Ultimately, there is a common goal of holiness in the believer that is standard to all of the doctrines, something held in common with the Calvinist and Arminian doctrines as well.