Bible Study Cross-Centered Life Theology

Jeremiah 30.21 Daring to approach God

Their prince shall be one of themselves;
their ruler shall come out from their midst;
I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me,
for who would dare of himself to approach me?
declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 30.21)

Like the more well-known prophecy in Micah 5.2, Jeremiah prophesies here that a ruler shall come from Israel itself.  Also like the Micah prophesy, this refers to Christ who will be fully man and fully Jewish, even though he is also fully divine.  But if this is true, the second part of the verse seems difficult to understand. In what sense is Jesus unable to “approach” God “of himself”?

We often lose sight of the humanity of Jesus, that he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”  (Phil. 2.6).  This does not mean that he ceased being God, but that in his humanity alone, Jesus would not dare to approach God because of his right understanding of the majesty of God. 

  And if that is true of Christ Jesus, how much more is it true of us!   No one can dare to approach God “of himself.”  This is not just due to our sin, but because of our finiteness before his greatness.

Perhaps it is reflected in the practice mentioned in Esther that no one could appear before the king without being summoned.

Even in a sinless state, man is not authorized “in himself” to approach God. He remains under God’s authority and cannot operate in any manner independent of God. So it applies to Christ in that in his humanity (and even in the economy of the Trinity) Christ approaches the Father in a position of submission to his authority.

What difference should this make in my life? First, I should realize that the very opportunity to pray to God and to relate to him is a tremendous gift and privilege.

Second, I need to recognize that every time I relate to God that I am under his authority. I have no rights before God except what he grants me. I do not exist in any sense nor at any time in a state of independence from God.  Our wills are rightly exercised only in submission to God, and if we do the right thing and approach God, it is because as he says here, that God has “made us draw near.”

As the next verse shows, we are only God’s people because he has made us his people.

Also, it shows that we approach God with humility not only because we are sinners and he is holy, but also because he is God and we are not! Even in a sinless state, we should approach God with reverence, humility, awe, and trembling. Sinful man, including redeemed sinful men, does not have a deep enough sense of the majesty, awesomeness, and unapproachability of God.  Lord, give me such a sense of your unapproachability, and grant that I may tremble with holy joy when I approach you through the blood of Christ my Savior!

Bible Study Theology

Matthew 7.1 Judge not

D.A. Carson says somewhere that Matthew 7.1 has replaced John 3.16 as the most famous verse in popular culture.  In the age of tolerance that we live in, it would be easy to think that this verse is saying that we should never form an opinion about anything.  But a study of the way the Greek word translated “judge” here is used throughout the NT shows that this is not what Jesus is saying.  In this very chapter we are encouraged to evaluate others in light of their fruits (Matt 7.16,20).  So it is right to discern (judge) that someone is a false prophet and to call him such in order to lovingly warn others away from his false teaching.

In John 7.24 Jesus tells those who are accusing him of breaking the Sabbath to “judge with right judgment.”  In 1 Cor. 5.12 Paul tells us to judge those who are inside the church.   In 1 Cor. 10.15 Paul commands his readers to judge what he says (also 11:13).

So Matt. 7.1 is not an absolute prohibition of any kind of judging!

What Jesus is referring to is made clear when the rest of his statement is read.  When we make judgments about another person’s sinfulness without recognizing our own sinfulness, we are acting as if we have a right to “pronounce” (v. 2) judgment and declare a person guilty on our own authority.  That this is hypocritical is seen in the fact that we ourselves are sinners.  Paul says the same thing in Romans 2.1-3 … “in passing judgment you condemn yourself!”  Judgment belongs to God alone.  Only he has authority to pass judgment in this authoritative, declarative sense. This is stated explicitly in 1 Cor. 4.4-5 where Paul states that it is God who judges in this authoritative sense.   The same idea is expressed in James 4.11-12, and Rom 14.1-13 where we are encouraged not to judge our brothers, not in the sense that we do not discern anything true about them, but in the sense that we do not make authoritative pronouncements over them.

However, what is often overlooked in this very passage is that Jesus ALSO says, “first take the log out of your own eye, and THEN you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  In other words, there is a place for mutual exhortation and saying, “Hey, brother, this in your life is wrong.  We are both sinners.  Let us both live in line with God’s holiness.”   To take the statement here in Matt. 7.1 as a prohibition of ever challenging others to repent and turn from sin would be to twist Jesus’ meaning and thus deny the clear teaching of the NT.  We are told in Matt 18.15 that if our brother sins against us, we are to “tell him his fault.”  Gal. 6.1 also implies that in restoring a brother caught in a transgression, we would confront him with that transgression.  And even more seriously, in 1 Cor. 5.1-5 Paul tells the church to remove an unrepentant brother from the church and says in v. 3 “I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.”  Paul is not in contradiction of what Jesus says here in Matt. 7.1.

Taking all of this information and moving on to the second verse, Jesus shows why we are not to judge in this authoritative manner.  When we judge in this way, putting ourselves in the place of God and condemning others for their sin, we are saying by our actions that this is the right way to judge–just pronounce the person guilty!  But is that really what we want?  Would we ourselves want to be judged by God in this way?  Jesus is saying that if we judge this way, and think that this is right, we need to be prepared to be judged ourselves in this same way.

Our only hope to stand in God’s authoritative judgment of us is to receive mercy and grace from the judge.  Thankfully, through Jesus’ taking our guilt and sin upon himself, the Judge does offer that mercy and grace to all who will repent and humble themselves before him and seek his favor.

Jesus is warning us that if our heart has this kind of attitude–that we are ready to sit in judgment over others–we show that we are not living by the gospel.   And if that is the state of our heart–a gospel-less application of the Law over sinners–then we will also be judged in that way, without mercy and without grace.

Bible Study Theology

Psalm 5 Does God really hate evildoers?

This is a psalm that challenges our paradigm of how we often view the world.  Are we ready to reckon with the fact that according to Psalm 5:5, God “hates all evildoers”?

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. (Psalm 5:4-6)

What in the world does this mean?  How are we to understand this?  What are the implications of this for our relationship with others?

The first thing we should say is that according to many, many other scriptures, this includes all of us.  Just consider Romans 3:10-20.  We are all evildoers.  We are all God’s enemies.  Therefore, the only way that we can “enter God’s house” is through the “abundance of his steadfast love”.  The psalm goes on to say:

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me (Psalm 5:7-8).

As the psalm continues, in vs. 9-10, we see David’s expression of the paradigm given in vs. 4-6.  David does not desire that those whom God abhors be absolved of their guilt.  He actually requests that God would “make them bear their guilt.”  He asks God to “cast them out” because of their rebellion.

For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you (Psalm 5:9-10)

What are we to make of these verses?  How should we pray this same psalm?  It is the Word of God!  Shall we overlook it and just conclude that to pray in such a manner is incomprehensible to us?  Actually, I think that might be a good way to respond.  Let me explain:

If we have trouble praying according to a certain scripture because it seems in our minds to contradict other biblical truths, then we should be careful not to discard those other truths in favor of the scripture we are seeking to follow.  If we cannot pray from a pure heart with no doubts asking God to “cast out” evildoers, then we should refrain and simply ask God to give us insight into what he is revealing of himself here.

That said, here is my best understanding of how we  can reconcile these strong verses with those verses that talk about God’s love for sinners and his lack of pleasure in killing the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11).  What we are asking God to do is to not forgive sin where there is no repentance from that sin (see also Psalm 7:12).    This is why he says, “let all who take refuge in you rejoice…”

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield (Psalm 5:11-12).

David asks for salvation, joy, protection, love, blessing, and favor for ALL who take refuge in the Lord.  Our prayers for evildoers, then, should be that God would graciously bring them to repentance.  We should pray that God would give them a heart that flees to him for refuge.  May God give my non-believing friends a heart that loves his name and exults in Christ Jesus.

Only when we let verses 4-6 sink in to our hearts can we begin to understand the depths of God’s love and grace.