Learning to Love God’s Word

“How sweet are Your words to my taste,
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

Ps. 119:103

It took me a long time to enjoy Bible study. As a matter of fact, I had been a leader at Grace for two and a half years before I ever really got into studying the Scriptures on my own and enjoying it. But now, I love it. If I could, I would spend all of my mornings just sitting and pouring through the Scriptures, memorizing, translating, interpreting, or just reading them. I feel toward them as David did when he said that God’s words “are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine fold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps. 19:10). That is some pretty strong imagery there, but how did I come to love the Word that much?

Like I said, I was a leader for a long time before I really got into studying the Scriptures on my own. I had gone through Inductive Bible Study as a leader a few times, and had certainly learned a lot from it, but it was not something I was about to do in my spare time. Then, my senior year, as a Servant Team leader, I was challenged by my leader to begin to pour through each weeks lesson. To not just do what it took each week to get by, but to really spend time doing each part of the inductive process. This meant I would do word studies, do mechanical layouts, read some online commentaries, write out a bunch of observations, and even memorize the book. At first, this was difficult, but as time passed I began to enjoy the challenge of it, as well as all that God was revealing to me that I had never seen before. It helped that each week after our Bible study on Sunday nights, my friend Steven and I would get together at a coffee shop and discuss in more depth what we had learned. As he and I discussed the passages, we realized that the way we were understanding 1 Peter was different than what our leader was teaching us each week, so we told him as much. We thought we were right, and Jerry, our leader, let us think that we weren’t completely wrong, and so all of a sudden, Steven and I began to develop an ownership of the Word. Not only were we studying it, but we were developing our own beliefs from it instead of being spoon-fed everything, and it was great! I grew so much through studying 1 Peter, because for the first time in my life I was studying the Scriptures on my own, seeking the Lord in them, and letting Him speak to me through them.

This is why we do Inductive Bible study at Grace. Of course, we desire for you to know what the books of Titus and 1 Peter are about, but more than that, our desire is for believers to have a passion for the Scriptures and to know how to study them on their own. If you find your time in the Word to be dry or boring, let me offer up a suggestion: spend even more time in it. The more you spend in there, the more it will become like “the drippings of the honeycomb.”

Marty Scott

Responding to Brother Jed

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Ephesians 2:8-9.

For the past couple of weeks, “Brother Jed” has been preaching to students near the MSC on the Texas A&M campus. Most days he has spoken to crowds of forty or fifty at a time, some of whom listen quietly and others who argue and debate theology with him.

When I heard him last Wednesday, I was struck by some odd comments he was making regarding the nature of mankind, particular man’s sinfulness (or lack thereof). I took it upon myself to visit his website — yes, this open-air preacher has a well-developed website — to learn a bit more about his theology. While scrolling through the FAQ’s, I ran across the following statement: “I consider it an honor to be considered a modern day Pelagius.” Suddenly I understood the theological background of his preaching about sin and salvation. Allow me to explain.

Pelagius (c. 354 – 420 A.D.) was a British monk who came to Rome in 380 A.D. preaching a brand of theology that quickly attracted a following. Most notably, Pelagius denied that mankind was inherently sinful; he instead insisted that humanity was born with the innate capacity in his unredeemed state to please God through acts of righteousness. Consequently, the “grace of God,” according to Pelagius was nothing more than God’s assistance of men and women to earn his approval through good works. In a very real sense, he believed that we could earn our salvation if we tried hard enough.

Needless to say, this casts doubt on the absolute necessity of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for salvation. Most Pelagians believe that the death of Christ was simply an example for us to follow, and not a substitution of God’s Son on our behalf to satisfy the Father’s wrath for our sin. Some, however, hold that the atonement removes our individual acts of sin, but that our works cooperate with the cross of Christ to provide salvation. Christian perfection is possible and expected in their system because we are inherently righteous; sin is generally redefined to mean only voluntary or willful transgressions against the revealed Law.

The problem, of course, with Pelagius’s system is that it is incompatible with numerous passages of Scripture. Romans 5:12-17 makes it clear that we are inherently sinful as a result of the sin of Adam; he represented us in his sin, and because of it we are condemned. Ephesians 2:1-3 states that we are “by nature children of wrath,” not merely as a result of evil deeds but as a consequence of a broken and sinful nature. The ONLY solution is complete reliance on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for eternal life (Ephesians 2:8-9). Good works will never be meritorius, because they cannot overcome our inherent sinfulness (Romans 3:9-20).

Ultimately, the Church rejected the views of Pelagius at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. and embraced the views of Augustine, who held a more biblical position on grace and original sin.

As you walk by and hear Brother Jed this week, I would encourage you not to engage him in debates or arguments about his theology. Instead, use his presence as an opportunity to share with your friends the true message of Jesus Christ: Sinful and depraved men and women have the opportunity for salvation only because of what He has done on our behalf. He transforms broken men and women into conformity with Christ, rather than expecting that we transform ourselves for sake of earning salvation. Hallelujah, what a Savior indeed!

Matt Morton

Fortify the Walls

Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.
-Proverbs 25:28

What exactly are the consequences faced by a city whose walls are broken down? The answer is vital to understanding the pitfalls of a life that lacks self-control. In OT times, the walls were the most important feature of a city or town. Without the fortification provided by walls, a city was defenseless. The walls were the primary means by which a people maintained possession and control of a city. They were the chief defense system against enemy attacks. In fact, King David’s initial objective upon seizing the city of Jerusalem was to construct a surrounding wall (2 Sam 5:9).

Therefore, a city whose walls are broken down was a city ready to be captured, a city left undefended, and a city whose people were primed to be enslaved. Likewise, a man who lacks self-control is defenseless and ready to be mastered by whatever attack may come his way. One man phrased the coming assaults in this way: “such things as selfishness, lack of discipline, procrastination, immorality, no time for God, compromise, and rebellion”. The defenseless man becomes enslaved to these things.

It is for this reason that the building up of self-control is imperative in a man or woman who desires to follow after Christ and daily live in the freedom that He offers. To be free from the enslavement of things contrary to God requires this discipline. The apostle Paul likewise expounds upon the importance of self-control as he describes the criteria of character that God desires from His church elders in the book of Titus. It becomes necessary for these leaders to possess self-control in order to represent the church of God the way He intended.

As we follow men who follow God, we must follow their example of self-control. For us to live a life chasing wholly after Christ, we must uphold the city walls that defend us from our common enemy’s attacks. We must sustain our self-control.

Steven Villacin, College Intern

Did Jesus Really Exist?

Hello friend! My name is Matt Spinelli. I’m a college intern here at Grace and have been given the privilege to write the next blog entry on the Grace blog! For those of you who don’t know me I’m kind of a New Testament research junkie. I visit a New Testament blog everyday to see what developments are happening in the New Testament research world. This January I learned of the formation of “The Jesus Project”. This is a collection of Biblical Scholars, mostly from the more liberal side of scholarship, that will debate at seminars during the year whether Jesus actually existed or not. This follows on the heels of the highly publicized Jesus Seminar. So in light of this I thought it would be good to answer the question, “Can we be sure that Jesus really existed?”

One way to investigate this question is to search for sources that are outside of the New Testament and do not have a Christian bias to them. The reason we look for sources like this is that we can be fairly confident that the evidence they present for the existence of Jesus is sound and not merely trying to bolster the Christian movement. An example of such a source comes from the Roman historian Tacitus.

Tacitus lived from 56 AD to 117 AD and wrote a history examining the reigns of several Roman emperors. The text that we are going to focus on for our purposes is in his Annals 15.44: “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”

One of the first things that we need to notice is that Tacitus was not a Christian. So we can be pretty sure that whatever he said about Jesus was not slanted toward the Christian movement. So what does he say about Jesus? Notice the line where he mentions “Christus” who “suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius”. The overwhelming majority of scholars think that this is one of the few secular references to Jesus. From this we can learn that Jesus was crucified during the reign of Tiberius by Pontius Pilate. This information, while brief, does help to answer the question of the existence of Jesus, as well as the historical validity of his crucifixion. Would a Roman Historian who has no interest in promoting Christianity comment on an individual who didn’t exist? I don’t think so.

This means that there is good evidence for the existence of Jesus outside of the New Testament. This should help bolster our confidence in the Gospels and in the one whose “word is truth” (John 17:17.)

Matt Spinelli