Wednesday, November 4, 2015
While Jesus was upon the earth, He was the Person of the Godhead with whom man most closely related. Jesus was here to represent God to man, which He did wonderfully - to such a degree that He could tell Philip, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father ... I and My Father are one" (John 14:9; 10:30). Jesus was God in flesh upon the earth.
At first the disciples didn't recognize this. But over time they came to realize that when they walked with Jesus along the road, in fact they were strolling alongside of God. Eventually they saw that when they laid their hand upon His shoulder, in reality they were laying their hand on the shoulder of God. They recognized that when Jesus talked to them, they were hearing the very words of God. They understood that when they saw Jesus and His compassion for the sick, they glimpsed the heart of God and His desire to make right that which was wrong. When they saw Jesus take the scourge and drive the money changers out of the temple, they witnessed the determination of God to bring purity to man's religion - or more accurately, to purge man of religion and bring him into a pure relationship with God. When they saw Jesus weeping over Jerusalem because its people had failed to understand the opportunity for salvation that God had given, they watched the heart of God breaking over man's lost chances.
During His roughly 30 years on the earth, Jesus taught the disciples thoroughly and gave them many commandments. But on the day He ascended into heaven, He told His friends He would thereafter give them commandments and direct their activities in a new way. From that day on, He would guide and direct them through the Holy Spirit.
It's critical that we understand this. The Holy Spirit is the primary agent of the Godhead working in the world today. He is the person of the Godhead to whom we relate most closely. He is the One who is gathering a body of believers - the bride of Christ - to present unto the Lord. And the church through the Holy Spirit is doing the work of God in the world.
The Holy Spirit is called the Paraklete, "one called alongside to help." He has come alongside to help us in every situation. He is here to be our strength. He is here to be our provider. He is here to take care of the emergencies that arise in life. Anytime that we need help in any kind of situation, we can know that the Holy Spirit is here to be our helper. He is the One who has been called to come alongside to help us.
The Holy Spirit desires a personal, loving relationship with all of us. He wants to come alongside of you and help you in and through every situation you may face. That is why it is so vitally important that each of us come to know the person of the Holy Spirit, to know Him in His fullness. Only in that way will we be able to experience the comfort, help, and strength that He provides and which all of us so desperately need.
The purpose of this book is to help you get to know the Holy Spirit so that you might enjoy a full, rich relationship with Him. It is my earnest desire to so present His glory and beauty that you will seek to yield your life fully to Him, knowing and personally experiencing His grace, His love, His power, and His gifts.
God wants us to know Him not merely as some eternal creator or as some force or power that fills the universe, but as a loving, caring Father who sent His Son to die for our sins. Jesus made it possible for us to enjoy this intimate relationship through the agency and the power of the Holy Spirit.
I am praying that by God's grace and through this book the Lord will develop in you an insatiable hunger for and thirsting after the Spirit.
I pray that you will come into a deep, personal, intimate relationship with Him so that your life will be transformed by His power. I pray that you will come to depend upon Him for guidance, for health, for strength, for comfort, for wisdom, and for power. And I pray that He will become closer to you than any person you have ever known - that you will be bathed in His glory and thus fashioned into the image of Christ.
Some exciting times lie ahead in these pages! But, of course, you don't have to wait for the end of the book to gain great blessing. You can yield yourself to the Holy Spirit even now, giving yourself over to His control and to His filling. I urge you to make up your mind even now to yield and surrender your life to Him. Then you can begin, even at this moment, to enjoy a glorious walk in the Spirit, delighting in the fullness that God desires for each of us.
This excerpt is the introduction to the book "Living Water: The Power of the Holy Spirit in Your Life," by Pastor Chuck Smith.
PART ONE: Who is the Holy Spirit? and the entire book is free to read in PDF here:
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Have you ever considered the vast difference between "works" and "fruit"? "Works" suggests a factory complete with pressures, deadlines, and the constant need to produce. But "fruit" pictures a peaceful, tranquil garden, a place where we are inclined to stay and drink in the beauty while we enjoy each other's company. It's important to realize that God doesn't come to His factory looking for products. He comes to His garden to enjoy its fruit. The gospel of grace invites us to leave behind the smog and pressure of a factory-like life of works and instead bear the fruit that God desires to see in the garden of our lives.
The Natural Result of Relationship
Galatians 3:2,3 is a critical passage for those who desire to live in a way that pleases God. Paul writes, "This only would I learn of you, received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" Notice the apostle is comparing two things: ï the Spirit, which is related to faith; ï works, which are related to the flesh. Whenever we get into the realm of works, we are dealing with the flesh. Whenever we are in the realm of the Spirit, we are dealing with faith. The Spirit and faith are related, as are works and the flesh. Someone may say, "But Chuck, we must do works for the Lord." No, we mustn't. There is not one thing that I can do in my flesh that will please God. On the other hand, faith always produces fruit. If you are involved in works, then you are relying on the flesh. But if you are walking by faith with Jesus Christ, the Spirit is producing fruit in your life. Fruit isn't something you are generating because you think you have to; fruit is the natural result of relationship. Look at the luscious fruit hanging on a peach tree. The peaches aren't out there struggling and working day by day trying to get ripe; all they have to do is hang in there. Ripening is the natural product of relationship. As long as they are abiding, they are going to bring forth sweet fruit. This is true of our own experience as well. If we are truly abiding in Christ - which is a position of faith - then fruit will come forth from the relationship. If there is no fruit in my life, then the relationship must be questioned and even challenged. That is why Paul tells us, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (II Corinthians 13:5). Jesus told us that there is such a thing as a wolf in sheep's clothing. You can look like a Christian, act like a Christian, and talk like a Christian - but grandma, what big teeth you have! You may have all the outward appearances of a sheep but in reality be a wolf. So how are we going to know who's who? Jesus said, "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20, emphasis added). We are called to examine our lives in order to determine what kind of fruit we're bearing. If the fruit is bad, then there is something wrong with our relationship, which means there is something wrong with our faith. A vital relationship of faith in Jesus Christ will bring forth fruit - without fail.
Our Big Mistake
One of our biggest problems is that we tend to be more interested in what we do than in what we are, while God is more interested in what we are than in what we do. He looks for fruit; we try to produce works. Sadly, through the years we have all heard things like, "You ought to be doing these works for the Lord; you ought to be doing that work for God." We are always being exhorted and pressed into works for the kingdom. So we get out and start doing a work for God because the pastor or the committee has asked us to do it. Maybe it is calling on visitors to the church when God hasn't called us to be a caller. I know some people who are petrified by visiting the homes of strangers. When they go to a door and knock, they're fervently praying, "Lord, please don't let them be home tonight." Visitation isn't natural for them. It is a forced effort, a work of the flesh, which they soon come to resent. They hate it and begin to drag their heels. So the committee chairman calls them up and says, "We missed you last Tuesday in our calling night. We want to make sure you are there next Tuesday night." They grudgingly respond, "Okay," and the downward spiral continues. That's how you get pushed into molds for which God did not create you. You are forced into unnatural positions and you begin to chafe under your service to God. But God does not want you to give Him anything that you are going to gripe about. God can't stand "Christian griping." It's an insult to Him. Even I hate it when people gripe about what they have done for me. It makes me feel stupid and foolish. Who asked them to do it, anyhow? If there's something you just don't want to do, don't do it. Don't go out and do some magnanimous deed and then gripe and complain about it. You would be better off to do nothing. Leave the calling to those who love to do it. There are people who are thrilled to talk to strangers. They get bored just sitting at home and they can't wait to strike up conversations with people they've never met. That is their nature. It's natural for them - and that is the key. When it is natural it is in the realm of fruit; when it's pressured it is in the realm of works. God always equips us to do whatever He has called us to do, and it will be natural for us to do it. Many people feel like second-rate Christians because they can't do what others can. They run into a believer who says, "This past week, praise the Lord, I witnessed to five people and all five of them received Jesus." Oh man, thinks the person not blessed with the gift of evangelism, I am a horrible witness to the Lord. I didn't witness to anybody. I am such a failure. He is made to feel guilty because he wasn't out collaring people and asking them if they knew the four spiritual laws. Why are some people so effective in evangelism? Because it is natural for them. God has endowed and equipped them for the work. Not everybody in the body is the mouth, however, and the mouth couldn't operate effectively unless there was a brain behind it and feet to carry it where it needed to go. We should not feel guilty because we do not have the same ministry or effectiveness as others. The body works as a unit, and God is the one who has assigned each of us our place in the body. God wants you to do what He has naturally endowed you to do. The fruit of the Christian life blossoms from you naturally as you abide in Jesus Christ through your faith in Him. Jesus said, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (John 15:8). God wants you to be extremely fruitful for Him. That fruit can come forth only as you abide in Christ - and that is a position of faith.
No Such Thing as Fleshly Faith
Matthew's Gospel tells us that one day many people will come to Jesus, telling Him of all the works they did for Him, and the Master will reply, "I never knew you" (Matthew 7:23). The Lord doesn't recognize works of the flesh; He never has. Remember when God said to Abraham, "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac... and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of" (Genesis 22:2)? The Lord's comment sounds a little odd - after all, Abraham did have another son, Ishmael, who was at least 14 years older than Isaac. What did God mean, "Take now thy son, thine only son"? The answer is, Ishmael was a work of the flesh. He was not the son of promise; he was not the son of faith. Ishmael was a product of the flesh. God refused to recognize Ishmael because he was the work of the flesh. God recognized only His work of the Spirit, Isaac, the child of faith. Therefore He said to Abraham, "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac." God never recognizes or rewards the works of our flesh. On the other hand, He jealously desires that the fruit of the Spirit be increasingly characteristic of our lives. The fifteenth chapter of John explains how believers bear fruit. Jesus said, 'Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me" (John 15:4). Jesus placed the emphasis not upon what we do, but upon what we are. What comes forth from our lives is the result of our relationship with Him. We can't have a true, right relationship with the Lord without bringing forth fruit. If there is no fruit - for "by their fruits ye shall know them" - then we had better reexamine our relationship.
Renegade Fruit Inspectors
God did a marvelous work in your fife by His Holy Spirit. When you were still a sinner, God loved you. And when by faith you called out to Him, He justified you of every wrong thing you had ever done. God wiped your slate clean. He obliterated the past so thoroughly that He made it as though it never existed. That is what the term "justified" means. The moment you received Jesus Christ by faith - before you paid one penny tithe, before you did one thing - God took all of the black marks against you and wiped them out. Because of your simple belief in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, God justified you of all your past. Because of your belief, God imputed to your account the righteousness of Jesus. Your relationship with Him began by believing. This is all very basic, but somehow we often forget it. Sometimes believers criticize other believers or find fault. They say, "Do you know what they are doing? This is terrible. They call themselves Christians, yet they are doing this and that. They are not living up to the standard - why, they even go down to the beach. That is horrible!" Now, what are such believers doing? They have set themselves up as judges. They have become renegade fruit inspectors. They are judging the quality of another man's servant. Paul had something to say about that; he wrote, "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth" (Romans 14:4). It is much easier to please God than man. To please God, we only need to believe in Him and trust in Him. That is the gospel of grace. If you were serving me, I might judge your service. I might say, "You are a lousy servant. I don't know why I keep you around." If you were doing something that displeased me, I would be the one to tell you, "Look, I don't like the way you're drying the dishes; you are leaving too much water on them and you're putting them away still wet. I don't like to get a glass out of the cupboard that still has moisture in it. That is where germs are bred. Now dry them completely." On the other hand, I might say, "You are a wonderful servant. You do such great work! It is a pleasure to have you with me!" In either case, I would be the one to judge your service, not an outsider. The truth is, I am not your master and I can't direct how you are to serve. You must stand before your own master and I can't judge your service. I can't say, "What a lousy servant you are." I have no right to judge your service to God. God is the one you are serving, and before your master you either stand or fall. Paul goes on to say, "God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4). Don't worry that some people can't see how you're ever going to make it. I have found that God has been much easier to please than man. It is an exercise in futility to try to please everybody. Even if you manage it, someone is going to fault you because you are a people-pleaser. It's just not possible to please everybody. What's beautiful is that we don't have to please everybody. All we have to do is please God. And what do we have to do to please Him? Just believe in Him and trust in Him. We don't please God by all of our works and feverish activities. We please God when we believe in Him and trust in Him. That is the gospel of grace.
It's My Pleasure!
Faith pleases the Lord and faith produces relationship. The relationship produces the fruit. I don't just sit and be pure and holy and righteous and smile and be sweet and show love all day long. I am caught up in activities, but activities which are not work. It is fantastic to be able to say, "You know, I am doing exactly what I want to do; in fact, I'm doing what I love to do!" It isn't a work, it isn't a favor, it is simply something I enjoy. Years ago when I served in a denomination I would go to conventions and see some of my buddies. We would go out for dinner and I would start talking about a scripture that the Lord had opened up to my heart. "Oh, come on, Smith - shop talk," they'd say, and change the subject. I would reply, "What do you mean, 'shop talk'? This is my life! There is nothing I would rather talk about. There is nothing more exciting to discuss." When you are doing what you love to do, it is not a work. You are not in a shop. You are not laboring in a factory. Your activity is the fruit of relationship. When the love of God fills your heart, all you want to do is talk about Him: His Word, His goodness, His love. You don't go around looking for brownie points just because you have been doing what you like to do. You don't look to be rewarded for what is natural to you (even though God will reward you for the fruit that comes forth from your life). You do it because you want to do it, because it is your nature to do it, because God has put it in your heart to do it. The fact is, you feel as if you would die if you didn't do it. "For the love of Christ constraineth me," wrote Paul (II Corinthians 5:14). "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (I Corinthians 9:16). I am sure all of us have had experiences like Jeremiah, who was thrown into a dungeon for declaring the word of the Lord to Israel's kings. As he was sitting in the dark he said, in effect, "That's it; I am through. God, here is my resignation. Don't ever ask me to speak in Your name again. I am not going to do it. Don't lay Your word upon my heart anymore. Lord, I am through, I have resigned. Do You understand? It is over. I'm never going to speak again in the name of the Lord. You treat me like this and let me get thrown in a dungeon. You don't take care of me. But it's all right; I am through!" (see Jeremiah 20:9). Jeremiah was stewing. He was angry. Yet he soon confessed, "But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay" (verse 9). He could do nothing but speak. He had to speak. He didn't have to force himself as if it were a work; in fact, he tried to force himself not to speak, but spoke anyway. Why? It was natural; it was the fruit of his relationship.
Griping Is Not a Fruit of the Spirit
God does not run factories; He grows gardens. He is not interested in your works; He desires to enjoy your fruit. He does not want you to depend upon your flesh; He calls you to rely upon His Spirit. As Paul reminds us, having begun in the Spirit, we cannot be made perfect in our flesh (see Galatians 3:3). We cannot add works to our faith and improve the relationship, even though many people endeavor to do exactly that. So many times people begin by believing in the Lord, loving the Lord, serving the Lord, and having a glorious time. The joy of the Spirit is theirs. Then some brethren show up and begin to lay heavy trips on them. "Hey brother, if you are really a Christian, you need to be doing this. How come you guys are doing that? Man, you mean you guys call yourselves Christians? Why, you don't even do this." They start laying down all of these heavy requirements so that Christianity becomes a grind. It ceases to be natural and a delight and begins to be a chore, a job, a work. When will we learn? We cannot improve on the righteousness given to us by God. Any works-based relationship soon becomes a grind in which we lose the joy of our relationship with the Lord. Suddenly it's a duty, an obligation, an onerous task. Before long, we begin griping. The joy of the Lord departs from our walk. We no longer enjoy freedom, but labor under a yoke of bondage. We think, I had better say my prayers tonight, or I will really be in trouble. Oh, but I am so tired. I don't want to get out of bed. I suppose I'll have to, but - oh, man, it's so cold! I am sure God says, "Oh, shut up and go to sleep! Don't bother Me in that kind of a mood. Who asked you to call, anyway?" You might think that if anyone should have mastered this lesson, it would be ministers of the gospel. Yet there are men who would have us believe they minister the things of the Spirit by the works of the flesh. They will describe what great consecration it takes to have their kind of ministry - what tremendous personal sacrifices a person must make to have such power. They will tell of their commitment and their fasting and their consecration and will lay it all out as though their works have achieved for them some level of spirituality that moved God to entrust them with His power. God can't trust everybody with this power, they say, but they have earned it. Oftentimes they actually say things like, "I went into the other room, closed the door, and said, 'God, I am not going to come out of here until I have the power.' And I stayed in there and fasted and prayed until I got it." They speak as though their righteousness earned them God's favor. But it didnít; it was only a work. And God will never honor or recognize a work of the flesh. Paul said, "Have ye suffered so many things in vain? If it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Galatians 3:4,5). A true minister gives all the glory to the Lord. "Let your light so shine before men," Jesus said, "that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
We're All Invited
The works of God are not wrought because of our righteousness. They are wrought by grace through faith. And that means that any of us can do them. You don't have to be some specially anointed kind of instrument. Let your life be as a garden where God can come to enjoy the fruit you are producing as you abide in Christ. James says that Elijah was a man of passions just like us (see James 5:17). He became discouraged, he got upset, he got angry, he blew it. Yet he prayed and it didn't rain for three years. Elijah was not some superholy kind of prophet. He wasn't a mystic. He was a person exactly like us, with the same kind of feelings we have - the same kind of discouragements. Yet God listened to him because of his faith. That same potential is yours. All it takes is believing the Lord and trusting in Him. Since you've begun in the Spirit, you must continue in the Spirit. Having begun in faith, you must continue in faith. Don't degenerate into works; don't let your Christian experience become a bore. Don't become a factory worker, but let your life be as a garden where God can come to enjoy the fruit you are producing as you abide in Christ by faith.
This excerpt is chapter 6 of the book "Grace Changes Everything," by Pastor Chuck Smith.
The entire book is free to read in PDF here: Grace Changes Everything
Thursday, September 3, 2015
“Jesus said, ‘think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.’” (Matthew 5:17 NKJV)
What did Jesus mean? If He did not destroy the Law of Moses, are we still under the law? Are we to keep the Sabbath every Saturday or the Shemitah every 7 years, for example? How about the dietary law in the writings of Moses, or circumcision? No, we are not required to keep the law. Why? Because Jesus Himself fulfilled the law when He lived a perfect life, went to the cross for the sin of the world and rose again three days later. For salvation, the law is fulfilled perfectly and completely in Christ alone. There are certain moral truths that are timeless that will never be destroyed from God’s law, but keeping them does not earn us salvation. That is the primary thrust of the NT. Moral truths of the law like “do not murder,” “do not lie,” “do not commit adultery,” are absolute and eternal, and apply to everyone. Those truths have not changed and that is why Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the law. But, our relationship to God is not through the keeping of the law itself, it is through Jesus. That is what He meant when He said that He came to fulfill the law. Jesus Himself is the fulfillment of the law, making it possible for us to please God through faith in Him because it is impossible for us to keep the law perfectly. Our relationship to God is not based on the keeping of the law, but is now completely based on our faith in Jesus Christ; who He is and what He accomplished at the cross. He is greater than the law!
Echoing Jesus in Matthew 22:40, Paul said,
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ... But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:14, 22-23)
The law is fulfilled by Christ alone. We are acquitted of our sin and counted righteous like Christ when we place our faith in Him. The fruit of the Spirit is love. When the Spirit is living in us, and that happens only by faith in the Son of God, then the fruit of the Spirit begins to pour out of our lives.
"For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Romans 6:14)
Saying that we are not under law is not the same thing as saying that we should throw out the ten commandments. Jesus did not destroy them, nor the prophets. The Bible is not saying that people do not need to heed the ten commandments, or the entire OT. What the Bible is saying is that Christians do not base their forgiveness from God and their relationship with God on keeping or not keeping those commandments. The law points us to God’s will. It ought to point us to our miserable failure in keeping it, as well.
“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin”. (Romans 3:20)
“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)
No one but Jesus ever kept the law perfectly. It is impossible for anyone but Christ to keep the law without fail. The law simply gives us God’s will and directs us to call on His mercy and forgiveness as we realize we do not come close to keeping His commands. A person can only be saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus alone, because we have all fallen short of the glory of God.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Something else we need to realize is that there were several types of laws in the OT. Today, we do not have a problem eating certain foods that were banished under the law given to Israel. Peter saw a vision from the Lord explaining God’s approval starting in Acts 10:9. But, of course the commandment "do not murder" still applies today. It is a different kind of law. There are dietary laws, civil laws, and there are moral laws. The shemitah, for example, was a civil law applied to Israel alone. They are no longer under that law because the cross was the end of the law for them, just like the daily sacrifices were abolished by Jesus’ sacrifice. The shemitah law was never even addressed to the Gentiles, so applying it to today’s world, as some do, is doubly wrong. One, it was never given to Gentiles and two, the Law of Moses is now obsolete because of Christ! Of course same-sex marriage, murder, lying, these are all examples of universal, eternal moral commands that always apply to all- but not for salvation! The dietary, civil and moral laws, the entire law, given to Israel for obedience to God, has expired. Christ was the fulfillment of all of those laws. The universal moral laws still apply as commands, showing us the will of God and right living, but do not apply toward earning salvation. As Christians, even breaking these will not send us to hell!
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:18-25)
True Christians won't be able to sin for long without conviction and repentance, but we are saved by grace through faith, not works, and certainly not the law of God to Israel. Those without Christ will sin these sins of the flesh, these are the ones that “practice such things.” But, it is the rejection of Christ that sends them to hell. All people can now be forgiven of any past, present and future transgression through true faith in Jesus Christ. We are under grace now, not law. And the same goes for the Jews. They need to place their faith in their Messiah, Jesus; not work to keep the Law of Moses (which was much more than just the ten commandments).The writer to the Hebrews says that for Jews and Gentiles today, the law no longer applies:
“In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete…” (Hebrews 8:13)
Now, in case some may want to accuse me of sanctioning sin, which I did not do, I will respond with Paul's answer when some in his time misunderstood the grace of God:
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.” (Romans 6:1-12)
The law never could save, and it never could make us perfect before God. Only by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus are we made right with our Creator and given the gift of eternal life. This is not a contrivance, this salvation is based on a true heart of repentance and faith toward God and belief in His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ Himself is the better hope, through which we do draw near to God. The law is obsolete, absolutely and eternally fulfilled in Christ alone.
“For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:18-19)
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
There is a disagreement among some Christians as to which English Bible is the best. The fact is, scholars can be found defending any of the English translations. The disagreement turns on mainly two factors in Bible translation: one, the underlying textual family of manuscripts that they are translated from, and two, the style of interpretation utilized by the translators (word-for-word, thought-for-thought, paraphrase, etc.).
The Process from Original to English Translation
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Nearly the entire Old Testament (OT) was written in Hebrew, with only small portions of Daniel and Ezra written in Aramaic. The New Testament (NT) was written in Greek. The English translations (sometimes confusingly termed “versions”) are all translated from copies of the original writings. The original writings themselves are no longer in existence (extant). We do have thousands of copies of the Bible in its original languages and these copies are what most translations are made from today. So, first, there were the various original writings by the various authors of the books of the Bible, in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. Then, those originals were copied by many people in many places, over many years. From all of the copies that are still in existence, scholars whittle them down to a single NT Greek text and a single OT Hebrew text and then translate those into various languages around the world, like English.
Flow Chart: From Originals to English Translation of the New Testament
Original Writing -> Some copies of the Byzantine textual family (copies from the area of Greece, Turkey, and Syria) -> Whittled down to the Textus Receptus (TR) or “Received Text” -> KJV, NKJV
Original Writing -> Chiefly two copies within the Alexandrian textual family (copies from the area of Alexandria, Egypt) -> Whittled down to the Critical Text (NU) -> Modern versions like NIV, NLT, NASB, ESV, HCSB, NRSV, AMP, NETBible, etc…
Original Writing -> All of Byzantine textual family (thousands of copies) -> Majority Text (M) -> Various interlinear translations
How Accurate are the English Translations?
Because we have so many great copies, we have a very accurate and reliable Bible. But, only the original books of the Bible written in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic are inerrant and God-breathed. Because only the copies of the original writings still exist, and they are not the originals themselves, they do contain some variations (variants) among themselves. These copies also contain a small number of errors. These variants and errors are few and mostly minor, but some do transmit (to some extent) into all translations. The conservative Christian view has always been that the original writings (called autographs) are inerrant and inspired of God, but that the copies of these originals contain some mistakes. This view goes back to the very early Church.
“Minor variations in hand copying have appeared through the centuries, before mechanical printing began about A. D. 1450. Some variations exist in the spelling of Greek words, in word order, and in similar details. These ordinarily do not show up in translation and do not affect the sense of the text. Other manuscript differences, such as omission or inclusion of a word, or a clause, and two paragraphs in the Gospels (Mark 16:9-20; John 7:53-8:11), should not overshadow the overwhelming degree of agreement which exists among the ancient records.” (Introduction to The NKJV Greek English Interlinear New Testament)
Despite the variations and difficulties in translation, all in all, the English translations are very similar and highly reliable. The introduction to the NKJV Bible states that there is at least 85% agreement between the Byzantine and Alexandrian text types. When the variations are resolved and the grammar is fixed, many Greek scholars agree that our NT is 99.5% accurate to the original writings. The accuracy of the OT is outstanding, as well.
The Inerrancy of the Originals and the Preservation of the Copies
The NIV, NLT, NASB, HCSB, ESV, NRSV, AMP, NETBible and other modern English Bibles have their New Testament translated mostly from the Alexandrian text type, using the Critical Text (NU). The King James (KJV) and New King James (NKJV) New Testaments are translated from the Byzantine text type, using the Textus Receptus (TR) (the New King James Bible is a modern English update of the KJV). Both texts (NU or TR) are reliable, although the NU (based on the Alexandrian) does omit several words, verses and two paragraphs which the Received and Majority texts include. There are at least 60 major variants between the TR/M and the NU (not counting minor variants or errors that are easily correctable). That may sound like a lot, and it is certainly more than we would like, but keep in mind that there are nearly 8,000 verses in the KJV New Testament (approximately 788,000 words). This is why it is safe to say that despite the differences, most modern translations are nearly as accurate and reliable as the KJV/NKJV.
The Old Testament in most modern English Bibles is primarily based on the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls, among other manuscripts. All of the English Bibles are translations of the Bible from its original languages. All of the textual families of copies in their original language, for both the OT and the NT, are very well preserved. These copies are whittled down to one Hebrew OT text and one Greek NT text. These texts are then translated into English according to each particular translation’s style and interpretation.
The original writings were without error. They were inspired, that is, literally “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). By God’s providence, the subsequent copies of these writings have been preserved as nearly exact copies of the originals, but are not perfect and are not of the same nature as the God-breathed and inerrant originals.
“Every word in all the Scripture was originally given by divine inspiration. Inspiration has to do with the very words which were originally God-breathed in the vocabulary and style of the original writers. Providence has to do with all that God has allowed to come to pass in the preservation of that which was originally given by inspiration. Providence includes the preserving of the other types of texts as well as the Byzantine (Sturz, The Byzantine Text-Type).”
So, inerrancy of the originals and preservation of the copies are separate doctrines that should not be confused as one. The original writings represent God’s perfect Word revealed to humanity. The Bibles that we use today are nearly exact copies of the inerrant, inspired originals.
The Modern Translations
When studying the Bible in English, the key is to use multiple translations. Many times the modern translations use a thought-for-thought translation style. This makes many difficult Bible passages comprehensible, which is crucial to growing in our knowledge of the Word of God. That is why Christians benefit greatly from using the modern translations, they can be very helpful in understanding what God is truly saying to us in His Word. For the most part, they are accurate and reliable, and many times they convey the meaning of the verses in modern English in a way that is much easier for people to understand than the older English versions. We just have to be careful of the passages that contain errors. This happens a bit more often in the modern translations, but there are errors in the King James translation, as well. Remember, this does not take place very often in our Bibles, but it is important to be aware of the occurrences.
Sometimes the looser translation (thought-for-thought or paraphrase) alters the passage beyond its intended meaning, which is why students of the Bible should always check their modern translation against a word-for-word translation based on the somewhat more reliable Byzantine family of texts. The KJV is a word-for-word translation based on the Byzantine text and has been the most popular Bible used by English speakers since 1611. The NKJV is a modern English update of its trusted predecessor.
The modern translations (except NKJV) are based on the somewhat inferior Alexandrian text, which does omit some parts of the NT. The NIV uses a thought-for-thought style (thought-for-thought is also called phrase-for-phrase and is also known as Dynamic Equivalence). The NASB is a word-for-word translation. The ESV and HCSB attempt to combine the best of both styles. While leaning toward a thought-for-thought translation they often utilize the word-for-word style. The NLT is not a translation but a paraphrase. While paraphrase is a long way from word-for-word accuracy, the NLT is surprisingly reliable and helpful. It can be very helpful in numerous passages because it brings the language to life in our present day. It often works more like a commentary than a Bible translation, so it is critical to know that fact when reading from it and to have a KJV/NKJV handy to check the accuracy of the Alexandrian text and the paraphrase style of translation. The NRSV leans toward a word-for-word style, but often utilizes a thought-for-thought style. The KJV/NKJV is based on the Byzantine text type which contains less variations, errors and omissions, and is translated word-for-word (known as Complete Equivalence), which tends to make it more accurate. Another advantageous feature of the NKJV is that it includes notes of the variations with other text types, like the Alexandrian and the Majority text. Because the NKJV is written in modern English, it is much easier to comprehend than the “old English” KJV.
Some modern translations of the Bible rewrite certain passages to fit their pre-existing views and are therefore unreliable translations in those passages. Some of the most well-known modern translations to completely avoid are the Joseph Smith Translation (JST), by the founder of Mormonism, the Watchtower’s (Jehovah’s Witnesses) New World Translation (NWT) and the Message Bible, which contains many grievous errors.
Quick Reference Guide of some of the most popular English Bible translations today.
- The King James Version (KJV) Word-for-word translation (using old English). Translated from the Greek text known as Textus Receptus (TR) (the “Received Text”). The Received Text is based on the Byzantine (Eastern) textual family.
- The New King James Version (NKJV) is a modern word-for-word update of the KJV. It is also translated into English from the Received Text.
- The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) is a mixture of thought-for-thought and word-for-word translation. Translated from the Greek text known as Nestle Aland/United Bible Societies (NU) (the “Critical Text”). All of the many editions of the Nestle Aland/United Bible Societies Greek text (including Westcott and Hort) are based on the Alexandrian textual family.
- The English Standard Version (ESV) is a mixture of thought-for-thought and word-for-word translation. It is translated from the NU.
- The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is a word-for-word translation. It is translated from the NU.
- The New Living Translation (NLT) is not a translation but a paraphrase. It is paraphrased from the NU.
- The New International Version (NIV) is a thought-for-thought translation. It is translated from the NU.
- The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is a mixture of thought-for-thought and word-for-word translation. It is translated from the NU.
- The Amplified Bible (AMP) is a thought-for-thought translation. It is translated from the NU.
- New English Translation (NETBible) is a thought-for-thought translation (with over 60,000 translator notes explaining translation decisions and giving alternative readings). It is translated from the NU.
What Translation is the Best?
So, what does this all mean? What English translation is the best? The fact is, most of the major English translations available today are of great usefulness, and they can now easily be found online. Here are three websites full of resources (including English translations) that are free to use:
The English translations are very good and are very close now to the original text, but because the Byzantine Greek copies are more complete and somewhat more reliable than the Alexandrian Greek copies, and because the styles of interpretation of thought-for-thought and paraphrase are not as faithful to the original writings as the more literal word-for-word translation, it is important to use the King James/New King James alongside any modern translation. Most modern translations will be helpful in most passages, but they always need to be checked (at some point) against the Byzantine textual family and the word-for-word translation style.
Each English translation contains passages that are not translated as well as other translations, including the King James. Each contains passages that are translated better than other translations. Translation from one language to another is inherently difficult and certain words do not always have an exact equivalent in the “receiver” language (in our case, English). This is why it is so important for any Christian that wants to know God’s Word more deeply to refer to several translations and not just one. There are also many free resources online for further study in the Bible’s original languages, allowing the student to dig deeper into the meanings of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek words behind the English translations. Three of those resources were just linked above.
Checking the textual variants for yourself is important and easy, too. In some Bibles today, there is a center column or other area of the page containing notes. These notes usually contain other Scripture to cross-reference and literal definitions of words. But, they should also include notes on the variations among the underlying textual families. Make sure that the Bible you use has this feature and that you use it! In special editions like The NKJV Greek/English Interlinear New Testament (Farstad & Hodges), a person can see with their own eyes all of the textual variants between the Received Text (TR), the Majority Text (M) and the Critical Text (NU). NKJV Bibles have this feature in their notes on every page. Be sure to at least have a Bible with this feature included, preferably a King James or New King James translation. That way, you can see the textual variations for yourself.
The King James Version and the New King James Version are the best English Bibles available today because the family of manuscripts they are based on contain less errors than the Alexandrian family of manuscripts and because the KJV/NKJV utilize the word-for-word style of translation. The modern translations do contain more errors in both number and severity because of the underlying textual family and the tendency for a more liberal style of translation and interpretation of the text. With that being said, many would consider the differences negligible because overall, there are so few problems relative to the size of the manuscripts.
Overall, it is this author’s opinion that the NKJV is the most reliable English translation while also utilizing modern English instead of old English, like its predecessor. Also, the NKJV now includes notes on every variation between the Received Text, the Majority Text and the Alexandrian Text, as well as OT manuscript variations. “By giving a clearly defined set of variants the New King James Version benefits readers of all textual persuasions.” (Preface to the NKJV)
What is “King James Only”
A final note on the King James Bible. The view that the King James Bible itself is perfect (known as “King James Only”) is patently false and is a relatively recent error residing in a few Christian circles. The view twists the actual conservative Christian view, which is that the original writings alone are inerrant, accurate, perfectly reliable and God-breathed. None of the copies have ever been considered so, and of course it would follow that none of the translations of the copies could be considered without error.
In the introduction to the 1611 KJV Bible, the translators themselves state that the original writing is God-breathed, saying “the original thereof being from heaven, not from earth; the author being God, not man…” They go on to affirm that the copies of the originals are not without error, and that therefore neither are the translations of the copies without error.
“King James Only” is a spurious and illogical view that has been ably refuted. Ironically, the false teaching of its perfection gradually morphed into an acceptable view because of the excellence that the translation offers its English users and the desire of Christians to defend the inerrancy of the Bible. But, as stated above, the inerrancy of the Bible and the inerrancy of the Kings James Version are two completely different subjects, the former being accepted of the original autographs since the early Church began, the latter a recent development in late Church history in English speaking regions only and a perversion of the true Christian perspective.
*The Blue Letter Bible is a free site that gives access to most English translations, but also provides amazing resources like Greek and Hebrew definitions, audio, video and text commentaries, and dictionaries, encyclopedias and other similar material. http://www.blueletterbible.org/
*Here is another article by the same author on the same subject. At the end of the article is a link to a free Bible College course on the subject. http://ph16.blogspot.com/2013/08/king-james-only.html
*Here is a link (that was current at the time of writing) to the Greek/English Interlinear based on the Received Text and the Majority Text referenced in the article. It may be available on Amazon or Alibris or other such sites. It should sell for less than $40 used. http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0840783574/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1435619962&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SY200_QL40&keywords=NKJV+greek&dpPl=1&dpID=51sDt2DbgBL&ref=plSrch
*This short article reveals how the very translators of the KJV themselves refute the “KJV Only” view. http://dbts.edu/blog/the-embarrassing-preface-to-the-king-james-version/
*I cannot vouch completely for the accuracy of this article, but it may be helpful as a starting point in examining textual variants. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_major_textual_variants_in_the_New_Testament
*The following two sites include an interlinear Bible, which is very helpful in studying the Bible’s original languages. They include Hebrew and Greek word definitions.
1. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Mat&c=1&t=NKJV#s=t_conc_930001 (Interlinear Greek NT is based on the TR)
2. http://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/1.htm (Interlinear is based on a Greek NT (Nestle 1904) taken primarily from the Alexandrian text-type)