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Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Prologue of John - Responding to the Word of God

The first 18 verses of John’s gospel (commonly known as the Prologue) represent a literary masterpiece of inspired Scripture. On the one hand, John’s introduction is so simple a child can understand it, yet it is also so theologically deep, the most intellectual scholars could never mine every detail held within its verses.

There have been many debates regarding the structure of John’s prologue. The most convincing in my opinion is that the first 18 verses are a narrative which summarize not only the entirety of John’s gospel but make a broad sweep of salvation history. The prologue begins in eternity before creation, declaring that in the beginning the Word already existed. It proceeds through the creation (all things were made by Him) and He is the source of all life and light. Then John skips over the majority of Israel’s salvation history and shows that a final prophet, John the Baptist, came to testify to the light. This light is the revelation of God Himself. He came into the world and was rejected by the world. Yet, those who received Him became the sons of God.

The prologue finishes by showing the culmination of Israel’s salvation in Jesus. The law (which was itself a grace given to men) came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Jesus has completely explained the Father. Jesus is the Father’s final word to man. – This culminates salvation history. So, we see that the prologue begins in eternity past and concludes with God’s final word of salvation and redemption.

What John simply states in the prologue (albeit with great theological depth and nuance) he will elucidate throughout the pages of his gospel. First, we see that Jesus is the divine Word of God.

There is much discussion about the Hebrew and Greek presuppositions regarding the word (logos). Although there is much to be learned from these distinctions, I think John has primarily the Old Testament view of the “Word.” In the Old Testament the Word of God was His creative power, authority, and organizing principle. In Genesis, God created by the word. Repeatedly Genesis one presents God’s creative power in His speech. Over and over again God created by speaking – “And God said let there be…and there was.”

Likewise, the word is personified in the Old Testament when the prophets were given God’s words to speak. Repeatedly the Bible says, “The word of the Lord came to…” whatever prophet to whom God was speaking.

The idea of a divine word was not uncommon for a Jewish person. What is uncommon is John’s assertion that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The idea being that Jesus Himself is the divine person of the Word. In lieu of an extended treatise on the Trinity, I would point you to my discussions on the doctrine here.


The verb “dwelt” is the verbal form of tabernacle. John says that the word became flesh and tabernacled among us – this, taken along side John’s introduction of Moses and the law shows us that Jesus’ incarnation is the fulfillment of God’s promise to dwell with His people. He is truly Emmanuel – “God with us.” Jesus fulfills the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Jesus is the display of God’s glory which can be seen. In Exodus, Moses asked to see God’s glory and was told that it was impossible for man to view Him. Instead, Moses was only allowed to see God’s hind parts. But here John says that we saw His glory. It was the glory of God the Son who is full of grace and truth.


Jesus has perfectly revealed the Father to mankind. The Son of God became a son of man so that the sons of men might become sons of God. Jesus is the word of God that demands a response. To those who received Him, He gave them the authority to become sons of God – yet to those who reject Him, He brings the completion of the judgment of God for there will never be another door of salvation.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

How does understanding the Trinity affect my Christian life?

Last week we talked about the doctrine of the trinity. From Scripture, we saw that God is one being consisting of three persons. The three persons in the one being of God are co-equal and co-eternal. The Father is the whole of God, the Son is the whole of God, and the Spirit is the whole of God. Now, I am not going to go back through all the proofs from Scripture we saw for this idea. What we are going to talk about today is how this doctrine affects our life.

When we were talking about God being three persons and showing that truth from Scripture, what was going through your minds? It was probably something like this, “This whole confusing idea is all well and good, but what does any of this have to do with my daily life?” Now the answer you are expecting is that because it is true we should believe it and there it is. Of course that is true. But I received a text from one of you that really stirred me this week. Basically, the text said, “I don’t understand how it is possible but I believe it because the Bible says so.” Now, I really like that answer. In fact, that made me very happy because I feel the same way. But what I want you all to see is, not only that this doctrine is true, but that because God is a Trinity – we can be in joyful, loving relationship with Him.

Think about this for a minute. When you hear the word “God” what usually comes to mind is the great authority. The one who gave law that we broke. Now this is true but it is not the whole story. If God is just a cosmic dictator who tells us what to do, is that really love? Would you love a God that was only like that?

Think about it this way. If you were pulled over by a policeman for a traffic violation that could cause you to lose your license, and he let you off (i.e. he just forgave you) how would you feel toward him? You would probably be grateful. In fact, you might even be extremely grateful, but would you love him?

I think (this is just my opinion) that many Christian people find themselves in a predicament like this. At the time of their salvation, they understand their awful sin and God’s holiness. They also understand the great sacrifice Jesus made and are extremely grateful to this God who has given us forgiveness and grace. In fact, I can remember being in a bewildering wonder of thankfulness and gratefulness for what God did for me. I sure didn’t deserve it. But thankfulness will only keep you going so long. The reason thankfulness won’t sustain you is because you are not called just to be thankful, you are called to love.

Now, I need to make one clarification. We are to be thankful. I’m not saying that there is something wrong with being thankful or that thankfulness will fade with time. As a saved person, you will and should be thankful to God for the rest of eternity. But thankfulness in and of itself is not the same as having a relationship with God, and a love relationship with God is what we were saved for.

What did Jesus say is the greatest and first commandment? – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.  Understanding this God we serve causes us to love Him, not just what He can do for us – or even what He has done.


I am going to quote part of a Bible verse and I want you to fill in the last word. “God is ________”

God is love. I need you to understand this first before we delve into the nature of the Trinity. God is love. This means God, by His very nature is loving. This is what He is. There never was a time when God was not love. Now let me ask you another question. Is it possible to love without something or someone to be the recipient of that love?

Now, one more question. Was God love before creation? The answer seems obvious but I really want you to ponder this for a minute. God has always existed from eternity. That means there was a time when there was absolutely nothing but God. He lived in eternity past before He ever created anything. What was He doing all that time? Think about it. What if you were alone for eternity past with nothing created? Put yourself in God’s position. What would you feel?

Maybe you would be lonely. Maybe you would frustrated. Or maybe you would want to create a bunch of people who would serve you and do whatever you say. What do you think God was doing? Let me read John17:24, “ Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world”

This is why God is love. Even before there was a creation, the Father was loving the Son and the Son was loving the Father. Likewise the Spirit loved them both. So the Father has always been a Father because He has always had a Son to love, and vice versa.

Here is where we get to the crux of the matter. If God is just a single person, the only reasons for Him to create us are to impose His will and be an authoritative dictator over us. He cannot be loving by nature because He has never had anything or anyone to love before He created. Therefore, the only kind of God we can have is a ruler and an overlord demanding perfect obedience and destroying those who don’t comply. It would be very hard to love a god like that wouldn’t it? I am not saying that God is not Holy or He does not have a perfect law that must be obeyed, but I am saying that if God is a single person, then He cannot be loving by nature because there was a time before creation when He wasn’t loving.

The God of Islam is like that. They have a single-person god and He is nothing more than a heavenly tyrant demanding obedience. Likewise, the god of the oneness Pentecostals is the same way. Have you ever noticed that in the oneness camp, salvation is always by works. That is because their god demands obedience and only rewards perfect obedience. Also their god only gives rewards for right behavior, he doesn’t share a love relationship with anyone. In fact, he really can’t because he is not loving by nature. There was a time when He did not love because there was no one to love. There was a time when He was not a Father, therefore, He cannot be a Father by nature.

But the God of the Bible is love and has always been love. He has spent eternity loving His Son. So don’t try to fit the Father, Son, and Spirit into your understanding of God. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Because God is a Trinity, He created us in His image, male and female. This shows that the two genders of humanity were created to be in love relationship with each other just like God in the Trinity are in an eternal love relationship.

You see, when Adam and Eve fell it wasn’t just about rule breaking. Of course they did break God’s law and were punished but the real problem was love. Adam and Eve chose to love themselves more than God. They chose to love their own desires. That is the fundamental problem we still have. We love ourselves. Our love is turned inward on ourselves and it is a selfish prideful love.

Even though they sinned in their heart by loving something else before God, God the Father demonstrated His great love by sending the Son whom He had loved for eternity (1 John 4:10.) This sacrifice was to atone for sin and pay the price that we deserved, but it was not just meant to give you forgiveness. Salvation is not just about getting forgiveness for your sin. If that is all there is, then you could hang a forgiven sign around your neck and go on about your business.

You may be thankful and grateful for your forgiveness but would you actually love God? So, here we see how God being a Trinity affects the way you think, walk, and act.

The Father has been in an eternal love relationship with the Son through the Spirit. When Jesus was baptized, the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The Father sent the Son, the Son chose to die for sin, and the Spirit applies that payment to your life and indwells you. When we are born again, we are placed, “in Christ.” The New Testament uses this illustration over and over again. We are “in Christ.”

So you see, God created the world not in order to have subjects who would obey Him. He didn’t create because He was lonely. He created the world out of the overflow of His love. He created so that He would have that love relationship with many sons of God – that’s us!

By our salvation, we are placed in Christ, which also places us in the perfect love relationship with the Father and Son. You see, before creation, the Father and Son existed in perfect love. By us being transferred into Christ – we are now caught up in that same eternal love relationship. Now the Father also looks at us and says, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Do you see the significance of the Trinity. It means we have been brought into the heavenly places of God’s love.

Now, understanding this – isn’t it much easier to love a God like that? He is not the dictator in the sky who commands that you be thankful and grateful. He is the eternally loving God who calls you into fellowship with the Father, Son and Spirit to eternally enjoy the love relationship they enjoy.


Now read John 17:20-26 – “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us:that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. 24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me:for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee:but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. 26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it:that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Even God’s wrath is motivated by His great love – If you love something you will naturally hate the things that oppose it. To love good is to hate evil. To love your children is to hate things done that hurt them. There can be no love without hate.

Salvation isn’t just that we are forgiven and brought back to being good law abiding citizens. It is not that we are inducted as God’s servants alone. Salvation is that we are brought into the depths of the love relationship that the Father and Son enjoy. We are in the Son and therefore we are co-heirs with His glory. We are the sons of God whom the Father delights in. This is the gospel. It is not about following rules or making sure we live by a certain code. It is loving and being loved by God and therefore we live for Him because He is our greatest desire and we are his.

So here is the question. The commandment is to love God. Can you do this on your own? By your own effort, can you muster up love. Can you make yourself love more than you do? Try it!

Of course not. Love comes as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Now dwell on the fact that this eternally loving Father, sent His Son so that you would be brought into the same loving family relationship the Trinity enjoys. He loves you enough to send the Son and the Son loves you enough to come and suffer so that you could be adopted into the family. Doesn't this spur and energize your love for Him? Understanding God the way that He is (Father, Son, Spirit) invigorates us to love and desire Him and not simply the gifts He has given us.



For more reading on this topic see Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trintiy

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Doctrine of the Trinity

Hello all…Sorry for the long hiatus in blogging but I usually write about what I am teaching and for the past sixteen weeks, I have been teaching through Romans. I have already logged the outlines and explanations for these Romans’ studies on the blog so I felt like re-posting them would be redundant.

In the coming weeks, I will be taking the Foundations of Faith class through the gospel of John so I imagine I will begin writing again as I prepare my thoughts before each lesson. I pray that these studies are useful to all involved. If you have missed any part of the biblical studies, you can find them at jasonvelotta.com under the teaching audio link. You can also get a collection of pdf lessons on systematic theology which work well for new Christians and youth.

Because the purpose of our studies is “Foundations of the Faith,” I took the class through Romans so they will have a foundation rooted in the gospel and justification. Now, we are going through John as we focus upon the identity and work of Christ. It became quickly apparent to me that before we move into John, we will need to take a look at the nature of the Triune God.

Although it should not be much of a surprise, I am continually astounded that Christians are not prepared to give a biblical defense for the revelation God has given of Himself regarding His tri-personal nature. With this in mind, I will look at a few texts of Scripture that proclaim the one being of God revealed in three persons.


First, let me define the Trinity. It is very important that we are careful with the language that we use because those who deny the doctrine of the Trinity rarely ever represent what Christians believe.

We believe the Bible teaches there is one God. Understand that first, there is only one God. We do not believe in three gods. The foundation of Christianity is absolute monotheism. There is…and there has always ever been one God.

In the one being that is God, there are three eternally co-equal, co-eternal persons…the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I have provided an exegesis from John 1:1-4, Philippians 2:5-11, and John 17:5 here for biblical support for each of the foundations of the Trinity. However, there is also and “Biblical Foundations Outline” on that page which is much more comprehensive in showing the doctrine revealed in Scripture.

Here, it must suffice to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is taught throughout the Scriptures. Of course, the word Trinity doesn’t appear in the Bible but the concept of the one God revealed in three persons appears throughout.
One of the most readily accessible works on the Trinity I have found is The Forgotten Trinity by James White. It takes a very deep subject and makes it understandable from the biblical perspective. Of course there are much fuller and more academic works like B.B. Warfield's treatment of the subject, but the non-academic will benefit greatly from White's exposition of the biblical texts affirming the Trinity.


I have not offered much of a defense or biblical exegesis here for the doctrine of the Trinity, but if you are interested in how the Bible clearly demonstrates the triune nature of God, you can find the lesson outlines and the audio of class at jasonvelotta.com.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Letting Peace Rule in Your Heart


So far throughout the book of Colossians, we have been given the repeated them of Christ’s perfection and our position in Him. In Christ we have a perfect standing before God and there is no merit that we can add to that standing by our works. Over and over Paul teaches the Colossians that Jesus is our everything and there is no higher spirituality or goodness we can achieve than what He has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection.

Last time, we looked at the things believers are to lay aside in their lives. We saw that because we are justified and perfect in the Father’s sight, we are to strive to be in practice what God has made us in position. We are to continually kill the earthly sins that still characterize our flesh.

In Col. 3:11-17, Paul continues this theme by showing us the attributes we are to clothe ourselves with as believers. Likewise, He shows us what it means to live in the community of a body of believers.

Verse 11 reminds us that as believers we are all one in Christ regardless of whether we are male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile. Because of this, he admonishes us to “put on” the fruits of the Spirit because we are already holy and loved by God. He writes, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Col 3:12).  Notice that these things are the same terms Paul uses in Galatians 5 describing the fruit of the Spirit. It is very interesting to me that Paul doesn’t simply tell us to do these things. He doesn’t say that if we want God to bless us or to love us we will be kind, gently, and meek. Instead, he says we should put on these things BECAUSE we are already holy and beloved of God. We are His people. The “elect of God” is a common term used for God’s chosen people in the Old Testament.
 
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Therefore, we don’t just do these things. We clothe ourselves with them. The way we should think about this is that we can only show forth these attributes because of what Christ has done in our hearts. We are told to put them on because they are not created in our own heart or mind. No matter how hard we try, as sinful fleshly people, we cannot “make ourselves” be humble, kind, merciful, or longsuffering. We can act in these ways when we choose, but we do not possess the power to change our hearts making them more loving or humble.

I can say, “I need to start being more humble.” And I can really really want to, but will I actually be more humble or will I just be trying to act more humble. The internal transformation comes from Christ and the Spirit as He changes us. So these things are already a growing reality in our hearts so we are simply to take the garment that Christ has made for us and put it on. In the same way we would put on a coat, we put on the outside what Christ has done on the inside.

Does this mean that there is no external manifestation of these things? Of course not. Whatever takes place on the inside will always show forth on the outside. So Paul goes further, telling us what these things look like as they shine in the believer’s life. He says, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” (Col 3:13)

When we put on the meekness, longsuffering, and kindness of God, we will begin to see how great a salvation God has given to us. When we see the depths of our own sin from which we have been saved, it is much easier to see that we own that same forgiveness to others. They are sinner just like us, no better, no worse. Christ forgave us therefore, we are obligated to forgive them. This principle is seen clearly in the parable of the unforgiving debtor (Matt. 18:21-35). The king forgave his huge debt and the debtor went out and refused to forgive another of a tiny debt. He was obligated to pass on what he had been given. As are we.

In fact, it is part and parcel of the gospel itself. Think about this. To be saved, you must accept the fact that Jesus Christ alone is enough to pay for sin. His death and resurrection is the full payment for sin and there can be nothing added to Him. Anything we add to His sacrifice blasphemes the cross and the gospel. Yet, when we harbor unforgiveness, we are essentially saying that Jesus is not enough. We understand that Jesus is enough to pay God the Father for all sin, but we still require the sinner to pay more. Jesus isn’t enough to satisfy our need for justice when we refuse to forgive others. That is something no believer should ever let cross his lips.

Next, Paul simplifies his list. Rather than expounding on all the different fruits and how they flesh out in the real world, he simply says that above all these things we are to put on love. Notice, once again we are not simply to try to be more loving. We are to clothe ourselves with the love Christ has placed in us. We are to be a conduit of his love. Love fulfills all the law. When I love, I will be meek, patient, longsuffering, and merciful. That is what love does. So then, the commandments of God are summed up in love. Love God and love neighbor.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? But what a task this is. I remember being faced with the predicament of not loving others the way I should. It was devastating to me. Whenever I want to learn something or grow in something, I usually just go find a book written by an authority and read it. I read and studied many texts that would try to tell me how to be more loving the way the Bible commands. But at the end of the day, they all were simply telling me how to act more loving. I don’t want to just act more loving, I wanted to be more loving. How can I change my heart? How can I transform the fundamental way I think about things? This is what Paul addresses.

He gives us four principles in verses 15-17 about how we allow Christ to change us. The reality is that we cannot change ourselves. We must allow the Spirit of God to do it. We must allow him to renew our minds and sanctify us.

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First, he says that we are to let the peace of God rule in our hearts. The peace he is talking about is not a fuzzy feeling. It is the peace we have with God. It is the peace that Jesus bought for us on the cross. God is no longer at war with the believer. He no longer holds anger or wrath to those who’s sin has been atoned. Our hearts can tell us all kinds of things but we must make sure that this one truth is ruling over them all. No matter what happens, no matter what I am facing, I have peace with God and there will never be anything thought or inclination that will override this. We let that peace rule. It reigns over everything. When it does, the result is inevitably thankfulness. Can you imagine how good and merciful God must be to keep peace with us when we fail Him so often. Thankfulness stems naturally from this.

Secondly, we are to be involved with the body. There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. You were called to be part of the body, part of the army. This is how God grows us. Does it hurt sometimes? Yes! Is it always pleasant? No! The church is full of sinners just like you, but how do you think the Spirit will cause you to grow in patience, mercy, and longsuffering. He will put people in your path that extract these things from you. They will wrong you and you will grow in patience. That is how we grow in the fruits of the Spirit. Paul says, “you were called into one body…”

Third, we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us abundantly. There is no substitute for this. God speaks to us through His word. It is our food, our sustenance. If you don’t eat, your body has no strength to fight off disease and infection. Likewise, if you don’t feast on God’s word and let it live inside you, you will have no strength to grow in Christlikeness or love.

Finally, we are to understand our role on the earth. God could have saved you and transported you to heaven. Instead, he left you here for a purpose. That is to be His ambassador on earth. You are living, speaking, and witnessing in His name. You are doing everything in His name. When People see you they should see Jesus. When they hear you they should see the cross. You live is a reflection of the gospel. Therefore, we must understand that this is our purpose – to do everything in the name of the Lord.


These things are instruments God uses to cause growth in His children. You cannot manufacture love. You cannot learn how to be more loving. You can only be changed by the one who created you. He has laid out the path for that change, all you must do is put yourself in the position for God to work in you.