Archives For Theology

December 23, 2015

Why the Virgin Conception?

by Eric Davis
dont get it

blog.nativefoods.com

Some of the traditions surrounding the Christmas holiday are confusing. For example, the old tradition our parents practiced of putting real candles on the Christmas tree. Not a good idea. My grandma’s Christmas sweaters with 47 different holiday colors on them. Complex and confusing. Canada’s boxing day. Really? You need that on the calendar just in case you forget to box up the tinsel? And finally, fruit cake.

But there is another thing I did not understand about Christmas when I became a Christian; the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Is it just a neat miracle where God says, “Watch this!”?

The virgin birth, more accurately phrased, the virgin conception, was an essential piece of God’s plan in redemptive history.

What exactly does the virgin conception mean?

It does not mean that Christ was born in a manner different than others. He was born like any other baby. It does not mean a miraculous conception, for example, as from a woman who could not have children.

The virgin conception of Christ means that, completely contrary to the normal course of God’s design in nature, God joined himself to humanity, becoming fully human and was born in the natural way.

The result was that the conception of Jesus Christ was not his origin, but his incarnation. He has no origin: Christ was the only person in history whose conception did not mark the beginning of his existence. At his conception, he did not become something different, but took on something he had not; humanity:

As far as witnesses go, many testify directly or indirectly to the fact of Christ’s virgin conception.

  • Many biblical writers. In addition to Isaiah (Isa. 7:14), Matthew (Matt. 1:18-20), Luke (Luke 1:31-35), and Mary (as recorded in the gospels).
  • Christ. He is constantly referring to God as his Father, which means he knew of his virgin conception.
  • Christ’s enemies. Though indirectly, those who opposed Christ testified to his virgin conception when they disdained him for being the product of fornication (John 8:19, 41).
  • His life itself demands a heavenly origin. J. Oswald Sanders writes, “If, as science demands, every event must have an adequate cause, then the presence of a sinless Man, in the midst of universally sinful men implies a miracle of origin. Such a Person as Jesus…demands such a birth as the gospels record. The how of the birth becomes believable when the Who of the birth is taken into account” (The Incomparable Christ, 14).
  • Early church historians. Individuals such as Justin Martyr, Aristides, and Ignatius also affirmed the fact of the virgin conception.

So, why the virgin conception? Generally, the virgin conception of Jesus Christ was an essential element of God’s plan to bring forgiveness and eternal life to all who would trust in Christ as Lord and Savior.

Breaking that down a bit, here are 5 reasons for the virgin conception of Jesus Christ:

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Glory of the IncarnationIt’s a joy to reserve this part of the year to remember and celebrate the birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. This, of course, is what Christmas is about in the truest sense. Amid all the tinsel, the gingerbread cookies, and the trees and stockings and gift shopping, true Christians pause to reorient our thoughts and our affections to what Christmas is really about: the incarnation of the Son of God.

And that kind of theological shorthand has become so familiar to us that we cease to be amazed at the truth we speak of when we speak of the incarnation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

God. Becoming man. The infinite, eternal, self-existent, self-sufficient, almighty God, without shedding His divine nature, taking upon Himself—in addition to His divine nature—a human nature—truly becoming one of us. In the incarnation of the Son of God, it can properly be said that the immutable, unchangeable God became what He wasn’t, while never ceasing to be what He was.

The incomprehensibility of that thought alone is sufficient to bow our hearts and intellects before divine wisdom in worship. This kind of mind-bending wisdom is so lofty—so far beyond our natural understanding—that we wouldn’t believe it if Scripture didn’t teach it so plainly. We already referenced John 1: The Word was God, and the Word became flesh. We also see it in Philippians 2:6–7, where Paul tells us that while Christ was existing in His very nature as God nevertheless assumed to Himself the very nature of a servant, and was born as a man.

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“But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”
– Philippians 4:18 –

Worship through GivingIn the final phrases of Philippians 4:18, Paul describes Christian giving in the language of Old Testament sacrificial worship—language that originated all the way back in Genesis 8. After Noah and his family emerged unharmed through the flood of God’s judgment, he worshiped God: “Then Noah built an altar to Yahweh, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. Yahweh smelled the soothing aroma (same as “fragrant aroma” in Phil 4:18) and Yahweh said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man…’” (Gen 8:20–21).

This was the essence of worship under the Old Covenant. God’s people were commanded to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and strength (Deut 6:5), to worship and serve Him only (Deut 6:13; cf. Luke 4:8), and to have no other gods before Him (Exod 20:3). And a principal way in which His people demonstrated that He had occupied first place in their hearts was by offering up to Him of the firstfruits of their livestock, by dedicating animals to God that would have otherwise been used for food or for securing profit through labor. As an act of worship—as a lived-out demonstration that they regarded God as more worthy than their own possessions—like David (cf. 2 Sam 24:24), they gave God that which cost them something.

The one who recognized God’s worth above all things and thus could part gladly and even eagerly with a portion of what God had given to him. And because that was the heart attitude of a faithful worshiper who brought a sacrifice to God, when the odor of the burnt flesh of an ox or a bull or a ram ascended into the heavens, rather than a disgusting stench, the text says it reached the nostrils of God and was to Him a soothing aroma—a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

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universal-diagnosis

regaltribune.com

It’s about as puzzling as it is pervasive. Especially in our nation, people assume the label, “Christian,” for themselves as easily as a food preference. A 2014 survey revealed that about 70% of Americans consider themselves Christians. Often at funerals (in an understandable grasp in grief) individuals—even clergy—will proclaim with certitude the individual’s presence in the eternal place for Christians, despite an absence of Christianity in the individual’s life. Some of the more common answers to the question, “How do you know that you are a Christian?”, are things like, “I have always been one,” “I believe in God,” “I was baptized or confirmed,” “At camp I came forward,” “I just grew up that way,” “I prayed a prayer,” “Because I am a decent person,” or, “Because I grew up going to/go to church.”

But how do those reasons match up with the Christian manual—the Bible—on what it means to be a Christian? Are 70% of 300 million Americans characterized by the Bible’s definition of Christian characteristics? What does the Bible say about what it means to be a Christian?

It’s critical that we use God’s objective word when evaluating whether or not we are a Christian, and not our subjective opinion. Scripture, not experience or sentiment, is the say on the status of our soul. After we die, when and we stand before God in the judgment (Heb. 9:27), he is not going to ask, “So, did you think you were a Christian in life? You did? Oh, OK, come on in to heaven.” He will judge by his standard. And, according to Jesus, on that day many will be surprised when they are shut out from heaven for all eternity (Matt. 7:21-23).

So, this matters. Eternity is at stake. This is a matter of our own souls and those of people we love. Thus, it is inappropriate, and even more, perhaps, spiritual suicide, to respond, “Who are you to question me?” The answer, of course, is, someone who cares about you and your eternal well-being.

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Today is December 1. That means there are only 25 days until Christmas.

Visit your local coffee shop, take a trip to the mall, or just drive through your neighborhood at night, and it’s easy to see that the so-called “Christmas spirit” is alive and well in American culture.

Some of the ironies of our culture’s fascination with Christmas are especially evident where I live in Southern California.

• It hasn’t snowed in Los Angeles in years, but snowflake decorations are everywhere.

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compassIt’s not uncommon for me to hear of Christians claiming that God led them to this or that by means of a dream or vision or word from the Lord. When I probe what they mean by that, more often than not it’s just their way of saying they had an idea or imagined a scene.

Only occasionally has the person insisted that they literally had a supernatural experience of direct revelation like Paul going to heaven (2 Cor 12) or Peter’s trance (Acts 10). Dismissing those claims as spurious hogwash is fairly uncomplicated (see the cornucopia of articles on this blog by searching “Strange Fire” or “prophecy” or any other charismatic sounding term).

What deserves more leniency is the acknowledgement that the Spirit prompts us and guides us in our everyday lives. After all, those “who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14).

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TriageMore than ten years ago (can’t believe it’s been that long!), Al Mohler wrote a seminal blog post outlining what he called “theological triage.” Borrowing the term from the emergency room, Mohler discussed the need for Christians to prioritize certain doctrinal issues over others. In what can be the chaos of an emergency room, medical professionals need to know how to weigh the urgency of various patients’ needs against one another; that is, a gunshot wound should be prioritized over a sprained ankle. Similarly, in the theological world, Christians must understand the difference between (a) “first-order” doctrines—where to hold an errant position actually precludes one from being a true brother in Christ—and (b) “second-” and “third-order” doctrines—issues on which two genuine Christians can disagree and nevertheless be truly saved. In other words, we need to be able to discern the difference between bad doctrine and heresy.

All biblical doctrine is important. I would go so far as to say all biblical doctrine is essential. It’s difficult to put any doctrine into a second or third tier, because it somehow feels as if to do so is to say it’s not important. But employing theological triage doesn’t mean that everything that’s not first-order is unimportant, any more than a doctor prioritizing a gunshot wound means that he necessarily thinks a sprained ankle is unimportant. But the fact remains: genuine Christians can disagree on things like the mode and recipients of baptism; but if two people disagree on the triunity of God, one is a Christian and the other isn’t.

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Paris_attacks_rt_img

thenation.com

Much of the world continues astir in the wake of ISIS’s brutal attack last Friday on Paris which left 129 people killed and more than 350 wounded.

Social media was quick to explode with prayers, cries of shock, outrage, and condemnation. But one common thread we have seen running throughout the tweets and headlines and comments of many has been along these lines: “ISIS are not real Muslims.”

We understand the desire of peaceful Muslims to distance themselves of such despicable acts. Yet, the question remains: Can ISIS be considered Muslims in any way? It’s a difficult question, especially for westerners and Christians. In order to speak accurately and intelligently on the issue, some careful consideration is needed.

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Southern Africa’s theological landscape is immersed in the heritage of the Reformers. A tide of persecution in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries washed legions of harassed French Huguenots and Dutch Calvinists up on the shores of the Cape of Good Hope. Their theology was understandably soaked with covenantalism and its most distinctive mark—infant baptism.baby under water

Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Methodists are all well established denominations in South Africa. The practical implication for a Baptist pastor like myself is that almost everyone who wants to join our church—old and new believers alike—inquires about why we don’t recognize their infant baptism.

I’d like to piggy-back on Jordan’s excellent post from last week, and offer a primer to help frame the discussion you may have with someone who wants all this explained to them.

This eon-old debate is very nuanced and complicated, and unlikely to be settled by one discussion unless the person is already predisposed to change their view. But this is a primer for the discussion. The following five points are not an exhaustive treatise, but may help keep your head above water in the discussion.

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One of my favorite events that we get to experience in the church age is Baptism. To watch someone courageously declare the Lordship of Jesus in their life is an awesome blessing to witness. It is a declaration of freedom. It is the symbol of being dead to sin and alive to Christ. (Rom 6:11) It is the announcement that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). That’s why we believe in believer’s baptism. That is someone who knows the difference between good and evil and can declare their commitment to Christ.

Sometimes in our circles (those who do not believe baptism saves) we are tempted to minimize the importance of baptism, but it is of vast importance. Baptism is the way a person declares their commitment not only to Christ but to a local body of believers as well (Acts 2:41). This declaration of commitment is why churches require baptism before membership. I believe that for the sake of obedience to Jesus and for the sake of conscience we should take the practice of baptism seriously.  So, in light of the importance that Scripture places on baptism, here are three reasons which might lead a person to consider getting “re-baptized.”

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