yoke1The “L” word. It’s one of the ugliest of all words: legalism. Defined as the idea that we can earn right standing with God, it does violence to the glorious gospel of Christ. It says, “No, sorry, it’s not enough,” to the substitutionary atoning work of Christ. It confuses the way to forgiveness, it tarnishes the gospel of grace, it lays up heavy burdens that no one can carry, it crushes hope, and fuels despair. It declares that man possesses finesse to propitiate the just wrath of God due our sin. For that, legalism is deadly and must be opposed at every level. Paul called it another gospel whose proponents are condemned (Gal 1:8-9).

Consequently, labeling something/one legalistic ought to be done with caution. To bring the charge is to say that this thing or person is in danger of propagating an unsavable system and trampling the cross of Christ. So if we label something legalistic, we better thoroughly understand the gospel, the definition of legalism, and what exactly is happening with what we are labeling as legalistic. Otherwise, we are sinning by erroneously labeling something in opposition to the cross of Jesus Christ.

Even so, the legalism card often gets overplayed. More and more I’ve interacted with Christians humbly and faithfully working out their salvation with fear and trembling, only to have the legalism card slapped on them. As such, they’re being fallaciously warned about legalism boogeymen. There are many I’ve heard of lurking in Christendom.

Looking Under BedHere are 5 all-too-common legalism boogeymen we need to shoo away:

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With several new books out on the subject of the authorship of Hebrews, we thought it would be helpful to blog on the topic. Yesterday Josiah argued that the authorship of Hebrews is unknown, and that Christians err when they ascribe it to others (like Paul or Luke). Today, Jesse argues that Paul wrote Hebrews, and we should give credit where credit is due. Please note that no counter-arguments are given since the articles were written independently of each other.

When I was in seminary, I tried to buy into the standard text-book arguments about the unknown authorship of Hebrews—I really did. I enumerated them, I memorized them, and then on my New Testament Introduction final I reproduced them for my professor. But I couldn’t resist—even then I understood that the arguments against Pauline authorship were so vague, and that the characteristics of the supposed anonymous author so broad, that it could be anyone. So I turned my NTI blue book into a treatise about how the author must certainly either be Paul, or Barnabas’ wife. My professor, the venerable and much feared Dr. Thomas, simply scrawled in the margin “NOT AMUSED.”

Amusement notwithstanding, the arguments for Pauline authorship of Hebrews are impressive. Here are four reasons I hold that the Apostle Paul was the author of Hebrews:   Continue Reading…

With several new books out on the subject of the authorship of Hebrews, we thought it would be helpful to blog on the topic. Today, Josiah will argue that the authorship of Hebrews is unknown, and that Christians err when they ascribe it to others (like Paul or Luke). Tomorrow, Jesse will argue that Paul wrote Hebrews, and we should give credit where credit is due. Please note that no counter-arguments are given since the articles were written independently of each other.

There are four reasons why I think Hebrews should be left in anonymity:

  1. No one signed it.

Paul begins all thirteen of his letters with the same word — “Paul.” Every time. Without exception.

Hebrews is the exception you say? This is possible, but I find it even more noteworthy that Paul explicitly states that he wrote all of his letters in the same way, so as to weed out any impostors (2 Thes. 3:17). If Paul wrote Hebrews, it seems likely that the evidence from the early church would be as overwhelming as it is for his other letters, but alas, it is not. In fact, some argue that Pauline authorship was only ascribed to Hebrews to make sure it was included in the canon of Scripture (It was not included in the Muratorion canon, 170 A.D.). Continue Reading…

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) died on Thursday, at 95 years old. Today the world will talk of how his politics molded history. There will be documentaries about his presidential legacy and movies telling his remarkable story. But I doubt any of that will capture the impact he had on people like me. I was a racist and a detractor. I was ignorant and brainwashed. I was a pessimist and a cynic. But Mandela changed my mind. B&W Nelson Mandela

I grew up in the dystopia of Apartheid. As an English speaking White child in the 1980’s I had no idea that the country I lived in was not a democracy—my parents voted, and one day I would too.

I was vaguely aware of banned books, censorship, and protest poetry, but none of that affected my life. I hadn’t an inkling that Whites were a minority, and that Blacks outnumbered us nine-to-one. I lived in a city, which meant that Blacks were only allowed there temporarily and if they had permission papers. They were there to do the dirty jobs. At night they slunk back to their distant and disgusting shanty towns. It never occurred to me that those hodgepodge shacks, built from our rubbish, housed 30 million real people.

I harbored no antipathy toward the Blacks who mowed our lawn and cleaned our home. They were good-humored and friendly folks. They were compliant and submissive, calling my dad Boss, my mom Madam, and I was Kleinbaas (little-boss). We were taught to respect them. When our full time domestic servant—“the maid”—babysat me, she was in charge and was to be respected. I once met with a memorable lesson from Dad’s belt when I accused the lady of stealing sugar. (As it turned out, it was a different pilferer I had overheard my mother complaining about.)

I appreciated the Blacks I knew. But I also knew about the others.

The other Blacks—the Terrorists—were the ones to fear. I learned about them from the news and elementary school history lessons. They lived in the bush, were trained in Angola by Soviet Communists, and were responsible for the paranoia woven into our lives. They were the reason we practiced military drills in school and why every male over eighteen was drafted into the army. My parents owned a store in central Pretoria. My mom was there alone the weekend my dad took us hiking, when the Terrorists bombed the nearby Navy admin headquarters. She was showered in shards of window glass, but thankfully escaped the casualty statistics that day. 

Mandela and boy On my third grade classroom wall was a poster with plastic models of various limpet mines, letter bombs, grenades, and other devices the Terrorists used, so we could report any we saw in malls or stadiums. Our school rehearsed bomb drills and escape evacuation protocols; some were in response to actual threats, others just a welcome escape from math class. We saw sniffer dogs patrol occasionally, and our headmaster had code words that, if used over the PA system, meant the following instructions were being issued under duress.

Fear of the Terrorists was a way of life. Welcome to Africa. But if you needed a person to blame, his name was Nelson Mandela.

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“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”
– Philippians 3:20–21 –

Citizens of Heaven_T_NVPaul has been exhorting the Philippians to follow his example (Phil 3:17) in pressing on in the race of pursuing sanctification (Phil 3:12–14). In these verses, he gives two reasons, or motivations, that the believer in Jesus should be pressing on with all our might in our fight for holiness.

Our Present Position

The word “our” in that opening phrase is thrown all the way to the very front of the sentence in the original in order to show an emphatic contrast. Sensuality, shamelessness, and worldliness characterize the enemies of the cross (Phil 3:18–19). But as for us, Paul says, our citizenship is in heaven. And because of our present position as citizens, enrolled on the register of the Heavenly Kingdom, our lives must be ruled and governed by the laws of that blessed realm.

And the Philippians would have understood this imagery of “citizenship” immediately. According to Acts 16:12, Philippi was a Roman colony. And the historical sources tell us that Philippi enjoyed an elite status in the Roman empire called the ius Italicum—which is to say that it was governed as if it was on Italian soil. Philippians enjoyed the full rights and privileges of Roman citizenship as if they had been born there themselves. And they were proud of that status. They spoke the Romans’ language, they copied the Romans’ architecture, and they even adopted the way the Romans dressed. Everything about their way of life was governed by a kingdom which they were citizens of but were not presently living in.

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There are a lot of Santa Claus stories floating around this time of year. Almost all of them are completely based in fantasy. Flying reindeer; a sleigh full of gifts; precarious chimney climbing; a fluffy red suit — all of that is total fiction.

But when my kids used to ask me, “Dad, is Santa Claus real?” I didn’t say “No.” In fact, I answered in the affirmative.

(Pause for dramatic effect.)

Santa_Claus

Like any good student of church history, I explained that Santa Claus was actually a fourth-century pastor named Nicholas of Myra who was later considered a saint by the medieval Roman Catholic Church. He was a favorite of Dutch sailors who called him, “Sinter Klaas” (or “Saint Nicholas”) which then came into English as “Santa Claus.”

Of course, I was careful to point out that the modern American version of Saint Nicholas bears absolutely no resemblance to the fourth-century pastor from Asia Minor. The real Nicholas did not live in the North Pole. He was not Scandinavian. He did not drive a team of magical caribou. He did not work with elves. Nor did he travel the world every Christmas Eve exchanging presents for milk and cookies. Continue Reading…