Wednesday, 27 September 2017

What does it mean to “Obey the Gospel”? (Part 2)

II. What it means to those who have obeyed the gospel:

     The Lord has commanded his followers to “proclaim the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15b), the aim of which is to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19a).1 But what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Before Luke included accounts of the Great Commission in his two-volume work (Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:8), he recorded these words spoken by Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters; yes, and also his own life, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple …. every one of you who does not give up all that he possesses, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-33, emp. added KLM).
     These statements admittedly sound rather extreme, but let’s put them in perspective. The term translated “hate” (v. 26) is the Greek miséō, which essentially means to “esteem less” but is magnified to stress the absolute importance of one’s priorities.2 Jesus must take precedence over the closest of human relationships. Otherwise, my family cannot save me and I would be unable to direct them to God. But if Jesus is at the top of my priority list, not only will I be saved and in a position to help my family go to heaven, I will be a much better son, spouse, parent, and sibling.
     The idea of a “cross” (v. 27) had absolutely no religious connotation at this time. Although Jesus had informed his disciples that he would be “killed” (Matt. 16:21), he had not yet specified the manner of his death,3 so what was their frame of reference? Long before the words in question were spoken, Palestinian Jews were all too familiar with the cross as an instrument of public execution.4 The Romans in particular had perfected this form of capital punishment as a means of humiliation and torture and a deterrent to insurrection. The condemned was forced to carry the implement upon which he would die to the place of execution, and seeing that an entire Roman cross weighed over 135 kg (300 lb.), it was the crossbeam, weighing approximately 35-60 kg (75-125 lb.), that was typically carried. Jesus seems to be implying that discipleship is anything but easy, and a lifelong commitment must be made as one dies to self.5
     The “counting the cost” illustrations that follow (vv. 28-32) indicate that this lofty decision is to be made before even starting the journey. We do a grave disservice to prospective converts when we fail to inform them of what the Lord expects after baptism and the gravity of the commitment they are being called to make.
     The third exhortation, about giving up all that one possesses, is again a matter of priorities. The Lord does not expect his followers to physically impoverish themselves. Otherwise, how could we help the needy (Rom. 15:26), support ministers of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14), give to the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 16:1-2), and provide for our families (1 Tim. 5:8)? The fundamental requisite, then, is an inner detachment from earthly ties. Absolute loyalty to Jesus as Lord ought to surpass one’s connection to all worldly possessions.6

Continued Obedience

     The Lord has instructed that we are to “make disciples of all nations” by the twofold process of (a) “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and (b) “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19). One cannot be a disciple of Jesus without baptism, and one cannot be a disciple of Jesus without having been sufficiently taught. So what is expected after baptism? Does obedience to the gospel end?   
     Our initial response is to “hear” (listen to, understand, heed) the gospel message, but we must continue hearing, receptively and responsively (Rom. 10:17; Eph. 4:21, 29; Phil. 4:9; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29). We are to believe the gospel message, and keep on believing while increasing in faith (Rom. 3:22; 4:11, 24; 10:4; 2 Pet. 1:5-7). We are to repent of sinful attitudes and behaviors, but we can’t stop repenting (Acts 8:22; Rom. 6:1-18; 2 Cor. 7:9-10). We must confess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and keep on confessing (Rom. 10:9-10; 2 Cor. 9:13; Heb. 4:14; 10:23). Baptism for the forgiveness of past sins (Acts 2:38; 8:36-39; 22:16) is the one act of obedience that doesn’t continue, because it is the inaugural step that places us in Christ and his emblematic body, the church, the community of the saved (Acts 2:41-47; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:20-21). We are then raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:11-13; 3:1-3) by remaining faithful (Acts 2:42; 14:22) as active members of Christ’s body (Rom. 12:3-13; 1 Cor. 12:12-27), even unto death (Rev. 2:10).


     What does it mean to obey the gospel? To those who have not yet obeyed, it means to welcome God’s word with open, receptive, truth-seeking hearts and eagerly respond to its directives with obedient faith. To those who have already obeyed the gospel, it means to be faithful to the lifelong commitment made to the Lord and keep on obeying until death.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 In Romans 9:13 Paul quotes Malachi 1:2-3, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Here the concepts of “love” and “hate” are not emotional expressions (as per modern westernized concepts) but are demonstrated actions (cf. Dan. 9:4; John 14:15; Rom. 5:8; etc.). In the 5th-century BC context of Malachi, “Jacob” represents the descendants of Jacob/Israel (1:1, 5) and “Esau” stands for Esau’s descendants, the people of Edom (1:4). The Israelites were being reminded of their special role in God’s scheme (“Jacob I have loved”), despite the persistent abuse of their privileged status, while the defiant Edomites were destined for destruction (“Esau I have hated”).
     3 It was not until the following year that Jesus would reveal his impending death by way of crucifixion (Matt. 20:19; 26:2).
     4 As far back as the second century BC, Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes crucified Jews who resisted his oppressive decrees (see Josephus Ant. 12.5.4).
     5 See “Cross Bearing: the Cost of Discipleship,” <Link>.
     6 See “Leaving All to Follow Jesus,” <Link>.

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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

What does it mean to “Obey the Gospel”? (Part 1)

     The phrase “obey the gospel” occurs only three times in the NT, all in reference to those who do not obey the gospel (Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:17; cp. Heb. 4:2, 6). In the positive sense, comparable expressions include “obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7) and “you have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted” (Rom. 6:17).1 Moreover, the Bible has much to say about both the gospel and obedience. What, then, does the concept of obeying the gospel entail?

I. What it means to those who have not obeyed the gospel:

     The noun euaggélion, often translated “gospel,” essentially means “good news” or “glad tidings” (occurring 76 times in the Greek NT). The verbal euaggelí (occurring 54 times) simply means to “proclaim good news” or “announce glad tidings.” The angel Gabriel ‘announced good news’ [euaggelí] to Zacharias (Luke 1:19). When Jesus was born, an angel ‘brought glad tidings’ [euaggelí] to a group of shepherds, a message of great joy to all (Luke 2:10). John the baptizer ‘preached good news’ [euaggelí] to the people (Luke 3:18). When Jesus began his public ministry, he proclaimed the ‘good news’ [euaggélion] of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35).
     Mark opens his inspired record with these words: “[the] beginning of the gospel [euaggélion] of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (1:1). Mark’s rapid-fire historical account points to the earthly ministry of Jesus (briefly prefaced by OT prophecy and John’s preparatory mission) as the commencement of the gospel story (1:2-9). In contrast, the apostle John goes all the way back to the beginning of time (1:1-3) and then transitions into the testimony of John the baptizer as a prelude to Christ’s ministry. Luke takes us back to Adam (3:38) in connection with Jesus’ genealogy and incarnation, while Matthew starts with Abraham (1:1-2) as a focal point of Christ’s lineage and fulfilled prophecy. Collectively these four Gospels mark just the beginning of the gospel narrative, while the book of Acts continues the story for another three decades (see Acts 1:1).
     The gospel is a universal message to be shared with the entire world (Matt. 24:14; 26:13; Mark 16:15; cf. Acts 1:8). This necessarily involves both proclaimers and recipients. When the early Christians scattered from Jerusalem, they went everywhere ‘proclaiming good news’ [euaggelí] of the word (Acts 8:1-4). The book of Acts provides a historical record of these early evangelizers and how their audiences received and responded to the divine message. While many rejected the gospel outright,2 many others were receptive to it.3

The Desired Response

     Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy describe the coming judgment of Christ as follows: “in a fire of flame inflicting vengeance on those not knowing God and those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:8). While the term “gospel” means “good news,” apparently an obedient response is required in order for it to actually be good news (cf. Rom. 10:16; Heb. 4:2, 6; 1 Pet. 4:17). There were a number in Thessalonica who “did not accept [déchomai] the love of the truth in order for them to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10). Conversely, others “hearing [akoē] [the] word of God … accepted [déchomai] … [the] word of God, which also is working in you, the believing [ones]” (1 Thess. 2:13).4
     Two key terms describe their positive response: “hearing” [akoē] and “accepting” [déchomai].5 The latter conveys the idea of grasping and welcoming (cf. 1 Thess. 1:6; also Luke 8:13; Acts 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; Jas. 1:21), therefore “hearing” involves more than just receiving audible sounds (cf. Matt. 13:13-17; Jas. 1:22-25). It necessarily includes listening, understanding, accepting, and heeding.
     Elsewhere this is expressed as akoēs písteōs (“hearing of faith”) (Gal. 3:2, 5). Unfortunately, the significance of this phrase is all but lost in English translation. The sense is much clearer in light of the parallel idiom in Rom. 1:5 and 16:26, hupakoēn písteōs (“obedience of faith”). Both akoē and hupakoē [hupó -“by” + akoē -“hearing” = to give ear, hearken, obey] reflect the Hebrew sense of shema, a “responsive hearing” (cf. Ex. 24:7; Deut. 31:11-13; Rom. 10:16-17). The idiomatic expressions “hearing” and “hearing of faith” are clearly allusions to receptive and responsive hearing, viz., obedient faith (cf. Heb. 4:2, 6).6


     Sin separates the sinner from God (Isa. 59:1-2; 1 John 1:5-6), and all accountable humans (other than Christ) have sinned (Rom. 3:10, 23; 1 John 1:10). The gospel of Jesus Christ is “good news” because it reveals God’s plan of redemption for lost humanity. However, the gospel is only good news to those who obey (Rom. 6:16-18).7 This particularly involves receptive and responsive hearing (Acts 2:22, 37), believing and confessing Jesus (Acts 2:36-37; 8:12, 35-37), turning away from sin (Acts 2:38a; 3:19), immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38b, 41; 22:16), and continued faithfulness (Acts 2:42; 14:22).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Acts 4:1-3, 18; 5:13, 17-18, 28, 33, 40; 6:9; 7:51-59; 9:23, 29; 12:1-4; 13:6-10, 45-46, 50; 14:2, 4a, 5, 19; 17:5-9, 13, 32a; 18:6, 12; 19:9, 23; 20:3; 21:27-28; 22:22; 26:28; 28:24b.
     3 Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 8:6-13, 36-39; 9:18, 35, 42; 10:33; 11:21-24; 12:24; 13:12, 42-44, 48-49; 14:1, 4b, 21; 15:3; 16:14-15, 30-34; 17:4, 11-12, 34; 18:8, 19-21, 24-28; 19:1-5, 18-20; 21:20; 28:24a.
     4 The message they had received and continued to embrace, having been variously designated the “gospel” (1 Thess. 1:5; 2:4), “the word” (1:6), “the word of the Lord” (1:8; 4:15), and “the gospel of God” (2:2, 8, 9), is twice referenced here as “the word of God.”
     5 The term paralambánō (to “take hold of” or “receive”) is another important description of how the gospel ought to be responded to (see 1 Cor. 15:1; Gal. 1:9; Phil. 4:9; Col. 2:6; 4:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess. 3:6; Heb. 12:28).
     6 On the noun akoé (“hearing”), see Rom. 10:17; Gal. 3:2, 5; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 5:11. On the verb akoúō (“hear”), see Acts 2:11, 22, 37; 3:22-23; 4:4; 8:6; 10:22, 33, 44; 13:7, 44; 14:9; 15:7; 16:14; 18:8; 19:5, 10.
     7 See also Matt. 7:21-27; 12:50; Luke 8:15; John 3:36[ASV]; 8:31-36; 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10, 14; Rom. 2:8; 10:16-17; Heb. 3:18; 4:6, 11; 5:8-9; Jas. 1:21-25; 2:17-26
11; 1 John 2:3-5.

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Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Reaching Muslims (Part 2)

Confronting our differences

In his Areopagus speech in Athens, Paul describes his audience as δεισιδαίμων (Acts 17:22), rendered in English “superstitious” (KJV) or “religious” (NKJV). The fuller sense of the term characterizes those driven by a confused concept of God, producing sincere but misdirected religion – an apt description of the Islamic faith. The question of whether Allah of Islam is the same as the God of Bible requires a twofold answer: linguistically, yes (“Allah” is the Arabic term for “God”); theologically, no. The unitarian monotheism of Islam stands in stark contrast to the trinitarian monotheism of Christianity.
Unitarianism is an over-simplification of God; he is too big and too complex to be reduced to a single mathematical unit. It should come as no surprise that God’s human creation consists of relational beings, because our creator is a relational being. How can moral attributes exist apart from relationship? How can God be love if he is an absolute, unrelatable, solitary entity? Before creation, whom did God love? God as a unity of three divine Persons makes sense in the context of relationship.1 Further, God’s desire for relationship is ultimately demonstrated in the Incarnation (John 1:18).
Muslims are taught to deny “the three gods of Christianity,” but they have obviously been introduced to a distorted view of our faith. Have we failed to clearly communicate what we believe? The burden is ours to seek opportunities to provide accurate information. To Muslims, God’s oneness is his outstanding characteristic; he is transcendent, holy, set apart from creation. Islam’s rejection of the Incarnation is motivated by great respect for God’s holiness and honor; he is to be worshiped from a distance. Thus the God of the Qur’an is unknowable, declaring his will and his acts but not his character. Conversely, the God of the Bible has revealed himself and wants to be known (Jer. 9:23-24; 31:34), most clearly through his Son Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 14:7-9).
Because Islamic theology is trapped in the physical realm, it is commonly asked, “How can God have a Son?!” Nothing is more central to the Muslim faith than the absolute rejection of God having a Son,2 while nothing is more foundational to the Christian faith than confessing the Lord Jesus as the Son of God (John 20:30-31). Here is an opportunity to introduce the biblical doctrine of God’s spiritual nature (John 4:24). The God of the Bible is revealed according to his attributes of essence and is steadfast, faithful, and trustworthy. The God of the Qur’an is revealed according to his attributes of action, not his nature, so he appears to be capricious and arbitrary.
In Islam the idea of atonement is criticized, as emphasis is placed on works of righteousness in blind submission to the divine will (Islam means “submission,” and Muslim means “one who submits”). The Bible likewise emphasizes submission to the divine will (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:6; etc.), but provision has been made for when we fall short (Rom. 5:6-11; 6:1-4). Our Muslim friends need to know that the relational God of the Bible has invited us into a relationship with him (Rev. 21:3). This is not possible apart from a clear understanding and acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, with faithful adherence to his teachings (John 14:6; Rom. 5:10-11; 2 Cor. 5:18; 1 Pet. 3:18).

The Crux of the Matter

The Islamic confession of faith (Shahada) is as follows: “There is no true god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” Muslims have been taught that the prophecy recorded in Deut. 18:15-19, concerning the Prophet like Moses, refers to Mohammed rather than to Jesus Christ. Since they accept the book of Deuteronomy as God’s holy word, we need to sit down with them and study the passage together. The text reads as follows:
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ “And the Lord said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.3
God is speaking through Moses, and contextually to whom is he speaking? In the preceding chapters and verses, the audience is explicitly identified as “Israel” no less than twenty-three times. The people of Israel are informed that the Prophet will arise “from your midst” (v. 15), a fact reiterated to Moses (v. 18). Since Mohammed descended from Abraham through Ishmael and not through Isaac–Jacob–Israel, this prophecy cannot be in reference to him.
     While the recorded words of Peter and Stephen affirm Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy (Acts 3:22; 7:37), Muslims typically do not accept their testimony. However, the words of Jesus himself are respected, and he declares, For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me” (John 5:46). Where did Moses write about Jesus if not Deut. 18:15-19? Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world’” (John 6:14). Our Muslim friends need to be reminded of God’s solemn warning: “whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him” (Deut. 18:19).
It is not sinful or blasphemous to accept God’s revelation of himself, and his revelation is personal … in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14). Christians do not turn a human teacher into God or associate Jesus with God; he was already associated with God. We do not attribute divine sonship to Jesus, he reveals God as Father – not in a physical sense but in a relational sense. We do not assign divine essence to Jesus, he is divine. We do not deify Christ, he is deity.4


With the Lord’s help, Muslims can be won to Christ. We start by seeing them as God sees them – precious souls created in his image for whom Jesus died. As we seek to obey God, which includes loving our fellow man, may we effectively encourage our Muslim neighbors to exchange their confession of Mohammed as God’s prophet for Jesus Christ as God’s Son.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 See Matt. 28:19; Mark 1:9-11; Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; etc.
     2 See J. Scott Horrell, “Son of God and Islam,” a paper presented at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (16 Nov. 2016), San Antonio, TX.
     3 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     4 Some of these thoughts are adapted from Wissam Al-Aethawi’s “Islam Series” at the 2017 FHU Lectureship, <Link>.

*This material was originally developed for the 2017 Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies Lectureship.

Related PostsReaching Muslims Part 1

Related articles: Dewayne Bryant's Two Religions, Two Gods, Mike Bensen's Prophet Like Moses?

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