Begotten: H.C. Question 33

Why is [Jesus] called God’s “only begotten Son” when we also are God’s children?

John 1:1-3 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

John 1:12, 14, 18 -Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Hebrews 1 – In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”?

Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?

And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.”

But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.  You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.  They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed.  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Romans 8:14-17 – For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Ephesians 1:5-6 – he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.



Ephesians 1- Predestined

Read Ephesians 1

Paul begins his letter to the church in Ephesus, a letter that was most likely meant to have a greater audience than just this one church, on a really high theological note.  In fact, he basically sums up salvation history in this one chapter, and it all begins and ends with God.

From all eternity, God has called us to be His own.

There is a tenant in the Christian faith known as the doctrine of predestination that is something that has been talked about and debated over the years.  Many different denominations of the Church see this differently.  Essentially, the picture that Paul is trying to paint here is a God that is far above any confines of human existence.  In fact, before the beginning began, God had worked out the plan of salvation and had even called people to Himself.  This calling, which happened before all time began, is what we know of as Predestination.

Now, this particular doctrine also raises a number of questions for us.  If God had the plan of salvation already worked out before He created the world, does that mean that God knew sin was going to happen?  How could He allow that?  Does that mean He created an imperfect world?

What about free will?  Humans were created with the freedom to choose God or not, yet God already knows who He has called and who will respond?  Doesn’t that conflict with free will?

These are good questions.  The responses would take more time and are more nuanced than this writing has time for or can address.  Some of it is beyond human understanding and comprehension.  However, it may suffice to say that what we know as salvation history, as recorded in the Bible, is far greater, more thought-out, and abundantly more complex than we may have initially thought.  Yet, even in that, God has taken care of every detail to the point that we cannot lose even a hair from our head without it being His will.  Truly, He is amazing!



Day 341: Ephesians 1-3; Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ

The church in Ephesus was arguably one of the most important churches in the western part of Asia Minor, mostly because of the central location of the city of Ephesus, which was the most important city in western Asia Minor, in what is now known as Turkey.  Located on the western coast of what is now Turkey, Ephesus was one of the last cities with which to dock before heading across the Aegean Sea.  It is almost parallel with Corinth, which would have likely been one of the city’s greatest trading partners.  Ephesus, being as busy and important as it was, became home to a great deal of pantheistic worshipers of Greek and Roman gods as well as a home for thinkers and philosophers.  To that end, the city was home to a great amphitheater, the temples of Hadrian and Artemis, and the Library of Celsus, one of the greatest Libraries of the ancient world (which was privately funded by Celsus himself).

Both Paul and John spent a great deal of time in the city of Ephesus.  Paul used it as one of his bases from which he traveled throughout the heart of the Roman empire, starting churches and encouraging Christians as he went.  John also spent a great deal of time in Ephesus, the place from which he likely wrote his Gospel and the letter that he wrote to the churches before he died.  Tradition hold that John died in Ephesus and his tomb is located there in the Basilica of St. John.  The letter of Ephesians, as well as that of Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon are commonly known  as the “prison epistles” because tradition holds that they were written by Paul from prison to encourage the church as it continued to grow.  Ephesians is probably the most uplifting letter that Paul writes to any of the churches, full of encouragement and instruction with little in the way of admonition and disciplinary talk.

The letter to the Ephesians is divided into two parts that actually fall well into the readings that we have for today and tomorrow.  Today, the first half of the book, largely covers God’s plan of salvation in Christ.  Paul beings with an opening, thanking God for all the Spiritual blessings in Christ that have been poured out on the church.  He also touches on what we have just talked about in the book of Ephesians, the idea of identity approaching it this time from the angle of adoption.  He says,

just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.  He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

This passage is where we draw a great deal of our understanding of the doctrine of election and how we understand our identity in Christ.  Like we talked about yesterday, identity is a big deal for us, especially as we look at who we are and whose we are.  The deeper definition of our being one in Christ Jesus plays a big part in our lives.  Paul says that this happens because we were chosen, in the same way that Israel was chosen, not because of anything that we have done, but because of the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  Like a child who has been adopted by someone, we too have become a part of God’s family, or as Paul says in Galatians, heirs to the promise in Christ Jesus.  There is no longer a distinction between Jew and Greek, or any other distinction, we are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul goes on from here to talk about how this happens.  Most of this explanation comes from the abundantly well known words of Ephesians 2, a place that we get a great deal of our understanding about the nature of grace:

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.  But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—  not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

This is what Paul is working so hard to make known to people throughout the world, and encouraging churches to hold as the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ.  This too is what he is encouraging all people in the community of faith to hold to and to preach and testify to in their lives.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.



Day 327: Romans 4-7; By Faith

We continue in Paul’s explanation of the Gospel as he lays out for the church in Rome the good news of Jesus Christ.  Remember yesterday how he walked through the a sort of “creation narrative” as he explained general revelation and how all humanity is without excuse for knowing God.  He also makes it very clear to us that all of humanity is sinful in its very nature and that there is nothing that we can do to get out of this sin.  Calvinists would call this “total depravity” but it might be better to say that this is a “pervasive depravity” combined with “total inability.”  While this doesn’t necessarily fit in with the TULIP acronym, it most certainly is more correct (and besides, TULIP is a poor representation of Calvinism anyway).  Sin affects every part of our being and there is nothing we can do to make it right or to make ourselves right.  No amount of good works, social status, or even ethic status as the Jews thought can save anyone from their sins.  Quite simply, Paul says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Yet it isn’t all hopeless here!  Paul also goes on to say that “and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  The good news is that God has done something about our condition!  God knew that we could not do it on our own and so He did it for us by sending His Son to live and die for us.  I added the word “all” into this because it is implied from the first half of the sentence.  It is true that ALL have sinned.  It is also true that ALL are justified.  Now this is something that people might push back on because is smells of universalism.  Our “TULIP” acronym comes back into play here with both “Limited Atonement” and “Unconditional Election.”  Again, I must point out that TULIP is really a horrible acronym for calvinism or the reformed faith because both of these statements can be confusing.  It might be better to put it this way: Christ’s death on the cross was Sufficient for all, but effective for elect.  Who are the elect?  Well… that gets into an entirely other topic…

 Election is something of a difficult doctrine to unwrap.  People often hear it as God has chosen some and not others.  Essentially, this is true… but when said like this, it makes it sound like no one gets to choose anything about anything.  You are either elect and go to heaven or you are the opposite (reprobate) and don’t.  If you throw a word like “predestination” in there, it makes it even worse for some because we think that these choices are already made.  The fact of the matter is, at least on some level, God has revealed Himself to some people in a special way (we call this special revelation).  For those in whom the Spirit is working and gives faith, which is also a gift from God mind you, when they come to faith they become one of the elect, chosen by God and forgiven of their sins by His grace alone.  The ramifications of this doctrine are that there are those who will never choose God and never turn towards Christ.  Paul says that these people are without excuse.  For them, the death of Christ is as sufficient as it is for anyone else to save them from their sins, yet because they have not turned to God in faith and accepted this gift, it is not effective for them.

I understand that these are difficult teachings, but they are clearly laid out in the Bible.  We will return to them in the future, but for now I would like to focus in on the key word here: “faith.”

As we return from this to the readings for today, check out how Paul lays out the stories of Abraham and faith.  Abraham isn’t saved, says Paul, by virtue of being the father of the nation of Israel.  He is saved because “he believed God,” because he had faith.  This didn’t have anything to do with his works or his ethnicity, it had to do with faith and Paul lays this out pretty clearly.  It all depends on faith.

He continues on in chapters 5-7 to talk about the effects of having faith in God do for our life.  It is not simply that when we come to faith our sins are forgiven and that’s that.  Paul shows us that in many ways what happens is that we “put on” Christ in many ways.  When we come to faith in God through Christ Jesus by the working of the Holy Spirit we “die” to our old self.  We are no longer who we were, but we are raised to life in Christ!  This is one of the main promises in the sacrament of baptism and one of its primary meanings as well (more on that to come later as well).  By faith we are united to Christ… in God’s eyes He no longer sees us as a sinful human, but sees us as He sees His Son: RIGHTEOUS.  For those looking for another theological term, we call this “imputed righteousness.”  Calvin, in his institutes says it like this:

“Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body–in short–, because he deigns to make us one with him.” (3.11.10)

Wow, this is a heavy post today.  My head hurts thinking about the theological ground that we covered.  Yet these things are important.  Perhaps not all the fancy theological words, but the premise is at the very core of the Christian faith.  In some ways, these are the things that we need to be able to talk about as Christians.  Granted, I think that people tend to be more open to hearing about the testimonies of people as they experience God in their lives.  However, at some point in time it comes down to faith in Christ Jesus and what has taken place in our lives.  We NEED to know these things… perhaps not the technical jargon so much… but what has happened to us… we need to know this so that we can share this Good News with everyone we meet.  One of the things about election that is so vitally important to the whole of the doctrine is the fact that, in just about every place that it is talked about, the writers and theologians say that we can never know who is elect and who isn’t.  The doctrine of election gives us no excuse to not preach, but actually encourages us to testify even more because WE ARE NOT the judges of who is elect and who isn’t… that is something that has happened in the counsel of God alone and will not be known until the end of time.  So speak boldly the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”



Day 11: Genesis 34-36; family dysfunction…

Every family has their dysfunction…

We talked about it before with Abraham and Issac, and it appears once again with Jacob.  When we read a story like that of Genesis 34, we can see very clearly that this family of Jacob, or Israel, really wasn’t the perfect group of God followers that we sometimes make them out to be.  I sometimes even wonder if God was looking down on them thinking “really guys?  You’re going to act like that?”  I’d be willing to bet that sometimes God looks at us the same way.

However, I think also this that this, as well as the somewhat crazy things that Abraham and Issac did, illustrate a really major point about God:  Unconditional Love… and perhaps even Unconditional Election.  You see, God chose Abraham (and thus Issac, Jacob, and the nation of Israel).  There was nothing that any of these people did that made them more worthy than any other people.  God chose them to be the vehicle through which the whole world would be blessed.  His covenant with them did  not say that the whole thing was off if they didn’t act perfectly, or serve Him in a way other than what He prescribed.  His choosing them was unconditional… His Love for them, also Unconditional.  No matter how many times they screwed up… and there was and will be a lot of them, God still loved them, even to the point of punishing them with exile.  Like the covenant, and the vision of Abraham where it is God alone who passes between the animal pieces signifying that really only God will truly be able to hold up His end of the covenant, God is true to His word, His choice, and His Love for His chosen people.

This is true with us as well.  As people of the Reformed Church, one of our tenants is “Unconditional Election.”  This is often a major sticking point for people because of the word “election” and the associated (and confusing) topic of predestination.  While we aren’t going to get into that right now, the point of Unconditional Election is truly that God chooses us through no merit of our own.  It isn’t anything that we’ve done, it is all God.  Ephesians 2:4-6 speaks directly to this: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—”  We too are members of this Covenant relationship; a people chosen by God through the blood of Jesus Christ.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:8-10.

P.S. a bit of Trivia for you:  One of the more famous Advent/Christmas verses finds its name first in Genesis 35:19… calling the area of the town of Bethlehem “Ephrath.”  This is echoed in one of the prophesies of the coming Messiah, the fulfillment of the covenant in Micah 5:2  “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days….”