What Luther’s Last Words Teach Us about Prayer

After the Reformer Martin Luther died, his friends who came to his room to remove his corpse found a note he had scrawled sometime in his final days: “We are beggars, that is true.” [Read more…]

The 7 Qualities You Must Nurture for Peace in Your Church

[In James 3:14–16,] James . . . told what heavenly wisdom is not, and now [in James 3:17–18,] he turns and tells what it is. . . . 

Purity

The false wisdom is “earthly [and] unspiritual,” while this true wisdom is “first of all pure.”

The four following characteristics develop aspects of this purity: they all begin with e, and the last two end with kritos. The emphasis is not on the purity laws of the Torah but on moral blamelessness with a clear conscience. Such a person is the opposite of the worldly characterized by verses 15–16. This person entails an absence of sin and defilement, true holiness. There is a spiritual and moral faithfulness to God leading to a divinely directed way of life that glorifies God and serves his people in his messianic community.

Peace 

The other six qualities are introduced by epeita (then) and provide aspects of this moral and spiritual purity. In the context of serious dissension in the community, “peace-loving,” or “peaceable,” is another key attribute of godly wisdom. 

This quality will become the theme of 3:18. 

There is a complete absence of peace in 14–16, while it is central here and builds on Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (see also Ps 34:14; Isa 52:7; Rom 12:18; Heb 12:11). This is the exact opposite of the jealous, combative ambition that produces the “fights and quarrels” of 4:1.

Peace with God is achieved through the cross and the gift of salvation; peace with the people around us is the product of sanctification—that is, the process of holiness.

As the Spirit enters us and draws us to God both in our thinking and our actions, love takes over, and as God’s love infiltrates our being, our relations with those around us change correspondingly.

Self-giving spirit

“Considerate,” or “gentle” (epieikēs), in the Greek mind means “reasonable” or “fair” but for Christians refers to that spirit that refuses to demand its own rights but lives for others (also Phil 4:5; 1 Tim 3:3). So it connotes an empathetic, forbearing spirit that accepts others as they are and is willing to forgive.

Next, this God-sent wisdom is “submissive” (eupeithēs), or “open to reason” (RSV, ESV), or “accommodating” (NET). This “willingness to yield to others” (NLT) is the direct opposite of the narcissistic concerns of verses 14–16 and is the epitome of the self-giving spirit that is supposed to characterize the Christ follower. . . .

This is so needed today, as Christians fight and disrespect each other over every issue imaginable.

Living out godly wisdom

The final three continue this emphasis on godly wisdom lived out in our lives. “Full of mercy and good fruit” reverses the sinful results of the counterfeit wisdom above. Instead of a tongue “full of deadly poison” (3:8), we have a life “full of mercy”—namely, caring and sharing with the needy around us.

Such acts of love and compassion reflect a kind spirit concretely via good deeds, which indicates the presence of the Spirit in our lives. Mercy is known by its “good fruit” and is the natural by-product of the “word implanted in you” (1:21).

Finally, the saint filled with heavenly wisdom is “impartial and sincere.” 

The first (adiakritos) stands opposed both to the double-mindedness of 1:6, 8, and the partiality of 2:4. This person refuses to discriminate and both treats and respects everyone equally. It is immensely difficult to exemplify this godly trait consistently, for we are all sinful, selfish creatures, and only those truly filled with the Spirit and holiness can do so. 

The final trait, “sincere,” or “without pretense and hypocrisy” (anypokritos), is closely connected. Such a person refuses to play-act and consistently exhibits godly qualities. There is no hiding behind a mask for such people, and they live out what they claim to stand for.

The concluding description of godly wisdom (3:18) returns to the beginning of the verse and is an inclusio with the “peace-loving” person described there.

Spiritual victory

Those with true wisdom will always “sow [seeds of] peace” and then through that “reap a harvest of righteousness.” This is not another characteristic of wisdom but the by-product of wisdom. 

So verse 17 defines wisdom, and then verse 18 tells what its effects will be. 

Here we have the antidote for the epidemic of divisiveness and dissension caused by rampant self-centeredness, the main problem of 3:1–4:12. 

If our speech ever begins to sow seeds of peace in our assemblies, the “fights and quarrels” of the next verse (4:1) would never take place. Divine wisdom calls for peace-loving gardeners (3:17) who sow peace rather than discord (3:18) in God’s vineyard (see also Rom. 14:19; Heb. 12:14), producing a life that truly will make a difference.

What is sown in peace produces a “harvest of righteousness.” . . . We will have a bumper crop of spiritual victory and live in a way that greatly pleases God, beginning with peace rather than conflict in our community.

***

This excerpt is adapted from James Verse by Verse (Osborne New Testament Commentaries) by Grant R. Osborne, the last full volume in Osborne’s commentary series, available now through Lexham Press. 

 

The headings and title of this post are the additions of the editor. The author’s views do not necessarily represent those of Faithlife. 

How Were People Saved in the Old Testament?

The New Testament’s rejection of earning God’s favor by works and its emphasis on salvation by grace through faith (e.g., Eph 2:8–9; Gal 2:16; Rom 4:1–12) has led many people to presume that the Old Testament teaches that people could merit salvation [in the Old Testament] by obeying the Mosaic law. However, this is not the case.

The problem of sin in the Old Testament

Old Testament theology, with its complex sacrificial system, had a firm grasp of the problem of sin, which was variously defined as being ritually impure or transgressing God’s moral law. As members of a stable nation trying to walk with their God, literally not a day could pass in the normal course of Israel’s life when they were not reminded that they were imperfect and impure in the sight of a holy God. Nothing would create the idea that human goodness could earn God’s pleasure.

However, since living according to God’s law and maintaining the purity of sacrificial worship required great human effort, Israelites also knew that salvation was not a purely passive status. The issue is not that human effort was not part of salvation. It would have been foreign to the Israelite to think that faith was not a fundamental requirement for salvation or that an individual’s own works resulted in God owing salvation to anyone.

A tree is known by its fruit

Therefore, in its framing, Old Testament salvation was the same as New Testament salvation. In the New Testament, works were essential to salvation (Jas 2:14–26) but they were never the meritorious cause of salvation; God owed salvation to no one on the basis of works. This is not contrary to Paul’s assertion that no one was justified by works. James and Paul could thus be fused this way: “For by grace are you saved through faith, which without works is dead” (Eph 2:8; Jas 2:17). No element can be eliminated.

Jesus said that a tree (and hence a believer) was known by its fruit (Matt 12:33). If an individual does not have works (“fruit”), there is no evidence of salvation. The presence of works is essential for calling someone a believer. But works do not put God in the position of owing salvation. Salvation comes by faith in Christ (its object), which produces works. Both must be present. Old Testament salvation can be framed the same way, though the object of faith differs.

Faith and obedience

With respect to the Old Testament Israelite, faith was essential to standing in right relationship to God. The Israelite had to believe that Yahweh, the God of Israel, was the true God, superior to all other gods. This would produce fruit in the form of loyal worship of only Yahweh and no other god. Old Testament Israelites also had to believe that Yahweh had come to their forefathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and made a covenant with them that made them his exclusive people.

This covenant included specific promises to be believed by faith. Faith in the divine origin of the covenant and its promises involved obedience. The language of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1–3; 15:1–6) was frequently repeated in connection with obedience to God (e.g., Gen 17:1–6; 22:18; 26:5). The patriarchs could not have disobeyed God’s commands by rejecting circumcision, refusing to go where God commanded, and rejecting sacrifice, and still received God’s blessing. The children of the patriarchs also had to believe that the God who delivered them from Egypt was the same God of their forefathers.

That same God gave Israel the law to distinguish them as his unique possession of humanity on Earth (e.g., Exod 20–23; Lev 10–11). An Israelite who believed he was a child of the God of Sinai produced fruit by obeying the law. The law of Sinai was connected to the promises given to Abraham (Lev 26). Faith in Yahweh and loyalty to Yahweh were both part of salvation (right relationship to God) in the Old Testament. Individuals could not be rightly-related to God by means of only one.

In all this, Israelites could not do the works of the law and then presume God owed them salvation. God was in relationship with Israel because he chose to be in that relationship—he chose this before obedience was any issue. God extended grace by calling Abraham; Abraham believed, and then Abraham showed that belief by obedience (Rom 4).

An extension of God’s grace

The concept “circumcision of the heart” is telling in regard to the balance of faith and works. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant. Since performing it required human activity, it could be thought of as a good work. God desired obedience—the submission of one’s will—on this matter. “Circumcision of the heart” speaks of a heart that believes, not a work. It is a heart submitted to God, not merely the will. A circumcised heart was a believing heart, and it was essential for right relationship to God (Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; 31:33; 32:39, 40; Ezek 11:19; 36:26, 27).

In the Old Testament law and the sacrificial system, failure was inevitable; fellowship with God would inevitably be broken. Moreover, humans were impure by nature and unable to approach the perfect divine presence. The book of Leviticus indicates that people could purge (“atone for”) the impurity caused by sin and transgression through sacrifice, which resulted in forgiveness (Lev 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7; Num 15:25–28).

Through his grace

But they did not earn forgiveness; God provided the entire means of forgiveness—the sacrificial system—through his grace. God was not forced to provide a means of atonement or reveal what he would accept for atonement. The means of restoring fellowship with God was an extension of God’s grace.

This article is adapted from Dr. Heiser’s book The Bible Unfiltered.

Dr. Michael S. Heiser is the author of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible and Angels: What the Bible Really Says about God’s Heavenly Host.

His newest book, The World Turned Upside Down: Finding the Gospel in Stranger Things, is now on pre-order.

He’s taught many Mobile Ed courses, including Problems in Biblical Interpretation: Difficult Passages I.

The Pastor, a Gift from Christ to His Church

Samuel Pearce was a Baptist pastor known in eighteenth-century England for his moving preaching and strong, pious character. In his short life, he supported believers in his own parish as well as in the many cities where he preached and helped send missionaries. Yet his personal faith, founded on the “holy love” of God, formed his most compelling witness to the world.  [Read more…]

Grant Osborne on the Sermon Series Churches Need Most

This excerpt is adapted from James: Verse by Verse by Grant R. Osborne.

***

James [1:19–26] begins with three characteristics of what we may call “people of the word,” those who truly center their lives on God’s principles for a proper walk with Christ. This provides not just the thesis of this section but another major emphasis of the book as a whole. It introduces everything that follows. . . . [Read more…]

Get the Newest Book from N. T. Wright—a Man Who’s Shaped New Testament Scholarship

His groundbreaking works have reshaped our understanding of the earliest Christians—and New Testament scholarship. 

His writing and teaching have impacted countless followers of Jesus, so much so that an article in Christianity Today states that “when Wright speaks, preaches, or writes, folks say they see Jesus, and lives are transformed.”1 [Read more…]

4 Views of the End Times—and What They Have in Common

This excerpt about the end times is adapted from Jesus Wins by Dayton Hartman, now on sale along with many other books and courses on eschatology. [Read more…]

Last Chance: Save Up to 40% in September’s Monthly Sale

This September, we’ve got a ton of great deals to keep your bookshelf full all season long. From books on biblical studies to Church history, you can save up to 40% in the monthly sale.

One notable book on sale this month is Peter G. Bolt’s excellent contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology collection, The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel. Enjoy this excerpt—and get it on sale while you can! [Read more…]

Red Sea: What Body of Water Did the Israelites Cross?

The Crossing of the Red Sea by Nicolas Poussin (1633–34). Source: Commons.Wikipedia.org.

This post is excerpted from The Bible Unfiltered by Dr. Michael S. Heiser.

Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 14 has been spectacularly depicted several times for television and movies. But anyone who retraces the steps of Moses and the Israelites to discover where the crossing occurred finds a significant problem: The “Red Sea” in Israel’s itinerary most likely wasn’t what we think of as the Red Sea. [Read more…]

Only a Few Days Left to Save 20% on Logos 8 Packages and More

This year’s back to school lineup gives you great deals to help you build the Logos Library of your dreams, but these savings are ending soon! 

Here’s what you’ll miss if you don’t snag these deals before 11:59 p.m. on September 20: [Read more…]