June, 2010

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Pardoning The Blasphemer

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Pardoning The Blasphemer
By: Keith Keyser
Sebastian Horsley – a child of privilege turned artist, author, and all-around self-promoter – died of a drug overdose yesterday, merely forty-seven years old. His sad life was marred by dysfunctional family life, followed by illicit self-indulgence in sexual promiscuity and heroin addiction. As an adult he engaged in shameless exhibitionism, as revealed in a dangerous and blasphemous stunt which he pulled a decade ago. His obituary comments:
The pinnacle of his career in this regard came in 2000, when he travelled to the Philippines and was crucified (“Christ, after all, had profound style”), fainting when the nails were driven in and falling when his footrest fell away. It was a gruesome and ignominious end to what some had viewed as a stunt in extremely poor taste, but Horsley’s name was trumpeted around the world, and even, he seemed to suggest, to the heavens. ‘I’d been rejected by a god I didn’t believe in,’ he noted.i
His last comment was particularly tragic, given that it was entirely untrue. God exists, and was willing to receive Horsley, if he would repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The obituary goes on to cite a recent interview where Horsley cynically assessed his life, saying: “I haven’t really had a life…I’ve just sat in a room and died. That’s what we all do.”ii How different it would have been if he had turned to Christ in his desperation. For those who come to Him for salvation, the Lord Jesus promises life that is eternal in quality as well as in duration. As He said: “…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10.)
A Case Study In Extreme Forgiveness
Saul of Tarsus was the most unlikely candidate for conversion to faith in Christ. After all, his career as a rising star in rabbinic Judaism was marked by his rejection of the claims of Jesus and His followers. He defined his zeal for his religion in terms of his assault on the church (Phil. 3:6.) For instance, when the dynamic preacher Stephen was violently silenced through an impromptu execution, Saul affirmed that this was the right course of action. Acts 8:1 records his attitude, saying: “And Saul was consenting unto his death.” Elsewhere he describes his efforts to stamp out this nascent faith which he regarded as heretical in this famous phrase: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” (1 Tim. 1:12-13; emphasis mine.)
Saul was a “blasphemer”: one who spoke evil regarding the Lord and His people. Additionally, he was a “persecutor”: he violently attacked Christians, as he later noted: “…I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women” (Acts 22:4.)
Lastly, his attitude was “injurious” – meaning that he was an insolent man who delighted in demeaning and injuring others.iii Clearly, he was not an unbiased seeker, open to embracing a new belief system. Nevertheless, the awe-inspiring sight of the risen Christ’s glory on the road to Damascus stopped him in his tracks, and changed his mind on everything that he thought he knew. Jesus is Lord, and Saul – subsequently known as Paul – would follow wherever He led until he himself died a martyr for the truth of Christ.iv
The Prototype Of Christ’s Patient Mercy
Casting a backward glance at his life before meeting and receiving Christ, Paul declared that God used him as an object lesson of a recipient of mercy: “…that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (1 Tim. 1:16.) Other translations bring out the nuances of the verse, emphasizing the Lord’s incomparable patience:
“I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (ESV.)v
“But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life” (NET.)vi
That the Lord Jesus could save such an overbearing, religious tormentor was evidence of His inexhaustible patience. As one commentator aptly remarks:
Although Paul’s conversion had a number of unique features (the heavenly light, the audible voice, the Hebrew language, Paul’s fall and blindness), it was also a ‘prototype’ (hypotypōsis, BAGD) of all subsequent conversions, because it was an exhibition of Christ’s infinite patience. In fact the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road has proved to be just that. It remains a standing source of hope to otherwise hopeless cases. Paul seems to speak to us across the centuries: ‘Don’t despair! Christ had mercy even on me, the worst of sinners; he can also have mercy on you!’vii
Those who fancy themselves too far gone for God need to consider well Paul’s conversion and what is says about the Almighty. The Lord is willing and able to pardon and free the most wretched, desperate sinner. His death and resurrection assure us that the redemption price that God’s holy standard demands has been received. God now offers salvation exclusively in Christ to whoever will receive it. As 1 Tim. 2:3-6 puts it: “ For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (NKJV.)viii A life of blasphemy and
dissipation – such as lived by Paul and the unfortunate man at the beginning of this article – can be changed in an instant by receiving by faith the gift of eternal life in Christ.
i The Telegraph, electronic edition: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/art-obituaries/7839061/Sebastian-Horsley.html Published 18 June, 2010; accessed 6/18/10. Emphasis mine.
ii Ibid.
iii “One who insults in an arrogant manner” 33.392, “hubristes.” Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. (Logos.) of the 2nd edition. New York: United Bible societies, 1996. The word only occurs twice in the New Testament, the other occurrence coming in the catalogue of horrible sins in Rom. 1:30 (rendered “despiteful” in the KJV.)
iv His death is anticipated in 2 Timothy 4:6-8. Later extra-biblical writings refer specifically to his execution, e.g. 1 Clement 5, which says: “Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience.”
(http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/1clement-roberts.html ; accessed on 6/18/10.) One scholar cites further evidence: “Clement of Rome said that both Peter and Paul died in Rome after Paul had gone to the limits of the West (1 Clem. 5). Ignatius of Antioch indicates the importance of both Peter and Paul for Rome (Rom. 4:2). Dionysius of Corinth describes how both Peter and Paul died at the same time (Historia Ecclesiastica, II.25.5-8). Irenaeus traced the apostolic succession of Rome from Peter and Paul (Against Heresies, III.1.2; 3.1). Some details of Paul’s death at Tre Fontane and his burial outside the wall are perhaps preserved in the apocryphal Acts of Paul before the end of the second century. Tertullian says Paul suffered death in Rome, but he is not clear on a second imprisonment (Apology, 5; Prescription Against Heresies, 35). After Eusebius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, John Chrysostom, and others support this tradition against which there is no evidence.” (Dale Moody, “A New Chronology For The New Testament,” Review and Expositor Volume 78:2 [Spring, 1981]. Louisville, KY, p. 223.)
v The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001; emphasis mine.
vi The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006; emphasis mine.
vii Stott, John R. W. Guard the Truth : The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus. The Bible speaks today. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996; electronic ed. (Logos.)
viii The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

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Death: The Obsolete Relic Of A Fallen World

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” 2 Timothy 1:8-10[i]

Recently the Japanese conceptual artist known as Arakawa died. What makes this stand out on the obituary page is that his wife Madeline Gins and he were determined not to die. Through extreme avant-garde architecture they planned and sometimes constructed houses that were supposed to enable the occupant to live forever. As one reviewer describes their style: “They build buildings with no doors inside. They place rooms far apart. They put windows near the ceiling or near the floor. Between rooms are sloping, bumpy moonscape-like floors designed to throw occupants off balance. These features, they argue, stimulate the body and mind, thus prolonging life. ‘You become like a baby,’ says Mr. Arakawa.”[ii] Another adds:

Their most recent work, a house on Long Island, had a steeply sloped floor that threatened to send visitors hurtling into its kitchen. Called Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa), it featured more than three dozen paint colors; level changes meant to induce the sensation of being in two places at once; windows that seemed too high or too low; oddly angled light switches and outlets; and an absence of doors that would have permitted occupants even a modicum of privacy. All of it was meant, the couple explained, to lead its users into a perpetually ‘tentative’ relationship with their surroundings, and thereby keep them young. ‘It has to do with the idea that you’re only as old as you think you are,’ Steven Holl, the Manhattan architect, said of the couple’s work, which he said was deeply rooted in Japanese philosophy.[iii]

Gins herself described the intended effect of this strange domicile: “Comfort is rife with anxiety. Elation comes when you erase that. In Bioscleave House, you are practicing not to die.”[iv] Obviously Arakawa’s death at the age of 73 is a setback to their ideas. His wife noted this fact in one of his obituaries: “Madeline Gins subsequently promised to continue her campaign to prove that ‘ageing can be outlawed’ but resignedly admitted that ‘this mortality thing is bad news’.”[v]

Death Seems To Be Alive And Well

The grim reality of death’s ongoing presence in the world frustrates human science, philosophy, and religion. With all of the innovation in the modern era, no one has been able to render death extinct. What man cannot do, however, the Lord Jesus has already accomplished. As the text at the beginning of this article says: “…who [i.e. Christ] has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10.) In this verse, “abolished” means “‘to make completely inoperative’ or ‘to put out of use.’”[vi] Another comments: “[katargeo means] ‘to reduce to inactivity’…In this and similar words not loss of being is implied, but loss of well being.”[vii] One might then counter, “But death seems to be active in the world!” In order to understand the Lord Jesus’ triumphant work, the term “death” – as it is used in God’s Word – must be fully understood.

Romans 6:23 famously avers that “…the wages of sin is death…” James 1:15 agrees, saying: “…sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Its ubiquitous presence on earth stems from the fall of man, when he sinned against God, who is the source of life (Gen 3; Rom. 5:12; Jn. 1:3-4) Sin is choosing one’s own way over the Creator’s way. Its essence is self-deification: affirming that humans can be their own gods. The Bible affirms that all people are afflicted by sin and death, because all descend from Adam, and themselves have in turn sinned over and over again (Rom. 5.) But what is death exactly?

Know Thy Enemy

Death in the Bible refers to separation, and has implications for three main areas:

1. Physical Death – The most common way that contemporary people use the word; it is the separation of soul and spirit from the body. The Scriptures refer to it hundreds of times (e.g. Gen. 5:5.)

2. Spiritual Death – The current separation of human beings from their Maker. God forewarned man that sin would result in instant spiritual death (Gen. 2:17; compare 3:7-10.) Ephesians 2:1 states that we are “Dead in trespasses and sins.” Sin alienates people from the holy God who made them to have a relationship with Himself (Eph. 4:18; Col. 1:21.)

3. Relational Death – The Second Death (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8.) This is the future eternal separation of the lost, who are physically banished from God’s presence in the lake of fire. The spiritual death spoken of under point #2 is permanently confirmed for eternity.

Christ’s work addresses all three areas of death:

1. His death and resurrection shows that He is more powerful than physical death and the grave cannot withstand Him (Acts 2:24; Jn. 11:25.) He will one day demonstrate His defeat of death by raising “the dead in Christ” and having them live eternally thereafter (1 Thes. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:20-23.)

2. Ephesians 2:4-5 teaches that Christ makes alive those who receive Him by faith. By faith believers are brought into a living relationship with their Creator (Jn. 1:12-13; 17:3.)

3. The overcomer in Christ – that is, one who is born of God by believing that Jesus is the Son of God – is promised deliverance from experiencing the second death (1 Jn. 5:4-5; Rev. 2:11.)

Thus, one can see that He has rendered death ineffective – it is mortally wounded and is destined for extinction.[viii] As W.E. Vine explained it: “For the believer physical death is but the entrance upon a condition in which the spirit enjoys an activity far superior to that experienced here, a life entirely free from all effects of sin. This will be extended to his whole being, when the Lord comes to the air to receive the saints to Himself, death in all its forms having been robbed of its power by Him when He accomplished that for which He became incarnate.”[ix]

The new heavens and new earth will be free of this fearsome and cruel scourge. What is more, His gospel manifests life and immortality. Life is really about knowing God personally and enjoying Him. Therefore, eternal life can begin in this life, and cannot be interrupted even if the Christian dies physically (2 Cor. 5:1-8.) Life in Christ is death-proof, for it is stronger than death and has already debilitated it. Pointing out some of the other uses of “abolish” in the New Testament, John Stott remarks: “It is surely significant that this same verb katargeō is used in the New Testament with reference to the devil and to our fallen nature as well as to death (Heb. 2:14; Rom. 6:6). Neither the devil, nor our fallen nature, nor death has been annihilated. But by the power of Christ the tyranny of each has been broken, so that if we are in Christ we can be set free. Faith in Christ is the answer to man’s quest to avoid death, as well as his struggle to vanquish the Devil and indwelling sin.


[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture verses are cited from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. The boldfaced emphasis in the quotation is mine.

[ii] Amir Efrati,Couple’s Dreams of Immortality at Death’s Door, Thanks to Madoff.” Wall Street Journal, 3/24/09: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123785033607519075.html Accessed on 6/3/10.

[iii] Fred A. Bernstein, The New York Times, 5/20/10, Obituary for “Arakawa”: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/20/arts/design/20arakawa.html?pagewanted=print; accessed on 6/3/10.

[iv] London Telegraph, 5/23/10, Obituary for Arakawa: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/art-obituaries/7756801/Arakawa.html Accessed on 6/3/10.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Gerhard Delling, “Katargeo” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Logos), 453 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-).

[vii] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, vol. 2, electronic ed. (Logos) , 3 (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1996).

[viii]John R. W. Stott, Guard the Gospel: The Message of 2 Timothy, (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1973, electronic ed. [Logos]), pp. 37-38. Emphasis mine.

[ix] W.E. Vine, comment on 2 Tim. 1:10, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: 2 Timothy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997; electronic ed. [Logos]).

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