Lesson 38: Hearing the Word, Part 2- The Tragedy of Temporary Faith (Luke 8:1-21)Related Media
Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff
Lesson 41: Hearing the Word, Part 5- Living Doctrine (Luke 8:1-21)Related Media
Having been presented with the soils and their various “reactions” to the seed (the gospel), there then comes the question of what the one who has received the Word is to do with it. Pastor Daniel gives an answer through his assertion of the main point of this message, “We should respond to the Word of God by knowing it, living it, and pursuing God through it.” In other words, we need to live it out! What does this look like over a lifetime, however, as we would seek to grow in our knowledge of the Word in order that we might walk in faithful obedience? We are given some instruction how to handle biblical doctrine, instruction that helps us step through life in focused faithfulness. 1) Know and be convinced of the truth. 2) Live out the truth. 3) Take care with the truth. 4) Pursue the author of the truth. Ultimately, all of this comes down to a simple admonition: Hear what Jesus says and do it!
Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff
Lesson 42: Faith in the Storm (Luke 8:22-26)Related Media
Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff
Issue 012. 2013 September Bible.org Translator's Newsletter
This last month has resulted in 6 new translated articles being added to the site. Thank you for your hard work Jenny and Mariza!
Bob Deffinbaugh, 2 Samuel series, Promise Breakers and Promise Keepers (2 Samuel 21)
Bob Deffinbaugh, Ephesians series, 27. Weapons of the Spiritual Warfare—Truth (Ephesians 6:14a) and 29. Weapons of the Spiritual Warfare—The Soldier’s Footwear (Ephesians 6:15)
Summer NET Pastors Journal (Roger Pascoe)
French, Romanian, Russian
Hints and Tips
Multi-Language Resource: do you know a pastor or church leader ministering in French, Romanian, or Russian contexts?
The quarterly NET Pastor’s Journal produced by Roger Pascoe is always posted with a translation into these three languages on Bible.org. The goal of this resource for pastors is “to strengthen the church in biblical preaching and leadership.” So if you know of pastors or churches ministering in these language contexts please feel free to recommend it to them. Their full catalog of journal issues may be found here.
Learn More Tips from our FAQ Section.
This month we had the joy of giving out two awards for translation efforts. The first award was for reaching the 10 article milestone (Jenny). She received an ePub book by Irving L. Jensen entitled, Enjoy Your Bible: Making the Most of Your Time with God’s Word. The second award was for reaching the 75 article milestone (Mariza). She received an ePub book by Robert Patterson entitled, Robert Chapman: The Apostle of Love. We pray that these resources are a blessing to you both in your personal lives and ministry.
Know someone else who is bilingual?
We recently had a request for material in Creole for a Bible Institute in Haiti. However, we had to let them know that we currently did not have any material in that language. The need is great around the world for quality Bible Study Material. So…
If you know of anyone else who would have the time and skills to translate articles for Bible.org please consider recommending this ministry to them. Sometimes the most obvious gifts (like preaching or being a leader) are not the ones with the most impact or need. This is a real opportunity to meet a need and impact thousands and thousands of people with the truth of God's Word.
Need help, have questions, or prefer to meet in real time?
I am available and would love to answer any questions you might have. We do have a section on our Group page, but you can always send me an email! I can also be available through Skype for a voice or chat conversation. Simply let me know through email that you would like to talk and we will get it worked out.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Related Topics: Administrative and Organization
This 87 part expository study of Genesis was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 1995-1997. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.
Lesson 1: In The Beginning: God (Genesis 1:1, Introduction)Related Media
Queen Victoria ruled England from 1839-1901. When she was a young girl, she was shielded from the fact that she would be the next ruling monarch of England, lest this knowledge spoil her. When her teacher finally did let her discover that she would one day be Queen, Victoria’s response was, “Then I will be good!” No matter where she was or what she did, Victoria was governed by the fact that she would one day sit upon the throne of England. The knowledge of her identity and destiny governed her life.
Go back with me to about 1500 B.C. You are the leader of over two million refugees who have come out of slavery in Egypt and are about to enter Canaan, a land God has promised to your forefathers. But there are giants in the land who must be conquered. The people in the land are idol worshipers, immoral beyond description. You know that you are about to die, so you won’t be able personally to lead your people in the conquest of that land. Somehow you must instill in them the resolve to conquer the enemies and to remain morally and spiritually pure in the process. How would you do it?
The first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) were written by Moses for that purpose. Moses had led Israel out of bondage in Egypt. For 40 years they had wandered in the wilderness, often grumbling and threatening to mutiny and return to Egypt. Finally they were on the verge of entering the land. Because of Moses’ disobedience in striking the rock, God told him that he could not enter the land. In fact, except for Joshua, Moses’ successor, and Caleb, the whole adult generation which left Egypt died in the wilderness. Before he died, Moses had the overwhelming task of instilling in this new generation a vision for conquering the land and remaining true to God. He did it by writing the first five books of the Bible.
The first of those books, Genesis, is the book of origins. The title comes from a word in the Greek translation (the Septuagint) that is repeated 11 times throughout the book, translated “these are the generations of,” or “this is the account of” (cf. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2). The theme of the book is God’s sovereignty in human history, especially in the history of Israel, His chosen people. It is an account of how God began to call out a people for Himself with the purpose of blessing all nations through them. G. Campbell Morgan has cleverly outlined the book as Generation (chap. 1-2, creation); Degeneration (chap. 3-11, the fall); and Regeneration (chap. 12-50, through Abraham and his descendents).
Most Bible scholars agree that the book hinges at chapter 12, and thus divide it into two major sections, each with four subsections:
1. Human history from Adam to Abraham: The human race (chap. 1-11).
A. Creation (1-2)
B. Fall (3)
C. The judgment of the Flood (4-9).
D. The judgment of Babel (10-11).
2. Human history from Abraham to Joseph: The chosen race (12-50).
A. Abraham (12-24)
B. Isaac (25-26)
C. Jacob (27-36)
D. Joseph (37-50)
In the first section there are two opposite progressions: God’s orderly creation, resulting in the blessing of man; man’s fall into sin, with the devastating judgments of the flood and the scattering at Babel. These chapters demonstrate the desperate condition of the fallen human race and the need for a Savior. This prepares the scene for God’s sovereign calling of Abraham. Though he had no land and no children, God promises to make him a mighty nation, to give him the land of Canaan, and through him to bless all nations.
Moses’ purpose in writing Genesis was to show Israel their origins. He wanted them to know that God was behind all their history, that He was the prime mover who had brought them to where they were. Since the God who had created the universe and had promised the land of Canaan to their ancestor, Abraham, was with them, they could trust Him to fulfill His promise, if they only would obey Him.
Genesis is rich in theology. It has been said, “The roots of all subsequent revelation are planted deep in Genesis, and whoever would truly comprehend that revelation must begin here.” (Cited by J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book [Zondervan], p. 23.) In Genesis, says A. W. Pink, “we have, in germ form, almost all of the great doctrines which are afterwards fully developed in the books of Scripture which follow” (Gleanings in Genesis [Moody Press], p. 5; the following summary is based on Pink, pp. 5-7). To list a few:
God is revealed as the Sovereign, all-powerful Creator. He is seen as the Covenant God. The first hint of the Trinity is in Genesis. The schemes of Satan, the fallen nature of man, God’s sovereign election and saving grace, justification by faith, the security of the believer, the need for holiness, the power of prayer, and even the saints’ rapture to heaven are in Genesis. God’s judgment on sin, His promise of a Savior, and the death, resurrection, and superior priesthood of that Savior are foreshadowed. The basis of God’s program for world missions is found in Genesis.
Genesis tells us the beginning of almost everything except God. There is the beginning of the universe, of life, man, the seven-day week, marriage, family life, sin, sacrifice, redemption, death, the nations, government, cities, music, literature, art, agriculture, and languages.
As you know, Genesis (especially the first eleven chapters) has come under severe attack from critics. Many have dismissed it as pure myth. Others, who hesitate to go that far, nonetheless view it as religious stories woven together from various sources by a later editor. They reject the historicity of Genesis, while accepting the religious or moral point of the narratives. Of course evolutionists laugh off the creation account as totally lacking in scientific validity.
Hundreds of volumes have been written on these problems. I could spend many messages going over a lot of tedious material on both scientific and biblical arguments on these issues, but I doubt that such an approach would resolve much. My approach is simple (but, I hope, not simplistic): There are scholars who are far more brilliant and educated than I am on both sides of the issue. That tells me that it is not primarily an intellectual matter. If competent scholars can hold to the scientific credibility, historicity, and Mosaic authorship of Genesis (and many do), then I can also hold those positions without sacrificing my intellectual integrity.
I believe that the real issue is moral and spiritual, not intellectual. You don’t have to check your brains at the door to become a Christian, but you do have to submit your will to Christ as Lord. If you accept the first verse of the Bible, it has some fundamental effects on your life! But because of sin, people don’t want to accept the truth of the sovereign Creator God who is presented here. Thus they are quick to grab at supposed intellectual problems so that they have an excuse not to submit their lives to Him.
Jesus and the apostles clearly believed in the historicity and authority of the early chapters of Genesis. Our Lord refers to Genesis 1 & 2 in His teaching on divorce, attributing the texts to Moses (Matt. 19:4-8; see also Mark 13:19 where Jesus refers to creation). Paul obviously believed in a literal Adam and Eve, created by God, fallen in sin (1 Tim. 2:13-14; 2 Cor. 11:3; Rom. 5:12-14). Peter believed in the historicity of the flood (1 Pet. 3:20). You cannot claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ and His teaching through the apostles and at the same time reject the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis.
With that as an introduction to the book as a whole, let’s spend the rest of our time on the first verse, one of the most profound in the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Immediately the reader of the Bible is brought face to face with the fact of God. There is no argument to prove His existence. There is no introduction to lead up to the point. There is no room for speculation, no philosophizing. By revelation, not speculation, we are brought face to face with the God who created the universe. There’s not even time to duck. Genesis 1:1 draws a line in the dirt and asks us to step over. As A. W. Pink points out (p. 10), false religions and human philosophies begin with man and, in some cases, seek to work up to God. But the Bible begins with God as the One who was in the beginning, the One who made all that is. We must, in all our thinking, begin with God. He is the Source of all else.
The late Professor Harlow Shapley of Harvard stated, “Some people piously proclaim, ‘In the beginning, God.’ I say, ‘In the beginning, Hydrogen’” (cited in Christianity Today [10/8/82], p. 28). That’s the clear choice! Either you must accept God as the Source of all or reject Him and accept matter and chance as the source. You cannot be neutral; it is an authoritative declaration that demands a response:
Because God is the eternal Creator of the universe, we all must submit to Him.
1. God is the eternal Creator of the universe.
Before anything was, God was. If you reject that, your only option is that matter has always been in existence in one form or another. It is inconceivable that matter came into being apart from God. Science can take us back 15 billion years ago to the Big Bang, but it can’t tell us where the material which exploded came from or what caused the explosion. It must have come from matter which existed before it. If there was ever a time when nothing existed, then nothing could exist now, because something cannot come from nothing. And so either matter always has been or God always has been. Those are the only choices. This verse is clear as to which is correct:
A. God is eternal.
That means that He alone is self-existent. Everything else in the universe has a beginning, a cause. God alone always has been, is, and will be. He is the first cause, Himself uncaused. As Moses put it so eloquently in Psalm 90:2, “Before the mountains were born, or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” That’s mind-boggling! Everything we know and relate to has a cause or a beginning. But God has no cause, no beginning. We don’t have a category to fit Him into. We can’t grasp the concept of a Being with no beginning or end, who exists in and of Himself.
In Romans 1:20, Paul states, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” The fallen human race should be able to look at creation and deduce that there is a being with eternal power behind it all.
Consider just the enormity of the universe. If you could travel at the speed of light, it would take you 8 minutes to get from the earth to the sun. To go from the sun to the center of the Milky Way would take about 33,000 years. The Milky Way belongs to a group of some 20 galaxies known as the Local Group. To cross the Local Group you’d have to travel at the speed of light for 2 million years. The Local Group belongs to the Virgo Cluster, part of the even larger Local Supercluster, which would take you 500 million light years to cross. To cross the entire known universe would take you about 20 billion light years! But not only is God eternal. Our text also reveals that ...
B. God is the Creator of the universe.
“The heavens and the earth” refers to the whole universe. God created it all by speaking the word. Hebrews 11:3 states, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” A skeptic will chide, “See, it takes faith! You can’t accept creation unless you put your brains aside and take a leap of faith.” If you say such nonsense, God calls you a fool (Ps. 14:1). It takes faith to accept that God did it all simply by speaking His word. But even a little child can figure out that it takes an eternal, powerful God to do it.
When my son, Daniel, was four years old, he asked me, “Dad, if there were no trees, could we live?” I told him that if there were no trees or plants of any kind we could not live, because the plants provide the oxygen we need to breathe. We provide the carbon dioxide the plants need to live. Think about the amazing balance God has put in creation! Our planet is perfectly designed to sustain life. If it were closer to the sun, we would burn up. If it were farther from the sun, we would freeze. If the earth were a few miles smaller in diameter, the density of its atmosphere would be so thin that the earth would not retain enough heat to sustain animal or human life. The earth’s waters would freeze to such a depth that all other forms of life would perish. But if earth were a few miles larger in diameter, the air would become so dense that too much heat would be absorbed, resulting in the death of all living things.
God made water to freeze and boil at just the right temperatures. Between absolute zero (-460 F.) and boiling (212 F.) is 672 degrees. If water froze just 4 percent of that range lower, it would rain at 6 degrees above zero. Where there are now vast fields of snow and ice, storing up water against the heat of summer, there would be winter floods and erosion. If God had fixed the freezing point of water two percent of the range higher, there would be frost at 45 degrees, snow and ice would never melt in many areas, and many serious problems would result.
God knew that the oceans should not freeze at 32 degrees, or there would be too much ice. So He added salt, in just the right proportion to sustain marine life. And yet He designed the hydrologic cycle to provide salt-free rain from the ocean for crops and human consumption. He has designed the seasons and the balance of food for all the animals. We could go on and on! Even evolutionists admit the delicate ecological balance on this planet. But they attribute it to “Mother Nature” (= Chance), not to God.
It is this matter of chance or purposeless natural processes versus intelligent design that is at the heart of Darwinism (see Phillip Johnson, Darwin on Trial [IVP, 2nd ed.], p. 17). Evolutionists have an a priori commitment to the fact that even though the world and the incredibly complex creatures that inhabit it sure look like they were made by an intelligent Creator, it isn’t true, because random mutations and natural selection explain everything, even though these processes have never been scientifically observed as causing any kind of useful new organ in a species, let alone a whole brand new species.
Phillip Johnson explains that even the simplest living organism is “a masterpiece of miniaturized complexity which makes a spaceship seem rather low-tech” (p. 105). He goes on to say that the odds that even a DNA or RNA macromolecule could assemble itself by chance are fantastically unlikely, even if billions of years were available. Then he writes, “I won’t quote figures because exponential numbers are unreal to people who are not used to them, but a metaphor by Fred Hoyle has become famous because it vividly conveys the magnitude of the problem: that a living organism emerged by chance from a pre-biotic soup is about as likely as that ‘a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.’ Chance assembly is just a naturalistic way of saying ‘miracle’” (p. 106).
So the choice is, either the eternal, intelligent, all-powerful God created the universe and everything in it, or it came about from senseless chance acting on matter that has eternally existed. If God is the Creator, then ...
2. We all must submit to God.
If eternal matter plus impersonal chance caused all that is, we don’t have to submit to it and repent of our sin. We can live as we please. But if a personal God created everything by His word, a God who is awesome in His holiness, then there are definite implications for us! Because God is the creator of everything in this universe, including human life (1:26), we cannot ignore Him. This is the inescapable import of this profound first verse of the Bible!
If you ask the modern atheist what he believes in, he will most likely reply, “I believe in humankind,” or, with Carl Sagan, “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” Of course, Sagan is making a faith statement, not a scientific one. What a terrible thing, to believe that the material universe is all that is! This is precisely what Paul observes of those who throw off the knowledge of God through His creation, and become futile in their speculations, worshiping the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:20-25). As G. K. Chesterton once said, “It is often supposed that when people stop believing in God, they believe in nothing. Alas, it is worse than that. When they stop believing in God, they believe in anything!”
This was pathetically illustrated some years ago when Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA, saw the difficulty of explaining how the complexity of life could have evolved by chance in the time available if the earth is about 5 billion years old. In all seriousness, he speculated that primitive life forms must have been sent here on spaceships from some advanced extraterrestrial civilization. To what ludicrous extremes otherwise intelligent men will go to escape the reality of God and the moral implications of His power as revealed in creation!
Each of us must come to terms with the God who made the universe and who made us in His image. Either you submit to Him or you must believe what Darwinist George Gaylord Simpson said: “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.” But believing that God doesn’t exist does not make Him cease to exist. He is the living God who, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. Perhaps you’re afraid to come to Him. There is sin in your life, and like Adam and Eve after they sinned, you’d rather hide from Him. Listen to the words of Jesus Christ, who claimed to be sent by God to die for our sins and that someday He will judge every person: “He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
- Is Darwinian evolution scientific fact or religious dogma? Why?
- Can a belief in God as Creator co-exist with a belief in random mutations and natural selection? Why/why not?
- How would you answer someone who said that the early chapters of Genesis are just a bunch of religious myths?
- How would you respond to someone who said, “To accept Genesis 1:1 requires a leap of faith”?
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 2: God Created (Genesis 1:1-2)Related Media
Before we work through Genesis 1 & 2, I want to give you a framework for thinking about the creation-evolution debate that is sparked by these chapters. The widespread acceptance of evolution as a fact in our universities has shaken the faith of many Christians and has led to the teaching of views such as theistic evolution in many Christian colleges. While there is room for some difference of opinion among Bible-believing Christians about the creation account, there is not unrestricted room. Since some of the views being espoused by professing Christians seem to be motivated by the desire to harmonize the Bible with the claims of evolution, we need to raise some questions about evolutionary theory and define the limits for interpreting the biblical record.
At the outset I want to remind you of what I said last week, that our approach to biblical revelation is of utmost importance. If you come to the Bible as a skeptic, demanding proof that it is true, you will not find any answers. God will not be held hostage by the demands of proud skeptics. As we saw, the Bible begins with the fact of God and draws the line in the sand, confronting us with the need to submit to God as the Sovereign Lord of our lives. This is not to say that we must check our brains at the door, but it is to say that we must come to God with submissive, contrite hearts, ready to turn from our sin and do His will. Then He will provide reasonable answers to our questions. As Hebrews 11:6 puts it, “... he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Genesis 1 as well as many other Scriptures affirm that ...
God supernaturally created the universe by His power.
Every Bible-believing Christian must hold to that proposition. The debate centers on how and when God created the universe. Did He do it through speaking the word in six 24-hour days in relatively recent history, or did He use natural processes over longer periods of time? In discussing these questions, we encounter some ...
Areas of tension:
*The age of the earth and the geologic record--Science claims that the earth is 3-5 billion years old, based on various factors such as the age of rock formations, the fossil record, various dating methods, etc. The fact that we can see distant galaxies that are millions of light years away seems to argue that the universe, at least, is millions of years old, since it took the light from those galaxies that long to travel to us. But, some creationists argue for a relatively young earth, explaining the apparent age either by special creation or the world-wide flood.
*Evolution--Science claims that all life evolved from a single lower form over billions of years, with man being the highest form. The Bible is clear that human beings, at the very least, and probably all of the other forms of life, are the special creation of God. We need to be careful to define how the word “evolution” is being used. Sometimes it is used by naturalistic evolutionists to mean “change.” They point to obvious changes or adaptations of species to their environments and say, “See, change is undeniable.” But then they leap to the unwarranted conclusion that such changes have resulted in the formation of completely new and different species in a gradual, steadily upward progression from the first one-celled organisms to modern man. Thus they drastically change the meaning of the word.
The usual explanations for how such gradual improvements have occurred is through random mutations and natural selection. Mutations are sudden variations that cause the offspring to differ from their parents. Natural selection, sometimes called “survival of the fittest,” means that those forms best suited for the survival of the species endure, while those not suited become extinct. If it seems unlikely that the present level of complexity and diversity happened through these means, the evolutionist claims that given 5 billion years, it could happen.
*The age of man--Science claims that man is 2-3 million years old; if the genealogies in Genesis are taken as accurate, even with gaps about the furthest back you can push the creation of man is 10-20,000 B.C.
Some proposed solutions:
There have been different attempts to harmonize these areas of tension with the Bible. I can only deal with each briefly.
*Theistic evolution--Of course, atheistic evolution, which believes that the universe has evolved through chance plus time, is completely incompatible with the Bible. But a number of scholars have proposed different forms of theistic evolution. These vary in their approach, but all are combinations of divine creation and the evolutionary process. Some say that God created the original matter and then superintended the process of evolution which took over at that point. Others would say that God intervened at various points with special creation, and that evolution operated between those points. But invariably theistic evolutionists explain the early chapters of Genesis as being allegory or poetry, but not accurate historical accounts.
What about it? First, any view of theistic evolution which claims to hold to the authority of Scripture must reject the evolution of man. The Bible is clear that man is the special creation of God, made in His image. And even if Adam evolved, Genesis 2 is clear that God made Eve from Adam’s rib. Outside the Pentateuch, there are nine passages referring to Adam or Eve as historical people. If the first human couple was just a notch above their ape-like parents who bore them, it destroys the biblical doctrine of man created in the image of God and the doctrine of the fall of the human race into sin.
Second, if we must allow for the special creation of the human race, then why not allow for the special creation of other animals and plants? The only reason not to would be the supposed evidence of evolution. But the evidence is not nearly as strong as its proponents claim. Any argument is only as strong as its presuppositions. As Phillip Johnson cogently argues in Darwin on Trial [IVP], Darwinian evolution is built on the presupposition that science deals with natural processes only. God or miracles are excluded by assumption as not being in the realm of science. It is no surprise, therefore, that, having assumed that God could not have caused the material world, evolutionists conclude that it happened by some natural process, even when there is powerful evidence of intelligent design. But this is merely begging the question.
The fossil record is given as the first line of evidence for evolution in World Book Encyclopedia (1985, “Evolution,” by James H. Brown, professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona). But, in fact, the fossil record is one of the major problems facing the evolutionist. If there was a gradual change from the lowest forms of life to the highest, there should be an abundance of transitional fossils. But, there are gaps in the fossil record at precisely the points the evolutionist needs evidence. In fact, the gaps are right where they should be if God created the species distinct from one another.
Darwin admitted the problem; in fact, he conceded that it was the most serious objection to his theory (Johnson, pp. 46-47), but he thought that further discoveries would prove him right. Darwin’s most formidable opponents at first were not ministers, but fossil experts (Johnson, p. 45). Further discoveries have not proved Darwin right, which has led some leading evolutionists to speculate that instead of Darwin’s gradual evolution, there were sudden, major changes that resulted in new species. But they have no idea how such changes could have taken place and no scientific evidence to support their theory. They have had to reinterpret the fossil record that seems to support the biblical creation account (Johnson, pp. 45-62)!
Evolution has no way of explaining how positive, permanent change takes place. Supposedly mutations cause the change in a species and natural selection guarantees the permanence of the change. But mutations are usually harmful, not beneficial, and the odds of natural selection preserving the rare beneficial changes are so slim as to be nonexistent. Neither mutations nor natural selection can explain where the new genes come from to produce new, useful organs and entirely new species. How do animals without a backbone suddenly develop one? How do organisms without teeth even gradually over millions of years develop into animals with teeth? How do animals who lay eggs suddenly develop a uterus, ovaries, and the necessary hormonal system to stimulate ovulation? How did that happen at just the same time that the male of the species developed the ability to impregnate the female, and how did this major change in one mutant couple take over the whole species? If it did take over, why didn’t the lower forms of life eventually die out?
Evolutionists jump over this insuperable problem in two ways. First, they posit incredible intelligence to lower forms of life or to this mysterious process of natural selection. For example, an article in Newsweek [April 12, 1982] reported how if foraging honey ants on their way to a termite feast meet an enemy colony, some rush back to the nest to recruit 200 or more reinforcements to march on the offending colony. Then, “The ants walk on stilt legs and rear their heads, drum their antennae on their opponents’ abdomens and kick with their forelegs. No one gets killed, and soon the weaker ants decide it is the better part of valor to retreat and fight another day.”
A Harvard professor explains that this ritual “evolved to spare ants the bloodshed of actual battle.” “If the ants fought for real,” he explains, “they’d have to sacrifice hundreds to get a food resource that is constantly changing, ... incurring an enormous cost for benefits that aren’t that great.” Isn’t that amazing! The ants are smarter than we are! People fight and kill each other, but the ants decided that a real war wasn’t worth the lost lives, so they stage a limited conflict instead.
Another issue of Newsweek ([5/28/79], p. 60) described the 17-year life cycle of a type of cicada. The larvae live for 17 years underground and then emerge for one month to mate and repeat the cycle. Why do they do it at 17-year intervals? A University of Chicago biologist speculates that these insects have developed a sophisticated strategy for survival. “Seventeen years is an unusual lifespan. If a predator had a life cycle of six years, for example, it would not encounter cicadas above ground more than once a century.” He wants us to believe that these bugs not only had the intelligence to figure out that a 17-year cycle would fool their enemies, but also that they had the power to instigate the change once they all came to agree on the time! Can you imagine the cicada council getting together millions of years ago and debating how long their life-cycle should be to ensure maximum survival? One cicada suggests that five years in the ground is long enough, but others argue that they won’t survive unless they pick an odd number like 17! Finally it comes to a vote and the 17 year guys win! Then all they had to figure out was how to change their body clocks so that they stayed in the ground that long and all came out at the same time!
I hate to mock such examples of erudition, but the fact that such patently stupid reasoning could seriously be believed by professors at such prestigious institutions as Harvard and the University of Chicago shows the incredible stranglehold that blind faith in the theory of evolution has in our educational circles. The evolutionist is taking God’s wisdom as seen in the intricacies of insect behavior and attributing that wisdom to some impersonal, inexplicable mystery of evolution. It takes far less faith to attribute it to an intelligent God.
A second way that evolutionists dodge the problem of how random mutations and natural selection could account for the wide differentiation of species that we now observe is by saying that given 5 billion years, anything could happen. There is a well-known statement to the effect that a million monkeys typing on a million typewriters for a million years might by chance type a Shakespearian play. To illustrate how ludicrous this analogy is, Dr. Bolton Davidheiser tested the mathematical probability of a million monkeys typing on special typewriters with only capital letters and seven punctuation keys at the rate of 12 and a half keys per second, how long would it take them to type accidentally the first verse of Genesis? To explain the incredible numbers, he uses this analogy:
Think of a large mountain which is solid rock. Once a year a bird comes and rubs its beak on the mountain, wearing away an amount equivalent to the finest grain of sand .... At this rate of erosion the mountain would disappear very slowly, but when completely gone the monkeys would still just be warming up.
Think of a rock not the size of a mountain, but a rock larger than the whole earth. Try to think of a rock so large that if the earth were at its center its surface would touch the nearest star. This star is so far away that light from it takes more than four years to get here, traveling 186,000 miles every second. If a bird came once every million years and removed an amount equivalent to the finest grain of sand, four such rocks would be worn away before the champion super simians would be expected to type Genesis 1:1 (Evolution and the Christian Faith [Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company], pp. 362-363).
And evolutionists accuse creationists of taking a blind leap of faith! Since evolution has so many problems that militate against it, why buy into theistic evolution, especially since you have to sacrifice a normal interpretation of the biblical account to do it? Theistic evolution is not an option for the Bible-believing Christian.
There are some other proposed solutions to the areas of tension between science and the Bible. I must be brief in presenting these. Any of the three I’m going to mention are viable options. I can’t give all the strengths and weaknesses of each view, but encourage you to dig further on your own.
*The day-age theory--also called progressive creationism. This view says that God created the world directly and deliberately, but that He did it over long periods of time that correspond roughly to the geological ages. There are three variations of this view: (1) day-geological age, which assigns different geological eras to the creation days in Genesis 1; (2) modified intermittent day, in which each creative era is preceded by a 24-hour solar day; (3) overlapping day-age, with each creative era overlapping with each other (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology [Baker], p. 389).
Each variation says that God created the prototype and then allowed for some process of change over long periods of time under His providence. The advantages of this type of explanation are that it allows for scientific data which seem to support the antiquity of the earth. It seeks to take Genesis seriously, not in a mythological sense, as theistic evolution does. It challenges change between species while allowing for adaptation and variation within each species. The disadvantages of the view are: (1) A straight reading of Genesis seems to indicate that “day” means a 24-hour day; (2) it is difficult to harmonize the material in Genesis 1 with the findings of geological, biological, and other sciences; (3) it introduces death into the world (at least the death of animals) before the fall, whereas the Bible seems to make death the consequence of man’s fall into sin.
*Six-day creationism--This theory interprets the Genesis account as six literal days. It posits a relatively young earth (about 12,000 years) and accounts for the geologic and fossil records by the worldwide flood and the cataclysmic events surrounding it. The advantages of this view are that it takes the Genesis record in a literal or normal sense. It rightly attacks the faulty reasoning of evolution. And, it offers a number of creative and credible explanations of geology, paleontology, and biology from men who hold scientific doctorates.
For example, they attack many of the dating methods and assumptions behind geologic theory as resting on a uniformitarian- assumption (the view that natural processes in past times have been no different than they are at present). On this basis, they challenge the supposed antiquity of some of the supposedly early human fossils, which are subject to much subjective interpretation, always from an evolutionary hypothesis. The six-day creationists also point out that fossils are only formed and preserved when there is rapid burial and lithification, which argues for a universal catastrophic flood. Also, they argue (and, I think, rightly so) that God necessarily created the world with the appearance of age, so that the light from distant stars was present on earth the first night they were created. The weaknesses of the six-day view, according to evangelical critics, are that it denies the strong evidence for the antiquity of the earth and that it seems to put too much weight on the effects of the flood.
*The gap theory--This view says that Genesis 1:1 describes the original creation of the universe by God out of nothing. But between verses 1 and 2, there is a gap of an indeterminable amount of time. Verse 2 records the results of a judgment of God upon the creation, probably due to Satan’s rebellion. From the middle of verse 2 on describes God’s recreation or restitution of the earth in six literal days, culminating in putting man on the earth as the new regent under God in place of the fallen Satan. This view allows for the earth to be relatively old, but holds to a recent date (no earlier than 20,000 B.C.) for the creation of man. (A variation of this view allows for a pre-Adamic race of men, but that view seems biblically untenable.)
There are some interesting biblical arguments for this view. Genesis 1:1-2 seem set off from the account of the days of creation. The words “formless,” “void,” and “darkness,” (1:2) are consistently used elsewhere to describe God’s judgment (Isa. 34:11; Jer. 4:23-26; Exod. 10:21; 1 Sam. 2:9; and others). Isaiah 45:18 says that God did not create the earth “a waste place” (NASB; the Hebrew word is the same as “formless” in Gen. 1:2). Why would God start the creation in this condition? From Genesis 3 we learn that Satan had already fallen. Since Satan is called the prince of this world, could not he have ruled the world for God in an earlier age? The condition described in Genesis 1:2 would then be the result of God’s judgment stemming from Satan’s rebellion. The earth was covered with water, which allows for more than one cataclysmic flood, giving more explanation for the fossil and geologic record.
Bible-believing critics of this view say that it reads too much other Scripture into these early verses of Genesis and that it leaves us with just one verse (Gen. 1:1) describing the original creation. The six-day creationists level a number of other criticisms against it (Henry Morris, Biblical Cosmology and Modern Science [Craig Press], pp. 62-66). But I must confess that I find it intriguing and plausible.
Whichever view you take, I think that the genealogies in Genesis limit us to a date of creation for Adam no earlier than 20,000 B.C., probably more like 8,000 B.C. I prefer either the six-day creation view or the gap theory, because they adhere more closely to the biblical text than the day-age theory. But some solid biblical scholars hold to the day-age view, so we must allow for it.
But the bottom line we must hold firmly is that God supernaturally created the universe, including the earth, plant and animal life, and the first human beings. It is not due to natural processes. If we accept the first verse of the Bible, we must allow for the miraculous when it comes to the origin of all that is, because God is over natural processes, not subject to them. And, as I emphasized last week, it means that God is over us. That’s the real issue at the heart of all the explanations of origins. If God supernaturally created the earth and the human race, then we must submit ourselves to His sovereignty by living in obedience to His revealed will.
- How can we avoid obscurantism (e.g., the church being against Copernicus’ views), but also avoid compromising biblical truth in an attempt to accommodate science?
- Which arguments for evolution are the most formidable? Where is biblical creationism most vulnerable to attack?
- How do biblical creationists deal with adaptation in species?
- Which view of origins do you find most appealing? Why?
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 3: The God Of Creation (Genesis 1:2-25)Related Media
When Rachel Saint brought some of the primitive Auca Indians to the United States, she took them to New York City and to the top of the Empire State Building. But the Indians, who thought that an elevator was just a little room and who were not used to being on top of a high structure without climbing it, had no idea of where they were when they stepped out of the elevator and onto the observation deck. They were interested in the pigeons and pigeon droppings, but they had no interest in the fantastic view. Because of their limited perspective, they could not comprehend the panorama before them.
One of the unfortunate results of the predominance of evolutionary thought in our educational system and in our entire culture is that it has hindered even us as Christians from reading Genesis 1 from the viewpoint Moses intended when he wrote it. We get bogged down trying to reconcile the creation account with modern science and miss why it is given to us at the very beginning of God’s revelation. We “miss the view” God intended to give us. John Calvin lifts our eyes to the view by writing, “The intention of Moses, in beginning his Book with the creation of the world, is, to render God, as it were, visible to us in his works” (Calvin’s Commentaries [Associated Publishers & Authors, Inc.], p. viii). After further discussion, he comes back to this theme: “We know God, who is himself invisible, only through his works.... This is the reason why the Lord, that he may invite us to the knowledge of himself, places the fabric of heaven and earth before our eyes, rendering himself, in a certain manner, manifest in them” (p. ix).
In our first two studies I sought to deal with some of the scientific matters because they are so predominant in our thinking that we could never approach Genesis as Moses intended without first showing why evolution is so fallacious. But having dealt with those matters, I now turn to approach the creation account from the perspective of Moses’ purpose in writing. He’s showing us that ...
The creation account should point us to the Creator who alone is worthy of our worship, enjoyment, and obedience.
Moses’ purpose was that in thinking about the creation account and in observing the world around us, we should focus on the greatness of God who brought it all into being through the word of His power. God is referred to by name 35 times in the opening section of Genesis 1:1-2:3. Clearly He is the great subject; creation is merely His handiwork, here to tell us of Him. As Paul states in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Thus we can enjoy creation as a marvelous source of revelation, compatible with and expounded upon by the more specific revelation of the written Word. As Calvin observes (p. xi), “For by the Scripture as our guide and teacher, [the Lord] not only makes those things plain which would otherwise escape our notice, but almost compels us to behold them; as if he had assisted our dull sight with spectacles.... For if the mute instruction of the heaven and the earth were sufficient, the teaching of Moses would have been superfluous.”
Moses did not write to people who were isolated from the competing religious views of their day. Israel had been in captivity for 400 years in Egypt where the sun and a pantheon of other gods were worshiped. The Canaanites worshiped fertility gods, warrior gods, gods who guaranteed healthy crops, gods of the moon and stars. They offered food and, at times, even their own children to their gods to appease them. Against this backdrop of false religions, we see that ...
1. The creation account refutes many errors of false religion.
Moses asserts that God alone created all that is. He didn’t consult with anybody. He didn’t have to answer to anybody. He just spoke the word according to His inscrutable purposes and called into being all that exists. This is in great contrast to the pagan stories of origins of other ancient peoples. Most of them portray a great struggle between powerful forces, where one god finally wins and creates the earth. But Genesis reveals God as effortlessly creating with a mere command: “And God said, ‘Let there be ...’” He is sovereign over and separate from creation, because He made it by His word.
Since He created the sun, moon, and stars, He is over them and in no way are they to be worshiped. Karl Barth saw in the mention of light being created on the first day, but the sun, moon, and stars not being created until the fourth day, “an open protest against all and every kind of sun-worship” (cited by Derek Kidner, Genesis, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries [IVP], p. 54). The fact that the stars are created by God and assigned a fixed purpose by Him shows that they do not have any ability to determine human destinies, thus refuting the widespread practice of astrology (Calvin, pp. 6-7).
There are three ways, by the way, of dealing with the matter of light being created on day one, but the sun, moon and stars not being created until day four. One approach is to attribute the light of day one to God Himself. In the future heavenly city, there will be no sun, but God Himself will be its light (Rev. 21:23; 22:5). Calvin states (p. 3) that “the Lord, by the very order of the creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon.”
The second view is that these heavenly bodies were created in verse 1, allowed to shine through in a diffuse manner on day one (1:3), but were hidden from direct visibility on earth until the fourth day (1:14-17). A variation of this view is that the heavenly bodies were created in verse 1, shone through on day one (1:3), but were assigned their fixed purposes of marking day and night, seasons, days and years, on day four (1:14-17; John Sailhamer, Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], 2:34).
A third view argues that we must see Genesis 1 as a literary-theological arrangement rather than a strict chronological narrative of how creation happened. This is not to call it a myth, but rather to recognize that often the authors of Scripture do not follow our Western mindset by arranging things in strict chronological order. For example, the table of the nations (Gen. 10) is not in chronological order, since it follows the scrambling of languages at Babel (Gen. 11). So here, it is argued, the material is arranged around theological themes rather than around a strict sequence of the events of creation (Bruce Waltke, Christianity Today [8/12/88], pp. 42-46). But however you explain it, the point stands that the sun, moon, and stars are not to be worshiped; they are the mere servants of the powerful Creator who spoke them into existence and assigned their functions.
The creation account refutes a number of other common religious errors. That one God created all that is refutes polytheism, the belief in many gods, and dualism, the view that the good and the evil gods are equal. That He is separate from and over His creation refutes pantheism, the view that the creation is one with God, and the New Age movement, which worships the creation. That He created matter refutes that matter is eternal. That God pronounced creation “good” shows that matter is not evil. That God granted to His creation the ability to be fruitful and multiply refutes the pagan fertility cults (Kidner, pp. 48-49, 57).
That a personal God created the world and put man over it refutes nihilism, the view that human life and history have no discernible meaning and that there is no objective ground of truth or of morals. That God made man as male and female who together reflect His image gives dignity and equality to both sexes, while (as chapter 2 shows) assigning them differing roles. That God appointed man to have dominion over the creation refutes the radical animal rights movement, but also calls us to responsible stewardship of the earth and all its resources. And, that God created all that is by the word of His power refutes evolution by chance and all of the philosophical baggage that goes with it. Thus all of these errors of false religions that have continued to rear their heads down through the centuries are refuted by this first chapter of Genesis.
2. The creation account exalts many of God’s attributes and purposes.
As we look at what God has made and as science probes even deeper into the mysteries of the distant universe on the one hand, and the mysteries of the atom on the other, it should stagger us with the infinite power, wisdom, intelligence, creativity, and glory of God. As Matthew Henry put it, “The height of the heavens should remind us of God’s supremacy and the infinite distance there is between us and him; the brightness of the heavens and their purity should remind us of his glory, and majesty, and perfect holiness; the vastness of the heavens, their encompassing of the earth, and the influence they have upon it, should remind us of his immensity and universal providence” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary [Fleming H. Revell], 1:5). Let’s look at just a few of the attributes and purposes of God as set forth in Genesis 1:
*God is sovereign and all-powerful--He is eternal and self-sufficient, as we saw in our first message, which means, He is the only uncaused Being who is in need of nothing or no one else. When He created the heavens and the earth, He did not hold consultations with anyone because there was no one else! He simply acted in order to bring about His sovereign purpose. If He had chosen to do so, He could have spoken the whole thing into existence in a single sentence. I believe He used the six days of creation to teach us and set a pattern for our existence, that we are to work six days and rest on one each week. That God merely had to speak in order to call into existence what did not exist shows His infinite power and should humble every person and even every nation before Him (2 Pet. 3:5; Ps. 33:6-9)!
*God is intelligent--How scientists can study creation and deny the presence of an intelligent Creator behind it is beyond me. From the tiniest insects to the movements of the planets there is overwhelming evidence of an intricate, interdependent plan. One reason I am inclined to take the six days of Genesis literally is that you cannot take out major sections of creation without upsetting the balance of the rest. Even ardent evolutionists admit that earth’s ecosystems are finely balanced, so that the tiniest interference threatens the whole system. Yet they argue that this finely balanced system, which shows evident design, came into being through sheer chance over billions of years.
Years ago Sir Isaac Newton had an exact replica of our solar system made in miniature. The planets were all geared together by cogs and belts to make them move around the sun in perfect harmony. One day as Newton was studying the model, a friend who did not believe in the biblical account of creation stopped by. Marveling at the device, he exclaimed, “My, Newton, what an exquisite thing! Who made it for you?” Without looking up, Newton replied, “Nobody.” “Nobody?” his friend asked. “That’s right! I said nobody! All of these balls and cogs and belts and gears just happened to come together, and wonder of wonders, by chance they began revolving in their set orbits and with perfect timing.” That’s your option if you don’t believe in an intelligent Creator of the universe. If time would permit, I could give dozens of examples that show incredible, intricate design in God’s creation. For starters, consider your own body!
*God is orderly--Obviously this is an orderly universe. Such order does not come from random chance. Many scholars have pointed out the orderly progression of the days of creation.
Formlessness to Form:
Emptiness to Fulness:
Day 1: Light & dark
Day 4: Lights
Day 2: Sea & sky
Day 5: Fish & birds
Day 3: Land & plants
Day 6: Animals & man
Days 1-3 remedy “Formless”; Days 4-6 remedy “Void.”
God did things in an orderly manner. Concerning this, Harry Blamires writes (Recovering the Christian Mind [IVP], p. 161),
We do not learn that God breathed one day upon the formless void and lo, there emerged a viscid semifluid, semi-transparent substance, the protoplasm. And God said: “From among the elements thus varyingly combined in this unstable combination let vital properties emerge such that millions of years hence, if the one in a billion chance occurs, something may one day achieve vegetable, nay animal existence. And if perchance, millions of years later still, some hungry creatures should spend long hours stretching their necks upwards to feed on foliage wellnigh out of their reach, let their efforts be rewarded by the development of the genetic specification for a long neck. In brief, should such a remarkable concatenation of unforeseeable events occur, let there be no more of a to-do about it, but let there be a giraffe!” There is nothing vague or casual about the biblical account of creation. There is nothing suggestive of a massive historical role for the fortuitous.
The orderliness of all creation shows us not only that God is orderly, but also that He wants us to live orderly, purposeful lives (1 Cor. 14:33, 40).
*God is personal--He is not a mere cosmic force, but a personal being. He speaks, He sees, He makes value judgments about what He has made, and He creates man in His image as a personal being. Evolution stumbles at this point, because it has no explanation for the uniqueness of man as a personal being. It cannot explain the jump from apes to man with his reasoning powers, his ability to communicate in language, and his consciousness of God.
Have you ever thought about, “How did language evolve?” Maybe you assume that cave men spoke in unintelligible grunts, and that gradually language developed. But my college linguistics professor pointed out that you can’t have part of a language. There is no evidence of any language evolving from grunts. Even the most primitive peoples on earth have highly complex, complete language systems. The vocabulary develops according to culture, and grammar and usage may change over time. But you’ve either got the whole language system or none at all. Evolution can’t explain that. Creation can. Man was created in the image of a personal God who communicates in language.
*God is good--The text repeatedly emphasizes, “And God saw that it was good” (1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). This shows the personal God’s care for His creatures, especially for man. The thrust of chapter 1 is that God is preparing the earth to make it habitable for man. The good is that which is good for man. God’s seeing is an important concept both here and throughout Genesis. The first special name given to God is Hagar’s “El Roi,” the “God who sees” (16:13). God saw her desperate need and provided water to spare her son’s and her lives. God’s seeing the goodness of His creation that He has provided for man sets the stage for the tragedy of chapter 3, where the woman saw that the tree was good, but she was seeking goodness for herself in defiance of God and His good provision. When we come to the judgment of the flood, we read, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth” (6:5). Because He is good in His very being, God must judge all sin.
Those who hold to evolutionary origins for the earth have no basis for determining what is right and wrong. Perhaps the evolutionist can say that whatever helps man is good, since man is at the apex of the evolutionary process. But which men? Usually it works out that whatever helps me is good; let the other guy be hanged! And so without God survival of the fittest becomes a grim moral system based on selfishness and might makes right. But the God who is good and pure has revealed to us His standards of right and wrong.
So the creation account shows us that God is the sovereign, powerful, intelligent, orderly, personal, good Creator.
3. The creation account calls us to worship, enjoy, and obey the Creator.
When we see the wonders of what God has made, including the marvels of our bodies, it should cause us to exclaim with the psalmist, “Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Ps. 95:6). When we enjoy a beautiful sunset or see the Milky Way on a dark night, we should exclaim, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Ps. 19:1). As those who know the Creator personally because we have been reconciled to Him through faith in Christ our Savior, we can truly revel in and enjoy the world that He has made, even though it is marred by man’s sin. We can live each day in submission to His will as revealed in His Word, fulfilling the purpose He has ordained for our lives.
Part of our enjoyment of God involves enjoying Him through the beauty of His creation. I encourage you to recover the wonder that children have over the beauty of a butterfly or the marvels of a pretty rock or the delicacy of a spider’s web or delight in a rainbow. Also, the fact that God is creative gives affirmation to a Christian’s involvement in the arts. When we enjoy or create a painting, sculpture, photograph, music, or literature, we are sharing in a gift from God, the ultimate Creator.
Part of our obedience to God the Creator means being careful, responsible stewards of the earth and its resources. It seems to me that a lot of the environmental issues being debated in our country today are being polarized by extremists on both sides. As stewards over the earth, we can use the earth’s resources in a responsible manner, but it is sin to waste, destroy, and exploit the earth with no regard to the impact we’re making.
God is not only the Creator of heaven and earth; He also creates new life in those who have been damaged and destroyed by sin. The Bible proclaims, “... if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation ...” (2 Cor. 5:17). Sin plunges our lives into chaos, emptiness, and darkness. God’s Spirit moved into that first formless void, and God spoke the word: “Let there be light”; and there was light. Even so, in speaking of the power of the gospel, and alluding to his own dramatic conversion with the blinding flash of light on the Damascus Road, Paul writes, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:5).
It is the nature of the Creator God to turn chaos into order, emptiness into fulfillment, and darkness into light. He still uses His Word to break through the chaos and darkness of the human condition, flooding it with His saving light. His Spirit hovers over lives, preparing them for God to make of them a new creation. Seek God in His Word and ask Him to create in you a clean heart through Christ.
- What was Moses’ intention in writing Genesis 1? Why is this an important question to answer?
- Should Christians eschew or pursue scientific knowledge and investigation? Why?
- Is there a “Christian” philosophy of beauty, art, and music? Is some art and music anti-Christian? How can we tell?
- Where is a proper biblical balance on the environmental debate? Which Scriptures are relevant?
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Related Topics: Worship
Lesson 4: Why God Created People (Genesis 1:26-31)Related Media
A couple of years ago a guy who was burned out from riding his bike across the country stopped at the church and gave me his bike, including everything on it--a backpack tent, saddlebags, and a number of bike tools. Included among the tools were a couple of gizmos that I had no idea what they were for. Since then, Daniel and I have figured out what one of them does, but the purpose for the other one still eludes us. Tools that you don’t know the purpose for are of no use.
More important than knowing the purpose for tools is knowing the purpose for your life. Why did God create human beings? What is the reason God has put us on this planet? Sometimes we may feel like the man who said, “I’ve got a clock that tells me when to get up--but some days I need one to tell me why.” It is not surprising that Genesis, the book of origins, tells us early on why God created people.
To understand our text, we need to understand the sweep of God’s purpose as revealed throughout the Scriptures. Behind God’s purpose in creating man is His conflict with Satan and the fallen angels. Before he fell into sin, Satan “had the seal of perfection,” and was “in Eden, the garden of God.” (The only biblical hints of Satan’s fall are in Isa. 14:12-15 & Ezek. 28:12-16.) It is possible that Satan, before his fall, ruled an earlier earth under God. When he rebelled and led a number of angelic forces with him, God brought a judgment on that original creation, resulting in the chaos, emptiness, and darkness of Genesis 1:2 (the “gap theory”). In the recreated earth, God’s purpose is to have man on earth reflecting His image and having dominion over the earth under His sovereignty. Even if you do not accept the “gap theory,” it is clear that God put man on the earth to reflect His image and to rule over the creation (Gen. 1:26, 28).
But to whom was man to reflect God’s image? There wasn’t anybody except Adam and Eve. Once others were born, people could reflect God’s image to one another, thus glorifying God. But that isn’t the full picture. The more complete answer is, the man and woman were to reflect God’s image to the angelic hosts, both good and evil. God put man here to have dominion in place of Satan. The earth is the theater for God’s ultimate victory over Satan and the fallen angels. Satan wants to defy God by ruling the earth. So he came to the first couple and tempted them to follow him in rebellion against God. When they fell into sin, God’s purpose for the earth was temporarily thwarted as Adam and Eve came under Satan’s rule. Thus, for the present Satan is recognized as the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30). But God regained dominion through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (John 12:31; Eph. 1:19-23).
But how does Christ exercise His dominion? One day He will return and rule the earth, but for now He is not physically present on the earth. In Ephesians Paul reveals that Christ’s dominion is to be exercised and God’s image is to be reflected through the church and through the unit of the church, the home. There are a number of parallels between Genesis and Ephesians. Adam is a type of Christ; Eve is a type of the church. Just as Eve was taken from Adam in his sleep and given to him after he awoke as his bride, a part of his body (Gen. 2:18-24), so the Church was brought forth as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection, given to Him as His bride and body (Eph. 5:25-27; 1:19-23). Together, as male and female (Gen. 1:27), the first man was to reflect God’s image. The church is the corporate “new man,” Head and body, Bridegroom and Bride, created in God’s image to have dominion over Satan (Eph. 1:22-23; 2:15-16; 4:24; 5:32; 6:10-20; Col. 3:10). Thus it is through the church (and its unit, the home) that Christ is regaining that which was lost in the fall.
Note Ephesians 3:9-12. Paul is explaining his ministry in light of God’s eternal purpose. In verse 9 he refers to “God, who created all things.” Why does Paul bring in the creation at this juncture? Because he is talking about God’s purpose in creation, namely, to have a corporate man on earth reflecting His image and exercising dominion. Christ and the church are that new creation. The manifold wisdom of God is now to be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places in accordance with God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:10-11; 6:10-18).
The home, as the unit of the church, is also to have a part in God’s purpose for the earth, since the marriage relationship is an earthly picture of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22-33). As a husband and wife live together in unity in the context of their proper roles (male and female, equal and yet distinct; equal and yet in proper headship and submission), their home becomes an outpost of God’s rule. Thus marriage fits into God’s purpose for the earth, that of defeating Satan and his forces. There will be no marriage in heaven (Matt. 22:29-30), when Satan will be cast into the lake of fire. With that as a theological and biblical background, let’s go to Genesis 1:26-31 and see why God created people, namely, ...
God created people to reflect His image, to rule over creation, and to reproduce godly offspring.
1. God created people to reflect His image.
The first thing that strikes us is the repetition of the plural pronouns in reference to God: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (1:26). Jewish scholars usually explain this as God talking to the angels. But Scripture is clear that God did not take counsel with the angels when He created man (Isa. 40:12-26; 44:24), and besides, He didn’t create man in the image of Himself along with the angels. While it would go too far to say that the plural pronoun teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, it is correct to say that it allows for the later revelation of that doctrine. We have here a consultation among the persons of the Godhead prior to the creation of man. There is one God, but He exists in three eternal, co-equal Persons, the same in substance, but distinct in subsistence. That sounds paradoxical, and it is impossible for our finite minds to grasp. But it is the clear revelation of Scripture. Man in God’s image is one (“him”) and yet is plural (“male and female”).
Second, note that it is affirmed three times over (1:27) that God created man, twice emphasizing “in His image.” There is no room for harmonizing the Genesis account with an evolutionary origin of man. God created man distinct from animals. Only man is made in God’s image.
What does it mean that man is made in God’s image and likeness? I take the two words as synonymous, used in combined form to add either intensity or clarification. While theologians debate the precise meaning of the image of God in man, I think the essential feature is that man (as male and female) is able to reflect “God-likeness.” Obviously, finite human beings, even before the fall, cannot reflect completely or accurately the eternal, infinite nature of God. But with his personality, intelligence, and ability to know and relate to God, man is able to reflect God-likeness in a limited way.
Two texts dealing with God’s creation of the new man help us understand what this means. In Ephesians 4:24, Paul says that the believer has put on “the new man [lit.], which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” In Colossians 3:10, he states that we have put on “the new man [lit.] who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” Thus righteousness, holiness, truth, and the knowledge of God are included in what it means to be created in the image of God.
Also, part of the divine image involves the submission of the Son to the Father in the context of equality. The Father and the Son are equal in personhood, both possessing all the attributes of deity. But in order to carry out the divine purpose, the Son voluntarily submitted to the Father. In a similar way, the submission of the wife to the husband and of women in the church to male leadership, all in the context of being equal in personhood and standing before God, is bound up with man (as male and female) created in the divine image. Being created in God’s image is, therefore, not only an individual matter, but a corporate one. It involves how we relate to one another as husband and wife in marriage, and as men and women in the local church. It is no accident that the roles of men and women are under strong attack in our day.
While the image of God in man was tarnished by the fall, it was not eradicated. While unredeemed men and women are not able to reflect the divine image to the same degree as those who are being conformed to the image of His Son through sanctification (Rom. 8:29), there is even in fallen man a vestige of the divine image. Thus God later ordained capital punishment for murder, because men are made in God’s image (Gen. 9:6; see also, James 3:9). This image in fallen man includes the aspects of personality, intellect, moral responsibility, and consciousness of God. Although unredeemed men are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1), each person possesses a spirit (1 Cor. 2:11) which, when regenerated, is capable of communion with God, who is Spirit (John 4:24).
The fact that human beings have been created in God’s image has many practical implications. The first is, unless you are rightly related to the Creator, your life has no lasting purpose. You are born, grow up, live a few years trying to make a comfortable existence, but your body too soon grows old and you die (assuming you don’t die sooner)! What’s the point of it? But if you know the eternal God through the Lord Jesus Christ who revealed Him to us and who, by His death and resurrection, opened the way for us to be forgiven and to have fellowship with our Creator, both now and for all eternity, then your life has purpose and meaning beyond the grave. In the well-known words of Augustine, “Thou hast created us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee!”
That every human, male and female, is created in God’s image also means that human life is valuable and every person must be treated with respect. The unborn baby is not to be killed because it is not convenient to have a child, or because the parents prefer having a boy instead of a girl. Even if that child is deformed or mentally deficient, it is still human life, valuable in God’s sight. At the other end of life, the elderly, even those who can no longer think clearly, must be treated with dignity and care. Abortion and euthanasia cheapen the value of human life. This doctrine also is the basis for treating women with the same respect granted to men, because the text is clear that the female, as well as the male, is created in the divine image.
The fact that those in Christ have “put on the new man, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24), means that we must committed to growing in godliness. We are to reflect God’s image in every aspect and area of our lives, especially in our families. Much more could be said, but we must move on. Stemming from the fact that God made man in His image is a second purpose:
2. God created people to rule over creation.
“Let them rule” (1:26) is the consequence of “Let Us make man in Our image.” God gave the right of dominion over all living things to man. The command to subdue it (1:28) implies that there was work involved, even in the perfect setting of the Garden, to bring the creation under man’s rightful dominion. This dominion involves a stewardship of the earth and its resources under the sovereignty of God.
Fallen man has gone in two directions when it comes to the earth and its resources. Either he has tended to spoil the creation, through pollution and other forms of wanton disregard; or he has been ruled by creation, through false worship of nature. The two extremes exist in our society: some want to rape the land for their own profit or enjoyment; and others hold a reverential awe for nature, making man subservient even to the animals. Neither extreme is in biblical balance.
Apparently in the original creation, both man and beasts were vegetarian (1:29-30; although Calvin and others question this). Isaiah prophesies (11:6-8; 65:25) that in the millennial kingdom, when the world is under the reign of Christ, animals will not prey upon other animals, but that the bear and lion will graze like cows, thus restoring creation to its state before the fall. After the Flood God gave explicit permission for men to eat meat, as long as they did not eat the blood (Gen. 9:3-4).
Does that mean that it’s more spiritual to be a vegetarian? Before you jump to that conclusion, remember that the Lord and two angels ate beef when they visited Abraham (Gen. 18:7-8). God ordained for the priests, for whom personal holiness was essential, to eat part of the sacrifices (1 Cor. 9:13). Jesus ate roasted lamb (the Passover, Luke 22:15) as well as broiled fish (after the resurrection, Luke 24:42-43). So while you are free not to eat meat for dietary reasons if you so choose, you are not more sanctified by abstaining.
Man ruled creation before the fall. But when Satan got man to obey him, then Satan became the ruler of this world. For man to regain his rightful place of dominion over this world, he must exercise dominion not only over the material world, but also over the spiritual forces of darkness (Eph. 6:10-20). This can only be gained by becoming a member of the body of Christ, the Head, who through His resurrection has been elevated to the place of dominion over all things (Eph. 1:19-23). And so a major part of our purpose as the church, is to exercise dominion for Christ over Satan and his forces through spiritual warfare.
The practical implication of our ruling over creation is that we must put on the full armor of God and, especially, become people of prayer (Eph. 6:13-17, esp. 18-19). When Peter talks of the roles of husband and wife in marriage, he tells the husband to grant his wife honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, and then adds, “so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7). Thus both in the church and in our homes we are to rule over all creation, but especially over the spiritual forces of darkness, under the authority of Christ through prayer.
So God put us on this earth to reflect His image and to rule over creation. There’s a third reason indicated in our text:
3. God created people to reproduce godly offspring.
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” (1:28). This is both God’s pronouncement of blessing as well as His delegation of responsibility. The blessing of sharing in God’s creative process by producing offspring was given to other living things besides man (1:22, 24-25). But man alone was commanded not only to fill the earth, but also to subdue it. This requires not only bearing children, but rearing godly children who will properly subdue the earth under God. By producing ungodly children man fills, but does not subdue, the earth.
How should we apply this verse today? Roman Catholics, of course, have taken it to mean that birth control is wrong and that the major purpose of marriage is to bear children. But also many Protestants advocate not practicing any form of artificial birth control and having as many children as possible. But we need to be careful to apply the verse correctly.
Clearly, the text does not mean that every person must get married and have children to fulfill God’s purpose. Neither Jesus nor the apostle Paul would have qualified if it means that. But it does mean that children are to be viewed as blessings from God. That needs to be said in our day when many couples choose not to have children so they can selfishly pursue their careers and materialistic lifestyles. While I believe that there is a biblical case for using means to prevent conception within Christian marriage, there are right and wrong reasons for using such means. Selfishness is never a proper motive. Our children are one of the greatest blessings and biggest responsibilities God entrusts to us. We need to take the time and effort to see each child come to know Christ and to be trained in His ways.
But I believe that there also is a spiritual application of Genesis 1:28: To reproduce godly offspring means that we all must be involved in the work of evangelism. To fill the earth and subdue it means that we’ve got to subdue the ruler of the earth, Satan, by rescuing people from his domain of darkness and seeing them transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). People cannot reflect God’s image, rule over His creation, and reproduce godly offspring unless they live under the lordship of Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews makes this spiritual application when he attributes to Christ the words, “Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me” (Heb. 2:13). One of God’s greatest blessings is when He gives you spiritual children, fruit that remains through all eternity!
As I wrote in the last newsletter, evangelism is not my gift. I struggle with doing it as much as any of you do. But we need to put on the front burner the fact that part of our purpose for being on this earth is to reproduce godly offspring, not just with our own children, but also by bearing witness of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that others will come to know their Creator and their purpose for being here.
A man died and they put on his tombstone: “He came, stayed a while, and left.” Sad epitaph! But what if it had said, “He came, stayed a while, got married, worked at his job, raised a family, and left”? Throw in, “He became a success in his career and made a pile of money.” It’s still missing the purpose for which God created us.
God made us individually, and as male and female in our marriages, and corporately as His church, to reflect His image by being godly people. He made us to rule over His creation as responsible stewards of the earth, and to rule over the ruler of this fallen world as we exercise the authority of Christ our Head through prayer. He made us to reproduce godly offspring, both in our families and in our church family through bearing spiritual children.
That’s why God created people. That’s why He created you--to know and grow to be like the One in whose image you were created; to reign with Him; and, to be used by Him in His kingdom. You will be restless, confused, or lacking in fulfillment until you begin living in line with God’s purpose for creating you.
- Does our being created in the image of God provide a biblical basis for “self-esteem”? Why/why not?
- If someone argued that seriously deformed babies are not made in God’s image, how would you answer? What Scriptures apply?
- To what extent are spiritual forces behind everyday events? Should we attribute problems to demonic influence?
- Some Christians think that all artificial means of birth control are wrong. Agree/disagree? Support your position biblically.
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 5: God’s Day Of Rest (Genesis 2:1-3)Related Media
If you or I had lived in colonial America and behaved as we do, we all would have spent time in jail, our arms and feet locked into the stocks in public humiliation. Why? Because each one of us has traveled and done things for recreation on Sunday. It was called “sabbath breaking,” and it was against the law.
C. H. Mackintosh, a popular Plymouth Brethren devotional writer of the last century, wrote,
The idea of any one, calling himself a Christian, making the Lord’s day a season of what is popularly called recreation, unnecessary traveling, personal convenience, or profit in temporal things, is perfectly shocking. We are of opinion that such acting could not be too severely censured. We can safely assert that we never yet came in contact with a godly, intelligent, right-minded Christian person who did not love and reverence the Lord’s day; nor could we have any sympathy with any one who could deliberately desecrate that holy and happy day. (Miscellaneous Writings, “A Scriptural Inquiry as to the Sabbath, the Law, and Christian Ministry” [Loizeaux Brothers], 3:6-7.)
I’m not in full agreement with these views. But I want you to see that “We’ve come a long way, baby!” Most American Christians never think twice about watching football games or mowing their lawn or doing other things on Sundays that would send C. H. Mackintosh into cardiac arrest. Some progressive evangelical churches even offer a Friday night service so that their people can have the rest of the weekend free for whatever they want to do.
What does the Bible have to say about all this? The good news is that it has quite a bit to say; the bad news is that it isn’t always clear how to apply what it says to the church age. So you have everything from strict Seventh Day Baptists and Adventists to evangelicals who see no Christian significance at all in the sabbath or Lord’s Day. Each of us must try to rid ourselves of any cultural bias and try to answer the question, “What does the Bible teach about the sabbath for today?”
Genesis 2:1-3, describes God’s day of rest, the seventh day of creation. God is omnipotent and could have spoken the whole creation into existence in an instant. When He was done, God didn’t need a day off because He was exhausted! God created the world in six days and rested on and sanctified the seventh day to instruct us. By His action at the beginning, God is telling us that there is a pattern of work and rest for our existence on earth. God’s setting apart the seventh day models the weekly rest and worship we need. Created to reflect His image, we must follow His pattern. Thus our text shows that
God has called us to a weekly day of rest and worship.
I want to answer three questions:
- What is the sabbath for?
- Must Christians keep the sabbath? And, if so,
- How should we keep the sabbath?
What is the sabbath for?
1. The sabbath is for rest and worship.
The Hebrew word “rested” is the root word for “sabbath.” It means to cease from busyness. Exodus 31:17 says that God “ceased from labor, and was refreshed.” The fact that God blessed and sanctified (= “set apart”) this day at the completion of creation implies that we are to set apart one day in seven to be different from our normal routine. On that day we who are made in His likeness are to cease from the work of the other days and be refreshed in body and soul as we spend time worshiping our Creator.
There is a big difference between the rest God intends for us and the so-called “rest” of pursuing leisure and recreation. We probably have more leisure time and recreational equipment than any other culture in history, and yet we’re burning out like light bulbs. Lots of people are “stressed out.” I can’t help but wonder if a major part of our problem is that we’re neglecting God’s ordained cycle of a weekly day for rest and worship, when we cease doing “our thing,” and devote the day to taking delight in the Lord (Isa. 58:13-14). Recreation may refresh the body, but we need worship to refresh the soul. Recreation is often self-centered, but worship focuses us on the Lord. As Calvin puts it, “God did not command men simply to keep holiday every seventh day, as if he delighted in their indolence; but rather that they, being released from all other business, might the more readily apply their minds to the Creator of the world” (Calvin’s Commentaries [Associated Publishers & Authors], 1:15).
That God sanctified and blessed the seventh day means that it is a special day, set apart from the other six days. Since He sanctified and blessed this day, it belongs to Him, not to us. It should not be a day for doing what we normally do, but rather a day to take the time out of our busy lives to spend with the Lord and His people. Often we’re so busy during the week that time with the Lord gets squeezed out or hurried. We don’t take time to read God’s Word, to pray, or to reflect on whether our lives are pleasing to Him. Taking time to spend with someone is a way of saying, “I love you, you’re important to me.” Taking one day each week to be with the Lord says, “Lord, I love you and want to get to know You better because You’re first in my life.” On this set apart day, we should rest from our normal work and take the time to be with the Lord and to worship with His people.
What is God’s intent for such rest and worship?
2. Sabbath rest and worship are both to honor God and to benefit man.
The first day of existence for Adam was a day of rest. Later God assigned him tasks to do, but the first order of business for this newly created man was a day of rest. What do you suppose Adam did that day? It’s likely that God told Adam about the world He had just created. Thus Adam, in communion with God, living in a perfect environment, reflected on the greatness and majesty and goodness of God. He enjoyed fellowship with God and thought about the wonder of himself, a creature, being able to commune with God, the Creator. The first sabbath was spent in rest and worship.
Worship is not for our benefit, but to honor God as the Almighty Creator and Redeemer, who alone is worthy of praise and glory. But the by-product of worship is that we are blessed by blessing God. So when we set aside one day in seven to stop doing our normal work and to worship God, we are benefited. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
You say, “That’s all well and good so far as it pertained to Adam and later to Israel. But we’re not under the law, are we?” That leads to the second question:
Must christians keep the sabbath?
Here the controversy rages! There are three main views. Seventh Day Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists say that Christians must strictly observe Saturday as sabbath as ordained by God at creation and in the Mosaic law. A second view, following the Westminster Confession, transfers sabbath observance to Sunday, making it a Christian sabbath. The third view is that the sabbath was a part of the law of Israel; since we are not under the law, it is not applicable to the church at all. This is probably the view of most evangelicals in our day.
I’m somewhere between the second and third view. I do not believe that Sunday should be a strictly observed Christian sabbath; but neither am I comfortable casting off the sabbath principles altogether. Sunday is the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10); this means it belongs to Him. There are principles in the sabbath, both as established at creation and under the Mosaic law, which apply to the Christian observance (or celebration) of the Lord’s Day. While we are not under the law, there is much in the law which applies beneficially to us. The prevailing view today, which sees Sunday as a day to go to church and then do whatever you please, is robbing God’s people of the blessing He intended at creation by setting apart one day in seven to cease from our work and to focus on our Creator and Redeemer.
1. The principle of sabbath stemming from both creation and the law is valid for today.
There is debate about whether the sabbath was instituted at creation, with application to all people, or in the Ten Commandments as applying only to Israel. Those who say it was only for Israel argue that Genesis 2 and Exodus 16 (both of which occur before the giving of the Ten Commandments) were anticipatory, not prescriptive. Without going into all the arguments pro and con, it seems to me that a normal reading of Genesis 2:1-3 would lead us to say that God’s ordering of the creation and resting on the seventh day had some instructive purpose as it applied to Adam and all his descendants. There is a rhythm of work and rest built into creation, and it applies to all who are created in God’s image, whether they know it or observe it or not.
Another debate concerns whether the sabbath as the fourth commandment is a part of the moral or ceremonial law. If it is a part of the ceremonial law, then obviously we need not regard it, since no Christian claims that we must observe the Jewish laws of diet, purification, sacrifice, etc. But if it is part of the moral law, then it would be binding on us, since the moral law stems from the holiness of God and does not change.
It would be tough to argue that there is no moral aspect to the sabbath commandment, since the rest of the Ten Commandments are clearly moral. The moral aspect is the fact that it provides for the regular worship of God, which is binding upon all human beings. But there are also ceremonial aspects to the sabbath which applied to Israel alone: The people could not do any work at all. They could not even kindle a fire (Exod. 35:2-3). A man caught gathering sticks on the sabbath was stoned to death (Num. 15:32-36). And yet Jesus defended His disciples for plucking grain on the sabbath, which He never would have done if they had broken the moral law of God (Matt. 12:1-8).
As Christians, we are not under the law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14; Col. 2:16-17). The meaning of that is a sticky theological issue, but I see it as entailing two things. In the first place, we are not under the Jewish ceremonial law nor under the laws which applied to Israel as a theocratic nation. We don’t have to wash in order to be ceremonially clean. We don’t stone adulterers, homosexuals, and rebellious children. Those things applied only to Israel as the theocratic people of God. Second, not to be under the law means that we are not under the principle of law as a means of relating to God. The law was given in part to show sinful man that he could not live up to the holiness of God in his own effort. Under grace, God gives us the Holy Spirit so that the requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-4; 10:4).
When it comes to the sabbath, then, we are not under the rigorous Jewish regulations for that day. But there is a moral aspect to the sabbath, that of the proper worship of God and stewardship of our lives, which requires that we set aside a day each week for rest from our normal work so that we can worship God. It stems both from creation and from the moral law of God as revealed in the Ten Commandments. As we walk in the Spirit and grow in the love of God, He will work in us the desire to honor Him by setting aside a day for Him each week, not as a duty of law, but as a delight of love.
But, which day: Saturday? Sunday? Friday evening?
2. The day of sabbath rest and worship for the Christian should be Sunday, the Lord’s Day.
I disagree with those who worship on Saturday. But I also disagree with progressive evangelical churches which have a congregation that meets only on Friday evening (or some other day), but not on Sunday. I think there are solid reasons why we should set aside Sunday as the Lord’s Day.
The main reason it’s important to observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day is that our Lord arose from the dead on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). That fact alone is enough reason to gather in celebration on Sunday. At least six of our Lord’s eight resurrection appearances recorded in the gospels took place on Sunday.
It was on Sunday that the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. The early church gathered on Sunday to break bread, listen to the teaching of the Scriptures, and give offerings (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). It was on “the Lord’s Day” that John received that great revelation of Christ in His present glory (Rev. 1:10). In addition, from early in the second century on there are many testimonies that the Christians gathered on Sunday for worship (see The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible [Zondervan], 3:965-971). By worshiping on the Lord’s Day we affirm His resurrection along with the saints down through history. So it is important to set aside Sunday as the Lord’s Day, a day when the principle (not the letter) of the sabbath can be observed.
Thus we have seen that the sabbath is for rest and worship, a day designed to honor God but also for our blessing. Also, we have seen that there is a sabbath principle stemming both from creation and the law which is valid for today, and that Christians should set aside Sunday as the Lord’s Day for observing that sabbath principle. One question remains:
How should we keep the sabbath?
As I said, I don’t agree with calling the Lord’s Day a Christian sabbath, so perhaps we should ask, How should we observe the Lord’s Day? Should we require our kids not to play? Are we allowed to go the store or mall? Should we go to restaurants, thus making others work? What about those who have jobs that require them to work on Sundays? I can’t deal with every question you may have, but let me state two broad principles for observing the Lord’s Day.
1. Don’t observe it legalistically.
Martin Luther, with his characteristic bluster, said, “If anywhere the day is made holy for the mere day’s sake--if anywhere anyone sets up its observance on a Jewish foundation, then I order you to work on it, to ride on it, to dance on it, to feast on it, to do anything that shall remove this encroachment on Christian liberty” (cited in ZPEB 3:969).
God looks on our hearts, not on outward observance of man-made rules. The history of the Jews shows how prone we all are to set up rules that are not from God and take pride in keeping them, even though our hearts are far from God. We all tend to judge others by our own standards, based on outward matters. All such judging is sin because it stems from pride. The idea of the Lord’s Day is not to produce a list of things you can and cannot do. Legalism doesn’t produce godliness (Col. 2:16-23).
2. Observe it joyfully before God.
View the Lord’s Day as a gift from God, not as a duty to be fulfilled. God has established many principles for our benefit, principles of health, nutrition, mental outlook, emotional well-being, relationships, etc. The principle of one day each week set aside from our hectic lives to rest and worship God is for our benefit. The God who made us built the principle into creation, and we violate it, just as we do the law of gravity, to our own peril. God blessed the seventh day and set it apart, and there is blessing for us if we honor Him one day each week.
Gather with God’s people on the Lord’s Day. It ought to be a day of celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ with others He has redeemed. Part of your time on Sunday ought to be spent reflecting on who God is as our Creator and Savior. Think about His sacrificial death for you. Rejoice in the finished work of Christ, that you can rest in all that He is and cease from your own efforts to merit God’s favor through good works (Heb. 4:1-11). Reflect on your own relationship to Him. Think back over the week that has just gone by. Did it reflect the direction it should for a child of God? Think about the week to come. Does your schedule reflect the proper priorities? Make sure that any known sin is confessed and put away. Sin robs us of God’s rest. Use the Lord’s Day to serve Him and do good deeds.
Jonathan Edwards points out that since God sanctified and blessed the sabbath, since the risen Lord Jesus revealed Himself to His disciples on Sunday, and since He poured out His Spirit on the church on that day, it is a day when the Lord especially delights to confer His grace and blessing on those who seek Him (The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 2:101-102). If Jesus appeared bodily to you and said, “I would like to spend the day with you and give you a special blessing,” would you say, “I’d really like to, Lord, but my day is full. After church I need to get some things done around the house. I need to run over to the mall and do some shopping. And, there are a couple of shows on TV I don’t want to miss. Maybe some other time?” Every Sunday the Lord is saying, “I want to spend this day with you and bless you. Will you set this day apart for Me?”
Observing a weekly day set aside unto the Lord is a gift of our time. It’s not really our time, since God graciously gives us every day. But He asks us to give that first day each week back to Him. It’s not easy in our busy world to stop and give God our time. The busier you are, the more you honor someone when you give him your time. If you were the President and you gave someone an entire day each week, you are showing that person great honor. Giving the Lord one day each week says that you honor Him. It’s like giving money--it’s never easy. It always costs you something. But if you give only that which doesn’t cost you, you don’t really give.
Giving to the Lord a day each week from our busy schedules will cost us time from our many projects and plans, but we will be blessed for doing it. The Lord said through Isaiah, “If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure, and speaking your own word, then you will take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father” (Isa. 58:13-14). God blessed and sanctified one day a week; so should we.
- How should a Christian whose job requires him to work on Sunday deal with the sabbath principle?
- How can we keep the sabbath principle without falling into legalism?
- How should a Christian family determine what activities are permissible on Sundays? Why does it matter?
- Should the principle of Deut. 5:14 be applied by Christian businessmen to mean that their business should not be open on Sundays? What about a business (restaurant, grocery store, real estate, etc.) which depends on Sunday business to survive?
Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.