Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Honor of Humanity Part 15 - Life (Last Session)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on his apologetics series on The Honor of Humanity Part 15 on 19th November 2006. Note that this is the last session of the series.

When we truly know the love of Christ, we will have life relationship with one another and the world will begin to see that we are Christ’s disciples. When John was old, he did not preach anything, except “Little children, love one another.”

The love of Christ is not just based any human emotion, but is founded in the truth. “I love you because of the truth.” Emotion that is based on truth is true. A lot of times, the motivation of human love is not the kind of love others need, but the foundation comes for selfishness. This is not the case with the love of God. The motivation of God’s love is for the good of others and the foundation is in the truth.

God is Life. He made us in His image and likeness. In English, all light, love and life start with the letter l. God is Light, God is Love and God is Life.

God is Life and gives life to His creation. When God created the world, He creates beings that have life. There are many types of life. There are plants and animals. And in animal kingdoms there are also lower and higher forms of life. Finally, there’s human life. Human life is higher than all other created lives because man is made in the image of God.

This created life form is in a created, temporal world. But the ultimate promise of God is eternal life. The final purpose of God is that we transcend the discussion of good and evil to the essence of life. When God made man in His image and likeness, He put eternity in our lives which enable us to transcend the constraint of time and history.

Ephesians 2:10 say we are the workmanship of God who are created in Christ Jesus.

When Jesus Christ came to the world, He expressed 7 main purposes:
To seek the lost
To call the sinners to repentance
To serve others and to give his life as a ransom to many
To be king
To bear testimony for the truth
To do the will of the Father
To fulfill the law

These are all great declarations of Jesus Christ on His purposes in coming to the world.

In John 10:10, Jesus declared something even higher: I come that they might have life. This transcends the purposes of science, religion, culture and philosophy. Religion is about good and evil, philosophy is about wisdom, and science is about knowledge. Jesus Christ comes to talk about life and death.

When God created man, God forbade man to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is a restriction. Is this a mark of love? Is this a respect towards freedom?

The Bible says the summary of the law is love. In this summary, there are only two directions: to love God and to love our neighbor. What is the relationship between the law and love? The summary of the commandments is love. Why should there be constraint in the law? This is the profound mystery of the Old Testament. It is the secret that links the Old to the New Testament.
If the Lord has given me freedom, why is this freedom constrained? If God loves me, I should be truly free. This kind of conclusion comes from fallen reason. Our fallenness influences our logical thinking and we often use this as our standard for the truth. When we do that, we cannot understand the meaning of freedom in the truth.

The Bible says that the truth sets you free and that the summary of the law is love. These two principles show us how we can break through.

We must understand the motivation of love. Love is not willing to constrain us on one hand, but is not willing to see us fall on the other hand. So there is a tension between love and freedom. Just like a mother who is not willing to see the son facing danger, so give all kinds of constraints because of love. The summary of the law is love.

When the general principle of the law is given, Moses said, “Israel, hear, O Israel, Your God is One. You must love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” When God commands man not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, it is a warning towards the freedom. He has given us freedom as basis for ethics. He gives us freedom because of love.

It is a question relating to freedom and death. All who commit suicide misuse their freedom. Misuse of freedom based on self-centeredness leads to death. So when we are unwilling to obey God, we leave God and kill ourselves. The entire Bible surrounds this teaching regarding life and death.

As God made us in His image and likeness, He gives us the function of life. We have been created with a life that surpasses all other creatures. But due to this special privilege, there is a crisis. In this dignified life, we cannot avoid responsibility.

Since we are given freedom, responsibility comes with it naturally. And as human life has beginning but no end, the consequence of our actions extends to eternity.
We cannot just accept the blessings without accepting the responsibility. Grace is linked to responsibility. If we abuse our freedom, we will be judged by God. Hence our life is a frightening one. But its potential is glorious. This crisis is therefore proportionate to glory in eternity.

Intelligence is valuable. But this valuable intelligence can become horrifying when misused. The severity of judgment that results from the negative use of grace is proportional to the potential of that grace. Our life is a created life, but it is not disposable because it will exist to eternity. It is tagged with morality and responsibility. It is also tagged with the potential for eternal salvation.

When the Bible talks about how valuable our life is, there’s one promise that becomes its foundation, i.e. God’s promise of eternal life. This is expressed as a singular term. There are thousands of promises of God, but the summary of all His promises is eternal life.

When Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17, He said that knowing God and His Son Jesus Christ is eternal life. When created life is joined to the salvation in Christ, we are admitted into eternal life. Then we will be in eternity with the eternal God, joint forever with our Eternal Creator. What is more honorable and glorious than this?

The world and its desires will pass away. Heaven and earth will disappear. But those who do the will of God will live forever. United with His love, righteousness and love, we will enjoy God forever. The achievement of life cannot be higher than this. All the goodness the moralists seek throughout history, the wisdom the philosophers pursue through the ages, and the truth great men seek all their lives, will all be realized when we are one in eternity with God.

There’s great constraint of words to express this profound truth. The Scriptures say that the letters kill but the spirit gives life. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth.

Genesis 1 says that trees come from the ground that bear fruits, and fruits have seed that produce more life. This is the difference between life form and non-life form. Life is passed down from life. Things that are dead cannot be the source of life.

God is the Source of Life. All life comes from God. God create life form that it may grow. This is the principle of growth in all life. By His grace we have existed, but by His grace we must also continue to grow. After salvation, we should continue growing.

However, this is not the case in many churches today. Many people who hear sermons for many years still remain stagnant. The worse thing is when the preachers themselves never improve. And the worst situation is when the congregation grows and need more solid food but the preachers never grow so cause people to leave church later on. This is the conflict when a growing life meets with a stagnant life. But every saved believer must continue to grow.

When do we stop growing? Paul says his goal is Jesus Christ. So there should not be a single day where we remain stagnant. In thinking, in ministry and in life we must keep growing.

A stone is always a stone. But a seed can keep growing. This is the principle of life. But how do we grow in our life? By what power do we grow? What do we rely on to live abundant life? This is our homework that we must work on in life.

Not only should we receive life, but we should also give out life through self-sacrifice. Just as Jesus said, a grain of wheat that fall to the ground and dies will produce many lives. Such should be the fruitful life of a Christian.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Honor of Humanity Part 14 - Love

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on his apologetics series on The Honor of Humanity Part 14 on 12th November 2006.

Among the disciple of Jesus, John is the youngest. This is the beloved disciple of Jesus, not because Jesus had favoritism but because he truly felt Jesus’ love for him. On the day Jesus was arrested, Peter followed from afar but John followed closely.

John stayed so close to Jesus that he came to understand the love of God like nobody else in the world. His words “God is Love” have surpassed the understanding of every religion and everyone in the world, including Peter and Paul. Only when we live in love, our life has meaning and satisfaction.

Religions talk a lot about God’s power, authority and justice. Very few religions talk about God’s love. At most they mention providence. Religion is the best ideal made up of fallen reason. Even though men have fallen, God has put that seed of faith in them. But this is not comparable to God’s revelation. When God reveals Himself, it surpasses all human religions.

The Scriptures say God is full of mercy and compassion. He takes care of us and generously forgives us. All these give us the understanding of God and how He takes the initiative to love us. This is not described by religions.

God told the Israelites, “You are the smallest among the nations. I choose you not because you are great but because I love you.” Here we see God’s sovereignty in election and love.

Because God loves us, He creates us. Because God loves us, He takes care of us. Because God loves us, He forgives our trespasses. Because God loves us, He redeems us. From creation to salvation, God continues to express His love.

Love is an active thing expressed on an object. When we say, “I love,” there must be an object that we love. But God is the eternal God. And God is also Love. Before God created all things, is this God in eternity still Love? If He is Love, whom does He love since nothing is created yet? This is a solemn question.

Apart from the Triune God described by the Bible, we have no answer to this. God the Father loves the Son. God the Son loves God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit loves God the Father. God the Father loves God the Holy Spirit. God the Son loves God the Father. Hence, before the existence of men, God is already Love. God is Triune, so there is love within the triune God. When it is extended forward, creation occurs. In the will of creation by God, implicitly the objects of creation enjoy His love. We cannot find this answer in other religions.

God is love. God made us in His image and likeness. So made in the created world, we can experience God’s love and understand the love of God. The psalmist tells us the all creation experience the love of God, but only humans can respond in love, because they are not made in the image and likeness of God.

What sort of image is this? How do we respond to God in love? Love involves emotion and is related to another person. It becomes the link of relationship.

The Triune God is related to one another in love. Wherever there is love, there is communication and relationship in life. He creates men who can love and receive love. The relationship between human relationships can be established.

God is filled with compassion. God is merciful. Is this a good description of God’s love? Not just that God is compassionate or full of mercy, but He is Love. This is the thing that only John discovers. From Adam till today, nobody has ever thought of written what John says, “God is love.” So John’s understanding of God’s love has transcended the level from God’s attributes to the essence of love itself. Even in the writing of the apostles, many of them would consider the love of God based on His other attributes.

When we think in this way, we will transcend the understanding of all other religions. God is love, truth, holiness, justice, goodness, the essence of all beauty. This is different from all other religions. He is the subjectivity of truth, of love and of holiness in itself. So God not only has goodness, but is Goodness Himself.

The love within the Trinity is the foundation of society and human relationships. Because we are made in the image of God, we have the function of love in which we can relate and communicate to one another with life. The more we are in love, the more we are like God. Because God is love, we will be able to judge a person’s spirituality by his love.

Gothold Ephraim Lessing stimulated the study of comparative religion. In his story Nathan the Wise, Nathan made 2 false rings in addition to the one true ring because he had 3 sons and he could not decide whom to pass the ring to. After he died, all his sons claimed to have the true ring but nobody could go back in time so the truth was forever buried in history.

Lessing summarized his view that it is impossible to go back in time so it is impossible to verify history. This thought shook the west on the principles and methodology in studying history.

How do we know what is true and what is false? The answer is in the power of the ring. In that story, the true ring would give the wearer the power to love God and love his neighbor. So it does not matter what he says or thinks, we ought to examine what power he has. Does he have power to love God and his neighbor? If he does, he has the true ring. Hence Lessing uses one’s actions and expressions to verify the truth.

True actions must come from real life so we use actions to affirm real life. Doesn’t Jesus Himself say by the fruits you will know the tree? Lessing’s thought has great impact on Christianity in 19th century. Between lower and higher criticism, they all abandon the lordship of Jesus Christ and only accept Jesus’ morality. So Christians only need to do good works. It seems right. This is a great thought but the negative effect is very clear, i.e. it denies the essence of faith and only relies on outward observations as verification.

Lessing uses the 3 rings analogy to represent the 3 main revelatory religions in the world. Judaism, Christianity and Islam claim to have revelation from God. He proposed that it does not matter what they say, we just need to see whether they truly love God and men. The one that does it is truly from God. In this, Lessing made new discovery of history and faith.

From this angle, we want to discuss love. God made us in His image and likeness. So all of us have the ability to love and we need love. A human baby is the most vulnerable and need love in order to survive. A person without love will be unsatisfied. If his love is not accepted, he will not be satisfied. We are made to receive love and to love. This is how the image of God is upon us. People will see the true expression of God in us when we love.

Like Christianity, Judaism and Islam express God’s justice, holiness and goodness. However, they cannot truly express God’s love. In this manner, Christianity is different from Judaism and Islam. John followed Jesus to Golgotha hence his understanding of God’s love surpasses everyone else in the history of mankind. He links the truth with the love of Jesus on the cross.

In order to express ourselves to the utmost potential to love, the only way is to go to Golgotha and reflect upon the sufferings of Jesus. Not only do we accept Jesus brings us salvation and new life, but Peter says He wants us to follow His footsteps. The motivation comes from the love of God. The love is given to us through the Holy Spirit, the first fruit of the Spirit. We can only prove that we love the Invisible God when we love our visible brethren. Not only do we receive the new life given by the Holy Spirit, we want to be obedient to the Holy Spirit in living a life of love.

May God bless us so that we may live in love. Those who live in love live in God. Not only are we made in the image of God, but in the work of the Holy Spirit by the power of Christ’s resurrection we are regenerated and in the Holy Spirit we receive a new life from God. When we so love, we will be people who truly reflect the image of God.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Honor of Humanity Part 13 - Light

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on his apologetics series on The Honor of Humanity Part 13 on 5th November 2006.

All cultures and religions in the world have illuminated mankind and become the light of humanity. All religions contain hope. They have a direction towards eternity. On the other hand, culture gives direction regarding the present life.

But the light of religion and culture is limited because they are man-made. The light of salvation proclaimed in the Scriptures surpasses them all. All cultures that have been illuminated by the light of salvation in the Scriptures produce the greatest accomplishments.

What sort of light does humanity need? What sort of light is in us? How do we express the function of light? Who can illuminate others? What kind of persons can influence the generations to come? All these influences do not originate from the people themselves, but they are just reflecting the light that comes from God Himself.

God is light. As we are made in the image of God, we also can illuminate light. One of the important functions of life is illumination. Confucius may have died many hundred years ago but he is still influencing people today. That is because there is light in his life. This is part of the mark of humanity created in the image and likeness of God.

Nobody has shined like Jesus Christ. Only when a person reflect the light of Jesus Christ does he truly reflects the light of God. Jesus Christ is the Image of God in history. He Himself said, “I am the Light of the world.”

Jesus is light coming into the world, but the world is in darkness so it hates the light. Those who walk in truth walk in the light. Christ is the Light of God manifested in the world. Not a single religious leader in the world speaks like Jesus, “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men so that when they see your good deeds they will glorify your Father in heaven.”

In creation, the first thing God command into being is light. This is the first action of creation. “Let there be light.” And there is light. We should illuminate others, not because we are the light but we reflect light. We are not God. We are not Christ. We are not the Holy Spirit. We are human beings made in His image. We can reflect His light.

There are 3 types of light we can reflect: physical light, ethical light and spiritual light.

People like Edison and Einstein have illuminated the entire world with physical (scientific) light. Socrates, Ghandi, Confucius illuminate the world with the light of ethics. Their lives, character, wisdom, goodness, holiness, etc. can illuminate the world because men are made in the image of God.

But these two kinds of light are not sufficient. We need the light of the truth of God. We need the Holy Spirit to illuminate the truth to us.

The truth is given by God’s revelation in the Scriptures. The term ‘revelation’ means to open up a mystery. Only by Revelation we know the mystery and the content. In the work of Revelation, God gives us the appearance of Jesus Christ and the Scriptures.

But there is another work, which is illumination. This is different from the work revelation. Illumination means to give light. When we read the Bible, we have to read under the light. But the light needs to be reflected to us. Revelation is already complete. We cannot compare ourselves with the apostles and the prophets, through whom God gives His Revelation to us. We are Christians who receive illumination from the Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we can understand the Scriptures that are already revealed to us.

May we reflect God’s light that others might be illuminated because our life influence. Jesus is the Light of eternity and we are the created light. Are we living in the light? How many people have we influenced and brought to the light?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Honor of Humanity Part 12 - Righteousness Part II

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on his apologetics series on The Honor of Humanity Part 12 on 22th October 2006.
Note: There is a repeat of previous topic on Righteousness (part 7) so my transcript focuses on the part he did not preach earlier, which is on the righteousness relating to saving grace.

God considers Abraham, Job, Noah and Lot as righteous people. Confucianism contrasts a gentleman with a bad person. But the Bible contrasts a righteous person with a sinner. The righteousness meant in the Scriptures is related to salvation. It is the righteousness that surpasses good works.

It is not just about comparing a good with a bad person. Before God, a righteous person has a special status. We have lost our original righteousness, so there is a need to impute God’s righteousness upon us. The only way is through Jesus Christ.

The justification by faith consists of both passive and active righteousness. On the passive side, God no longer sees him as a sinner. On the active side, God imputes His righteousness unto us and with His righteousness in us we are now able to live a righteous life.

What kind of person is a righteous person? (These 5 points are similar to the transcript on part 7 on righteousness)

1. A person who is honest, genuine, faithful and loyal. He has integrity and is not a person who is always changing his mind.
2. A person who is just in his treatment towards all people and not a respecter of men.
3. A person who fills his life with the truth. We have all kinds of needs, but which ones do we prioritize? Greek wisdom puts reason as the guide to our emotion and sexual desires. However, this reason is fallen and still needs guidance. God’s Revelation should be our ultimate guide.
4. A person who can stand against sin and is directed by the will of God.
5. A person who sternly demands of himself to live a holy life.

Lot is considered a righteous person in that he grieved with sorrow towards the sin of the people around him. A righteous person would not delight in people’s sufferings or in exposing their sins. The way Joseph dealt with Mary’s pregnancy by wanting to divorce her quietly instead of exposing her to public disgrace showed his graciousness.

Christian receives not only the natural righteousness from the image of God as common grace, but also receives supernatural righteousness from saving grace.

Jesus said that unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisee, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. What righteousness does the Pharisee have? They do their best to fulfill the law but are centered on their own glory and they trust in their own righteousness. They represent the people who trust in their own religion and good works.

Because we are made in the image of God, we already have the image of God’s righteousness in us. But sin has stained us so this image has been marred. We need to be made righteous again in Jesus Christ. This is the righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisee.

Our righteousness is like fallen leaves and filthy rags before God. We try to solve sin with method of culture, that is, by covering up our sin. So Adam sewed fig leaves to cover himself. God will not accept it. God asked Adam to come out. God used another method. He killed an animal and made a garment for Adam to cover his shame. We need to get rid of our own religion and receive God’s salvation.

We may use a lot of cultural accomplishments to cover our sins but it would only last for a while. The true solution is to admit that our culture cannot solve our problem and receive God’s salvation through the death of Jesus Christ. Then we will have forgiveness and a new code of righteousness.

Through Christ’s righteousness imputed unto us, we can live a holy life and produce fruits of righteousness that is acceptable to God.