Friday, December 29, 2006

Humanity in Sin Part 2 - The Absolute Necessity of Trials

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on his apologetics series on the The Fall of Man on 3rd December 2006. This is his last sermon for the year. The next one will come in January 2007.

God is the God of self-control. The Triune God is a self-limiting God. God the Father willingly subjects His own freedom under the constraint of His morality. God the Son constrains Himself as God-Incarnate. God the Holy Spirit constrains Himself in revealing the truth through the Holy Scriptures.

We often ask why our freedom is constrained but we forget that God constrains His own freedom. He is worthy to demand us to constrain ourselves. Paul constrained himself by imitating Jesus Christ. He said the life he lived in the flesh, he lived by faith in the Son of God who loved him and died for him.

The self-limiting God is the true God. The self-constraint within righteousness guarantees that the freedom is eternal. The last fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control.

When God gives Adam freedom, it comes with a constraint. This constraint is an extension of the nature of God and is also His demand towards man as His creature. This is the real foundation why our freedom is constrained.

Next, when God create us, God allows us to go through a process where we can be made perfect through trials. He made us in original created perfection, but it is not the ultimate perfection. There is a need to go through a process of trials and temptation to attain ultimate perfection.

The qualitative perfection attained in salvation is also a process that grows quantitatively through sanctification. The perfection of a child is original, but the perfection of an old man is the perfection that has gone through trials. Trials are absolute necessity for ultimate perfection.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents morality. The tree of life represents life in the spirit. God does not mean to stop us from knowing good and evil, but He means that we cannot acquire the knowledge of good and evil in haphazard manner. If God really did not want us to know good and evil, why would He fill the Bible with a lot of such knowledge?

He does not want man to know things at the wrong time and from the wrong authority. The first one is the issue of order, the other one is the issue of authority. We should know and we can know good and evil, but the question is how we can know this at the right time and from what sort of authority we know good and evil.

For instance, can we know the knowledge of sex? If we cannot know, how can we be married? If we can know, why would parents keep this knowledge from the children while they are young? This is an issue of order and authority. Sexual immorality we see today is because the timing of the knowledge is wrong. And the knowledge is acquired from wrong authority.

All religion talks about good and evil. Only Christianity talks about life and death. In Genesis 3, this is clearly reflected. Men cannot live without religion and morality. How then do we know what is good and evil? What is the right timing for us to know?

When the right order is followed, a lot of problems are solved. We need to seek life from God first and then we can have the knowledge of good and evil. It is not the other way round. Yet all religions are within this sphere. They keep talking about good and evil, but not life and death. When we have the life of God in us, we will know what God is pleased with and what God is not pleased with.

Genesis 3 reveals to us all the wrongs that mankind commit to the end of the world. We should talk about morality after we receive the life of God. Knowledge will come from the source of wisdom. Knowledge comes because we have life. When we get this order right, we have true knowledge and true knowledge has great power. But wrong knowledge has the greatest destructive power.

We need to receive the wisdom of God. It is not that God does not want us to have knowledge. He gives us reason that we might discover and understand the mystery of His creation. But is it enough for reason to discover true natural knowledge? It is not enough. Other than reason, God has given us His revelation so that we can understand His will.

Trial is absolute necessity. Satan’s existence is part of the good plan of God. It is something nobody in history can escape. God gives us the answer why when He sent Jesus Christ to earth.

Jesus did not have special privileges when He came in the flesh. He was constrained in time and space just like us and received temptations. So we all likewise have no exception.

Jesus Christ suffered trials and temptations, overcame and entered into perfection. God led us this way to show how human history would unfold. Every human being in history will have to go through this process of trial. When we can understand this, we will not complain, grumble or give up. We will face all the things that would come in the process of our life.

Before God, we are given freedom. With this freedom, we can fall into sin. But it is not for the purpose of sin that He gives us freedom. And it is certainly not to treat us like toys, as God Himself too, from eternity to eternity, constrains Himself. As man is made in the image of likeness and given freedom, he could use it correctly or incorrectly.

Jesus suffered a lot more temptations than Adam. Adam was tempted in paradise. But Jesus was tempted in empty wilderness. Before Adam was tempted, he was not hungry. When Jesus was tempted, he had fasted for 40 days and was hungry. When Adam was tempted, the environment was beautiful. But Jesus was tempted in a horrifying situation where sin has reigned for thousands of years.

We can enter from original created perfection into the ultimate perfection God wills us to reach. With this understanding, we can save a lot of troubles and complaints in life. We will realize this is the way life should be.

We will understand that trials and temptations are absolute necessity. The existence of Satan is all right with me. The existence of trials is for my good. The tree of knowledge of good and evil is natural to me. In this environment, I learn to obey God and constrain myself by imitating Jesus Christ.

A lot of Christians today are afraid of trials and temptations and Satan. But they are already in the world, so they have no choice but to live on. So while living day by that, they walk in fear.

The courage to be is derived from being in Jesus Christ. Within us there is already a hope for victory. Jesus Christ is our example and our goal. We should have the courage to overcome and reject temptations, the courage to be and the courage to live in this crucial existence.

But we frequently rather pray that God would take away this tree. Or plead Him to take away the serpent.

Many parents want to create a garden of Eden for their kids where there is no tree and no serpent. However, these kids do not only live at home but will receive influence from the outside. Frequently, children of elders and deacons become those that oppose God the most, because their parents frequently think they are smarter than God in preparing good environment for their children.

Those who have never been tempted should not be proud because they may be the weakest one. Those who have received a lot of trials should not be discouraged as they would have been strengthened through trials.

We should not be afraid. We should understand that we are created to walk in such an environment and be sanctified through the process of trials.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Humanity in Sin Part 1 - The Tree of Knowledge of God and Evil

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on his apologetics series on The Fall of Man on 26th November 2006.

Many Christians respect the Scriptures but does not respect the church. Many people respect the holy lives of some Christians but find them not too intelligent. We have not fulfilled the potential in our reasoning. Faith is the return of the prodigal reason to the Truth.

Why would God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden? Why would God put the serpent in the garden to tempt man? Most people immediately look down on the Bible after reading this.

God made man from the dust of the earth and then gave limitation to man that they cannot partake of the fruit. And God also allow the serpent to tempt man. So doesn’t man become toys in God’s hand? This is a difficult question.

Human beings are the only beings that have both the physical and the metaphysical. The position of mankind is the point of contact between material and spiritual. We have dual ability to have relationship with physical and spiritual world.

Confucius says a gentleman would seek after Logos and not material things. This response has an error. It seems to him that a gentleman does not need to eat.

Jesus said that man shall not live by bread alone (but still need bread), but by every word that comes out from the mouth of God. Only when a person finds his value in God would he be truly satisfied.

When God made man, He not only provided for him all material food, but He also spoke to man. The command He gives to man intrinsically also becomes the gift of freedom.

If God does not want man to know good and evil, why would God reveal so much about good and evil in the Scriptures? But then why would God put the tree in the garden? Is knowing good and evil a matter of knowledge or a matter of wisdom? Knowledge is not the same as wisdom. Wisdom is the foundation of knowledge. Knowledge is the content of wisdom. Knowledge should be built upon wisdom.

God commanded man not to partake of the knowledge of good and evil because man needs wisdom behind this knowledge. Hence the purpose behind the command is related to wisdom rather than knowledge. It is the question of wisdom of knowing what sort of knowledge would bring death.

Is it absolute necessity for man to have trial? From general principle, it is of absolute necessity because of freedom is a mark of man’s dignity. But this freedom is constrained because only God has absolute freedom.

We have opportunity to exercise our freedom. Humanity gains perfection through a process. No perfection comes suddenly after receiving grace. So God allows trials and sufferings. These are necessities.

Why would God allow Satan to tempt Adam? God allows the opportunity for the existence of evil. Why would God not destroy the devil and allow him to bring all sorts of horrifying things to the people He loves?

Even the Son of God coming in the flesh did not have special privileges. Every single one of us goes through trials. He allows Satan to continue to demonstrate his errors and through that we see the trustworthiness of the truth of God.

When did the confusion between wisdom and knowledge begin? This is what causes agnosticism and relativity. It all goes back to Genesis 3. At that time, humanity heard both the words of God and the words of Satan. Satan’s question and statement to Eve is the beginning of epistemology. Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It concerns with the principle, the motivation, purpose, methodology, power, and result of knowledge.

“Has God said…?” This statement is very destructive. It planted seed of doubt on God’s motivation. Once Eve doubted, she took the lie as the truth and began to hate God. This method of knowledge is in all culture and is happening every day. When we plant doubt, we make people suspect. Relationships break down.

Does epistemology necessarily have the element of doubt inside? Paradoxically, doubt in itself is the opposite of knowledge. Should we doubt? But without doubt, how can we affirm the validity of knowledge? There are two kinds of doubt. One is the doubt that arises because something is hard to understand. This is healthy doubt. The other one is the doubt that is created because one has decided not to believe. This is destructive doubt.

When our starting point is wrong, the more we know the more confused we get. Eve doubted the absolute command of God and used absolute attitude towards the doubt that Satan plants, instead of doubting that doubt. We are in horrifying situation where most people are taking the epistemology of doubt towards absolute things. We should use skeptical attitude towards skeptical people. This way we can have victory over destructive forces.

When studying philosophy, we should not just look at the content, but also look at the motive behind one’s writing. Today many Christians lose their faith and many pastors are influenced by liberals because they have doubts about the Bible that is absolute, but never doubt those who throw those doubts. It is like allowing any outsiders to come in to search our house.

If we do not rebuild our knowledge from the right foundation, and keep building knowledge based on doubts people throw to us, our faith will go bankrupt.

God’s Word contains a lot of paradoxes. Satan’s words contain a lot of contradictions. Superficially they look the same, but in essence, paradoxes aim at reconciliation. Throughout history, often times right looks wrong and wrong looks right. Hence the Word of God becomes the object of our doubt and the words of Satan become the object of our trust. Absolute is made relative. Relative is made absolute.

After Eve eats of that tree, God no longer explains or gives the command all over again. He continues to allow us to use the freedom He gives us to listen to both His voice and the voice of the devil. The end result is either salvation or destruction.

So we are in a very scary situation. It is indeed very hard to live as a human. We are created between God and Satan, live between life and death, between the temporal and eternal, physical and spiritual. But in this state there is potential for great glory. It is God’s purpose to perfect us through this process.