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Justification: How people can be made right with God

Three times in today’s Bible reading Jesus talks about people who misunderstand justification. Justification has to do with the question of, “What does it take for a person to be right with God?” It was the central question of the Reformation. As I said in my sermon series on the Five Solas of the Reformation, the Bible alone tells us that people are made right with God by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone and God alone is glorified in justification. (Note the five solas, the five alones)

In today’s reading from Luke 18:9-14, the Pharisee misunderstood justification in thinking that he could be justified by his righteous behavior. Looking at his behavior, he glorified himself. But the tax collector was justified by grace alone, because of his faith … alone.

In our reading from Luke 18:18-30, the Rich Young Ruler also looked at his behavior, thinking that he would be justified on those grounds. Jesus said that he needed to sell everything he had to give it to the poor and then to follow Him. The young man went away sad because he had a lot. Actually, a lot had him! He wasn’t willing to deny himself, take up his cross daily to follow Jesus. (Luke 9:23) Again, he didn’t understand that justification came through grace alone through faith alone.

In the final instance, the Blind Man wanted to recover his sight. (Luke 18:35-43) When Jesus asked him what he wanted, he responded, “I want to see.” He thought he wanted to see in the physical realm, but Jesus gave him spiritual sight in addition to physical sight. Jesus highlighted that he was saved because of his faith alone. As a result, the man glorified God alone.

The Bible alone tells us about justification. You cannot hear the truth of how people can be right with God anywhere else but the Bible. Not your own thoughts. Not other “holy books”. Not other religions. Only in the Bible will you hear that you can’t earn justification. And that glorifies God alone!

Application

Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ alone for your hope of being right with God? Nothing else but faith in Jesus will give you a right standing with God. It isn’t Jesus plus anything. You can only be justified by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone. It’s a very unfair exchange. We bring sin and Jesus brings holiness. God makes us righteous because of what Jesus did, if we will only put our faith in Jesus.

Because the Bible alone reveals that people can only be justified by grace (unearned favor) alone, through faith (not behavior) alone in Jesus Christ (no other religious leader) alone God alone receives the glor.

That was the heart cry of the Reformation.
And that’s the gospel truth!

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Translation Continuum
(c) Copyright 2019 RC Beaman
The Translation Continuum

Jesus talks about faith in today’s Bible reading. In response to the Disciples’ request for Jesus to increase their faith, He says, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:6 (CSB) But is that what Jesus said?

Whenever I bring up the question of the way a Bible verse should be translated, please hear me clearly that I believe that the translators of the modern English translations have done a fantastic job of faithfully communicating God’s Word from the original language to modern English. But different translations depend on different translation goals. Some translations aim to translate the words faithfully, other translations aim to translate the thoughts faithfully. Most translations fall somewhere between these two “extremes”.

I posted a larger version of my translation continuum. You’ll see the terms “Formal Equivalence” on one end of the continuum and “Functional Equivalence” (also called Dynamic Equivalence) on the other end. Formal Equivalence aims to faithfully translate the Bible in a “literal”, word-for-word way. Functional Equivalence aims to faithfully translate the Bible in a less formal, thought-for-thought way. Neither “Formal” nor “Functional” translation philosophy is “better” than another; they just have different purposes. So to best understand the Bible, it’s often helpful to read and study from a variety of translations, preferably from a different translation philosophy.

There are a few English translations that truly are “literal” translations. But trust me, these translations are very difficult to read because they translate words in the order they appear in the original language. For instance, to translate a familiar passage, John 3:16 literally, you would read,

“Thus for he loved the God the world so that the son the only begotten he gave, in order that all the believing into him not they shall perish but they shall have life eternal..”

How awkward!

As you can see from my translation continuum diagram, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is probably the most popular modern translation on the “literal” end of the translation continuum. Another popular modern translation on the “literal” end of the continuum, but not quite as “wooden” and thus, more readable is the English Standard Version (ESV)   Near-paraphrases would fall on the other end of the translation continuum. The Message could be called a near-paraphrase. The Living Bible (LB) was truly a paraphrase rather than a translation.

I often use the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) in my devotionals and in my preaching. The CSB translators aimed at creating an “optimal equivalence” to be as formal as possible, while making it as readable as possible.

It’s a slight difference, and I don’t want to split theological hairs, but the ESV does a better job of communicating Jesus’ comments on mustard seed faith in Luke 17:6. It reads “faith like a mustard seed” rather “faith the size of a mustard seed”.

Jesus’ emphasis is not on the size of your faith, but rather the character of your faith. The context of the Disciples’ request for an increase of their faith supports the translation, “faith like a mustard seed”. Yes, a mustard seed is small, about the size of the sesame seed on your hamburger bun. But it doesn’t stay small for very long. The mustard bush can be as large as ten feet high! And Jesus rightly points out that it’s large enough for birds to build their nests. (Luke 13:19)

Acknowledgment: A friend pointed out the mustard seed character vs. size one morning after Sunday School. Thanks, Don!

According to The CSB Study Bible, the mulberry tree is known for its extensive and deep root system and they could live for several hundred years. So for a mulberry tree to be uprooted would be a tremendous task! It couldn’t be done with a small, dormant faith, but it could be done with a dynamic, growing faith like a mustard seed.

Application

Do you merely have a small faith? Or do you have a growing faith?

As the Disciples did, ask God to grow your faith. Now, note that in asking God to grow your faith, you will be challenged in your faith. Remember that accomplished sailors get their experience from sailing in both calm and rough seas. And the only thing that was ever produced by very rare storms is a dry, scorched desert!

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The Hebrew Tittle

Take a look at the two Hebrew letters on the left. If I had not highlighted the difference, do you think you would have caught it? It’s small. Almost unnoticeable. But that tiny difference between these two letters can make a big difference! The letter on the left is R and the letter on the right is D. That one tiny stroke makes a different letter. Similarly, one tiny stroke makes the difference in the English letters E and F. And dealing with those tiny strokes in Hebrew is why I began to wear glasses!

Jesus gives us a word picture in today’s Bible reading. He says that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” Luke 16:17 (KJV)

We rarely use the word tittle anymore. Modern translations use “stroke of a letter” instead of tittle. The difference between the Hebrew B and D and the difference between the English E and F is called a tittle.

Jesus says that it’s more likely for heaven and earth to fall apart than for God’s Word to be corrupted. “Ah”, the skeptic would say, “but there are differences in the Bible’s manuscripts!” The skeptic is correct. As we compare manuscripts and scrolls of the Bible, yes, there are some small differences. There may even be some tittles added or missing when you look closely. But, I would add that those small differences are virtually insignificant.

Thanks to the abundance of manuscripts, scholars can go back and recreate the original texts with a very high degree of certainty. When they compare the manuscripts against each other, they can easily determine slips of the pen that a scribe made. Those uncrossed t’s, undotted i’s, as well as the extra or missing tittles are easily recognized. And you know what? In “all of these mistakes”, not a single Bible doctrine is affected by the mistake.

You may have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In November 1946, a young shepherd was throwing rocks into caves in the area of Qumran, Jordan and heard pottery break. He went inside the cave and found several pottery jars with scrolls rolled up inside. Over the next few years, more scrolls were discovered. As scholars studied the scrolls, they found some of them to be Old Testament Scriptures and were almost 1000 years older than the oldest scrolls known to exist. When they compared the Dead Sea Scrolls to the oldest scrolls they had, scholars discovered the differences to be minuscule.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrated God’s sovereign hand in preserving His Word over the centuries.

Application

God’s Word can be trusted, in part, because God has preserved His Word for His people. Given that God cares so much to preserve His Word for His people, I can’t state too strongly the importance of studying His preserved Word. God’s people have literally bled and died trying to get God’s Word into your hands.

If God can preserve tittles over thousands of years, don’t you think that He can handle the smallest details of your life? Spend a few minutes today thanking God for caring about the little things. And thank Him for the little ways He cares for you.

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Teach us to pray

Dr. Luke gives his version of the Disciples’ Prayer in today’s Bible reading. It differs a little from Matthew’s version (Matthew 6:9-13), the version many of us learned growing up in church. And yet the version we learned adds a little to the end, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

Why are there so many versions of the prayer Jesus taught His disciples? The fact that there are different versions only proves the Bible is full of contradictions, right?

Uh, no! The fact that there are different versions just illustrates that different people remembered different things from their life experiences walking around with Jesus. Whoever Dr. Luke used for his source for this version of the Prayer may have only heard it this way. Whereas, Matthew wrote what he heard. Jesus may have been asked this question once and was heard by both people at the same time. Or Jesus may have taught the Prayer more than once and each source simply recorded what they heard on that occasion.

Add to that, the longer version of the Prayer that most of us learned so many years ago actually came from later manuscripts where scribes added some of their own traditions to the Biblical Prayer.

None of this should surprise us; it merely points to the fact that God used regular human beings to put together and preserve our Bible. We need to be careful in applying today’s understanding of recording history to the way the Bible writers recorded history; they recorded history differently than we do. A high view of Scripture allows for each Biblical writer to contribute his unique nuances. Rather than giving us contradictory information, each Biblical writer provides his own complementary information.

Don’t get lost in the minutiae of the differences in the versions or the manuscripts which contain a few more words than another. The Bottom Line is that God has preserved His Word for us over almost two thousand years in a remarkably consistent way. Rather than getting caught up with the differences, look at the similar content and augment that with the different content. And remember that Jesus didn’t teach His disciples to commit to rote memory a few static sentences.

Note, the disciples didn’t ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. Instead, they asked Him to teach them to pray.

Application

Oftentimes we approach prayer as an opportunity to bring our shopping list to God. Over time, we tend to get the “gimmes”: Gimme this. Gimme that. And gimme lots of these other things.

Note that in Jesus’ prayer, only one sentence pertains to requesting something for ourselves. And that request is simply for our needs. Most of the prayer is praising God, asking Him to keep doing what He’s already doing, and confessing of our own shortcoming as we forgive the shortcomings of others.

There’s nothing wrong with asking God for stuff. Actually, we are encouraged to take our requests to God. (Philippians 4:6; Ephesians 6:18) Think about it, if God is our Provider, failing to ask Him to provide is to fail to glorify Him as our Provider!

How do your prayers compare with Jesus’? Are your prayers filled with “gimmes”? Are your prayers filled with praise? Thanksgiving? If you tend to spend more time requesting things — for yourself or for others — try spending a little time doing nothing but praising God for Who He is and thanking Him for what He’s done.

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Despite what some preachers may tell you these days, you cannot unhitch the New Testament from the Old Testament. Today’s Bible reading demonstrates this fact.

John the Baptizer was Jesus’ cousin. Luke recorded Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:21-22. But just before baptizing Jesus, Dr. Luke referred to Isaiah’s prophecy, saying that someone would come, announcing the Messiah’s birth (Isaiah 40:3-5). I don’t know if John realized he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy or not. I don’t know how aware he was of his situation, but he did make mention of Jesus being the Lamb of God Who takes away the world’s sins. (John 1:29)

Anyway… when John’s disciples come to Jesus asking if He is the One they’re waiting for, Jesus refers back to Isaiah 61 — the very passage He had read from when the synagogue officials handed Isaiah’s scroll to Him in Luke 4!

“The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn.” Isaiah 61:1–2 (CSB)

Jesus responds, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news,” Luke 7:22 (CSB)

Reading Isaiah’s prophecy and Jesus’ response to John’s disciples side-by-side, you cannot deny that Jesus is applying Isaiah to Himself: good news, healing, and liberty.

After John’s disciples leave, Jesus refers back to Isaiah 40, telling the crowd that John’s was the voice that cried out in the wilderness:

A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 40:3–5 (CSB)

Yes, John’s was the voice that Isaiah said would cry out in the desert, urging everyone to prepare for the Messiah’s arrival. And Jesus was the Messiah!

Application

Have you had trouble understanding the Old Testament? Have you struggled to figure out how the two Testaments fit together, if at all?

I can tell you that I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I have questioned why Christians even need to read the Old Testament. But not anymore! The more I read the New Testament, the more of the Old Testament I see in it.

Listen to Jesus. Listen to Peter. Listen to Paul and the other New Testament writers. The words of the Prophets and the words of the Psalmists roll off their lips. They knew their Bible. And their Bible was what we call the Old Testament.

As you read through the New Testament this year, don’t gloss over the references back to the Old Testament. When you read the Old Testament, ask yourself, “Where is Jesus in this passage?” If you look a little closer, you’ll see Jesus on every page of the Old Testament. And you’ll find the Old Testament quoted or alluded to over and over again in the New Testament. It’s as if God planned it all along!

The Old Testament. The New Testament. It’s all part of One Big Story: The relentless pursuit of God for His people in a covenant relationship.

Don’t read the Bible, trying to unhitch it from its overall context. It wasn’t written that way! If your Bible has cross-references, use them to see how God interweaves His Word with His Word. You’ll be amazed to see how awesome God is!

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1 2 3 22

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