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Reading the Bible to Be Transformed – Part 4

Allowing the Bible to Read Us

 

In the past few weeks we have dealt with:

  • The problem of Christian Transformation.
  • HSTP (Holy Spirit Truth Powered) Word of God
  • Knowledge Stool (Reason-Experience-Spiritual epistemologies)
  • The Price and Cost of Transformation.
  • The Biblical Method of Transformation.

 

Today we need an exhortation to further motivate us to assume the right posture (naked and exposed) before God’s HSTP word that we might allow it to read us – to transform us.

  • I think some of us still think there is another way – an easier way.

 

And to do that, I need to repeat the nature of the day-to-day condition of the believer.

  • My intent is to disavow you of any notion that fighting sin and seeking transformation outside of God’s HSTP word has any value at all – it is utter foolishness.
  • To do this, I will use some imagery from WWI and Jeremiah.

 

(Eschatologically, of course, believers will be fully sanctified and made complete when we are glorified with Christ.)

 

Transformed by What:

  • So, on a practical day-to-day basis, transformation is always occurring in our lives.

 

If we are not being transformed –

  • (1) By the HSTP Word of God into the likeness of Christ
    • Then
  • (2) We are being transformed by our flesh/world into the likeness of the world.

 

Consider what this means…

 

(1) Given that transformation –

  • “Implies being grasped, controlled and shaped” by something – M. Robert Mulholland.
  • And that if we are not being transformed by God’s HSTP word, we are being “grasped, controlled and shaped” by the world.

 

(2) This means that instead of God the Creator shaping the creature –

  • God’s fallen creation is shaping the creature.
  • Say What?
  • No possible good can come from this.
  • It is complete foolishness – the blind leading the blind.

 

There will be very little, if any, victory over sin and transformation into the likeness of Christ in this scenario.

  • This way of living is not going to produce a sin killing walk.
  • No matter how much we want to kill our sin (intent), this approach “ain’t gonna get it done”.

 

Elusive “Success”:

Now, from this stance in the world we can seek to fight sin and be transformed.

  • And I suspect this is how most of us fight sin.
    • The way Naaman wanted to be healed.
  • In fact, no doubt, this is probably because it is the easiest way.
    • Our waters are better than the Jordan’s.

 

The problem, however, is that its method of sin fighting is by “will power and check lists”.

  • It is artificial and short-lived.
  • The enemy is far too clever to be outwitted by our methods.

 

From this stance, the day isn’t spent in victory over sin, but in thinking about not sinning.

  • It doesn’t take long before we tire of this and give in.
  • No matter how much effort, preparation, and willpower we exert success remains elusive.

 

I can’t help but think of how A World Undone described many WW1 battles.

  • They portray the futility of fighting sin from a worldly footing.

 

Hindenburg Line:

The Germans on the Western Front created a virtually impenetrable defensive line called the Hindenburg Line.

 

G.J. Meyer describes it:

“The Hindenburg Line, as it took shape, proved far too formidable for the humble term trench warfare to remain appropriate. It began with a trench, but one that was to remain unoccupied. This trench was almost ten feet deep and twelve feet across— a trap for tanks, and an equally forbidding obstacle for men advancing on foot. Behind it, one after another, were five or more rows of barbed and razor wire, each row twelve feet deep and twice a man’s height, each twenty yards distant from the next. Then came the blockhouses, with two machine guns in each. Beyond them— dangerously far beyond, for enemy infantry trying to advance under fire— lay the first true line, a largely underground beehive of chambers and passageways covered with up to eight yards of earth and impregnable to artillery and bombs. Farther back still, also down below the  surface and positioned wherever possible on a reverse slope so as to be almost unreachable by artillery, were two lines of guns. This was defensive warfare raised to a new plane. It appeared to be invulnerable. It was the work of a commander of immense vision, energy, and ambition— a man prepared to bend the entire German Empire to his purposes” – G.J. Meyer.

 

The Entente (sin fighters for our purposes) prepared and strategized for months before attacking the line.

  • They built hundreds of miles of roads.
  • They laid thousands of miles of communication cables.
  • And then they attacked.
  • Their intention was to win.

 

They would first launch a massive artillery barrage – the numbers are mind-boggling.

  • They would then send wave after wave of calvary, tanks and men into the German lines.
  • The end result was almost always a complete massacre.

 

G.J. Meyer explains:

“The Germans simply pointed their machine guns at these knots of flesh and cut them down in swaths. ‘We were surprised to see them walking,’ said a German machine-gunner. ‘We had never seen that before… When we started to fire we just had to load and reload. They went down in their hundreds. We didn’t have to aim, we just fired into them’…‘again and again the extended lines of British infantry broke against the German defense like waves against a cliff, only to be beaten back’” – G.J. Meyer.

 

This is fighting sin and seeking transformation from a stance grounded in the world.

  • It is like attacking the Hindenburg Line on a horse with sword drawn.
  • It is suicide and leads to disillusionment.
  • In fact, French soldiers were so disillusioned by this warfare they mutinied.
  • Some “Christians” walk away from the Church.

 

Jeremiah’s Shrubs and Trees:

But lest we get too caught up in worldly illustration, Jeremiah paints a beautiful word picture of this principal at work.

  • I want to unpack his words just a bit.
  • The images he unleashes are incredibly powerful and are worth meditating on every day!

 

Jeremiah 17:5–8 (ESV) — 5 Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6 He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

 

1) Bush in the Desert – Attacking the Hindenburg Line:

Jeremiah speaks of a man who “is like a shrub in the desert”.

  • It doesn’t take much to visualize this scenario.
  • This man/bush is parched, dying, thirsting, dry, brittle, colorless, unsatisfied.

 

Jeremiah tells us how this dreadful state of existence occurred – how the man became a “shrub in the desert”.

  • “trusts in man”
  • “makes flesh his strength”
  • “heart turns away form the Lord”
  • “dwell in the parched places of wilderness”
  • “dwell in…an uninhabited salt land”

 

(1) The first three bring us right back to who is on the throne – us or Christ.

  • Are we going to attack the Hindenburg line our way or relent, submit, and posture ourselves to God’s way?
  • Are we going to rely on our will power and intent or the HSTP word of God?
  • For the believer, to do anything other is to turn “away from the Lord”.

 

(2) And the last two descriptions Jeremiah uses are ripe with symbolism.

  • The OT often contrasts the wilderness with the Promised Land.
    • The Promised Land representing God’s intent for the elect.
  • Moreover, the “wilderness”/“uninhabited salt land” also harken back to the land outside of the Garden of Eden (Sailhamer).
    • Unfettered fellowship with God.
    • Having God’s best.
  • And as we saw from Joshua, wilderness can carry with it the ANE idea of chaos.
    • Outside of the ordering influence of God.

 

So what is Jeremiah telling the Christian about living life under the shaping influence of the world?

 

2) Tree by the Water – HSTP Word of God:

Then Jeremiah speaks of a man who “is like a tree planted by water”.

  • “sends out its roots by the stream”
  • “does not fear when heat comes”
  • “leaves remain green”
  • “is not anxious in the year of drought”
  • “does not cease to bear fruit”

 

(1) It does no good to be near the water if one’s roots aren’t “sent out” to it.

  • So nearness isn’t enough – a root system must be grown.
  • Only coming to Church and Bible study is simply “being near the water”.

 

I think of Casting Crowns “Thrive” album cover art:

  • It conveys well the necessity of roots.

 

casting-crowns-thrive-album-art

 

For the believer, having roots goes back to the time and cost we talked about a couple week ago.

  • Things like going to Church, Bible Study, etc., are certainly part of cultivating a thriving root system.
  • But they are not enough.
  • One must also be submitting to the HSTP word of God in the profound ways we have been learning about.

 

(2) There is still heat and drought in spite of our Union with Christ.

  • But, contentment settles in regardless of the heat and drought (circumstances).
  • That is, when contentment’s source is God and His HSTP Word and not our efforts.

 

(3) And regardless of the circumstances, fruit is continually borne.

  • Direct evidence that one’s roots have been cultivated and are immersed in God’s HSTP word.

 

From this posture there is a real and lasting victory over sin.

  • The day is spent in praise and wonder that sin “x” has lost its power over you.
  • Your work in sin fighting bears fruit because it is not “will powered” but powered by the HSTP word.

 

But this posture is Isaiah’s “undone”.

  • It is the “naked and exposed”.
  • It is the “costly”.
  • But, it is the only way.

 

 

Reading the Bible to be Transformed – Part 3

Allowing the Bible to Read Us

 

 

How Does the HSTP Word Transform Us?

Having understood the cost of transformation – of allowing the Bible to read you –

  • We also need to know exactly how the HSTP Word of God accomplishes this transformation.
  • We can’t have any false perceptions and expectations.

 

The Bible leaves no doubt that God’s word is at work in us.

  • 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (ESV) — 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

 

A great place to see exactly how the HSTP word of God is “at work” is Hebrews 4.

  • Its imagery conveys graphically the way God’s word works.
  • And in doing so, further highlights for us the pain and cost of transformation.

 

Hebrews 4:12–13 (ESV) — 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

 

We are going to focus are attention on the:

  • living and active” (vs. 12)
  • sharper…piercing…soul and of spirit…joints and of marrow” (vs. 12)
  • all are naked and exposed” (vs. 13)

 

Living and Active Word:

(1) “Living and active” means this (D.A. Carson):

  • Isaiah 55:11 (ESV) — 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
  • God’s word does this because it is HSTP – as we saw last week.

 

This is massively encouraging for the believer longing to be transformed.

  • God’s word does not fail!
  • It does what it says it does.

 

(2) It also carries with it the following idea:

  • To be “confronted by the word of God, we are confronted by God himself, and nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight” – D.A. Carson.
  • Because God’s Word is HSTP, we are confronted not just with God’s thoughts and ways, but His “living and active” thoughts and ways.

 

BTW – This is exactly why “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” are unable to hide, and are left exposed.

 

The importance of this is found in the following observations:

  • “The inner life of a Christian is often a strange mixture of motivations both genuinely spiritual and completely human. It takes…the Word of God to sort these out and to expose what is of the flesh” – BKC.

“God’s word penetrates to the deepest recesses of our being, opening us up and judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” – D.A. Carson.

 

(3) “Living and Active” also relates directly to the third leg on the knowledge stool form last week.

  • By the Spirit, in Christ, we exist in relationship to God’s Word spiritually and physically in a real way.

God’s word trades in both spiritual and physical realities to transform the believer.

  • The world has no way to comprehend this at all.

 

Sharp-Piercing-Soul-Spirit-Joints-Marrow Word:

Obviously, this is not an attempt to convey the physiology and spiritual nature of humanity.

  • Here Hebrews is using a powerful metaphor to direct our attention to some profound truths.

 

(1) The writer of Hebrews is making clear that there is not one part of you that is immune to being shaped by God’s word.

  • The idea behind the “of soul and of spirit” and “of joints and of marrow” points to, in the Christian sense, the “whole person” – Michael Heiser.
  • What this means is that there is not anything that you are doing or thinking that is unable to be transformed by God’s HSTP word.
  • Your depravity is never too much to be transformed by God’s word.

 

(2) This language also speaks of the thoroughness of the action of God’s word.

“The Wod of God goes to the very center of what we are. It cuts through to that which bonds us together as a being” – M. Robert Mulholland.

 

How do we know this?

 

The Louw-Nida lexicon makes this point about the use of “joints”:

  • “The emphasis is not upon the joints as a moving part of the body but as a means by which different parts of the body are effectively joined together” – Louw-Nida.
  • Or put another way, Hebrews is referring to that which “holds the parts of something in proper relationship” – Mulholland.

 

This is very important to grasp.

  • Your identity is “joined together” by a variety of different things.
  • These things are your experiences, worldview, psychology, etc.
  • God’s HSTP word can penetrate these things and remake them.

 

What about the marrow?

 

The “marrow” is “that which is at the heart or essence of something” – Mulholland.

  • In other words, the thing around which the parts are “assembled” and “joined together”.
  • For the Christian, this “thing” is to be Christ.
  • You are a new creation in Christ and are to be “joined together” by the Spirit around Him.

 

Problem – Beware:

All of this points us to a problem (yet another reason for the pain of transformation):

  • The believer, compared to the old-self, has a new “heart or essence” and is “joined together” differently than he used to be (this is what happens at regeneration).
    • This is a fact even though we can’t see this or “feel” this.

 

And yet, the old-self (the flesh) is still exerting its influence.

  • Romans 7:15–16 (ESV) — 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

 

So how does God’s HSTP word contend with this?

 

By His HSTP word, God does the following:

  • He, and often painfully, excises the old-self from the new-self with His word.
  • He cuts away the flesh of the old-self (NT sense) from our new identity found in Union with Christ.
  • When we go down to the Jordan He can cut; when we stay in the waters of Damascus He doesn’t.

 

This process has been beautifully described as:

  • God “‘shaping persons’ identities so decisively as to transform them” – David Kelsey.
  • The very thing we are learning about – being transformed by God’s Word.
  • It is the “so decisively” part that can be painful and costly.

 

And this process is a picture of what it means when I say –

  • We must learn to let the Bible read us.

 

Naked and Exposed Before God’s Word:

It is already clear from what we have seen thus far that we are “naked and exposed” before God’s word.

  • But, the imagery conveyed with this phrase is even more startling that what we have seen already.

 

Naked” carries with it the humiliating notion of “exposure to examination” – Heiser.

  • God’s “living and active” HSTP word is brutal to the flesh.
  • And for those who remain in the flesh – judgment and condemnation results.
  • We either submit to it or we run from it.
    • Standing still is running.

 

Exposed” contains such violent imagery, that I will quote Kenneth Wuest at length:

“The verb means ‘to seize and twist the neck or throat.’ It was used of combatants who handled their antagonists in that way. It meant also ‘to bend back the neck of the victim to be slain, to lay bare or expose by bending back.’ Hence the verb came to mean ‘to lay bare, to uncover, to expose.’ The three possible metaphors in this case seem to be (1), the athlete grasping his opponent by the throat; (2), the bending back of the malefactor’s neck and the exposing of his face to the spectators; and (3), the drawing back and the exposing of the neck of the sacrificial victim at the altar. The last one suits the previous figure of a sword better than the others. The metaphor of the victim’s throat bared to the sacrificial knife is a vivid illustration of the total exposure of the human heart to the eye of God whose inspired Word is as keen as a two-edged sword.”

 

Jeremiah hints at this aspect of God’s word, but in a more palatable way:

  • Jeremiah 23:29 (ESV) — 29 Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

 

This aspect of God’s word should invoke a little healthy fear of God.

  • Why?
  • Because, this means that to transform us is, in a sense, to be judged by God.
  • The aspects of our “joints and marrow” that don’t mirror Christ are judged and found wanting.

 

And this aspect of God’s word is shown in a profound way in Revelation.

  • Revelation 19:13–15 (ESV) — 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
  • This is the “living and active” confronting the “naked and exposed”.
  • This is real stuff and aptly demonstrates the real power of God’s word in all its meanings.

 

Are we willing to posture ourselves naked and exposed before God, and His Word?

  • And from that vulnerable posture, submit to being pierced by its “two-edged sword”?
  • This is how to let the Bible read you and transform your life.