How is it that a Holy, Righteous, Just, and Omnipotent God can save wretched, miserable, imperfect, unrighteous, and corrupted sinners from the wrath to come? Most of us know the Gospel (Good News) that tells us that Jesus proceeded from the Father and is the second person of the Holy Trinity. The Father decreed, and the Son obeyed. Jesus laid aside His Kingship, Omnipotence, Omniscience, and many other attributes to humble Himself to become a man. He did this so that He could live on earth, display some signs for the Jews through the power of the Holy Spirit (Third Person of the Trinity) and eventually give Himself up to be tortured, beaten, mocked, and abused to pay for the sins of the world. He drank the cup of "wrath" that the Father gave him. He was forsaken and abused for our sakes. The Son died and was killed to pay the ransom for the sins of the world. Then, after His job was done, He grabbed His power back and rose from the dead. He appeared to 500 or so souls who then were employed to be witnesses of Him and His Kingdom after He ascended into heaven to rule the heavenly Kingdom. He will return at the consummation of this age. So how is it that He speaks to us some 1980 years after His resurrection? Most of the Apostles thought that He would return and set up His Kingdom on earth before they died, even though Jesus predicted their deaths.
There is a friendly discussion among Christians on how God works in our day. I have friends who are strict Cessationists who hold to the idea that all Apostolic gifts and inspiration ceased after their deaths. Now I would agree with the inspiration part and I guess you could call me a partial Cessationist. There isn't any "new" revelation being imparted today save the Scriptures. The Bible is our complete revelation from God through imperfect men for us to learn and grow from. I also want to add that the imperfect men passed on the written word to be preserved by more imperfect men. What's more is that there are different copies of these letters and some of them vary in content. With the exception of the Old Testament, the New Testament Manuscripts vary based on the "family" of manuscripts they come from. Nobody knows for sure where the variation came from. Most of the variants have no effect on actual content. However, they are intriguing. Most of my life, I thought there was one parent manuscript that they all came from, but I am not entirely sure that some of the letters written were duplicated by the Apostles and therefore maybe the second edition had something added or taken away. I suppose we'll never know this side of heaven. The texts don't vary much in content, but enough to notice. I have been studying "Textual Criticism" and the History of the Bible since the late 1990's. Today I have my ideas and preferences, but as an imperfect man I am limited in my understanding and information. The truth about the science of Textual Criticism or any science for that matter is that we all have piles of information, but since "we" weren't witnesses to the events or the history that has been given, we don't really know firsthand (1 Corinthians 13:12). Everything has to be taken objectively. There are a lot of good reasons to believe the testimony of the Bible, but since we weren't there, we have to take what we do know by faith. That is where the power of God comes into the picture.
Some religions say that their god orally dictated their book to them, or they say an angel gave it to them, or they fell into a trance and they wrote being possessed by some higher being. Not our Bible. God "moved holy men" to write His book (2 Peter 1:21).
|by the Holy Ghost.|
These men were moved by the Holy Spirit to write, yet, they all wrote differently. It's not really that amazing when a god gives a perfect writing to an imperfect man, or possesses him to write apart from his own will. However, it is truly a miracle when an Omnipotent and Holy God chooses someone like Moses or Saul of Tarsus to write for Him in their own words. If you think about it, what makes Jesus, the Bible, and the ways of the One True God intriguing is that He never does things like we would do it. Everything is unconventional from our culture as human beings. If you were to go to individuals and ask them how they would communicate information to humankind if they were God, I bet none of them would pick the way God has done it. From the life of Christ to the preservation of His Holy writ, God does things His own way. God is perfect, and uses imperfect means. How does He do it? Men are imperfect, and we tend to communicate and transmit information in imperfect ways. Nevertheless, we are called to perfection and expected to live thus. What is perfection? Most of us think it just means "without error."
PER'FECT, adjective [Latin perfectus, perficio, to complete; per and facio, to do or make through, to carry to the end.] Finished; complete; consummate; not defective; having all that is requisite to its nature and kind; as a perfect statue; a perfect likeness; a perfect work; a perfect system.PER'FECT, verb transitive [Latin perfectus, perficio.] To finish or complete so as to leave nothing wanting; to give to any thing all that is requisite to its nature and kind; as, to perfect a picture or statue. 2 Chronicles 8:16.
When Jesus said: "Be perfect like your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:48)." What did He mean?
Perfect - τέλειος - teleios: Brought to its end, finished. Wanting nothing necessary to completeness/ perfect. That which is perfect. Consummate human integrity and virtue/ of men. Full grown, adult, of full age, mature.
There you go. So why does everyone and everything seem so incomplete? Well, the context of Jesus words in Matthew 5 are as follows:
"You have heard that it has been said, You will love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love them who love you, what reward have you? do not even the publicans do the same? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? do not even the publicans do so? You therefore be perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:43-48
One of the great "errors" of Bible interpretation is to take a verse like the last one there and expand it to everything inside and outside of the context from where it came. Beyond Matthew 5 here, there isn't anywhere else for you to go. Now we know that Jesus is urging His hearers to love their enemies here. If you think about it, all sinners are enemies of God. God is righteous, holy, and perfect in "every way." There is nobody like Him. Is Jesus urging His hearers to be like that? or to be more like He is in His voluntary and humble state on earth? He did say to be perfect like your Father in heaven. Jesus and the Father are One (John 10:30). I think it is obvious given the rest of the New Testament witness that we are to be like Jesus Christ and how He was on earth producing the fruits of the Spirit. How on earth can any man or woman achieve such an ability? Not unless God gives it to him or her. Another fight inside of Christianity is how God perfects the believer in Christ. You have every theory from fatalism to sheer human will. The truth is that we are clay in the potters hand, while at the same time, we are accountable to Him for our actions. The truth is that we don't really know how this all works aside from what the Bible tells us. Nevertheless, we must listen and strive for perfection every day. John tells us in his Epistle:
My little children, these things write I to you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that says, I know him, and does not keep his commandments (including confession and repentance), is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keeps his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby we know that we are in him. He that says he abides in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." 1 John 2:1-6
In this paragraph John urges his hearers to be perfect while at the same time reminding them to confess and repent if they stumble off of the path. That strains on the mind and the conscience! Some have used these verses wrongly, thinking that they somehow give sinners a license to sin. However, truth be known, this text is a comfort to the one "striving" for perfection in this life, knowing that his only hope is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No matter how hard we try, we will "always" in this life fall short in one way or another. Only the kingdom of God is available to those who are perfect (Titus 3:4-5), who are being perfected (2 Corinthians 2:15), and who will be perfected (Romans 5:9-10). All three are applicable and true. If it doesn't make sense, well, welcome to the club. God's ways and thoughts are much higher than ours (Isaiah 55). He is not bound by time and space like we are, and there are a lot of mysteries yet to be solved.
So how is it that God uses imperfect men and varying Bible translations and manuscripts to give Himself glory? I have seen people find God through a paraphrase like "The Message," and I have seen some saved through the classic words of the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible. I have also seen enlightenment and grace imparted to the one reading Judith by the encouragement of Clement of Rome who was a disciple of Peter and Paul. I don't mean to be wishy washy, but the truth is that there are a lot of things that we don't fully understand when it comes to the God of the universe. Justin Martyr said in his Second Apology:
"For I myself, perceiving the wicked disguise which the evil demons had cast over the divine doctrines of the Christians, in order to avert others from joining them, laughed both at those who framed these falsehoods, and at the disguise itself, and at popular opinion. And I confess that I both pray and with all my strength strive to be found a Christian; not because the teachings of Plato are different from those of Christ, but because they are not in every respect equal, as neither are those of the others, Stoics, and poets, and historians. For each person spoke well, according to the part present in him of the divine logos, the Sower, whenever he saw what was related to him (as a person). But they who contradict themselves on the more important points appear not to have possessed the hidden understanding and the irrefutable knowledge. Therefore, whatever things were rightly said among all people are the property of us Christians. For next to God, we worship and love the logos who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God, since also He became man for our sakes, that, becoming a partaker of our sufferings, He might also bring us healing. For all the writers were able to see realities darkly, through the presence in them of an implanted seed of logos. For the seed and imitation of something, imparted according to capacity, is one thing, and another is the thing itself, the part possession and imitation of which is effected according to the grace coming from Him." Justin Martyr 155-157 A.D. "Ancient Christian Writers" Vol 56 Paulist Press pp. 84
There is a seed of truth in Plato, the Stoics, and many other works of the world. Not long ago, my 9 year old son did a presentation in his class on Confucius. I was amazed at the wisdom of Confucius. He had many teachings that were similar to Jesus and the rest of the Bible. He had his own version of the "Golden Rule!" The similarities were phenomenal. Justin saw that this is evidence of the light of God in mankind. Even in his dark and dim state, man can even speak some truth just by the common light that was given to them. However, special enlightenment or illumination is required for any of us to see the "hidden understanding," which comes from the implanted logos of God (Christ). Therefore, there is a power beyond any of us that brings salvation, and as I understand, it must be given (Titus 2:11) and must be received.
It is amazing the way God works. We now have people in hostile Muslim countries coming to Christ through dreams and many other miraculous means. How does God work through imperfect men? With all of our imperfections and downfalls, God pulls it off and displays to the world that in spite of our feeble efforts, He is the Master of the Universe.