Can Yoga Be Redeemed?

I must state as clearly as possible that anyone who gets involved with yoga, and kundalini energy which is the aim of all yoga, is making a very, very big mistake. No matter how committed a Christian may be, pastor or lay person alike, when a believer chooses to involve himself or herself with the world of the occult, including any and all levels of yoga practice, for “exercise” or otherwise, very powerful spontaneous demonic manifestations can and do oftentimes occur. Many ignorant people say that yoga exercises can be separated from yoga philosophy. This simply is not true. It is a well known fact that yoga postures/poses are the outworking of occult philosophy. Yoga is an occult practice. It is the basis of the Hinduism. Westernized as “Breath Religion”, “The Science of Breath”, and “Transcendental Meditation” it leads individuals to believe the great lie of human “godhood”. Yoga is demonic in origin, it comes from the teachings of demons, and it stands vehemently opposed to the God of the Bible and to every Christians’ faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Yoga, even done as merely an “exercise”, has the power to produce occult phenomena dangerous enough to undo the human psyche. Sadly, countless people, including many undiscerning Christians, believe that yoga can be done as exercise or as an integrative worship practice – as part of a “transformative process” of drawing “closer to the Divine”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Kundalini is the mainstay of all yoga practices.” – Hans Ulrich Reiker, The Yoga of Light: Hatha Yoga Pradipika, New York: Seabury Press, 1971, p. 101

Before moving on to anything further, let’s establish the agreed upon background.

  1. There is another realm every bit as real, perhaps more real, than this realm. We can say this with confidence for a variety of reasons, but including the command to Moses to build the Tabernacle as a copy or pattern of what he would be shown: the real in the heavenly realm.
  2. These two realms are interconnected, as evidenced (among other things) by Jacob’s Ladder (and Daniel’s vision where Michael had to come rescue Gabriel, etc., etc.)
  3. Our daily, tangible lives are indissolubly linked to the spirit realm as evidenced by Paul’s statement, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Second, let’s establish that neither myself nor the quoted author are arguing that any movement is inherently evil. There is nothing inherently evil about raising the middle finger. But… what is it that makes that gesture evil?

Theoretically (and realistically) someone could not know the significance of that gesture and raise their middle finger with no malicious intent. But here’s the point… for some time folks who perceive the lack of comprehension will not respond to that gesture, but at some point someone is going to punch them.

The answer to my previous question is that there is contextual agreement upon the significance of a movement. I raise my palm up to you when you’re running toward me and you will know that I am indicating you should stop, though that same movement would have meant, “Greetings,” if you met a Lakota Sioux in 1824. The yoga postures were designed and communicated by spirit entities and they, in agreement with previous and contemporary humans, have invested those movements with significance that the demonic entities treat very legalistically. This significance has persisted for millennia, and is not about to be let go of by those behind their revelation to humans (c.f., 1 Enoch 9:5-7).

A yoga pose, accidentally struck, is a non-thing, a triviality, an accident. But yoga poses regularly practiced are the waving of a flag in the spiritual realm. They will attract attention, whether you wave that flag with intent or not.

But there is more to it even than that. Just as few know much about Kinesiology and yet is has an effect, just as putting one’s shoulders back will enhance breathing compared to doubling over and hunching one’s shoulders, the yoga postures are designed with an awareness that humans rarely possess about the effects each pose has on receptivity to spiritual activity, and the enhancement or alignment of “energies” in the body that are often unperceived.

The entire thrust of God’s commandments suggest that His children are to be aware of the spiritual realm but permit God alone to mediate our interaction with it. The practice of sorcery, divination, necromancy, and pharmakeia for man-initiated connection/communication with the spirit realm is prohibited with prejudice. While we want to deny it, the adversaries know that this is precisely what yoga is for, and they are encouraging its growth among us at every opportunity.

Swami Sivasiva Plani wrote in 1991,

A small army of yoga missionaries – hatha, raja, siddha and kundalini – beautifully trained in the last 10 years, is about to set upon the western world. They may not call themselves Hindu, but Hindus know where yoga came from and where it goes. (“An Open Letter to Evangelicals,” in Hinduism Today, January 1991)

Sannyasin Arumugaswami asserts, “Hinduism is the soul of Yoga….A Christian trying to adapt these principles will likely disrupt their own Christian beliefs.”

As I mentioned previously, the argument is not that any movement (or breathing pattern) is in and of itself inherently evil. No, everything God created is good, and every good and every perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights who is above.

I think, however, that we too often forget what evil is: the twisting of what was created for good away from God’s intent. The variety of ways in which this truth works itself out in our lives is too seldom recognized, which is unfortunate because its contemplation is quite revelatory.

To establish the interplay at work here, let’s take an extreme example, so clear and evident that it will illumine our perception when analyzing more murky examples. Marital intimacy and fornication are the same movement. God created this “movement” and He clearly intended it for good, so what is it that makes marital intimacy one of the greatest goods we can experience and extra-marital relations wrong—with a spectrum of wrong extending to some of the worst evils we can contemplate, and yet still the same movement?

Clearly intent is a major factor, but it is not just intent. For example, had we lived in 1st century Corinth, we would not have imagined that we could wander into the local temple with our spouse, and in the midst of the thousand courtesans the temple housed, engaged in marital intimacy with our spouse to the glory of God, while all around us worshipers of Aphrodite coupled to the glory of a rebellious spirit. And let’s be honest, despite the best of imaginary intentions, if we made that our regular practice, how long do you think it would be before our perspective on what is permissible began to be impacted? Humans are hard-wired to accept what is familiar as acceptable.

Let’s try the typical arguments in favor of yoga out in this context… So if a couple goes to the Temple Aphrodite with no intent to connect with or interact with demonic powers, does not pray to anyone but YHWH, and puts themselves in postures of intimacy only with their spouse, this would be somehow wrong? Well, perhaps not, strictly speaking. Can we agree that it would be at least unwise, and at best confusing? And when one considers that the spiritual powers are territorial in nature (cf. Deut 32:8-9, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his alloted heritage.”) it becomes evident that place and context matter.

Because of this Deuteronomy 32 worldview, we can understand that location in the Bible has cosmic significance. Ground is either holy, meaning dedicated to Yahweh, or it is the domain of another god. This is why the terms used to refer to the rebellious spirits in Scripture are often those of geographic dominion: “the prince of the kingdom of Persia,” “principalities,” “rulers” (Daniel 10:13; Eph 6:12).

This worldview is reflected in many places in the Bible. For instance, in the Old Testament the book of Daniel refers to foreign nations being ruled by divine “princes” (Dan. 10:13, 20–21). Another example: When David was running from King Saul, he was forced out of Israel into Philistine territory. In 1 Samuel 26:19, David cried, “They have driven me out from the LORD’s land to a country where I can only worship foreign gods” (GNT). David wasn’t switching gods. He also wasn’t denying that God was present everywhere. But Israel was holy ground, the place that belonged to the true God. David was stuck in the domain of another god. [Michael Heiser, Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World And Why It Matters]

Old Testament era people knew this: think of Naaman taking Israeli ground back with him to Syria (2 Kings 5:17-18). This was clearly Paul’s view as well, “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. [or stretch the stretch of demons in the house of demons] You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” No, rather, “flee from idolatry”! (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).

So, while we might call it a “yoga studio,” the reality is that this is a pagan temple, and we are as proscribed from engaging in what God intended for good there as we are at the temple Paul refers to. Eating and drinking, moving and stretching, and sexual intimacy are all created by God for good, but location, intent, association, and community all matter.

But what about this question? “What happened to the redemption theology we discussed back in the day – Christians through the Holy Spirit and practice can redeem the intents of evil, turning for good what Satan intended for bad?”

Indeed! We were redeemed in order to be redemptive. Nothing has happened to this imperative in my theological understanding. However, context, intent, location, association, community, and culture all make a difference. In the case of sexual intimacy, redemption means pulling it out of the public eye. In the case of eating and drinking, redemption means doing so in God-honoring settings, according to the rules He gave, and in accordance with needs and balanced desires. In the case of movement, it is theoretically possible to imitate yoga moves in your own home, independent of anyone else’s intention and practice, except…if you do some research you will discover not just that these movements themselves are flag signals in the spiritual realm, but that they are intentionally designed to open one up to influence and interaction. The details of this go beyond what I am comfortable discussing in a public forum, and frankly, if you decide to look into it, I would recommend doing so with another trusted brother or sister. This will take you some very uncomfortable places.

So, God created movement, envisioned stretching, and wanted us to glory in exercising the bodies He created and the wonder that they are: all to His praise and His glory. He also revealed some information and hid other information. It was rebellious spirit-realm-dwellers who began to reveal additional but only partial information that God had not revealed (cf. Gen 3:1-7; 6:1-5; 1 Enoch 6-10), and I think we are wise to remain within the boundaries of what God prescribed and proscribed.

That having been said, there is something called Praise Moves, which takes the idea of healthy movement and stretching and intentionally situates those movements within worship of the One True God. I have felt very ambivalent about this organization, even though the founder is a former yoga master, and is adamantly opposed to the yoga. But your challenge, Will, confirmed to me as I thought this through that it is possible to redeem the concept of healthy movement, so long as it is entirely disconnected from the practice of yoga, and situated within the context of Christian worship, rather than demonic obeisance. It’s still not my thing, but that’s neither here nor there.

Wrestling with God’s Law as Ceremonial, Civil, & Moral

In light of recent posts that have touched on the overarching structure of Scripture and how the OT and the NT properly interact, I’m curious…how do you all feel about the traditional division of the law (moral, ceremonial, civil), and how would you say it’s proper to determine that something from the OT does *not* carry over?

While there is significant preceding evidence that God entered into covenantal relationship with humans, at Sinai he specifically and exhaustively made clear—in a manner intended to be received by all who heard it, and to endure for all to come—that he intended to relate to mankind in a covenantal manner. He thus promised to be faithful to his chosen (elected) people, and they in turn were expected to obey his law or Torah. The law dictated the lifestyle of the people and reflected how a human was to relate to God, to others, to self and to material things (see McGonigle & Quigley, A History of the Christian Tradition from Its Jewish Origins to the Reformation, pg. 34).

To the degree that these laws directly reflected the nature of God in universal and timeless application these laws have never and will never be annulled. Laws of this nature have sometimes, helpfully, been called the moral law of God. Those laws appear in seemingly random places throughout Scripture and are variously summarized in multiple places and ways, including the 10 Commandments, the 2 Great Commandments, Micah 6:8, and elsewhere.

It is impossible to ignore the observable reality that within the Sinai legislation are laws peculiar to the situation of national Israel within the Land of Promise, ruled by judges and magistrates constrained by the Sinai legislation as their national law, and in the presence of a functioning Tabernacle/Temple system. Christian men have therefore sometimes quickly summarized those laws which endure with universal application as moral, those which apply specifically to the Temple system as ceremonial, and those which specifically direct the nation-state of Israel in the Land and governing themselves as civil. This shorthand description can function as a helpful categorization in aid to the complex process of deriving healthy, biblical application in diverse times and places.

To the degree that so-called ceremonial or civil laws reflect the character of God in a universally applicable manner, these laws remain binding in every age, though they do not, necessarily, direct all men in every place with specificity. So, all men everywhere are required to acknowledge God and no god before Him (Ex. 20:2-3), yet it is also true that all men everywhere are not mandated to redeem their firstborn son for the price of five shekels, to be given to the sons of Aaron (Num. 3:40-51).

There are several Reformation-era statements on these matters that are very helpful, especially when read as summary statements, reflecting extensive underlying exegetical work. Here are two that I especially like:

I. As the ceremonial law was concerned with God, the political was concerned with the neighbor.

II. In those matters on which it is in harmony with the moral law and with ordinary justice, it is binding upon us.

III. In those matters which were peculiar to that law and were prescribed for the promised land or the situation of the Jewish state, it has not more force for us than the laws of foreign commonwealths.

(Johannes Wollebius [1589-1629]), Compendium theologiae christianae)

VII. OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.”

(39 Articles of Religion, 1562)

I’ve been giving this topic significant thought for several years now. In fact, I think I first mentioned it briefly in public at the 2013 New England Messianic Conference. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the topic recently because I think I’m finally making some progress in articulating something that will make sense to people. For a long time it was something I was intuiting, and I struggled to convey what I meant.

One thing I believe we should acknowledge is that the stereotypical response of pro-Torah people to this topic has not been well thought out, or sensitive to historical context. Among the Reformers and their early descendants (with some exceptions) references to the tripartite division of the Law were not meant to be rationale for how to escape the present applicability of God’s law, but used as a short-hand reference to figuring out how to apply God’s law. Unfortunately, being not well-informed on Reformation-era thought, too many have reacted against one sentence in the 19th chapter of the Westminster Confession (echoed in Chapter 19 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession), without being familiar with the broader context in which those statements were made.

I think we can all agree that figuring out how to apply God’s law to our contemporary situation is rarely easy. Just like “circumcision” had become shorthand for the proselyte conversion process in the 2nd Temple era, the division of the law into ceremonial, civil, and moral categories had become shorthand during the Reformation era and following for referring to the significant wrestling they had done to determine the manner in which God’s law should be applied in their time period.

But we read, “All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the New Testament,” and we freak out. Forgetting how precise these folks were in their working out of these concise statements. See, for example, the two quotes above.

There are at least four items of background we need to be aware of when considering this topic:

  1. For the Reformers, the reference to a tripartite categorization of God’s law was not a way to escape keeping God’s law, but a shorthand reference to textual exegesis focused on the manner in which his law should be kept.
  2. Over time, however, at least in practice if not in theology, this idea became a justification for why, essentially, nothing more than the 10 Commandments applied to contemporary Gentile believers.
  3. Dispensationalists seized on the complexity of the problem and the inevitable resulting inconsistency and said, “See, you can’t do this, it’s a unified whole and you must acknowledge that the entire thing has been done away with.”
  4. In reaction against the Dispensationalist’s view, which had increasingly influenced the practice, if not the theology, of Reformed people in the pews, Pro-Torah folks (ironically) insisted that the Dispensationalists were right and the law could not be categorized into parts, but must be accepted as a unified whole, but then in practice continued to inconsistently practice only those things which might be described as moral, while ignoring all those things which might apply to our congregational life (ceremonial) or political scene (civil).

It is time for us to stop reacting and to continue proactively articulating historically sensitive, theologically mature, biblically defensible, and eminently practical statements of our own. These will correct but not reject the overwhelmingly faithful line of reliable saints who have preceded us.

Considering Tassels

This post was originally written in 2016, but I was having considerable formatting issues with it that I couldn’t seem to resolve, so I decided to start over from scratch, and it is therefore now re-posted. I remain in complete agreement with what I wrote back then.

Abstract: Wearing culturally-developed tzitzit on one’s belt loops is a valid manner of honoring the command of Num. 15:38 and Deut. 22:12, but is not a literal fulfillment of the commandment. All things considered, for Gentile believers it is likely not the most well-advised manner of honoring this instruction. Additional reflection may yield a more advantageous and multiple-commandment-balancing approach.

“Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.” Numbers 15:38

“You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself” Deuteronomy 22:12

The command regarding tassels ought to instruct all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile. The question of how it ought to instruct may depend upon on one’s ethnicity, time or place.

I would assert, for example, that a Jewish man (or woman, potentially) wearing a tallit kitan or using a tallit gadol with tzitzit attached is a valid keeping of this command, and that a Gentile doing so may be a valid keeping of this command.

I would also posit that a Gentile wearing culturally-developed tzitzit on one’s belt loops is a valid manner of honoring the command, but not a literal fulfillment (or keeping). All things considered, I would also suggest it is likely not the most well-advised manner of honoring this instruction due to reasons of potential misunderstanding, misapplication, and offense.

Nevertheless, we see from the text that God considered it important for His people and we might observe that the principle behind this case law related to: remembrance, identity, and witness. Furthermore, that the keeping of the command assisted the Israelites in the practice of walking in godliness, and promoted a sense of belonging and community. Could anyone argue that today’s Gentile believers don’t also need this?! Additional reflection may yield a more advantageous and multiple-commandment-balancing approach to honoring this instruction.

I am, therefore, seeking an application of the command regarding tassels that is:

  1. consistent with God’s original intent,
  2. consistent with the significance of the command in the milieu of the original implementation,
  3. inoffensive to as many parties as possible,
  4. consistent with a professional image (be in the world but not of the world), and
  5. feasible for wide-scale adoption across the people of God in the United States (our milieu).

Historically speaking, it is of great interest to note that at the time when God gave this commandment, everyone in the Ancient Near East (ANE) wore tassels on their garments—Israelite and non-Israelite. The fringe functioned as one’s signature (pressing the fringe into clay in the same manner as signet rings came to be used), as a sign of your prestige, and were a method of identification or sign of belonging (to a class, family, or tribe). The Israelites’ fringes were to be a distinctive application of a normative cultural expectation.

If one were to argue that wearing tassels on one’s belt loops is a direct fulfillment of the command and that this is necessary, I would ask, “Where is the parapet around your roof?” (Deuteronomy 22:8)

Similarly, wrapping teffilin is a valid method of honoring, or helpful symbolic application in the interest of keeping the commands of Deut. 6:8; 11:18, but it does not—in and of itself—fulfill the commandment. How can we prove this? Because we are also told in the same language that the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the redemption of the first born “shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes” (Ex 13:9, 16).

In my personal edition of the Morning Prayers I attempted to capture the heart of these commands in the following manner: “Today, Father, may your words be always in front of my eyes; may my hands be engaged in the practice of your commands.” There is a wide variety of ways in which to keep this injunction; observing Unleavened Bread is among them, and the phrasing of the commandment to let this observance be a sign on your hand and memorial between your eyes speaks more to observing the festival with intention than with a physical practice of writing the date of Unleavened Bread on our hand or something similar.

So long as one recognizes that wrapping tefillin is not the actual keeping of the commandment, it remains a helpful spiritual discipline, but once one begins to think that in the practice of wrapping tefillin you have satisfied the intent of the commandment, problems develop.

Given that:

  1. specifically knotted tzitzit have become an ethnic identity marker for the Jewish people,
  2. that unless I wear a cornered garment I cannot literally fulfill this commandment anyway, and
  3. that the commandment was given in the context of a distinctive application of a cultural norm,

I think it is more than well-advised to practice the command in a manner that does not potentially lay a stumbling block in the path of my brother the Jew (saved or unsaved: one thinks of the reaction of UMJC folks to Gentiles wearing tzitzit in general and specifically to wearing them on the belt loops) or the misinformed Gentile Christian, who perceives it as coming back under the law.

For the last couple of years I have worn a blue and white bracelet as my manner of honoring the tzitzit (and tefillin) command. I am not entirely satisfied (theologically nor practically) with a tzitzit bracelet, but it was a healthy step in the right direction (in response to having become a stumbling block to my Synagogue President neighbor, even though wearing tzitzit “properly” on a tallit kitan).

I am entertaining ideas like embroidering 3 white and one blue line on the sleeves of my shirts, or attaching a fringe that is clearly different from the traditional Jewish tying of the tzitzit to the corners created by the vents of a camp-style shirt. I don’t always wear un-tucked, vented shirts, however, so I lean toward the embroidery idea, as this is non-offensive and within the bounds of normative cultural expectation (one thinks of logos on shirt sleeves) that is nevertheless distinctive.

Imagine if every man in our congregations wore shirts with the “tzitzit logo” on the edges/wings (canaphim, c.f. Malachi 4:2 & Numbers 15:38) of their sleeves! Think of the identity-lending power, and the community-belonging power of this! Invest that practice with the significance of fulfilling Deut. 6:8 and one is keeping the commandment in a way that is faithful to God’s intent while also conscious of the commands, “You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD” (Lev 19:14), and “Build up, build up, prepare the way, Remove every obstacle out of the way of My people” (Is 57:14).

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this sleeve logo idea is probably the application most consistent with the spirit of the command regarding tzitzit. Think about it: our culture is familiar with all football jerseys being the same and yet having distinct identification markings, both in color and logo. Logos have become ubiquitous on a variety of culturally normative clothing styles. To put a distinct arrangement of white and blue threads on the sleeves of a shirt (sleeves being the closest thing to “wings/corners” we have on contemporary clothing) references a familiarity with the most recently common observance of the command (rabbinically defined tzitzit), honors the commandment, offends no one, and yet retains the reminding, identifying, community-building power of the original command in its Bronze Age context.

How shall today’s believing Laplander apply this command? I don’t know, but they ought to be asking that question. And the eventual result will be a culturally diverse, yet commandment-honoring keeping of God’s law that testifies both to the “house of prayer for all nations” reality of God’s people, but also to the coalescing power and identity-giving nature of being “imitators of God therefore like dearly beloved children.”

P.S. It occurs to me that I have elsewhere expressed some of what undergirds the above in a very succinct manner:

If love emphasizes people and law emphasizes principle, without the dynamic interplay of both aspects of God’s character, we get an unhealthy (i.e., sinful) imbalance. Therefore, if it is lawful, “so far as it depends on you,” to “live peaceably with all,” then it seems it would be loving to use language [or halacha] that puts, “no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry.”

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Background on fringes as normative ANE dress:

  • “The tassels, according to ancient Near East parallels, were threads of the embroidery and could be decorated with a flower head or bell. The more ornate the hem, the greater the social status and wealth of a person (Milgrom 1983: 61–65).” from Douglas R. Edwards, “Dress and Ornamentation,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 233.
  • “fringes (tassels, borders, hems), a common decoration on Near Eastern garments.” from Paul J. Achtemeier, Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 323.
  • “Fringes,” in J. Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902), 68-70.
  • Stephen Bertman, “Tassled Garments in the Ancient East Mediterranean”, The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol 24, No. 4 (Dec., 1961), pp. 119-128.
  • http://rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/from-the-fringes
  • J. Milgrom, “Of hems and tassels: Rank, authority and holiness were expressed in antiquity by fringes on garments,” Biblical Archaeology Review, v. IX, # 3, May/June 1983, pp. 61-65.
  • J. Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary, Volume 4 – NUMBERS, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1989 – 1996, p. 410-412
  • W. Gunther Plaut, et al. The Torah: A Modern Commentary. N.Y., Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981, p. 1123

A Concise, Coherent, and Orthodox Explanation of the Trinity

All beings have a spirit. Some beings are spirit; some beings are corporeal. All beings but one are created.

Human beings are corporeal, and naturally inhabit the physical realm. The beings described in scripture as personed but incorporeal are called elohim, and naturally inhabit the spiritual realm.

God is an elohim; or God is spirit. God is the Elohim; He alone natively holds all authority.

Uniquely among all beings, God is a single being of three persons. All other single beings are a single person. Single person/single beings are called individuals, because they are an indivisible, singular person. God is not an individual, but a triune being.

Similarly, God is the only uncreated being, and is uniquely infinite rather than finite.

The second person of the singular, triune being, God, inhabited a corporeal form at a specific point in history, and is now, again uniquely, both fully God and fully human. We call that person of the God-being, Jesus. He remains one being with the Father and the Spirit.

We capture all of this meaning (and more) when making the concise statement, “God is holy.” In other words, God is wholly other, completely righteous, entirely separate, and uniquely unique.

So now you know; God is Trinity: the only entirely righteous, uncreated, eternally existent, tri-personed, singular Being.

For a defense of this explanation see: the Bible.

For additional amplification see:

Baptism and the New Covenant in Brief

The New Covenant is the mechanism of delivery for the Gospel, which God preached beforehand to Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3b; Gal 3:8).

Salvation is accorded to New Covenant participants who believe (Gen 15:6), and those individuals are described as the “sons of Abraham,” and comprise the many nations to whom Abraham is father.

The common features of God’s covenant/words/promise(s) to Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, and 17 are that God will bless, God will multiply, and God will give the land, also that this will all be done through Abraham and his offspring.

Circumcision is the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and was the sign feature of Abraham and his descendants “keeping” their obligation in this covenant relationship. “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised” (Gen 17:10). The problem, of course, is that Abraham’s descendants don’t keep their side of the bargain; they neither walk blamelessly before God nor circumcise every male on the eighth day.

So long as this covenant depends on the actions of the human participants it is the Old Covenant (“All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” Ex. 24:3 “All that the LORD has spoken we will do and we will hear/obey” Ex. 24:7 “circumcise your hearts” Dt 10:16) The key, however, is that God is going to keep the covenant, as is foretold in Deuteronomy, where before the book ends God has promised, “the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Dt. 30:6).

As Jeremiah makes clear, the promise of the New Covenant is that God is going to circumcise their hearts, aka, “write [the law] on their hearts… for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:31-34). These are obvious descriptions of the details of the Gospel promise(s).

So, while circumcision is the sign of the Old Covenant (“which you shall keep”), baptism becomes the sign of the circumcision of the heart. That sign—as is fitting of a superior covenant (Heb. 7:19, 22)—is applied not just to the men, but to every participant in the family of those descended from Abraham by faith.

In the same way as circumcision was given to all who were a part of the Old Covenant family, but it did not impart salvation, so the New Covenant sign is applied to all born into the New Covenant family, though the sign does not impart salvation.

How, someone might ask, do we know that baptism is the sign of the New Covenant?

First, because it is a sign of a spiritual act: the circumcision of the heart, rather than a physical act executed upon the old man. Second, because Paul states that we have been “buried with [Christ] by baptism into death so that we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4). Third, because Peter writes that “baptism… now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). Finally, because Paul tells us that “the circumcision of Jesus Christ is having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith,” which takes us right back to Abraham, who was credited righteousness because of faith, and whose descendants are those who believe—those “of faith.”

The inescapable conclusion is that baptism is the sign of New Covenant identification, which like the Old Covenant sign, is given both to new converts and the offspring of covenant participants. Like the Old Covenant sign, the New Covenant sign does not itself save but signifies the saving work of God through Christ.

Consternation

How can one man make you stand up and cheer one minute and send a wave of discouragement over you the next? And a godly man at that?! (I know, I know…it’s the reality of human nature.)

First the cheering:

In order to understand Paul properly we must grasp how his perspective both continues and modifies the religious tradition in which he was reared, especially his understanding of his Old Testament roots.

First, we must recognize his own sense of continuity with his heritage. Paul sees himself and his churches as being in a direct line with the people of God in the Old Testament; and despite his deep convictions about the radical implications of the coming of Christ and the Spirit, he regularly reaffirms that continuity. He includes a primarily Gentile church in the events of the exodus: “all our forefathers were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:1-2). … Paul never speaks of a “new Israel” or “new people of God”; his language is now composed of Jew and Gentile alike as the one people of God.

Now the weeping:

But just as clearly, there is significant discontinuity. The people of God have now been newly formed. Christ is the “goal of the law” (Rom 10:4), and the Spirit is “the promised Holy Spirit” (Gal 3:14, Eph 1:13). Christ’s death and resurrection have brought an end to Torah observance (living on the basis of the Old Testament law, (Rom 7:4-6; 8:2-3); being led by the Spirit has replaced observance as God’s way of fulfilling Torah (Gal 5:18); indeed, the righteous requirement of Torah is now fulfilled in those who walk in/by the Spirit (Rom 8:4).

Argh!!! Gordon Fee is one of the most excellent exegetes of the 20th century (he lived mostly in the 20th century and it’s too soon to tell what impact he will have on the 21st century), and yet here is a grievous misunderstanding, in the midst of a book titled Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God that is jam-packed with excellent material on the Holy Spirit! It makes me want to scream. His reputation and excellence give added weight to his words; do I dare give this book to eager learners?

I sure wish I could call up Dwight Pryor and chat about this one.

But, here we are, so let’s deal with the section I referred to as “the weeping.”

The people of God have now been newly formed.” Well, yes and no.

Yes, they are now re-invigorated with a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit specifically for the expansion of the Gospel to the nations (Acts 2) and given an awareness that God specifically intends for the Jewish nation to be the agent for the spreading of His message to the nations. This had been prophesied all along, but it was a new awareness for the Chosen People. They’ve been newly formed in that they now believe in Jesus Christ as their long-awaited Messiah, and they’ve been re-invigorated with a new and fuller understanding of the tools God had given them all along for the purpose of transformation into His image. Those who felt they could earn their way into God’s graces, have been disabused of that notion, and their entire heritage has been re-cast in the light of Messiah’s identity and teaching.

No, the same people have always been the people of God, and “those of faith,” to use Paul’s language in Galatians 3:7 have participated in the New Covenant all along, whether they were aware of that fact or not. They’re not so much “newly formed” as newly added to, and newly invigorated with a renewed or new understanding. And, they are being taught about the reality that they are new creatures in Messiah–the old has gone and the new has come. But this is not a new reality, just a new understanding, and there is much evidence that it’s not even entirely new understanding. Certainly new to the majority of the Gentiles, to whom Paul is writing, but not new to all the Jews.

Christ is the “goal of the law (Rom 10:4).” For sure, and assuredly Fee gets it right when he renders telos as “goal” rather than “end.” Certainly also, “the Spirit is ‘the promised Holy Spirit’ (Gal 3:14, Eph 1:13),” and yet the Spirit is not new either. Joshua was “a man in whom is the Spirit,” as were all the prophets, Moses, David, etc. Assuredly there were Jews not filled with the Holy Spirit, but in whose name do you think R. Hanina ben Dosa performed miracles? It seems that the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost with a fresh infusion, with an anointing for a task of newly epic proportions–take the Gospel to the nations, rather than let the nations come to you–but it was not as if He had not already been indwelling “those of faith” for centuries already.

being led by the Spirit has replaced observance as God’s way of fulfilling Torah (Gal 5:18)” What? No! Being led by the Spirit is synonymous with observing God’s law…after all, who was it that was to write the law on our hearts? “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jer 31:33) It was the Spirit, aka, the “finger of God” that wrote God’s law on the stone tablets, and it is He who also writes God’s law on our hearts.

indeed, the righteous requirement of Torah is now fulfilled in those who walk in/by the Spirit (Rom 8:4).” Well, yes, of course, for now that we are in Christ and His law is being written in us, as we walk by the Spirit, He guides us in the Way (Ps. 25:8-9,12; Ps 119:1, 30-33)

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1 Gordon D. Fee. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996. pp 3-4.

Letter to My Kids on Tattoos

Dear Kids,

As you know, I have a tattoo on my left leg. Knowing that is the case, what would my advice to you be about getting a tattoo or getting noticeable piercings? I’m glad you asked! <wink>

First, let’s discuss whether the Bible has anything to say about this topic. The majority of people will tell you that anything the Bible has to say on the topic doesn’t apply today. That’s hogwash, although I didn’t know that when I got a tattoo.

I was raised in a fairly typical evangelical home where I learned that either God’s law has been done away with, or that the Law of Moses has been replaced with the Law of Christ. Neither one of those ideas is biblical, but you will find that most American Christians today believe something along those lines.

So what is the truth? If when in need of justification, the law of God continues today to point out our sin and our subsequent need of a Saviour, then it necessarily follows that God’s law continues to instruct us today, once we have been justified. In other words, if without God the law condemns us, then it must be true that with God the law instructs us. According to the Bible sin is lawlessness (Romans 4:7; Hebrews 10:17; 1 John 3:4) and the wages of sin is death. What then is the converse of lawlessness? And of death? If, as Paul writes, the blessed are those, “whose lawless deeds are forgiven,” then what type of deeds will the blessed person be typified by? Lawful deeds, of course.

Please understand this clearly, I am not describing a peculiarly Calvinist or Arminian belief. Both perspectives agree, as I will evidence by quoting from both John Wesley (an Arminian) and J.I. Packer (a Calvinist).

“I am afraid this great and important truth is little understood, not only by the world, but even by many whom God hath taken out of the world, who are real children of God by faith. Many of these lay it down as an unquestioned truth, that when we come to Christ, we have done with the law; and that, in this sense, “Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth.” “The end of the law:” so he is, “for righteousness,” for justification, “to every one that believeth.” Herein the law is at an end. It justifies none, but only brings them to Christ; who is also, in another respect, the end or scope of the law, — the point at which it continually aims. But when it has brought us to him it has yet a farther office, namely, to keep us with him. For it is continually exciting all believers, the more they see of its height, and depth, and length, and breadth, to exhort one another so much the more, — Closer and closer let us cleave To his beloved Embrace; Expect his fullness to receive, And grace to answer grace.” – John Wesley

And now from the Calvinist:

“…the love-or-law antithesis is false, just as the down-grading of law is perverse. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of true morality. Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.” – J.I. Packer

So when we read in Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD,” we need to take this passage seriously as pertaining to our lives.

How are we to understand this passage? Why does God seem to care about marks on the body of His people? Well, perhaps we ought to ask if there are distinctively Christian marks? Indeed, the distinctively Christian mark is one that can only be seen by those who witness the event, and whose enduring evidence is to be your changed life. Whether circumcision or baptism, the marks mandated by God do not easily convey themselves to the casual observer. Furthermore, we are warned not to make our external trappings large or ostentatious (Matthew 23:5; 1 Peter 3:3-5), rather it is our actions that ought to identify us. Your mark is your baptism, and the evidence of your baptism is your walk. “[L]et your adorning be the hidden person of the heart.”

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10a).

Tattoos are tribal; with what tribe are you identifying? If your tattoo is “Christian,” you are revealing your ignorance of the Christian tribe’s way. Rather ironic isn’t it?

While there is much more to say on this topic (why, for example, do so many contemporary Christians desire strongly to imitate a distinctively pagan practice?) let us reflect on this passage:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16).

There is a cultural energy behind the practice of tattooing and there is no question that this energy comes from the world. The world, my children, is passing away, along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. What do you think is the will of God in regard to marking your body?

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).

So the final word here is that God says not to, but many will argue that point, so I hope you’ve gleaned from these thoughts that if you desire a tattoo, you ought to be asking, what is wrong with my desires? Rather, I pray that the eyes of your heart (your imagination) might be enlightened, that you may know the great hope to which God has called you, and what are the riches of the glorious inheritance, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward you. In other words, may your imagination be caught up by the vision of yourself as God sees you, and as He has fashioned you, and may all other desires fade in comparison!

“The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:8).