Archive for the ‘Turkish Theology’ Category

The Charactersitics of the Spiritual Life

October 23, 2021

 

As human beings we are all part of nature, so we live and die even if we haven’t sinned.  Yet even though this is the case there is an aspect of our life that can go beyond this life death scenario and live forever.  We are not only natural beings of the earth, but we are also spiritual beings that can move beyond the here and now. Unfortunately for humanity Adam sinned, the Fall happened, and we were pulled into this meager existence that leads to both spiritual and physical death.   Bavinck goes beyond this, and he points to some shocking conclusions:

A local moose near where we live!

 

“Life indeed. It goes without saying that this is life, as Holy Scripture often calls it. All other life is temporary, transient, fleeting, and subject to death (even without sin); the vegetative, sensory life cannot last on its own, not even in human beings. Physical life cannot be immortal of itself, not even in Adam, in whom it might have been eternalized through the spiritual. The rational life, the soul-life, of humans is not real life; it exists, but sin impoverishes it, wears it down, and emaciates it. Only the spiritual life is now true, genuine life.”  (From: Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 252)

What I find shocking although true is in the sentence:

 “Physical life cannot be immortal of itself, not even in Adam, in whom it might have been eternalized through the spiritual.”

Adam did not eat of the tree of life.  God spared him and us by kicking him out of the Garden of Eden.  Our relationship with God was severed and there was no way back.  If Adam and Eve had eaten of the tree of life, he/she would have been separated from God’s presence for all eternity.  Sin had caused a universal imbalance that pulls us out of communion with God.  In Christ obviously the imbalance has been fixed and by the gift of faith and grace we have been made a completely new creation inside out. 

So then, his first point in the characteristics of life was this life and what the situation is. The master theologian does not stop there but he takes us on an adventure to gain deeper spiritual understanding of what the characteristics of the spiritual life are:

·        Life indeed (We looked at this)

·        Eternal life. (John 3:36; 8:51).

·        Conscious life

·        A free life (Rom. 6:11; cf. VV. 17—18; Eph. 4:3; 1 Pet. 4:2—3); (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 2:19; 3:10); (Rom. 8:38—39); (1 Cor. 3:21—22); (Col. 3:17).

·        A blessed life (Ps. 4:7); (Rom. 5:1); (Gal. 5:22); (Rom. 5:3).

All the references belong to Herman Bavinck from page 252-253.

Eternal life (The evidence)

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:36

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” John 8:51

Let us abide in Christ because in his life and works by faith we will live forever. Humans are capricious and change their minds all the time God is not like that.

 Conscious life (There is a lot of evidence in the New Testament but there are no Scriptural quotations at this point)

 

Bavinck reminds us that “Conscious life begins with enlightenment, consists in the renewal of the mind,” (νους).  It is mediated by faith (Hebrews 11 for example).  Bavinck then does a correction of the great Schleiermacher that the renewal of the mind is not grounded in ‘feeling’.  As he says “The emotional life does not come first in the spiritual life, but second. Even where emotional life is missing, spiritual life continues to exist. Not feeling but believing is first and foremost.” (Page 253)

 

A free life (the evidence)

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

“So as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.”(1 Peter 4:2-3)

As Bavinck points out we have been freed from sin and destruction and we have also been free from the ‘curse of the law’.  We are now only accountable to Christ our Lord.  Because of what Christ did through his death on a cross and the resurrection by faith nothing can separate us from the love of God.  As the Master Theologian says, “Because we are only subject to God, Christ alone is our master, and his will coincides completely with the will of God. Our wills are free when they are in full harmony with God’s will. Everything becomes an agent of the believer’s I, of the spiritual life as it finds its goal again in the glory of God”

A Blessed Life (A Happy Life) (Evidence)

“You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound. “Psalms 4:7

“Therefore, you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” John 16:22

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Romans 5:1

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”  Galatians 5:22

Bavinck finishes off by reminding us that the life we live in Christ is filled with ‘gladness and joy’ that no one can take away.  Actually, he goes on to remind us that even tribulations cannot take this joy away. Page 253

Reflection

The characteristics of the Christian life are very important.  Perhaps one is a successful businessperson in this life and are riding the wavy crests of success.  This is quite futile and will one day come to an end through death.  The Christian who trusts Christ according to Bavinck is in a forever league.  What really matters is our relationship with God and Christ by the Holy Spirit.  Christ frees us from our greed and selfishness as God creates a new us that the world can never understand.  God is so much bigger than our earthly, selfish desires. The first Adam perishes but in Christ the second Adam in him there is real joy for ever more.

The seat of the Spiritual life (Herman Bavinck)

October 16, 2021

 

You cannot see the sun but you know it is there.  The soul can be a bit like that


In today’s world ‘spiritual’ is often used in all sorts of contexts.  Whatever view one takes it is something that happens inside the person.  From a secular point of view scientists have tried to find it in the workings of the mind and give it a purely materialist interpretation.  However even with all the breakthroughs in science and there have been many people are more than the sum of their parts.  To take this materialist view also means to take a biological evolutionary interpretation of our destiny. 

I reject this view.  Humanity was not just a big mistake.  Genesis starts with:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

We are more than the sum of our parts.  God created us for a reason, and we saw this in the garden when God walked with Adam in the garden before the fall.  Humanity was in communion with God and even though the Fall took place God had a plan in history to bring humanity back into relationship with Himself.  Whether one interprets the story of Genesis literally or generically, we come to the same conclusion Humanities destiny in Christ (the new Adam) was for fellowship with the Trinitarian God.

When I was reading the title on page 250; “the seat of the spiritual life” I thought about location.  The driver in a car has a seat and it is located by the steering wheel and the pedals.  Where is our spiritual life seated or located?

This is an important question and Bavinck helps us find the location of our spiritual life through the Scriptures. 

“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3

“that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, “ Ephesians 3:16

“Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16

“but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 3:4

“knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; “Romans 6:6

“by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace,” Ephesians 2:15

“for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;” Ephesians 4:12-14

In general, then one cannot see where the spiritual life is located.  These verses are enough to show us that a part of the human dimension is to actually have a soul.   Herman Bavinck the master theologian is not happy with such a general conclusion, and he goes mining for the deeper truths found in holy Scripture.  The seat of the spiritual life is located in the heart.  We need to understand that this is metaphorical language and not a biological heart.   Obviously human language breaks down when trying to understand God’s word.  Metaphor is one way that can be used to take us closer to God’s heart and His love in Christ.  Lets allow Bavinck to speak for himself:

 

“Paul’s command to “not be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewal of your mind” indicates that the mind, the consciousness, especially the ability to reflect, the organ of moral thought and recognition (Rom. 7:25), is the seat of the spiritual life.56 This parallels the “conscience” (Titus 1:15) as an organ of the spirit and is therefore located in a part of the heart; the “mind” is a function of the “heart.”7 Compare Ephesians 4:23:“Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”8 The soul/life has its origin in the spirit, and its organ (both as to its conscious and as to its unconscious side) is the laeczrt.59 The heart is the concentrating and mediating organ of all circumstances and activities.  Thus, the sequence is spirit—soul—heart: foundation—subject— organ.   Rationality, emotion/feeling, and will, then, are rooted in the heart.  The heart, therefore, is the seat of the spiritual life, as is indicated by biblical references to “the hidden person of the heart” (1 Pet. 3:4) and circumcision being “a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom. 2:29). (From: Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 250-252)

There is a lot to digest here but this bit explains it:

“The organ of the spirit and is therefore located in a part of the heart; the “mind” is a function of the “heart.” Compare Ephesians 4:23:” 

There you have it, ’mind is a function of the heart’.

 

What does all this mean to us as believers?

Becoming a Christian is only the first step of faith.  God has started the work within us.  The mind has been spiritually awakened and we can again taste God’s goodness in us.  This is why prayer, reading the Scriptures, having communion with other believers is important.  We can either fill our minds with spiritual, wholesome things that makes us more like Christ or feed our minds with things that go against the Holy Spirit and leads one to destruction.  This is in a practical manner very helpful.

Prayer

Prayer takes us in to heaven itself and we become partakers of the Trinitarian life in Christ.  By praying we focus on God’s kingdom, and we can more closely understand what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us.   Prayer also starts to help us become more empathetic towards other human beings and God’s creation.

The Scriptures

God speaks to us in his son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Where do we learn about this?  We learn this through the writings of the original Apostles, Moses, the prophets and so on.  The Scriptures are ancient wisdom which are God given to humanity.  We are fools not to take Scripture seriously.

Communion with believers.

We belong to one universal Church established by our lord Jesus Christ. It is made up of believers from the past, the present and the future.  The Holy Spirit is our Comforter and teacher.

Reflection

As believers we have a duty by the Holy Spirit to take care of our heart:

Do we pray?

Do we read the Bible?

Do we commune somehow with other believers?

Added to this list Paul also said somewhere to think about these good, and beautiful things.  We can sometimes see the effects of these changes within other believers:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. “Galatians 5:22-23

Although the spiritual life is something that is hidden from sight, one can still see these effects in Christians who are walking close to Christ.  

The Essence and Core of the Spiritual Life. Part 3 Fellowship with the Holy Spirit ‘Act and Being’ Part 3

October 8, 2021

 

I took this picture recently and the cloud formation reminds me of the Holy Spirit

 

I want to begin by two verses and thinking about them:

14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14

 

And

4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 2 Peter 1:4

When we talk about the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, it has a context.  From the second quotation there is a very explicit statement that we will become sharers in ‘The Divine Nature’.  We will always stay human and created but we are brought into fellowship with ‘God’.  Bavinck contextualizes this for us:

“First there is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment; then that of Christ adopting us and granting us his benefits; thereafter that of the Father adopting us as his children in and because of Christ.” (Reformed Ethics)

What can we say then?

We can say that the Holy Spirit is the one who made it possible for us to come into relationship with Christ and hence being accepted by the father on account of the Son.

Bavinck continues:

“The spiritual life always moves among these three persons and is therefore a genuinely rich life, rich in diversity, without monotony. The believer experiences the life of God himself: from the Father through the Son in the Spirit and, conversely, in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. The spiritual life is therefore a life of God (Eph.4:18), a life that originates from God, is granted by grace, unites us with God, is worked in us immediately through the Holy Spirit, and has the spiritual life of God himself as model and example. The spiritual life of believers is a shadow, an impression49 of the most perfect life of God himself, so that it is said that they share in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).50”

In this beautiful explanation of our relationship to God and vice versa we are not alone.  As Christians we are part of the Church of Christ.  The Holy Spirit is forever in us and guides us as teacher and comforter as we conform to be more like Christ. This road is not a one-way road from the infinite side God the Father showers us with his gifts of grace through the Son in the Holy Spirit.  Then our prayers and hopes in the opposite direction in the Holy Spirit through the son to the Father. 

Herman Bavinck was certainly one of the foremost theologians of his generation and if his works were translated at the same time as Barth’s, he certainly would have been one of the main theologians studied in universities.  Alas it did not happen that way!

Bavinck has a lot to teach us about culture and how the follower of Christ influences the world he lives in.  The above scenario I quoted is how I believe Colin Gunton was moving in his theology.  There is a lot of fertile ground here for a PHD, comparing and contrasting Gunton’s ideas of modern culture with Bavinck’s rich understanding of modernity from the end of the 19th century early 20th century.   Obviously, Karl Barth would come up in the discussion too.

What do I mean by all this? I found a summary about the Trinity in Act and Being by Colin Gunton:

“… that the moments of truth of the doctrine of divine unknowability should not be denied. The finite mind, and certainly the sinful mind, may not of its own powers know the essence of God. That becomes possible only on God’s terms: by the atoning death of Christ and the appropriation of reconciliation with God by the act of the Spirit. But that very reality implies that God is knowable, because he makes himself known. Again and again the Gospels — and especially John’s Gospel — and the Epistles offer us knowledge, and, indeed, recommend its necessity: knowledge of ‘the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name’ (Eph. 3.15). But that knowledge is in God’s gift, not a natural human capacity of the kind that thinks it can achieve a mystical knowledge of God apart from Christ by means of negative theological projection. For at its heart is the fact that God is knowable through the strait and narrow gate that is the humanity of Christ, as narrated in scripture and proclaimed in the church. He really is a human being, and can be recognized to be also and at the same time the eternal Son of God only through the Spirit. (‘Flesh and blood has nor revealed this to you, Peter, but my Father in heaven’, Matt. 16.17.)

The man Jesus of Nazareth, crucified, risen and seated at the right hand of God still clothed in his humanity, is, to use an expression of Karl Barth’s, albeit in rather a different way, the knowability of God on our side.  Instead, therefore, of speaking of God’s unknowability — a pagan form of unbelief— we should speak rather of his incognito. The Son of God comes as one who ‘had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering’ (Isa. 53.2—3). We cannot evade that narrow road along which we must pass if we are to know the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And yet we must gloss Isaiah’s poem, for this man who had nothing ‘in his appearance’ that we should desire him, is in fact that beauty and majesty of God in action. In that incognito we truly find the attributes of our God, for there is God in action, in the richness of his utter simplicity.” (From Act and Being; Colin E Gunton; pages 157 -158; SCM press)

This is amazing stuff for the Christian.  God makes himself known to us by the Holy Spirit.  God breaks into our space and time and there is a relationship in the relationality of the Trinity and of us.  To be brought into this relationship it is all of grace.  God in Christ reaches out to us and calls us home. 

Reflection

We are truly blessed! I can see why prayer and the reading of Scripture is so important. When two people fall in love and they get married; What are the main ingredients?

·        Love

·        Communication

Marriage is an earthly example, but it drives an important truth home.  Love means that you want to spend time with that person and get to know them.  How much more important is it for the Christian to spend time in God’s presence through prayer, reading the Scriptures and living in the body of Christ, the Church. 

The Holy Spirit has come into the world, and He is our Comforter and Teacher, and He is always with us until Christ returns for His Church.  Herman Bavinck reminds us that communication is a two-way road.  Looking at 20thcentury theologians too such as Karl Barth and Colin Gunton, we learn that Bavinck is very modern even though he lived in the 19th century into the 20th century!

In theology terms such as ‘Being in Becoming’ and ‘Act and Being’ sounds really cool but Bavinck was doing that 150 years ago!  The bottom line is that we are in a Divine love story.  God loved us so much that in the work and person of Christ he became a human being, died on a cross, was resurrected and also, by faith in Him can live forever too. 

Thinking Activity

Who is the Holy Spirit and why is he important in our lives?

Bibliography

Act and Being; Colin E Gunton; pages 157 -158; SCM press

Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 248

The Essence and Core of the Spiritual Life. Part 2; Fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ

October 3, 2021
I took this by the lake side

 Our life force flows from the fellowship we have with the Trinity.  Last time we looked at the fellowship we have with the father.  We cannot go directly to the Father.  God is eternal and infinite, and we are only finite created creatures.  That does not mean that the road to the Father is closed.  It cannot be closed because God is love.   It is by the two hands of God that we can come to the Father.  Although Jesus is God the Son, he took on a finite form and became a human being.  Our Lord Jesus lived, died and resurrected two thousand years ago; so how can we have a relationship with God the Son today?  The Holy Spirit our Comforter the third person of the Trinity transcends time. We also have Scripture, and this witness of the original Apostles of Christ are mediated to us by the Holy Spirit.  There is one invisible Church made up of believers who have fallen asleep, the present saints and those who will come after us.

Herman Bavinck who has gone on before us has left us with some beautiful writings and today he is going to teach us what it means to have fellowship with the Son of God.

We begin by asking what fellowship actually means.

One verse Bavinck quotes is:

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21 

I see this as a summary of the Christian faith. 

We were chosen before the foundation of the world in Christ, we were born from above in Christ, we have been crucified and died in Christ, buried with Christ, planted in Christ, raised with Christ, and we will be seated with Christ in heavenly places.

So, then my friends when we look at the list of Scriptures that Bavinck quotes, we see what real life in Christ means.  These are not empty words but rather are words spoken by the Apostles to encourage us to walk in the faith.

—-

We are branches of the True Vine and Christ commands us to remain in him.  The walk of faith is also a way of living, living in the Spirit.  Not living just for ourselves but living in Christ:

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. John 15:4

—-

As believers we were baptized into walking with Christ.  Baptism is also a Sacrament, and it is something holy.  Baptism is an outward sign of what God has been doing in our souls.  Even as Jesus died and was raised to glory the samething is promised to us who walk in the path of our true Master:

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.  8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, Romans 6:4-8

—–

So let us be greatly encouraged by the Scriptures that Bavinck quoted.  Below is a list of a few more. 

—-

15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 1 Corinthians 4:15

—-

20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20

—-

27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Galatians 3:27

—-

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2

—-

At the end of this paragraph Bavinck Gives us a reflection as he says:

“This fellowship also consists of a mutual interchange between Christ and believers: we receive and take on the whole Christ and give ourselves entirely and completely to him (2 Cor. 8:5). However, this is no Christification or deification of the believer, no blending, no exchanging of Christ and the believer, but a spiritual fellowship. This is not merely a moral fellowship (agreement of mind and will) but a substantial and real fellowship of Christ’s person and our persons, the closest union of Christ and us, through and in love, as in marriage.”

 

Reflection

God has done a great deal for us through Christ.  Even while we were against God without salvation or hope of eternal life God did not abandon us.  Christ was there at the creation of the world and after we messed up as the second Adam, Christ came to save us. 

I hope these truths have encouraged you and in our last session of three parts we will be looking at fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

Herman Bavinck the master theologian has given us some great verses to mediate on.  I hope and pray that in Christ we continue to grow in maturity to become more like Christ day by day.

Activity

Find a quiet place to reflect.

Think about how precious you are to Christ and how precious Christ is to you.

Bibliography

·        Reformed Ethics; Book 2 and chapter 7; page 249; By Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt

·        NASB Bible; quotations from Olive Tree Bible Software

The Essence and Core of the Spiritual Life. Part 1 (Reflection on Herman Bavincks teachings)

September 25, 2021

 

In dogmatics it is God’s love for us but in ethics it is our love for God.  There is a reciprocity of love on the vertical planes and on the horizontal planes.  It is no surprise that in the essence of the spiritual life he writes:

“Because love for God is its foundation, spiritual life itself consists of fellowship with God, with Christ, and with fellow believers. Love strives after and is fellowship, a fellowship that is only possible through and in love. Hatred separates; love binds.” (From Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; page 248; edited by John Bolt; Translator John Vriend; Baker Academic)

A flower from the garden

 

We have already seen in past discussions the importance of love.  It is also interesting that when we looked at the fruit of the spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 NASB”

These things build us up individually and socially, so Bavinck has interpreted love correctly.  He has also interpreted hatred correctly:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 NASB”

 

Yes, Bavinck is correct in saying that hatred separates.  Enmity breaks up relationships.  If you were to look at the abuse of alcohol statistics nationally one would see this to be true.

Very simple words but powerful action either to build or to tear down.  This Christian fellowship with God and with our neighbour.  For Bavinck the spiritual life revolves around the Trinity (page 249).

Namely as, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  In one single page Herman Bavinck packs the page with a lot of Scriptural proofs. 

Before I go into this fellowship let us think about the Trinitarian God.  Within the Trinity itself there is a relationship.   God in his eternal relations of Father Son and Holy Spirit out of love created a beautiful world.  God created humanity in his image and likeness and as a wage got evil for doing good.  From the Garden of Eden many sins were committed in rebellion against God.  God did not give up on the human race, but he sent his only Son into the world to bring salvation to the human race.

The amazing thing is that in Christ we are brought into the Divine life of God by the Holy Spirit.  We are not cast away like rotten apples (which we became because of the Fall!). God never gave up on us!  I think 1 john helps us in this mystery:

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. 1 John 1:1-4”

I am not willing to drill down any deeper than what Scripture allows us to say.  We are privileged and blessed that although Jesus was God, he took on real humanity and became a real human being and because of what the Trinity did for us we are able to share fully in God’s love.  My friends I do not understand this, it is a mystery but by God’s grace we have an unshakable God given confidence and a slew of witnesses (Hebrews 11).

Our Fellowship with the Father

Bavinck quotes 1 John 3:

“What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3

So, then we have fellowship with the Father and the Son and Bavinck goes into the High Priestly prayer of Jesus:

In the verse below he talks about the purpose of this fellowship.  That we will be ‘one’

“that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.“17:21

Then Bavinck goes into the rationale of Christian ethics, and this is very important to quote as Bavinck says:

“Godliness flows forth of itself from the exercise of this fellowship and the desire to strengthen it. This fellowship is no empty sound or form but the highest reality: concrete fellowship between people on earth. It consists in the knowledge, the firm consciousness we possess, that God knows us personally, in Christ has shown us grace, and now as Father fulfils all the good pleasure of his goodness for us (2 Thess. 1:11), loves us, leads us, and so forth. Furthermore, because God’s Spirit “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16), we believe and feel all of this in our heart.”

Bavinck sums up fellowship with the Father:

(a) God’s love, grace, etc.

(b) God giving himself to us, and us, from our side, taking God into our heart, mind, will, feeling, imagination.

(c) giving ourselves completely to God with our mind, soul, and all our strength; and

(d) God, from his side, accepting us in love.

 

Reflection

God’s love for us is really deep.  God loves his creation and through his Son we can have eternal life.  Ethics flows out from this reciprocal relationship by the Holy Spirit.  God has showered His grace out into our lives, but we reciprocate this by faith ‘taking God into our heart, mind will, feeling and imagination’.

Next time we are going to look at our Fellowship in the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As a believer perhaps you haven’t thought about these issues too much.  When we start to dive into Holy Scripture, we start to see more clearly God’s love for us.  Herman Bavinck the Master theologian has opened our eyes to some of the blessing that we find.  It is a mystery how we are brought into this beautiful divine life, but it is real.  Let us continue to trust God with our futures.  Let us keep on being neighbourly and show our love to the world.  This could be with the simple act of wearing a face mask and to have our vaccines. 

If you are not a Christian, you are no less important to God.  God loves you because he created you and He wants to bring you into this eternal fellowship.  Even if you do not cross the line and become a Christian remember that God is love and He always reaches out to you.  This blog is not just for Christians, it is a blog for everyone.   In this world we need to combat prejudice and make the attempt to show God’s love to every human being. 

Bibliography

(Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 249)

The Foundations for the Spiritual Life

September 18, 2021

 


Bavinck reminds us that the foundational principle of the spiritual life flows from God.  (End of page 246)

I took this photo recently.  I liked the golden glow

 Let us look at a paragraph of Bavincks:

“There is only One whose life absolutely arises from himself, who has life in himself, who is absolutely the beginning, a beginning not provided by anything outside himself, who is the life-force itself, absolutely free and conscious, life and source of life at the same time. This is the Triune God.  All creaturely life is derived, not original; only God has life in the full sense of the word. “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Ps. 36:9). The life of creation comes from God and is mediated by the Logos (“In him was life, and the life was the light of men,” John 1:4), who has life in himself: “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26).” (From page 247)

It is interesting that Bavinck quotes John 1.4.  In Christ is the light and the life was the light of all men.  Bavinck is right to see Our Lord as the mediator of this life.  Christ being the High Priest of Heaven Itself.  Let us turn to John chapter 1.1:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. John 1:1-3

It is no mistake for John the Apostle to use ‘In the beginning’.  This is a direct reference taken from Genesis chapter 1.  God is the Creator, and the two hands of God being the Son and the Holy Spirit.  (see Irenaeus on: Against Heresies 4.20.4 ) There is no pantheism here.  God and the created material can never be one though some religions and philosophies argue for it.

As Bavinck says we have some type of independence in this life, but we always remain creatures and God always remains eternal.  We can live for ourselves but independence from God means separation from God living for our own wisdom which is a fallen wisdom. 

The principle of this spiritual life then is opposite to living for self:

“The spiritual life is altogether different. Its fundamental principle is not found within the natural life but first arises through denial, self—crucifixion, renunciation, and loss of our soul. It is, therefore, not selfish either, always thinking of self—preservation; it is not preoccupied with this life.”  

(From: Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 247)

This spiritual life then, although it happens internally within oneself, it looks out of itself ‘beyond time itself’.  This is something ‘supernatural’. Let us look at some of the references that Bavinck gives us:

15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 1 Corinthians 2:15

 

1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:1

1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Galatians 6:1

A spiritual life and natural life are not the same thing.  They are diametrically opposed to each other.  Someone who is spiritual is one that is led by the Holy Spirit.  However somewhere else Bavinck did remind us that in a sense for the Christian he cannot be completely spiritual because this life we actually live is a natural gift of God.  There is a war that goes on within us who to please.  The natural or the spiritual.  Do we serve the first Adam or the second Adam, Christ? In this explanation we see this here:

14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 1 Corinthians 2:14

And again here:

1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:1

Where do we go from here?

“For the foundational principle of the spiritual life is the love of God in Christ poured out upon us through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). The “love of God” here is an objective genitive (love with God as its object), paralleling passages such as Deuteronomy 6:5; 11:1, 13, 22; Matthew 22:37: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,” etc. Love here is a spiritual principle, not only poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit and fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), but itself also spiritual by nature.” (From: Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 248)

So, then the foundation of the spiritual life is based on God’s love:

“… and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5

The principle of the spiritual life then is a gift.  The natural life was also a gift and human beings ruined the gift at the fall because they wanted to be God.  Let us look at these references Bavinck gives us:

5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:5

1 “You shall therefore love the LORD your God, and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments. Deuteronomy 11:1

37 And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ Matthew 22:37

Bavinck finishes this section off by saying:

“The love of God is therefore stripped of all that is sensuous, earthly, and impure and is now pure and holy.  And this principle now flows into all of life, into all the thoughts and deeds of the spiritual person. Love of God gives stature and form to the spiritual life; it organizes and inspires it, turning it into one beautiful organic whole which function as the foundational life-force.” (From: Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 248)  All Biblical quotations have been from the NASB

Reflection

The principle of the spiritual life is not from the same tree as our natural life although God has created both.  The natural life ran into problems because of our disobedience.  God then found a better way for us to come into his presence.  The love of God has reached us by the Holy Spirit and the work of the Son.  God’s love is very deep, but it also flows from his holiness.  This is God’s grace.  It is God who has reached down to us.  Without the work of the Holy Spirit no one could come close to God.  We would forever be lost in our sins.

Let us stop for a moment and think with gratitude about God’s love for us.  You may not be a Christian reading this blog, God’s love is for you too.  God reaches out to touch your life and to bring you into his kingdom.  He is at your door knocking; Will you open the door and let Jesus into your life?  The Creator of the universe who created your natural life also wants to create your spiritual life.  Look around you my friend and what do you see?

As life marches on people die and we die too.  This life is fleeting.  When we are young, we think we can live forever but the truth is that a hundred years is a drop in the bucket.  The human soul cries out for the eternal.   There is something within us that search for God.  Have you found God yet?  Have you found this inner peace that flows from the love of God that is not a fake peace?  Peace cannot be found in the size of your wallet, if anything it can weigh a person down and send them to hell.  True Peace can only come from a pure love and there cannot be any purer love than that demonstrated by God; He became a human being and gave his life to save his creation.

Life and its distinctivenesses & Do pets go to heaven?

September 11, 2021

 

Last time we looked at the state of the spiritual life within Scripture.  We got great encouragement from the importance of being set free from the slavery of sin.  Some religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism do not have the tradition of sin.  They have karma, cause and effect and the belief in an eternity of being born and reborn before being liberated from this body.  The body is seen as a prison, and it is important to break out of this prison to be one with Brahman again.  It is interesting also that Brahma the first person (god) of the Trimurti has only a couple of temples in India given to his name! As the creator god obviously, he was the one who caused this prison in the first place. 

In Christ there is hope, we can also remember Noah and think about our responsibilities to this creation as human beings.

 

Having said that the individual is still responsible for her own actions good and bad.  Although bad actions are not seen as sin in general it comes pretty close to it.  On reflection no one can escape their bad actions.  It does not matter what belief system one is in; bad actions will always haunt the persons. 

Bad actions always separate the individual from any metaphysical reality. For Christians the wages of sins are a spiritual death and total separation from God for all eternity. As we learned before the person who lives only for themselves is in a prison of sin.  Christ has made the way out for the spiritual prisoner.  The big I, needs to be replaced by Christ.  A surrender of ones will to Christ is a necessity through Faith.  Paul’s lists that Bavinck gave us proves the point that the Christian is free, and the unbeliever is trapped:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 NASB”

Living a life like this means an unhappy life and true loneliness separated from God and probably from family members too.

 

Bavinck gave us another list:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 NASB”

This list in Christ gives us happiness not only in heaven but on earth too.  God reveals himself to us that we are sinners and separated from God and that we need to be ‘saved’.  We confess Jesus as our Lord, and we are brought into a living relationship with Christ and his people the Church:

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”; Romans 10:9 NASB

The above is only a start on the Christians walk.  Now that you are of the household of faith you are being made more and more into the image of God (in Christ).

Anyone can come into a relationship with the living God from any segment of human society. So then, this week we will be looking at how the Christian life is ‘a distinctive way of life’ that is separate from the worldly way of living.  By the way this is Bavincks second point on the list that we are looking.

When we look at what life is it can come in many forms and Bavinck the master theologian is willing to look at what teachings in the universities is out there.  With life there are also inanimate objects such as rocks and stones which do not have life even though they exist.  A rock is made from certain materials but it cannot be said that they are alive.  In some religions this is not the case (even a rock is seen to be alive).  However, a rock does not have:

“life is not merely a state but also a deed, activity, action, movement. Life is always an activity, an activity of an inner all—animating, all—controlling, organized, internal foundational principle that people call a life—force.34 And this activity must be thought of as continuous, as a state.”

(From Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; page 245; edited by John Bolt; Translator John Vriend; Baker Academic)

Bavinck continues to talk about the various forms of life

1.     Vegetative

2.     Animal

3.     Rational

Concerning human beings, it is interesting and shows Bavincks perception:

“Nonetheless, the lower life stages are incorporated in the higher ones; humans share the vegetative life (in stomach, intestines), also the sensory life of animals (in senses, body). In addition to that, humans possess reason. That rational life now comes to expression in various life-spheres: in marriage, family, society, state, art, and science. From it, therefore, flow multiple forms, manifestations, and areas of the single human rational life.”

This is in variance to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646—1716).  John Bolt made an important note, and I am going to quote it in full:

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646—1716) rejected “the Cartesian doctrines that all mental states are conscious and that non—human animals lack souls as well as sensation.” The key difference between animal souls and human (rational) souls, among other things, is the capacity of the latter for self—consciousness, abstract thinking, and acting freely. “Leibniz is a panpsychist: he believes that everything, including plants and inanimate objects, has a mind or something analogous to a mind. More specifically, he holds that in all things there are simple, immaterial, mind—like substances that perceive the world around them. Leibniz calls these mindlike substances ‘monads.’” Leibniz’s hierarchy of monads begins with “bare monads” such as plants, which “lack all sensation and consciousness. Leibniz compares their mental state “to our states when we are in a stupor or a dreamless sleep.” “Animals, on the other hand, can sense and be conscious, and thus possess souls. God and the souls of human beings and angels, finally, are examples of minds because they are self-conscious and rational. As a result, even though there are mind—like things everywhere for Leibniz, minds in the stricter sense are not ubiquitous” (http://www.iep.utm.edu/lei—mind/).

Obviously panpsychists believe there is some type of mind in everything.   Bavinck has given us a correction on this doctrine, and he finishes of by saying:

“The rational life differs from the vegetative and sensory not only in feeling, consciousness, and reflex, but in its foundational principle—namely, the life force; it is life of a different kind.”

My view on this is that we humans were created in the image of God.  We have rationality and it is only into humans that he breathed the breath of life.  All other life forms do not have our reason.  We were created to have a relationship with God for all eternity. 

A diversion in the discussion; Are there pets in heaven?

I completely agree with Bavinck, and I could never take on board panpsychism.  However, are there animals in heaven?

The reason I bring this up is because we have a pet rabbit, and his name is Leo.  He is very clever, and he knows us individually.  He shows emotional intelligence of happiness and annoyance.  When it is time for him to have a bath, he will jump into his cage and refuse to come out.  However, every evening I cut some apple and I talk to him, he goes crazy, and he runs around and tries to get my attention.  If this isn’t intelligence, I don’t know what is.  Over the centuries since the stone age humans have been found buried with their pets.  At Gök Tepe in Turkey which is over 7000 years old there are carvings of animals.  Not only did we eat animals, but we also made friends with them. 

In the doctrine of Creation, it would be appropriate to look at this area especially with the environments we have been destroying.   We find animals all over the Bible.

1.     Animals taking Elijah to Heaven

2.     A talking donkey

3.     Adam naming the animals

4.     The snake ‘spoke’ in the garden of Eden

This list is just from the top of my head.  Obviously, our life is on another scale, and this means we are responsible for taking care of this world we live in.  If God is a God of love, then he knows our feelings towards our pets.  For me, I think there is room for pets in heaven.  There is a tree in heaven (tree of life) a vegetative life form then why not pets?

The question of pets in heaven is not a question the New Testament is focusing on.  As Bavinck below will say God is diametrically opposed to sin.  Pets are obviously not in this remit, and I think from this sense they are protected.  Not so for human beings who being created in the image of God ‘wanted to usurp God’.   This is the main cause for the sufferings of creation.  Once humanity is aligned with God’s kingdom then animals will be treated more fairly.

Bavinck continues and explains what sort of life the Bible is diametrically opposed to:

The spiritual life completely excludes and is diametrically opposed only to the life of sin that follows the will of the flesh and its desire (Eph. 2:3; 1 Pet. 4:3).  In a word, it opposes the “natural man” (1 Cor. 2:14), the distinctively human life not shared by God, Christ, or the angels, because the latter is a continuous activity flowing from an organizing, controlling, energizing, principle of life characterized by selfishness and lust, in coarser or finer form.

 

Let’s now look at some of the verses Bavinck quotes here:

Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. Ephesians 2:3

For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 1 Peter 4:3

14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 1 Corinthians 2:14

It is not to animals that God is bringing judgement but onto humans.  We have rationality and because of this we are culpable for our evil deeds.  The spiritual life is diametrically opposed to the sinful life:

17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. Galatians 5:17

The ‘flesh’ is the natural created man of this world.  This natural man wants to indulge in things that drive a person away from God.  The big ‘I’ thinks it is in control, and he/ she wants to usurp the position of God.  This leads to a spiritual death.

Reflection

We are at one level people of the flesh (natural created people) and in that sense as believers we live in this life and puts the interests of the world in front of us and we are also spiritual beings who are being restored to what we should have been prior to Adam’s rebellion and sin of pride as the image of God.  Jesus is the true image of God and through him we are sanctified.

Sin is a universal problem to the whole of humankind. Various religions deal with bad action using other logic, but its base is something that pulls us away from the metaphysical reality of the Divine. 

In the Eastern religions humans can reach ethical perfection in this world but it still flows from the ‘I’ (I did it).  Letting go of desires along the way does indeed work in making a person happier but there is no permanent escape to a metaphysical reality beyond death.   In Christianity it is not ‘what I can do’.  It is the opposite ‘I cannot do anything’.  This leads to humility and by the Holy Spirit the gift of faith and grace is given to the believer.  This is my opinion.  As a Christian I am called to love everyone no matter what their lifestyle or religious beliefs. 

Concerning the nature of Faith, I have reached the end of Hebrews 10 and the beginning of Hebrews 11 which is the faith chapter.  I invite you to continue reading there:  https://weaver1hasonline.international/

Advice from Herman Bavinck on Living in the Light of Christ

September 4, 2021

 

Bavinck reminds us about the two spiritual states we can be in.  Either living in the sinful nature or in the state of grace.  Grace is about the fact that everything we have is dependent on God’s love in Christ by the Holy Spirit. 

 

I was creating some mats for coffee cups


As Bavinck reminds us, Jesus proclaimed liberty to the ‘captives’:

and “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21 NIV(Reformed Ethics; page 242)).

He goes on to say that we have ‘Freedom’ in the Holy Spirit.  Before we go on, it is important to realize that Paul uses flesh a lot in his writings.  Paul is not saying that the human body is evil (This would be gnostic).  Flesh for him in certain passages means to live in an unholy way.  Paul sometimes gives us lists of these things:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 NASB”

This way of living is slavery to sin.  He can also speak about living in the Spirit.  This is the opposite to the above list:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.Galatians 5:22-23 NASB”

We have a choice then we either live in the grace of Christ by the Holy Spirit or we ‘please our own desires’.  Bavinck quotes Paul again and shows us how we ought to live:

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 NASB”

Bavinck goes deep into Scripture showing us what life in the Spirit is so he quotes from: (John 8:34; Rom. 6:7); (Gal. 4); (John 3:6); (Gal. 5: 17); (John 6:63); (Romans 8:21—4); (2 Cor. 3:6); (Rom. 8:15) (Reformed Ethics; From page 244).

From What has been said there are two paths open.  One that leads to communion with God and the other to separation from God.  Bavinck explains that:

Most frequently, however, this state is called a state of life as opposed to the former state of death in sin.  See, for example, Ephesians 2:1—3: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (page 244)

Bavinck then goes into a stream of Old Testament and New Testament verses about choosing ‘life’. So, then I give two examples from the Old and two from the New Testament:

“God in Scripture calls us again and again: “Listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live” (Deut. 4:1; cf. 30:6). It is the prayer and vow of the psalmist: “Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight” (Ps. 119:277)

In the New Testament he quotes:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24) We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:4) (From page 244)

Reflection

What I like about Herman Bavinck’s writings is that he can break down the basics of Scripture and explain to us how the Christian life ought to be.  It is fairly simple.  We live by faith trusting Christ on a day-to-day basis.  The ‘I’ has been replaced by a new centre, namely Christ by the Holy Spirit.  It is only by God’s grace we stand even the gift of faith is a gift from God.  How ethics has been done has also changed.  The natural fruit of the Spirit is good works.  The love of God sets us free from the negative selfish ways of living.  Even from a natural point of view love builds up.  How much more when we live in Christ.

Living in the flesh can also have unbeneficial effects.  Let us look at some of them:

Cause

Drunkenness

Immorality

envy

 

Effect

Failed liver, brain shrinkage

Sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies

Criminal activity because you don’t have enough.

 

What about the causes and effects of Living in the Spirit?

Cause

Self-control

Patience

Effect

Healthy (not eating too much).

Better relationship in the family and outside the family.

 

Living in the Spirit then does pay off in the long run.  By living in the Spirit, we are living the life of the Kingdom of God.  Not only do we have eternal life, but life can under certain circumstances be better for us in the West.

Living the life in the Spirit also means looking out for the needs of our neighbours.   If we only think about ourselves then we are not living the life of love.  Perhaps there is some one who is suffering somewhere.  There are many homeless people, sick people, elderly and so on.  God’s love that has been poured out in our lives should also pour out to the rest of the world somehow.  I don’t have all the answers, but Bavinck has explained what state the Christian ought to be in.

I can also understand why people choose to live in the sinful nature with no care for the neighbour and to be completely selfish.  Materialism in the West has created many grotesque ‘fat cats’ who have most of the wealth and what is worse they do not want to share it with their fellow man.  They have ‘made it’.  They might have a good life according to them but if they haven’t shared love then they won’t be remembered and if they are remembered for all the wrong reasons.  Eventually death comes and either his/ her wealth is claimed by the family, or the taxman swallows the wealth in whole which can be used for the benefit of all.

Let us with Bavinck choose to live life to the full.  In Christ we have a relationship with God, and everything comes from Him in the first place.  We were created to love God freely in the first place thus our complete happiness in furnished in Christ.   If God was willing to become a man and die in place of me I ought to be filled with real gratitude.

 

Bibliography

Reformed Ethics; by Herman Bavinck; edited By John Bolt; pages 242-244

Herman Bavinck and Life in the Spirit

August 28, 2021

 

Beautiful Sunset taken by Hasan Djemal 28 08 2021

In Bavinck’s first book we looked at humanity before the Fall, after the fall with us being under the natural law of nature.  Now the master theologian moves on to look at the new life in Christ.  As a starter into this very important topic Bavinck says:

” Only the Triune God has life in himself; all creaturely life is derived from and dependent upon God. While the drive for self-preservation characterizes all vegetative and sentient life, the spiritual life is characterized by love for God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit Its fundamental principle is not found within the natural life but first arises through denial, self-crucifixion, renunciation, and loss of our soul. Love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit and fruit of the Spirit, gives stature and form to the spiritual life.” (Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 239)

Obviously, people who read this blog in the public domain come from all sorts of religious traditions and none.  For Christians the life in the Trinity is real spiritual life in Christ by the Holy Spirit.  Some people would deny that there is a God, and they choose to live life their way.  For Christian believers there is a special walk with God.  Bavinck wants to explain all of the twists and turns in our walk with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit.  At the end of the day, we are all spiritual beings.  Even hardened atheists would agree with this.  There is something that animates all of us and is universal to human beings.  If we were not spiritual beings there would be no need for psychologists, mental hospitals, neural surgeons et al. Obviously the starting point for some is that human life was an ’accident’.  For Christians, Jews and Muslims God created us.  We are indebted to God for this life. However, I am speaking from a Christian exclusivist standpoint. This does not mean that I am any better than anyone else.  Perhaps the one reading this blog has an exclusivist standpoint that is not the same one as Bavinck.  From my reading we were all created in the image of God and hence we need to practice neighbourly love because of our exclusivist standpoints. I’m not so hot on liberal theology because it seems to want to melt the religions into some type of melting pot where we compromise.  For people of exclusivist stand points who believe God has spoken through whatever Scripture (Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Islamic), this is seen as a horrendous sacrilege.  

So, then the believing Christian is in a spiritual state in relation to Christ.  The New Testament uses a lot of terms for this spiritual state, and I am getting excited with the most beautiful and exquisite jewels that Bavinck our Master theologian has mined for us.  We don’t need crypto currency; we have something worth far more valuable; Our relationship with our Saviour the lord Jesus Christ.  We should get really excited with what the terms are in the New Testament for our walk with God.  Yes, the Scriptures were written over 2000 years ago but by the Holy Spirit time is but an illusion. As believers we belong to the one universal church of believers; those that have trodden the road of faith, we who are alive today and those who will come after us when we have gone to glory. Let us then look at these special references:

Before looking at the references though Bavinck gives us this sentence:

“The spiritual life is presented in Holy Scripture with a variety of terms and images.” (From; Reformed Ethics; Book 2 and chapter 7; page 242; By Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt)

Over the next few quotations Bavinck dives into the experiences of Saint Paul.  We need to remember that although Paul started hunting Christians, he was specifically chosen by our Lord to be an ambassador of Christ to the Gentiles.  Although he was at saint Stephen’s martyrdom; in the long run he was going to suffer more than what is naturally possible for a human being.  Paul having so much experience of the Christian walk, is a prime candidate to help us in our own walk with God. 

Paul speaks of himself as a man ‘in Christ’ (ἐν Χριστῷ 2 Corinthians 12:2):

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. 2 Corinthians 12:2

 

In the next verse Paul is defending his Apostleship.  Some ‘Judaizers’ wanted to force Gentile Christians to get circumcised.   Paul won the debate on our Gospel freedoms.  In terms of our Christian walk with God Bavinck point out the phrase ‘to reveal his Son in me’:

16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, Galatians 1:16

The guiding principle in the next verse is that we live by faith in the Son of God.  More precisely on the verse below Bavinck quotes, ““been crucified with Christ,” so that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me””:

19 For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:19-20

 

As children of God, we are growing all the time or ought to be into full maturity as believers.  Bavinck shows us this with “Christ is formed in you”:

19 My children, with whom I am again in labour until Christ is formed in you— Galatians 4:19

 

Paul reminds the believers in Corinth where he stands in Christ in relation to them having faith in Christ Jesus:

15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 1 Corinthians 4:15

 

Paul goes even further as Bavinck points out that these believers are literally ‘new creations.’:

17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

 

The new life we have rotates around Christ not the big ‘I’:

11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:11

 

The believers at Corinth ‘are fleshly’ and have a lot of growing up to do:

1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:1

All these reference Reformed Ethics; Book 2 and chapter 7; page 244; By Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt)

 

Reflection

All these verses were taken from one paragraph.  As Bavinck points out we need to be aware of flesh and fleshly.  ‘In the flesh’ can mean living in this world as a human being.  ‘Fleshly’ is more about being immature believers who believe the Gospel but there is still room for them to grow up and they still do the worldly things they were supposed to have given up.  On the other hand, he also uses terminology such as ‘in Christ’, the true believer only stands by the Holy Spirit through what Christ has done for us.

For a 20th century theologian such as Karl Barth we find our election ‘in Christ’.  In Calvin we are the object of election. As such double predestination is a little harsh from my point of view.  Barth tried a work around in the Judge judged in our place. Jesus is the Judge who was judged in our place.  (From Church Dogmatics; Karl Barth; volume 4/1) Jesus is the subject and object of election.  We find our election in Christ.  It is an extra step for our election. 

Sometimes I think it is possible to over analyse situations.  We can rest in the fact that we live in Christ and by faith rest on him our Lord and Saviour. 

It is best to turn to the Bible to sort some of these issues out. I think it is great that Bavinck drew so much from the Corinthian letters.  These believers had some serious issues, but St Paul broke through to them and showed them the way of Christ.   We also in our own day have serious issues to deal with and we too like the Corinthian Christians at times can be very fleshly Christians.  If there was hope for the Corinthians, then there is hope for us. I actually wrote a mini commentary on Corinthians recently and you can follow it at:

https://wordpress.com/post/weaver1hasonline.international/896

Herman Bavinck on Natural Morality and how we fit in.

August 22, 2021

 

Christians with the aid of the Scripture can differentiate between nature and grace.  As Bavinck says:

“When people awaken to consciousness of the self, they immediately become aware that they are not who they should be. There is a law in their heart, a law that stands above them and opposes the law within their members. This former law under girds their consciences, guiding them to choose between what is (relatively) good and evil. This gives rise to a struggle. The natural moral life is a life of conflict between good and evil. ”

(Reformed Ethics; By Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Natural Morality; page 227)

Thanks to  cottonbro from Pexels

Bavinck then explains to us that our ‘moral disposition’ takes shape with lots of external forces such as social class, our environment and our personal temperament. (page 229;para2) Our consciousness in relation to nature keeps on developing in us so that it can seen as moral character.  He goes on to say:

“This happens especially when children are brought up under the moral law, learn to obey it, and begin of their own accord to do habitually what they ought to do by virtue of the commandment. This is how moral consciousness awakens and grows strong within people, who then feel conscience-bound to the law or moral idea.” (page 229) The problem however is that this ‘moral struggle never goes away’. With repentance there can be changes but even then, there will always be a struggle.  Bavinck then goes into detail in how this natural morality plays itself out in the individual, family and society.  Before Christianity:

“Moral character, morality, virtue, family, household, nurture, friendship, occupation, science, art, and the state—are products of natural morality.” (Page 232) These virtues did not start from Christianity, but they already existed in the ‘Pagan world’.   These have grown from the natural human world all over the world.

Bavinck the Master Theologian then gives us a fine conclusion to the first book on Reformed Ethics.

On Pages 232-235 Bavinck goes through the following topics:

1.       Natural morality viewed from the perspective of God’s kingdom

2.       Natural morality Viewed from an earthly perspective within time

3.       Natural Morality for the church and individual believers

Natural morality viewed from the perspective of God’s kingdom

Natural morality (morality from nature) from God’s perspective does not lead to God’s presence.  As Bavinck says:

“A wide chasm lies between the most highly developed moral life and the smallest seed of spiritual life. To. obtain spiritual life, it is precisely the natural moral life that has to be entirely surrendered, put to death, and crucified with Christ. In that case, Virtues are nothing but splendid sins.” Page 232

There are many reasons for this conclusion, but Scripture shows this to us to be the case.  Even in this chapter earlier, Bavinck went through the Greek philosophers and indeed their moral conduct was of a very high standard.  As far as Christians are concerned the ethics were at times even higher but this natural morality cannot save us from eternal separation from God.  We can see this from the teachings of Jesus for example.  Jesus starts the Sermon on the mount with ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’.   We could possibly with great difficulty keep all of Jesus’ commands, but have we kept the unwritten laws of the Law (as Bavinck mentioned somewhere).  Possibly not.  The biggest obstacle possibly is trying to get into God’s presence with a haughty spirit.  It just isn’t going to happen.  The pharisees and Sadducees probably kept the laws perfectly, but they missed an important ingredient; ‘humility, faith and grace’.  If the pharisees failed to enter the Kingdom of God by keeping the natural laws of God, then we don’t even stand a chance.  The Lord Jesus Christ kept the law perfectly and it is only through his work and grace that we can enter the kingdom of God.

Natural morality Viewed from an earthly perspective within time

When we talk about time, Bavinck means in our space and time continuum.   In our daily affairs of living this life.  For salvific use and the kingdom of God it fails to allow us to enter God’s kingdom.  However, in living our existence on earth natural morality has ‘great value’.  Bavinck gives us three reasons for this:

a.       Natural morality leaves humanity without excuse

b.       Natural morality restrains humanity to the excesses of evil

c.       Natural morality allows human society ‘to be bearable and at times also give joy’

 

Natural morality leaves humanity without excuse

One example Bavinck uses is a ‘community of robbers’, even they have rules in house so to speak.  Bavinck finishes off by saying “Even the greatest evil seeks to cloak itself in the garment of goodness and hide under it.   Every person’s own conscience testifies to natural morality. “(page 233)

Natural morality restrains humanity to the excesses of evil

Natural morality can hold back the wilder aspects of the human heart and ‘cordons around human lusts.’  On the other hand, natural morality can give satisfaction of doing the right thing and not the wrong evil thing.  Bavinck gives a whole list of names; “Plato, Seneca, and Plutarch and from the laws of Solon, Draco, and Lycurgus; many are examples to Christians and surpass the converted in outward Virtues.” (Page 233) These people managed to excel above Christians in moral virtues (but it cannot save us). Natural morality then ‘maintains itself within the conscience, in the state, in religion, in art, in history, in God’s government of the world’.

Natural morality allows human society ‘to be bearable and at times also give joy’

Natural morality can make a bad situation better (Bavinck uses the word ameliorate in the English translation).  With science and technology and medicine (love for truth) it can help us fight ‘against the elements of nature’.  He finishes off by saying, “And in the terrain of natural morality, there is still some reason for optimism, and pessimism is weakness of character and lack of courage.” (Page 233)

Natural Morality for the church and individual believers

Bavinck now covers:

a.       Natural morality is the presupposition of faith.

b.       Natural morality is even a kind of preparation for the spiritual life.

c.       The life of natural morality remains in the believer and in the church. (Pages 234-235)

As Bavinck shows natural morality is played out in the real world and Jesus says:

“38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; Matthew 13:38” NASB

Bavinck says about this verse “The world is the field in which the seed of the Word, prepared by the Holy Spirit, is sown, germinates, and bears fruit (Matt. 13:38). Regeneration presupposes natural birth, recreation presupposes creation, and Scripture presupposes nature.”

For Bavinck we are not completely ‘regenerated’ in this life.  It is a continued work of God’s goodness and grace being poured into out lives.  He quotes a couple of verses that show this to be the case from Scripture:

20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20 NASB

Christ is the driving force in our lives but that does not mean that we become ascetics or withdraw out of human society to live a false Christian life.  We are still natural human beings living in this world but by faith and grace we live in this world.  He finishes off Book one with saying,” The purpose and task of ethics (especially in our third book) is therefore to describe how regenerate people are to manifest their eternal heavenly life in the form of the temporal earthly life.” (Page 235, The third book hasn’t been published yet)

Reflection

As he has said natural morality comes from our natural first birth selves.   Every human being has a natural morality and from this flows a lot of things such as the sciences, medicine, technology et al.  Natural morality cannot save us from our sins but in this world, it plays a vital part in maintaining order in the chaos.  We have covered some serious topics in unconverted humanity.

I like the way that Bavinck finished off his last chapter.  He does not cut off the believers from the unbelievers.  Whether we are unbelievers or believers, we were all created by God.  For us to stand even a chance of entering heaven a new creative work of God has to happen in us because of the Fall.  This has all been done from an ‘exclusivity position’ yet he retains the exclusivity elements.

As a religious Educator I have problems with the way Religious Studies is taught.  The comparative method can take one so far but then it fails.  The reason Religious Studies fails is that faith of any religion is personal.  The personal factors are stripped away, and one is left with only data. 

Children for example speak a lot of the time from their own personal experiences.  In an essay question for example they can be penalized for not giving an answer that looks at other points of view other than their own.  The thing is that in a safe classroom environment they have come to a point reflectively and ask the question; ‘What does all this mean to me?’

We can learn from Bavinck that we are not ‘lone individuals’ with no family, community or history.  This is where many modern states are going wrong.  In some developed states the individual is the main thing.  The late Rabbi Sacks was right to say in his book Morality for example that there has to be more emphasis on the community.  There isn’t enough of it.  Bavincks Ethics has a lot to teach the secular world as much as teaching the Church.

I am now looking forward to moving onto his second book covering ‘Converted Humanity’.  What happens after we become Christians?  This is a very important question.  I wished that there was someone who could have explained this to me as a young believer.   I think the second book is more upbeat to the first.  Sometimes the topics got a little dark.  I suppose sometimes we need to go through the valleys before we reach the mountain tops.