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Wordwise Insight, Issue #003 -- The nature of biblical unity
March 14, 2005

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the informative free monthly newsletter of


BIBLE INSIGHTS. A message outline you are welcome to use, "Seven Pillars of Unity"

READER Q & A. About Jesus' strange command to amputate a hand! And the meaning of legalism and license.

IDEAS FOR YOUR CHURCH. The value of using a different tune for a hymn now and then. And a Bible study series called "Exploring Christianity."

NEWS & REVIEWS. Three fine books by Lee Strobel that can help sincere seekers to see the basis for the Christian faith.


Seven Pillars of Unity
(From Ephesians 4:4-6)

Merrill Unger calls Ephesians 4:4-6 a description of "scriptural ecumenicity." In our day when some seek organizational unity on the basis of the lowest common denominator, this passage outlines the nature of true Christian oneness. (Note that all three Persons of the Trinity are involved.)

1) "One body." The universal church is a spiritual entity made up of all born again believers from Pentecost to the coming rapture of the church. All are part of "the whole family in heaven and earth" (Eph. 3:14-15). All Christians, in other words, described as "those who are Christ's" (I Cor. 15:23), and including "the dead in Christ" (I Thess. 4:16).

2) "One Spirit." The Holy Spirit who indwells each individual believer and is at work in and through the body of Christ (Eph. 1:12-14; cf. Rom. 8:9).

3) "One hope of your calling." This likely refers to the believer's hope of ultimate perfection in Christlikeness (vs. 13; cf. Col. 1:27, "Christ in you, the hope of glory"). Our progressive sanctification is also the work of the Holy Spirit (II Cor. 3:18).

4) "One Lord." The Lord Jesus Christ, who is both our Saviour and the Head of the body (Eph. 1:22-23). (Note that this is the central reality of the seven.)

5) "One faith." One way of salvation--for Jew and Gentile--personal faith in the finished work of Christ. Others suggest Paul may mean the body of truth in which we put our faith (Jude 1:3; cf. Paul's testimony, "I have kept the faith," II Tim. 4:7).

6) "One baptism." The baptism of the Spirit (I Cor. 12:12-13; Gal. 3:26-28) occurring at the time of conversion, by which we are united to Christ and to one another as Christians. (Water baptism is not another baptism, but rather a symbolic representation of the spiritual reality. It pictures our identification with Christ (Rom. 6:3-4), but it does not initiate or affect it.)

7) "One God and Father" (or one God even the Father), who is the "Father of all [believers]" and "in you all" (cf. Jn. 14:23).


If you have a question, why not share them with us?

Question: Helena asks, "What is the meaning of Jesus' words, ‘If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off...' (Matt. 5:29-30)?"

Answer: These words of Jesus appear in the "Sermon on the Mount" and are found again in Matthew 18:8-9, and in Mark 9:43-48. Mention is made of amputating a hand and a foot, and putting out an eye. But these cannot be commands to engage in self-mutilation. The Bible condemns such behaviour. It is the idolatrous heathen who abuse their bodies in an attempt to please their gods (I Kgs. 18:25-29). Physically, we are the special creation of God (Gen. 2:7) and the Christian's body is "the temple of the Holy Spirit," to be used to glorify Him (I Cor. 6:19-20).

When we examine closely what Jesus said, nothing seems right. It is not the hand, the foot or the eye that "causes" sin. Nor is it the present physical body of the unbeliever that enters hell, but a new, resurrection body (Rev. 20:11-15). Further, even one who is blinded may be lustful still. Jesus used these startling words to stir a reaction. The seeming anomalies in the teaching are meant to force us to see the real problem. Amputation will not solve a problem that is rooted elsewhere. It is in the heart where sin is generated (cf. Mk. 7:20-23). So we are driven back to the opening word, "if." If the eye is the problem....But it is not.

Centuries ago, a man was arrested in England for being a pickpocket. As a cruel punishment, his right hand was cut off. But he simply learned new dexterity with his left hand and went right on stealing. When arrested again, his left hand also was amputated. But he then taught himself to pick pockets with his teeth! The gruesome tale makes a point. Where does the real problem lie? Not in the hands of the pickpocket, nor even his teeth. What he needed, and what we all need if we are to consistently obey God's Word, is a transformed heart. David realized that and prayed, "Create in me a pure heart, O God" (Ps. 51:10). And the creation of a new heart is the central promise of the New Covenant (Ezek. 36:26).

Second Corinthians 5:17 says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (cf. 3:18). By the power of the Holy Spirit we are to "walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). And when the Spirit of God changes the human heart, it will affect our eyes (what we admire and desire), our feet (the path we choose in life), and our hands (what we do and make). That is the point of the passages in question.

Question: Bill asks, "Can you please explain the difference between legalism and license?"

Answer: In Christian teaching, license is a moral distortion of liberty. It is the notion that living under grace gives us the freedom (or even the right) to do whatever we want and be free from any binding standard. (This is called "antinomianism.") It argues that since Christ has paid the penalty for all our sins, we are free to live as we please. But of course that is a gross misrepresentation of the truth. Christian liberty is not a license to do as we wish, but the power to do as we ought. Though the epistles recognize our freedom in Christ, that is balanced with the fact that:

A) If we truly love God we will want to do only those things that please Him (Jn. 14:15, 21, 23; I Jn. 2:5). Since God hates sin and cannot abide it in His presence (Hab. 1:13), why would we want to grieve Him (Eph. 4:30) and hinder our fellowship with Him (Ps. 66:18; Isa. 59:2)?

B) In showing Christ-like love to others--which we are to do (Jn. 13:34), we will want to avoid those things that could harm them. To act in such a way as would cause others to stumble into sin is hateful and wrong (I Cor. 8:9, 11-12; I Pet. 2:16; cf. Rom. 15:1-2).

C) Sin is still dangerous and destructive, if allowed into our lives as Christians. It can still enslave us if we let it. Instead, we should be living in a way that is edifying to ourselves and to others (I Cor. 6:12; 10:23; Gal. 5:13; cf. Eph. 4:29).

James speaks of "the law of liberty" (Jas. 1:25; 2:12), I believe he is referring to the entire Word of God, as applied under Grace. The Law of Moses called for strict obedience, but did not, in itself, provide the power to obey. The Law was thus a frustrating burden, a yoke of bondage (Acts 15:10; Gal. 5:1). Under Grace, we are given a new nature (II Pet. 1:3-4), and indwelt by the Spirit of God (I Cor. 6:19; Rom. 8:9). This is the spiritual and universal aspect of God's "New Covenant" with Israel (Jer. 31:33; 32:40; Ezek. 36:26-27), made possible by the shed blood of Christ (I Cor. 11:25). We have, by this means, a new sensitivity to God and His will, and a new power to do what is right. That is liberating!

It is not that the Christian life is without standards. God's righteous standard is eternal (Isa. 51:6, 8). Rather, we now have a new desire and a new power (by God's Spirit) to live lives that are pleasing to Him. But that brings us to the matter of legalism. Charles Ryrie, in his fine book, Balancing the Christian Life, says, "Legalism is not the presence of laws....Legalism may be defined as a fleshly attitude which conforms to a code for the purpose of exalting self" (p. 159). Put a slightly different way, It is not "legalistic" to have moral standards. Legalism is the belief that God's acceptance needs to be earned by our good works. It involves a failure to understand and appreciate the grace and love of God.

This addresses the motivation for Christian living. When Christ died upon the cross, He paid the penalty for all the sins of all mankind for all time (Isa. 53:6; I Jn. 2:2). If one lays claim to Christ's Calvary work as His own, that is all that is necessary. There is no longer any outstanding payment in the way of our full acceptance by God. We are "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6). Each and every believer is a "son and heir" in the family of God (Gal. 3:26; 4:7). Our standing before God is anchored in grace, His unmerited favour (Rom. 5:1-2).

In that exalted position, we live to please God, not to earn something that is already ours, but to express our appreciation for it. In this sense Law and Grace are complete opposites. (Under Law, Doing leads to Blessing; Under Grace, Blessing leads to Doing.) There is a word that is used some two dozen times in the epistles. It is the word "beseech" (plead, entreat). It perfectly reflects our new standing. The Law said, "Do this and you will be blessed." Grace says, here are all the blessings, free and clear, guaranteed in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Now, won't you please show Him how much you appreciate that? Won't you please obey Him in response to His gracious gift?

That is the thrust of verses such as: Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, by the mercies of God [because of the great work of salvation described in the earlier chapters], that you present your bodies a living sacrifice..." And Second Corinthians 6:1, "We then [because of what is described in 5:21], as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain..." And Ephesians 4:1, "I therefore [on the basis of the great work of God described to this point in the book]...beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called."

Next Month: What does it mean to "deliver someone to Satan" (I Cor. 5:5)? Also, a discussion of the various views of Bible prophecy. What is the difference between the premillennial, postmillennial, and amillennial positions?


If you have programming suggestions that worked for you, why not share them with us?

1) Have you ever tried singing a hymn to a tune other than the one used in your hymn book? If this is done carefully--and not too often--it can have a useful purpose.

What do you do if a hymn is unfamiliar? By using an already familiar tune, you can enable your congregation to sing and enjoy the unfamiliar piece. Well-known hymns benefit also. The difference in phrasing provided by another melody can lead to a fresh look at the lyrics. Suddenly, the words will take on new significance.

If you try this a few times, you may also discover that many people "like" a particular hymn because of the tune. (Ask for "favourites," and try singing one to a different tune and you will see!) While it is fine to enjoy the melody, that is not our first priority. The tune is like the frame of a picture. It does its job when it enhances the words and enables us to understand them better. If another tune will facilitate this, that is a good thing.

At the back of many hymn books is something called a "Metrical Index," a listing of tunes according to the lines of poetry they will accommodate. It can be used to select a different tune for a particular set of words. In a later newsletter, we shall unravel the complexities of this useful tool. For now, here are several hymns with suggested tune changes for you to try. (The tunes have their own names, and many hymn books list them for you.)

¤ "How Firm a Foundation." In most books, this great hymn is combined with a tune called "Foundation." But try it to "Portuguese Hymn" (the tune used for "O Come, All Ye Faithful").

¤ "In Heavenly Love Abiding" is a paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm using the tune "Seasons." Try using "Aurelia" ("The Church's One Foundation").

¤ "O Jesus, I Have Promised" (tune: "Angel's Story") is another hymn that works well with "Aurelia" ("The Church's One Foundation").

¤ "I Will Sing of My Redeemer" (tune unnamed) works extremely well with "Hyfrydol," ("Jesus, what a Friend for sinners"). So much so some newer books set it to the latter tune.

¤ O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" uses "Passion Chorale." If your congregation is not accustomed to Bach, you might try "Aurelia" for this too ("The Church's One Foundation").

¤ "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." Instead of the tune "Converse," try "Beecher" ("Love Divine, All Love's Excelling), or "Blaenwern." (The latter is a little trickier to find.)

¤ "Arise, My Soul, Arise!" uses a fine tune ("Towner") which is somewhat difficult to sing. Instead, you could try "Darwall" ("Rejoice, the Lord is King").

¤ "Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart" uses the tune "Morecambe." Try it with the tune "Eventide" ("Abide with Me").

¤ "Jesus Loves Even Me" (tune unnamed) is worth trying to the tune "Slane" ("Be Thou My Vision").

¤ "And Can It Be" uses the tune "Sagina." Try it to "Sweet Hour" ("Sweet Hour of Prayer").

2) Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

3) Check out a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.

4) New on the Wordwise website this month, "CRITIQUE OF THE PASSION," a careful look at the 2004 Gibson film, "The Passion of the Christ." Though many have praised it, there is another point of view to be considered. See Critique of the Passion.


Author Lee Strobel has given us three excellent books. Strobel, educated at Yale Law School, was an award-winning legal editor for the Chicago Tribune. Until 1981, he was a skeptic concerning spiritual things. But when he found Christ he turned his investigative skills to good use, showing non-Christians the basis for what we believe. Written with the unbeliever in mind, these books would make excellent gifts for a sincere seeker, willing to consider the Bible's claims. They would be especially helpful for those attending a secular university where God's truth is commonly attacked.

¤ In The Case for Christ the author compiles credible evidence demonstrating that Jesus of Nazareth truly is the Son of God. His examination of the death and resurrection of Christ is worth the price of the book all on its own.

¤ In The Case for Faith Strobel deals, one by one, with the most common objections raised by unbelievers (such as "God isn't worthy of worship if He kills innocent children"). One after another, he carefully refutes these arguments and supports the Christian position.

¤ In The Case for a Creator Lee Strobel presents half a dozen lines of argument disproving evolutionary theory, and supporting the active involvement of Almighty God in the creation of the physical universe. (This book is up-to-date, scientifically, and highly technical in spots. But it makes for thought-provoking reading.)

(If you would like to order one of these books, simply click on the title, below.)

The Case for Christ

The Case for Faith

The Case for a Creator

If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.

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