An evaluation and comparison of the NASB, ESV, NIV, MSG, and TPT
We’ve spent the last few episodes generally looking at both translations and paraphrases of the Bible, but what happens when we dig into a few of them? Today we’re going to talk specifically about the NASB, ESV, and NIV translations and the Message and Passion paraphrases. Then we’re going to work our way through one passage across all five versions. Buckle in, friends, and let’s dig in!
What About Bible Paraphrases?
Paraphrases of the Bible have become increasingly popular in recent years. The Message Bible is one of the top 10 bibles sold in 2020, and the more recent “Passion Translation” is rapidly gaining traction in the U.S. thanks to some big-name endorsements.
If you watched the last episode of Biblicalish, we talked about the Bible’s translations, how the English versions came about, and the differences between a few versions.
In that video, we talked about the spectrum of translations, which go from formal and literal to more functional or conversational on the other end. We also put a few well-known translations on that spectrum and talked about some of their strengths and weaknesses.
If you want some more context around today's discussion, you might want to go back and watch that first.
Is a paraphrase a translation?
To answer that question, let’s go back to the goal of translations: to reproduce the meaning of a text from one language to another. To refine that a bit further, we might say that a faithful translation of the bible tries to reproduce that meaning without adding anything or taking anything away from it.
A paraphrase's goal is not just to translate the original text but also to make some interpretation. The difference between translation and interpretation is subtle, so I want to take a quick field trip to the field of physics, to Newton's second law of motion.
Within this law of motion, there is a concept called linear motion. “Linear motion” simply means motion along a straight line. A shape in linear motion, no matter how complex, is going to move from here to there in a perfectly straight line. All the points are moving the same distance at the same speed, not rotating, moving from point A to point B without changing shape. In the field of physics, do you know what another word is for moving a shape like that? Translate. I think that gives us an excellent picture of what translation is trying to do. We want to bring a word from one language into another without changing the shape of it.
How does interpretation differ? To interpret something means to “explain the meaning” of it. Translation wants to stop reproducing the text’s meaning, while interpretation intends to explain it to you. It goes beyond telling you what it says and tries to explain what it should mean to you or for you.
Now granted, there is a certain amount of interpretation that comes into play when we translate. We have to move these words from a language and people that is both foreign and ancient to us in the modern-day. However, translation aims to do as little adding and subtracting from that meaning as possible.
A paraphrase author, by contrast, is intentionally adding and subtracting words to restate the idea in their own words. They are reshaping the words to explain the concept from their understanding of the text. When we begin paraphrasing, we’ve moved beyond translating and into interpreting.
A translation aims to use the same words without adding or subtracting meaning.
A paraphrase aims to explain the meaning, using intentionally different words.
So to answer our question, no, a paraphrase is not a translation. Paraphrases have more in common with a commentary or even with a sermon in which the speaker takes time to explain and apply Scripture in a modern context.
Should you read them?
What you do with a paraphrase of the Bible should depend on two things:
1. How much you trust the author?
2. How do you plan to use them?
Let’s start with the author. The further away we get from the original inspired text, the more faith we’re placing on the current author to restate things accurately. A paraphrase is a reproduction; someone else’s thoughts on God’s word.
So if we’re going to place our faith in their thoughts, really their teaching, we should carefully evaluate the teacher. The teacher, in this case, is the author of the paraphrase.
How you plan to use a paraphrase also matters. Any pastor who is serious about preaching from God’s Word will encourage you to open up your Bible and check what they’re teaching against Scripture. I encourage you to do that with anything I say as well! The same is true for a paraphrase. This is one of the dangers of treating a paraphrase like a translation. What do you do when your “translation” is itself someone else’s thoughts on what the words mean?
Here’s my advice: I would treat a paraphrase and its author the same way you treat a sermon and the person preaching it.
DO check them against a more formal translation.
Make sure the paraphrase matches up with Scripture.
Twice in Deuteronomy, God warns His people not to “add or take away” from his words, his commands to them. He knew how quickly they would try to twist His words to their liking. It’s tempting to twist God’s Word to our preferred form instead of being formed by His words.
DO treat the author as you would any Bible teacher.
Consider whether you would sit under their teaching in any other context!
Consider their teachings, their witness, and make sure at no point they deviate from the gospel.
DON'T use one as your everyday Bible.
Sermons and commentaries are helpful, but they should not be the primary way you take in God’s word, and neither should a paraphrase.
Remember the people from Berea, who are commended in Acts 17, for “examining the Scriptures daily” to see if what the Apostles were teaching was true.
I hope this was helpful to you as you consider the place for paraphrases in your own life and study of God’s word!
We’re going to finish this series on Bible translations in our next publication, where we’ll evaluate several popular versions and compare one passage in multiple versions.
Please consider subscribing to our mailing list! It helps us connect with you, and let you know when we publish new content!
 Mark L. Strauss, Distorting Scripture? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998)
 Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32
 Galatians 1:8-9
 Acts 17:11
What Bible Translation Should I Read?
We have so many versions of the Bible available to us! What a time to live, when we have unlimited access to God's Word in print, online, and whatever device you're reading this on! However, it can be challenging to decide which translation is best to start reading. In this episode of Biblicalish, we'll talk about the incredible journey of the Bible into English, how translations differ, and what versions you should consider reading!
How did we get our Bible?
The Bible, though typically bound into one book, is a collection of many books by many different authors, written over a few thousand years. Technically the "Good Book" is more of an anthology, but each book plays a part in telling the same story. It's a story of the good God who created all things, how mankind turned away from Him, how He redeemed us, and how He is even now bringing about the restoration of all things! The Bible is so much more than just a collection of books; according to 2 Timothy 3:16, it is the inspired Word of God, making it infinitely valuable to us!
There are 66 books in all, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Just a note: that the Catholic and Orthodox churches include some additional books in the Old Testament, but we'll save discussion on how the books were chosen and assembled for another day. Today, we want to focus on the words themselves and how they were translated into the English language.
When the first books of the Bible were written thousands of years ago, English wasn't even a language. The Old Testament books were first recorded in Hebrew, which makes sense since much of it is the Hebrew people's history. The New Testament, on the other hand, was written during the 1st century— primarily in Greek.
The journey to an English translation began around 400 AD, with a translation known as the Vulgate or common translation. Why is this notable? This Latin translation is the base for the first translation into English, for better and for worse. This translation's strength came from using as a source some of the earliest Greek and Hebrew manuscripts available, manuscripts around today! Almost a thousand years after the Vulgate, when John Wycliffe took up translating the Bible into English in the late 1300s, this Latin translation was his source document. The challenge is that the accuracy of this translation is dependent now on two things:
In the mid-1500s, with the invention of the printing press, men like William Tyndale, John Rogers, and Miles Cloverdale undertook producing new translations into English from the Greek and Hebrew texts.
There have been many translations completed over the last 500 years. Some notable ones are the King James Version, The New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version. Each translation today maintains the standard of going back to the original text languages because they best enable us to reproduce the original meaning.
The Spectrum of Translation
The goal of translation is to reproduce the meaning of a text from one language to another. We don’t want to add any meaning in our translation or take any meaning away. That doesn’t mean that every translation goes about doing that in the same way!
Generally, there's a spectrum of translation approaches from more formal on one end to more functional on the other. You might call the formal approach a "literal" or "word-for-word" approach. It is most interested in translating things the way the writer initially meant it. On the other end, the more functional approach is interested in translating "thought-for-thought" or saying things most easily understood by the modern reader.
Let's put a few translations on the map for comparison:
All the way at the formal end is the New American Standard Bible (NASB), which uses the closest English equivalent for each word. This translation is about as close as you can get to working with the original texts without actually learning to read Greek or Hebrew.
A little closer to the middle is the English Standard Version (ESV), which uses a similar word-for-word translation style. It focuses on using more modern English to improve readability.
Over a little closer to the "functional" end is the well-known New International Version (NIV), which attempts to balance "transparency to the original with clarity of meaning”. Their ambition is to make it sound beautiful in the English language to enjoy reading it.
Let's talk pros and cons for each end of the spectrum here for a moment:
The strength of the more formal translations is their accuracy in studying God's Word in detail! If we believe God inspired the very words of Scripture, then there is value in knowing which words were used! It prompts us to ask good questions like, "What does it mean to take the name of the Lord in vain?" Is it talking about swearing? Or does "taking the name" mean more than speaking God's name out of turn?
The challenge with these translations is that they can feel a little cumbersome to the modern reader and can be a little harder to read aloud. The most beautiful poem written in Hebrew or Greek doesn't quite have the same rhymes and rhythm in English.
What about the translations termed more "functional"? The apparent strength is that they're easy to read, making you more likely to read them! I don't want to discount the value of having a translation that presents God's word in a way that helps me "meditate on it day and night.”
The downside of using a translation like this is that sometimes you end up swapping out the more accurate word for a more attractive word. This exchange can be a problem when the more attractive word in English carries meaning or connotations that the original word did not. The reverse can also be true, where the more common English word loses meaning!
Picking A Translation
Taking all that into account, you can see that there's a careful balancing act going on when it comes to this spectrum of translations. Scripture itself talks about the complexity of this balance.
On the one hand, 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that Scripture is inspired by God and infinitely useful. In other words, it is given to us to be very functional in its application to our lives.
On the other hand, in Isaiah 55:8, God says that His thoughts are above ours—higher than ours. There will always be some kind of wrestle in reading and understanding those kinds of thoughts, but it's a good wrestle. It's a worthwhile journey, especially considering God's word is life to us.
Each of the translations I've talked about today does a pretty good job of making the meaning of Scripture clear to the English reader. I think it helps to be aware of where they fall on that spectrum of translation.
This may come as a disappointment to some, but I'm not going to recommend a translation, though I will share with you my process for reading the Bible.
How I Read the Bible
I typically read the ESV, which is just readable enough to easily read it out loud and not stumble over the words too often. However, when I'm studying a passage in-depth, I'll usually read the even more literal NASB. In the context of studying, I appreciate being stopped by hard words. I ask, "Why did the author say it like that?" and "what does that mean?". There's no shame in using more than one version. It's often helpful to have some comparisons around difficult passages.
If you hear one thing from all of this, it's that we have some options when it comes to reading God's Word, the critical thing being that you read it!
If you're wondering what to do with paraphrases of the Bible like The Message or The Passion Translation, we'll tackle those in the next article coming out in about two weeks! If you haven't already, you should subscribe to our email list, so you get notified when the next episode comes out.
If you have questions about another translation that we didn't talk about today, please reach out to us on social media or via email.
 2 Timothy 3:16
 Mark L. Strauss, Distorting Scripture? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998)
 Psalm 1:2
 Deuteronomy 8:3
What's Going To Happen?
A biblical response to election anxiety.
Around this time of year, particularly an election year, many Americans’ thoughts are filled with fear and uncertainty about the future. Who will win the election? What will happen when they do? What will happen to us?? A recent survey revealed that 68% of American adults are significantly stressed out by the election. What does the Bible have to say about that? Let's find out!
For months now, Americans are inundated with political ads, messages, phone calls, mail, etc. It seems like the closer we get to election day, the louder they get! Going to my mailbox feels like walking into the middle of an increasingly uncomfortable argument between people who desperately want to convince me that the other person is a worse option.
In addition to these arguing voices, I start to hear my voice added to the mix, asking questions like, “are we going to be ok?” I begin to wrestle with fear and anxiety over the future. If I’m honest, the voices of fear and anxiety in me can be louder than any political ad, even those with all caps across the front.
My hope today is that we can dig into the Bible together and be reassured by the voice of the One we need to hear the most. I need to listen to His voice and gain His perspective to stand on something firm instead of drowning in my uncertainty. So let’s tackle a few fears together!
Fear of the Unknown Future
The first fear I deal with is the kind that comes from an unknown future. The year 2020 has had its fair share of surprises around each corner, and not all of them have been particularly pleasant. At this point, I would say there’s a decent amount of general anxiety over what the headline will be tomorrow. When you add on top of that, something more specific to be anxious about, like “what will I wake up to on Wednesday, November 4th”! Thankfully, Jesus isn’t interested in shaming us when we feel overwhelmed and anxious; He wants us to find hope in Him.
In a sermon in Matthew 6, Jesus reassures us that if God takes care of the birds and flowers, he will undoubtedly take care of us! So there’s no need to be anxious! He says, “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” In other words, why are you chasing after tomorrow already? You have to survive today first! (Sorry, that’s maybe more the tired parent speaking than what Jesus meant). He says this in the context of telling us how God cares for us and will take care of us tomorrow, just like He is doing today.
In addition to not being anxious about tomorrow, Jesus also tells us what to pursue today! He says, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Today, I should seek to live righteously and pursue His kingdom. Tomorrow, for followers of Jesus, doesn’t have to be something to fear. When we consider our struggles today in the light of eternity, the apostle Paul says they will seem light and momentary. Today is for us to walk with Jesus, and tomorrow is one day closer to His return.
Fear of Losing Treasure
In addition to an unknown future, I think there’s also just a general fear of losing. You can probably fill in the blank with a handful of things you’re afraid of losing, but let's talk about a few categories we might find some common ground.
In America particularly, I think there’s a genuine fear of losing our treasure or maybe put another way, we’re afraid of losing our comfort. When surveyed about the issue driving us to the polls this November, do you know the top issue was brought up? The economy. On almost all the other issues listed, it swung wide to the right or the left, but on this, we were united—we’re all worried about the economy. This came close to home for me a few months ago when the pandemic struck. I was consumed by the endless “what if” statements about how tomorrow might rob me of what I have today. You know those moths, rust, and thieves Jesus said destroy our treasures on earth? I found out I was terrified of them. I hadn’t realized how highly I treasured all of these things that had no eternal value.
Jesus talks a lot about treasure, especially our struggle with treasuring temporary things over eternal things. In Hebrews 13:5, the writer implores Christians to “keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Isn’t that good news!? He’s saying, “Don’t love money, love Jesus! Money will leave you!” All I have to do is glance at my bank account to see that my money is always leaving me. And one day, I will leave it behind whether I want to or not, but Jesus will never leave me! We have a treasure in Jesus that we cannot lose, no matter what tomorrow brings!
Fear of Losing Control
Second, I think many of us are afraid of losing control. You can see political advertising playing off that fear over the last few months, urging you to vote for the right candidates, lest we “lose control” of everything. Or perhaps that their candidates will get things “under control” in all the ways the opposition will surely fail. The world sure feels on the brink this year, in a way that I’ve never experienced, and all eyes are fixed on this potential shift of power in American politics to bring us back control.
Here’s the most important question for us to ask: what is God’s perspective on this? I desperately need a perspective shift around my desire for control because the way I’ve been looking at things is leaving me in fear.
Let’s look at this “shift of power” that I referenced a moment ago because that’s where we need to have a shift in perspective first. Perhaps an analogy is helpful. Imagine the country is a large sailing ship, and every few years, the passengers vote the crew into their positions. Aboard the ship, there is a perceived shift of power when the newly elected crew takes the helm, adjusts the rudder, and hoists the sail, but what has happened? Who still controls the sea, directs the tides, moves the wind, determines the weather?
Psalm 46:6 puts the nations in their proper perspective, saying:
 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts. (ESV)
I’m not saying the crew doesn’t matter! Good and wise leadership can make a big difference! I am saying we need to keep things in perspective. We need to remember that one day, it says in Isaiah 2:17:
 the haughtiness of man shall be humbled,
and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low,
and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. (ESV)
Let’s get personal with this for a moment because fear always has a way of worming deeper into our hearts that we realized. Maybe fear has made its way to an especially personal place with you, and the question you’re asking is “will I ever feel in control of my life again.” I think a biblical perspective shift is just what we need.
The Bible reminds us in several places that I never have and never will have control over my life. Psalm 144 says I am “like a breath,” and the days of my life are “like a passing shadow” compared to God, yet the writer (King David) is amazed that God still cares for Him!
In James 4, living with this illusion of control is called “boastful and arrogant.” It says:
 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (ESV)
It makes a difference to live in a reality where we are not in control, but the God who cares for us is. What a joy to live from a place of saying “if the Lord wills”! What a relief to let go of an illusion of control and recognize the greater hands that hold me today and for all my tomorrows.
Everything Hangs on This
One of the phrases that I hear thrown around often by both sides of the political aisle is that “everything hangs on this election.” Let me just address that for a moment by saying no—it doesn’t.
I’m not saying that elections don't matter or that you shouldn’t vote. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care about this country’s future or the people who are leading it. I am saying, don’t let your sense of security hang on the outcome of those things. Make sure you’re standing on a foundation that is eternal and not temporary. Have a perspective like Paul, where he says, “we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Don’t give in to the fear that “everything hangs on this.” Don’t hang your hope for the future on the shoulders of men and women who are flawed and imperfect just like you and I. Instead, hang your hope for the future on Jesus! Love your neighbor no matter what yard signs they may have out front, and have peace in knowing that Jesus said: “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”
 Matthew 6:34
 Matthew 6:33
 2 Corinthians 4:17
 Matthew 6:19
Survey showing 80% of Americans feel the US is out of control: https://s.wsj.net/public/resources/documents/200266NBCWSJJune2020Poll.pdf
 Psalm 144:4
 2 Corinthians 5:1
Am I "Enough"?
A biblical view of self-worth.
A while ago, I was listening to a Christian radio station on my way to work. The DJ was getting ready to sign off for the morning, and she left the broadcast with this comment to her listeners:
“Remember, you are worthy, you are beautiful, and you are enough.”
That was it. That was her parting thought, and my first thought was, “well, that’s kind of a nice thought, isn’t it…”
But the more I thought about it, the more it struck me as an odd thing for one believer to say to another. Now I could hear a believer saying those things about Jesus! Jesus, you are worthy, you are beautiful, and you are enough! That would be a true and right thing to say! But about me?
Even more recently, someone I would call a celebrity pastor tweeted out, “you already are enough.” To which I responded, I am? Is this idea biblical? Is it missing the proper context? Do I just suffer from poor self-esteem? Possibly. But here’s the message I see in scripture.
Am I worthy?
Well, typically, the worth of something is determined by what you would pay for it. So yes, we are valuable because of the price Jesus paid for us. But let’s qualify that for a moment. The price that Jesus paid for us is a picture of His goodness, His kindness, and His love and not my worthiness. I do not deserve to be rescued and have Jesus pay for me with His life. Romans 5 describes us as “ungodly” (5:6), “sinners” (5:8), and even “enemies”(5:10) when Jesus came and died for us! Our salvation is a costly gift we do not deserve! Let me put it this way for the dog people out there—we are not the winning purebred in Purina’s annual dog show—we are the mutt with matted hair and a grumpy disposition. And so the price Jesus paid for me should always redirect me to His goodness. Songwriters Keith and Kristyn Getty say it this way in a song “two wonders here that I confess, my worth and my unworthiness.”
Let’s move on to beauty.
Doesn’t scripture say that I’m created in the image of God? (Genesis 1:27) Doesn’t it say that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13)? God’s handiwork!? (Ephesians 2:10)
Yes. But when we look at each of those verses, who is emphasized? I’ll give you a hint—it’s not actually us. Being created in God’s image means I get to reflect His beauty! The Psalmist says I praise YOU because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, YOUR works are wonderful. Paul says I am God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works. Do you see where the true focus is here? It’s not on us. It’s on the beauty of the God who made us and died to save us.
Finally, let’s look at “enough-ness.” That’s not a word, but I’m going with it.
Let me put it to you straight. I am not already enough. I have never been enough. And I never will be enough…on my own. Saying or tweeting that “you are enough” doesn’t give us the most important part of the message! That Jesus is enough! At best, it’s a vague thing to say, and at worst, it’s misleading. It’s true of us only because it is true of Jesus, and it cannot be removed or separated from our union with Him.
2 Corinthians 12:10 says that I should not delight in my enough-ness, but my weaknesses! Why? So that Christ’s power may rest on me!
The answer to my self-doubt isn’t to simply believe in myself; it’s to believe in the work of Jesus, and believe that when the Father looks at me, He now sees the perfection of Jesus and not my imperfection.
The answer to my insecurities isn’t to say, “I should be secure in what I already am”; it’s to stand securely in the work that Jesus has done for me and is doing in me!
So in closing this up, I think Galatians 6:14 might sum this up the best for me. It says, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I think this is about more than just giving context to these statements about our worth, our beauty, our enoughness. I think it’s about totally redirecting our focus off of ourselves and onto Jesus.
It is Jesus who gets every ounce of the glory here. I will gladly share my insufficiencies with you so that you may know the sufficient grace of God.
I hope this was helpful and encouraging to you! If you want to know the next time we put out content like this, you should definitely subscribe to our mailing list!
 (2014). My Worth Is Not In What I Own, Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, and Graham Kendrick
What Is My Purpose?
Rooted in Identity, Found in Worship
You’ve probably been hearing some form of this question since you were barely old enough to answer it with words. It probably began with various adults inquiring, “What will you be when you grow up?”
Only a few hours ago, I asked two of my sons this question at the table. My 5-year-old said he would be a “worker guy,” which I understand to mean he wants to be in construction. My 3-year-old, on the other hand, is going to “play music and feed dinosaurs.”
One is more plausible than the other, but I love that they both answered passionately and with a confidence that makes me a little jealous.
What are you going to be?
It’s a good question, but as we grow and change, so does the question. For one, people begin to have some expectations that your answer to it will become more realistic. At some point, someone mentions that dinosaur feeding musicians aren’t in super high demand.
A second shift happens within the question, and it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. We stop asking, “What are you going to be?” and start asking, “What are you going to do?”
It’s a shift from being to doing, and from who to what.
Purpose Comes From Identity
In a culture that loves to define who we are by what we do, how I wish we spent more years talking with our children about who they want to be and not just what they want to do.
How do we identify as unique individuals created by God as well as the community—Christ's body? How do we understand both being a disciple of Jesus and a disciple-maker? A follower and a leader? How do we become fathers and mothers while retaining our identity as sons and daughters?
Perhaps we need to spend a little less time thinking about what we’ll do for a living, and more time thinking about what we’re living for.
I am not suggesting that questions of “doing” are unimportant, but rather those questions proceed from “being". Even if the world around us desperately wants to see our capability and productivity, internally, we still long to know our identity and purpose.
Seeking answers to questions about vocation and purpose is vital! I just want to establish that those answers will always proceed from an understanding of identity.
God has a lot to say about our identity, but let’s look at a few highlights:
If you’d like to read more about identity, begin with this article on our identity image-bearers.
Purpose Is Found In Worship
When we begin to understand our identity as wonderfully-made image-bearers of God, the “children of God” through Jesus’ saving work, our purpose begins to emerge.
From our identity as an image-bearer of God, comes our purpose to reflect the glory of God!
From our identity as children of God, redeemed from our sin by Jesus, comes our purpose to show how worthy our Savior is! From the idea of showing God’s worthiness comes our word “worship,” which means “showing the worth”.
In the book “Pursuit of God,” A.W. Tozer describes this process like this:
"Being made in His image we have in us the capacity to know Him. In our sins we lack only the power. The moment the Spirit has quickened us to life in regeneration our whole being senses its kinship to God and leaps up in joyous recognition.” (1)
In other words, if wonderfully-made, image-bearing, redeemed children of God are what we are, then worship is what we do. While our worth is inherent, this response of “showing the worth” of God is intentional! This “joyful recognition,” as Tozer puts it, is not a passive activity, but a response in which we choose to engage!
So how do we do that? Let’s talk about worship.
How To Engage in Worship
There is a sense in which we worship in everything we do.
We worship or show that God is worthy by the way we live our lives before him.
Worshiping Generally in All Things
Romans 12:1 says to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The 1st-century audience this was written to had seen temple worship firsthand, including the sacrifices made as part of it. In one analogy, Paul gave his audience a vivid understanding of both the quality expected of the sacrifice and the total surrender of it.
This general “act of spiritual worship” concerned living all of life before the Lord in an acceptable way and totally surrendered to Him.
Perhaps a personal and more modern example would be helpful for us:
I love my wife.
On the day we were married, I made vows that clearly stated how I would show that love to her in the years to come by being faithful, loving her in all conditions, etc.
Almost 9 years since that day, I strive to show my love for her by making specific choices.I worked extra hours at jobs I disliked because I wanted to provide financial stability. I worked fewer hours at jobs I liked because I wanted to prioritize time with her. Sometimes I do the dishes because I want to surprise her with a clean kitchen. I often dirty the kitchen immediately afterward so I can have dinner with her.
Have I perfectly done this? Of course not. Let’s be clear—I am a sinful, selfish person who often prioritizes myself, and is still becoming like Jesus. When I choose to prioritize my love for her over myself, I am actually loving her in practice.
Showing that God is worthy (worship) should show up as the motivation behind every priority in our lives, if we are to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice”. Colossians 3:23-24 describes this type of motivation as doing work “as for the Lord and not for men”.
No matter your occupation, your decided college major, or choice between dishes or laundry, you can worship God by doing it for His glory.
Worshiping Specifically with Words
We worship generally in all things by the posture we have toward God, and the repeated decision to honor Him with our lives. This is not a passive pursuit, but an active reorienting of our lives for the glory of God. A part of this “active reorientation”, should also include the specific activity of giving praise to God.
Looking again to the example of marriage, imagine a marriage where both husband and wife did all of the tasks necessary to operate a home together, but never spoke a word to one another.
Never an “I love you”.
Never a note or a card.
Just checkmarks in checklists and tasks completed day after day.
Perhaps this doesn’t take as much imagination as you would like. These verbal expressions of love to one another take a different kind of effort than the tasks on the checklist, but they are essential!
My mind goes to the cinematic masterpiece, “The Princess Bride” (2). At the beginning of the film, the princess repeatedly asks the farm boy to do various farm chores, and he simply responds, “as you wish.” The narrator lets us in on the secret that what he really means is “I love you,” and by the end of the segment, the princess is scrambling to find one more thing to ask of the farm boy, just to hear “as you wish” one more time.
We see a heart of love demonstrated through actions, but how we also long to hear it expressed!
A clarification here: God does not long to be made complete in the same way Princess Buttercup longed to hear Wesley say, “I love you.” He is not somehow completed by our worship—He is worthy of it.
Psalm 63:3 says, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” The writer recognizes the steadfast love of God, and his response is to praise Him with words.
What About Songs?
You may be wondering at this point if we’re ever going to get to singing. I suspect some of you may be surprised we’re nearing the end of this article with worship in the title, and haven’t talked about it yet.
The truth is, the Bible has a LOT to say about singing, and it is often an activity paired with the proclamation of praise to God. In fact, you’ll find that singing comes up well over 100 times in the Bible, either as an instruction to sing to God, or an example of a time when people did. So yes, singing is important and probably deserves a separate discussion altogether.
Bear in mind, however, that for our songs to be worship, they must come from a heart near God. A warning is given to the people of God in Isaiah 29:13, that they were honoring God with their words, but their hearts were distant from Him. Jesus takes this a little farther in Matthew 15:7-9, and says that their worship is in vain.
In other words, they were singing all the right songs but still failed to worship.
So How Do I Worship?
We were made in God’s image with the created purpose of reflecting the worthiness of a worthy God. If you're looking for a better understanding of life's meaning and your personal purpose, begin with worship. Begin with knowing and being known by the God who both made you and redeems you through the work of Jesus. See the way He loved you first, and respond to that love by holding nothing back. He is worthy of our hearts, our lives, our words, and our songs.
In closing, I’d just like to give a few practical steps you might take to worship God in the weeks to come:
Consider your identity.
Consider your priorities.
Grace and peace,
(1) Tozer, A.W., The Pursuit of God (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1948)
(2) The Princess Bride [Motion picture]. (1987). Santa Monica, CA: MGM Home Entertainment.
(3) All Scripture quotes taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
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How Understanding Sin, Helps Us Respond to the Gospel
Imagine for a moment that you’re at a dinner party. You find yourself in casual conversation with a medical researcher. In between bites of appetizers, they share how they’ve come across a cure for a previously terminal condition. You might take another bite of your bacon wrapped morsel before casually saying, “well, that’s good news.” But is it actually good news? In a general sense perhaps, but you’re probably more concerned with the empty appetizer tray.
How different is this news for the person with the terminal condition? It’s the same information, but the knowledge of that terminal condition really does make the good news GOOD!
So it is with the gospel (which means “good news”), and to respond appropriately to the good news, we need to understand our condition. We need to understand something about sin: how we all have it, how it is deadly to us, and how Jesus delivers us from it.
When we grasp the gravity of sin, we are better able to treasure the saving work of Jesus. Understanding the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” allows the loss of all else to feel light and momentary (Philippians 3:8).
What is Sin
The Bible uses lots of different words for sin, and they each describe a different aspect of it. Some of them emphasize the cause of sin, words like “ignorance” or “error.” Some of them emphasize the character of sin, or what it’s made of, words like “transgression,” “rebellion,” “iniquity” which means to “bend or twist”. There are also terms that emphasize the consequences of sin, like “harmful”, being “guilty”, or being in “trouble”. (1)
Scripture talks about sin in such a variety of ways that I think a framework is helpful. If we can back up for a moment, we might come closer to understanding sin. Let’s start by recognizing some broader categories.
Using those categories as a starting point, I would define sin broadly as:
“A condition in us, causing us to bend away from our God-given purpose, and leaving us in a whole mess of trouble.”
If that definition leaves you wanting something better (as it does with me) here’s a definition from the theologian Millard Erickson that helps me:
“[Sin is] a failure to live up to what God expects of us in act, thought, and being.” (2)
This definition is helpful because it is both broad and straightforward; however, it does introduce another question. What does God expect? And is there a way NOT to fail? Let’s take those questions one at a time, starting with what God expects. What is the standard??
Our understanding of humanity is rooted in the idea that we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Designed with a purpose to reflect His nature. Our understanding of sin is also rooted in this idea because it means that we will be judged on how well we reflect God’s nature. The standard expected of us is a divine one, and not a human one. In other words, you and I were not made to reflect each other, we were made to reflect the likeness of God. This means that you and I can’t define our own standard of what is good for ourselves or for each other. We need a standard established and defined by the One we were made to reflect.
God’s standard then is to perfectly reflect Him in the way we act, the way we think, and the way we live our lives before Him and with others. Did you catch that word? Perfectly.
So as for the second question, is there a way not to fail?
We get our first picture of perfection in the first two chapters of Genesis. Adam is placed in the garden and given instructions to “work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). He is given a companion in Eve. They live life in a perfect relationship with each other and with God without shame (Genesis 2:25). Imagine for a moment with me what that life would have been like! Imagine relating to each other without any shame. Imagine eating the good fruit of the trees, and caring for a garden God himself had given you! Imagine feeling the breeze in the evening and hearing the sound of God walking in the garden.
If the beauty of life in the first two chapters of Genesis is hard to imagine, our decision to turn from it by the third chapter is almost unbelievable. By Genesis 3:6, both Adam and Eve have chosen to follow their own wisdom above God’s instruction. Ironically, in attempting to “be like God” through disobeying Him, they become unlike God. The effects are immediate. Only 3 verses later, they broke their relationship with each other, hid in shame instead of doing good work, and are terrified instead of overjoyed at the presence of the Lord.
Instead of life in God’s presence , we now find ourselves separated from God because of sin, and face death as a result from that separation. I say “we” because Scripture is clear that sin spread to all mankind, from the moment of our conception, and death came with that sin (Romans 5:12, Psalm 51:5).
If you were looking for “rock bottom,” you found it. We have a terminal condition that is the inheritance for all of mankind, and continue to sin and “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). While created to reflect the image of a perfect God, you and I don’t do that perfectly. Broken reflections don’t have a place in the presence of the One they were created to reflect, and sinful people don’t have a place in the presence of a perfect God.
Welcome to rock bottom.
I told you this was bad news, but don’t lose heart! It gets better!
Can We Fix It? No, we can’t.
The benefit of reaching rock bottom is that it’s a solid place to start a firm foundation! I won’t beat around the bush here--this section is particularly uncomfortable if you are an “achiever” like me and hoped to fix the situation with your skill and power.
This is not a hole we can dig ourselves out of, and the harder we try, the deeper we get. Scripture is clear that our salvation from sin is not something we can earn ourselves, but instead is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). Got that? A gift. I feel your pain fellow “achievers” and close cousins the “fixers,” but trust me when I say it’s better we rip the bandaid off. Just like putting a bandaid on a terminal condition, trying to cover sin with your own good works is a recipe for disaster. (Bandaid still sticky? Read Galatians 2:16)
At last, the good news has arrived. How good it is!
While we were hopelessly lost in our sin, powerless to change our fate, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8). Jesus lived a perfect life without sin yet, received the punishment and death that we fully deserved. He took our brokenness, our pride, our addictions, our grief, our sorrow, and every other mortal wound that was the result of sin…and through His wounds, we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).
That is the gospel.
And it is good news.
Sharing in the Death of Christ
If we fail to comprehend the seriousness of sin and the separation it causes, the “good news” of the gospel just doesn’t seem as good! At best, it becomes a bedtime story that leaves you with a warm, fuzzy, but somewhat undefined good feeling. Understanding sin and its deadly consequences, makes the costly cure purchased on your behalf the best news you’ll ever hear.
Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus taught about the importance of “losing your life to find it” (3) and “taking up your cross” (4). I wonder if the disciples would have initially responded to these commands as I did with somewhat lackluster enthusiasm. It wasn’t until I understood the severity of my sin and the hopelessness of my situation that I understood the surpassing value of Christ.
When we understand our sin is deadly, the invitation to leave that dying self behind becomes an invitation of hope! Instead of a hard command, Jesus’ invitation to share in his death becomes a joyful occasion, to which we may respond, “yes, Lord!” Put to death the death in me, that I might rise to life with You!
When we take up our cross, we enter an agreement to share in Christ’s death. We take up something that looks to the outside world like certain death, but with certainty in Jesus, it leads to eternal life. This symbol of death, through the power of the resurrected Jesus, is now a symbol of the eternal life we now live.
Grace and Peace,
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(1) Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1955)
(2) Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013)
(3) Luke 9:23-24, 17:33
(4) Matthew 10:38, Luke 9:23, 14:27, Mark 8:38
Some other resources:
This video from The Gospel Coalition gives some really helpful analogies for sin.
This video from Bible Project is a great overview of sin as part of the human condition.
Made In The Image Of God
Applying a Theology of Human Identity
The question of our identity is one that runs deep. In the marrow-of-our-bones deep. In the deepest-well-of-the-soul deep. It’s a question that matters to us at a core level.
When considering the various evidence to the very existence of God, I think this inner longing in all people is my favorite, because I can speak from experience! More than just a logical argument, there is a yearning within me to know who I am, which speaks to a Creator in whom I might find that identity. Blaise Pascal talks about this as an “infinite abyss [that] can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, by God himself.” (1)
This inner longing goes beyond a scientific interest to know what we are, and beyond an understanding of our biological makeup. More than just a mass of functional cells, we are individual souls, who want to know our identity. Beyond knowing what we are, we desire to know who we are, and discover to who we belong.
I’m so thankful that God chose to not only reveal Himself to us but also has much to say about who we are. I hope that as we dig in to what Scripture has to say about our identity, three things will happen:
We will be more confident in who we are.
We will be better prepared to love others well.
We will love our Creator more.
We Are Image-Bearers
Let’s start at the very beginning, which Julie Andrews says is “a very good place to start”. The origins of man, and particularly the material creation of the world, are topics we will save for another time. For the moment, let’s look at what God says in reference to our design.
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Genesis 1:26, (ESV).
One quick clarification is necessary for the word “man,” because the English translation is gendered male, and the Hebrew word is not. The word used here is ‘adam (אָדָם), and it refers to a human person, male or female. Perhaps a clearer translation might read, “Let us make [humans] in our image”. I find it interesting that while the writer of Genesis does distinguish between men and women, he first established that both were created in the image of God.
So what does it mean to be “made in God’s image”?
Let’s start with the original reader. The ancient Israelite audience was very familiar with created images, as every culture around them was filled with “images” of their god(s). These cultures would have created visible representations of their deity out of wood, stone, cast metal, etc. These were the idols that caused Israel so many issues over the years. They would have clearly understood what God was saying in Genesis 1:26. It probably knocked them off their feet.
Imagine being a people surrounded by cultures with many idols, which is maybe not so hard to imagine. Then God Himself declares, “I made YOU in my image”. In all of breathtaking creation, God imprints His image on humankind. Let me be clear that I am not saying we are the exact image or a replica of God in some way. (2) Rather, as Genesis 1:26 states, we are made “after the likeness” of God, a representative picture of a God who does not fit inside our imagination or understanding.
We are image-bearers, who are in some incredible way created as living, breathing statements to the nature and likeness of God! In the same way, dead stone idols represent dead silent gods, we reflect the living, breathing Creator who placed His image on us.
The implications of this certainly go beyond a single article or book for that matter, but I’d like to at least touch on a few ways this might change us today.
How does this change how I see myself?
You are wonderfully made.
Psalm 139:14 says “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”, and submitting to a Biblical definition of your identity, means recognizing that you are “wonderfully made”. I say ‘submitting’ because this verse leaves no room for either your own self-doubt over your value, or the questions others may cast on your value. What joyful submission! What a joy to say to self-doubt, “take a hike, I’m wonderfully made!”
When we rightly understand our identity as being a God-given quality, it provides a firm foundation for understanding our value. We are created as image-bearers, and we don’t have to do or accomplish anything to prove our worth. We are rightly called human beings because our value is established by simply being made in the image of God. Just by existing, we reflect the glory of God to all of creation.
Second, in addition to our identity being a God-given quality, it’s also a God-defined quality, and it is wonderful! Each of us is “wonderfully made” in the image of God! Perhaps it is helpful to know that the word translated here as “made” more literally means “set apart”. God set us apart to reflect His glory. No person made in the image of God, is anything less than wonderfully set apart. No other label supersedes this. God defines each one of us as wonderfully made, and all other attempts to identify us must first submit to this God-given, God-defined identity.
How does this change how I love others?
I’m sure you already see how the above statement might impact how we love other image-bearers. However, let’s briefly touch on a few of the ways this might play out.
First, a person’s value is established by who they are and not what they can accomplish. Modern societies are not so different from ancient ones in their belief that a person’s contribution to society determines their worth. I am not opposed to the idea that people should strive to be contributing members of society and work hard. I don’t think the Bible is either. Scripture has plenty to say about working hard (Prov 14:23, Gal 6:4-5, Eph 4:28) and about the heart which we bring to our work (Prov 16:3, 1 Cor 10:31). Here’s what I’m saying: our inherent worth is not tied to that.
I think this changes the way we look at many of the most marginalized in our society. It changes the way we look at the very young and the very old. Their lack of contribution doesn’t make them any less valuable. It changes how we look at the sick and the disabled. Their illness or disability doesn’t diminish their value to God or us.
People are more than human capital, and they are more than expendable resources. Instead, they are infinitely and eternally valuable to the God who made them and should be valuable to us too.
Second, I think there are significant implications for how Christians should deal with issues of race, ethnicity, and gender, but each of those topics deserves more than a paragraph or so that I can afford in this article. I think two places in scripture might direct our thoughts and still allow us to move forward.
In 1 Samuel 16, God tells Samuel to not even pay attention to the physical characteristics of David’s other brothers because “the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, ESV). I don’t think this verse is saying God does not see the outward appearance, but rather that He does not consider it when evaluating a person. We need to recognize that our limited vision, confined to only the outside, has the potential to mislead us. God is wholly concerned with the heart, which He can see, and we cannot (Jer 17:9, Acts 15:8).
Samuel anointed an earthly king, but Revelation gives us a glimpse of what life will be like under the Eternal King in the kingdom of Heaven. It describes “a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9). Here we see a physically diverse but united multitude of people gathered together, fulfilling their purpose, worshipping God.
So how does this change how we love others? When we begin to challenge social concepts of value based on only productivity, we begin to elevate the value of the marginalized. When we begin to recognize the limitation of our own eyes, and we become aware of their potential to mislead us. When we ascribe value to every person, it should shake our prejudices to their foundation.
When we develop a desire to see all people in the heavenly multitude one day, we start to see them with the heart of God.
How does this make me worship God?
We could continue talking about this topic until Jesus comes back, but I’d rather finish up this article and send us out to do some image-bearing, and practice loving some people well.
I’d like to close by going back to Psalm 139:4, which shows us the proper response to this identity of being an image-bearer.
David says, “I praise You, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” His response is one of praising God!
There are two things contributing to his praise in this verse.
The first element inspiring his praise is awe-inspiring fear, resulting from the recognition that we have been made to reflect the Almighty God. After Israel witnesses the Red Sea parted by God for them to walk through, they use that same word (fear) to describe how He is “awesome in glorious deeds” (Ex 15:11). The nation of Israel witnessed their people be mightily rescued from Egypt. King David in Psalm 139 recognizes that he was mightily created. In the same way the Israelites witnessed the mighty works of God in their exodus from Egypt, and King David in Psalm 139 witnessed the mighty works of God in creating him! The second element is awe and wonder, which we discussed earlier, but worth bringing up again.
Let’s go back to the creation account just for a moment. God creates the heavens, sun, moon, galaxies full of stars. God creates the oceans full of every type of swimming creature, and the land with soaring mountains and green valleys. In all the splendor of creation, He only places His image on one thing: us.
Psalm 8:3-4 wonders at this very thing saying,
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”
We are surrounded by people, who more than anything in creation, bear the image of the One we were created to worship! Therefore, our response to people should include worship, not of people, but of a worthy God.
Grace and peace,
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(1) Blaise Pascal’s Pensees, p.75, New York; Penguin Books, 1966
(2) The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer, p.7, New York; Harper Collins, 1961
Is Theology Really Applicable?
The short answer? Yes. It’s applicable to about every aspect of life, or at least it should be.
While theology is often dismissed to the world of academics and religious leaders, I can think of no other topic with a greater potential for impacting the everyday life of the average person. While I will be dealing specifically with Christian Theology, the study of God as He is revealed in the Bible and through Jesus Christ, this remains true whether you are a follower of Christ or not. What you understand and believe about God absolutely changes the way you live! If theology is applicable to our lives, it should also be approachable.
Theology is Approachable!
It may seem like a contradiction to tell you theology is approachable, and then begin with a word study in other languages, but just trust me for moment.
As with most words, ‘theology’ has taken a route through a few different languages before appearing here in modern English. You’re welcome to go study the journey of the word, but I’d like us to take notice of a theme in the progression of the word.
Roots of Theology
Just in the progression of word itself, you can almost see the topic of theology become less about speaking, and more about a science or study. Dare I say it, you can almost feel theology becoming less approachable! What begins as simply speaking about God and writings concerning him, becomes the more formal “reasoning and discussion”, and eventually an even more distant “study of religious faith”.
I recognize that these are just words, and I’m not saying that the study of God has changed in the same way the word has. I am saying that changes in the definition of theology betray a change in our cultural understanding of it. I much prefer to pursue a theology that is concerned with how I speak about and know God, than a dry study of religion. That change in approach makes theology more approachable, and I think more applicable (more on that in a minute).
A quick disclaimer before we move on: I’m not saying that theology is easy, or simple, or that it comes naturally to us. But it is worth pursuing! In the same way that we learn to speak, we can learn to speak about God. Not all of us will go on to pursue graduate and post-graduate studies in “God-speak”, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all speak clearly, and speak what is true about Him.
Branching Out and Growing Closer
God desires more than just our words. Yes we want to speak the truth with clarity, but God wants more than a well-spoken people. Jesus rebukes the religious leaders of His time saying “these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8). These leaders were intellectual, well educated, and could probably talk circles around the average person, but they were distant from the heart of God. They got caught up in only knowing about God, and not knowing His heart.
One way this could happen to you and I, is through pursuing the study of theology for the sake of knowing alone, and not the application of it.
For the visual learners like myself, perhaps the analogy of climbing a tree could be useful here. I don’t know if you climbed trees as a kid, but I climbed plenty. If you want to get to the top of a big tree, you reach for the closest branch, and you work your way to the top. Since your goal is to get to the top (or near as you can) you never move out too far on a given branch, but stick close to the center. Let’s consider a few of these branches and where they might lead:
The branch of philosophy has the benefit of helping us think deeply about what we believe, and why we believe it. However, when it becomes a search for knowledge, only for the sake of knowledge, it becomes less stable. The further away we move from the desire or intent to apply knowledge, the slower our actual growth becomes. A person may continue growing in knowledge, but stop growing in love for the God they study.
God desires not only people who speak about him, but people who speak from hearts that are near to Him.
Another branch might lead toward the highly practical pursuit of social justice. What does it look like to care for the poor? What does it look like to reflect God’s heart for diversity? These are good questions to ask! If we’re going be near God’s heart, we must care about the things He cares about! The risk here is that we might pursue the reformation of social systems over the restoration of relationship with the King.
We cannot truly bring justice to the most marginalized without introducing them to the Jesus who justifies them.
Applicability as a Guide
As I consider the options a person might be presented with, the temptation for me, is to consider every direction at once, and end up going nowhere at all. It is in this way that I have found the word ‘applicable’ to be very helpful on my journey. Over the course of time we will grow in our knowledge of God and His kingdom, but we should always remain centered around a desire to apply it. Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer describes theology as “stage directions that show us how to live”(4) and I think that definition gets it just about right. I don’t only want to read the directions, I want to act them out for God’s glory and my good!
The apostle Paul describes this process as being “transformed by the renewal of your mind” and presenting yourself as a “living sacrifice” to God (Romans 12:1-2).
So my ‘application’ in “applicable theology” is really twofold:
The Practical Application
How do we apply this to our lives? That’s a question I hope to continue asking and I exploring as I go on this journey. Lots of topics can benefit from being put through the grid of ‘applicable theology’, which involves asking:
Some of the topics I hope to touch on in the weeks and months to come include:
I hope in the process, we are encouraged to not exclusively hunger for knowledge, but thirst to know and love God more through our pursuit of Him. To not only be a lifelong student, but a lifelong disciple with a longing to grow into the image of Jesus.
Grace and peace,
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