Thursday, June 9, 2016

Life, Death, & Growing Old (part one): Introduction

* The following is part of a teaching series for a Sunday school class.

Life, Death & Growing Old

1.     Purposes of series

a.     Reflect on the biblical teaching and principles that intersect with growing old, dying, and death.

b.     To tackle controversial issues revolving around dying and death (i.e., definition of death, termination of life support, physician-assisted suicide, burial vs. cremation, etc.).

c.      So that we might be ready to reason about and respond to these stages of life and death as well as think biblically and rationally about controversial issues.

The Bible as our Guide

2.     Christian life is lived under the authority of God’s word

a.     Important: we are not autonomous

b.     We will look at controversial matters and we must be willing to reason in a biblical manner

c.      Deuteronomy 8.3 and Matthew 4.4

d.     2 Timothy 3.14-17

e.     John 17.17—“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

                                               i.     Doesn’t use the adjective for “true” but, rather, the noun for “truth”

                                              ii.     “The difference is significant, for this statement encourages us to think of the Bible not simply as being ‘true’ in the sense that it conforms to some higher standard of truth, but rather to think of the Bible as being itself the final standard of truth.”[1]

3.     God’s word is a comprehensive authority

a.     Deuteronomy 6.4-5 and Mark 12.29-31

“People who love God more than everything else will want to express that love in every situation.  If we love god more than anything else, we will seek to know how to love him wherever we are, whatever we are doing.  We will continually ask how my love for God makes a difference—in my relationship to my family and neighbors, on the job, in my recreation.  And believers will want to know how to take dominion of human culture for the lordship of God: art, literature, science, medicine, government.”[2]

b.     The Cultural Mandate (Genesis 1.28; 2.15) and The Great Commission (Matthew 28.18-20)

c.      Colossians 3.17, 23

4.     The sufficiency of Scripture

a.     2 Timothy 3.16-17—“…equipped for every good work.”

b.     Use of extra-biblical data—reasoning and empirical investigation

                                               i.     We must not equate extra-biblical information with divine words

                                              ii.     Scripture requires us to correlate its commands with extra-biblical information

“When God told Adam to abstain from the forbidden fruit, he assumed that Adam already had general knowledge, sufficient to apply that command to the trees that he could see and touch.  God didn’t need to tell Adam what a tree was, how to distinguish fruits from leaves, what it meant to eat.  These things were natural knowledge.  So God expected Adam to correlate the specific divine prohibition concerning one tree to his natural knowledge of the trees in the garden.  This is theology as application: applying God’s Word to our circumstances.”[3]

                                            iii.     Luke 12.54-56—Jesus recognizes the use of empirical investigation and induction

                                            iv.     “Scripture is sufficient to provide all the ultimate norms, all the normative premises, that we need to make any ethical decision.  Scripture contains all the words of God that we need for any area of life, and all ultimate norms come from divine words.”[4]

c.      Important for when we discuss bio-ethical issues regarding end of life: life support, physician-assisted suicide, defining death.

Key Doctrinal Points

5.     All of life is to be lived under the authority of God’s comprehensive and sufficient word—for the glory of God!

a.     1 Corinthians 10.31

b.     Deuteronomy 6.4-5 and Mark 12.29-31

6.     God is sovereign over life and death[5]

a.     Psalm 139.13-16

b.     1 Samuel 2.6-7

7.     Humanity—Genesis 1 and 2: Implications and applications of being created beings[6]

a.     Humans have no independent existence

                                               i.     Created by the will and design of God

                                              ii.     We are creation of God: Not an outflow of him

1.     Creator/creature distinction à metaphysically distinct

2.     We never cease to be creatures of God

b.     Humans are part of creation: share a kinship with the rest of creation

c.      Humans are unique in creation: “more to humanity than just creature-hood”

                                               i.     Matthew 6.26; 10.31: more valuable than birds

                                              ii.     Francis Schaeffer’s diagram

d.     There is kinship among humans: we should care for humanity as a whole and for those we do not personally know

e.     Humanity is not the highest object in the universe

“His [God’s] glory, not our pleasure and comfort, is the ultimate value.  We must never elevate our respect for humans to the point of virtually worshipping them.”[7]

f.      There are definite limitations upon humanity

                                               i.     Humility due to our finitude

                                              ii.     Only God is inherently eternal à all else dies

g.     Limitation is not inherently bad à not something to “grow/evolve beyond”

h.     Should accept our own finitude to properly live life

“The fact of our finiteness is clear.  We may, however, be unwilling to accept that fact and to accept our place in the scheme of things as creatures of God who are dependent upon him.  Adam and Eve’s fall consisted at least in part of an aspiration to become like God (Gen. 3:4-6), to know what God knows.  A similar aspiration underlay the fall of the evil angels (Jude 6).  We ought to be willing to let God be God, not seeking to tell him what is right and true, but rather submitting to him and his plan for us.  To pass judgment on God’s deeds would require an infinite knowledge, something that we simply do not have.”[8]

§  Consider God’s speech to Job (ch. 38-41)-- reminds Job of his finitude

i.       Humanity is something wonderful à “image of God”-- dignity!

                                               i.     It will probably amaze us to realize that when the Creator of the universe wanted to create something “in his image,” something more like himself than all the rest of creation, he made us…We are the culmination of God’s infinitely wise and skillful work of creation.[9]

                                              ii.     Psalm 8.5-- “a little less than God” (Hebrew = elohim)

2.     Image of God-- crucial concept!

a.     Actual phrase “image of God” used infrequently: Gen 1.26-27; 9.6; 1 Corinthians 11.7; James 3.9 (see Gen 5.1 for “likeness” language)

b.     What is the “image of God?”  Was it lost in the Fall?  Do all people share in the “image of God” now—believers and unbelievers?

c.      Some have denied that post-Fall people are in the image of God à the image has been lost and is only renewed in coming to Christ Jesus

                                               i.     But see: Genesis 9.6 and James 3.9 à post-Fall situations that do not restrict image to believers

d.     Structural and Functional (or, broader and narrower) aspects of image

                                               i.     Structural: “In sum, then, we may say that by the image of God in the broader or structural sense we mean the entire endowment of gifts and capacities that enable man to function as he should in his various relationships and callings.”[10]

1.     Intellectual powers
2.     Moral sensitivity
3.     Capacity for religious worship
4.     Responsibility
5.     Volitional power
6.     Aesthetic sense
7.     Gifts of speech and song
8.     Ability to feel; have emotions

                                              ii.     Functional: “Thus the image of God in the narrower sense means man’s proper functioning in harmony with God’s will for him.”[11]

                                            iii.     Consider two sets of passages

1.     Gen 9.6; James 3.9
2.     Col 3.10; Eph 4.24

If we put these two types of passages together, we conclude that there must be a sense in which fallen man still bears the image of God, but that there must also be a sense in which he no longer bears that image.  Hence the distinction between the broader and narrower aspects of the image is necessary.[12]

                                            iv.     C. John Collins outlines views on the image of God

1.     Resemblance: human beings like God in some aspect(s) such as intellect, moral sense, will, rationality, etc.

2.     Representative: humans commanded by God to rule creation on God’s behalf

3.     Relational: humans as male/female and in community as they manifest the “image of God”

·      Scholars commonly speak as if these categories are mutually exclusive.  My view is that the linguistic and exegetical details favor the idea that “in our image, after our likeness” implies that humans were made with some kind of resemblance to God, which was to enable them to represent God as benevolent rulers, and to find their fulfillment in their relationships with each other and with God.  That is, I have combined all three views,…[13]

e.     Practical implications

                                               i.     How do we view people? 

1.     Race, ethnicity, social standing (poor/rich), disabled (physically/mentally)

2.     Proverbs 22.2 “The rich and the poor have a common bond, the LORD is the maker of them all.”

3.     Created by God to live in relationship—four-fold relationship

     [1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 83.
     [2] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2010), 217.
     [3] Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 228.
     [4] Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 231.
     [5] For more on God’s sovereignty in general see my Bible study “God’s Comprehensive Control.”  Online:
     [6] For a slightly expanded study of the doctrine of humanity see my Bible study “Doctrine of Humanity.” Online:
     [7] Millard Erickson Christian Theology, 453.
     [8] Millard Erickson Christian Theology, 455.
     [9] Wayne Grudem, Sytematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 449.
     [10] Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1986), 70-71.
     [11] Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 72.
     [12] Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 64.
     [13] C. John Collins. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?  Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Crossway, 2011), p. 94.  See also Herman Hoekema’s discussion of “structural” and “functional” aspects of the image of God in Created in God’s Image (Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1986), pp. 68-73.