Under the Knife

September 18, 2020

The tabloid press continually report on beautiful people who went under the knife to be more beautiful. They went under the knife of cosmetic surgery pursuing a vision of outer perfection. Although such surgery seems extreme, all of us would willingly consent to surgery when our life or health is at stake. None of us like it, but we are willing to go under the knife.

But there is a surgery more important than the ones to enhance outward beauty or repair physical health. This surgeon wields more than a scalpel. He wields a sword.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:11–13, ESV

The message about the sword is bracketed by some important ideas. We are to strive to enter the rest which is heaven itself, and we are warned that this rest can be missed by disobedience. At the end, we are told that everything about us is exposed to God before whom we must give account. God has already seen all our spiritual x-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs. There is nothing about us that he doesn’t already know. We shouldn’t play games or think we can hide. Faking it leads to disaster even if others buy our sham.

The point of sword is that it pierces. The sword of the word can pierce all the way to our thoughts and intentions. God has always wanted our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5). God has always wanted his law written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). This is surgery to make us more beautiful on the inside. This is surgery to correct our failing spiritual health. Without it, we will spiritually die. The surgeon wants us more obedient, more holy. The word’s penetration into our heart is to make us more like the one we are following – Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Hebrews reveals all too clearly that there have been others who have heard the word and responded with hardened hearts (3:7-8). We have a spiritual surgeon who wants to penetrate all the way to thoughts and intentions. He wants to make us more beautiful on the inside. He wants to make us more like Him. Are we willing to go under the knife?

−Russ Holden


The Meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection

April 10, 2020

How can we express what the resurrection means?

It means vindication. Jesus really is the Messiah, the Anointed One, who fulfills the promise made to David. The chief priests had rejected him. The crowds had cried, “Crucify him!” Peter preached that the resurrection gives us the certainly “that God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

It means forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. God warned against eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17, ESV). The sacrificial system of the Law of Moses was a pointer to what God would some day do on the cross. Life was in the blood. A life was accepted in exchange for the life of a sinner. “He (that is God) made him who did not know sin a sin offering in our behalf, in order that we may become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, my translation*).

It means reconciliation. Adam and Eve had walked with God in a way that it is difficult for us to imagine. Our only hint is in Genesis 3 when they heard the sound of God walking in the garden, and they knew what the sound meant, so they hid themselves because of their sin. Paradise was lost. Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden. Yet, God has sought to reconcile the world to himself. Because of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence. As Christians, we become a temple of the Holy Spirit. We look forward to once more having access to the Tree of Life and walking in God’s glorious presence.

It means transformation. Yes, I need to be forgiven of my sin, but I also need a moral makeover. I need to become a better person. Following Jesus and putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit is the process of that moral transformation. God’s desire is that we be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).

It means eternal life. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead anticipates and is the basis of the resurrection at his coming. Death has been conquered. Yes, we may still have to experience physical death, but those who are in Jesus have life and hope of eternal life. “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, ESV). “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11, ESV).

How wonderful and marvelous — He is risen!

—Russ Holden

*The word “sin” is frequently used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) for “sin offering, so I’ve rendered it that way here for it makes the passage clearer. 


What Spills Out

March 11, 2019

A man had a short temper. He seemed nice enough until he lost his temper, and then, he could inflict emotional pain with his words. The outbursts would come with the frustrations and accidents of life, and those kinds of moments always come. In his book, After You Believe, N.T. Wright tells this story.

A famous preacher had a friend who was well known for his short temper. One day, at a party, he asked this friend to help him serve some drinks. The preacher himself poured the drinks, deliberately filling several glasses a bit too full. He then passed the tray to his friend. As they walked into the room to distribute the drinks, he accidentally-on-purpose bumped into the friend, causing the tray to jiggle and some of the drinks to flow over the brim and spill. “There you are, you see,” said the preacher. “When you’re jolted, what spills out is whatever is filling you.”

When you are jolted, what spills out reveals your character. In a discussion about unclean foods, Jesus makes the same point.

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20–23, ESV)

That is why Jesus talks about trees and their fruit. (Matthew 7:15-20, 12:33-37). A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. Somehow, I don’t think Jesus is giving a lesson on tending orchards. He instructs us to “make the tree good.” Jesus’ solution for behavior (“fruit” in Jesus’ parable) is to transform us on the inside (“make the tree good”). When our character is transformed to be more Christ-like, we don’t have to worry much about the actions that spring from such character. After all, good trees (people) produce good fruit (behavior).

This really is God’s plan. When Jeremiah prophesies of the new covenant, it is about “the law written on hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). When Paul summarizes the big picture of what it is all about, he says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29, ESV, my emphasis). We are to be like Jesus.

Character transformation is a lifelong process. We must cooperate with God to allow Him to change us on the inside. It takes God’s word. It takes prayer. It takes effort. It takes time. When you are jolted, what spills out?