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Becoming Christ-like: The Goal of the Christian Life?

When asked what is the goal of the Christian life, a typical mantra heard in evangelical circles is the knee-jerk response, “To become Christ-like.” Some folks really think through what they are saying and their views are more nuanced than this slogan. But most Christians, I fear, just parrot what they’ve been taught. This post examines this motto with a view toward articulating what the goal of the Christian life should be.

When I was a young man, I desperately wanted to be Christ-like. I was told that this was the primary objective of the Christian life. The more I worked at it, however, the more I began to see my failings. Every time I needed to ask forgiveness from someone, I considered myself a failure at the prime objective. Every time someone corrected me or pointed out some blind-spot in my life, I realized that I was treading backwards. It started to unnerve me. As the years rolled on, these constant failings became too much. Slowly, imperceptibly at first, I recoiled at the notion that I was still a depraved sinner. After all, I had been a believer for many years—shouldn’t I be reaching perfection by now?

Of course, I rejected the Keswick model of sanctification—the idea that one could be in fellowship one minute and out the next, in the next, and so on; that wasn’t my problem. I also had rejected the Wesleyan perfectionism model—at least, theoretically. I knew that I really was never going to be perfect in this life, even in a limited sense. But I nevertheless assumed that I should be much more mature than I really was. So, in order to salve my conscience about reaching the goal of Christ-likeness, I began to hide my sin. I put blinders on when I was confronted about my behavior, and wormed my way out of asking for forgiveness, justifying my lack of need for such on the basis of my supposed maturity. I would rationalize my sin, and see fault in the one who pointed it out. “Ah, that guy is not very godly, so why should I listen to him?”

At one point, when I was in college, I made a table of the characteristics of love mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13. At the end of every day I would rate myself on how I was doing. I’d use a 100-point scale. The irony is that the very passage that was intended to help me focus on others became a means for me to focus on myself. Christ-likeness meets legalism!

But the more I studied scripture, the more I came to realize that I had gotten the focus of the Christian life totally out of whack. If my goal is for me to become Christ-like, then my goal is inevitably and necessarily self-centered. How well am I doing at this goal? What do I look like as a Christian? My goal had become my role, and the focus had become too inward.

There is time for introspection in the Christian life. It should, however, be a time of repentance toward the Lord and gratitude for his love and mercy. But there is also the need for robust concentration on the Lord and on others. Paul tells the Philippians, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself” (Phil 2.3 [NET]). I used to argue with this verse: “Yes, but if all of us did this, then no one would be more important than anyone else!” Missing Paul’s point is putting things charitably. The Lord was the first to rub Deuteronomy 6.5 Leviticus 19.18 together, calling them “the greatest commandment” and one “like it”: Love God and love your neighbor (Matt 22.34–40). The focus in these passages is not on one’s role and therefore not on one’s self-image, needs, or ego. The focus is on the glory of God and the needs of others.

There it was, in black and white, and I missed it all these years! If the goal of the Christian life is primarily to glorify God, then the focus is certainly not on myself. It’s the combination of attitude and actions that work together to magnify the Lord. And the second goal of the Christian life is to focus on the needs of others. “Love your neighbor as yourself” does not mean to love your neighbor as you should love yourself. No, self-love is assumed, not commanded. Loving one’s neighbor is not.

One of the implications of this new revelation (to me) about the goal of the Christian life was that by focusing on what I should become I was missing on the proper outward and upward view of life. And it became harder and harder for me to admit my wrong to others. But the believer who seeks God’s glory and thinks hard about the welfare of their fellow-saints is not arrogant, does not hold grudges, is not self-absorbed. All of us, for as long as we live in this world, will need to ask forgiveness from someone. The mature person recognizes his own sins and readily admits them to others whom he has offended. The one who focuses on his own Christ-likeness is focusing on a tertiary goal and can end up being blinded by his own ambition.

For many, this blog is a simple lesson, one that you’ve come to recognize for a long, long time. For others, it may be startling, unsettling. But the self-absorption of American Christianity has a lot to learn. I pray that each of us can make the main thing the main thing, shed ourselves of our insecurities, and begin each day by asking, “How can I magnify you today, Lord?”

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New Twist on an Old Yarn—Chicken crossing the Road

MARTIN LUTHER: The chicken was already justified, so why did she even try to cross the road?

JOHN CALVIN: The chicken was chosen from before the foundation of the world to cross the road.

JOHN WALVOORD: The road is a terrifying place. But chickens can escape the road if they believe right now!

BILL BRIGHT: All chickens try to cross the road, but the road between us and the great Rooster-in-the-Sky is too great.

HOWARD HENDRICKS: Chickens are not born; they choose to be chickens in the crucible of experience.

AL QAIDA: Strapped to the chicken is a tiny bomb—our answer to Satan’s drones! Die, America!

ORIGEN: The chicken is the heart of man; the road, his body. Crossing the road is just background noise because it doesn’t fit with my interpretation.

BART EHRMAN: There is no proof that ‘chicken’ is in the original manuscript. It could just as easily have been a raccoon.

ROBERT W. FUNK: The chicken is painted black, but the road is pink. The likelihood that ‘chicken’ is what was said is doubtful because there is no proof that chickens existed in Palestine at this time, while roads probably did. The chicken is a later accretion added by pious scribes in the fourth century.

KARL BARTH: Whether this chicken actually existed, we all must face our own chickens so that the Word of the Road becomes real to us.

ROBERT FROST: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood; the chicken took the road more traveled and was squashed like a bug.

TREY GOWDY: We’ll get some answers—or food—when I grill that chicken!

SHAKESPEARE: To cross or not to cross—that is the question. Or not.

POPE FRANCIS: Whether the chicken crossed the road, was road-kill, stayed on this side of the road, or even denied the road’s existence, if it’s a good chicken she will go to heaven.

Chick-fil-A: Be assured, we’ll get her!

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There Were Giants in Those Days: Codex Robertsonianus, Part 3

In my previous posts about the correspondence between Adolf Deissmann and A. T. Robertson concerning a Greek Gospels manuscript, I showed the pictures of Deissmann’s first and second letters, along with a transcription of them.

This is the third of four parts of that correspondence. These letters constitute the A. T. Robertson Papers, Box 7, Folder 3, Archives and Special Collections, James P. Boyce Centennial Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. I am grateful to Adam Winters, archivist at SBTS, who provided the photographs. They are used with permission of the SBTS Archives & Special Collections.

 

Deissmann to Robertson_30 May 1927_page 1 of 2

 

Professor Dr. Adolf Deissmann
Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Prinzregentenstrasse 6., May 30th., 1927.

My dear Dr. Robertson:

Some days ago I received your kind letter of May 10, 1927 and the enclosed draft. Best thanks. Imediately [sic] I sent the Codex to your address by one of our best Berlin forwarding offices (Edmund Franzkowiak & Co, Berlin–Wilmersdorf, Uhlandstraße 83/84). According to your request I insured it for full value and took care that they packed the valuable object in a zinc box and in a wooden box. The costs are

             two boxes, charge for postage, expedition           10.05 Marks
insurance 1½% of the value                                   45.—
________
55.05 Marks, that

are about $13.—

I was very much interested, of course, in your communication about Rev. John W. Bowman and I wish to congratulate him that he will find such an object for his Thesis. Please tell him that it was not possible for me to hear from the Levantine dealer further details about the discovery of the MS. These gentlemen are very reserved in such things. The only fact he discovered to me was that the Codex came from the Trapezunt area. This is, in my opinion, credible. The Trapezunt area was inhabited by many Greeks before 1922, and there were some Greek monasteries which possessed Greek manuscripts. I suppose that our Codex was put on the market after that tragic catastrophe of 1922. You know there are other Trapezunt Codices noted by Gregory.

 

Deissmann to Robertson_30 May 1927_page 2

If you give any communication[n]s about the Codex please don’t mention that it came fr[o]m a Turkish dealer. The Turkish authorities would otherw[i]se perhaps take precautions in other cases to make impossible the export. I think such treasures ought to be in Christian libraries, and therefore it is better not to prevent the possibility of getting them. I think the only detail for publicity should be:

“The Library of The Sout[h]ern Baptist Theological Seminary . . . .
has had the opportunity to acquire a Parchment Tetra-Evangelion
coming from the Trapezunt area (Asia Minor).”

The Codex must have, as you suggested, a number. Please write concerning this question, after getting the MS., to

Professor Dr. Ernst von Dobschütz,
Lafontaine = Lh. 2i,    Halle a. Saale, Germany

He is the specialist who undertook the continuation of that system. But concerning the origin of the MS don’t give him other details than the above mentioned lines. Of course you should give him the most important details about the contents, measures etc. of the MS.

Now I hope that the Codex will reach you safely. Please give me a notice immediately.

With kind regards
Cordially yours
Adolf Deissmann

 

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LSJ’s Greek-English Lexicon in Logos Bible software: a Review

Anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with ancient Greek is familiar with the venerable Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon. It is a huge book, with a history reaching back more than 150 years. I have two copies, both extensively marked up—one for school and one for home. But the sheer size of the volume has sometimes caused my hand to falter. A digitized version would make my life so much easier.

The folks at Logos apparently recognized the need of many students and digitized this standard lexicon. It seems that they have thought through everything to make it truly user-friendly. Rather than simply digitize the Lexicon, they have brought it into the electronic world in a superb way. One of the basic problems with using LSJ in print-form was that the Supplement at the back of the Lexicon needed to be consulted for a very large number of words, requiring the user to first examine the entry in the main lexicon, then see the update in the back. This two-step process has created quite a bit of inertia so that many students simply look at the main body of the Lexicon, thus short-changing themselves in the process.

The Logos version, however, has combined both sections: “Lexicon users no longer need to examine two different locations in the lexicon when studying a word that is included in the supplement. The content has been seamlessly integrated.” This alone is worth the price of the module!

But Logos has done even more. One of the key changes has been to eliminate the hyphens in LSJ’s word entries, allowing for an easier search for a word. Other very useful search features make this tool an indispensable resource for those studying ancient Greek.

There are a few irritating features, however. Chief among them are the numerous accent mistakes on word entries. All too frequently, accents are left off words, especially adjectives and nouns. Sometimes double accents are used; other times a grave accent is found over the penult. (Some examples of these mistakes: ἀβουλητος, ἀβουλος, ἁβροβιος, ἁβρογοος, ἁβροδαις, ἁβροπηνος, ἁβροπλουτος, ἀγνωμων, ἀγορὰζω, ἀγορασμα, βᾰρῠχειρ, βαυκισμα, βεβαιωμα, ἐρῆμος, ἑτερογνης, λογογρᾰφημα, λογοποιημα, λογχοομαι, λοιμη, μαγγᾰνον, μαιευσις, οἷόνπερ, οἰστρημα). These errata definitely need to be cleaned up for later iterations. Nevertheless, the positive features far outweigh these mistakes, making this resource a goldmine of efficient, searchable data.

The module can be ordered here: https://www.logos.com/product/3879/liddell-and-scott-greek-english-lexicon?utm_source=http%3A%2F%2Fdanielbwallace.com%2F&utm_medium=partner&utm_content=productreview-3879&utm_campaign=promo-productreview 

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There Were Giants in Those Days: Codex Robertsonianus, Part 2

In my previous post about the correspondence between Adolf Deissmann and A. T. Robertson concerning a Greek Gospels manuscript, I showed the pictures of Deissmann’s first letter, along with a transcription of it.

This is the second of four parts of that correspondence. These letters constitute the A. T. Robertson Papers, Box 7, Folder 3, Archives and Special Collections, James P. Boyce Centennial Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. I am grateful to Adam Winters, archivist at SBTS, who provided the photographs. They are used with permission of the SBTS Archives & Special Collections.

Deissmann to Robertson_2 Apr 1927

Professor Dr. Adolf Deissmann
Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Prinzregentenstrasse 6., April 2nd., 1927.

My dear friend Robertson:

I thank you very much for your kind letter of March 19., which I received to-day. Well: I hold the Tetra-Evangelium at your disposal and deposited it for you in my banker’s safe. Perhaps it may be possible for you to order it in your hand not later than May, because afterwards I must be absent from here several times. Please don’t mention my name; some other friends could ask otherwise why I did not offer it to themselves.

With best wishes
Cordially yours
Adolf Deissmann

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Another Biblical Scholar is No More

David Martinez (Associate Professor in both the Classics and Divinity departments at the University of Chicago), one of Francis Gignac’s students a long time ago, once told me that Gignac was far and away the best Hellenistic Greek grammarian alive today. All of us waited for the third volume, Syntax, of his projected trilogy on Roman and Byzantine Greek (volumes 1 and 2 were on Phonology and Morphology, respectively). But the third volume never was published. Perhaps an alumnus of Catholic University of America could locate his files, edit the volume, and publish it for Gignac posthumously.

My friend and former intern, Chris Skinner, recently blogged about the passing of Father Francis Gignac earlier this month. Here’s the link: http://cruxsolablog.com/2014/06/04/francis-t-gignac-s-j-1933-2014-skinner/

 

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Review of Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament Bundle (Logos Bible Software)

As would be expected from anything produced by Steven Runge, this is a most useful tool. It is intended to help readers understand why an author chooses the forms he does to convey meaning. Discourse grammar has become an increasingly helpful approach in the last few years to supplement standard grammars. It does not replace traditional grammars, but supplements them. Occasionally, discourse grammars, including this one from Logos, will see meaning in the wrong places. For example, the illustration of the use of the participle like an indicative verb conveying some meaning that is somehow different from an indicative may be overplayed (repeatedly mentioned in the Introduction). The participle used as an indicative verb is quite rare in the NT, never seems to occur in classical Greek, and is most likely due to Semitic influence. Most of the NT examples occur in the Apocalypse, a book whose author R. H. Charles famously described as “thinking in Hebrew but writing in Greek.” Whether there is any meaning beyond revealing the author’s linguistic capacity is not a given. The same can be said for countless other grammatical phenomena in the NT (e.g., paratactic structure in Mark, anacolutha in Paul, redundant pronouns in John). Nevertheless, used with caution, discourse grammar can be extremely valuable.

On the BDF revision committee (now defunct due to the deaths of Robert W. Funk and Daryl D. Schmidt [chairman of the committee]), the team of scholars discussed for many years how best to approach the revision. One of the approaches was to include a section on semantics as a cross-reference tool so that the user could learn about the features of the Greek NT through two routes: (1) textual route, in which the student reads the text and then uses the grammar to determine meaning of the syntactical phenomena; (2) meaning route, in which the student inquires about things like how to express purpose, possession, commands, etc. This comes close to what discourse grammar does, though discourse grammar has made quite a few advances over the narrowly-defined categories of meaning that grammarians typically work with.

The main body of the six-volume work is discourse analysis of the Greek NT, seriatim from Matthew 1 through Revelation 22. There’s also a helpful introductory volume and a glossary.

Below are illustrated some of the features.

 definitions in introductionDefinitions in Introduction

 display feature--minimalDisplay feature—minimal

 Rom 3.21-26 with minimal display features

Rom 3.21-26 with minimal display features

A few limitations of this approach should be noticed. For example, although μαρτυρουμένη in Rom 3.21 is mentioned as an elaboration, the user is not told what kind of participle it is. Whether it’s adjectival ([the righteousness of God…] which is being witnessed), adverbial (being witnessed), or more particularly concessive (although it is witnessed), is not discussed. Yet how this participle is taken affects the exegesis of the text. Notice that what πάντες in 3.22 and 23 relates to is not mentioned; this requires careful exegesis and a good understanding of Greek syntax to figure out.


Highlighting feature in Rom 3.22

Highlighting feature in Rom 3.22

Highlighting feature in Rom 3.23

Highlighting feature in Rom 3.23

 Rom 3.24--elaboration explained

Rom 3.24—’elaboration’ explained

The problem with this explanation is that not everyone sees the participle as subordinate and thus fitting into ‘elaboration’ (most, in fact, take it as an indicative participle), although see J. Will Johnston, “Which ‘All’ Sinned? Rom 3:23–24 Reconsidered,” Novum Testamentum 52 (2010) 1–12.

Display feature--everything

Display feature with everything checked

Rom 3.21-22 with maximum features displayed

Rom 3.21–22 with maximum features displayed

A wealth of data is here—either visually or at a click of the mouse.

In short, the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament is a tool whose time has come. Used in conjunction with traditional grammars, it can only strengthen one’s understanding of Hellenistic Greek and how the NT authors communicate meaning—every exegete’s dream!

It can be purchased here.

 

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