Why Did Saul Become Paul?

 

Boats

“Saul was ashamed of his past, so he changed his name to Paul because Jesus gave him a new beginning.”

When it comes to the Apostle Paul’s name-change, this is the explanation I’ve heard many times. God did give Paul a new identity in Christ, but that didn’t wipe out or erase who he was before. Instead, we see many ways that Paul’s entire life prepared him for his ministry as an Apostle. Likewise, when someone becomes a Christian today, their life history doesn’t get erased and wiped away. Instead, God uses that to fuel their devotion to Christ and to equip them in ministry towards others.

Here’s why Saul’s name changes to Paul throughout the book of Acts and what we can learn from it today.

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What is the Fear of the LORD?

What is the fear of the LORD? This is something many of us have heard about in church or read in the Bible, but it remains an abstract thought that we can’t clearly explain.

If “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7), then it’s an important thing for us to understand what that means. Easton’s Bible Dictionary describes the fear of the LORD this way,

It is a fear conjoined with love and hope, and is therefore not a slavish dread,
but rather filial reverence.”
(Easton Bible Dictionary)

So it’s not a fearful dread that creates distance. Instead, it’s a fear build on love and hope that draws near to God in worship, humility, and obedience. These are the three keys to understanding what the Bible means by “the fear of the LORD.”

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The Danger of Deceptive Godliness: Learning From Ananias & Sapphira

As other wealthier Christians were selling their land and donating the money to the church, Ananias and Sapphira saw their opportunity. They wanted to be a power couple in the early life of the church, and this would be how to get there. Perhaps their faith in Christ started off with better motives and they lost their way, but it seems their involvement in the church had become about themselves – not about God, and not about serving others. In the end, they were judged and put to death by God for their deceptive godliness.

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This is a Reader Question. You can submit your question by clicking the image above.

I am convinced every church has modern-day Ananias and Sapphiras. Their example reminds us that God cares about motives. It is good to give generously of your time, money, and talents in order to build up the church. However, it is evil to give those things because you want to be seen doing them. The Christian is called to self-forgetfulness, not self-promotion.

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Weird Bible Stories: When God Sent the Bears

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The Bible has some really strange stories in it. There are some that you read and think, “Wait a minute. What?!” Yesterday at church I told a friend I had just written a post about this story and he said, “I have that story highlighted in my Bible. I have no idea what it means though!” Let’s explore one of the weirdest stories in the Bible.

He (Elisha) went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.
2 Kings 2:23-25, ESV

I remember reading this as a teenager and thinking, “What in the world is going on here! God had a bear eat 42 kids because they called someone bald?!” As always, reading this story in light of what came before and what comes after is the key to understanding what happened. We also need to know something about Bethel’s relationships with the prophets of God.  Continue reading

What is “Sin that Leads to Death” in 1 John 5:16-17?

question mark on sticky noteOne of my favorite features on this site
is the reader questions, because I want this site to serve you. If there is something you’ve been wondering, please submit your questions HERE. You can search some of the other reader questions.

I would like to hear your insightful comment on 1 John 5:16 – 17 regarding sin that does not bring death and sin that does bring death. I welcome your perspective and clarification.

“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.” (1 John 5:16-17, ESV)

Context is King
As always, the best way to interpret Scripture is through understanding the context where the confusing passage occurs.

General Context: Faithfulness in the life of the Believer
Throughout the entire book of 1 John there is a strong emphasis on sin, confession, and faithfulness of believers. Over and over again Christians are described as those who do not sin. It’s important to realize in original languages, these verses use a grammatical structure which clearly implies a continual, ongoing habit of sinning. Some of these passages emphasizing the faithful Christian life are listed below.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1:5)

Everyone who make a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness…. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (3:4 & 6)

If anyone says, ‘I love god,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (4:20)

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. (5:18)

Upon reading through 1 John it should be clear that it was written to a church who enduring conflict and division. The members are wandering away and arguing with each other. The fellowship is broken. John is encouraging the believers to walk in the truth by loving one another as an expression of their love for God. True Christians endure – they don’t walk in habitual sinfulness, and they don’t abandon the family of God. This is a clear and consistent call throughout the book of 1 John, and this sets the context for 1 John 5:16-17.

A photo by Cristian Newman. unsplash.com/photos/zFnk_bTLApo

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Who are the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4?

This is the first post in what I hope to become a semi-regular feature here at Living Theologically… reader questions. If there’s something you’ve been wondering or confused about, please go HERE to submit your question.

Here’s today’s question:
Who are the “sons of God” & the Nephilim in Genesis 6:1-4?

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown

This is a strange passage of Scripture which has confused Jewish and Christian believers for centuries. By no means do I profess to have it all “figured out,” but after studying this passage in seminary and over the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded that we only lose when we avoid difficult portions of the Bible.

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What Does Peter Mean By Jesus Preaching to the Spirits in Prison?

“…in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,”
1 Peter 3:19 (ESV)

This is among the most difficult verses in the New Testament to understand and preach. The following is shared primarily for the sake of other pastors researching this fascinating verse and wrestling with the challenge of understanding how v.19 fits into the verses before and after.

Water on RocksThe Challenge of Preaching Difficult Verses
There is a different between teaching and preaching. A sermon must involve teaching the text without getting bogged down by exegetical details. Expository sermons must lead to the heart, not only to the mind. Therefore, passages like 1 Peter 3:19 should not be avoided (lest we unintentionally teach the congregation to be scared of hard Bible passages), but we must not allow them to completely derail the sermon. Continue reading