Sunday, May 30

The Fruit of The Spirit

"But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control. Against such things there is no law." - Galatians 5:22-23. But what is the fruit of the spirit? When someone claims to be a Christian and their lives do not show it, i.e. drugs/smoking/drinking/etc, they do not use the fruit of the spirit - while they may have part, they do not have peace, otherwise they would not be doing these things.

Galatians 5:19-21 tells us, "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of heaven."

In other words, if you have accepted Jesus into your life as your Lord and savior, you are not to continue in your old ways. Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us, "... let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us." What does that mean exactly? It means what it says. It means to let go of your past life when you turn to Christ, but give God room to use your past to teach you lessons for your future.

So how do we apply the Fruit of our Spirit to our lives? For years, I have always had difficulty when someone would tell me to use the Fruit of the Spirit. I couldn't wrap my mind around how to use them in my own life. There is no specific way to apply them to your life, each person will have a different way to apply it in their lives, but let me tell you what helped me begin to use the Fruit of the Spirit - and when I began to recognize that I was using it.

Love. I couldn't figure out how to apply that. So I tried this. When a family member or friend or whomever appeared to be down, or looked like they needed to be reminded of love - that I love them and that God loves them regardless of what has occurred in their lives, I would try to comfort them, by reminding people that I sincerely love them. Now, when I try to tell friends this, they tend to take it the wrong way. But you may not have that issue.

Joy. How do you have Joy in your life? There's a myriad of ways to apply this to your life. I obtain joy just by reading my Bible. By using patience, love, gentleness, self-control, I become joyful. If walking the dog brings joy into your life, then walk the dog. If reading your Bible brings you joy, read your bible. If singing songs brings you joy, then sing songs. Do whatever makes you happy - as long as it is good according to God.

Peace. Most find this hard to obtain. People have trouble with Peace. For one, our world is not at peace. Our lives are usually in a storm. For myself, I cannot find peace. I cannot apply peace to my life on my own. So, how do I bring peace into my life? I pray that God will bring it into my life. Every time I pray that - he does. Pray to God for peace, because man himself cannot apply peace without God. All of the fruit of the spirit come from God.

Patience. Something most people are not willing to use in the business of our lives. I always pray that God gives me patience in everything that I do. I pray this: "Dear Heavenly Father, let me be slow to anger and quick to love, and fill me with patience so that I may not get angry." Every time I pray this, it works.

Kindness. How do you show kindness? Kindness can be shown in little ways, and soon you will become accustomed to showing kindness and use it in your everyday lives. Open the door for someone, carry their books, give them a hug when they need it, help people in whatever way you can.

Gentleness. How can you be gentle? Gentleness is a value and quality in someone's character. How can you show gentleness? Be a model for others, show in your lives that you are Christian - sh0w the fruits of your works.

Faithfulness. Sort of speaks for itself. Be faithful to God - turn from your old ways, and follow him, go wherever he asks you to go, do whatever he may ask you to do. I assure you, it will be worth it.

Self-Control. The big one: How do you control yourself? This one always got me. So, I pray that God will give me self control in everything that I do, that he gives me the strength, wisdom, and confidence in everything I do, and that I can live for him, and that the Holy Spirit will work in and through me.

God Bless, and Take Care. Troy Hillman

Wednesday, May 26

What does it mean to Walk By Faith?

Tonight, I decided to cover the topic of Walking by Faith. What does it mean to walk by Faith - does it mean praying about something and waiting for it to happen, is it going through life with no answers? Of course not. Should we pray? Of course we should. But when we pray, we must put our faith and trust in God to help in whatever we need help with. He is a just and true God, he always keeps his promises.

So, what if you are a new believer and do not know what walking by faith means? Or, what if you have been a believer for a long time and still are not sure what it means? 2nd Corinthians 5:7 tells us to "Walk by faith, not by sight." This means that in life, there are times when we do not know which direction to go, where to turn, so we are to ask God to lead us down the right path, to take us where he wants us to go. Ask him to lead us down the paths he wants us to go and to close those he does not want us to go down. When we can no longer carry on, God asks us to ask him for help. A poem I'm sure a lot of us have at least heard or seen once greatly illustrates this. It's called Footprints in the Sand.

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints. So I said to the Lord, "You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?" The Lord replied, "The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand, is when I carried you." - By Mary Stevenson, 1937

That is an inspiring poem. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, "Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." But walking by faith does not merely mean handing God to wheel and letting him drive. There are certainly times where we need to do things for ourselves. But he will always be there for us and help us. We cannot help him, because there is nothing he needs help with.

Walking by Faith also means obeying his commandments. Not just the Ten Commandments, but also the commandments given by Jesus. Tomorrow night I will list the commandments given to us by Jesus. But for now, here are 5 of them: 1) Love one another as he has loved us. 2) Forgive everybody of their offenses against you. 3) Be Merciful. 4) Have Faith in God for Everything. 5) Do not Judge others.

Walking by Faith would mean following his commandments, reading his word - actually reading it, praying fervently, teaching others about God. A trusted mentor recently brought this to my attention: People always ask why God doesn't just whisk us away after we are saved. So here is the answer. If he did that, how would his kingdom spread? 2nd Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentence." So why doesn't God whisk us away the moment we are saved? It is because he is not willing that any should perish, and our job, regardless of your lifestyle, is to spread the Truth. It is not much to ask for considering Jesus died for us, we cannot repay him, and he knows we can do is this. To further our creator's kingdom.

So, we must obey God. Some have asked me, even today I was asked, why should I honor my parents? They don't honor me, they won't accept God. So, I will touch on this.

Regardless of whether your parents are smokers, heavy alcoholics, don't live with you, or whatever the situation be, you are to "Honor Your Father and Mother" - the fifth commandment. (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16) Understand this. God puts several authorities into our lives. We are to obey laws, wives are to submit to their husbands, children are to obey their parents, we are to obey our boss at work, and above all, we are to obey God. But God also knows that these authorities will sometimes conflict - especially conflict with what he has commanded us. Your boss may tell you to go drinking or you will lose your job. Our government may make a law against something that we're supposed to do. Parents may ask us to do something that is wrong. In all of these cases, as well as any other situation, the answer is remains the same: we must obey God before man. If the God and man conflict, we are to follow God first.

The same goes for Bible reading. As I've said before, it is sad that most Christians - I'm not saying you, but most, merely read their Bible for 5 Minutes a year. Worse, they may not read it for 5 minutes 0 they may only think about reading it. We should be reading it everyday. Take Sir Walter Scott as a shining example.

The story is told like this: When Sir Walter Scott lay dying in bed, he asked his son-in-law to bring him "The Book." The young man replied, Father, your library contains thousands of volumes, including your own works. To which book are you referring?" Scott immediately replied, "There is only one book which we call 'The Book.' Bring me the Bible."

We should be like this man. Even in death, he longed to read his Bible. We should hunger for more knowledge, thirst for more wisdom, yearn for more truth. For that is the Goal of this blog - to seek and save the lost as Jesus Christ, the Messiah, did, and do this by presenting people with The Bible: The Truth. Troy Hillman

Thursday, May 13

The Harrowing of Hell and Early Christian Cosmology

*This is a May 2015 major revision of an original May 2010 article*
One of the more interesting doctrines held by numerous Christian traditions is the "Harrowing of Hell," which seeks to give an answer to the often un-asked question, "what happened to Jesus during the three days between his death and resurrection?" The Apostles Creed, an early statement of Christian belief (from credo, "I believe") that Jesus "was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven...". In Ancient Christian cosmology and theology, the harrowing of Hell, as it is referred to, was when Jesus, after willing giving up his life on the Cross, “descended into Hell.” One a related note, one of the questions that early Christian wrestled with was, "what happened to people such as Moses, Elisha, Jonah, Noah, King David and King Solomon, and others, when they died?" If Jesus was the one who effectively opened the door to "our... Father in heaven," then where did these individuals go beforehand? What was this “descent” into Hell? Where did the ancient Hebrews and early Christians believe Hell to be located? 

The Location of Hell in Early Christian Cosmology
This doctrine is found in many major Christian traditions, as noted. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church 636 states, "By the expression 'He descended into Hell', the Apostles' Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil 'who has the power of death' (Hebrews 2:14). In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened Heaven's gates for the just who had gone before him." Martin Luther, in a sermon given in 1533, stated that Christ descended into Hell. One of the Confessions of the Lutheran Church, The Formula of Concord states, "we believe simply that the entire person, God and human being, descended to Hell after his burial, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of Hell, and took from the devil all his power."[1] John Calvin, Protestant reformer, felt that "Christ's descent into Hell was necessary for Christians' atonement, because Christ did in fact endure the penalty for the sins of the redeemed."[2] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church) also holds this doctrine. Thus, it seems that this doctrine has been and continues to be important for several Christian traditions, including others not mentioned here. 

As aforementioned, one of the questions that crops up during an exploration of this doctrine is how Hell was viewed in the ancient Christian cosmology. Early Christian cosmology held that “hell," was once two sections, separated by a "great chasm" (Luke 16:26). They believed that Job and all righteous individuals went to Sheol, or the Pit. As conveyed by the words of Jesus in Luke 16, one could not return from sheol, although there appeared be to be least one instance in canonical Scripture. 1st Samuel 28:3-25 details such an instance. Shortly after the prophet Samuel died, King Saul went to visit a “witch” in Endor. Saul asked the witch to raise Samuel, so that he could hear his guidance. The woman exclaimed, “'I see a ghostly figure coming out of the earth.... An old man wearing a robe is coming up out of the earth.'" Samuel proceeded to say to King Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" This act of “coming up” from sheol also indicates the ancient Hebraic view that souls resided in some kind of underworld following death.

There are many other references to the location of Hell in Hebraic and early Christian cosmological thought. Ezekiel 26:20 says, "When I shall bring thee down with them that descend into the pit, with the people of old time, and shall set thee in the low parts of the earth, in places desolate of old, with them that go down to the pit..." Psalm 63:9 says, "But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth." Isaiah 26:19, "...and the earth shall cast out the dead." Psalm 139:15, "... in the lowest parts of the earth." Psalm 88:6 says, "You have laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the depths." Isaiah 57:9 says, "...and even descended to Sheol." Ezekiel speaks about the location numerous times, "down into the pit; down into hell; descend into the pit; are gone down... into the nether parts of the earth... down to hell... gone down...draw her down..." (Ezekiel 31:16-18; 32:18, 20-21, 23-25, 27, 29-30). 

Perhaps a better reference would be Ezekiel 26:20, "then I will bring you down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of long ago. I will make you dwell in the earth below, as in ancient ruins, with those who go down to the pit, and you will not return or take your place in the land of the living."  Isaiah 14:19 says, "...hell from beneath...", Matthew 11:23, "shalt be brought down to hell...", Psalm 55:23, "But you, O God, shall bring them down into the pit of destruction." Psalm 40:2 continues, "He also brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay...", Psalm 30:3, "...not go down to the pit." Job 11:8, "It is as high as heaven... deeper than hell," Job 33:24, "Deliver him from going down to the pit," Psalm 9:15, "the heathen are sunk down in the pit," 2nd Peter 2:4, "...but cast them down to hell," Lamentations 3:55, "From the lowest pit [dungeon]," Luke 10:15, "...shalt be thrust down to hell..." and Job 21:13, "...and in a moment, go down to the grave [Sheol in original Hebrew]." Scripture appears to be referring to Hell in the lower regions, the "heart of the earth." 

The Katabasis in Early Christian Theology
Bearing in mind the location of hell in early Christian cosmological thought, the descent into the underworld is the second major piece under consideration. In many religious traditions, we find accounts of a hero or deity descending into the underworld or land of the dead and returning. The return of the hero from the realm of the dead often indicates eschatological themes such as the “cyclical nature of time and existence, or the defeat of death and the possibility of immortality.”[3] This descent into the underworld is known as a katabasis or catabasis (Greek meaning to “go down”).[4] In Greek mythology, for example, Orpheus descends into the underworld in order to bring Eurydice back to life. In the Homeric Odyssey, we see the descent of the titular hero to the underworld. The term has also been used to refer to a brief stay in the underworld, such as that experienced by the biblical Lazarus.[5] 

Dante’s Inferno includes a narrative of a descent into hell, based in part on the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, the Apocalypse of Peter and other early Christian literature on the topic. In this Gospel of Nicodemus, John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus in Sheol by prophesying to those held there that Jesus would soon release them, just as he prepared the way for Jesus on Earth. The late 3rd-4th century Gnostic text, Pistis Sophia, also contains a reference to the katabasis. Others, such as Irenaeus, Epiphanius, St. John Chrysostom, St Melito of Sardis, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen and, St Ambrose wrote of the harrowing of Hell. Marcion and his followers also discussed the harrowing of Hell. Biblically, the katabasis of Jesus is referenced in Matthew 12:40. Here, the Pharisees ask for a sign from Jesus, and he replies, "None shall be given to you except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." 

Now, early Christians saw that this katabasis of Jesus was to open the way for for those who died to go to Heaven. Matthew 27:51-53 contains traces of this concept, which tells us that after Jesus rose from the dead, the saints who had also died rose to life and went into the city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people. Essentially, the understanding was that after Jesus had risen, and forty days later, when he ascended to Heaven, all of the saints who had also been risen to life seemingly were raptured into heaven with him. St. Paul mentions this katabasis in Ephesians 4:7-10. He begins by quoting Psalm 68:18, "When he ascended on high, he took many captives, and gave gifts to his people." This can be interpreted to mean that when he ascended, and the holy ones rose with him, they were the former "captives" of hell - and his gift was the Holy Spirit. St. Paul goes on to say, "What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe." It appears that in saying this, St. Paul is not referring to Sheol as a mere grave, as Scripture sometimes does, but that because he ascended, he also descended - into the lower regions of the Earth - Hell. 1st Peter 3:18-19 says, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. In that state he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits."

The harrowing of Hell is a fascinating yet often neglected theological concept. Through the lens of a katabasis and this brief understanding of early Hebraic and Christian cosmological thought, one can understand why this concept was so important. For many, this doctrine is still an extremely important piece of the faith. If Jesus descended into hell in-between his crucifixion and resurrection, for some, it may be perceived as a more fulfilling reparation for sin, similar to the thinking of John Calvin. Others may believe it to be a now defunct doctrine - it was nixed from the later Nicene Creed (AD 381), but picked up again in the Athanasian Creed (AD 400s-500s). Certainly, it is not a central tenet of the Christian faith, though it was very important for early Christians and especially medieval Christians. The katabasis of Jesus and the harrowing of hell are still a piece of the Christian faith, albeit an often forgotten piece. But perhaps the most important take-away from this doctrine is the ascent: if Jesus descended, St. Paul wrote, then he was the same one who ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, preparing for the parousia when the day finally arrives.

[1] Solid Declaration, Article IX. 
[2] Calvin, John. "Descended Into Hell".
[3] Leeming, David. The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. Oxford University Press, 2005. 98. Print.; Edmonds III, Radcliffe G. Myths of the Underworld Journey: Plato, Aristophanes, and the 'Orphic' Gold Tablets. Cambridge University Press, 2004.; Ed. John J. Collins and Michael Fishbane. Death, Ecstasy, and Other Wordly Journeys. State University of New York, 1995. Print.; Louden, Bruce. "Catabasis, Consultation, and the Vision: Odyssey 11, I Samuel 28, Gilgamesh 12, Aeneid 6, Plato's Allegory of the Cave, and the Book of Revelation," in Homer's Odyssey and the Near East. Cambridge University Press, 2011. 197–221. Print.
[4] González Serrano, Pilar. "Catábasis y resurrección". Madrid: Espacio, Tiempo y Forma, Serie II: Historia Antigua. v.12, 129–179. 1999. Print.
[5] Ibid.