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Monday, August 31, 2015

Groups or Individuals?

To me, one of the clearest passages in all of Scripture on God's Sovereignty in salvation is found in the 9th chapter of Romans. Now, of course, if you don't know what I mean by "God's Sovereignty in salvation", that might not mean anything to you. The question is this. Who chooses if you get saved? God? Or you? The standard view is that you do. "No, it isn't," some will reply. "God does. You just agree." Maybe. But in the standard view it seems that God enables the salvation of everyone and that salvation is only activated when an individual chooses to ... agree. It's like a builder wiring your house for electricity and lights. The power is there, but until you flip the switch, there is no light. So in the prevalent perspective, until you accept Christ (that's the phrase we use), all of God's building and wiring efforts -- His efforts toward your salvation -- are inoperative. In this sense, you are the final sovereign in your own salvation.

Then I read in Paul's epistle to Rome, "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, Who has mercy." (Rom 9:16) Not your choice (will). Not your effort (exertion). God. As if to drive this point home again, with gusto, Paul writes, "So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills." (Rom 9:18) Even worse. You see, in this case God wills mercy on some ("Good!") and hardens others ("Wait ... what?!").

It doesn't take long for the prevalent crowd to find my error. "Oh, see? Here's where you missed it. Paul here isn't talking about individuals. He's talking about groups." Very, very common perspective. You see, when Paul says, "As it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'" (Rom 9:13), he is actually quoting not from the Genesis account, but from Malachi (Mal 1:2-3). There, you see? God, talking to Malachi, was not talking about Jacob and Esau, the individuals. He was talking about Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom), groups. He was talking about people groups. So it wasn't Esau He hated, but the people of the Edomites who opposed Israel. See? Groups, not individuals. So in this scenario, God's plan was to save a body of people, a "church" (ecclesia, the called out ones), a group. God's plan did not include the individuals in that group; that was up to the choice of the individuals.

I have a problem here. If I were to reword Paul's content to more clearly represent what is suggested here as his intent, it would look something like this (my alterations in bold).
It is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." This means that it is not the group we'll call the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the group we'll call the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son." And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election of an undesignated group of people might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls--she was told, "The older group will serve the younger group." As it is written, "Jacob (that is, the people of Israel) I loved, but Esau (or, rather, the people of Edom) I hated." What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For He says to Moses (representing a group), "I will have mercy on [an indeterminate group of people] for whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on [an indeterminate group of people] for whom I have compassion." So then [whether this group of people are saved] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, Who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh (representing those who are not saved), "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth." So then He has mercy on [whatever group] He wills, and He hardens [whatever group] He wills. You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For [what group] can resist His will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded (referring to a group, not an individual) say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel (say, the Church) for honorable use and another (people who don't end up saved, for instance) for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (which would be the category of people classified as "unsaved"), in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy (which would be the category of people classified as "saved") , which He has prepared beforehand for glory--even us (the Body of Christ, not individuals) whom He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Rom 9:6-24)
I'm not trying to be flippant here. Nor am I trying to suggest that Paul was wrong. I'm just trying to word it so we can see the concept of "groups rather than individuals." Does this clarify my problem? You see, almost every reference in the text is not to groups, but to individuals. There is a list of specific names: Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Esau, Moses, and Pharaoh. There are references to individuals -- "conceived children by one man", "the older will serve the younger", "it depends not on human will or human exertion", that sort of thing. Not much in the way of groups in the references to people in the text.

Beyond that, Paul addresses a couple of expected objections to the principle he's trying to expound. He says that God's statement that "The older will serve the younger" was before either did anything "in order that God's purpose of election might continue ... because of Him who calls" (Rom 9:10-13). That's the principle. The first objection is "Is there injustice on God's part?" (Rom 9:14) What is this objection? If God chooses a particular group for salvation, can that be considered unjust if the individuals involved choose whether or not they are part? Perhaps, but it seems unlikely to me. But the second objection is stronger. "So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills." (Rom 9:18) The likely objection follows: "You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?'" (Rom 9:19) Now, if "whomever" in the principle in verse 18 refers to "whatever group He chooses" (rather than individuals), where is the objection? We choose whether or not we'll be in that group. God doesn't. He simply designates that such a group ("vessels of mercy") will exist. The "vessels" themselves determine for themselves which group they'll be in. How is "Who can resist His will?" a reasonable objection?

Now, to be sure, there are more people today that understand this text to refer to groups than those who see it as a reference to individuals. To me it makes no sense. If "it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy", what depends on that? Not whether you are in that group or not. That is determined by your will, right? If it is groups in mind, in what sense does God show mercy to some and harden others? Some what? Groups? None of this makes sense to me if it is talking about groups. On the other hand, if there are individuals whom God chooses to save (Rom 9:11) and on whom He chooses to show mercy (Rom 9:16, 18), vessels of wrath prepared for destruction that God sovereignly decides to make into vessels of mercy for His glory, this all makes sense to me. It makes me a child of promise (Rom 9:8), saved by God's express choice for His express purposes (Rom 9:11) without the help of my will or my efforts (Rom 9:16). Now that makes sense to me. I'm just not getting the other approach.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Without Comment

We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:28-39)
It's Sunday, the Lord's Day, a special day to worship our Lord. Toward that end, I don't think I need to expound on this text. It's just ... good stuff.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lucas McCain on the Confederate Flag

Old episodes of the series, The Rifleman, show up on local channels from time to time. One episode, "The Prisoner" (1961), gave us insight into Lucas McCain's history. You know Lucas. He's the good guy, "the rifleman", the guy with the cool gun. Always on the side of the right. This episode has McCain running into a couple of Confederate soldiers (after the war was over) who recognized him. Apparently Lucas was in the Union Army. Well, they caused problems and Lucas had to straighten it out and in the end both soldiers were dead.

There, at the end of the episode, Lucas's son, Mark, asked him about the Confederate flag the men had with them. He asked why they had it. "You always told me a flag was a symbol of courage." They had been cowards. Lucas offered a completely politically incorrect analysis. "This flag stands for the bravery of all the men who fought and died under it. The men who fought against it. Only to prove in the end that victor and loser were one and the same-free men in a free country."

Poor Lucas. Clearly a racist. Oh, wait ... no. He had been on the Union side. Hmmm. But how did he (Hollywood) get away with something like that? Or, rather, how did Hollywood writers get away with putting those words in his mouth? Apparently no one was paying attention? Mind you, I have no great love for the Confederate flag. In fact, couldn't care less. But when America is up in arms about a flag or Hollywood stars are working to change the name of a school because of an ancient connection to something distasteful, it all seems so ludicrous to have something like Lucas McCain's take on it out of Hollywood. And they want to tell me that morals haven't changed.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Someone Else's Job

I cannot tell you how many times in my years doing this blog I've been accused of "slander", "gossip", and "bearing false witness" (lying, if you prefer). The double standard has been amazing. On multiple blog entries in multiple places I've been trotted out and castigated for slander and gossip and false witness. And then they blithely misrepresent what I've said. They, of course, are not doing the same evils that I am because, they say, "I'm just talking about ideas, here, not people." Of course, I'd be hard pressed to find an article of mine where I've mentioned anyone by name (unlike the ones I've seen about me) and I rarely discuss people, but nearly always have ideas in mind, but theirs is not slander, gossip, or false witness and mine is. Why is that?

Now, you know, already some who have done this are leaping to their keyboards to pound out a stunning rebuke because I have slandered or lied about them ... again. You will note that no one has been mentioned, singled out, or referenced here. I've specifically mentioned "multiple places". But they'll be upset anyway and wish to tell me how stupid, ignorant, evil, or even insane I am. Now, wait! Aren't those slanderous? Odd.

But, look, pointing out that they carry around a healthy case of double standards doesn't absolve me of the accusation. So in what way am I slandering, gossiping, or bearing false witness? This is what amuses me the most, actually. Very often I will hear something, see something, read something and it will get me to thinking about the topic. I will recall things I've been told, things people have said to me, things I've read on the topic and I'll write about it. Note that at this point it's all very ... vague. That is, it is constructed loosely on various inputs and sources that swirl around to make a coherent idea, but it is not about a particular person. It is about that coherent idea.

The other day I wrote just such an entry and one commenter (see, at this point I'm lapsing into a personal reference) said "I think at least part of this post is directed at me." This appears to be the common idea. I didn't actually have this commenter in mind when I wrote it. I was thinking over a wide range of people, a far-flung history of discussions, a whole series of articles and ideas I had encountered. But the commenter was pretty sure I was talking about him. Have you heard of the "someone is wrong on the Internet" syndrome? There are just some people that seem to make it their mission in life to hunt down those darned people they know are out there that are wrong and correct them. They would much rather spend 12 hours correcting the "falsehood" than 5 minutes commending the right. Funny people. There are a few who seem to be stuck in some sort of "Stan is wrong on the Internet" syndrome and will hang on every word to point out how wrong I am. Or they perceive me to be. Even if it's "You spelled that wrong. See? What a loon!"

So, is it slander if I say, "These ideas that I've encountered are opposed to what I see in Scripture"? Is it gossip to say "I've talked to people who say ..." or "I've heard that ..."? If I hear an idea, read some articles, and then I actually represent what I've heard or read, is it false witness? There are a lot of reasons I'm wrong. I don't agree with the "latest scholars". I don't subscribe to "everyone knows". I don't concur with "the general population". I haven't aligned with "modern thinking". Or, the big one, I actually believe what I read. Serious error there. But I can't see how what I write is slander, gossip, or lying when I don't slander anybody in particular, don't talk about anybody in particular, and don't attempt to deceive anybody.

Well, it doesn't really matter in the end, does it? I'm not knocking on your door to tell you that you are wrong and I'm right and you need to change. I'm broadcasting generally, "This is what I see in the Bible." If that offends, it offends. I mean no offense. Nor is anyone paying much attention. (Recent statistics, perhaps incomplete but giving a general picture, indicate that in the 9+ years I've been doing this I've had perhaps 400,000 page views. In the grand scheme of things, that's not much. I mean, I don't anticipate ever showing up in a Huffington Post article, eh?) If "This is what I see in the Bible" offends, I don't know what else to do. Certainly the "You're wrong for telling people they're wrong" crowd can see how crazy that is, can't they? Maybe not. Maybe they're blinded. You know. If I say, "This idea has been the standard Christian position on this subject" and others claim, "Yeah? Well, we know better now!", I'll wait until they can explain to me why they figured it out when no one else had before. (No one has yet to offer a response to that.) So maybe I'll just keep writing down what I see in Scripture and let it hang like that. And they can continue to slander me, gossip about me, and bear false witness against me. You know, "turn the other cheek." That's okay with me. It's not like I have the ability to wake them up or stop them, right? No, that's Someone Else's job. So I'll just keep doing it, correcting my errors when I see them and praying for those who don't see their own. That kind of thing.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Did Jesus Preach Pacifism?

There is a segment of Christianity -- has been all along -- that believe that Jesus was a pacifist.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matt 5:38-47)
"See, Stan?" they tell me, "If you're going to be a biblicist like you say you are, you cannot advocate violence for any reason at all."

I'm trying to follow this thinking ... you know, the way they usually do -- by how it feels. If this is true, then it would have been wrong to oppose Hitler in World War II. We were certainly wrong in seeking to bring Bin Laden to justice. We should have invited him in to blow up a few more buildings, right? Now, I don't know a single person who would answer yes to that, but why? If Jesus is teaching that kind of pacifism here, why not? And clearly a Christian could not only not be in the military, but not in the police force either. If you're going to be consistent. If someone comes into your home and threatens you and your family, the only right thing to do is to let them do what they wish. Isn't it? "No, it's okay to subdue them." But ... isn't that not turning the other cheek, not giving to him who asks, not loving your enemy? Most would admit it isn't, but they do it by slipping off their prior position.

So is this what Jesus is teaching? My position has always been, "I want to do whatever it is Jesus wants me to do." If that means absolute pacifism, so be it. Is that what He taught?

You'll notice at the outset that nowhere does He say that. What does He say? He commands "love". Now, we're mired in this mushy version these days, but it's not the biblical version (1 Cor 13:4-8). In the biblical version love is a selfless desire for the best for the other. Now, let's think for a moment about that intruder. If we were to love that intruder (not "feel warm affection", but "seek the best"), would it be best for him (or her) to let them do it? Would it be best for our neighbors to let this proceed (and, likely, spread)?

Okay, up until this point I've been merely pointing to the difficulties. But there is a major problem if Jesus preached pacifism. It contradicts Scripture. We know, for instance, that Jesus said, "If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews." (John 18:36) If Jesus was a pacifist, He would be claiming, "My servants would be violating My commands so I would not be handed over to the Jews." In Romans Paul affirms the use of the sword as a good thing. "If you do what is evil, be afraid; for [government authority] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil." (Rom 13:4) If Jesus preached pacifism and Paul claimed that bearing the sword was "a minister of God", Paul would be wrong. The worst, however, is found in Revelation. Here we have the return of the King, Jesus. "From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty." (Rev 19:15) Doesn't sound very ... pacific, does it? "Revelation is metaphor," they assure me. If it is, it is a violent one. Nor was He a pacifist when He walked into the Temple -- twice -- with whip in hand defending His Father's house of worship. "He didn't hit anyone!" Maybe (you can't prove it by the text), but it was not non-violent.

It looks like we have a standoff. Jesus preached pure pacifism ... and doesn't practice it. Jesus abhorred violence and Jesus said of John the Baptist, "I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." (Luke 7:28) But when soldiers asked John what they should do, he didn't tell them to get out of the military (Luke 3:14). And, of course, the end is a known entity; Jesus comes in power and slays the wicked. Don't forget all the places in the Old Testament where God commanded war. I'm pretty sure you don't want to stand on a position that has Jesus calling His Father evil ... when He claimed He only did what He saw His Father doing (John 8:38). I don't think we can rationally, interpreting Scripture with Scripture, conclude that Jesus taught pacifism.

What did He teach? Don't be the usual fighter. Don't stand on your rights. Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount with hyperbole. That is, He exaggerated to make a point. (Note, for instance, that the verse after the passage I listed above is, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:48) If you are going to be consistent, you will need to stand on perfection as the only valid standard.) Should we turn the other cheek? Absolutely! Just not exclusively. Should we step aside for others? Without a doubt! Just not exclusively. Must we love our enemies? No question at all!! But that doesn't mean mushy, warm feelings and sometimes doing good to them involves discipline and even suppression.

Or, you might just conclude that Jesus was indeed preaching absolute pacifism and anyone who disagrees is disagreeing with Jesus and the Bible. Of course, now you'll have to figure out what to do with all that other Scripture that disagrees.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

If You're Saved and You Know It ...

In terms of being saved and knowing it, there are four types of people. There are those who are saved and know it. There are those who are saved but don't know it. There are those who are not saved and know they are not. And there are those who are not saved but don't know it.

The two who know correctly are easy to figure. My grandfather was not saved and knew it. He was right. No confusion. Many who are saved know it. They're right. No confusion. It's the other two categories that get a bit sticky. I'm pretty sure we all know people (or are or have been people) who question their salvation. The famous John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, was quite certain that he had lost his salvation and was sure to be damned. In Pilgrim's Progress he wrote, "There was a Way to Hell, even from the Gates of Heaven." He was deeply concerned about the subject. It is easily possible to be saved but not have assurance. On the positive side, these people are saved and their lack of assurance is a lack of comfort, not salvation. Of the other side -- not saved and don't know it -- I'm sure you can think of examples, but the most sure one is the biblical one. Jesus spoke of those who He termed "false prophets" (Matt 7:15) who were quite confident that they were safe. "Many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?'" (Matt 7:22) Jesus states quite clearly that 1) it will be "many" and 2) they are not among the saved (Matt 7:23).

It is this last category that is the most troublesome. These people are not saved, but are quite sure they are. While the other version, saved but don't know it, is sad, this one is tragic. If you believe you're cured of a horrible disease, you no longer look for a cure. If you're not actually cured, that means you die of it. In the case of salvation, that means you go to hell for it. But you're not looking for a solution to hell because you're sure you have it already.

Perhaps that's one of the reasons why assurance of salvation is not easily offered in Scripture. The book of Hebrews has several disturbing passages to shake one's confidence. We are warned that "it is impossible ... to restore them again to repentance" those "who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away." (Heb 6:4-6) Over in chapter 10 we read, "For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries." (Heb 10:26-27) The story of Esau in Hebrews is heartbreaking. "He desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears." (Heb 12:17) Esau had desire and even tears, but "found no chance to repent" and was rejected. There are so many other examples. Judas Iscariot was one of the 12. Cain communed with God. The entire epistle of 1st John was written on assurance (1 John 5:13) because it is both available but not cheap.

The upshot is that those who are quite confident, even smug in their salvation ought to be concerned and those who are not at all sure have reason for assurance. Indeed, I don't think I know of a single genuine Christian who has not struggled with assurance. It shows "the seed of God" (1 John 3:9). Those who don't struggle worry me. Paul's "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Rom 7:24) is reasonable; "I don't have a concern in the world about this" is not.

Bottom line, I don't know if you are saved. There might be clues one way or the other, giving me greater confidence or greater concern. Oh, there are some who are quite sure they are not and I'm pretty sure they're right. And I'm convinced that there are many (Jesus's word, not mine) that are equally convinced that they are saved but will face Jesus's, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness." (Matt 7:23) On the other hand, I think you can know that you have eternal life (since, after all, that is what John says (1 John 5:13)). I think it might be an arduous effort. (Read 1 John and see.) I think that Scripture precludes, "I said the prayer and I'm pretty nice, so ..." as assurance. But it's certainly worth it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Jesus Hermeneutic

I only recently heard the phrase, "the Jesus hermeneutic", although I'd certainly heard of the concept before. Can you figure what it is from the words? The idea is this. If a "hermeneutic" is a method of interpreting Scripture, a "Jesus hermeneutic" is interpreting Scripture from the words of Christ. Now, of course, it goes a little farther, because the idea is that we'd be interpreting Scripture the way Christ did, which, obviously, would be the best possible thing to do (as Jesus is the Word).

Immediately, though, we run into problems. For instance, on the very heels of "I believe in a Jesus hermeneutic ..." is the almost unavoidable "... and Jesus never said ...". Many use this grand concept of interpreting Scripture through Jesus's words as a means of deleting Scripture, and they do so not because Jesus said it was so, but because He didn't say anything at all about it. Surely this is patently wrong. Jesus never mentioned rape, bestiality, or vehicular homicide. Do we therefore conclude, "Jesus didn't think these were wrong"? In fact, John ends his Gospel with this little verse. "Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." (John 21:25) Clearly we do not have every act Jesus did or every word Jesus spoke recorded for us. Nor would we expect that during His brief ministry He would have spoken on every single matter of significance. So "Jesus never said" is an argument from silence, ignoring that "the Word" (John 1:1) ultimately said everything in Scripture. (Thus the hermeneutical principle, "Scripture interprets Scripture".)

The other major problem occurs when people use "the Jesus hermeneutic" to prove that Jesus disproved God's Word. They generally do it this way. "I don't believe that the Bible teaches X or that God favors X, so when Jesus spoke on anything related (or remained silent about it), He was favoring my belief and, thus, I am interpreting Scripture the way Jesus did." That is, they do not offer proof that Jesus interpreted Scripture they way they are saying He did (at best they offer faulty prooftexting while disregarding other things Jesus said or the bulk of Scripture on a subject). They simply assign to Jesus their own interpretation and claim it is His. "Jesus didn't condemn anyone, so the Bible is opposed to it." Where does that come from?1 "Jesus was loving, so He wouldn't think like that." Let's be careful to avoid all the other passages about Jesus that go against that tepid definition of "loving". "Jesus never said anything about a blood sacrifice, so I don't believe in it and we must reinterpret everything Paul said on the subject." See? That's the "Jesus hermeneutic". "Jesus never said ..." When He said, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt 26:28), He wasn't talking about blood or sacrifice. "Jesus said, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' See?!" Jesus said, "Go and learn what this means." (Matt 9:13) If it means that Jesus and, by extension, God never wanted sacrifice, then God is crazy as a loon for instituting a sacrificial system and then complaining when it wasn't used or was misused2. Is that how Jesus interprets Scripture?

If Jesus is actually God Incarnate and the Word is actually God-breathed, then Jesus didn't offer us 3 years of insight into Scripture. He inspired it all. And remember, it was Jesus who told His disciples that the Spirit would lead them into all truth (John 16:13). So if you're trying for the "Jesus hermeneutic", 1) it will need to be consistent with (rather than contrary to) the rest of Scripture, 2) it will need to be relatively common among believers (unlike the popular, "Modern scholars have decided that ... all of Church History has been wrong on that subject and we've figure it out."). If you're thinking of pitting Jesus against God, think again. (And I've actually read folks say that Jesus denied God's Word.) Jesus certainly had a way of viewing Scripture that was different than most of the people of His day, but rest assured it was not in opposition to Scripture. That is not a Jesus hermeneutic.

1 Generally it comes from a single verse in a questioned passage (John 8:1-11) yanked completely out of context while ignoring many other passages where He does condemn sin. Try, for instance, to lay "Jesus doesn't focus on sin or guilt or that kind of thing" against the Luke 13:1-5 passage. "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:5)

2 On this text commentator Barnes writes, "This is not a declaration on the part of God that He was opposed to 'sacrifices' or 'offerings for sin;' for He had appointed and commanded many, and had therefore expressed His approbation of them. It is a Hebrew mode of speaking, and means, 'I prefer mercy to sacrifice;' or, 'I am more pleased with acts of benevolence and kindness than with a mere external compliance with the duties of religion.'” Clarke notes that it is a quote from 1 Sam 15:22 where Samuel tells Saul, "To obey is better than sacrifice." (This is consistent with what Jesus was telling the Pharisees. "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.") Matthew Henry points to Hosea 6:6 where God said, "I desire love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." In other words, "It is better to be righteous than to sacrifice for sin." All of these and more agree that Jesus agreed with His Father on the subject and didn't oppose sacrifice for sin.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Double Standard is Strong with This One

I'm sure you heard about the sad revelation about Josh Duggar. (If you don't know who he is, he is one of 19 kids on TLC's "19 Kids and Counting", a "reality" show about a Christian family with Christian values ... and 19 kids. Of course, the show has been cancelled.) First it was a molestation charge in his teens. More recently it was an account (two?) at a website where married people can get together for adultery. And Josh Duggar espouses faith and family values. What a hypocrite! Of course, in this case, it's not my words. He said publicly that he is "the biggest hypocrite ever." "I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him."

This, of course, won't do. Confession isn't sufficient. Hanging is too good for the guy. You'll find comments like, "This was not one man's failure; this was the failure of the idea that if you just beat enough Christianity into people and refuse to allow any other options everything will be wonderful." It is "lie upon lie, the kind of lies peculiar to the evangelical world, which hasn't been able to tell the truth about anything." In other words, "He was too judgmental, so we will return the favor."

Tell the truth. You know that was a common reaction at the news ... maybe even yours. "About time he got what he deserved. All those holier-than-thou Christians are hypocrites." Josh Duggar aside, the double standard is astounding. "We hate judgmental people and gleefully stand in judgment of them." "We are intolerant of people who are intolerant of our view." "We assert with certainty that your opinion is only your opinion and not truth and if you think otherwise you're wrong." "It's wrong to push your views onto others and that's the view I will continue to push." "I am so upset by your vicious gossip and slander that I will continue to slander and gossip about you."

It breaks my heart. Someone put up on display as "Christian values" doing what Josh admits is pain and disgrace to Christ and His followers. I cannot even imagine the crushing weight his wife is bearing with a cheating husband and the public assault. It's sad that in our society there is no redemption for Christians who believe in redemption, and it's sad that people who do things while wearing the name of "Christ follower" that do not reflect Christ are touted as fine examples of how wrong Christ is. "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (Rom 2:24). A sad day all around.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

John Bunyan Quotes

In researching another entry, I came across several quotes from John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, that I thought bore repeating.
  • Sin is the dare of God's justice, the rape of His mercy, the jeer of His patience, and the contempt of His love.
  • He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.
  • Fear, lest, by forgetting what you are by nature, you also forget the need that you have of continual pardon, support, and supplies from the Spirit of grace, and so grow proud of your own abilities, or of what you have received from God.
  • You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.
Arrested for preaching, Bunyan was offered release as long as he would stop. His response was, "I will stay in prison till the moss grows on my eyelids rather than disobey God." John Bunyan spent 12 years in a prison that had, essentially, an open door, unwilling to disobey God. (Imagine that response from some in America today that are paying the price for obeying God in the matter of, say, making cakes or floral arrangements.)

On prayer:
  • There is enough sin in my best prayer to send the whole world to Hell.
  • Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan
  • Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer
Thanks, John.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Drug Culture

Recently our area had a drug raid on three people growing "medical marijuana". As the raid struck, the owner was telling them "We are card-holding medical marijuana patients" and was upset with the reply, "I don't care." They confiscated 33 plants, 9 more than the allowed 24 for medical marijuana users. The owner was distraught. "That crop was to heal me."

How did we get here? How did we get from "This drug will ease pain" to "This pain reliever will heal me"?

Sprout Phermaceuticals of North Carolina has succeeded in its third attempt at releasing flibanserin, known as "female Viagra." It is supposed to treat women with low libido. The FDA shot it down twice before because it felt the medical risk outweighed any benefit it could provide. Groups like the National Organization for Women are insisting that it be released. "Women have the right to make their own informed choices concerning their sexual health," they say, ignoring the potentially dangerous side effects.

How did we get here? How did we arrive at "this pill will give women a sex drive"? When did sexual desire become the product of a pill?

We live in a drug culture. People take drugs for everything. They take them to lose weight and to gain weight. People take "uppers" to feel happy and "downers" to keep from feeling too happy. We have drugs advertised on television for just about anything you can imagine. You can see a commercial touting the latest anti-depressant (with possible side effects of suicidal tendencies ... what?) followed by a commercial for a law firm willing to sue the company that offers the latest anti-depressant. From cigarettes to alcohol, from illegal drugs to prescription medications, we're glad to find something we can take that will produce anything "better" than what we have now. Do they? No, not normally. They make us feel better, perhaps, but from cigarettes to alcohol, from illegal drugs to prescription medications, most of what we take only makes us feel and does not make us better. Aspirin doesn't cure strained muscles. Anti-histamines don't eliminate allergies. Medical marijuana doesn't restore cancer patients. But we take them, often and with gusto.

How did we get here?

We bought the lie. We bought the "human animal" story. We actually believe the story that people are machines. With the proper tools we can fix anything. So let's not bother with proper eating and exercise; let's take a pill. But that's not right either, because "proper eating and exercise" is simply a different tool than "a pill". What we've failed to recognize is that Man is not merely another animal, a complicated machine. He is body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess 5:23; Heb 4:12). And we aren't merely dealing with a physical realm, but a spiritual one as well (Eph 6:12) and we aren't well equipped to handle it (Jer 17:9; 2 Cor 4:4).

I am amazed that someone would believe that a drug intended to alleviate discomfort would be able to cure cancer and HIV. I marvel that people (especially women) believe that a pill is all that is required to produce sexual desire in a woman. But given our current climate of secularism and materialism, denying much beyond the physical nature of our worlds or the mechanical nature of our bodies, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Still, I won't be waiting for a "godly drug" that will make me a sin-free follower of Christ. Hey, they haven't even come up with a "skinny pill" yet.

Friday, August 21, 2015

I Read; You Say

It doesn't seem that difficult, but apparently it is. It is a constant that I will read something in Scripture and subscribe to it (because it's in God's Word) and people will tell me, "Nope! Not true!" Okay, I know, skeptics are skeptical. That's what they do. But I'm talking about self-described Christians. I'm talking about people who assure me, "I love God's Word" and other reassuring things. So I read X and they say Y and I can't figure out where the disconnect is.

I'm not talking about the obscure or the difficult. I mean, sure, even though 100% of Scripture on the topic of homosexual behavior rates it as sin and not one verse of Scripture can be found to support such behavior and the Bible absolutely and invariably speaks of marriage as between a man and a woman, I suppose that's all just "my opinion". I'm not talking about the implicit or hard to understand. We might differ on the "pearl of great price" parable or who the "sons of God" were in Gen 6. I'm talking about the explicit, the clear, the plain.

I read (God talking to Himself) "The intent of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21) and conclude "The intent of Man's heart is evil from his youth." And I read further, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me" (Psa 51:5) and end up with "We are brought forth in iniquity and conceived in sin." Oh, but is that true? Well, I read on and see, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth" (Psa 58:3) and, for reasons beyond comprehension, arrive at the idea that the wicked go astray from birth. "Oh, no!" I get in response. Why? "Well, anyone can see that babies are innocent, that people are not conceived in sin, that no one goes astray from birth. That all takes time! All you have to do is look!" So, I've got Scripture in this hand and their perceptions of their experiences in the other and I have to decide which is true. Doesn't seem that hard to me, but it is for them. Clearly David in Psalms and God in Genesis were wrong or didn't say this stuff or, at least, were not clear enough. And I'm scratching my head wondering, "In what way do you love God's Word?"

I read (Jesus talking), "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matt 20:28) and they tell me, "You know, Jesus never said anything about payment for sin or anything like it." "Now, wait," I say, "Wasn't it Jesus who said, 'This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins'?" (Matt 26:28) "Oh, no, there's nothing in there about blood sacrifices for sin. Nothing at all." "But didn't Paul say, 'The righteousness of God has been manifested ... through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe ... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith ... so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus'?" (Rom 3:21-26) "Nope! Nothing in there at all about blood for salvation or God's justice or redemption or any such thing." Are we reading the same Bible? Or do we mean something different when we say, "I love God's Word"?

It's not like I'm taking a position outside of the norm. Christians have always believed in Original Sin, that all have sinned (Rom 3:23), that sin deserves death (Rom 6:23), that Christ paid for our sin (Heb 9:12), a ransom was paid (Matt 20:28; 1 Tim 2:6) by our Redeemer (Gal 3:13; 1 Peter 1:18) in His blood (1 Peter 1:19). But people may not like that. They may think it sounds unfair, unreal, even crazy. Fine. I'm not making it up, pulling it out of thin air, or hanging onto some bizarre, outlandish notion. It's in the text and it is historical Christianity. I read it; you say something different. Your argument is not with me. Your question is "How can you believe such stuff?" My question, to anyone who claims to love God and His Word, is "How can you not?" Rest assured. "I love God" coupled with "His Word doesn't mean what it says" don't go together. And division is not when the Bible clearly says "X" and I agree with "X". It is when someone else says it does not.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Created for Glory

Why were we created? What was God's purpose in creation? Specifically, in creating us?

Here's what we know. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Gen 1:1) In that process, God made Man. Here's what He said about that. "Then God said, "Let Us make man in our image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." (Gen 1:26) Now, isn't that strange? I mean, doesn't the Creator have dominion over everything? Well, yes, indeed, He does. What He was doing here was subcontracting the job, so to speak. As a president of a company has department managers under him, God put us here as "Earth managers", so to speak. But He did it specifically by making us in His image. What does that mean? Well, it means that we have some points of commonality with the nature of God, especially in the soul, but it also means that, in the image of God, we are a reflection of God.

Creation, you see, had one singular purpose. We were created by Him for Him (Col 1:16) for a specific function. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork." (Psa 19:1) "His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." (Rom 1:20) God created ... everything ... for the purpose of declaring His glory. This is why we are commanded, "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31) Why were we created? We were created to glorify God. And, as a result of this, God's intention was to glorify us (Psa 8:54; Rom 8:30).

For some reason we seem to miss this. Perhaps it's our natural enmity with God (Rom 8:7; James 4:4). Perhaps it's blindness (Jer 17:9; 2 Cor 4:4). But God spelled it out plainly. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) Did you ever wonder about that last phrase? We have a two-fold problem. One is sin. The other is our failure to fulfill our purpose -- proclaim the glory of God. Perhaps it's the same thing, two sides of the same coin. But here we see that sin isn't "bad things" or, as some are happy to affirm, "mistakes". Sin is a failure of purpose.

Often, at the mention of "sin", people seem to go deaf. "Oh, no," they think, "we're about to get a lecture about how we need to be good and not do bad things." Often they're right. I'm not going there. I'm looking at purpose. Each of us has a purpose. Indeed, I don't think that any created thing can have any greater purpose than the purpose for which we were made. And yet we routinely and universally "fall short of the glory of God." We fail to fulfill our purpose. Is it any wonder that people are generally dissatisfied? They want more of this and more of that. Maybe it's money or power or "stuff" or friends or sex or work or love. It's just "more". Because what we have and are does not satisfy and we're trying to fill that hole. Except the only way to fill that hole is to fulfill the purpose for which we were made. I'm not talking here about people doing "bad things". I'm talking about a lack of fulfillment.

We were created for glory, both to give it to the One who deserves it and to receive it from the One best able to give it. Instead, we settle for a paltry human attempt at building for ourselves something we are not equipped to make and calling that "good enough". I hope for something better. I hope to glorify God in all that I do. I long to be a faithful reflection of His glory. And I expect to be fully satisfied with the glory He gives. It's His purpose for His creation in general and human beings in particular. It is true fulfillment. And I hope that for you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Whose Side Are You On?

In Paul's first epistle to the church at Corinth he had a variety of problems to address. He opens up with the first one here.
Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ."
(1 Cor 1:12)
In my brief series on the tyranny of the Noble Sentiment, I wrote a piece on Sentiment on Atonement about how noble sentiments lead people to disbelieve that humans are in need of atonement for sin. You know, "God doesn't require a sacrifice for sin. He can just forgive." Very noble. Not very biblical. My first commenter disagreed. "Appeasing a wrathful God is not reading Scripture from a Jesus hermeneutic," he said. "Jesus said, I desire *mercy*, not *sacrifice*."

So what did Jesus say about the Gospel? We understand the Gospel to be something like "justified by grace through faith". Good stuff. You may be surprised to learn, then, that a word we never hear from the recorded words of Christ is the word "grace". Not once. We read that Jesus was "full of grace" (John 1:14) and that "of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace" (John 1:16), but both of those are things that John wrote, not that Jesus said.

It's interesting. The Pauline Dispensationalists are concerned because Jesus appeared to preach a works-based salvation. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17) The "gospel of the kingdom" (Matt 4:23). The Pauline Dispensationalists pit Paul against Jesus and conclude that Paul was right and Jesus was wrong. Well, to be fair, He wasn't wrong; He was superseded. But if you're planning to get your "saved by grace through faith" gospel from Jesus, you'll be sorely disappointed.

"Well," the "Jesus hermeneutic" side will assure me, "Jesus never said anything about blood for salvation or payment for sin." Are you sure?

Jesus said, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Matt 20:28) "Ransom for many" is not an empty payment. A ransom is a price paid to free someone. Jesus said He came to pay that price. Jesus said, "I lay down My life for the sheep." (John 10:15) That is not a mere "Christus Victor" concept. Jesus said He laid down His life for a purpose. "Okay, but not a blood sacrifice." In the Gospels and in 1 Corinthians 11 (1 Cor 11:23-26) we have the Lord's Supper.
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19-20)
Jesus asked us to remember this ... on a regular basis. Remember what? "My body which is given for you" and the blood "poured out for you," what Jesus called "the new covenant in My blood." That is a blood sacrifice for salvation.

To the Pauline Dispensationalists I say you're mistaken. What Paul calls "my gospel" he also calls "the gospel of Christ". Indeed, Paul argues that even Abraham (and, therefore, by extension, everyone throughout the history of mankind) was saved by faith (Rom 4:1-5). Jesus didn't preach "another gospel" opposed to Paul's. (I argued here that He used the term "gospel" in a different way, but not that He preached a different Gospel than the "saved by grace" one.) To the "Jesus hermeneutic" crowd who would like to claim that Jesus did not preach a "saved by the blood of the Lamb", "gave His life as a ransom" gospel, but a purely "saved by faith without satisfying the justice of God" version, I say you're mistaken. Paul didn't oppose Jesus. Jesus didn't oppose Paul. And those of you, on either side, who argue that it's true simply lead to a fragmented (and, therefore, rather unreliable) Bible. Until you can arrive at a "the Bible agrees with the Bible" position on this, don't try to tell me about your great love for the Bible or for Christ (the Word). It would appear that neither Paul nor Jesus would agree with you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


The presidential election is still more than a year away, so I'm not going to talk about that. Instead, I'm going to think about election as it is in the Bible. I know, I know, that might be a more volatile subject than the political version is, but I'm brave.

First, let's agree on something. Election is in the Bible. There can really be no disagreement on that point. In the ESV there are 8 references to "the elect" (including some from the lips of Christ), 3 references to "election", and 9 more to "elect" (in addition to the "the elect" list). Add "the called" and the like, and the list starts to get longer and longer. It cannot be disputed that election is in there. The question is not whether election is biblical; the question is how it works. That's where all the friction occurs. Good news! I'm not going there, either.

Here's one question that always comes up. Whether the elect are elect from the foundation of the world or are elect by virtue of making the right choice, how do you know if you're elect? You see, whenever the concept comes up, some are seriously uncomfortable. "If you're chosen by God, what makes you so special when others are not?" One person told me, "If that election thing is true, I'm going to join the KKK because it's not much different." Some are offended that you might claim to be among the elect. "Oh, yeah? How do you know?" Or the other side. "Yes, I see that the saved are the elect. How can I know if I'm one of the elect?" Not offended; just unsure. I get it. In fact, it's a reasonable question. Did you know it is a biblical question, too? Peter says, "Be diligent to make your calling and election sure." (2 Peter 1:10) In other words, you mustn't simply assume it; you need to be sure. On the other hand, John wrote his first epistle "that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13) So apparently you can know. So ... how?

Well, we'll all start with an agreement. We are saved by faith, not by works. All okay so far? No one is saved by working for it. "By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph 2:8-9) So whatever we might do to make our election sure, it is not by working for salvation. Then how?

In Peter's version, he says that God's "divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness" through Christ who "called us to His own glory and excellence." Thus "you may become partakers of the divine nature" (If that doesn't give you pause, you aren't paying attention.) and have "escaped from the corruption that is in the world." Therefore, "make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love." (2 Peter 1:2-8) In this stack of "effort" (which is supposed to be yours and increasing in verse 8) Peter says in verse 10 that you can "confirm your calling and election." So, we know that works don't save, but we see also that works ("effort") are not insignificant. Works don't save, but they are evidence.

Is Peter alone in this? No, of course not. Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) We are His disciples by faith (not works); it can be demonstrated by love for one another (works). Jesus ran afoul of modern liberal Christians who urge us not to judge when He said, "You will recognize them by their fruits." (Matt 7:16). John wrote, "No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him." (1 John 3:6) He goes on to say, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God." (1 John 3:9) We understand "abides in Him" produces a difference in behavior, but John says "born of God" produces that difference. Indeed, John says, "He cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God." Not only is there a change of behavior; there is a change of nature.

How can you know if you are one of the elect? Being born of God produces a change of nature which carries a sure change in "fruit", in behavior. There is an indwelling of divine power, the participation in the divine nature, the escape from the corruption of this world, the new person. Those who are born of God (the elect) are born for a reason -- "to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29). No change = no new life. Simple as that. Matthew Henry said, "None can know their election but by their conformity to Christ; for all who are chosen are chosen to sanctification." That is the Bible's message on how you can know if you're one of the elect. Changed hearts make changed lives. That's the answer.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Circumcision and Baptism

Some Reformed circles have argued that circumcision and baptism are parallels. The Old Testament circumcision was the sign of being in the Old Covenant; New Testament baptism is the sign of being in the New Covenant. There is even Scripture for this. Using this line of thinking, some argue from one to the other. "Circumcision was done practically from birth and was not on the basis of professed faith, so baptism should be practically from birth and not on the basis of professed faith." Some argue that baptism saves. We'll skip that. But others argue that, like circumcision, baptism puts children of believers into the "sphere of influence", an unclear area where they are not quite saved (pending faith) but not quite lost (being in this covenant).

In response, many baptists argue against the correlation of circumcision and baptism. "No connection at all." "It's a different thing entirely." Unfortunately, they seem to glaze over the Scripture on the subject.
In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Col 2:11-12)
How safe it is, then, to dismiss this connection?

I would argue both that there is a tight correlation between circumcision and baptism and that baptism is for believers, not infants.

First, the text I gave seems to be unavoidable. Paul says we were "buried with Him in baptism" and considers that "a circumcision made without hands." In Romans he says, "Circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit." (Rom 2:29) So the real circumcision is not a physical one, but a spiritual one. But notice this. Speaking about Abraham being saved by grace before he was circumcised, Paul says,
He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. (Rom 4:11)
Is that not straightforward enough? Circumcision was the seal of righteousness reckoned on the basis of faith. And so is baptism.

"Yeah, but what about that whole 'Babies were circumcised before coming to faith' thing?"

In answer to that, let me ask this. If Old Testament circumcision was the sign of being in the covenant, and that covenant was with Israel, when did one enter the covenant? When they were born. In the New Testament, if baptism is the sign of being in the covenant, and that covenant is with believers, when does one enter the new covenant? When they are born again.

I see the two as the same, except that they are for two separate agreements between God and Man. One is for Abraham and his physical bloodline. The other is for Abraham and his spiritual bloodline. Both are signs of being in the covenant. I see them as the same, each for its respective covenant. The former is a physical sign given when born into the physical covenant and the latter a spiritual sign given when born into the spiritual covenant. I don't see a problem here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


There are some, likely many, maybe even most who believe that sin is bad, but not that bad. It's the reason that people object to the notion of Hell. "Really? Eternal torment for a few mistakes here on earth? That doesn't seem fair." This, however, is a product of an error.

John describes sin as "lawlessness". (1 John 3:4) Sounds simple enough. But Jesus said that the whole law was contained in two commands: Love God with all you are, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:36-40). James says, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." (James 2:10) So, the biblical definition of sin is ἀνομία -- anomia -- "no law". It is "God says ... but I won't." It is "I will make myself like the Most High." "Yes, I know You are God and, yes, I know You have the right to apply obligations, rules, requirements. I just don't care. I will do what I want to do." No law.

It is treason. "God rules, but I will replace Him."

It's not something small, minor, an infraction. Paul says, "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot." (Rom 8:7) That's not minor; that's war. God said, "The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen 8:21) (How young? David said, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies." (Psa 58:3) How young? From birth.)

"Oh," they will still say, "it's not that bad. People are basically good." Yes, yes, I know that's popular. But it's wrong.

I was fascinated in my reading in Romans this week that Paul wrote this.
The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Rom 8:19-21)
"Sin isn't so bad." We'd like to think so. But this text argues that Man's sin subjected all creation to futility. Because of our sin, our world is in "bondage to corruption". Not so bad? No big deal? And that's just the effect on the creation.

Sin isn't minor. It's not like stealing a cookie or, worse, running a red light. It's not even like murder, something God says deserves death (Gen 9:6). It is lawlessness, an attempt at overthrowing the God of the universe in favor of our personal preferences. A single violation, James says, makes you guilty of all of it (which makes sense if sin is an attempt to overthrow God). And not one of us is a minor sinner. Our sins are many. On the up side, whoever is forgiven much loves much. "He who is forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:47) Now, you may be a better person than I am, because I'm one in real need of a Redeemer. Guilty as charged. I am so pleased to have an Advocate who is the appeasement of God's wrath (1 John 2:1-2). I am so glad to know that the One who condemns is the One who died for me (Rom 8:33-39).

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Bathroom Humor

It's Saturday. Purely meaningless humor today. If you don't care for "bathroom humor", stop reading and come back tomorrow.

There has been this sign in the men's room at work that has baffled me for awhile.
Please do not throw gum
in the men's urinals.
There is a trash can behind you
for these items.
It gnaws at me for a variety of reasons. First, do we really need this sign up here? I mean, come on, guys! Surely you know better than that. It's a sad commentary on mankind when we have to put up a sign to promote what should be common sense. RIP, common sense.

But, okay, I have a minute. What is the sign saying? You see, I happen to know that there is no trash can behind me. There are sinks. The trashcan is over there by the door. So are they saying that we should regard what is behind us as trash cans? And they don't want me to throw "these things" the urinal, but in the sinks?

Oh, wait! What are "these things"? I go back and look at the sentence structure to figure this out. "These things" is a plural phrase. In the previous sentence, what items are plural? Well, there is "gum", which is singular, and "urinals", which is plural. The only plural in that sentence is the latter. Are these the things for which the sinks should be used as trash cans?

Oh, it's all so confusing!

Or not.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Language Problems

There are a lot of times that we run into language problems. It is the Tower of Babel all over again. I use a word and mean it as x and you hear it as y. Worse, we read a word, say, in a book and it means x this time, but y another time. Very confusing. You read that the young man took his date to a date farm and you are completely confused. "They have farms that produce dates??" You hear that the woman got engaged while she was engaged in a new project and it all makes no sense. "She was engaged to two people?" The sign says "No right turn" and you're trying to figure out why they would make it illegal to make the correct turn.

You would think that by minimizing the scope of the language it would get easier. Say, for instance, we limit it to theology. No, better, Christian theology. Here we find standard words like "justified", "saved", and "gospel". Whew! We're all set. We're clear! No confusion. Or is there? Turns out that "justified" appears in the Bible with multiple meanings. We get the whole "justified by grace" thing. We are declared righteous (just) in God's eyes. Got it. But wait! In Psalms David says, "Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment." (Psa 51:4) In what sense is God "justified" in the sense of "declared righteous in God's eyes"? Well, not at all. A different sense of "justified". Jesus said, "Wisdom is justified by her deeds." (Matt 11:19) Again, not "declared righteous in God's eyes". And with that problem in hand, you can only imagine the various senses in which "saved" appears in Scripture. Let me give you a hint. It is not always in the sense of "saved from the wrath of God."

So now we come across a sure thing, right? "Surely 'Gospel' means 'the Good News of salvation by grace through faith', right?" I'm actually a little surprised you would ask, given the plethora of previous counter-examples. No. It means "good news". That "good news" varies. Jesus first preached the Gospel in Matthew 4. Here was His Gospel: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17) Matthew 4:23 says that Jesus was "proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom." So this is not the Gospel that we think of, the good news that we are saved by grace through faith. This is the good news that the kingdom was at hand. In Matthew 24 the prediction is that "this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matt 24:14) Does that mean that Christ will not return until the "saved by grace" Gospel is proclaimed throughout the wole world? No. That's about the kingdom. Then in Revelation we hear of "an eternal gospel" proclaimed by an angel. This is a different set of good news. "Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, 'Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.'" (Rev 14:6-7) Get that? This good news was that God's judgment was arriving and He would be glorified. Not the same gospel we think of when we think of the word. No, the gospel you and I think about is what is termed "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). That gospel, in fact, wasn't known clearly until Paul brought it up (Gal 2:2). Now, it wasn't new to Paul -- Paul didn't originate it (Gal 3:8) -- but it wasn't known in that form. Paul calls it "my gospel" (e.g., Rom 2:16), "the gospel of God" (e.g., Rom 15:16), and "the gospel of Christ" (e.g., Rom 15:19).

Just a sampling. You would think it would be easier, but it's not. You have to pay attention. You have to listen to the words, the context, the whole thing. You know, like when you listen to everyday conversations. Now, if you pay close attention to someone that you want to listen to, what would you expect to do if it is God talking? I'd think you'd want to pay the utmost attention. But, hey, maybe that's just me.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

It's Just Mere Covetousness

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Col 3:1-6)
I used to read this text and get to that phrase, "which is idolatry", and wonder "What in that list is idolatry?" Is Paul saying everything on that list is idolatry, or is he just saying that covetousness is idolatry? I couldn't tell. I couldn't tell until it dawned on me that the entire list was covetousness.

Think about it. What is covetousness? Primarily it is wrongful or inordinate desires, especially for that which does not belong to you. Okay so far. Now, what is sexual immorality all about? Is it not coveting sexual relations with someone you're not supposed to? Impurity? Coveting behaviors you are not supposed to do. Passion? The word primarily refers to lust, which is sexual covetousness. Do I need to go on? Isn't it clear that the answer to my question, "Is Paul saying everything on that list is idolatry, or is he just saying that covetousness is idolatry?", is "Yes!"?

But ... how is that "idolatry"? Well, Webster's dictionary defines "idolatry" as "immoderate attachment or devotion to something". It is anything that takes the place in our affection and devotion that rightly belongs to God. Covetousness is precisely that. It says, "God has not given me enough. The things I want are more important than the God who gives me what I need."

Here, think of it this way. Covetousness is wrongfully desiring something other than God. There are right desires -- desires for justice, for the best for those we love, for good things for others. But covetousness desires that to which it is not entitled. So if it is forbidden by God (such as sexual relations outside of marriage), it is idolatry, holding up as God that which is not. If it is not with gratitude, it is idolatry, replacing God with my rights. If it is selfish, with disregard for the welfare of others, it is idolatry, placing myself over God's commands.

Now, if I'm right and these things on this list all fall under the category of types of covetousness, and if Scripture is right and covetousness is idolatry, there are some conclusions to consider. First, now you can see both the primary source of sexual immorality (idolatrous coveting) as well as the seriousness of it (idolatry). Second, if these things, considered normal, acceptable, even approved today, are idolatry, there is no wonder why Paul says, "On account of these the wrath of God is coming." And that is no small deal.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why Do People Leave the Faith?

There are a lot of things written about the question of people leaving the faith. Of particular concern are the kids who grow up in a Christian home, seem to be fully involved, and then leave for college and come back without faith. It happens a lot. And lots of people are trying to tell us why. For instance, research tells us that a lack of training in apologetics is a serious problem. Kids simply don't have the arguments to retain their faith. One author suggests that failed fathers is a key factor. Those who leave cite things like disillusionment and a lack of "Christian authenticity". They complain that there is no room for doubt or questions. They don't like what a lot of people don't like, things like the exclusivity of Christianity or the concept of Hell. I think it's clear, though, that the primary reason kids leave the faith is to pursue behaviors that are not compatible with Christian morals.

Suggested solutions are plentiful. Lifeway offers a list from a Fuller Theological Seminary book entitled Sticky Faith that includes things like being raised with an emphasis on relationship with Christ rather than an adherence to rules, an intergenerational faith community, and parents that walk alongside their kids. Others suggest that parents need to be authentic Christians. Clearly we need more apologetics. And let's make our churches more friendly, accepting, open. That sort of thing.

As for me, I have a problem ... with the question. "Why do people leave the faith?" The only answer I can find is "They don't." Why would I say that? It's what I read in my Bible. Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:27-29) So if "no one is able to snatch them out of my hands", in what sense can someone -- anyone -- do it? John wrote, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12) and Paul referred multiple times to our "adoption as sons" by God (Rom 8:15; Rom 8:23; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5). How do you cease being a child of God, an adopted child? The condition of the saved person is "eternal life" (John 3:16). In what sense is it "eternal" if it comes and goes? Paul told the Philippian believers, "I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil 1:6) On what could Paul base such confidence? Jude praises "Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy." (Jude 1:24) Over and over again the Bible speaks of God's hand in our salvation. Sure, we come in faith. Sure, you "work out your salvation" (Phil 2:12). But God's hand in salvation is to keep us (1 Peter 1:5), to sustain us (Psa 37:17), to seal us (Eph 1:13). We have this amazing, unbreakable chain in Romans 8.
We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Rom 8:28-30)
Predestined, called, justified, glorified. In that sequence we have no input. It is God's work. And it offers no deviations. "Predestined ... called ... justified ... oops! Lost."

J.I. Packer said, "Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you." The truth is that those who belong to Christ will remain with Christ (1 John 2:19). Oh, sure, there may be rough patches. Wavering, doubt, a time of sin, even gross sin. But God's Word says that those who are in Christ at all are in Christ forever.

Perhaps this doesn't help ease your mind. You know people who "leave the faith". They seemed to be true believers. They appeared to be followers of Christ. But Jesus describes a group (He says "many") that appears more like believers than I think most of the ones you have in mind. These prophesy, cast out demons, and perform miracles. And Jesus tells them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness." (Matt 7:23) The real point, then, is not appearance. The point is an actual relationship with Christ (Gal 4:8-9). Outward appearance can be faked. But the fact is that those who are His cannot be lost and will not, in the end, go out from us. Perhaps our best efforts would be a focus on relationship and be drenched in prayer and the Word. It's that kind of a battle. It's not one of methods and arguments. They might bolster the spiritual war, but it is a spiritual war. It should, then, provide comfort to if you are concerned about others when you know that He will not lose one.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Identity Crisis

We humans here in the 21st century appear to be in the midst of an identity crisis. Now, to be fair, there are a lot of available identities. "Father", "mother", "family member" (as in "I'm one of the Joneses."), your job, and on and on. So why is it that so many of today's identity labels revolve around sex. These days a key self-identifier seems to be "gay" or "heterosexual", as if the gender with which we want to have sex identifies us. Is that really the best we can do? Is that really even signicant?

So we step up. "I'm an American" or the citizen of some other country. That's much more important. Because your geography and place of birth is significant. Or is it?

We were given some pretty impressive credentials from God. "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Gen 1:27) In God's version, being what is derisively termed "binary gender" is an identity assigned by God -- male and female. More importantly, "in His own image" is an irrevocable identity. On this one God based His call for the death penalty for murder (Gen 9:6). "A divine image bearer" is a much higher identity than some meager "sexual orientation" or your particular citenzenship.

We like to think that our "higher" identity is "Christian". You know, "follower of Christ". Except that the term barely means that anymore ... and it originally appeared to be intended as an insult to "the followers of the Way." In our day, of course, it can refer to anyone from an ardent follower of Christ to someone who lives in the non-Muslim section of town. Can we do better?

I came across a new one. Or a very old one. Back in Genesis, God made Abraham a promise. God told him He would make his children as numerous as the stars (Gen 15:5). Further, through his offspring, "all the nations of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen 18:18). In Romans and in Galatians Paul refers to this promise. In Romans he says, "They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." (Rom 9:6). Sounds like double talk, but he goes on to say, "It is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants." (Rom 9:8) In the Galatians passage (Gal 4:22-28) Paul uses the parallel of Sarah and Hagar. Sarah and Hagar both had a son, but Sarah was the free woman and Hagar was not. When God promised Abraham a son, He did not mean Hagar's son, Ishmael. He meant the promised son, Isaac. Paul goes on to say, "And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise." (Gal 4:28)

What a concept! "Children of the promise." Do you catch the implications? We are "children of God". We aren't these kind of children by human effort. We are His children because He promised it. It means that if you are a Christ-follower, a born-again believer, that when God promised Abraham that his descendants would number like the stars, He had you in mind. It means that genuine believers aren't random and aren't some accident. We are children of the promise. A sure thing. A promise from God before He even formed the chosen people, Israel. Now that is an identity!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Atonement

One of the primary components of the Christian faith is the principle of atonement and the fact of the Atonement. The principle is that humans, by their sin, have created a gulf between themselves and God. The Bible says that the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God (Rom 8:7). We -- God and us -- are not at one. Thus, the need to atone, to make amends, to repair the injury. There is a problem that has to be made right. That's the principle of atonement. The fact of the Atonement is that Christ died for our sins in order to appease God and make us right with Him. In every other religion this "make it right" process is something you and I do. We work for it. Be good and live a righteous life and follow the rules and maybe, just maybe, the deity in view will find this acceptable. Christianity alone holds that this cannot happen. The rift is too deep, the debt too large. It took a perfect man, God Incarnate, to accomplish this. In the Old Testament atonement was accomplished by a sacrificial system that prefigured Christ. The lamb was sacrificed looking ahead to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). When Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac, he told his son, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." (Gen 22:8) That lamb provided by God for God would be Christ. (Note that in the Genesis 22 story, God did not provide a lamb for Himself; He provided a ram (Gen 22:13).) So when we speak of "the Atonement", we are speaking of Christ's sacrifice of Himself at the cross to make those who put their faith in Him "at one" with God. Thus, "at-one-ment".

You may not know this, but as it turns out there have been more than one theory regarding the Atonement. There have, in fact, been quite a few. Chronologically, they appear like this on the historical timeline:

The Ransom Theory

This is the earliest recorded theory on the topic. It holds that Christ died to pay a ransom for us. The Early Church Fathers were never quite in agreement regarding to whom the ransom was paid. Some said it was Satan, some God. (This is held by Eastern Orthodox chruches.)

The Recapitulation Theory

Introduced by Iranaeus (125-202 AD), this one played off Paul's version of Christ as the New Adam. In this version Christ undid what Adam did. Adam disobeyed; Christ was obedient. In this, Christ reversed the course of mankind. "Christ became what we are so we could become what He is." (Note: Iranaeus also subscribed to the Ransom Theory, so we don't need to go down the "The Church Fathers had an earlier view" line of argument.)

The Satisfaction Theory

This was Anselm's idea in the late 11th century. It holds that Jesus appeased God by sacrificing Himself. He satisfied God's just demands on our behalf. It is primarily viewed in a sort of financial transaction -- payment made for a debt owed. (This one is preferred by the Roman Catholic Church.)

The Moral Theory

Abelard in the 12th century suggested that Jesus's death is a moral example for the rest of humanity to emulate. The goal was to impress humanity with the extent of God's love to soften their hearts and lead them to repentance. The idea is "We should follow Christ's example of radical love, where He loved us even to His own death." This "atonement" specifically is not a sacrifice to satisfy an angry God, but the standard "God loves you so be good and you'll be okay." (This one is often preferred by liberal Christianity.)

The Acceptance Theory

A guy named Scotus circa 1300 AD offered this one. He simply held that God arbitrarily chose to remove the problem between God and Man. No payment. No rectifying the problem. God just chose. This one is popular among liberal Christianity, too.

The Penal or Penal-Substitution Theory

The Reformers in the early 16th century argued this theory as a correction to Anselm's Satisfaction Theory. That is, he didn't explain it well enough. Christ paid our penalty by dying on the cross on our behalf (penal substitution). As such, God's justice was satisfied and God's mercy replaces His wrath. (This is the leading theory for most conservative Christian groups.)

Christus Victor Theory

This one holds that Jesus voluntarily allowed Himself to be executed. This defeated the power of evil and released humanity from its sin. It was first explained in 1931 by Gustaf Aulén. He went back to the Ransom Theory and argued that the Atonement was actually the story of God in Christ triumphing over the powers of Satan and liberating humanity.

The Government Theory

In this version, God made Christ an example of suffering so that we could see that the moral government of God required wrath against sin. Christ's suffering toward that end was sufficient to God. This view was originally offered by Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) but became a popular one for some like Charles Finney, Jonathan Edwards Jr (called "the younger" -- not to be confused with the famous Jonathan Edwards of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" fame), and the Methodists.

The List Goes On

Modern, non-violent theories have also been suggested primarily by African-American and feminist theologians that I don't plan to examine. Additionally, there are modifications to these primary theories that don't much matter and even anti-Christian theories such as the Accident Theory that said Christ's death was an accident and the Martyr Theory that holds that Christ died for His principles and nothing more. I'll skip over these.


So which do I hold? The answer is a qualified "Yes." I believe in the Ransom Theory because Scripture says so (Mark 10:45; 1 Tim 2:5-6) but disagree with the part that says that the ransom was paid to Satan (making Satan the victor). Iranaeus's Recapitulation Theory works based on 2 Cor 5:21 -- "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." -- but not if it eliminates other versions. God was certainly satisfied with Christ's death on the cross, so I'm up for the Satisfaction Theory for as far as it goes. Christ "gave Himself for us to redeem us" (Titus 2:14), a reference to a price paid, a transaction made ... the essence of the Satisfaction Theory. I certainly agree that we are to be "like Christ" including His matchless love as suggested by the Moral Theory, as long as we don't use this one to jettison the rest. I'm sure that the Penal-Substitution Theory fills out the notion quite well -- perhaps better than most -- answering to important items biblical claims such as Christ as our propitiation (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). (In Rom 3:25 the propitiation is "by His blood".) Sin has a penalty (Rom 6:23) and justice demands that it be paid. Paul says that "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." (Gal 3:13) That is "penal substitution". The Christus Victor Theory is certainly true. Christ was victorious (1 Cor 15:57). It just isn't the complete story. In other words, I don't think that any single theory covers the Atonement. Conversely, I think that most (not all) theories have something valid to say about the Atonement. My problem occurs when any given theory includes a "but everyone else is all wrong" clause. I suppose that's just me. I try to draw my conclusions on key issues like this from Scripture.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Have You Seen Jesus, My Lord?

When was the last time you saw the Lord?

Okay, unclear question. When was the last time you were really in the presence of God?

There are certain telltale signs to look for. Most likely you won't come away feeling "warm" or on some sort of spiritual high. In Scripture, every person who recognizes the presence of God has a universal response: terror. Why terror? Because every person who comes into the presence of the Holy recognizes immediately their own unholiness.

The first negative emotion in Scripture comes from Adam when he hears God in the garden and he was afraid (Gen. 3:10). Jacob had a dream about angels and responded in fear (Gen. 28:10-17). Moses found that a burning bush was actually the presence of God and was too afraid to look (Exo. 3:6). When God spoke to Israel, they were terrified (Deut. 5:4-5). Aaron and the Israelites were afraid of the mere reflection of God seen in Moses's face (Exo. 34:30). When Gideon figured out that he was actually in the midst of a conversation with the Divine, his response was the certainty that he would die (Judges 6:22). Isaiah, a prophet of God, responded to the presence of God with "Woe is me!" (Isa. 6:5). Habakkuk took God to task for not responding to Israel's sin, but when God responded, Habakkuk said, "I heard and my inward parts trembled; at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble" (Hab. 3:16). In the New Testament, a storm on the Sea of Galilee was scary to the disciples, but when Jesus demonstrated His deity by calming that storm, "they became very much afraid" (Mark 4:41). When Peter pulled up fish at Jesus's command, he didn't show up with a contract; he begged Jesus to leave (Luke 5:8). If you have spent time in the presence of God, you have been made acutely aware of your own sin. It is the biblical hallmark of a human being in the presence of God.

I particularly like Isaiah's story. I think it captures all the primary points that someone will experience in the presence of the Lord.
In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven." Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isa. 6:1-8).
The time was a time of crisis. King Uzziah was a godly king, but died a leper for assuming rights with God that He didn't have (2 Chron. 26). The nation was in moral decay. And Isaiah was God's man on the scene.

The image of God is majestic. Anyone who comes into His presence cannot come away feeling it was irrelevant or boring. And the primary focus of entire scene was God in His Holiness. Some see the repetition as a pointer to the Trinity. Others point out that a repetition is a strengthener, making God's Holiness the most important characteristic He has. Whatever it is, it is important ... not Isaiah or even the seraphim. Being in the presence of God calls attention to the majesty of God.

The response is universal. Isaiah's "woe is me" isn't light. It is a curse on himself. He is undone. He is coming apart. This man, God's man on the scene, already 5 chapters into speaking for God, comes to see that he suffers from "unclean lips" and lives "among a people of unclean lips". Isaiah was quite sure it was over for him. He deserved death ... and that would be merciful. Being in the presence of God requires a cleansing of self.

The necessary action is taken. Isn't it interesting that God doesn't say, "Don't worry, Isaiah, you're not that bad," nor does He say, "You're right, you worm -- writhe in My presence"? Instead, an angel from God brings the remedy. "You're right, Isaiah, you're a man of unclean lips; I can fix that." But immediately upon the pressing of the burning coal onto Isaiah's lips (No one ever said that the remedy to sin was pain-free.), there is a call for action. "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" And Isaiah, the man whose lips were unclean but were now treated by God's treatment, cannot fail to respond. "Here am I. Send me!" Being in the presence of God requires an obedient response to serve Him.

Maybe this Sunday you felt like you were in the presence of God. Perhaps not. Did you have a feeling of warmth toward God? I see no biblical precedence that says that anyone responds this way to His presence. Did you have a real sense of your own sinfulness? Did you have a driving need to repent? Did you sense within yourself that you needed to do for God what God wants you to do? Then you were likely in the presence of God.

When was the last time you were really in the presence of God?

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Full Disclosure

You know, I got to thinking the other day about some of the stuff I've written of late. Okay, perhaps a lot of it. Okay, perhaps more than just "of late". I got to thinking that it might be pretty easy to read this stuff and think, "Wow, this guy has it all together." Okay, not quite that. I mean, clearly there is a sizeable segment who would say I'm wrong. But the idea that what I write is who I am. Or, at least, who I claim to be. Whether or not you agree with me, you've might conclude that I believe I've got the question of "fair" down, that I'm a good Christian man and a good parent and good husband, that I am a committed church-goer and pretty good at properly interacting with people. Like "After he wrote that piece on the Great Commission and how we're all supposed to do it, he must be a missionary or something." At least in my own mind. That sort of thing. I mean, sure, you wouldn't think I was perfect or even right, but you'd be fairly sure that I've got all this stuff pretty clear in my head and in my life.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I would like to clear that whole notion up. Here's how it works. I read something in Scripture or hear it or read it from someone else or think about something and more often than not the Holy Spirit comes around and, while enlightening me on the idea, convicts me. It's not that I've figured it out. I'm not that smart. It's not that I've arrived at what I claim to be the right way. I'm not that good. So I just tell you what God is telling me on the off chance that you and I might walk together down this long path of becoming sanctified, of becoming "conformed to the image of His Son." A good part of the time that I'm telling you I think you need to work on something it's because I need to work on it and thought I'm not likely alone in that.

Just so you're clear on this. Like Paul, "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:12) Thought someone might need to know this.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Not My God

In my recent discussion on "the Noble Sentiment" a commenter complained, "Why follow the God of your interpretation? Why follow the God that causes blindness, muteness, and deafness? Why follow the God that causes calamity? Why follow the God that ordains evil?"

Welcome to a prime example of the Noble Sentiment. In this view, God is not like that. God doesn't do that. "That is not my God." The upshot, of course, is "My God is much better than that." By which we might conclude, "He conforms to my preferences in what a God should be."

This is a problem. It is a problem for me, of course. (That was the commenter's aim. "Why follow such a God?" was a rhetorical question, requiring a given answer: "Don't!") Why do it? Let me first say that it isn't quite accurate to call it "your interpretation" when I'm simply taking what is stated, applying no twists or turns, without overlaying my preferences or feelings, and coming away with what it says. I can't find anything that precludes it in Scripture. I can't see that it contradicts anything in Scripture. So I'm forced to conform my interpretation to the text (rather than the oh, so common alternative of interpreting Scripture to conform to my own views).

So, if Scripture is clear and consistent and actually says what I quoted it to say, then what are my options? I don't see very many. I can suggest that it's wrong and I'm right. "My God wouldn't do that." Or I can offer my interpretation that would change the straightforward meaning of the text so that I can end up with "My God wouldn't do that." I can, of course, simply decide, "The text is right and I don't want anything to do with a God like that." Or ...

I can say, "The Bible is God-breathed. It is God's self-revelation of who He is. Since God is not a man and is Holy ("other", not like me), I would expect that He would not conform to my simplistic perceptions. Therefore, I will choose to agree with what Scripture tells me and follow a God who is good even if He does not conform to my preferences or self-imposed interpretations." In this, of course, I would have to conclude that Christ, as God, would be the same as God, so falling back on the ever-popular "But Jesus wasn't like that!" only creates a contradiction.

That's the point of the whole "Tyranny of the Noble Sentiment" question. Am I going to go with what God says is true? Or am I going to side with the "Why follow a God like that?" perspective? Am I going to let God be true, though every man a liar, or am I going to construct my own view of God and bend Scripture to match? Why follow a God like that? Because He says He's like that and He says He's good and that's enough for me. Can I trust Him? He says I can and that's enough for me.

Now, of course, the other side will have to figure out its own problem. Why is your version of God better than the one presented in God's Word?