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Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
My complete profile...
Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich
His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole
[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos
Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead
There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
| Hebrews 10:26-27
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. - Hebrews 10:26-27 [NASB]
I think every pastor eventually gets a knock on the door from some believer who, after earnestly reading this passage, has experienced an agony in their soul because they know that they have continued to sin willfully after having received the knowledge of the truth (the gospel).
Let's ask and answer the question this text, and the example given beg: Does this text mean that the death of Christ will not cover sins you've willfully committed?
Let's begin by noting that the bulk of every honest reader of this post's sin has been willfully committed, whether you're a Christian who has been willfully sinning after you've received the knowledge of the truth, or whether you've never comprehended the gospel, or your need for it.
I trust that you're know yourselves enough, and can be honest enough when pressed like this, to admit that you often sin on purpose. You give into your temptations, knowing that to do so is sin, but you intend to sin anyway - and so you do. We all do, but lest you imagine that there is a form of Christianity that you (and I) have never attained to, one where all your sins are accidental or unintentional, and where you never commit an intentional sin, I will show you briefly, by way of examples from the scriptures, that were this the case, no one in the bible except our Lord would ever have attained it.
Consider King David:
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. - 2 Samuel 11:1 [NASB].
This is how the record of David's adultery with Uriah's wife Bathsheba begins. He should have been out there on the field with the rest of Israel's army, but sent Joab in his place. One night King David got up and walked around on his roof, and saw Uriah's wife Bathsheba (a very beautiful woman) bathing. We have no reason to believe she was doing anything lewd - people had to bath sometime, and bathing at night invited fewer eyes - if anything, it was the most modest way to bathe. The scriptures tell us that she was beautiful, and that David, upon seeing her, desired her so much that he inquired who she was. He was informed that she was Uriah's wife. That should have been the end of that - and David knew that. But he sent for her anyway, and intentionally took her to his bed.
This wasn't an accident. David knew before he sent for her that it was not God's will for him to do so. He knew what he intended to do when he sent for her, and he knew, as he waited for her to be brought, what he was planning to do was sin - but he hardened his own heart in order to continue in the sin he had planned. When he had slaked his lust, he sent her back to her house - but she had conceived his child. When she discovered her pregnancy she notified King David.
It takes weeks for a pregnancy to show up, so David had ample time to confess to his sin, and repent, and try and make things right, but he did no such thing. When it became obvious that his sin would be discovered - he tried to (albeit, clumsily) cover it up by having Uriah come back from the war, and hopefully spend time with Bathsheba - but Uriah was more righteous than David, as we see in 2 Samuel 11:11 - Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in temporary shelters, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? By your life and the life of your soul, I will not do this thing.” - [NASB]
At this point, David should have realized that he was kicking against the goads. It was the time for him to fess up, but instead, he intentionally premeditated the murder of Uriah - eventually sending him back to the front with a letter for Joab with instructions that would certainly (and intentionally) bring about the death of Uriah. Problem solved, sin, covered up. Uriah was sacrificed on the altar of David's lust and desire to cover up his sin - all of which was completely and entirely intentional.
But God forgave David, and since his forgiveness required the blood of Christ (the blood of bulls was a placeholder, and could not atone for sin), it follows that the blood of Christ is sufficient even for sins that are committed willfully. In fact, give that sin itself is best defined as a willful refusal to obey God's rule, the notion that one can unintentionally refuse to submit themselves to God's will, is a difficult thing to picture.
So what do we do with Hebrews 10:26-27?
We should start by looking at how the author gets to this text, what he hopes to say with this text, and why he hopes to say that. We should look at the texts in the Old Testament that this text is paraphrasing, etc. etc.
Let's start with an observation: Did you know that there is no sacrifice in the whole of the Mosaic Law that is set aside specifically for "intentional" sin? Yet in many translations you will find a several sacrifices for "unintentional" sin. Why do you think that is?
It's easy to say that the translators chose a poor word to translate the original intention, but the truth is that there is a nuance in the language there that just doesn't come over well in a word-for-word kind of way. When you translate a single nuanced word into another language, you often leave the nuance behind. There is a notion of high handedness associated with texts like Numbers 15:30 (which Hebrews 10:26-27 alludes to), But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people [NASB]. Other translations use the word presumptuously, brazenly, or highhandedly in the place of defiantly.
What Moses was saying in Numbers 15, was that anyone whose heart attitude towards God was that his commandments could be ignored, was to be cut off from Israel, because that attitude blasphemes the name of God. There is a difference of heart between the one who knows the commands and yearns to obey them (but fails), and the one who disregards the commands as beneath his contempt. The former had a place in God's people the latter did not.
It is the same in his text in Hebrews 10. The author is concerned with Jews who having been made aware of the gospel, would set that aside and return to Judaism. To do so, is to put yourself above God's revelation (taking a high handed position with regards to truth). It is to place no value on what God says because you've already decided that even if it is true, it doesn't matter to you at all, you're going to do what you want to do, and what you think is best for you, and you could care less what God has to say about it.
The author is saying, that if that if you're going to return to the Mosaic system of animal sacrifices, after you've come to understand that Jesus is what those sacrifices pictured - but you don't care about that, then the true sacrifice doesn't apply to you, even as the Mosaic placeholders cannot be applied to you - because you're putting yourself outside of the camp if you go back to that.
The author shows this when he goes on liken anyone who would set aside Christ in favor of the Law of Moses, to those who set aside the Law of Moses in Moses' day - they were put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or more witnesses. Those who set aside the Law of Moses were those who regarded the Law of Moses as nothing, having no authority over them. They weren't people who simply broke the law - for the scriptures (both old testament and new) make it plain that no one can keep the Law. Breaking the Law of Moses was not the same as setting it aside - which was to stand aloof from it in one's heart.
If you believe that God doesn't care if you sin, and you think that you can be a Christian without humbling yourself before God and His word - you're outside the pale friend - you're not a Christian. If you believe that God expects your obedience, and you hate your own disobedience, and lament at your failures - in short, if you hunger and thirst for a righteousness that you find lacking in your self, then you're on much better ground.
This text isn't about losing your salvation, it is saying rather than if you flush the truth down the toilet after you've heard it, you shouldn't expect what that truth promises to apply to you.
posted by Daniel @
| The Great Commission
|I don't know when it started or who started it, but at some point, we began to refer to Christ's command to the eleven remaining Apostles to go into all the world and make disciples as the Great Commission.
Between the reliable account in Matthew, and the account in Mark which does not exist in any of the early copies of Mark's Gospel, we understand that after His death, Jesus appeared to the eleven remaining Apostles in Galilee, and gave them a command to, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
I've struggled with the way this command ("The Great Commission") has been over-represented in both the pulpit and in print.
It is the duty of every believer to honor Christ the Lord as holy in their heart and to be ready at any time to make a defense to anyone who asks them for the reason they have this hope within them (c.f. 1 Peter 3:15). That is, we should all be ready to share our faith when opportunity (or rather providence) allows it. Furthermore we certainly will do so, as the scriptures remind us, when the Lord makes us willing to do so -- "on the day of His power" (c.f. Psalm 110:3, Acts 1:8, Philippians 2:21-13 etc.).
Yet that doesn't seem to be the thrust we hear when we read this passage of scripture concerning the Great Commission. We hear entire sermons preached on the two words "go out" as though these words were spoken to the church in general.
Jesus wasn't speaking to a crowd when He said those words. He was speaking to His Apostles - men he had chosen to represent Him in the world. This wasn't the first time our Lord sent the Apostles out. Recall how he sent them out the first time in Matthew 10:5-7
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
The biggest difference between this commission, and what many Christians refer to as the great commission is not the radical call to share the good news - Christ had been there, and done that already with the twelve. What was new was that what He had formerly restricted to Israel - was now for the Samaritans and Gentiles as well.
In both cases, Jesus singled out the Apostles for the commission.
Objection: Does that mean that believers are not required to share their faith? I would answer that with a qualified Yes and No.
(Yes) In Luke 9:57-62 our Lord commands a man in the crowd to follow Him (not unlike when our Lord commanded Matthew, a tax collector to follow Him), and the man asked to go and bury his father first, and Jesus replies to this man, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Our Lord understood that in "following Him" one was expected to proclaim the kingdom of God. We ought also to expect the same today - anyone who is a follower of Christ, ought to follow in His ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of God (i.e. not merely that it has come, but proclaiming the way into the kingdom through repentance and faith).
(No) Yet the bible plainly makes a distinction between those who have been appointed Evangelists by Christ (by way of calling and gifting) and those who are neither gifted nor appointed to such an office. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 we see that God has given Apostles, prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor/Teachers to the church. These are offices appointed to men by God through gifting and providence. When Paul tells Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist" - he is recognizing how God has appointed men to be Evangelists (i.e. modern day missionaries and church planters). Paul tells Timothy Timothy (his young protégé and a new pastor in the church) to "do the work of an evangelist" (c.f. 2 Timothy 4:5). in order for Timothy to fulfill his ministry, We understand Paul to mean that Timothy will need to do the work of a missionary right there in the (already established) church.
A pastor/teacher must teach the scriptures, but he must also do the work of an Evangelist in his congregation - since there will be tares amongst the wheat. Members of the body who are not Apostles, prophets, Evangelists or pastor/teachers must nevertheless be ready to give a defense of their faith when asked and ought to be praying earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (c.f. Luke 10:2), and proclaim the gospel within their circles of influence.
The scriptures shows that God makes a distinction between those whom He is sending out to be missionaries/Evangelists and those whom God is not sending out (c.f. Acts 13:2). Not everyone is called to be a missionary/Evangelist, and not everyone is an Apostle.
I believe we close to, if not actually in danger of, misrepresenting a command given to those whom God had appointed as Christ's envoys (the word Apostle means "envoy") as though these commands were given to the laity in general.
It's true that believers ought to be proclaiming the kingdom of God wherever and whenever they can do so - but not all believers are called to do the work of an Evangelist/Missionary. In other words, if you put that yoke on people who have neither been called to, or gifted to, do the work of an Evangelist - you are trying to build the church in a way that God has not empowered or ordained.
That isn't to say that the laity is free from the call to proclaim the kingdom - they are not, every believer is expected to proclaim the kingdom of God - but not every believer is called to the mission field. In the same way, not every believer is an Apostle.
My concern is that the commands given to the Apostles to make disciples of the Gentiles, has morphed into a sort of general commission to all believers everywhere for all time. The command was given to the Apostles to start making Gentile converts also (as opposed to only Jewish converts) and to teach those Gentile converts to observe the same things that the Apostles were already teaching their Jewish converts to observe.
Did you notice that Jesus didn't give this command to the other 120 or so disciples? Why not? Because Jesus wasn't sending the other disciples to go and make disciples among the Gentiles, he was sending the Apostles. They had the authority to take the gospel to the Gentiles prior to the writing of the New Testament - the other disciples didn't.
Christians ought to be sharing their faith, they ought to be making disciples, but if we turn the "great commission" into anything more than a command for the Apostles to make disciples among the Gentile nations, we are probably over-representing the text. How many Christians have come to doubt their own faith on the grounds that they are not personally evangelizing the lost every day? To hear some preach the great commission, you'd think that anyone who isn't purposely turning every conversation into an altar call, isn't a *real* Christian.
Show me a believer who never shares the gospel, and I'll show you either a false convert, or an immature, biblically-starved believer. Every normal, healthy believer will not only be given opportunities by God to share their faith - they will learn over time to do so naturally. But show me a person who believes that every believer must be "doing the work of an evangelist", and I will show you a person who neither understands what the work of an evangelist is, nor whom the great commission was given to.
All believers are called to share their faith - but not all believers are Evangelists, prophets, Apostles, and pastor/teachers. Those who hold these offices are called to a higher service, even as the Apostles were given a commission that the rest of the disciples were not called to.
I think calling the text of Matthew 28, The Great Commission - a little misleading. It was a commission, and it was as great as anything the Lord had done or will do. But it had more to do with the Apostles taking the gospel to the Gentiles than it had to do with Evangelism. If ignore that while focusing on the idea of "going out" to "evangelize" - we are in danger of putting a spin on the text that was not intended at the time our Lord spoke it.
I hesitate to express this concern, since a reader might wrongly imagine that I am suggesting that normal Christians do not have to share their faith. I'm not saying that at all. What I am saying is that this commission is the same as the previous one to preach the gospel to the Jews only. The only real difference is that the Gentiles are now allowed in the fold. Making it say more than that is... in my opinion, taking injurious liberty with the text, and reading into it more than the author intended to say.
posted by Daniel @
| Good Intentions, Bad Theology
|A lot of what I would call "Bad Theology" springs from sincerely good intentions.
I was speaking with a brother in the Lord after a service I had preached on Hebrews 3. I noted that in verses 6 (but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope) and 14 (For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end), that the author of Hebrews was saying that these premises are true already (i.e. v.6 - you are of God's house, and v.14 you have already come to share in Christ) if something happens in your future (you hold your original confidence to the end).
What I wanted to draw out from the text was the sense within it that those who are saved, will persevere. I showed that when the author speaks of falling away in verse 12 (Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God), He is looking back (as shown by the quoting of Psalm 95 - which looks back to Numbers 14) at how Israel (having been delivered from Egypt by way of 10 miraculous plagues, and having passed through the parted Red Sea, and been delivered again from the armies of Egypt, who drowned in the Red Sea, etc.) when she finally stood ready to enter into the land God had promised to give her, gave into an evil heart of unbelief, and desired to return instead to Egypt (and bondage) rather than attempting to go into Canaan and obtain the military victory that God was promising them.
I explained how the author of Hebrews was juxtaposing this illustration upon the converted Jews to whom he was writing, who were considering returning to Judaism after having been exposed to Christian teaching. The author of Hebrews was exhorting these Jews to continue with Christ, and not to return to a Christ-less version of Judaism, for doing so would demonstrate the same evil, unbelieving hearts as condemned that generation of Israel to wander in the wilderness until the judgment of death finally met them over the course of forty years.
This falling away, was not a dipping in and out Canaan, any more than it described a dipping in and out of Christianity. It was a denial of God's provision on the Borders of Canaan, just as it would be a denial of God's provision (Christ) to those Jews to whom the author was addressing himself. A "once and for all" sort of very bad choice.
I asked the sort of question that I know we all must ask when we come to this text honestly - is this text describing or suggesting that someone can lose their salvation?
I explained that salvation and justification are the same thing - showing how Paul interchangeably speaks of being saved by faith and being justified by faith. If the Apostle Paul believed that salvation and justification were the same thing - we should also. I then showed from Paul's letter to the Romans, the famous verse that shows that as many as God predestined, He called, and as many as God called He justified, and as many as God justified He glorified. I stressed that there was no broken link in the chain between justification and glorification - that everyone who is justified, will be glorified.
But not everyone who thinks they are saved is actually saved.
I pulled out those verses where our Lord shows that people will come to Him on that last day, believing themselves to be Christian, who will be turned away because Christ neither knew them. I referred to those verses were we learn that those who really love Christ, actually obey Christ - and that obedience is not optional for the believer, but required for our salvation. Not that our obedience saves us - but that where salvation is genuine, obedience is always produced in us.
I reminded my hearers that a great many people believe that Jesus is the one and only Christ - and consider themselves to be Christians - but noted that we do not truly come to Christ unless we exercise faith and repent (of our self rule, submitting ourselves to pursuing the will of God). It is not only possible to believe that Jesus will save you, without ever repenting - it is exactly what a great many people think makes them a Christian - and these will be (unless they submit themselves to the truth) condemned on that last day.
I put forth the thought that when we see someone who confesses faith in Christ give up on that faith - we shouldn't conclude that they didn't believe in Jesus. I explained that we had to have categories in our understanding of truth, that line up with scripture and explain what we see in the real world. There are all kinds of people in churches who believe themselves to be Christians who have never been born again. Whether it is because they have never properly understood the gospel, or because they have embraced a truncated version of it (typically one that lacks the requirement of repentance), the fact remains that people like this are falling out of (and falling back into) Christianity all the time.
We shouldn't be denying that people who believe in Jesus stop being Christians. That happens all the time. What we should be doing is putting those people into biblical categories - even as the Apostle John does in 1 John 2:19 - where he explains that the people who abandon Christianity were never Christians in the first place, they leave Christianity because they aren't actually Christians, if they really were Christians they wouldn't leave Christianity. That's about as clear a verse as you'll find on the topic, but there are others, Philippians 1:6 is often quoted in this regard as well, (I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.)
I made the point that the author of Hebrews wasn't describing the sort of now-I'm-saved/now-I'm-not-saved theology that some imagine is there when he was speaking about falling away from the living God - but rather a decisive decision to deny Christ once and forever.
The end takeaway was that people who are genuinely saved, stay saved. But not everyone who claims to be a Christian is genuinely saved. People who fall away have either never been saved in the first place (received a false or truncated gospel), or may simply be backslidden believers, who have become "faithless", but haven't denied Christ (i.e. become apostates). I looked to 2 Timothy 2:11-13 to illustrate the thought, "The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself."
But let's be candid. The reason people believe you can lose and regain your salvation isn't because we find that in the scriptures - it is because if "..he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ..." that means you cannot "lose" your salvation - even if you sin like the devil!.
That notion is the same notion that offended the Jews - if we are saved by grace and not by works of the law - then what is to stop us from sinning like the devil? Paul writes in Romans 6:1, What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means How can we who died to sin still live in it? - you don't write something like that unless you've heard the argument again and again that grace must mean that you can sin all you want.
The fact is, when you are saved, Christ comes to live in you, and you suddenly have a tension in you between your sinful flesh, and the sinless indwelling Christ. Your flesh (which remains in bondage to sin) continues to compel you to sin - but alongside the flesh, the Spirit of Christ is not only compelling you to obey the will of God - but stands ready to empower you to do so also. The genuine Christian is no longer free to sin all he or she wants - because the conviction of Christ within constrains him (or her). The true believer experiences firsthand what Paul writes concerning the Lord to the church at Philippi - it is God who is at work in the believer causing the believer to desire to obey, and giving the believer the power in Christ to obey (c.f. Philippians 2:13).
If we cannot lose our salvation, what then is going to stop us from sinning? The answer is that Jesus Himself will stop us from sinning. We shouldn't be surprised by that answer - since his very name implies this (c.f. Matthew 1:21, She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.)
I know we tend to think of Jesus as saving us from God's wrath, and the condemnation and penalty for sin (hell/the second death/the lake of fire etc.) - but our Lord is called Jesus because He will save us from sin in the here and now also - providing a way of escape in every temptation (c.f. 1 Corinthians 10:13).
Notwithstanding, some want to protect God's honor. If we cannot lose our salvation, and we are being provoked to righteousness by Christ - that smacks of determinism, and unless we have free will, that must mean (I speak as a fool) that God is creating people just to send them to hell - and "the God I believe in would never do that."
You've heard that sort of thing said if you've ever discussed the matter of free will. The truth is that each of us is perfectly free to give into, or not give into, desires that we pretty much have no control over. I don't get to decide if I find a person attractive. I cannot instantly love someone I do not know, no matter how much I choose to do so. I like Italian cuisine (too much). I cannot "choose" not to like it - but I can choose whether I eat it or not. If I have an intense like or dislike someone, I cannot arbitrarily choose to "feel" the opposite - but I can choose to act contrary to or in accord with my own peculiar nature.
I have no ability to change my nature, but I can act in accord with it, or act against it.
When some talk about free will - they limit the scope of their understanding to their (obvious) ability to choose X or Y. They ignore the fact that they are entirely enslaved to things they cannot change. We all know this. If we really had the ability to "choose" to never sin again, then Jesus wouldn't have had to come to save us - since we would have been perfectly able to save ourselves - by simply "choosing" not to sin again.
Make no mistake. I don't get to decide who I find attractive, or who I find interesting, fun, or annoying. Some combination of upbringing and personal make up have wired preferences in me that I have no control over. I like what I like, I dislike what I dislike - and the only freedom I have is to act (or not act) on impulses and desires that I am definitely not "free" to change.
The fact is that only God is righteous, and only God can be righteous. The only way anyone can become righteous is described in Romans 6 - their sinful life must be united to the sinless life of Christ. This union obligates God to put Christ to death - since the sinner's life is now irrevocably united with the life of Christ - it follows that in order to punish the sinner's life in Christ, Christ (though innocent), must endure the punishment - death. The sinner's life (my life, and your life if you are in Christ) is put to death - which is the just and full punishment for his or her sins. That doesn't make the sinner righteous however - it just settles their sin debt.
It is what happens next that makes the sinner righteous - for once the debt has been settled, God's justice acts a second time - this time to raise the life of Christ, which died along with the sinner, when God's wrath was poured out on the life of that sinner in Christ. God is just, and for the sake of only one righteous man, God raised our Lord, and everyone who was joined to Him through faith and repentance - at that moment when Christ rose from the dead, we who were in Christ became partakers of His righteous life even as He had become a partaker of our sinful life.
Like conjoined twins, one a sinner, the other a saint - sharing a life, in order to punish one, they both died, but because the one was innocent, he was revived, and in order to revive the innocent one, both were revived. Jesus did this for us - this is the plan of our salvation.
I am still living out the life that was united with Christ in His death and resurrection - so I continue to experience sinful desires, but alongside these desires, I also experience desires that are truly righteous, because they originate in Christ who has become my life since the day I was saved.
I understand therefore that when I surrender myself to the will of Christ, what He works through me is truly righteous insofar as it is not a work that originates with me, but originates with Him. When I overcome some temptation by it is not the life of Christ that gives in to the temptation, but my old sinful life that grieves the Holy Spirit by my disobedience.
Without Christ, however - I could do nothing. Nothing righteous that is. I mean I could eat and sleep, and sin - but I could never do anything that was righteous. If I was a faithful husband - I would be faithful only because at some point I reasoned that being faithful would be more beneficial to me that being unfaithful. If I was a man of integrity - it would only be because I reasoned at some point that I would prefer the life (and accolades) of a man of integrity. Every act of kindness, every act of generosity, every "good" work, would find in it's origin, something of benefit to me or my personal glory. It is as the prophet Isaiah said, even the things that I do that seem righteous are as a filthy rag to God (c.f. Isaiah 64:6)
Why does it matter that a sinner cannot do anything righteous at all? Because that means that a sinner cannot repent, because repentance requires righteousness, and the sinner has been cut off from all righteousness. The sinner cannot repent because the sinner is not righteous - he needs to be saved in order to repent.
Here is where our free will falls apart. No sinner is "free" to do anything righteous, because no sinner is capable of doing anything righteous. Not everyone who hears the gospel and understands it gets saved. Judas understood the gospel but unlike the other Apostles, Judas did not humble himself before God (repent). He only pretended to be a godly man, while remaining a sinner amongst the twelve.
The notion that God decides who is going to be saved offends people because they reason that if God chooses to saves anyone, He must choose to save everyone, or he isn't being "fair."
It is this notion of fairness that causes people to think God would never choose to save some people from the punishment they have earned, while letting the rest received that same punishment which they have likewise earned.
The concept of fairness here isn't biblical - it is worldly. To be precise it is founded upon the notion of equal value for equal commerce. If two people sit at the same restaurant, and each pay a dollar for a plate of spaghetti, and the same cook prepares a small plate for the first customer (having in it a dollar's worth of spaghetti) and for whatever reason prepares a much larger plate for the second customer (say $5 worth) - when the first customer receives his plate, he is satisfied because he is getting what he paid for - right up until the second customer receives five times the meal for the same price. Now the first customer suddenly feels that he deserves five times as much as what was previously a fair deal - because in seeing someone else get more for their money, he felt that he likewise deserved more, even though he actually received his money's worth and was formerly satisfied.
This sort of fairness justifies a greedy person in their greed.
In Matthew 20, we read the parable of the vineyard workers. The owner of a vineyard hired several men throughout the day, agreeing to give them their wage, and when it came time to pay, he was generous to those who had only worked part of the day - paying them a full day's wage. Seeing this generosity, those who worked the full day felt a sudden unwarranted sense of entitlement to the owner's generosity, and actually felt they now deserved more money than they had earned, on the grounds that the owner generous to those who hadn't earned the full wage.
Christians whose sense of righteousness is informed by the world tend to not like (or even not understand) the owner's response - that he is not being unrighteous by being kind to some and not to all. It is his money, and he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy. He isn't obligated to be generous to one person, simply because he was generous to another - even if a worldly minded person thinks doing so would be more "fair".
Once a person is able to see clearly that their concept of fairness is skewed by worldly notions of what is right - they will see that God is not obligated to show mercy to anyone - even if He shows mercy to some.
That is to say, the notion that it is "wrong" for God to save some people, while allowing others to face the consequences of their sin, depends upon a deceitful, worldly counterfeit "wisdom" that paints what is "good" as evil. The truth is that God doesn't have to save anyone, and He would be perfectly just sending everyone who has earned hell, to go there.
In order to protect God's honor from the charge of being "unfair" (a charge that rests upon a convoluted, worldly sense of fairness - which itself is actually evil), people prefer to have a God that gives everyone a "fair" chance to be saved. To have that fair chance, they need a "free will" - one that is already capable of righteousness. We know this model as the Pelagian heresy - the idea that we have just enough righteousness in us to make a choice to be saved. People prefer that heresy to orthodox theology because they believe that if God chooses some, and not all, that makes him evil - and they want to protect God's honor.
They forget (or ignore) the fact that God's choice is not a choice that sends innocent people to hell - but a choice about how God will pour His wrath out upon sinners. Those whose lives are united with Christ receive God's wrath in Christ, those who are not in Christ, receive God's wrath without Christ. His wrath is poured out on all people, but those whom He showed mercy upon are in Christ when they receive that wrath. His righteousness does not obligate Him to save everyone in this way - but it does obligate Him to punish everyone who is guilty.
Until a person understands that the worldly notion of fairness is false, they will never really understand that God is not being evil by saving some people.
I didn't have time in my sermon to flesh all that out mind you, but I include it because I want the reader to understand my mindset when I spoke with one brother after the service. He had received parts of the sermon more readily than other parts - those parts in particular whose understanding requires an appreciation for the sovereignty of God.
In particular, he didn't like the notion that God chooses individuals for salvation. The fellow is a gentle and from all accounts, a godly saint, not given to arguments, or theological debates, so we discussed the matter briefly after the service - my impression/assumption being that this man loved the Lord, and held his opinions mixed with a desire for God's honor that demanded God be fair in all ways, according to, what I recognize, as an unbiblical worldview on this one point (explained above).
When he let me know that it was his understanding that God gave everyone the opportunity[sic] to be saved, I asked if he believed the scripture that tells us that no man can come to the father except through Jesus Christ?
He affirmed that he believed that.
So I asked him if (as Luke records Paul explaining in Acts:.26-28) God determines where and when each of us are born, and if the only way to come to God is through Jesus - what sort of opportunity would he say the North American Aboriginal people had in those many years prior to Columbus discovering America?
Now, I don't get into a discussion like this to argue theology. As a pastor, I am looking for two things:
It may be, as convinced as I am of what I understand from the scriptures, that I am missing something, and asking someone to explain their position may be the means of grace the Lord will use to correct me if I am in err, and open to correction. So I approach these sorts of conversations ... conversationally, and not as an argument. What I am hoping for is the opportunity to either sharpen or be sharpened like iron.
- Can you defend what you believe from the scriptures, and
- Does what you believe agree with the scriptures in context
The answer given was that some things we simply cannot know, and how God could give everyone the same opportunities while purposely causing whole nations to (seemingly) not have that opportunity was just one of those paradoxes that we simply cannot understand.
Rather than argue, I encouraged the brother to meditate on the answer he gave me, to see if that really satisfied him as much as he hoped it would satisfy me. I agree that there are a great many things God does not reveal to us - but I don't think that this particular umbrella can cover the point. If a person insists that God always does X and that person is shown from scripture and history that this isn't always so, I prefer to see that person consider again the merit (if not the source) of such convictions.
Now, my brother was being hastened away as this conversation was upon us, and I expect his answer would have been far more thoughtful and satisfying had he had the liberty to remain longer to discuss it. But it did make me think about how the best intentions can lead some people into bad theology.
posted by Daniel @
| Candid Thoughts on Justin Trudeau's "elbowing" in the House of Commons
|In Canada, the Liberal government wants to push through legislation that will legalize assisted suicides (in certain cases).
Make no mistake, we are living in a secular culture during an unprecedented time of moral decay. No right thinking person expects a godless culture to pursue godly morals; and it is for this reason that Christians ought to focus on changing the culture rather than changing the laws - since the laws will always (as we see today) begin to line up with the culture. I am not suggesting that Christians ought to embrace moral ambiguity, or the godless culture they find themselves in. I am not saying that Christians should throw their hands up in defeat and go along with the culture. I'm saying that the laws of the land will always end up reflecting the values of culture. If the culture is immoral, the laws will reflect that. The way to effectively change the law, is to change the culture.
Consider the recent legitimizing of the LGBT culture. Legislation only came only after the culture war had been decided. The reason weren't discussing gender identity 30 years ago, was because the culture 30 years ago could not bear it. In a democracy, policy reflects the cultural moral norms. If you want to create a law that runs contrary to those norms, it won't pass, and if it does pass, it won't stick.
The Canadian culture is already primed for doctor assisted suicides. The picture that sells this legislation is that of mercy: allowing the terminally ill patient who endures excruciating pain daily, to meet death early and with dignity. Why should they suffer for weeks or months, if they are ready to die right now?
I don't have any statistics to back it up, but it sure seems to me that in Canada, the majority of people would be on board with that. No one wants to suffer, and so if we have a law in place that allows terminally ill people to opt out of weeks or months of needless suffering - this culture will likely embrace that.
But in other nations where this kind of legislation has been introduced, it has been implemented without penalty or policing, in instances far more ambiguous than the show-cased scenario. In Belgium, for instance, the organs of those who have been euthanized are harvested. Likewise, a recent study noted that in Belgium 66 out of 208
cases of ‘euthanasia’ (32%) occurred in the absence of request or
consent. In the Netherlands, dozens of disabled children have been euthanized under the Groningen protocol, and simply being "old and tired" is considered a reasonable enough reason to be euthanized. People have been, and are being assisted in their suicides, (some without consent), for such reasons as chronic ailments, depression, or just being elderly.
What we've seen in Europe (at least in those 4 countries where this sort of legislation exists) is whole industries springing up around this sort of legislation. It is difficult to remain objective when your industry depends upon securing the cash involved in assisting someone's death - especially when the institution that stands to benefit from the death of it's client, is given the power of attorney to make decisions on behalf of the patients.
It reminds me of that scene from Monty Python's, "The Holy Grail" where John Cleese is attempting to get Eric Idle (who is collecting the dead bodies of plague victims) to accept as dead, an old man whom John Cleese wants to be rid of. The old man is very much alive, announcing himself to be healthy and happy. Neither Cleese nor Idle are concerned with the life of the old man, except as it pertains to what they are each attempting to do - Cleese wants to be rid of the old man, so he argues he is dead, and idle cannot accept a live person, so he too wants the old man to be dead - but since he is clearly alive they are at an impasse. Their discussion continues as the old man gives every indication of wanting to live, but his desires and concerns remain background noise to the decisions being made on his behalf. The solution? A comedic club to the old man's head. Idle gets his money, Cleese gets rid of this burden - and everyone is happy.
I don't think the skit was intended to be a social commentary on assisted suicide, but it is sobering to think that this sort of approach isn't far off the mark in countries where assisted suicide is being practiced.
The reason this kind of thing is already going on where assisted suicide has to do with the lack of clarity concerning implementation and policing. Had more thought (and effort) gone into identifying how the law could be abused, we wouldn't be seeing (routinely) this sort of abuse of the original intention.
It follows that some politicians feel that fast-tracking this sort of legislation in Canada would be a mistake. People who are not necessarily opposed to the notion of assisted suicide, may well be opposed to fast-tracking the same legislation, because they have legitimate reason (and ample evidence) to be concerned about how this may (and almost certainly will) go south if diligence is ignored.
The Liberal Government is trying to have this matter wrapped up by June 6th (2016) - the arbitrary deadline given to the government by the Canadian Supreme Court. If the bill does not pass by then, assisted suicides will still be legal, but no legislative protections would be in place to ensure that the original intent of the law is being followed. For example:
In other words, it is crazy important to have the legislation in place before the law goes into effect.
- You wouldn't need a second medical opinion
- You wouldn't need a written request (proof of the request)
- You wouldn't need a waiting period to think it over
- You wouldn't need to be a Canadian citizen (think suicide tourism...)
That means either the Government must fast track everything, or alternately the Supreme Court must grant an extension to the June 6th deadline.
Given the moral impact of this kind of legislation (the definition of how/when human life is going to be legally protected in this country is about to change), many who are opposed to fast-tracking the legislation, would argue that being able to make an arbitrary deadline (and thus save political face), isn't a good enough reason to curtail the (some would say) necessary fleshing out of this bill. It isn't about meeting arbitrary deadlines, or making your opponents lose face by missing the same deadlines - it is about making sure that when the legislation comes into being, it is as air-tight and comprehensive as something this important ought to be.
The debate is formally a non-partisan debate - i.e. MPs are allowed to vote their conscience, and represent their constituencies accordingly. Allowing a non-partisan vote was the right thing to do, since failure to do so would have made the Liberal party look ... well, less liberal - and frankly, this kind of vote ought to be informed, as best as can be at least, by the collective conscience of the nation.
Yet for all that, rather than pursue an extension to the arbitrary June 6th deadline, the Liberal government has curtailed debate on the matter by imposing time allocation restrictions on debate, effectively saying, we've debated this matter enough - let's move on, before the majority of those who wish to speak to the matter have had an opportunity to do so.
This is the first time curtailment measures have ever been imposed on an issue that deals with the sanctity and dignity of human life. Time allocation exists in Parliament to overcome political filibustering and the like. But in this case, there is no effort by the opposition to filibuster - rather it is that members of all parties (including the Liberals who hold a majority in the house) who are being told they will not be given the opportunity to speak to the issue, for themselves or their constituents, that are being shut down by what some would argue is a flagrant abuse of this particular tool.
To be fair, once a tool like this exists, it will be abused, and has been abused by other political parties when they were in power. In other words, we shouldn't conclude that the Liberals are doing something that (for example) the Conservatives didn't do before them - when they employ this tactic - what is new is that they would employ it in something non-partisan, and something so profoundly important - something no government (to my knowledge at least), has ever been willing to do.
The average Canadian doesn't bother chewing their news before swallowing it, and by that I mean, that they haven't the time, energy, or interest to actually examine the headlines, much less examine what is going on behind those headlines.
In this case the Liberal government was pushing through a vote before many in the House of Commons had the opportunity to discuss it. When it came time to vote, one person from each party (called a "whip") is tasked with presenting himself or herself before the speaker to indicate that the party in question is accounted for and ready to vote. The Torry whip, Gord Brown failed to make his way up to the speaker at the appointed time, ostensibly because he was standing behind a group of New Democratic MPs who were between himself and the speaker.
Brown could easily have walked through or around this small group of about a dozen MPs, but he chose instead to stand among them long enough that the Prime Minister himself walked out across the commons floor, through the loose crowd of MPs, to grab Brown, and drag him like a wilful child through to little crowd that Brown had refused to walk through, depositing him on the other side, to a round of applause - even as the Prime Minister returned to his own seat.
I doubt Trudeau even noticed that he elbowed New Democratic MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest when he marched Brown through the little crowd - but Brosseau was apparently so affected by the blow that she missed being there for the vote.
Where to begin?
Well, Brown shouldn't have been obstructing the political process by faking an inability to present himself to the speaker. As the Chief Opposition whip, he has a responsibility to perform his duties efficiently and professionally - even when being efficient doesn't suit his own political agenda. That's what responsibility looks like. It is shameful that he, along with those New Democratic MPs, colluded to waste time in the House of Commons.
Trudeau shouldn't have grabbed Brown, and physically dragged him through the little crowd. If Trudeau had grabbed a female MP and physically dragged her against her will through a similar crowd, we wouldn't be hearing about an accidental elbowing.
The New Democrat MPs shouldn't have been colluding with Brown to "hinder" him from performing his duties as a whip.
The Liberal Government should be more concerned about the quality of the legislation than they are pushing through than whether or not they can push it through in time to meet an arbitrary Supreme Court deadline (June 6th).
We all should be concerned that our Prime Minister physically forced another Member of Parliament to do something that member wasn't willing to do. That is not the temperament of a democratic leader, it is the temperament of a dictator. I could care less that he accidentally elbowed someone. We call that an accident because it wasn't intentional. What was intentional was the fact that he grabbed another person, and dragged them along like a bully, and that he was applauded for doing so.
Brown should be ashamed that it came to that, and he shouldn't have been behaving like a child - but even if the Prime Minister was provoked by this kind of childish behavior - the Prime Minister should have risen above it rather than sullied himself by going five notches lower.
Finally, we should note the irony: what Prime Minister Trudeau did physically to Gord Brown, he did politically to the rest of Canada with regards to Bill C14 (assisted suicide). It says something about the man - something that some people would applaud, and something that others would condemn.
I'm okay with Justin Trudeau accidentally elbowing people. That shouldn't be news. What I am not okay with is the leader of our nation impatiently dragging an MP around the commons floor, because of what that says he is not only willing to do to this country - but is demonstrably doing to this country right now - in forcing a vote on Bill C14 before debate had ended on it.
posted by Daniel @
| What to do about love?
|The word charity shows up 26 times in the King James version (KJV) of the New Testament. In each instance the word being translated as charity is the noun agapé, which our modern translations translate as love.
I don't recommend the KJV as a study bible, since a great many (hundreds) of the words used in that translation are either obsolete in modern English, or have since come to mean something different than those same words mean today ("conversation" for example, used to mean they manner in which you conducted yourself in the world, where now it describes a dialog or discussion).
I mention the KJV's use of the word charity, not to recommend the KJV, but rather to highlight something that the translators of the KJV took into consideration in translating the word apapé, the context and implied meaning of the word. Translators of the KJV, did not shy away from using the word "love" to translate the word agapé, when that word more readily reflected the context.
If you wish to do a study on the instances where the KJV translates the word agapé as love, you can look up each of these verses for yourself or follow the link and view them in Mounce's Reverse-Interlinear New Testament:
If you Google a definition of love, you'll find that love is most often defined first and foremost as a deep feeling of affection. The default definition of love (in Western culture) is that of a powerful emotion. In other words, when someone in our culture is speaking of love, they are usually referring to an emotion that describes their affection for something.
- 1 Corinthians 8:1, 13:1-4, 13:8, 14:1, 16:14;
- Colossians 3:14;
- 1 Thessalonians 3:6;
- 2 Thessalonians 1:3;
- 1 Timothy 1:5, 2:15, 4:12;
- 2 Timothy 2:22, 3:10;
- Titus 2:2;
- 1 Peter 4:8, 5:14;
- 2 Peter 1:7;
- 3 John 1:6;
- Jude 1:12;
- Revelation 2:19
It's easy enough to say that our definition of love is going to be influenced by the culture that we live in, but it's probably more helpful identify some aspects of our culture, and ask ourselves how those aspects will influence us.
If our culture regards love primarily as an emotion, then when our culture hears that God is loving, it is going to interpret that as meaning that God's love is an affection He has for the people and things He loves. Our culture has no category for God's justice, or God's wrath, and so the notion of God's love is not tempered by, or understood as being in harmony with, any of the other known attributes of God. This unbalanced view of God's love is going to be a hindrance to anyone's understanding of what the bible means by love.
Our culture is presently suffering from an epistemological identity crisis. On the one hand it is considered arrogant to imagine that truth is knowable, and on the other, we should respect everyone's own personal version of what is true, so that we can all be "right" even when our opinions contradict one another. The pursuit of happiness is now a pursuit of pleasure, and we should all work to allow one another to pursue their own version of pleasure so long as that version doesn't harm anyone unwilling to be harmed by it. Even heinous acts of evil are being justified by the thought that every perpetrator is a victim of some form of poverty (physical, mental, financial, ethical, etc.) or other. We shouldn't punish people for becoming what their circumstances have dictated, instead we should educate them into a better life, etc.
That's the culture that shapes (to one degree or another) what is being understood by many who read, and who preach the scriptures. Unless we are very circumspect in our study of God's word, we are at risk of reading into the bible, our culture's understanding of love, rather than the coming away with the bible's understanding.
I don't believe the difficulty can be easily overcome by simply pulling out a (Greek) dictionary and finding out what words like "agapé" and "phileo" mean. These words, like every other word we use today, or the writers of scripture used in their day, have different meanings across a given semantic range. In one context a word can mean one thing, and in another, it can mean something else.
We do that in English all the time. Throwing a ball is functionally different than throwing a party or even throwing a fight. The context informs us how we are to understand the use of the word.
Some interpreters unwittingly read more into the words agapé and phileo than they ought to - assigning to each word to a very narrow technical meaning (i.e. agapé is a kind of "divine" love, the kind that God loves with, but phileo is more of a friendship sort of love, or brotherly love), but the truth is that even if God's love is superior in every conceivable way - that superiority isn't suggested by the word agapé nor is it necessarily omitted when the word phileo is used.
Remember King David's son Amnon? He was the one who, in 2 Samuel 13 had crush on his step-sister Tamar. Under the horrible advice of his friend Jonadab, he pretended to be ill, and when King David came to look in on him, Amnon asked David to send Tamar to him with food for him to eat from her hand. When she came, he sent his servants away, and invited her into his bedroom to feed him, at which point he tried to seduce her. When his seduction failed, he raped her. In verse 15 we read "Then
Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which
he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her." In the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) the word used to translate love in this verse is agapé. This wasn't describing a pure and selfless love - the love reserved for God. It was describing an utterly self-serving desire, that evaporated the moment it achieved it's goal.
We err if we think that because a text uses this word, instead of that word, it is describing a necessarily superior form of "love" - especially if our understanding of the word love is informed by our culture rather than the scriptures.
The culture in England 400 years ago was different than our culture today. The word choices made by translators 400 years ago would not have been informed by the same culture we have today - and that discrepancy ought to cause a sober reader to consider why the word charity was used then in various places, where the word love is used today.
If the translators of the KJV were compelled by their understanding
of both English and Greek to translate some instances of the word agape
as charity, they were not alone. Jerome, translating the Greek New
Testament into Latin, did the same thing 1200 years before that. Jerome translated agapé alternately using two different Latin words: caritas, (charity, dearness, high price, love/affection etc.) and diléctio (delight, Good will, love). If you follow along in the Latin Vulgate, you will see a remarkable thing - Jerome used the Latin word for charity to translate the Greek, in the same places the KJV translators used the English word charity...
That is pretty interesting.
It tells us that for hundreds and hundreds of years, readers of the Greek New Testament understood this one thing: the word agapé sometimes meant what we mean when we use the word charity, and they even knew when that particular meaning should be used.
One might ask, were they more discerning than we are today?
Listen: I'm not suggesting that it is "wrong" to translate the word agapé as love in our modern bibles. What I am just suggesting is that our culture no longer thinks of love in terms of anything other than an emotion. I am not saying we should bring "charity" back into our modern translations (though it would probably help), I am saying that because agapé doesn't necessarily describe an emotion, we should be on guard against reading our cultural definition of love back into the bible.
If love is limited to the notion of a deep affection in our culture, how will our culture understand a command to "love" the Lord? Is that a command to foster affection for the Lord?
Jesus famously spoke these words in Luke 6:46, "Why do you call me Lord! Lord! and not do what I tell you?" Jesus was talking about the kind of discrepancy where your mouth says that Jesus has the right to command your obedience, but your heart says, I will not have this man rule over me. That kind of Christianity, which flows out of the mouth, but not from the heart, is not the real deal. Jesus put it out there plain and simple - if you call him Lord, but don't obey Him, He isn't your Lord, you are your own Lord.
Those of us who genuinely desire to please our Lord, will want to obey His commandments - but in order to do that we need to understand His commandments:
- A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. - John 13:34-35 ESV
- As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. - John 15:9-17 ESV
If your Lord commands you to love others, isn't it important to make sure you understand what He meant by love? Is Jesus commanding people to feel affections? How did James put James 2:16?, "and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?". Do good intentions fill hungry bellies?
One might might say that the command isn't just to feel the affection - but to act on it. But that has its own problems. What if I don't feel an affection? Am I fulfilling the command if I act upon an affection I don't actually have? Will God be satisfied with my half-hearted obedience?
Consider the possibility that the love that our Lord is speaking of isn't an emotion. I know that culturally speaking, that is a difficult thing to do for some of us. But consider it.
How does God demonstrate His love? He loved us while we were yet sinners, giving Himself, if I may paraphrase much, for those who hated Him. He "loved" His enemies. Does that mean He felt a deep affection for those who hated Him, or did it mean that He served them without regard to His own emotions?
Is God's nature one of selfless service, or is God's selfless service a product of an underlying emotional state? Do we have an emotion driven God who is calling us to be driven by similar emotions, or do we have a God who is selfless, who serves others regardless of merit or personal emotion, because that is His true nature. Jesus said to Philip, if you have seen me, you've seen the Father. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. He did not come to gain anything for Himself, not wealth, not fame, not pleasure, nothing - yet He came to give all of Himself, even His life. That is the nature of God that was put on display by our Lord, and I believe that is what "love" looks like.
It isn't an emotion, but it certainly can provoke our emotions. It isn't a feeling that provokes us to do good, it is the Divine Nature that, when we surrender ourselves to it, will result in our serving one another selflessly. You cannot serve your self and God at the same time - the only way to serve God is to stop serving yourself.
If that is so, the command to love one another is not a command to foster affection for one another, it is a command to put others before ourselves even as Christ put our needs before His own. It is a command that only makes sense when your understanding of love isn't being informed by your culture, but rather from the scriptures themselves.
Go read the scriptures and test these thoughts. How do you love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength if the love He requires is merely an emotion?
It is possible to serve the Lord by seeking to deny yourself in your inner most being, to deny yourself in your thoughts, to deny yourself in your life, and to do so with all your strength, in other words to live your life for God and not for yourself. You can do that without having or even trying to generate a deep affection for God.
If our obedience and manner of living are supposed to flow from emotions - which are as much a part of our fallen self as the rest of our sinful self - then we are necessarily implying that our fallen nature not only empowers our ability to obey God, but rather our ability to overcome our own sin, is what the whole thing hinges on.
Slowly.....think.....If we could do that in the first place, we wouldn't have needed a Savior...
Our job isn't to make our fallen selves presentable to God, it is to deny our own will, which itself is informed by and lives to satisfy, our fallen nature. Love is not selfish, it is selfish - it does not serve self, it serves others. Paul writes this so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13, that the notion that love is driven by emotion falls apart as soon as our cultural lenses come off.
When we deny ourselves, we give Christ room to live in and through us. The road to selfless living is one of personal denial - and it is the only way that genuine righteousness finds us in this life. Paul wrote famously in Romans 7:18 (and we do well to comprehend the depth of his words), "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, no good thing dwells. He understood that He was incapable of righteousness (there is no one who does good, no one one! - Romans 3:12), even as we are, in and of ourselves.
So dear reader, if your understanding of love is more cultural than biblical - don't let that infect your understanding of the scriptures. To do what the Lord commands you, you need to employ a biblical understanding of love in Christ's commandments, and not a cultural one.
Stop living for yourself, stop serving yourself, stop telling yourself that as long as you have an affection for people you're obeying the commands of Christ. Ask yourself the hard questions: who am I really living for? When was the last time I denied myself something in order to serve someone else? Was that something exceptional - or was it an expression of how I am now living my life?
Perhaps one reason the church is weak, impotent, and dwindling is because the enemy has learned to not only attack the scriptures directly, but indirectly also - twisting the meaning of God's commands, by polluting the culture whose language is being used to interpret it.
posted by Daniel @
| The Power in God's Command.
|I had coffee with a brother in the Lord this weekend, and as we are inclined to do, we spoke of matters concerning the tragic trajectory that modern Christianity seems to be taking, and again about the perceived or imagined causes of, and possible solutions to arrest the trend.
We agreed that the main problem was immaturity - at a time when believers ought to be full grown, they are still infantile in their faith. For some it is because they believe themselves to have attained what they came to the church to get: eternal life. They believe they have found the "correct" religion, and have believed all that is required of them to secure for themselves a deliverance from a hellish afterlife; and having attained what they came to get, they are not just treading water by attending church - maintaining the status quo, until they receive what they perceive to be their reward.
Such as these aren't drawing near to God, because they didn't become Christians to know of draw near to God, they became Christians because they wanted to escape the wrath to come. Insofar as they judge themselves to have escaped that wrath, they find themselves content, and have no further desire to draw any nearer to God. They love the Lord with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him because they didn't become to know God, to love Him and to submit themselves to His rule, they became a Christian to escape the consequences of their sin (i.e. their rebellion against God's rule). Ironically, in practice, they ignore God's rule in their day to day live, and rather live by whatever the lowest common denominator of conduct happens to be in their congregation - and consider themselves to be secure thereby.
Others are more earnest, but suffer from the notion that they personally are incapable of understanding the "deeper things of God" and justify themselves thereby, in not pursuing them. They almost (if not outright) think that only those with certain positions and gifts can draw near to God, and having found obedience both difficult, and often fruitless, they have given up trying, and justify their failure on the grounds that they are lacking something, but they aren't quite sure what that is. More often than not, these end up pursuing the latest fads, and believe that if they could just discover, then achieve the right motivation or spiritual truth (or ultimately, the right "experience") then Christianity would become easy, and they would thrive. But since they are seeking for something that isn't there and will never be there, they fail to find it, and eventually burn out.
I suppose I could catalog several causes of immaturity, but the main cause, whether we are talking about a genuine believer, or someone who is convinced they are saved, when they are not - the same reason lies behind both the immature tare, and the immature wheat: ignorance. The "tares" ignorantly believe they have what they came for, so they see no value in going further. The wheat believes that Christianity is supposed to look another way, so in their ignorance they pursue what cannot be found, and wear themselves out pursuing the wind.
In short the churches seem to contain both false and genuine converts, neither of which do much more than attend church - and the reason that continues, is because they remain ignorant. The former because they are never challenged to examine themselves and see if they are in the faith, and the latter because they are too busy pursuing a form of Christianity that doesn't exist to learn what Christianity actually looks like.
It was the latter group that I was most concerned with. Since I personally found that a lot of what passes for Christianity today is really just a perpetuation of tradition and even in some cases, superstition.
One of the reasons immature believers continue in pursuing the various experiences, programs, and styles that never lead anyone out of their spiritual inertia is because everyone else is doing that. Christians want to fit in with one another just as non-Christians do when they congregate. People tend to adopt the status quo wherever they go.
New believers coming to a church where everyone hollers, "Amen!" and "Preach it brother!" are going to assume that such expressions demonstrate a healthy faith, and will begin aping them sooner or later. The same goes for stoic silence. If everyone is perfectly silent, and all heads turn because some young mother's infant giggles, you can bet that new believers there are gagging their kids to preserve the "holy" solemnity of perfect, stoic, silence during a sermon.
Whether it is hand raising, speaking in tongues, or just using the same words and expression to pray as everyone else - new believers ape the congregation they come to stay in. Every church has its own feel - and new believers coming to that church will interpret that "feel" as the "correct" way to "do" Christianity.
Unless a congregation is aware that this is going to be the case, it is probably not going to do anything to address it - and most don't. So I'll take just a moment to do that. Take a moment to consider the flavor of your church. Do you clap hands when singing? Do hands go up (ostensibly and apparently to indicate spiritual receptiveness)? Is it quiet when the pastor speaks? Is there humor? Is it very serious, or is it casual? Etc. The bible doesn't tell us to clap our hands when we sing, or to dance, but it doesn't tell us not to. It does speak about "lifting up holy hands" - but the context of that is almost always lost to those who make the showing of their armpits a "thing".
The posture of prayer for the Jew, was to raise up their hands when they prayed - thus the call isn't to "raise you hands up" - it is rather that when you pray your hands should be holy - which itself describes your conduct - you should be doing the will of God with your hands, and not your own. The NT equivalent is that the "earnest prayers of a righteous man avails much" This passage isn't suggesting that the posture of holding your hands up in the air (which, thanks to television and cowboy westerns is now associated with surrender) is more spiritual than holding them at your side.
It is talking about the necessity of personal holiness in prayer. You want to know why your prayers aren't being answered? It is because you are not living a holy life. If you haven't heard that, let me say that someone ought to have told you that in the very early days of your Christianity, but it is never to late - take that to heart, and learn to pray, by learning to walk the Christian walk. There is no Christian-lite option, there is only a Christian-useless option, and the sooner you understand that, the sooner you will want to avoid it.
Which brings me to the point I wanted to make with this post. The first reason a lot of believers remain in a state of spiritual infancy is because they are not made aware of what is expected of them, and not expected to pursue it. The second is because when they set out to live the Christian life in all its fullness, they find themselves failing to find the "power" to do it. The sit in Romans 7, wanting to do good, but failing to find a way to do it.
So I'll open up on this one point, and trust the Lord to speak to whomever He will through it.
Let's start with some basics: I
wouldn't shouldn't have a difficult time convincing a biblically literate aware Christian that the universe and all that is, ever was, or ever will be, in it exists, and came to exist, and will exist by God's command. The only folks who would deny that do so because they deny the scriptures that teach that.
Consider the weight of this thought: There was nothing until God commanded there to be something.
You may think that this truth is limited to the act of creation, but you'd be wrong, and that particular error will have a profoundly significant impact on "how" you understand what it means to be a Christian.
Consider when Jesus commanded the lepers to show themselves to the priests. Under the Mosaic Law a Jew who had been previously declared unclean on account of a skin disorder had to present himself to a priest when and if he had been cured of his leprosy. The priest would inspect the former leper to see if the claims of cleansing were true, and if so, he would declare the leper clean, and admit him to the general assembly once again. When Jesus told those lepers to go and show themselves to a priest, they were still lepers. They obeyed the word of Christ, and as they did so, they were cleansed.
You've probably heard a sermon or two on this passage in the New Testament, and the take-away that is often presented is that because the miracle didn't happen until they exercised faith by going (even though they were still lepers) to present themselves to the priest, it follows that faith precedes the miraculous.
Here is what I want to teach from that same passage: what was it exactly that healed them? It was the power of God (obviously), but (and I hate to use such cheesy language here) what unlocked the power of God to do this miracle? Their faith? No. It was the command of God - it was the fact that God told them to go and present themselves to the priests.
Consider, if you are able, that the commandment of our Lord is no small thing. By His word, all that has ever existed came to exist. This is who told these lepers to go present themselves to the priest, and pregnant in that command, was the implicit notion that they would be clean before they got there. Yes, they exercised faith that what Christ implied would come to pass, and it isn't my purpose here to correct or ignore the importance of that faith - it is important. What I want you to see is that God's command, because it is the command of God, is pregnant with the power to do what it has been unleashed to do.
Okay, I was being a little theatrical when I used the word "unleashed" in that last sentence. God's word isn't leashed, I just wanted to emphasize the fact that when God commands a thing, it is very, very significant. He isn't pithy with the things that He does, such that what He commands, He grants by His own power.
You'll hear a lot of rhetoric on how to be obey God. A lot of that sort of stuff waters down to finding the "right" motivation, or worse, experience. So what I am saying will probably seem pretty lame and way too simple compared to what others are going to tell you. I will let the Spirit be the judge.
There is no "power" that we have to tap into. The power to obey is in the command itself. God has commanded it, and because He has commanded it, it can be done. The first example of this happened when you were saved.
Do you realize that God commands us to repent and believe the gospel? Paul wrote instructively, and accurately in Romans 1 that the gospel was the power of God unto salvation. We might try and expand that by saying, "Well, it isn't like the words themselves have power, it just means that the power of God is present whenever those words are understood" - and I expect that wouldn't be too far off the mark. I don't mean to say that there is power in the words themselves, as though reading them or seeing them unleashed (I am using it correctly this time) a latent, embedded power that was pregnant in the text itself. What I mean is that whatever God commands, He commands according to His power.
Let's take that out of the theoretical realm, and put that into practice.
You don't want to read your bible. It's boring - or put more accurately, it isn't regarded as being as entertaining as the other things that you would rather be doing at the moment. You feel you should read it - or rather, you are convicted by the Holy Spirit that you should read it, but because it isn't entertaining enough to overcome your default apathy, you shrug it off and do something else with your time, as you have done countless times before.
In that situation, where do you "find" the "power of God" to obey?
That is how the question is typically stated. But I suggest it is the wrong question to ask. The question ought to be, "Am I really being convicted by the Holy Spirit, or am I being provoked by something else? Guilt (I haven't read it in a while)? Religious duty (if I don't read it, people at church might find out!)? Religious habit (I have to read a certain amount every day, or I won't get the bible read in such and such a time)? Conceit (I want to be known as someone who really knows the bible)?
Listen: there are all kinds of bad reasons to read the bible. But you should understand that it is the word of the Holy Spirit within every believer who provokes/convicts them to read their bible. This He does so that through the reading of God's word we will draw near to the actual God, and not some God of our own making.
My point is that even when I am being convicted by the Holy Spirit to obey the will of God (such as to read my bible), more often than not I will not feel like it. For the immature believer, that is usually enough to win the contest. So how do I overcome my own feelings which are not inclined to obedience? Does God send me power to do that?
I mean, as a general rule, no. You will experience many things as a Christian, and sometimes you will be carried along, almost effortlessly into the will of God - but that is always (at least in my own experience) an exceptional thing. Perhaps the infrequency of this type of phenomenon is a reflection of some as yet unearthed deficiencies in my own walk. Yet for today, let's accept this much: most of the time, we are not inclined to obedience.
What a lot of people do in that situation is seek the proper motivation. They reason that if they were the right kind of Christian, this would all be easy. Therefore they must lack something, and that is why it is so difficult to obey. So they look for motivation in their feelings, in the writings of people who claim to have solved the mystery, or in various "spiritual experiences" - most of which are either demonic counterfeits, or just plain fluff.
The problem isn't motivation, because the truth is your flesh will not be motivated, and cannot be motivated to obey the will of God. The will to obey God is not rising up from within the "you" that you think of as "you". It comes from Christ who is in the believer through the Holy Spirit. He desires that you obey Him, and you experience that desire as your own.
Consider this: If your desire to obey finds its origin in Christ, and that by itself isn't enough to motivate you to obey (and, for the person living carnally, it won't be), you can bet that every other effort to find the "correct" motivation is going to come up short. If you understand that, you'll stop trying to "find" the proper motivation, and instead deal with the actual problem - you don't want to obey.
You will never make your flesh (the you that is "You") want to obey Christ. It isn't ever going to be tamed, it isn't ever going to desire to obey. If you're chasing a version of Christianity where you imagine you find the magic key that makes it easy and pleasant to obey Jesus, you're going to be disappointed, and you're wasting precious time chasing something that the scriptures never suggest or promise.
The moment you understand that your flesh isn't getting any better, and will not get any better, that is the point at which you will begin to understand that the solution isn't going to involve creating a situation where you suddenly "want" to obey. That just isn't going to happen. We do not overcome the flesh by taming the flesh, we overcome it by regarding it as dead.
That is where it starts. First you must understand that in a moment where you can choose to obey the will of God, or choose to pursue your own will, the way to overcome your own will, is not to fight against it, but to understand that it has no power over you. The power it used to wield over you was your own death. But if you're in Christ, then He who overcame death, has overcome that power. If you surrender your will to the one who has already overcome death, you will overcome what death is calling you to do.
Okay, I am using some personifications there that I've taken from Paul in his letter to the Romans, and it is easy enough to get lost in the personifications, so I'll repeat that in plain language.
The desire you have to do your own will is a sinful desire - meaning it is a desire to rebel against God's will, in favor of doing our own will. The penalty for that is death - which makes perfect sense; why should God sustain a life that refuses to conform itself to the purpose for which God created it.
Our desires run contrary to that which permits life (obedience to God). If we pursue our own desires instead of pursuing what God has created us to do, we are not just usurping the life that God has given us - we are destroying the only reason God has, or will ever have, to sustain the life He has given. It may be hard to wrap your mind around it, but there is no life apart from God. The life that we live - the life itself - isn't just owned by God, it -is- preceding from Him right now, it is being sustained by His will - and the moment a person intentionally disregards God's will, in that moment the life that this person was given is eternally forfeited.
So Paul isn't using death as a metaphor in Romans 5 and 6. Death is just the word he uses to describe both the absence of the life that God sustains, and the absence of one's right to that life. We lose the right to live the moment we sin. In that sense Adam's setting aside of God's will to pursue his own, (i.e. Adam's "sin") brought into being a situation where he no longer had a claim on the life that he was given. He still possessed it, but he had no right to it. Having no right to that life, he no longer had any right to direct the course of it either. When we say that through sin, Adam brought death into the world, what we mean is that Adam's disobedience brought into being a forfeiture of his right to claim the life he was living.
The life we have inherited from Adam was forfeit (on account of Adam's sin) before we ever inherited it. Said another way, we have been cut off from God ever since the days of Adam. Adam and Eve could sense God's presence in the Garden prior to the fall - but when they lost "the rights" to the lives they were living, they lost the ability to sense God's presence because they were no longer connected to the life of God in the way they had previously been. We've inherited that disconnect. The life we received (through procreation) is a life that has already been disconnected from the life of God - He sustains it, but it is already dead in the sense that it is already cut off from God - He will not sustain our life once our body is through with it.
That is why we need a Savior after all, because we are born dead in our sins and trespasses, and need a life that is connected to God. When we are saved, God doesn't re-connect the life we had been living to Himself. That life is already forfeit. Instead God gives us a new life - the life of Christ, which we become partakers of when we are "baptized into Jesus" (i.e. born again). In that union, we take on the life of Christ, which is still connected to God.
So when Paul speaks about the flesh etc. in Romans 5-8 etc., he is talking about the life that is forever forfeited, and will not be fixed. His solution is the only solution - stop trying to fix that which cannot be fixed, but regard it instead as dead - because it is dead in that sense that it is not going to be redeemed, and will not be cured, etc. We do not fix the flesh which is still animated by the old life of Adam, instead regard that life as being dead.
That doesn't mean we pretend it is dead. It doesn't mean that we convince ourselves that it has no power over us. It is rather that we recognize that it cannot, and will not have any part of our life in Christ.
It follows then, that we will never find sufficient motivation to overcome our sinful desires. Such motivation cannot arise from our old life, or our old flesh, because both our flesh and our old life are spiritually dead, and cannot please (and therefore obey) God.
The very first time a Christian obeys God, is when that Christian obeys "the gospel" and believes.
But how does the believer obey God when there is nothing in the believer's fallen and forfeit life, or fallen and twice dead flesh to provoke that believer to obey God?
Paul tells us that the power comes from the gospel itself, which is the power of God unto salvation. He is saying that the power itself is pregnant in the command of God.
Paul writes that we are saved by grace through faith. Grace, we've heard (too often) is "unmerited favor" and that works well enough, but the idea is that faith itself was a gift from God that you did not earn, or deserve - and certainly didn't generate. You believed the gospel and so you obeyed the gospel, and as you surrendered by grace to the command to believe the gospel, you believed and were saved.
When you obeyed God's command to believe the gospel, you were saved. The command, because it came from Him who brings into existence out of nothing things that now exist, produced the faith in you through which you were saved.
I know it sounds like a cart before the horse before the cart sort of nightmare, but that is the way it is.
You may be wondering how all this applies to the topic at hand. It applies in this way. New believers haven't learned that there is no trick to sanctification. You simply obey what God has commanded you to do because God is in the business of bringing obedience out of nothingness the moment you begin to obey.
Every place where your foot falls, will be yours he told the Israelites as they entered into the promised land to take it for themselves. They had to go out and do it, but when they did the victory was not their own - it was promised them. As they obeyed they received. So it has always been.
We don't have the power to obey, or even to believe, but Christ who is in us has both. As simple as it is, we just have to "trust and obey" There is no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.
Immature Christians are immature because they are trying to be Christians without obedience, and they believe that they cannot exercise obedience, because they haven't found an easy way to do so. There is no way to make the flesh obey, and as long as they try and make that happen they wear themselves out in repeated failures sprinkled only very conservatively with a few marginal, and very superficial successes. So they give up, because they don't know that they can't make themselves obey, but must obey nonetheless. They don't rest in the power of God's commands, and instead attempt to succeed by exercising their own futile power to obey.
My advice, if you find yourself lacking the power to obey - embrace it. You never had the power to obey to begin with. Ask yourself instead, am I a slave of Christ? If I am, what kind of slave sits around and looks for motivation? I obey because I am a slave, trusting that as I do so, I'll find the strength of my Master in the work I do - because He commands it, and what He commands, He makes happen.
posted by Daniel @