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Theological, Doctrinal, and Spiritual Musing - and whatever other else is on my mind when I notice that I haven't posted in a while.
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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
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.
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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.
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Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
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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
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Thursday, August 26, 2010
1014: Justified By Faith (Part III): Living by faith.
In part I and II of this post, I have expressed the notion that Christianity is not a set of rules to follow apart from God, but rather a life that is supposed to flow from a walk of faith. In this post I hope to show how the preceding posts are put into practice in the Christian life by comparing living by faith with living apart from faith.

the righteous will live by his faith...

for we walk by faith, not by sight...

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.

And without faith it is impossible to please Him

Scripture teaches that faith is not simply something you have, but the orthodox "way" to be a Christian. That's a heady concept because we tend not to think of faith as something you "do" we are inclined instead to think of it as something you either possess or lack.

The notion of faith is further confused by the way many limit its application to justification. Everyone who understands justification knows that you -need- faith in order to become a Christian. Arminians would argue that you need to continue generating new (saving) faith in order to remain a Christian as well; though a Calvinist would correct that errant notion and say that saving faith does not wax and wane being a gift not generated by man, but received by him, and depending not on the person to maintain, but rather on God to sustain.

It doesn't matter if you are an Arminian, a Calvinist, somewhere in between, or in the fringe vociferously rejecting both views in favor of your own special understanding, I am guessing that there are many in your group, however common or elite it may be, whose application of faith in their lives is primarily limited to their justification.

Among those who recognize that sanctification is also by faith, we still have many, perhaps even the majority, attempting to become sanctified by applying faith according to a variety of mystical formulas, plans, and methods. It has been my experience both in person and online, that only a very few congregations are ever taught how sanctification works, and again, fewer still that are taught how sanctification *really* works.

Let's start with the gospel. How did you become a believer? You became a believer the moment you appealed to be reconciled to God on the basis that God would accept your appeal in Christ. We might describe that more commonly, by saying you became a believer the moment your repented and believed the gospel.

The trouble I have with clichés is that they are repeated until they become a Christian phrase that no longer means what it says - and people no longer are being indoctrinated according to the actual meaning, but rather according to the current cultural meaning associated with the phrase.

So I say you became a believer the moment you appealed to God to be reconciled to Him on the basis that God would accept your appeal in Christ. That describes what a repentant heart is doing. It is saying, I repent of my rebellion, that is, of obeying the voice of my own will, and desire to be restored to that position for which I was created - that is, I desire to be abandon my sinful rebellion and incline myself to be ruled by God the Father; I appeal to be reconciled, not because I am worthy of it, but because I trust that God Himself has made provision in Christ for my reconciliation, and that my reconciliation will not be brokered through any self merit, but entirely through God's provision appropriated through the impossibly gracious requirement of simply trusting that God will indeed reconcile me to Himself if I appeal to Him in Christ. I recognize that my sins condemn me, but that God is just in forgiving me by uniting me with Christ, so that I am in Christ (joined to Him through a spiritual union) during the crucifixion. I see that my sins have therefore been put away justly having received a full condemnation in Christ, and that Christ, being himself innocent could not justly be kept in the grave, and so was raised from the dead, and that by virtue of my union with Christ I too have been raised in from the dead - my sins having been left in the grave (as it were), so that the fact of Christ's resurrection is the stamp of my acceptance with God, for if I were not acceptable to God, He could by no means have raised me up in Christ. The fact that Christ is raised demands that I am acceptable to God in Christ. This all becomes a reality the moment I receive grace to humble myself before God, and accept His rule thereby having been restored into a right relationship through Christ, that is, restored as God's servant.

We say repent and believe, but those words are quite pregnant, and tossed about like bones that could use a bit of meat on them, given the rampant theological ignorance of our day.

So when I speak of sanctification by faith - I do not mean that I try and do good or try and do what I am required to do as a believer, and that I am supposed to "trust" that it will work when I do so. It means that the same gospel that I trusted on day one - the gospel that saved me, also sanctifies me. The moment I rest in the fact that God is for me, and not against me; the moment that I trust that I am reconciled to God in Christ, I am free to draw near to God, and free to choose to do His will. If I try to do God's will apart from resting in this knowledge, I am going to be doing it in my own strength.

A lot of sermons are spent on trying to motivate believers to act like believers. This pastor says that gratitude ought to be our motivation. Another pastor says it is love, we have to love God so much that we are pumped to do good works. Another says we ought to just read the bible a lot and hope something good happens. Another says that we are too prayerless, we need to pray more, or maybe all the time, so that we can surf the spiritual high into good works or obedience. We have to keep the fire stoked, to be on guard against losing the buzz - we want to be hyped all the time, so that we can always be ready to perform the Lord's will. Still others preach asceticism, or denying self - we need to just stop doing everything we want to do, and if we do that, we will be obeying God.

As a casual observer, I would suggest, based on what I see, that we are all prone to this sort of thing. We want to obey God, and never stop to consider whether we want to obey God because we are satisfied in Him, or whether we want to obey God in order to feel that He is satified with us.

Listen: The Christian who is looking for the right "motivation" for obedience, this Christian is not living by faith - he is failing in his effort to live by works and is floundering to find the right way to make the Christian life a "light yoke and easy burden". He is trying to find a way outside of living by faith, to live the life of faith.

Consider within yourself dear reader, how amazing it is that we are inclined to use the right language ("the life of faith") but fail to actually employ faith in the mundane process of daily living.

The example I gave in the last post whereby I was frantically praying for my daughter, only to realize that I was performing a religious duty without actually resting in God was given as an example of living in faith. That is what it looks like, that is how it is done. It is nothing more than trusting that every situation rests in God's hands. It is acting in the certainty of God's provision, and not freaking out when things don't go the way we think they are supposed to go.

Try and generate love, or patience, or assurance in your own strength. If you manage to conjure up something, whatever it is, it is superficial and powerless. You will never work yourself up into a lather sufficient to drive you the rest of your life. The love of the Lord is the strength of the believer. We rest in what He has done and in the knowledge of that finished work we find peace, comfort, assurance, and grace. The more we learn to walk in this way, the less concerned we are with generating motivations - we don't care to be motivated, but operate from the groundwork of genuine contentment.

Every other formula I have tried, has frustrated me and failed according to my own failing strength. Throughout all this however, as my faith has grown, I have learned to simply rest in the Christ, rest in the finished work of God - to recognize that this is life more abundantly - and as the song goes, the things of this world become strangely dim. In the strength of contentment and assurance, what do I care if I am to perform some task that would otherwise be loathesome to my flesh? Is my Lord and God with me? Does this please Him? Am I content to be His servant? Then I will rest in the work, whatever it may be.

Sure, I will stumble and fall, but I will rise up again, and run the race with endurance.

Be encouraged then, to walk by faith, to live by faith, and to stop looking for the magic key by which you can avoid God but still live an obedient life. You're problem is you are still running away from God even as you desire to please Him. Stop running away, and see what happens. Stop kicking against the goads, but accept the yoke, and see if there is any comfort in the Lord.

That's all I think I need to say on this point.

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posted by Daniel @ 9:54 AM   11 comment(s)
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The Sin That Leads To Death
1 John 5:16 says, "If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this." [NASB]

I picture a lot of believers with little floating question marks over their head when they read this passage in first John. The Apostle here is teaching that believers ought not to intercede in prayer for those who commit sin leading to death, and we are left, as it were, to piece together what exactly is the "sin that leads to death".

A few quick contextual considerations. First and foremost, verse 16 expresses a qualifying exception to what was said in verses 14 and 15. That is, John has been saying that whatsoever we ask of God we will have, as long as what we ask is in accord with God's will - the exception "as long as it is according to God's will" is then immediately expounded by John, that is, we will not have our petition if we are petitioning God for those who are committing a sin leading to death.

Note that intercessory prayer is the focus here. John is not speaking primarily about asking God for things for ourselves, but rather about how we make petition for others. We conclude by this, amongst other things, that interceding in prayer for others is an anticipated Christian behavior - it is expected that Christians will be engaged in intercessory prayer.

Does your church have an intercessory prayer meeting? You probably don't call it that, but that is what the focus likely is - a time of corporate intercession. If your church doesn't have a formal time of intercessory prayer, then find some way to informally gather with other like minded believers to intercede on behalf of others.

Yet all this instruction, while good and proper, does not answer the question that put the question mark above so many Christian heads with regards to the sin that leads to death. So I will answer that according to whatever light I have been given on the matter.

I confess, I haven't gone off and read the commentaries on this verse before writing this post. Don't get me wrong, I probably read dozens of commentaries on this passage in my walk with the Lord, and perhaps some or all of them have flavoured my understanding, or at least framed it; but I was reading in Jeremiah 14 this morning the passage where God forbids Jeremiah to intercede in prayer for Judah/Jerusalem, and was reminded of this passage in first John, since it similarly prescribed that Jeremiah withhold his intercessory prayers.

First let's listen to Jeremiah's prayer for intercession:

"Although our iniquities testify against us,
   O LORD, act for Your name's sake!
   Truly our apostasies have been many,
   We have sinned against You.
O Hope of Israel,
   Its Savior in time of distress,
   Why are You like a stranger in the land
   Or like a traveler who has pitched his tent for the night?
Why are You like a man dismayed,
   Like a mighty man who cannot save?
   Yet You are in our midst, O LORD,
   And we are called by Your name;
   Do not forsake us!"
Jeremiah covers all the bases there: he confesses the iniquity of the people, he appeals to God on the basis of God's own name, he notes their present distress, and God's ability to save. I mean did Aaron pray such a prayer when he stood between the living and the dead in the wilderness as God's wrath fell upon the congregation? In other words there is nothing "wrong" with Jeremiah's prayer. His intercession for Judah/Jerusalem is not superfluous or heretical, but straight to the point and orthodox, but what is God's answer?

We read that answer in Jeremiah 14:10-11, "Thus says the LORD to this people, 'Even so they have loved to wander; they have not kept their feet in check Therefore the LORD does not accept them; now He will remember their iniquity and call their sins to account.' So the LORD said to me, 'Do not pray for the welfare of this people.' "

Now, this too requires a bit of historical context. It wasn't like God suddenly became unforgiving, or that God was in some way acting out of character. Recall the judgment pronounced beforehand by the Lord against those Israelite who, having known the Lord, turned away and worshipped false gods:

"so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood. It shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, 'I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.' The LORD shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven." [Deuteronomy 29:18-20 NASB]

This was the sin of the people in Jeremiah's day. They had full knowledge of God, and were even worshipping God in pretense (as a matter of external religion), but their hearts were so far from God they were worshipping false gods on the side. When God instructs Jeremiah not to intercede in prayer for Jerusalem/Judah, He is instructing Jeremiah not to pray against God's will, for God has not only determined beforehand but clearly stated beforehand that He will in no way forgive the man whose worship is all pretense and whose heart belongs to something else.

Jeremiah wasn't allowed to intercede in prayer because that intercession ran contrary to God's promise to judge their particular sin in a particular way. In order for God to answer Jeremiah's prayer, He would have had to repent of His promised judgment. That's a no-can-do.

Now, back to first John, and the sin that leads to death.

I suspect that a lot of commentaries connect, the sin that leads to death with the unforgivable sin of attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to demons (i.e. blaspheming the Holy Spirit). This would then be an injunction by John against praying for those who are irrevocably damned by their having blasphemed the Holy Spirit. That interpretation is not without merit. Even if it isn't what John meant, it is still a "correct" understanding. In other words, it doesn't matter if that is what the text is talking about, it's still something that makes sense biblically.

I think in the context of first John, the sin that leads to death is apostasy, meaning that God will intercede for all kinds of things, but not apostasy - which is exactly what we see throughout the OT as well.

It is fitting therefore that John closes the letter with an appeal to keep oneself from false gods (idols). In the OT the Israelites turned away from the true God to worship false gods made of wood and stone - the continued to worship the real God in pretense, but not from their heart. In the NT, I believe the sin of apostasy is the same. Here the false gods that John is concerned about flow from newer heresies such as gnosticism etc. When any person hears the true gospel, and then turns away from it in order to pursue a false gospel, it becomes (as the author of Hebrews writes) impossible to renew them again to repentance.

What should we pull from this? Well, at the very least, we ought to see that God considers it an abomination for a person to profess faith, leave that faith, then attempt to be reconciled to that faith again, and subsequently, that we should not pray for apostates for this reason. I think that is what John was getting at. They went out from us, because they were not of us. John didn't call for prayer that these might return to the true faith, but rather calls us to -not- intercede for those who leave the faith.

I am sure I suffer from many illusions, but one I believe I do not suffer from is the illusion that everyone understands the word of God equally. I expect that the grand majority of believers have a rather fuzzy image of God, and this because they either do not spend enough time in God's word, or because they are unwilling to believe God's word when it comes against the image of God that is popular in our culture. The idea that God will not forgive a sin is incomprehensible to many in this generation, but not to all.

When John writes that we ought not to pray for those committing a sin that leads to death, it may seem severe or even harsh or even hateful to some. But to me it seems glorious, and God centered. How can I ask God to compromise His glory unless I value it less than I ought?


posted by Daniel @ 6:15 AM   4 comment(s)
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Teaching Christian Mimicry
As I munched on cereal for breakfast this morning I casually examined a shiny new children's book that someone had left upon the kitchen table. It was written by some lady - a doctor, and was just one in a series of children's books intended to teach biblical virtues to toddlers. This particular tome was focused on thankfulness.

It was illustrated in soft pastels, the text was large and simple, and notably focused on thankfulness to God, as opposed to thankfulness in general. By and large, I think most Christians would consider this one of the better toddler books. After all, given the choice of reading a book to your child whose theme is based on some popular children's show or reading one whose theme is a biblical virtue, the latter is probably the wiser choice.

Or is it?

Can I share a peeve of mine? I get frustrated (and a little bit angry!) whenever I hear a sermon wherein the preacher takes pains to prescribe a litany of activities that every good and healthy Christian ought to be doing. We should be loving our neighbours, we should be doing good deeds, we should be loving God above all else, we should be providing for the needy, we should sharing the gospel with a lost world, etc. etc. I agree that we should be doing these things, but I contend that a healthy Christian will be doing these things when his or her life is focused on God and not self. I am convinced that telling a believer what he or she should be doing something is somewhat naive and consequently, misguided. Perhaps what we ought to be telling them is that this shopping list of virtuous behaviour describes what Christian health looks like - the life of Christ flowing out of you. It looks that way, not because you have a list of things that Christians should be doing and in your zeal you are struggling to conform yourself to the list.

You may have heard me argue that the Christian ought not to pray for patience, since patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and no one can have that kind of patience without the Spirit, and no one who is walking in the Spirit can lack that kind of patience. What we ought to be doing is walking in the Spirit, and not asking to have the fruit of the Spirit in the absence of the Spirit.

It is the same sort of wrong-headed thinking that I am talking about, the kind that says, here is what godliness looks like, now make yourself look like that. No one, believer or otherwise can become godly by acting godly.

Which is where my beef with this children's book comes in. Teaching children to act thankful or to try and be thankful, apart from God is setting them up from the very beginning to not only try to look the part, but to imagine that looking the part is what it is all about. How many of us, in our adult faith, have to de-program ourselves because we were taught (to use a metaphor) to act married rather than to be married. That is, we were told what godliness looks like, then led to believe that godliness happens when we determine to act in accord with what it looks like. We never stop to think that we are trying to be godly in order to be with God, when it actually works the other way, when we resting in God, we are naturally godly.

Such it was with this book. I mean, sure, we need to teach our children what thankfulness looks like - but not in order that they say thank you to God when they are not walking in the Spirit, that is, it is not in order that they might learn to mimic the Christian walk by aping the sort of behaviour that flows from walking in the Spirit; rather it is so that they will know that thankfulness flows from living in the Spirit, and that a lack of thankfulness indicates that we are not living in the Spirit.

I am willing to assume that a lot of people couldn't care less about the distinctions I am making. We all want thankful children, and they need to learn the concept of thankfulness before they can apply that concept to their own abundance or lack - my concern is that we put off teaching the truth until well after we have established the habit of "godly" mimicry.

What are your thoughts?


posted by Daniel @ 8:42 AM   2 comment(s)
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
1011: I am a Daddy ... again.

Yesterday, at 2:00 a.m. my wife woke me up. She was in labour. After a leisurely drive to the hospital, and a brief moment in obstetric triage, the clock struck a quarter to five, and in that moment our Lord saw fit to bless us with a healthy baby daughter. She weighed only six pounds and twelve ounces (just over three kilograms) and measured some twenty inches (50 centimetres). She has a full head of dark hair, and (perhaps unfortunately) her father's nose.

There is much celebrating in our family today and yesterday.

If you are inclined to prayer, my wife's blood pressure is elevated high enough that they are continuing to keep her in the hospital. Our spirits are high, and our eyes are on Him who blesses and has blessed us.

Praise the Lord for His wonderful gift.


posted by Daniel @ 8:05 PM   11 comment(s)
Friday, August 06, 2010
1010: Justified By Faith (Part II)
Have you ever felt like your prayers are not getting through to God?

You know, where you feel like even though God is aware of all things at all times, that is, even though you know that God must hear your prayer, yet because you know that you are not as holy and pure in your prayer today as you were on your best day, that because of your current spiritual deficit, or rather your currently acute awareness of the same spiritual deficit you had even on your "best" day, you are certain that your prayer is utterly useless. You tell yourself that even though God "hears" your prayer, yet He will not respect it because you haven't been perfect in your obedience, and you see yourself for a hypocrite, and imagine that anything you say is worthless because you're such a phony.

Well if you're a genuine Christian, I am pretty sure you have been there, and probably more often than you would comfortably admit.

What is it that draws a believer out of a funk like that?

A woman I knew once remarked at a bible study that she used "praise and worship" music to get her in the mood for church. As a personal rule, I am something of a bulldog when people say stuff like that around me. "In the mood for church?", I asked, "what does that mean?" I don't recall the exact wording of her answer, but the gist of it was that she felt she could not receive God's word unless or until she was hyped up emotionally. In a nutshell, unless or until she felt spiritual, she believed she wasn't being spiritual.

Don't get me wrong, I have experienced a very real, spiritual elecation through sining in a congregation of people who are actually worshipping God in song. I have tasted the exaltation of God in my soul when singing worship songs. I do not suggest for a moment that a Christian cannot be drawn closer to God through worship in music. But this did not seem to be the nature of what she was describing. Her response was not about coming to a place of worship, but rather coming to a place of heightened emotional response. In her mind, she equated high emotions with spirituality, and low emotions with a lack thereof.

I am not sure if this was my first exposure to this sort of quackery, but it was certainly one of the first, and if my soul could form facial expressions in the wake of this response, it would have been one of wide-eyed, gaping mouthed, horror. Let me qualify my reaction a bit further though; I do not mean to present myself as so far above this sort of thing that I am looking down upon it from some great spiritual height. In the infancy of my own faith I was by no means immune to the influence of various superstitions, empty traditions, and well intentioned appeals to the mystical. If I was appalled, it was only in the knowledge that this person had been a Christian from her youth, and in all that time had never learned any better. I was not appalled by the quality of her ignorance, as much as I was that it should still exist after so many years.

Every new believer wants tangible assurance that they are genuine - that their faith is the real deal. I myself wanted, in the infancy of my faith, to be able to appeal to some "saved" feeling whenever I needed assurance. Said another way, I wanted to be able to supernaturally sense that I was saved. I think that is a common felt "need" of every person who joins themself to Christ - and it is common to both the genuine and the illegitimate. I was more or less ignorant of the scriptures, so I didn't really know what assurance was supposed to be like. Was it emotional? Tangible? Mystical? I had my own preconceptions, and in my case I was certain that whatever assurance was, it would come with a serious and settled "saved" feeling. This feeling would be supernatural in origin (mystical) - a sensation of sorts that only I was aware of, but something that was always there so that I could, by tapping into it at will, always know that I was really, really a Christian.

In fact, I sort of thought that unless I had some sort of ever-present supernatural experience going on, I might not even be a real Christian! Especially having listened to the sort of superficial Christian conversations that were the mainstay of my early fellowship - Christians talking to one another in language that made it sound like their lives were sprinkled liberally with supernatural impressions. When someone said, "the Lord showed me this morning that..." I took that to mean that they either had some sort of supernatural ability to hear God speak that I lacked, or worse, that I was receiving messages from God all the time but was not spiritual enough to interpret them properly. I began to consider every stray thought as a possible message from God, and every twinge of guilt as condemnation from the same. Being inclined towards compulsive thoughts I would think about the most horrible thing that God might want ask me to do, then convince myself that God was in fact "moving me" to do it, and that my reluctance to obey the voice of God was the most heinous of sins. My walk of "faith" was more of a stumbling, barely controlled free-fall down a careening path, twisting and turning, and driven by the winds of guilt at not answering immediately every stray thought that God was "beaming" in to my head.

My walk was a mess, and my faith was a burden to me, for I longed to be righteous, but was weighed down with the notion that God was micro managing the minutia of my existence, and that I was failing left, right, front, and center, to answer every buffetting wind. As exposed myself to God's word, I began to be set free from these lying doctrines, and man-made, mystical superstitions. The truth set me free, just as it sets all free who genuinely seek and find it. Afterwards, I equated my former ignorance with immaturity, and though I was ashamed and embarrassed that I should have been so foolishly led, I chalked it up to the infancy of my faith, and set it aside. When I was a child, I spoke and acted like a child, but I grew out of that, and put it away from me. My assumption was that everyone else in church must have gone through that long ago, and that I had only come lately to be where they were at, if I had even attained to that height.

So when I heard this woman speak of needing to be emotionally hyped up in order to do anything spiritual, I was shocked and stunned by the news. Shocked that anyone who has spent their life in the company of Christians could, in practice, be so flaky, and stunned I say, by the magnitude of her zeal, given how sorely misplaced it was. How was it that no one had corrected her of this notion? How was it that when I spoke against it, I felt like Paul on Mars Hill - I was speaking strange things that offended and confused people?

My point is not to drone on about this one instance, but rather to show in real life ignorance in the church produces empty religious rituals that go no where, and do no good thing, rather they only contribute to the demise of a church.

Getting back to the first point in this post: the path out of a dead prayer life; the path out of the agony of feeling that God doesn't hear your prayers, is not to find some emotional pick-me-up, but to find again the first truth that you have set aside covered over with empty and even superstitious religious notions.

That truth is that if you are in Christ God will hear your prayers. God will hear your prayers whether you feel you are right and acceptable to Him (because of some merit earned through righteous living), or you whether you feel you are too sinful and unacceptable to Him (...having failed to produce this same personal merit).

Certainty does not (and cannot) come from your emotions. Certainty comes when you trust that God hears you because of Christ's finished work on the cross. Certainty - or assurance, flows from faith, and not the other way around.

Let me give you real life account from my own life. My oldest daughter had a bit of a crisis last night, and in part that is why I use this particular example of prayer to introduce the big picture. She is only ten, and after listening to me read Isaiah 23 last night, and in the course of the discussion that followed about the end of the world, she began, though she had given her life to Christ a couple of years ago, to be sorely concerned for her soul. She realized, perhaps for the first time publicly, that she was afraid that her faith might not be real, and that when she dies she might not go to be with God, but instead would be exposed to His wrath. Through large tears she confessed that she knew she wanted to believe God, but that she found herself not trusting that He really would save her.

I call "judgment day clarity" like that a God send, and rightly so. She saw herself, perhaps for the first time, for who she truly was - someone who wanted to avoid hell, but who didn't really believe God. She came face to face with a burning anguish that would not be pacified by any platitude, grand or small. She saw that [1] she needed to believe, and [2] that she couldn't "make herself" believe.

Would that more believers had such a clear understanding of their truest dilemma! We talked for hours, my daughter and I, and I had to deny myself several times as I so wanted to placate her torment with cries of, "Peace! Peace!" when it was evident that such cries of peace would be more for my benefit than hers.

I explained faith to her ten times in ten different ways, and I underscored the fact that she cannot ride on my faith, but has to deal with God personally and directly. I couldn't give her faith, nor could she generate it herself, but she had to turn to the Author of faith Himself, and deal directly with Him, for He alone was the only one who could raise her up out of her dilemma.

But here is the crux of this personal example: I myself was praying up a storm as we talked, I was begging God silently for wisdom, for the right words, for His words (i.e. words from scripture), that I might not speak from my own wisdom, but quote His, and though I have been in Christ many years now, - I began to feel a little impotent when all my prayers seemed to be having no immediate effect.

My daughter was still tormented having her eyes of understanding glossed over in doubt. Why wasn't God opening her understanding?? I wasn't exactly panicked, but I was definitely off my game, as it were. At one point she went to the bathroom, trail of tears in her wake, and I was able to turn my soul full faced to the Lord and pray not alongside what I was doing, but as it were, I was able to be alone with the Lord long enough to realize that I was no longer exercising faith, but had begun to simply pleah with God to do my will, and wondering where the lions were.

You see, I had taken my eyes off of Christ. I had started to worry, to fret, to try and call down from heaven the sort of resolution I thought the situation needed.

When the solution I thought was necessary failed to materialize, I began to question whether God was listening, or whether my own prayers were fruitless, ...useless. I wasn't praying in faith, I was praying as a form or diligent religion. I knew that prayer was called for, I knew that unless God built this house, the labourer (me) would labor in vain. But for all that, I hadn't actually been coming to God in faith while talking to my daughter, but coming to God in pretense. I was coming to God in my desperation and trying to force God (through prayer) to do my will (calm my daughter, and open her understanding... now!), and this primarily for my own benefit. I was trying to do the right thing and wanted God's power to make it happen - rather than resting in God, and trusting that the situation was in His hands and not my own.

When I saw that I was floundering in prayer, in that moment I set my heart on the truth - that God hears me in Christ, and that having committed my path to the Lord, I was willing to rest in whatever God would do. These matters were in His capable hands, hadn't I appealed to my God? Hadn't He heard my prayer? The bible teaches that He heard my appeal, for it is surely His will that I instruct my children in the way they are to go, that I share the good news of Christ, and that sinners repent, and the gospel be proclaimed. In the blink of an eye I went from a desperate father full of concern, to a man so certain of God's goodness and provision, that I was at once filled with all patience and joy. I was in the Spirit, not some mystical place of emotion, but resting in the certainty of God's presence, God's power, and God's provision. Jehovah Jireh, amen.

My daughter came back from the washroom calm and at ease. I told her about my own lack of faith in our discussion, and how in the moment it was restored to me, I was at peace, trusting in God to do what I could not. She was so excited to hear this because she said in the two minutes she had left to go to the washroom, she suddenly found herself comforted and calmed - she was excited to hear how God had answered my prayer in her. It is one thing for a little girl to hear about God answering prayer, and another to be the knowing recipient of it.

Now, she didn't come back and tell me about some transcendent peace and calm that overcame her mystically with some sort of tangible tingle; rather I told her about my prayer, and then she told me about how it was answered, and knowing that I couldn't have known about her calmness she realized that God must have heard my prayer and answered it, and that her sudden calmness and renewed certainty were proof that God had answered my prayer. If she was calm when she came back, she was strengthened spiritually by the news that God had heard and answered my prayer in providing her with the calmness that comes from resting in the Lord.

I could go on and on about the grace and majesty of God, especially as it pertains to my daughter whom I so dearly love, but I mention this only to introduce faith as a component of the Christian life.

When scripture says that the just shall live by faith, it isn't describing the process of the new birth, it is describing the life that follows the new birth.

It isn't that the just shall inherit life by faith, it is that the just shall live by faith. Faith is not merely the foundation of our justification, it is also, and perhaps more significant given how this point is practically unheard of in many congregations - the foundation of our sanctification. I hope to show in the next post, that many immature believers today are not living their Christian lives by faith as they should, both to God's glory, and to their own joy. I hope also to articulate, as best I can, exactly what it means to live by faith.

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posted by Daniel @ 7:46 AM   0 comment(s)
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
1008: Justified By Faith (Part I)
You know how some Christians pray for patience, as though God granted patience apart from living in the Spirit? These are often encouraged in this direction by well meaning enablers who touch their noses and nod as they look over their glasses and say in their best Troy McClure voice, "You know if you pray for patience, God is going to bring things into your life that require patience..." <wink>

These believers, however they were led to the place of crying out for those things that God freely and always gives to the obedient, have come to think of Christianity in terms of the haves and the have nots; and they see themselves as have nots.

They genuinely want the blessings of Christ, they want to experience the fundamental truths of Christianity, but they want these in order to empower their obedience, rather than to have these flow from their obedience. They are lazy, and blame their lack on God not supplying up front what they "need" to be good Christians. Of course, they probably wouldn't articulate it that way, but deep down, they are already wondering whether they are false believers (because no matter how often they ask for this or that they never seem to get it), or whether they understand Christianity right, or worse, whether Christianity is all bunk.

At the very least, such a prayer betrays a confused theology; consider seriously, The one who lacks something that has been promised to everyone who walks in the Spirit is obviously not walking in the Spirit. The patience that God sends to His children is not called down in prayer, but freely flows from the Spirit when we walk in Him. No one who is in the Spirit lacks patience, and no one who is walking in the flesh has it.

I begin with that thought, because I am convinced that most professing believers do not live in, nor walk in the Spirit. Many, I suppose, are where they are because they don't really want God, they just want to avoid hell. They have considered the religions of the world, and determined that Christianity is the one truth faith, and so to ensure that they avoid suffering in hell, they seek out a church, and set about doing whatever they have to do to meet the absolute minimum requirements for getting into heaven when they die.

A few years back, the seeker sensitive movement was in full swing, and the conservative voices in Christianity rightly poo-pooed the notion that there were unsaved people seeking Christ, given that scripture plainly says that there are none who seek after God, not even one. But these failed to understand the subtleties involved - there are no sinners seeking Christ on their own accord, but there are many, many sinners seeking a get-out-of-hell-free card through religion. There are indeed many "seekers" - they just aren't seeking Christ, they are seeking heaven insomuch as they are trying to avoid hell.

It isn't that these hell-fearers haven't heard the same gospel, they have, but (and I am using a very broad brush here) because their faith is not the kind that seeks to be reconciled to God, but rather seeks to secure a better afterlife through whatever hoops need to be jumped through - they hear the gospel and regard it as the contract by which God is obligated to provide them with a better afterlife. They read "believe in Christ" as "believe that the contract binds God", and so they accept the freely offered better afterlife by exercising faith that God has to keep the contract if they do. They haven't sought God, they have sought personal gain, and believe that the gospel is the means to that end. They hear the same gospel, but understand it differently than a justified believer does.

Now, there are probably dozens of ways to misunderstand the gospel, but all of them end in the same way - works righteousness. Rather than try and paint every possible carnal misinterpretation of the doctrine of justification, I will just say that some people are deceived - they hear the gospel, and believe something about it that doesn't result in them being saved, but does result in them being (at the very least superficially) convinced that they are saved.

In this light, when we speak of the visible church, we are describing a motley lot indeed. We are not necessarily describing a group of homogeneously justified believers, rather we are describing everyone and anyone who claims to be a Christian. Not just those who attend a regular "Christian" service either, but a group of people who believe themselves, for whatever reason, to be Christians.

I mention these things up front, in order to paint, as it were, the picture of a typical church. There are typically some genuine Christians in any congregation - maybe even the majority, but mixed in with the wheat, scripture tells us that there will also be tares - people who believe themselves to be Christians, and maybe are even zealous for their religion, but who are deceived about their faith, thinking it to be the genuine article, when it is in fact counterfeit.

For most of you reading, this shouldn't be some shocking revelation. Yes, of course there are tares amongst the wheat. That is why we practice church discipline, to weed out those who may be tares, to maintain purity in the church.

One of the most dangerous consequences of having tares (counterfeit Christians) in the church is that these tares believe themselves to be genuine. Why is that dangerous? It is dangerous because in order to explain the unrelenting carnality they experience, they must redefine Christianity in terms of their own carnality. In other words, they invent doctrine that either excuses carnality, or mimics Spirituality with carnal effort.

Praying for patience, for instance. Where does such an idea originate? Not with the Spirit of God, but with a carnal person trying to be spiritual apart from the Spirit. That isn't to say that every person who has ever prayed for patience is not a real Christian. But it is to say that such teachings come into the church, and remain entrenched, because there are enough immature, or worse, counterfeit, believers to allow it. Most professors of faith want assurance, and a right walk with God is powerfully assuring. The carnal man, and the spiritual man have this in common, when they profess faith, they want to live out that faith, and they want to see evidence that they are not walking or running in vain.

Well. That's it for the intro.

Looking at the length, I suppose this needs to be a two parter (or longer). I will leave it at that for now, and when I pick it up again, I will show, Lord willing, the difference between walking by faith, and walking in some other way. What I want to deal with in this article is the relationship between motivation and faith. I want to show what it looks like to live in Christ, and contrast that with what I see (or suspect) in the faith of many who, while sincere, are ignorant of these basic things because they have (thus far) lacked instruction in such matters.

Update: In my reading this a.m., after posting this, I came across an article that makes for a good primer to what I am about to go on about... If you have time, please read this brief and timely article on the perseverance of the saints, h/t Daniel J. Phillips over at Biblical Christianity.


posted by Daniel @ 7:13 AM   4 comment(s)
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