Friday, March 25, 2005

The Letter that Kills & The Law Written on Hearts

Along the same line of the previous post, I have included the following quotations from St. Augustine.

Therefore, the apostle is not to be confined to the limited application just mentioned, when he says, "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life;" but this is also (and indeed especially) equivalent to what he says elsewhere in the plainest words: "I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet;" and again, immediately after: "Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me." Now from this you may see what is meant by "the letter that killeth." There is, of course, nothing, said figuratively which is not to be accepted in its plain sense, when it is said, "Thou shall not covet;" but this is a very plain and salutary precept, and any man who shall fulfil it will have I no sin at all. The apostle, indeed, purposely selected this general precept, in which he embraced everything, as if this were the voice of the law, prohibiting us from all sin, when he says, "Thou shalt not covet;" for there is no sin committed except by evil concupiscence; so that the law which prohibits this is a good and praiseworthy law. But, when the Holy Ghost withholds His help, which inspires us with a good desire instead of this evil desire (in other words, diffuses love in our hearts), that law, however good in itself, only
augments the evil desire by forbidding it. Just as the rush of water which flows incessantly in a particular direction, becomes more violent when it meets with any impediment, and when it has overcome the stoppage, falls in a greater bulk, and with increased impetuosity hurries forward in its downward course. In some strange way the very object which we covet becomes all the more pleasant when it is forbidden. [St. Augustine of Hippo, On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 6]

And furthermore:

"Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Now this Spirit of God, by whose gift we are justified, whence it comes to pass that we delight not to sin, -- in which is liberty; even as, when we are without this Spirit, we delight to sin, -- in which is slavery, from the works of which we must abstain; -- this Holy Spirit, through whom love is shed abroad in our hearts, which is the fulfilment of the law, is designated in the gospel as "the finger of God." Is it not because those very tables of the law were written by the finger of God, that the Spirit of God by whom we are sanctified is also the finger of God, in order that, living by faith, we may do good works through love? [ibid, Chapter 28]

Regarding the Law written upon our hearts:

What then is God's law written by God Himself in the hearts of men, but the very presence of the Holy Spirit, who is "the finger of God," and by whose presence is shed abroad in our hearts the love which is the fulfilling of the law, and the end of the commandment? [ibid, Chapter 36]
Dead... 100% Dead to the Law

4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.
6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:4-6)


So last night I entered upon this profound mystery, of which I will surely never fully grasp. The first great part of this doctrine shines forward every so clearly. "you died to the Law through the body of Christ for the purpose that you would be joined to Jesus and bear fruit for God" (paraphrase). So, as Paul told us previously in chapter 6, we died to sin through the death of Jesus upon the cross. (Rom 6:2-5, for example) Now Paul continues on to say we have actually died to the Law! How so?

"The law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives." (Rom 7:1) And previously we were under that jurisdiction -in captivity to that which could never give us life. Our flesh was "aroused" (v.5) all the more by it! But when that perfect vicarious and redeeming death of Christ came, we died with Him -not because of anything we have done, but purely by our union to Him as His elect people. Our High Priest, our Mediator, has set us free from our captivity by dying our death in our stead.

Now, to be dead is a glorious thing in this picture. Death is irreversible. When it happens, it cannot be undone -just as our birth cannot. So being dead to the Law is something that is a past and completed fact. Also, death is well-defined. Now in human terms, a man may not be certain if another is truly dead, but the fact remains that if he is dead, he is dead completely. There are no stages of death in this regard. You are either dead or alive. We are not "mostly dead" to the Law, but totally dead to it. What does this mean in practice? It means that it has no power over us to condemn. It is no longer the governor of our estate.

As we live all of our lives in whatever country or state we live, we are under the jurisdiction of a governing power. Yet, if we were to die, does that jurisdiction still remain? No, and this is Paul's point. Therefore, we are no longer ruled by condemnation and threatenings. We are no longer ruled by our inability to obey that higher standard of governance, as perfect and beautiful as it is. We no longer exist under that domain.

But then, what of the Law? That is the inevitable conclusion our fleshly minds race to. "This cannot be, because what about our responsibility as Christians to obey the Law... you make Paul teach antinomianism". But I appeal to the Scripture and it says what it says. Yet there is a purpose unto which we have been freed from that previous domain. Paul says it twice in the quoted passage above. It is so that we would serve in the "newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter."(v.6)

This seems somewhat vague, though. What on earth does it mean? Well, this could be the topic of a book, much less a single blog entry, so I will just pass a few comments here. I believe it is a recapitulation, using different words, of the previous statement made in verse 4: "so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God." Therefore, one thing we can say is that "serving in the newness of the Spirit" is related directly to our union with Christ, and thus, bearing fruit for God. This is echoed in Eph 2:10:

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. "


One thing that is for certain is that the Law does have a place in the life of the believer. God says that the believer, the regenerate one, is the one on whose heart He has written His Law.

"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. " (Eze 36:26-27)

"But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jer 31:33)


Thus, the Law for a believer has to do with "want to" instead of "have to". We no longer live in the land of "have to". This is why antinomianism will not overcome the regenerate. This is a principle reason why to say "but then there will be no motivation for the Christian to do what is good if we take away the Law with its threatenings" is completely and utterly screwed up and false. Though we do not live any more under the domain of Law, the principles of the Law have been written on our hearts. We love righteousness, which is what the Law describes. Indeed, Jesus told us:

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (Joh 14:15)


To sum up, I believe this is what serving in the newness of the Spirit means: that we serve unfettered by conscience or fear of punishment -we serve out of love for God and love for His righteous standard. We are dead to the Law as those who were once under its captivity, under its condemnation. Yet the very same thing that used to condemn us is now our joy because of the glorious God who wrote the Law upon our hearts -as we live daily by faith in Jesus, not by returning, as dead men, to that system or domain under which we once lived, but as men who are alive in a different realm -the realm of grace and gratitude and acceptance for the sake of Jesus. So, to all of us as we daily battle the flesh, let us be reminded of this glorious truth, our deadness to the Law, and move ahead as Paul tells us in Gal 5:

walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (v.16)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Why???

I received the following in an email from a sister in Christ. They were sent out to many by her to provoke contemplation.

> Why is it so hard to tell the truth...yet so easy to tell a lie,
> why do we sleep in the church..but when the sermon is over we
> suddenly wake up?, why is it so hard to talk about God...but so
> easy to talk about sex?, why are we so bored to look at a Christian
> magazine...but so easy to read a playboy magazine?, why is it so
> easy to delete a godly offline messages ...yet we forward the nasty
> ones? why are churches getting smaller...but yet bars and clubs are
> growing??.....think about it....

I offer the following answers, to the Christian community, to duly provoke more contemplation from laity and overseers alike.

1. Because our churches, some more than others, have overall ceased preaching the Gospel. We preach success, morality, self-fulfillment, 5 steps to betterment, but hardly ever do we preach the full severity of the Law, how helpless and steeped in sin we are, and how matchless and righteous is our Savior, Jesus, on our behalf and upon the cross. We are more concerned with being like the world, and attracting the world through worldly means, than changing it by preaching the Word to dead hearts that God might grant them repentance.

2. Because many in the church, and even in the pulpits, are unconverted and living the lie of self salvation through their personal decision or commitment to Jesus and church. It logically follows: if we keep preaching a false gospel, then eventually we will be overrun by false converts to that false gospel. Did we expect something different? We are not replacing ourselves with converts, or if we are, then we are replacing them with those whose growth is so stunted by the spirit of the age that one could hardly tell the difference.

3. Lastly, because although we have been given a heart of flesh in place of the heart of stone, we are still sinners. To deny this and assume we somehow have gained the ability to observe God's Law perfectly is a terrible mistake. If we think that just because we are Christians we can obey the "greatest commandment", then we are sorely mistaken. Let us give up on our self righteousness and fall to the foot of the cross! And in the process, let us proclaim this truth to the unconverted with unshattered boldness!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Two Kinds of Righteousness

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Rom 3:28)

I was reading through chapter 3 of Romans last night, and I passed over this verse as I normally do. After all, its meaning is plain and we all know that a man is justified by faith and not works -I hope :). I stopped at this verse last night, though, and took another look. There is, in this whole passage of Romans 3, much to be said on this topic, but this verse makes a stark distinction.

The end, or goal, is justification -to be declared by God to be acceptable and righteous. Seemingly everywhere Paul sets forth two apparent means. The first means is the one that every man, in his flesh, seeks in one form or another -to attain this status through self-effort and works of the Law. This does not just mean "by following the 10 commandments". The Law is mentioned because there is no higher form of God's righteous requirement of men revealed. So, we imagine that works of the Law -or "good works"- will please God, and He will declare us to be fit for His presence on the basis of these things we do.

The second means is faith. "But", one might say, "isn't believing something we do?" Let me finish! :) When we say that faith is the second means we only mean that through faith we rest upon the true substitute for our futile self-effort. We do not mean that faith itself is what causes God to declare us righteous. Again, faith involves a passive rest upon another, foreign substance that will obtain this righteous standing before God. Rather than the substance being our own alleged internal goodness, the substance which faith rests upon is completely outside of us. The substance we speak of is the righteousness of Christ, Himself - the very "righteousness of God" (v.21) which has been wrought "through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (v.24).

So then, we see two different forms of righteousness outlined here and elsewhere in Scripture. There is the "righteousness of the Law", which simply means our own internal righteousness which we amuse ourselves of having through our good deeds -no matter how small or great. In direct contrast and opposition to this we have the "righteousness of faith", which is the righteousness that faith rests upon -the very righteousness of Jesus the Christ given freely to us sinners. There can be no mingling of the two whatsoever! There is no place for one in proximity to the other. What else can the apostle mean when he says more than once in that chapter 3 that this righteousness is "apart from the Law" (v.21, 28)?

Paul reminds us:

For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. (Rom 10:5)

Let our cry be the same of the apostle Paul, that in the end we "may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith..." (Phil 3:9)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Details and Theological Hedges...

Many of you may not know, I struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I easily become ensnared in thoughts to the point of obsession. That said, I have a sensitivity to this particular topic. When I speak of a "theological hedge" I mean a boundary that we impose -either rightly or wrongly- that we do not cross. An example is the deity of Christ. We are certain of this fact from Scripture, so we set up this hedge and, when interpreting Scripture in other areas, keep this fact in mind knowing that Scripture will not actually (though it may apparently) contradict itself. There is often a good reason for this, too. It is a good hermeneutic to interpret the unclear in light of the explicitly clear. However, it can become dangerous when we build upon our hedges or establish hedges that are un-Biblical. The Scriptures end up being strangled, and often we are either left believing things that are untrue -or we are left in confusion.

An example of where a theological hedge can be detrimental is the concept of libertarian free-will. Many assume that man has free will and that God cannot and does not intervene with our "free will". This is a false lens through which to look at Scripture, and the result is a warped view on many doctrines.

There are times, though, when we set up a proper "hedge", so to speak, but perhaps plant it in the wrong place or forget to prune it back. We become so fixed upon seeing it through that lens, no matter how true that lens is, that we often miss things and come to a very narrow view of things. Sometimes, given the truthfulness and firmness of that hedge, we apply it wrongly to other areas making conclusions that do not Biblically follow. For example, God's sovereign providence and decree does not, though it may seem to logically, eradicate man's responsibility.

For me, this happens at times. When I finally see how my hedge has obscured things and overcomplicated them, it is like a cool and refreshing breeze to trim off the edge so that the light can come through. I become so wrapped up that I can scarcely listen to a man preach without making mental notes of all the things he "said wrongly". If Christ was present in the message, I would certainly be too preoccupied with the negative. It is as if I would only be content in my own personal theological heaven on earth! I also find myself analyzing my own words to death to make sure I do not misrepresent in any way possible the grace of God or some other cardinal doctrine. I wonder how many of us would complain within if we heard Christ Himself, without us recognizing Him, preaching how the Pharisees "would not" come to Him for life? We would perhaps claim that the preacher was preaching a "weak Christ" or undermining or neglecting things like effectual grace.


I guess my point is that:
a) we must always be ready to uproot our hedges when they fail under repeated Biblical examination.

b) we must always evaluate if our hedges are becoming overgrown and Biblically disproportionate.

c) it is necessary to have some charity toward others and realize that no two people have the exact same "garden", so to speak. Let us not become so narrow as to become critics of the wrinkles on the gnat's back. There will always be a brother or sister who is more conservative than us, and always one who is more liberal.

Given this, let us pick our battles, our rebukes, and let the Scriptures breathe. This is one thing that I admire greatly about men like Charles Spurgeon and John Piper. They are not afraid to speak plainly and simply. Piper once said, "if you read and exposit Scripture, and it sounds 'Arminian', then let it sound Arminian". They are not afraid to say things like, "repent so that you may be forgiven!" whereas, in my zeal, there have been many times when I would take someone to task for using this "improper manner of speaking" about this topic... saying that it teaches semi-Pelagianism in some way or that we must "do something" in order to be forgiven. All the while, Scripture uses such wording with no trouble at all.

Don't misunderstand. There are often times when going into such detail and meticulously examining words is necessary - particular when someone is claiming the Bible says something that it doesn't. But how often are we simply nit-picking because we don't like something said a certain way (because of the apparent implications that we think of, but most people may not ever think of).

Another way of thinking of this is to say that we can establish our systems and traditions, which is fine so long as they are Biblical, but let us not use them as a lens to look at Scripture. Let them always be descriptive and tested regularly.

Just some thoughts for the road ahead...

Monday, March 14, 2005

"Make a Decision" Addendum

While thinking things over, I realize there is another side of this story. Just as it is true that many use the "proper" words and mean something completely un-Biblical, I realize that there are those who use poor manners of speech, yet do mean what the Bible teaches. I realize there are some who do call people to "make a decision for Christ", yet mean it in a Biblical way. They mean it in the sense that they are calling people to repent and believe that Jesus is the Savior, and that mercy freely belongs to all who come to Him. I have to realize this because it is wrong and irresponsible to make sweeping condemnations such as this.

We are, then, back to the original issue: it is not what we say, it is what we mean! Of course, there is a way to avoid all of this confusion -preach the Word! Use the figures that God's Word uses, and by all means let God do the converting!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The God of Churchianity: "Decisionalism"

That is a big "part 1", for volumes have been written on the subjects above. Also, it probably seems a little harsh to say that the views which I will be commenting upon represent a different god, not the true God. Does that mean that those who hold these views worship another god, an idol? That is not my point in all of this. Suffice it to say we all have inconsistencies in our beliefs. My point is that these views are un-Biblical and do not represent the God of the Bible. Are there some who believe these things in part and are true believers? Yes. Most of us, in fact, believed such things at one time without seeing how they conflict with Scripture or the other wonderful truths of God's salvation. Are there some who believe these things and are not? Yes, unfortunately.

First, I have to take note that the source of this "interview" is a satirical one. It is not meant to be taken 100% seriously. Therefore, the fact that the author, in this article, presumes to speak for God will not be a major focus of my comments. It is true, it is a huge responsibility to bear -even in a satirical piece- to make sure we are truly speaking "for God" and not from our own traditions (as I believe this author does in many places), but it is the content of the article that is most important, I believe.

Lets take a quick look at the part pf the interview in question:



God: This life is a crucible. Do you know what a crucible is used for, Larry?
Larry: It's a book, right?
God: Ummm. Anyway, a crucible is something used to heat things up and refine them, so that their purity can be discovered. I have allowed life to be like that. Truth is Larry, I don't care about judgement, or miracles, or signs, all I care about is you, and winning your heart.
Larry (smiling bashfully): Thanks.
God: Larry, you have been married so many times that only scientific notation can express it. Did all those women enter into it of their own free will?
Larry (chuckling): You can't prove otherwise.
God: Would you have wanted any of them to be "forced" into marrying you?
Larry: No.
God: Ever wonder if any of these amazingly gorgeous, significantly younger women you were marrying were doing it just for the money?
Larry: Wives 5 - 12.
God: Bummer, huh?
Larry: Yep.
God: I don't want to wonder, Larry. I want to know that those who choose Me, choose Me in sickness and in health. In poor and in plenty. The minute I begin tinkering with the way the world is, you'd either forget Me, or love Me for the wrong reasons. Am I powerless? No, I am more powerful than you can conceive. Do you know how much will-power it takes to watch those you love make a mess of their lives, and reject Me in the process? Tsunamis, tornadoes, heart attacks, birth defects, cancer from second-hand smoke, murder, whatever, are all products of a fallen world. That's all there is to it. I don't make it happen, but I desperately want to help you pick up the pieces. I want a relationship with you. But, before I spend an eternity with you, I want to know that you want Me too. That is what this life, with all its good and bad is. It's a chance for you to give me an authentic "Yes" or "No".
Larry: Can I say, "maybe"?
God: Maybe. But remember, life is shorter than you think Larry.


There are a number of assertions made in this dialog. First, it is asserted that God doesn't care about judgment, but only cares about us and "winning our hearts". Second, the assertion is made that God cannot force anyone into choosing to be with Him, so He wants to know who really wants Him. In addition to this, it is asserted that God does not "tinker" with this world (or, implicitly, our "free will") because He doesn't want people to love Him for the wrong reasons. Lastly, it is asserted that God wants a relationship with us, but He will only have one with us if He first knows that we really want one with Him, too. We must give Him an authentic "yes" or "no".

The issue I want to comment on in this blog entry is the idea that our salvation rests upon our decision. To best explain why I see this as inherently heretical, and a gospel that does not save, I thought I would write a mock dialog between myself and an average Christian we would meet in any number of common fellowships across the United States. I'll call this person, "John", just to give him a name. The truth is there are many people who are dear to me who I will probably borrow words and sentiments from. Here goes:

Me: This whole "make a decision for God" thing is way off base.
John: How so? That is what I hear from every church I have ever been to.
Me: I know, that is probably true, but I submit that it is still terribly wrong.
John: So are you trying to say I'm not saved? What!? I need to have perfect doctrine to be a Christian?
Me: Absolutely not! First, whether you are saved or not is between you and God. Second, no man has perfect doctrine. However, there are principles taught regarding the Gospel and salvation that are clear, and to teach in contradiction to them is to teach a false gospel, which, as Paul tells us in Galatians 1, is "no gospel at all".
John: Sounds like a lot of needless theological hair-splitting if you ask me.
Me: Well, lets make it simple. What was it that drove you to Jesus?
John: Well, I saw that He died for my sins.
Me: Ok, but what is so great about that?
John: Its great because I'm a sinner and can't earn my way to heaven. So if Jesus paid for my sins, that means I can go to heaven.
Me: Right, salvation is a gift. It is not something we work for in any way. We can't obtain it by an act of our will by doing something that will please Him. So, our coming to Jesus was borne out of seeing that we have nothing at all to bring to God to gain anything from Him. When we came to Christ it was with empty hands only!
John: Right, its by grace.
Me: But what is it to teach that God will save us if we choose Him? What if we say, "God will accept you into heaven if He first knows that you honestly and sincerely choose Him."
John: Well, we do choose Him. We give our hearts to Him. No man is saved if he doesn't do that.
Me: That is true, in a sense. If a man has not been humbled and given his heart to Jesus, then yes, I would say he is not saved. But if a man says he is saved because he gave his heart to Jesus, then I would say he is not saved! Empty hands! Remember?
John: Now I'm confused.
Me: This is what I'm getting at. What does God want with anything we have to bring? Are we honestly going to bring our hearts to Him and expect something good in return? Can our commitment gain God's acceptance? We might as well try to purchase a mansion with a sack of dirty diapers -that would be more realistic to imagine!
John: I kinda see what you are saying. If we say that, then we are saying that salvation is like an exchange between us and God.
Me: Yes, and is it? No. We offer nothing. God does not give us salvation as a result of our doing something He asks of us. That is works-righteousness. We might as well say that God will give us salvation if we obey any of the 10 commandments -but we can't, and we don't. If we think we offer anything to God for our salvation, then we do not yet understand the depths of our sin and inability to save ourselves.
John: But we must receive Jesus. That is something we must do. We aren't saved without receiving Him. Look at the discourse about the "Bread of Life" in John 6. If we don't eat of the Bread, then we aren't going to have eternal life.
Me: Very true, so far as that figure goes. So, tell me then, are those who have life saved because of the act of eating, or because God gave them Bread? See, there is a huge difference between believing God gives us life if we perform an act, no matter what act we call it, and believing that God has given us what we need for our life. See, why does the sinner eat of the Bread? He eats because he already sees that God has given him what he needs. He brings nothing, has nothing, but only thankfully takes in his grubby hand what God gives.
John: I see what you are saying, but is it really that wrong to teach the first? I mean, that would seem to condemn a lot of what people teach these days.
Me: Sadly, yes. Scripture is replete with passages that teach us that salvation is wholly a gift. Check out Romans 4:4-5

"So to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a gift but as what is due. But to the man who does not work, but believes Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness"

Paul puts an impassible gulf between any idea of doing something to gain the expected result (like working for a wage) and just believing in the free goodness of He who justifies the ungodly purely by grace. Think of the first man as a man who comes to God with a list of things he has done that he believes God will return with wages for. The man is a hireling, and at the end of the day, even if what is expected of him is small, he comes to the Boss saying, "ok then, I have done this one thing which you required, so now I am ready to receive my wage." On the opposite spectrum, think of the second man as one who takes all of those lists he previously had, burns them, and comes with absolutely nothing -being assured by God's gracious promise alone.


. . . . . . . . . . . . .

So, returning to the mock interview... this is essentially what the author is saying God is saying -that God will accept us if we make the right choice, with true sincerity. Because, as "God" here points out, just as Larry King would be upset to find out if any of his many wives married him for the wrong reasons, God would likewise be upset to find out if we chose Him for the wrong reasons- and if that is the case, He won't want us to be with Him. Therefore, we have to choose Him for the "right" reasons. The implicit "right" reasons are "love" and "sincerity". How is this different from the greatest commandment?

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' (Matt 22:37)

This is the summary of the Law, with the second being "like unto it... to love your neighbor as yourself". Can you fulfill this command -at every moment of every day with "all" your heart, sou, and mind? Do you -especially you who rest upon your decision for God for salvation- fulfill it perfectly? No. And since we do not, we become guilty of the whole Law. Folks, if we could do this, we would be righteous. Don't you see? This is, in principle, no different from saying that God will accept us based on observing the Law. This is not salvation of ungodly sinners by a God who hates sin. This is offering a simpler Law for us to follow to gain favor with a god who is not concerned with justice and judgment but only being our buddy. It is works-righteousness and a gospel that does not and cannot save.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Back at it... The God Who Cannot Save: The God of Churchianity

I read this "interview", and it honestly angers me. It angers me because it is full of so much nonsense, yet 80-90% of Christians out there would consider this to be, essentially, the Gospel message.

http://www.wittenburgdoor.com/archives/larryking.html

Please take the time to read it. I will comment on it a bit later. I hope to show how this god, portrayed in this "interview", is not the God of the Bible. This is the god of semi-pelagianism, the god of free-will, and god who cannot save but only wants to, the god who bases his determination for who inherits eternal life on our choice of Him and our sincerity. It is the god whose "grace" goes only so far as we are willing to go and get it. It is the god of Churchianity.
Something Different This Way Comes

I thought I would share something different this morning. There is plenty of place for looking into the deep things of the Word. There is plenty of place for discussing teachings and practices that I believe are harmful to Christians and Christ's Church. This morning I just want the simple. Don't worry, I'm not going into that whole "don't give me doctrine, just give me Jesus" crapola. But, I believe true doctrine is inherently devotional -that is, teaching from the Bible is Christ-centered by nature and points our souls and praise toward Him. Therefore, even the most simple truths... the ones that remain just on the surface... are the most beautiful.

Does this mean we shun teachings such as the sovereign grace of God? By no means! If its in the Bible, then God has purpose in revealing it to us for the glory of His Name and that of Christ Jesus, His Son. However, it means that there are times, like this morning, when my mind is so cluttered that it aches for something simple and pure. It aches for pure, unadulterated, Savior. My soul and mind long for nothing else than the simple message of Bread from heaven. Battling what doctors call "obsessive compulsive disorder" (OCD), there are many days when that is all I have to cling to because my mind is so messed up. Seldom do I get to enjoy much more, in fact, but enjoyable it is! Even when I begin to obsess, anxiety sets in, and my thoughts/emotions do not come into line as I wish, there is something that comforts deeper than these. It tells me, "rest". For this I thank God.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Gospel is Not a "How To" Thing

This is perhaps the primary objection I have to all of those "how to become a Christian" step-wise Gospel tracts we see. They are everywhere. I have heard people say to me, "well its ok to present the Gospel like that, so long as its Biblical." That is a loaded statement. First of all, presenting the Gospel as a list of instructions is inherently un-Biblical. Secondly, the only way we could say it is Biblical is to say that some of the content is derived from Scripture. But most of them are derived from Scripture. How many times have you seen John 3:16 or Rev 3:20 quoted on one of these things? Its like a cookie-cutter instruction manual.

This whole thing betrays the fact that the Gospel is a proclamation of truth. It is called "the Word of truth" or the "message of truth". It is not a proposal of terms, a list of demands for surrender, or an instruction-list to gain eternal life. This would seem to make the Gospel into some type of new, easier-to-follow, Law. Ironically, this is often how the Gospel is portrayed today.

Check out 1 Cor 15. Paul essentially recaps the Gospel. There is not one mention of us having to do something. Look at Paul's preaching in Acts 13. Again, its all about Christ. There is the promise given concerning all who believe, and then a warning is given. Even in Acts 2, though Peter commands the crowd to repent and be baptized, notice that the Gospel had already done its work in their hearts. The message is primarily a record of what God has done in Christ. John calls it the "testimony that God has given concerning His Son. " (1 John 5:10)

Imagine if the Gospel was truly a list of instructions. How could I be sure I was sincere enough in following them? How could I be sure I had followed them completely? How could I know? I should test myself again and again against my checklist and still never have comfort. I can believe Christ died for my sins, but what rest is there if I am persuaded that the entirety of my eternal state hinges upon me following a few steps? The only comfort comes in knowing that what the Gospel proclaims is true -objectively true, undefilable by men. It comes in the promise of mercy to all who hide under His wings. This is not an instruction for men to "stand here, under these", but a call to those who see that no thing they do, no list of steps followed, no action of theirs, will make them right with God Almighty.

Oh, how intent we are upon getting people to "respond" to the Gospel, not acknowledging that the Gospel itself is the "power of God unto salvation" for all who believe (Rom 1). It is not the response that saves! We could force a man, at gunpoint, to "respond" in a certain way, but his soul would be just as lost. We could encourage the proper emotions, the proper sincerity, but still it would be nothing. The Spirit converts men. The Spirit reveals sin and reveals Christ.
Who Gets What?

I probably complain too much. People reading these (all two of them) may start to wonder, "why is the only thing that he writes about the modern church bad?" Well, honestly... I can try to think of things that are really good about the American church movement on a general level, but I could go for days without really finding anything. I hate being such a naysayer, but I guess I hope that someone, somewhere, might be provoked to think below the surface a bit and that change would occur -even in one person, by God's dear grace. If God happened to use something I said to help facilitate this, then I am joyous beyond words. But still -regardless of what happens- I believe God is glorified when His truth is presented. It cuts through the fog like a knife. So, anyway... blah blah. Enough about this. What is my point in this morning's blog?

Who gets what? I'll try to keep this brief. There are obviously different parts of God's Word. There are sections that deal with what we ought to be doing, and don't do. Then there are sections that deal with what Jesus did for us. Theologians usually refer to these as Law and Gospel, respectively. The problem is that our modern churches usually chop this into sections -depriving one group of one section, and depriving another group from the other. (what the heck is he talking about, right?)

It usually goes like this: if we find out someone is an unbeliever, we strive with them, hand them tracts about what Jesus did, and tailor our speech, our messages, our preaching to be "evangelistic", as we call it. This means we tell them things like "Jesus died for your sins", and "God loves you", and "God has a wonderful plan for your life" (from the dreaded Four Spiritual Laws). Then, when the church is faced with believers, the focus of our message switches to moral improvement, what God expects of us, and how to be better people. It becomes, for all intents and purposes, Law -though Law that is watered down so that its demands are not a strict as Scripture teaches and the threatenings are virtually non-existent.

The problem is that the Bible almost does something very different. Before the Gospel is given to unbelievers, they must have dealt the sternness of the Law or the Gospel will mean nothing. An example: the rich young ruler. Read the section about the rich young ruler and how Jesus spoke to the man. Imagine if someone came to our church this morning and said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" We would say, "believe these 4 things and pray and ask for it, and you have it." But notice that Jesus did the opposite. Jesus pointed the man to the Law so that his sin would be revealed to him and he would see that he cannot do anything to save himself! Similarly, to believers we give almost nothing but moral instruction, yet Paul expresses, in the beginning of his epistle to the Romans, how he longed to come to them to preach the Gospel!

Those are just two small examples. Unbelievers need to hear the Law. They need it to reveal their sin and need of a Savior. Believers need to hear the Gospel, repeatedly, for our entire Christian walk is founded upon the Gospel and walking by faith in the Savior who loved us and gave Himself for us. And when we do hear the Law, it must be in its true force. Essentially, we must preach the entire Word to both and let the Spirit work, rather than clipping pieces off to try and do the work of the Spirit.

Ahhh. Oh well. Another rant for the blog ;). How comfortable we have become with our Churchianity. Its pretty sad. I pray God wouuld send a bolt from heaven to awaken his slumbering saints to vigilance and proclamation of the whole Word of God. I know its gonna hurt, but we need it!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Relevant Messages

Ok, I wrote a really long blog on this issue, but I lost it when trying to publish! So I will try to summarize what I wrote. Basically, the notion of "relevant messages" pisses me off because of what it generally entails. Yes, this is a rant. Many churches boast of having "relevant messages", but what do they mean by that?

rel·e·vant (rl-vnt) adj.
Having a bearing on or connection with the matter at hand.

What, then, is the "matter at hand"? Well, it is ME. We want to hear about us. We are relevant to us -our lives, our success, our day-to-day. A message on marriage, nurturing children, how to be more successful, how to be more blessed, how to be more of this or that, is "relevant". We want to know how this teaching can help us right now. What else? Cultural issues are relevant. Abortion, alcoholism, homosexuality, divorce, marriage, teen pregnancy, premarital sex -these are all "relevant" issues, and this is what we get. The irony is... does it really help? Why, with all of the endless preaching on marriage, are divorce rates higher among Christians than ever? I mean, with all of this relevant moralistic preaching, you would think it would be showing some results, right? And certainly, it does help some because these things are good in and of themselves. But this is not what Bible preaching is about. This is not preaching "Christ and Him crucified" as the apostle said.

The other thing that irks me about this is what it says about preaching that is primarily about Jesus, and not us. If preaching these "relevant" messages is more relevant, then that means preaching teaching about Christ (commonly called "doctrine") is less relevant or even irrelevant? I almost can't think of anything more blasphemous. The most relevant message is the one that streams through the pages of Scripture -that we are fallen sinners, rebels against God, and that God in His grace has sent His Son to be Savior and Lord and redeem with His blood men from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. The relevant message is that there is a Savior for me, a terrible sinner, and that all who take refuge in Him, including myself, are saved by virtue of His blood and righteousness. I'm sorry, but that message never gets old and never loses relevance. All other messages flow from this. Marriage, for the Christian, is meaningless apart from the Person of Christ who lived and died outside of us. And what are we trying to do by feeding ourselves with this empty moralism? Are we trying to live by the Law? "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law," as the apostle Paul reminds us.

The life we seek, the true relevance, is Christ on the cross and nothing else. If this is not relevant enough for you, then I pray that the Lord would hand you over to the Law so that you would see your true state.
Tough Words!

"If any man doth ascribe of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright." (Martin Luther)

"Free will carried many a soul to hell, but never a soul to heaven" (C. H. Spurgeon)

Now, I understand that these are not quotes from Scripture. They are quotes from mere men. But I do believe they represent a Biblical fact, and if these men are right then ponder how many who use the name "Christian", who go to church every week, who do all the "right things", who read all the "right books", are sitting under the wrath of God! Think of how many are self-deceived at this very moment! It is not for us to guess who is saved and unsaved, but it is our duty to proclaim the truth, and this truth must be proclaimed. If any man believes that by his own act he has caused himself to be saved, then he does not know Jesus the Savior. Harsh words, I know!

Of course, there are many out there who are true Christians and ignorant of the deeper levels of issues such as free will, merit, and the like. These simply know that the Savior has saved them and in His blood alone they hide. These words are not spoken to them, though perhaps as an exhortation to take every opportunity to learn of the grace of God in Christ Jesus which has elected, redeemed, drawn, justified, and glorified us.

These words are to those who, under the fog of false religion, do claim to belong to Christ yet essentially ascribe their salvation to an act of their own. Rather than pointing to the Gift of Christ, their plea is "I have done this, therefore I am safe". They may speak of Christ, of faith, of justification, but these are empty if the person rests upon his own doing -whether it be the "act of faith", a "decision", or a dedication of oneself to Christ. These are hollow shells to rest upon, and in the day of judgment they will crumble like broken eggshells.

What, then, are we to believe? Aren't we justified by faith, and faith is our act? Being justified by faith, in Biblical terms, is shorthand for saying we are justified by Christ whom we embrace through faith. To go even further, the reality is that faith is actually a gift of God -His embrace of us! Our broken will is repaired and Christ is seen for the first time as the glorious Savior we need, and the inevitable result is that we cling to Him for dear life. So, it is one thing to believe that all you need for life (righteousness, reconcilliation, atonement for sin) lies in the Person and work of Christ (and very true). It is quite a different thing -a mirage of works-righteousness- to believe that Christ has done His part and now, by the power of our own free will, we do that small part which causes us to be saved. Again, there is a large difference between seeing your life as being in the Bread and eating as a starving beggar and seeing your life as being contained in your act of eating. The gulf is too wide to even see across.

I pray that someone reading these tough words will search the Scriptures. I pray they will take another look at John 3 and John 6, where it speaks of being born of the Spirit and how "that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit". I pray that they will see where Christ says that the "flesh avails nothing!" and think about these things. I pray that eyes would be opened via the Spirit working through God's Word and that the idol of self and self-salvation would be destroyed.