Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Interacting with those who are not like-minded

I have been dealing with this, personally, as of late. Sometimes I become frustrated with those I am interacting with, and sometimes I am frustrated with myself or angry because I feel that I have failed, and sometimes I just get my feelings hurt because of sheer pride. The things below are thigns I need to remind myself of when interacting with, or preparing to interact with others, especially Christians, who are not like-minded on some of the things I hold so dear.

1. At worst you will probably be labeled a heretic, a blasphemer, and thrown out of the house. At best, they will probably still think you are out of your mind. All humans, by nature, oppose and suppress God's truth. Why should it be any different in this case?

2. Christ is glorified wherever His truth is presented, even if it is rejected and those who present it are ridiculed.

3. It really isn't about you. If your goal is anything other than proclaiming the truth which you love, for the sake of Christ, then don't even bother. Its really about the proclamation of His truth which, as the Bible tells us, does not go out and return void. Even in the foolishness of men God is glorified -and that is what our best attempts are compared to His majesty: foolishness.

4. Even if you present it perfectly and are not stumped by any objections they raise of Scripture verses they appeal to, they will probably still not be convinced and think you are nuts.

Yes, there are times when the Spirit of God moves and opens eyes in a sudden manner, but I have to realize that it very often doesn't happen over night. I sometimes get this mental image of myself busting through the gates, Bible in hand, proclaiming the truth, citing Scripture, exegeting the Word, and blowing away the objections of those I am interacting with. They are so overwhelmed by the clarity of my presentation and the Scriptures themselves that they announce, "Oh my! I was so wrong! Praise God!" Makes me want to be sick to look at it, but that is the kind of attitude that often overtakes me. If that resembles your idea you can get it out of your head right now. Interaction should be prepared in prayer and must be executed in prayer, and the "progress" is often not something we can even see or measure. If someone does not agree with you, it is usually for a reason they feel to be very compelling. Our job is to patiently, lovingly, and prayerfully chip away at the un-Biblical assumptions they cling to that hinder their acceptance of Biblical truth. And in the end, we are but dull instruments in the hands of the Holy Spirit. It is He who brings light, so let us be humbled and seek His help.

Father, grant me patience that I may not become upset with those who resist your truth. Grant me love, that I may speak to them in love, as brothers and sisters, in displaying Your truth. Grant me humility that I may not see them as less than myself for denying it or not seeing it. Grant me wisdom that I may be able to give an answer and point to Your Word alone in answering their questions and objections. Grant me child-like faith, that I may trust in Your Sovereign hand no matter how well or poorly the interaction goes or how well or poorly I defend your truth. And in all of this, grant to me that I may trust in you humbly even when I am utterly defeated before the eyes of those who resist these things. In Christ's name, Amen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Basics of the Law/Gospel Distinction

Considering I was just asked to explain this to a good Christian friend, I thought I would jot down a few notes for myself and anyone else who reads. What does the Law/Gospel distinction mean and why is it important? Here are just a few things to ponder.

The Law/Gospel distinction is about giving each, Law and Gospel, its own proper office. They musn't be confused. We don't preach the Law as if it was Gospel -so that if we obey the Law to a certain extent God will be favorable toward us. And we don't preach the Gospel as if it is Law -so that God is favorable to us in response to us fulfilling certain requirements that He reveals to us in the Gospel. This distinction necessarily holds true for the unbeliever and the believer alike. The distinction is one in the Word of God, not in the individual. The Law shows us what righteousness is, shows what God expects, commands and prohibits things, and condemns those who violate them. The Gospel reveals to us a righteousness that God gives freely to sinners: the righteousness of Christ, external to us. It comes to give us something. It is ours as a gift from God by grace alone, grasped by a bankrupt and empty hand. The Law crushes our pride in self and drives away from ourselves to seek life from above. The Gospel reveals this life which is freely given from above in Jesus Christ. The Law is concerned with what is in us, but the Gospel is concerned with Christ Jesus and His doings, which are wholly outside of us yet for us. The Law requires and threatens: "cursed is everyone who does not obey all the things written in the book of the Law" (Gal 3). The Gospel gives and consoles: "I am the Bread of Life... everyone who feeds upon this Bread will live forever" (John 6).

The Law/Gospel distinction, despite what some have wrongly inferred, does not mean that Christians have nothing to do with God's Law . There is a very real sense in which it is true that we have nothing to do with the Law as Christians. We are described as being dead to the Law so that its dominion no longer is over us (Rom 7:1-6). There is no condemnation for those who are truly in Christ (Rom 8:1). The Law, as a rule of weighing and condemning us before God's justice, is dead to us. Yet, it is also true that the we, as Christians, are new creatures in Christ created unto good works which God prepared for us beforehand (Eph 2). The Law is profitable for instruction in righteousness -to show us, who as believers have the Law written upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:33), what righteousness truly is as the Spirit leads us into holiness and putting to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom 8, Gal 5).

Thus, if each object, Law and Gospel, are held in their proper offices then the Gospel is preserved and there is no boasting save in Christ alone. The heart that is humbled by the Law is freed by Christ to belong to Him in love, service, and gratitude rather than fear of punishment, self-righteously exalting oneself over a brother, or perversely making God out to be our Debtor.

A practical application of this can be seen in living the Christian life. What are we do to with a Christian once they come to grips with the fact that they still cannot obey the Law and therefore are still unrighteous in themselves? Well, a confusion over the proper office of Law and Gospel might lead to the conclusion that we must tell these Christians to try harder. We must impress upon them the weight of their responsibility as Christians to live a holy life. However, properly distinguishing Law and Gospel leads us to the very Biblical conclusion that the miserable Christian sinner, in a manner not much different from an unbelieving sinner, should abandon their own righteousness and flee to Christ. See Paul's answer to his own inabilities as a Christian in Romans 7 for an example of this. His answer is Christ and Christ alone. We can say that in this case the Law has done its work. It has shown the Christian what righteousness is and what a holy life looks like, and in the process it has crushed him because it exposed how badly he still falls short. So then, the Law revealed sin and in so doing has sent him looking for a righteousness upon which to stand, having shattered his confidence in his own. The only righteousness upon which any man can stand is found outside of us in Christ as presented in the Gospel. To Christ he flees and, in now quieted conscience, is enlivened and freed to live boldly in service and love for Christ

Preserving the proper distinction between Law and Gospel destroys legalism. It also leads to men and women in Christ who are led by love in service to Christ and others rather than guilt and fear. It leads to humility because it rightly preserves God's place in saving sinners while at the same time Biblically portraying our inability (rather than underplaying it). Why does it do these things? Because it is the Biblical teaching on the matter. It is the backbone of the Christian faith, in many regards. And where this distinction is absent -even if it is present in name- there is a fog that obscures the grace of God in Christ.
The Necessity of a Consistent Hermeneutic

I am so far from being a Biblical scholar its silly, but I thank God that He has shown me early on in my Christian walk how essential it is to have a proper and systematic way to approach and interpret Scripture -even if after all is said and done I still don't know what the particular passage means. This is what we mean by a "hermeneutic". In general, I believe the proper manner in which Scripture should be interpreted goes something like this:

Let the meaning of the passage, and the individual words in the passage, be defined by their immediate context.

This is a hard one to stick to, especially when we are faced with a doctrine we are not comfortable with. I see and read this a lot when people are faced with passages such as John 6:44-45. It seems offensive to think that the only reason anybody comes to Christ is because God draws them, and as a result they actually do come! No, the tendency is to jump to another verse somewhere else to explain this "difficult passage" away. But this is just a shallow escape route. Some may wish to be "appealing to the broader context of Scripture" when faced with a difficult passage. This is fine provided the "broader context" is defined Biblically, as well. And how do we arrive at this "broader context", by the way? We arrive at it by looking at passages in their *immediate context* to determine their meaning. Again, back to the original hermeneutic. Often times when one makes the plea of the "broader context" excuse, it means something more like, "lets look at verses that seem to support my tradition because I've always been told that they do without ever exegeting them in their own context first." It means they do not want to be bound, for whatever reason, to the clear teaching of the text so a frantic escape to somewhere else seems like a good idea.

Sticking to a consistent hermeneutic like the one stated above avoids many problems. Just to name a few:

a. it avoids the problem of looking up a phrase in the New Testament, for example, and assuming that the phrase must have the same meaning, by default, in every other usage. It is common to do this. Just grab strongs concordance or something and blammo -read the definition in wherever you see the word used. But this is foolish to do. No, the immediate context must influence and determine the meaning of the word as it is used in the passage in question. Example: the word "world" is so often assumed to mean "every single person who ever lived and who will ever live" that its not even funny, but an honest cursory look at the New Testament, even in the writings of John alone, will show a variety of meaning. Is the world that Jesus *does not pray for* in John 17 the same thing as the world in John 3:16? Follow the logical conclusions from assuming that to be the case.

b. it avoids the problem of assuming meanings of words or phrases based upon our preconceived ideas, whether we realize them or not. A classic example, similar to the previous problem, is the phrase "all" or "all men". Without even looking at the context or the logical implications of what our supposed meaning would lead to, it is often assumed that "all" and "all men" mean the quantitative entirety of humanity to the level of each individual human, personally. Of course, this is silly when we read such passages as Acts 22:15 -

"You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. "

Was Paul being sent to be God's witness to every single person who ever lived, including Adam, Abraham, Cain, Nebuchadnezzar, Pharoah, and the multitudes of people never even heard of in Scripture? Of course not. He is speaking of all kinds of men -not just the rich, not just the Jewish, not just poor, either. All men.

c. it avoids misapplying pronouns. When we see pronouns such as "us" or "we" or "them", do we track back the line of thought in the immediate context to see whom the writer is speaking of, or do we assume that "us" means all people, including unbelievers, for example? Again, sticking to a consistent hermeneutic such as stated above makes this error less sustainable.

d. it avoids Scripture bouncing. This is what I wrote about in the beginning of this post. If we don't like where the teaching is leading, many of us like to bounce to some other "safe" Scripture verses to counteract the teaching in a particular verse we may have trouble with. Of course, the "safe" verse probably has never been held to this systematic approach to interpretation either, never been exegeted in its context, so its really just a blanket of deception to protect our blessed belief-system.


Of course, this does not make us perfect Bible-interpreters. As long as sin lives in us we will resist and obscure the teachings of Scripture in some way. The Spirit of God alone is our Teacher, but we are responsible to study the Word and divide it rightly, so let us use a little common sense and develop a system of study which lets the Bible speak for itself. What I have briefly outlined above is extremely basic and certainly nothing new, but it is a place to start for sure.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Forgiveness

There are times when I have a hard time forgiving someone -or when I am not really sure how I should or can do such a thing. I realize I can be very judgmental, and it bothers me to see it. A few things, obvious things, have come to mind as of late regarding this subject.

First, I am more judgmental and less forgiving when I cannot see myself essentially being the same way as that person I am condemning or refusing to forgive. I am, at that moment, blind to how truly sinful I am, and often in the same manner that I am finding so much fault with in this other person. I may say, "oh, and I know I do the same thing", but until I really grasp that I actually do the same thing or think the same way then I will not forgive that person. Indeed, I will not be able to. While the Spirit tells me that I ought to, because it is good, my flesh insists upon not for reasons of self-justification. My flesh likes to play God and determine who deserves mercy and who does not and for what reason. When we do not impute sins to our neighbor, it only comes as a result of a heart that is free of any alleged righteousness in self. Of course, after saying all this, we could just read Jesus' words about the speck in our brother's eye versus the plank in our own eye. I don't think Jesus meant, "well... before you go condemn your brother, make sure you are clear so they can't condemn you back." No, I know for a fact He means that we should look at ourselves first, with true Spirit-driven honesty, and we will be much more gracious toward our brothers and sisters.

Second, forgiveness must be free. I know the typical line of thought goes one of two ways: a) you forgive them when they have turned to you in contrition, or b) you forgive them apart from their experience for your benefit alone... so that you will not have it hanging over you. I think both of those really smack of human pride. Why should we forgive and why does any man truly forgive the way God forgives in the first place? Because they see how God has freely forgiven them.

This is one of the really practical implications of Reformed soteriology -or even Reformation theology. We see that God doesn't forgive us because we did something first. He isn't gracious to us because we turned to Him or sought Him out. He is gracious to us freely. The very reason we do seek Him out is because He has first sought us out and now draws us to Himself. Realizing this is one of the most humbling and freeing things. Imagine... grace with no strings attached. Imagine, husbands, being gracious to your wife for no reason that exists within her. Wives, imagine doing the same for your husband, without any regard to how they have treated you recently. Let us all pray for humility and love so that we may forgive and be gracious, long-suffering, patient, and gentle with others.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Cursed!

"All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”" (Gal 3:10)

This is a fact that is hard to stomach by the pride of man. The religious scoff at it or try to trim the edges off. They say, "but surely Paul must only mean the ceremonial Law," or "surely Paul must not mean everything." They believe, in their delusion, that the ones who are cursed are the ones who are worse than most and that they, if they give enough of a sincere effort to do right and love God, are excused from this. But this is not the case. Those who hold themselves to be apart from religion -which is nothing other than creating a private religion of idols of our own- may say, "Law? I am a moral man, and the curse of God does not scare me. I do not pretend to be great like those religious folks, but I am certainly doing my best to be right." How vainly we lie to ourselves! We flatter ourselves in ways that go beyond number -all to avoid the inevitable conclusion that the God, the only True God, is a God who is holy and requires His creatures to "be Holy as [He is] Holy." What is the standard of holiness, of righteousness? It is not the myth we create in our own mind. It is the Law of God. Cursed is everyone -no exceptions- who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law". There are four observations I wish us to consider.

1. Cursed. What does it mean to be cursed? To be brief, it means much more than being denied God's favor. It means we are the objects of His cursing, His wrath. We are sworn enemies of His holiness. Rather than being blessed, we are cursed. Yes, we live through many material and physical blessings, thanks be to God's common grace among men upon earth, but as creatures before God's throne we are vile, abominable, and the mere presence of a cursed one in the sight of God demands exacting, swift, and thorough retribution and wrath. Yet, I believe, after all of this, that the curse goes beyond this. If we think of the curse that fell upon man in Adam, it was a curse concerning far more than eternal judgment. We are also under a curse in that our hearts are darkened. We are "dead in our trespasses and sins" in comparison to being "made alive in Christ" (Eph 2). We are in bondage to our sin -our wills are bound to corruption and are enmity against God.

2. Everyone. Not one is excluded. All who rely upon their works before God are under a curse because to rely upon our works is to pridefully assume God is our debtor. We can deny this, but it is true: we are good because we expect something in return for it. Perhaps we expect to gain God's favor, or man's favor, or even just to clear our consciences and feel we are doing something good for a change. Many who have battled with societal sins (alcholism, lust, adultery, etc.) take this route in attempt to make themselves feel better for their past mistakes, but it is just heaping lies upon lies. Not a single one is missed -everyone who does not measure up to God's righteous standard deserves pure wrath -not blessing. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."(Rom 3:20) Not a single one is missed.

3. Who does not continue. Imagine, if you will, that we could in fact obey God's Law for a day, or even a week, or even 20 years. Imagine that we obeyed perfectly, not out of malice, pride, trying to save our own skin from the fire of His judgment, but purely and perfectly out of love and gratitude to God -which is the only true fulfillment of the Law. All it would take is one moment of sin, one lie, one moment of ill-motive, of hatred, of jealousy, of false humility, of self-idolatry, of shifting our eyes and our heart away from the Sovereign God for even a moment, and we are under the curse of God. Everyone who does not continue in these things is cursed.

4. Everything written in the Law. What is it that the cursed one does not continue in? Everything written in the Law. There is not one command, one requirement, one prohibition that is overlooked. God revealed it, and it stands forever. Is has been counted that there are well over 600 commands and prohibitions in the Scriptures. We can narrow them to 10, the Ten Commandments, but they can be narrowed even more. The two great commands, according to Jesus, sum up the Law. They are:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

To think that the Law can be summarized in such a way is difficult to grasp, unless we even begin to see what these commands entail. They do not speak of some bare obedience, some legal obedience. They speak of heart obedience -from a heart that is 100% selfless, perfectly loves God, and perfectly loves neighbor. This heart produces the deeds that accompany such love. Truly, do any of us, namely you, my reader, love God with all of yoru heart and soul and strength? Even if we imagine that we love God, can we not also confess that our heart is divided? Our mind is divided? Our soul is still pulled by lusts and desires that we know are wrong? We must confess that even if we have loved God with a great deal of heart, it is not all of our heart. And when it comes to God's Law and the sternness of His requirements, do we love these requirements? Even if God took these requirements and expectations away, would we still love them and wish to do them? Even if they were taken away and we lived in solitude before God, would we, knowing that God looks not upon them and judge us, still love to do them for the sake of loving God alone? We must confess this is not the case.


Lastly in this passage, the apostle Paul emphasizes, in quoting this part of the Old Testament, that all of those who rely upon works of the Law remain under the curse. Why is that? We have already established that the Law puts everyone under the curse of God, for not one single man of the race of Adam continues in all ways with all perfect and all love to do them. But Paul has said this because there is a great salvation. There is such a thing. There is a Savior, Jesus, who came and obeyed this Law without flaw. He did so perfectly, with boundless love for the Father and for neighbor. There was not an ounce of darkness or selfishness in Him, and this is exactly why He could then be delivered up to death, death upon the cross -the death upon the tree which is cursed in the Scriptures- as the spotless Lamb for the sins of all who draw near to God through Him alone -making perfect peace with God's justice. And thus, everyone who believes upon Him and abandons their hold upon their own goodness shall be saved for His sake. Some shall now say, "Yes, this is good, a Savior. With His help I will be favored by God." No, to rely upon our own righteousness in any part nullifies this great grace. This is why Paul still says "all who rely upon obseving the Law". To rely upon any goodness within us, even in the smallest regard, is still to reliance upon self. It is those who rely upon Christ alone, those who see the severity of this curse, how they justly fall under it, and give up upon their own goodness, who are saved because of His obedience to the Law, His atonement through His death for their sins, and His bodily resurrection from the dead in their place. I read a great quote once that I cannot place, but it said something like, "Jesus alone saves, and He saves alone."

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Dead, But Alive to Be United To Another

1 Do you not know, brothers–for I am speaking to men who know the law–that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. 3 So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man. 4 So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. 5 For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:1-6)

I was listening to this in the car and something obvious struck me about the extent of Paul's analogy with marriage. We have died to the Law, he says, and uses the analogy of a woman who is bound to her husband, and then the husband dies and she is free from that Law which bound them in order to marry another.

First observation: we, who have died to the Law, are typified in the woman and the man of this analogy in different senses. At first I was confused by this -trying to say that we were either one or the other, but I see that to say are released to the Law because someone or something we were bound to died betrays the fact that Paul says it is us who died through Christ's death -not someone or something else. We were under Law, but now something has happened which resulted in us being freed from that Law. The point is, the Law does not bind us like this anymore. We, like the husband, have died. We, like both the husband and wife, and therefore released from the Law that bound them both. Lastly, we, like the woman who has been released and lives, is no longer condemned for breaking what formerly was governing over her.

Second observation: once the woman is free from the Law in her marriage to her husband, who is now dead, she is free to marry another. Likewise, we, who are free from the Law are now united to Another -for, that is the very purpose of our release. Paul says "so that you might belong to another" just as the woman who was freed is not an adulteress even though she marries another.

It seems like an odd analogy because it involves two people in various roles -one who dies, the husband (Which we would assume would make him a type of us), both who are released from the Law (both wife and husband, just like us), yet the wife, who remains alive, is free unto something else -unto union with another (which is definitely us). So, while it seems a little odd at first, the analogy actually highlights every aspect of this great spiritual truth. We die, we are therefore released, but now, being released, we are united to Another. This is what Pauls talks about in verses 4-6. We died to the Law through the body of Christ -ie. we died because of our vicarious union with Christ who actually died in our place- and therefore are relased from it so that we "might belong to another, to Him who was raised from the dead." And this new relationship is marked with grace, and gratitude, and love -which results in the bearing of fruit.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Grace Sought Me, Not I Sought Grace

I read something written by Dave Hunt recently via e-mail. It was from the Berean Call e-newsletter or something. The jist of the article was "Noah found grace." There were actually a number of things presented quite well that I agree with whole-heartedly, but this main thrust of the article stood out a bit. What is the danger in simply stopping there, with "Noah found grace", and ignoring what the Bible says about the only reason men seek God's face? Well, it makes it sound like Noah was the only smart one, to be honest. I immediately think of Noah being pious, humble, obedient, and sensitive to God's Word. And he was, I'm sure... but why? Is this the reason Noah "found grace?" or does it go much, much deeper than this?

If I am saved because I sought God's grace and my neighbor who hates Christ is not because he did not, then this basically says that the difference between me and my unsaved neighbor is something that resides within me. Ultimately, the fact that I am saved and he is not rests upon something I did and he did not do. So am I smarter to seek God's grace? Am I more righteous? Am I more spiritual? Am I more sensitive to God's Word? Am I less rebellious or obstinate because I chose, perhaps even just this one time, to turn and seek God's mercy? "No, of course not," you will say, but that is what it is saying. The distinguishing factor is something positive in me that my neighbor lacks, or something negative in my neighbor that I lack. Truly, I would have something to boast about and reason to see myself as better than my neighbor. Sure, I would see that I am a sinner just like him, but in the end I am saved and in a right relationship with God because I did the right thing, and he is not because he refused to. I sought grace... he did not. I followed directions and was a good listener, like a good boy, and he was not.

[Incidentally, I asked a Christian friend this same question and jokingly they replied, "They didn't turn to God because they are stupid, I guess." I know they were joking, but it illustrates how this way of thinking does lead to the conclusion that we are the reason we are saved.]

The thing is the Bible does not stop there, so we should not -even if it offends our sensibilities. Actually, we should not stop especially because it does offend our humanistic sensitibilities. The Bible *does* tell us why men turn to God, why they come to Christ, why they seek mercy, why they flee to Him for refuge. It is because God did a special work in them to remove the blinders and show them how wicked they are in light of His holiness. It is because God removed the heart of stone and gave them a heart of flesh (Eze 36:26). It is because God granted them repentance and faith. He granted them to see their need for a Savior, and then showed them the only true Savior. This is why men seek God's face, why they "find grace" (like Noah). No man seeks God unless God has first sought him. God gives the man the "change of heart". The Potter works freely with His clay -and imagine this, He does so without our permission!!! (*gasp*)

No, it is not because of "free will". Our wills are not free. That is a devilish myth. They are enslaved to our sinful natures. This is why no man, without his will being effectually changed by God, seeks God's face. "No man seeks after God," Paul reminds us. All men are born in the flesh, and the mind in the flesh is hostile toward God. Yes, that's right. The mind in the flesh is not even able to submit to Him. This is not about permission -its about ability. The unconverted man is not able to seek God because he is not willing to... he does not want to. He is not willing to because God is his enemy, by nature. He is hostile to God. God is seen as a threat to the flesh's autonomy and idolatry. It is only when God crushes the flesh and converts the sinner, regenerating his fallen will, that the sinner turns to Him and embraces His mercy. Conversion is something God does -not something we do, and not even something we are cooperative in. God asks no permission. He calls us from death to life perfectly just as Jesus rose Lazarus from the dead. Imagine Jesus asking the dead Lazarus, "ok, are you sure you want to be alive?" No. Jesus said, to the dead body, "Come forth!" and Lazarus rose. Praise God that His call to us was that effectual, and we are not still in the dark, dead, hating Christ, and seeking to justify ourselves and dethrone God.

Grace is not just an initiating power which sits offered on a table. It is, in our cases and in this circumstance, an efficient power. It is not just God's disposition of willingness to accept an undeserving one into favor. It involves God's efficient power in bringing them into that favor. Indeed, we have a purpose-driven God who will not fail in all that He purposes, and all glory in our coming into favor and salvation is owed to Him alone.
Why I Don't Care About "One Nation Under God"

These days its extremely fashionable for Christians -even nominal Christians- to become irate over the idea of "One Nation Under God" being stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance. I really think it is a total waste of time. Are we a nation under God? Well, we are a nation, among others, under God's sovereign rule and providence, but other than that... what makes us "under God?" We hate God, and that is quite evident by how we live and what we find important. If anything, the issue is another of Satan's clouds of comfiness that he throws toward human religiosity. We, as humans, feel united and like we are doing something good if we band together over something like this. Things like the Gospel, the inerrancy of Scripture, the Sovereign Kingship of God, the Deity of Christ all become blurred lines so long as we all agree that "One nation under God" must remain part of the Pledge.

To me, removing the phrase from the Pledge will be the first step in honesty this country has taken. We aren't under God, unless it benefits us or gives us a warm fuzzy feeling about nostalgia, and morals, and what makes this country great. Listen, we live in a country where babies are killed, people of the same gender are having sex with one another and now want to be able to redefine the covenant of marriage, and those of the "conservative right" who are considered people of God are either completely indistinguishible from the world or so full of self-righteousness and legalism that they just give the world more reason to laugh. This country is anything *but* "under God", and I think it is a great first step to admit that.

Next time someone says, "Did you hear about that court ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance?" or the next time I get one of those bogus e-petitions about something like that, I may respond with... "Hey, did you realize that the reason these things are taking place is because we, as a collective nation, AREN'T people who love God? We have created a god we are comfortable with and really couldn't give a rat's ass about the true God. We are enemies of God, no matter how much we wish to flatter ourselves. Did you realize that while we sit here, discussing back and forth about the Pledge of Allegiance, people -even ones who are for "one nation under God" staying- still hate God and are ignorant of His righteousness?" God is not on the "side" of a nation that hates His righteousness, scorns His judgment, and mocks His sovereignty. We live in a land of "me-first" and its all about our autonomy. If ever we came to admit that God is the only One truly free, then I can only imagine what would happen... riots, more violence, but only repentance if God so graciously granted to us. Yeah, its sad to see God being removed from every arena of government and education, but what did you expect? Honestly, how long did you expect the lie to keep going?

Lets skip this nonsense and get to the real issue. Legislation only goes so far. The problem is that we are fallen people with sick hearts. The problem is that the visible church in this nation is complacent, lazy, out of focus, dead, and too concerned with trivial moral issues or their own personal spiritual success, thier own "shape", to get to the real issue. We are so obsessed with self that we wouldn't know the truth if it bit our bulbous, purpose-driven rear-end off. The apostles turned the ancient world upside down, by God's grace, through the proclamation of the Word of God... the judgment of God against sin, and the grace of God in Jesus Christ revealed in the Gospel. I think that is a good place, and the only place, to start.

In some way, even though it frightens me, I welcome the horrible changes that will inevitably happen in our nation. I welcome the persecution that will probably come. I honestly think it won't be very long until those who really proclaim the truth are forced to go under-ground. I am glad that the Church will be persecuted, because perhaps it will wake us up a bit. It will separate the wheat from the chaff. It will snap us out of our fluff of lullabye sentimentalism and self-absorption. Suddenly, finding our "purpose" won't be so important. Suddenly, the only thing that will really be important is the only thing we have left to hang on to: Jesus Christ, our Savior, the crucified One.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Confession

So there I was in the shower tonight... pondering my sins of the day, and turning to God and praying, "O God, I hate these sins. Please, forgive me, please, for the sake of Jesus. Please, for His name's sake..." And then my soul paused, as usual, as if to wait for some kind of subjective communication or response that lets me "feel" like I am forgiven. Of course, it never really comes, so I just move on hanging onto His promise -such as 1 John 1:9.

Then it dawned on me all of the sudden. That is not what it means to confess our sins. It does not mean we squirm before God pleading for forgiveness and waiting for a response. To confess means simply to acknowledge, assent, concede, not refuse, or declare. It means to not hide them. It means that, unlike Adam in the garden, we acknowledge our nakedness and do not run and hide from God. Why on earth would we do this, being sinners? Because we know we have nothing to fear, having tasted God's free grace. Away with my works righteousness! The promise given in 1 John 1:9 is that we have an outlet for that which weighs on our conscience -that we may unload and concede our inability, even as the most seasoned and aged of believers, and rest in the arms of He who justifies the ungodly.

Maybe some of you reading this are like "yeah, I already knew that." If so, then good. But if you were like me and had the impression of confession as a thing you do -not a privelige- and involving some kind of pleading as if forgiveness is withheld until I do so, then like me, this is even more good news.

Confession, it seems, is a fruit of repentance. It is openness with God about our inability. It is the opposite of erecting a righteousness of our own. In loathing our sin, we assent to it and let go of our own alleged righteousness. So yes, I confess -I am a sinner. I am all of those wicked things I have done today, and yesterday, and the day before. I am unrighteous, my God, but You are faithful and gracious and just, in Christ Jesus, to forgive me... just as You promised. Amen.
God as Our Debtor

While reading that title, you may be shuddering at the mere thought of God being our debtor -and I hope so. But not many see how the implications of their beliefs make God a debtor. Why is this so important? Well, lets take a look.

First, we can see very clearly in Scripture that the Gospel of Jesus Christ -the good news of salvation, the only way of salvation and favor with God- is antithetical to anything that creates a situation of debt where God is somehow our debtor. A situation of debt of this kind means, in the most basic terms, that God is bound or obligated to do something in response to something we do. We do something, God is bound to respond a certain way.

Compare that idea to Paul's example of Abraham in chapter four of his epistle to the Romans. Paul is giving us an example of what faith is and how it is related to salvation and justifying righteousness (which is revealed in the Gospel: cf. Rom 1:17, Rom 3:21; Rom 10:1-10). Paul describes the one to whom righteousness is credited, the "blessed man" whose "sins the Lord will not count against him". Who is the blessed man? Verses 4-5 tell us.

4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.
5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited unto righteousness,

Both verses start out the same, in the Greek, but with one stark difference. Verse 5 includes the word "mey", which flips the meaning into the negative. There is a direct contrast between the one who works and the one who does not work but believes. There is no mingling of the two -just like a woman is either pregnant or not pregnant. There is no such thing as being partly pregnant. The first man who works creates a situation of debt. He performs certain duties, no matter how large or small, in order to receive something in return. This is not a gift, but a wage! However, the man who *does not work*, but *believes* (the opposite of working to create debt) is the man to whom God credits righteousness and does not count sin. Amazing, huh? So, the one who relies not upon their works but believes upon God who freely justifies on the basis of Christ, who is the sole foundation of our justification, is the blessed man who has favor with God. No wonder Paul says that there is "no boasting" in ourselves, but only in Christ Jesus and His cross! How can one boast when he has done nothing but only rests upon that which was freely promised?

Now, apply this, if you would, to things we see in our day. Think of all of the world religions, cultic groups, etc. Most of them have no place for Jesus, but even if they name His name in some way, the basic premise is the same: we somehow create a situation of debt which leads to God responding favorably. Not many would phrase it that way. In fact, most would vehemently deny it, but the beliefs speak differently. It doesn't matter if it is prayers, confessions, rituals, good works, our commitment to God, our surrender to God, our "faith" -if we hold these things as something which obligates God (even if we do not use that word) to respond to us with favor, we are believing a false gospel.

The scary thins is that this is rampant from within Christendom, as well. "Yes, we know... Roman Catholicism is like this." While that is true, I was actually referring to the various flavors of evangelical Christianity -at least Rome is up front about believing we must cooperate with God to a certain level and do works of penance for our sins for Him to accept them into His Kingdom. The evangelical variety, sadly, is much more sinister and deceptive. No, in evangelical Christianity we don't have those "idols" such as statues or crucifixes, but we have plenty of our own that can't be seen. Lets list a few: moralism, our "decision" for Christ, our "surrender", our alleged compliance with what it means to be a "good Christian". These are all things that many rely upon as the lever that pulls down God's favor. The act of "deciding for Christ" or "choosing to serve the Lord", we imagine, is that which God responds to and bestows salvation upon us. Our "making a commitment to Christ" or "asking Jesus into our hearts" is that one-time deed, though small, though only 1% of the entire equation, which results in God responding favorably and forgiving us. See, Jesus is apparently not enough to save. God can only give us our salvation in response to us doing what it is He asks -just that one little work. Blasphemous!

My prayer is that God smashes our idols -especially the ones that can't be seen. I pray that He shows us the futility of ever trying to create a situation of debt before God. I pray that He shows us that He is the One who justifies the ungodly, not those who are bad off, but not so bad off that they can't perform a single act, and perhaps add some moral reform to fix things for themselves. God is no man's debtor.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Mary as Mediator

There has been lots of controversy regarding the late Pope John Paul II. Some of this controversy has taken place within my family (most of whom are Roman Catholic). The point I try to make is not to judge whether or not the late pope is in heaven or not, but that the beliefs he defended are heretical and a denial of the true Gospel, which according to Scripture, is no gospel at all. To believe these things is a categorical rejection of the true Gospel by definition. They are mutally exclusive, and I will show, for the dogma of Mary as intercessor/mediator, how this does deny the Gospel.

For those interested, this has direct bearing on the late pope. On John Paul II's coat-of-arms was the inscription, "Totus Tuus sum Maria", which means, "Mary, I am totally yours". John Paul II credited Mary with his survival of an attempted assasination early in his papal ministry. He was ardently Marian -always pushing for devotion to Mary from within the Roman Church.

Many evangelicals are unaware of the seriousness of the Marian dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. Some think it is just an odd addition to the faith which is wrong, but doesn't necessarily destroy the rest. Others fight againt it vehemently but don't really know why.

Here is the meat of the matter: the Marian dogmas are the fruit of unbelief. Why? Because they insist that we need another advocate -one between man and Christ. Christ, being God, is fearful, Rome imagines, so we need an advocate with Him, as well. But this only says one thing: that the grace of Christ is hidden. If we see Christ as Savior, but also fear Him in this manner, then what is this descriptive of? It is descriptive of a system of co-salvation and human merit. If Christ is to be feared in this way, it is because there is some expectation of human merit which must be met. If we fear Him as unapproachable as sinners, then this means we have reason to fear. And if we have reason to fear, what is it? It must be that we may not be meeting our end of the equation. To be in awe of Christ and fall on our faces before His holiness is one thing which all Christians share. To add an advocate between us and Christ is to deny the Christian faith. Christ is the only Mediator, and He is a gentle One -a Savior for sinners, a Shepherd for the lost. To add an advocate between us and Him is an indicator of blindness to the free grace of Christ, and this is unbelief.

Praise God that He has given us sinners a Mediator -One full of grace and truth, One who was tempted in every point like we are, yet who did not sin. The true Christ calls those who despair in themselves and mediates for them, and His mediation, based upon the once-for-all sacrifice of Himself, perfects for all time those who draw near to God through Him. There is no other, and to add another -even in addition to Him or before Him- is to replace Him and disgrace His office as our High Priest and Mediator forever.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

More on the Letter Versus the Spirit

Some half-awake thoughts for you... Both the "oldness of the letter" and the "newness of the Spirit" have to do with what goes on inside rather than what goes on outside. It is seldom evident from our point of view which one of these drives a man. There are many "good" men who know nothing of the Spirit. They are involved in civic duties and works of charity. Nevertheless, I wish to contrast the two for our minds to soak up.

1. The man with the Spirit struggles against sin and the flesh. This is a sure consolation for the weary saint. If the Spirit was not present, why would there be an internal struggle with sin? There wouldn't be. It is the saint who battles, because while the flesh is still present, the Spirit is present also -there is a conflict of natures. This is not the case with the unbeliever. It is impossible. The unbeliever does not struggle with his sin. He struggles with the consequences, perhaps, but the desires themselves are welcome friends.

2. The oldness of the letter is different from the newness of the Spirit in terms of motive. The man under the letter serves the Law for selfish reasons such as to assuage God's anger and earn His favor, to make himself great among men, to flatter himself with a sense of accomplishment, success, and duty. The man serving in the letter would be just as happy if there was no Law at all, but in the Spirit the principles and precepts of the Law are loved even if they were never declared to us externally. The true fulfillment of the Law is found in Jesus, for example, which is out of love and glorification of God rather than self-preservation.

3. Since the letter coincides with the flesh, it must be noted that the mind set on the flesh is not able to submit to God (Rom 8:5-8). The mind of the man enslaved to the letter is hostile toward God. Therefore, to serve under the letter is to seek to obey the Law stripped of the Spirit and stripped of its true character. The letter is not equivalent to the Law. They are not synonymous. The letter is actually a perversion of the Law -a "denatured" Law, to quote C.E.B. Cranfield (The International Critical Commentary: Romans, Volume I). The letter is legalism and it is concerned with outward obedience only. Therefore the requirements are strictly behavioral -which means they are made to be attainable. How is this done? It is done by flushing the requirement of the heart and focusing on the external requirements. For the legalist, the Law (the letter) is a series of moral principles guiding outward behavior. So, the man in the flesh serving in the letter can claim to obey the law, like the Pharisees -which is really only the external shadow of the Law which is then perceived through a human lens- while at the same time he is hostile to God and unable to submit himself to Him. In serving in the letter he is not submitting himself to God -he is serving the idol of self. This is classic legalism. How does the flesh respond to the commandment? It responds by attempting to self-justify rather than be justly condemned by the Law. In contrast, the Spirit includes the true fulfillment of the Law which is loving service to God. Again, Jesus is the One who has fulfilled the Law in its true character. The Spirit wants nothing more than to submit to God. Can we do this as Christians? No, because the flesh is right there with us -still tainting every area with that remnant of selfishness. But the "newness in the Spirit", itself, is the fulfillment of the Law.