Saturday, March 27, 2010

Politics and the Judgment of God 

In Jeremiah 21, God tells the prophet Jeremiah this-
8 " Now you shall say to this people, 'Thus says the LORD: "Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.
9 "He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him.
10 "For I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good," says the LORD. "It shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire." '
God had judged Judah and Jerusalem, and given them over to the destruction of the Babylonians. He did so because they had rejected Him. Though they still called themselves Jehovah worshipers, they had worshiped other gods as well, filling His temple with foreign idols, engaged in immorality and flouted God's law in a thousand different ways. And so God brought the Babylonians to punish them. Those who accepted the judgment of God would surrender to the Babylonians and would, as a result, survive. Those who refused to accept that God was judging them would continue their fight against the Babylonians and be destroyed as a result.

America is being judged by God. Is it any wonder? We've glorified fornication and sodomy for decades now. We've murdered innocents by the millions. Our sins are long. Worst of all is the enervation and distortion of the gospel of Christ from our pulpits since before our grandfathers were born. While I wouldn't claim to know the perfect will of God, it seems clear to me that He has been fattening us for the judgment for some time now. We will see what happens. But this we know- God will not ignore sin and wickedness, and America, being home to a faithful Christian witness for centuries and receiving the rich blessings of God, has a particular responsibility which it has utterly neglected and abandoned.

Many conservatives are now promoting a focus on fiscal responsibility in order to save our nation. But I believe our fiscal woes are only the symptom of a deeper rot, a people who have rebelled against God and teach lies as the word of God. If that is true, then focusing on our fiscal problems while ignoring the more fundamental problem is akin to fighting the Babylonians even after God has declared the judgment.

It's like the mainline denominations who are ordaining homosexuals or flirting with it. The "conservatives" in those denominations decry this move as an abandonment of the Christian faith. But where were those conservatives when their denomination ordained women against the word of God? Where were they when their denominations denied Biblical inerrancy, denied the necessity of the virgin birth, denied the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ? Where were they when real conservatives like Machen were being run out of their denominations?

We have complacently sat back while our churches gave up the faithful witness of the truth. And now we are bearing the brunt of it, and we don't like the results. But if God is judging our nation, and I believe He is, then we will have to accept it as being from His hand. We must repent of our sins, repent of the lie that we can gain God's good blessings at the same time as we flout and ignore His word. Fiscal responsibility, material prosperity, good and honest leadership, safety from our enemies, the rule of law- these things are God's blessings to us and not things we achieve for ourselves.

If we as a nation turn back to God, repent of our sins and seek to promote and please Him in every aspect of our lives, public and private, then our blessings will return. But if we continue to glorify and promote everything He hates, we can expect nothing but curses from Him.

So despite so-called conservatives like David Frum, Kathleen Parker and David Brooks, and many others, who claim that the social conservatives are destroying the Republican party, I would respond with a higher truth. Following God is all that matters. God tells King Zedekiah, through the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 37:10 that even if they defeated the whole army of the Chaldeans and there were only wounded men left, yet would they take the city and burn it down. When God is against you, it doesn't matter how strong your army is. God told the Israelites that if they rebelled against Him then one enemy would chase a hundred of them and three would chase a thousand.

So until we repent, we will lose. We will lose our freedoms. We will lose our prosperity. We will lose our right to worship, our right to speak freely, our right to assemble or to bear arms. Our military will not save us, our wealth will not save us, our science will not save us. Nothing will. If God is against us, everything is against us.

And though this might sound very depressing, it actually is very encouraging. Because the contrary is likewise true. When we as individuals, as families, as churches and neighborhoods and towns and states and perhaps even as a nation, turn back to God and confess the truth of His word, then nothing can stop us. It doesn't matter what forces are arrayed against us. It doesn't matter what criminals are running our country, or selling us out to foreign interests. It doesn't matter what special interests are united to despoil the nation and corrupt its morality. It doesn't matter how many of our fellow citizens just want to satisfy their wicked lusts and have everyone else pick up the bill. Just follow God. Just trust Him. And then one of us will chase a thousand and three will put ten thousand to flight.

Christians might have a pretty hard time coming in this country. Perhaps we thought the fires of persecution would never come to these shores. To that I'd answer, they've been here for a long time. Christians have been ridiculed and pressured into compromising the integrity of their witness for a long time. Far too many have given in and that's the big reason why we're in the fix we're in. But what has been subtle and under the radar is becoming more and more overt. There are those at the very highest levels of our government, even now, who would prohibit the preaching of God's word if they could.

But we are the light of the world. And all things will work together for the good of His kingdom. We might have to go into exile into Babylon for a while. That's up to God. But if we submit to His will, repent of our sins and seek His glory in our lives, in all we do, we can be confident that He will never let us down. Though the nation fall, God's kingdom goes on as it always have, and His people will be preserved. His salvation will come not by political parties, elections or courts. It will come by the glorious triumph of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Eternal Justification and Sola Fide 

The doctrine of eternal justification, which I've explored in the last couple of days, is at its heart a denial of one of the core doctrines of the Reformation, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, or "Sola Fide". This is quite easy to understand- since the elect can be justified, in fact _must_ be justified before he believes, it is possible for a man without faith to be justified before God. The doctrine's whole point is that the elect are always justified, never under the wrath of God. And therefore, at a point before the man has come to faith, he must be justified since there is no other state he could be in. He never is under God's wrath.

The Reformed Puritan points out one clear problem with Scripture and this doctrine
This brings us to the third point — that of denying that the elect of God were never at any stage under the wrath of God. We have previously looked at Eph. 2:1-3 so we do not have to repeat the same exegesis of the text. Instead, let us look at one of the narrative accounts in Scripture: the story of the wicked king of Judah, King Manasseh the son of King Hezekiah (2 Ki. 21:1-18; 2 Chron. 33:1-20). We know from Scripture that King Manasseh was under the wrath of God for his gross wickedness (2 Ki. 21:6). Yet at the end of his wicked life, Manasseh repented of his sins (2 Chron. 33:13,19).

The question for those like Kraft therefore is this: Is the Bible lying when they state that Manasseh repented of his sins? If he did in fact repent, he must be saved and one of the elect, or isn't he? If he indeed is one of the elect, then the Scripture do in fact teach that he was at one time under the wrath of God, thus falsifying their ridiculous teaching that the elect of God were never under the wrath of God even before conversion.

Manasseh was in rebellion against God, and was therefore under God's wrath. Later he repented, and received God's grace. He was not justified until he repented, and then he was.

In fact, if this doctrine of eternal justification is true, the most obvious conclusion would be universalism. God justifies everybody. Why not? Even the fact that some people never express faith in this life is not necessarily an impediment- after all, perhaps God can simply work faith in the elect after they die, an idea the Predestinarian Network explores here.

And yet Paul says clearly, "By faith is a man justified." Faith is the instrument by which a man lays hold on the forgiveness of sins accomplished in the death of Christ. John the baptist (Mark 1:15) calls on people to "repent, and believe the gospel", and in Matthew 3:2 tells the people to repent in order to "flee the wrath to come". They will be under wrath unless they repent. In Luke 13, Jesus tells the people that they will all perish unless they repent. Peter tells the Jews in Acts 2:38 to repent and they will be saved, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. And when the Philippian jailer asks Paul, "what must I do to be saved?" Paul says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." (Acts 16:30-31).

The Predestinarians like Brandan Kraft would accuse all of them of being "evangellyfish" or "Crypto-Arminians." The proper answer to them would be, "You don't have to do anything, just recognize that you are already saved." But in every one of these places, the people are called on to make a choice, to express faith, to respond to the offer of the gospel. If they do, they live. If they don't, they die.

One more passage- Romans 5. This passage shows that by Adam death came into the world, and condemnation, on all men, all who are under his headship (Romans 5:16). All men are under Adam's headship, and all are condemned, under God's wrath. All men were "made sinners" by his sin (v. 19). But all men are made righteous by Christ. All are justified by that free gift, when they accept that gift by faith.

The doctrine of predestination should never be interpreted to mean that we don't need to make a choice. We must make a choice, to believe in Christ, and therefore pass from wrath to mercy, from darkness to light, from death to life. Predestination informs us of the way this happens- that by God's eternal election, He grants His Holy Spirit to those that He has chosen, to transform the heart of a man so that the man is able to make that choice, able to believe, able to repent and turn from sinfulness and rebellion to righteousness and life. But until we make that God-enabled choice, we are under the curse of the law.

Now that choice happens in a lot of ways. It's not always a "warming of the heart" moment- it's not always a moment in time at all. Sometimes it's a choice that takes place gradually, over years. Some are regenerate from birth, and always believe in Jesus. Some people are regenerated and come to faith gradually, over years. Some people have that lightning bolt moment.

But nobody is justified unless and until they believe.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Process Matters 

President Obama and others are saying that the American people don't care about process in the health care reform debate- that it's the substance that matters. But Jesus told us that process does matter- it tells us the difference between honest dealers and thieves.

John 10:1 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 "But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.

If the substance were good, they wouldn't need to pull the shenanigans- it would be law already. The fact that the substance of the health care bill is so bad and so hated by the American public is what makes this deceptive chicanery necessary.

We can see this operating in all areas of life. People with good intentions toward you are honest in the way that they pursue their goals. If someone is trying to steal your money or enslave you, they ambush you, they trick you, they work under cover of darkness. If a man is climbing into your window at night, you have good reason to suspect him of ill will toward you.

Eternal Justification and Antinomianism 

One of the main issues with eternal justification is the antinomianism to which it leads. Antinomianism means "lawlessness" or "anti-law" and it mainly will take the form that the believer should not or cannot strive to do good works after he has been converted. It teaches that the law has no role in the life of the believer at all.

This antinomianism is expressed explicitly both in personal and ecclesiastical contexts. It is expressed as a suspicion or outright rejection of personal piety. And as I said in the last post, the Predestinarian Network form of eternal justification denies the reality of the visible church, denies any real authority in the church and denies that the church, including the sacraments, is any real means of grace. This will follow for two reasons- first, because the church is an agent of change in the believer's life, and they deny the need for change. Conversion is simply becoming aware of our status as saints. Adam didn't change when he fell, believers don't change when they are saved, and therefore there is no need for means of grace in the believer's life. Secondly, because the eternal justification doctrine teaches that there are two human races essentially- one under the headship of Adam and always justified (from eternity!) and one under the headship of Satan and receiving no offer of the gospel and nothing but wrath- then the visible church has no true fellowship since the elect has nothing at all in common with the reprobate. Only a perfect church could be a true church, and there is no perfect church.

Many places in Scripture deal with the antinomian error. Romans 6 deals with it, saying the reason we should pursue righteousness is because this is the natural outcome of our changed state and condition, from one of death to one of life. Ephesians 5 also addresses it. Ephesians 2 shows us that we were dead in trespasses and sins, and were made alive by Christ. We were children of wrath _by nature_, but were changed in our nature to children of light. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells us to be imitators of Christ and to walk in love. Why? Verse 8- because our state has changed. Once we walked in darkness, but now we are in light. Darkness is frequently used in Scripture not just to indicate ignorance but also a state of wrath- the plagues on Egypt for example, echoed in places like Revelation 9 and 16, and Matthew 22:13 and 25:30. So we were in a state of alienation and wrath, but God transformed us, took us out of that state into a state of light.

Paul tells us that therefore we should act like it. He indicates that there were false teachers telling them something else- "Let no one deceive you with empty words." In particular, he tells us, fornicators, unclean persons, covetous people, idolators, will not inherit the kingdom of God, he says. Revelation 21:27 tells us that nothing sinful will ever dwell in the New Jerusalem. Christ came in order to change our state- to grant us forgiveness and then work righteousness in us so that we would be worthy of standing in His presence, not because of our own inherent righteousness but because of the righteousness which Christ has worked in us.

I believe that this error is what he is referring to in 2 Timothy 3:5- "having a form of godliness but denying its power." This perfectly describes this group. They talk in pious language constantly, but they deny the power of the gospel. They teach that the gospel changes only my legal state with God, instead of recognizing that in addition to that, it changes my actual state, my actual heart, so that I can hear the word of God AND DO IT.

Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:5 to "turn away" from such people. Don't be deceived, brothers and sisters. This is a poisonous doctrine wrapped in piety, that is presented particularly in a form that might be appealing to Reformed believers.

Don't be deceived. We were in a state of wrath, because of our rebellion. We were under condemnation, one with the whole race of humanity, until the Spirit of God worked faith in our hearts and gave us new life, new birth. The result is that we are justified, forgiven of sins, as a result of that faith which lays hold on God's promises. That new heart works new life in us, so that we can begin to put off the old man and put on the new, turning away from sin and learning to please God with our lives.

The Scriptures are full of warnings against those who just want forgiveness, they want expiation from their sins, but have no desire to please God with their lives. They may wrap it in pious talk of their depravity and humility. But the truth is, God calls us to please Him with our good works. He saved us for that purpose. If we are born again in Him, we will seek righteousness. Someone who does not believe it is possible for the believer to experience and live the righteousness of Christ to any degree at all is someone who does not know the work of the Spirit of God.

Adam was in a state of fellowship with God. And when he sinned, he was expelled from that fellowship, with an angel with a flaming sword barring his way back in. His relationship with God changed. He didn't just become newly aware of his condition. His condition changed. And Christ died to restore that condition, to give us new life. Eternal justification is a denial of the gospel, a denial of the faith. Be warned, and reject it. Do not become entangled over "useless wranglings" and disputes and arguments over words- 1 Tim 6:3-5. Reject them, and embrace the full counsel of God.

[UPDATE: Edited for clarity.]

More on Eternal Justification 

I mentioned the doctrine of eternal justification yesterday, and got some questions about just what this is all about, so I thought I'd expand on this some. There are a few different proponents of this in various forms, but the form with which I'm interacting here is most ably represented by the Predestinarian Network.

Eternal justification is of itself an easy doctrine to understand. It is the idea that we are justified from eternity- that is to say, the elect of God are never under God’s wrath in any sense at all. This doctrine is usually predicated on the idea of God’s eternity- He is timeless and therefore His will toward us is timeless. God’s will to do something is the same as Him doing it- therefore if He wills to justify the elect from eternity, then they are justified.

Of itself it might not sound like a big deal, kind of an idle speculation. It was not a subject I’d ever heard in all my years in Reformed circles, in seminary or in reading any of my commentaries, until I was asked about it a few years back. And my initial response was, “I don’t think that’s right, but really, what’s the big deal?” My first response was to quote Ephesians 2:3 which states that we were children of wrath before our conversion, or at one point in our lives, “even as the others.”

I want to try to draw out some of the implications of this doctrine, however, and then try to identify what I think the main problem is that leads to this kind of thinking.

First, consider- if we have always been justified, then Adam never fell from grace. This doctrine denies the fall. And indeed, looking at the profile page of “Darth Gill” AKA Brandan Kraft, with whom I was interacting yesterday, we see this-
“When Adam and Eve sinned, what really happened?
-It was revealed to Adam that he was a sinner and needed the righteousness of Christ which demonstrated the eventual regeneration of every elect individual.”

He denies that Adam changed in any real way except for his understanding. He came to understand what he already was. So God created him, had perfect fellowship with him, and in that state of perfect fellowship, Adam was a sinner. Noodle that for a minute.

Now, combined with their belief then that our own regeneration is a similar experience- not a change in nature, but simply becoming aware of something that was already true, and we see the seeds of a particularly virulent form of antinomianism taking shape. Frankly, though I can’t find a quote to substantiate this, it seems logical that they would then believe that even in heaven itself we would be exactly as we are now. If we were sinners before the fall, and our nature doesn’t change, then why does it need to change even after we go to heaven?

And indeed, going right along with this kind of thinking, Brandan Kraft reacts very poorly (see the comments on that post) to the idea that Christ’s righteousness is infused into us, ever. Even making clear that infused righteousness is not the basis of our justification but only of our sanctification, he still reacts by denying that I know the gospel and am heaping law-works on people. So do they deny progressive sanctification?

Yes they do.

Now the topic of progressive sanctification is a whole other conversation. But their denial of it is a natural companion with their denial of justification by faith alone and assertion of justification from eternity. There is a good deal of doublespeak in their discussion of progressive sanctification- at one time they appear mostly to be concerned with the proper use of the word "sanctification", saying that it refers to our position in Christ (often, but not always true). But their concern is clearly more than just semantic, since they call legalism any time that someone says that a Christian ought to strive to do good works.

And incidentally- what about James? What about "faith without works is dead"? Well, there's a very simple solution to that- deny that it's really the in Bible. Their view is that each believer individually judges what is and is not inspired Scripture, and if James (or anything else) doesn't fit with their understanding of Jesus, then it's not inspired. So they have direct revelation from the Spirit regarding the gospel, and they then select the "core canon" that fits with their understanding of that gospel. This will conveniently dispose of not only James, but anything else they find troubling.

There are so many other areas to explore- like the fact that they then deny that the elect ever has any commonality with the reprobate- they deny that the reprobate are ever under the headship of Adam, but only of Satan. This goes along with a denial of common grace, because God has nothing but wrath and hatred toward the reprobate. There is therefore no offer of the gospel at all to the reprobate. This also entails a denial of the visible church, since every visible church includes people who are not believers, and they deny any possibility of fellowship, even temporary fellowship, with the reprobate, as well as denying that God gives any good gift at all to the reprobate. The church, to them, therefore consists only of the interactions of actual elect people, in whatever form that happens.

Like I said, I've only scratched the surface. Hopefully this gives us enough information to avoid this poisonous doctrine. But next, I want to talk about a couple of Scripture passages that directly address this error.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Heresy of Eternal Justification 

Here's a great analysis of a particularly destructive error gaining some traction within certain parts of the Christian community, the heresy of eternal justification.

In light of eternal justification, the elect of God were never under the wrath of God. Therefore, they cannot be any time under the federal headship of Adam. This implies no spiritual commonality of any kind with the reprobates. Now, Christianity teaches that all humans are all united in the fact that we are all sinners, and it is only because of particular grace that I as a sinner am saved out of my sin and out of the hellfire I justly deserve. Advocates of eternal justification however logically should deny this. With no spiritual commonality between the elect and reprobates (constituting a denial of the Imago Dei to some extent), the two are as light and darkness. No longer are Christians to be considered as undeserving sinners saved by God's amazing grace, but as saints who happen not to realize that they are already justified. (This of course will logically lead to various forms of Antinomianism but we will not go there).

This rings a bell with me in particular, as this error was part of the trouble that we ran into in our church as well. So I appreciate this very solid analysis.

This doctrine is fundamentally a denial of justification by faith alone. It teaches that the elect is already justified without exercising faith- faith is just the point at which the believer becomes subjectively aware of their justification.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Challies on McLaren- "He hates God. Period." 

Tim Challies has an excellent review of Brian McLaren's new book. McLaren is one of the leading lights of the Emergent church movement, or "conversation" or whatever you want to call it. But Challies has his number-

It wasn't too long ago that I wrote about Brian McLaren and got in trouble. Reflecting on seeing him speak at a nearby church, I suggested that he appears to love Jesus but hate God. Based on immediate and furious reaction, I quickly retracted that statement. I should not have done so. I believed it then and I believe it now. And if it was true then, how much more true is it upon the release of his latest tome A New Kind of Christianity. In this book we finally see where McLaren's journey has taken him; it has taken him into outright, rank, unapologetic apostasy. He hates God. Period.

Read the whole thing. Thanks to the Dunker Journal for the link.

The Right Use of Things 

I received a question about the Christian view of addiction and the right use of things- tobacco in particular. Here is my answer-

I think it's pretty wise for young people to refrain from smoking until they're in their early twenties- maybe 25 or so. By that time, most people have developed the self-awareness and discipline to do something like that without much risk. Most people who get addicted to cigarettes, it seems to me, do so in their teen years. I don't have statistics to back that, but it's my own experience.

Addiction from a medical perspective is defined by consequences. If you are doing something to the point where you are starting to cause yourself real-life serious consequences- losing relationships, productivity, health, money, etc- then you're addicted. I think Biblically this is a good definition as well, of when something stops being "moderate" use. To tell if someone is a drunk, the number of drinks they have in an average day or week is not necessarily useful- one fairly large male might have two or three drinks a day and it not be a problem, whereas an average sized female might be getting drunk every night on the same amount. Or one person who drinks two a day= 14 drinks a week and is never drunk, but another person doesn't drink at all during the week but on the weekend goes out and has five drinks on Friday and Saturday at a club. The first case is drinking more overall than the second, but the second is being much more reckless and irresponsible.

So I think you have to look at it in terms of consequences. Are you using this substance in such a way that it is causing problems in your life, or is likely to down the road?

In the case of smoking in particular, if you're not smoking every day, then you're probably not addicted and don't need to worry much about it. If smoking became a daily habit, or even very close to it, I would become worried and dial it back.

Biblically, the principle is that we are to receive all created things with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Thanksgiving is the key. If I am thankful for things, then I recognize that they come from God, and that God therefore defines the right way to use them. Things are never evil of themselves. But all things have a proper use, discerned by "the word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:5). So if I am concerned that I am not using something right, or do not know the right way to use something, this is the process- recognize it comes from God and is therefore good, when used properly. Then I pray for wisdom, and search the Scriptures for guidance. The Proverbs are very useful here.

Christians are to be sober, serious, disciplined, and hard-working. We are not to be wasteful and self-indulgent. At the same time, we are not to live in fear, and are to rejoice in God's creation and enjoy it. Proverbs 21:17 is a good one for the self-indulgent. So in general, we need to be governed by the broad principles of Scripture about what kind of person a Christian is to be, what the nature of God's creation is, what the true nature of sin is, and use the things of God's creation in compliance with all of these principles.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

God Preserves His People 

From Aspiring Polymathis, a great meditation on God's sovereign drawing of His people:

After the disciples complain about these hard saying, Christ reminds them that the flesh (physical eating) profits nothing but " 'the words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him." (v.63ff.)

And Christ continues: " 'Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.' 66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more."

What amazing words! What a stupendous mystery. When Christ says 'therefore' he is connecting their unbelief with the fact of God's sovereignty: they cannot come to Christ unless such a movement has been granted to them by the Father.

I think that a careful and thorough study of John 6 is one of the best ways to understand the doctrine of predestination. Thanks, Pastor Mathis.

None good but God 

From Luke 18:18-23:
“Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.”

The man was a ruler- meaning that he was the ruler of a synagogue. That means he paid for the synagogue to be built. That’s how you got to be the ruler of a synagogue, most of the time.

Jesus’ statement about the goodness of God is not referring to God’s moral rectitude. Most of the time, the Bible uses the words “righteous” or “holy” for that. Goodness refers to God’s benevolence and kindness, most of the time.

Jesus was calling attention to the fact that the ruler thought Jesus was just a man, although an important and influential one, like himself. But as Jesus says in other places, all good things come from God, not from man. If Jesus is just a man, then He should not be called good. This man was asking how he could acquire blessings from God, indicating a willingness to do good works to gain those blessings. But Jesus is saying that blessings are not earned from God, they are freely given, for God is good, benevolent, and kind.

The ruler would think of himself as good and benevolent. He had given the money for the synagogue to be built. He had certainly done other good works for people. He saw his money as the way to work his way into heaven, to secure the blessings of God. But Jesus denies that he really is good and benevolent. He is telling the rich man, blessings are not acquired by our good works, our strength, our piety, our money. Blessings are acquired from God, as His free gift. We must simply give up our own ability to save ourselves, and accept those blessings from God.

This is what the rest of the discourse is about. He asks the man about his adherence to the law. Curiously, Jesus’ account of the law is strangely superficial, listing only those commandments which are easy to interpret in a purely outward fashion. Don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t steal. He is leading the man into a trap. The ruler of the synagogue was certainly familiar with the true requirements of God’s Law. The obligation to love the Lord with all our heart and to love our neighbor wasn’t invented by Jesus. Those are quotes from the Pentateuch, the old law. But flattered by the implication that he has been obedient, he falls into Jesus’ trap- “All this I have done from my youth.” And then Jesus springs the trap- “Go and give all that you have to the poor and come and follow me.”

Jesus wasn’t giving the man a good work to do. He was calling on the man to renounce his good works. The man would be giving up the illusion that he could buy influence and favor and merit. Giving all you have to the poor would not be considered a good work- it would be considered useless, pouring money down a hole. Most would consider it the same way today.

The money itself wasn’t the problem. It never is. No one else in Scripture is ever called to give away all their possessions. The pride was the problem. The self-reliance, the belief that he was the upper crust of society, he was a “good master”, and he could by his benevolence earn eternal life.

But there is none good but one, God. God’s gifts come not as wages for obedience. They come as His free gifts. But we must have faith, believe in Him, freely accept those gifts. As long as we are trying to earn God’s favor, we are denying His benevolence, and those gifts will be withheld.

The man could not give up his pride, his need to earn his own salvation. So he went away sorrowfully.

Man’s pride is the great obstacle. Because ultimately we must come face to face with the truth, and that truth is seen at the cross of Christ, the charity of Jesus’ blood. To our ability to accomplish our own salvation- God’s answer is the cross of Christ. The truth is that a good and righteous man had to be beaten to death on my behalf. That’s what it took to save me. That is the stumblingblock. The pride of man has to be destroyed first, before man will ever accept the charity of blood. He was a rich man- not just in his wallet, but in his heart. He was spiritually rich, and therefore refused the charity.

He is a contrast with another man, a man who was very poor in spirit. The Philippian jailer, supposed to be watching Paul and Silas. The earthquake freed them from their bonds, and the jailer assumed that they had escaped and that therefore he would be executed. He is about to kill himself. He has lost everything. But Paul and Silas are still there. They have been singing hymns all night in the stocks, and now they call on the jailer not to hurt himself, for they are still there.

The jailer fell down before Paul and Silas and ask them the same question that the ruler asked Jesus- but now not in pride and richness of heart, but in desperation and poverty. And their answer is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Accept the charity. For there is none good but one, that is, God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Repost: The Problem of Evil 

From 2004:
I have just recently finished reading The Problem of Pain. This is probably CS Lewis’ least satisfying book for me. I have long heard, and believed, that Lewis wasn’t much of a theologian, and it is in this book where I see that most vividly on display. There’s a lot to be admired in this book, and I would probably speak more positively of the book if the writer were someone without Lewis’ impressive credentials.

A lot of my difficulty with this book has to do with my own theological approach to the Problem of Evil, and the inadequacy I see in the traditional approach that many theologians take to that issue. In The Problem of Pain, CS Lewis suffers from the same deficiencies that the traditional arguments suffer from.

The book addresses one of the oldest problems in philosophy, the problem of evil (called the problem of pain by Lewis, but not really a different issue). The problem of evil is simply this: How can a good God allow evil to exist? In syllogistic form, one might look at it like this:

1. A good and loving God must wish to abolish evil.
2. An all-powerful God must be able to abolish evil.
3. But evil exists.
4. Therefore, a good and all-powerful God must not exist.
If God allows evil to exist, then He must be either not good, or not all-powerful. If He were good, surely He would desire to eliminate evil. If He were all-powerful, He would be able to do so. Since evil exists, a good and all-powerful God must not exist.

I find the typical Christian response to this deeply unsatisfying, mostly because it is profoundly unscriptural but also because it is essentially a concession to the argument. This is the free will defense, and it states basically that God was unable to create a world that was good and that also lacked free will, and therefore free will had to be included. With this free will present, man chose to exercise that free will and chose evil instead of good. Therefore it is man’s fault that evil exists, not God’s.

I say this is unscriptural because in at least two of the main places where the question is actually discussed in the Bible, the free will defense is not invoked. These two places are the book of Job and in Romans 9. In Job, God’s defense is essentially, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” This is God’s answer to Job’s question to why these evils have been allowed to come upon him. God never ducks responsibility, invokes the free will of Satan, or uses any such weasel words as “allowed”. God accepts full responsibility and claims full right. We know from the story that God decreed these occurrences in Job’s life in order to vindicate His glory to Satan and the angelic hosts. He never apologizes for doing so.

In Romans 9, Paul anticipates the question, How can then God find fault with man, for who has resisted His will? This question comes in response to Paul’s argument of God’s complete sovereignty in salvation and damnation. This is essentially the problem of evil- if God is in control of all things, how can we call anything evil? Paul’s answer has two parts. The first (Who are you, O Man, who replies against God?) questions man’s right to ask the question in the first place. The second graciously provides the answer, despite the impertinence of the question:

What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, suffered with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction; and that he might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy... even us, whom he has called…?

That is to say, the destruction of God’s enemies and the merciful salvation of God’s chosen reveals and glorifies God, and is therefore good. Once we understand this, the problem of evil essentially goes away. All is for God’s glory ultimately, therefore nothing resists His will. The term “evil” simply speaks of our own subjective rebellion against God’s will for our lives, not any actual violation of His eternal will, since that is impossible.

The free will defense, on the other hand, weakens God by saying that evil exists ultimately because God was powerless to prevent it. God somehow was ‘required’ to create a world that had free will. He was unable to create a world where men would freely choose to worship Him, without them falling into sin, but was still compelled to create such a world, again presumably to fill some need. But if a good world cannot exist without free will, then what of heaven? Christian theism posits the existence of heaven, where we will serve God forever. Will we be free there? If not, by this argument heaven must not be good. If so, by this argument it must be possible for us to fall from perfection all over again, even in heaven.

Because we are subordinate to God in the very deepest, most metaphysical respect, I am comfortable saying we can freely choose to serve God or to rebel against Him, and yet never depart from His sovereign plan for all things. This also solves the problem of evil. The only problem it creates, I believe, is that it forever denies any hope man could ever have of being truly independent and self-ruling. But this is not a Biblical problem; only the problem of the man who rebels against God his Creator.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Need for Biblical Literacy 

From The Evangelical Outpost, good thoughts on the need for Biblical literacy:

The lack of understanding that Christian students and adults have concerning the doctrine, narratives, and unity of the scriptures is not merely embarrassing, but also alarming for multiple reasons. The least of these, but one dear to my heart nonetheless, is that much of British and American literature is decontextualized and frankly, lost, without a decent grasp of Biblical themes, characters, and phrases. Why does the narrator of Moby Dick ask to be called “Ishmael”? Why is a painting of David and Bathsheba hanging on Dimmesdale’s wall in The Scarlet Letter? Without some basic biblical literacy, many passages in English literature are left opaque.

A deeper and more pressing concern is that not a lack of understanding of what we believe and why we believe it leads to an inability to articulate these beliefs. This, according to philosopher Charles Taylor, “undermines the possibilities of reality’…religious faith, practice, and commitment can be no more than vaguely real when people cannot talk much about them. Articulacy fosters reality.”

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