Weekend Blog Review

blog review

 

I found blogs in the past are extremely helpful when the author periodically provides the readership with other blogs on the internet that they have read and found intriguing.  Therefore, I hope to provide a blog on Monday’s that will give a short review (one or two paragraphs) on a blog I have read and then of course the link to the blog for the readers to go read for themselves.  Each one will provide 3-4 different engaging blogs each week.

Pray for Hobby Lobby and the SCOTUS Decision

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention provides a helpful article for Christians to think and engage in this weeks decision in the Supreme Court of the United States of America regarding Hobby Lobby and their seeking the ability to conduct business with the support of freedom of religion and with Christian conscience.

We as Christians ought to be particularly interested in this case since it could have far reaching implications for the future of business and religious liberty in America.

Fred Phelps and the Ant-Gospel of Hate by Dr. R. Albert Mohler

Fred Phelps passed away last week.  He was the Pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.  Westboro is most famous for its protesting funerals of US Armed Military and being most hateful towards the homosexual community.  Dr. Mohler provides some helpful thoughts on how we as Christians ought to respond to Phelps’ passing and how we ought to think about the way Westboro participates in the public square.

The New Calvinism Movement by Matt Svoboda

Matt is an old college friend and brother pastor in Tennessee.  I enjoy Matt’s blogs and find them to be helpful and clear in thinking through different issues.  In this blog, Matt gives a short reason why he is proud and excited to be involved in the new Calvinism movement in the Southern Baptist Convention and in broader Evangelicalism.

Many non-Calvinist’s (and Calvinist’s too!) misunderstand what this movement is all about, and Matt provides some clarity into the issue.  I also found the links in this blog helpful as well, such as the link to Kevin DeYoung’s post about this same topic.

Conclusion

The more we read the more information we gather.  I pray that mere information gathering would not be the goal of my reading or the goal of your reading.  Rather, I pray that as I read, as I write, and as I provide other helpful resources to read that our goal would be gospel growth in holiness and evangelism.  Our goal ought to be that the information we gather so spurs us on to love God with our minds and that would lead us to loving God with our actions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Born that Way? Naturalism and Homosexuality

DNA

Edward Welch’s book Blame It on the Brain?: Distinguishing Chemical Imbalances, Brain Disorders, and Disobedience is an extremely helpful read for all.  One of the more persuasive arguments for the approval of homosexuality is the claim that a homosexual cannot help it, they are “born gay”.  The argument assumes the possibility of a gay gene in DNA.  Welch’s book provides some extremely helpful insight to this argument, and I want to add some background information that will help us think through this issue.  Therefore, in this post I will seek to accomplish two things: 1. Provide a survey of Welch’s chapter on Homosexuality and the “scientific evidence” for the gay gene, and 2. Provide a basis for Christian thought vs. Naturalistic/Evolutionist thought.

Part 1: There is proof of the gay gene, right?

Ed Welch says “homosexuality is the hot issue in the church and society…Political sanctions will be imposed on institutions that refuse to hire homosexuals…More denominations will revise their exegesis of biblical passages to allow for homosexual relationships…And people who otherwise take the Bible seriously will leave churches that call homosexuality ‘sin.’ (Page 152)”

In this chapter, Welch approaches this topic in four ways: 1. to understand the person; 2. distinguish between spiritual and physical symptoms; 3. address the heart issues; and 4. address the physical problems.  He begins by laying the foundation of what the Bible has to say about homosexuality.  Welch rightly points to the following passages:

  • Leviticus 18:22 “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”
  • Leviticus 20:13 “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.  They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” (In this context, this is Old Testament moral law, to which breaking the moral law had differing degrees of punishment.  Now, in the New Covenant with Jesus Christ as Mediator, a homosexual finds that the death requirement for punishment has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.  Therefore, if a homosexual repents and believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the punishment has been accepted in the person and work of Jesus Christ.)
  • Romans 1:26-27 “Because of this (idolatry), God gave them over to shameful lusts.  Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.”
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders will inherit the kingdom of God.”
  • Jude 7 “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.  They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”

Welch also comments about Jesus’ lack of addressing and condemning homosexuality.  He says, “Jesus did not speak against homosexuality specifically, but neither did he specifically address many other sexual behaviors, such as incest, bestiality, and rape.  That doesn’t mean that they were permissible.  Jesus consistently upheld the Old Testament law.  He stood against all legalistic attempts to narrow its intent, and he maintained that the law addressed both behavior and attitude.  He consistently spoke for marriage, and he indicated that the only alternative to heterosexual marriage was celibacy (Matthew 19:12) (Pg. 155).”  Welch has much more to say in this first category dealing with the biblical perspective, but for the sake of space, suffice it to say that the Bible makes clear its position on homosexuality.

Biological Data and Homosexuality

The next section Welch deals with is the Biological causes of homosexuality.  With a Christian and Biblical worldview in mind (section 2 of this post), Welch wisely says this: “What we would expect to find in the research is this: careful scientific observations will harmonize with the biblical position.  Interpretations of that research may differ from the biblical perspective, but the observations themselves, assuming they are reliable, will not (Pg. 165).”  What is Welch saying?  If Christianity is true, then we would expect to find scientific observations which support instead of go against the claims of the Bible.  Welch goes on to say, “indeed this is the case: the findings of science support rather than challenge the biblical view (Pg. 165).”  He provides what he calls the “best known study on the biology of homosexuality”:

The lead researcher, Simon LeVay, conducted post-mortem (they were dead) examinations on the brains of nineteen homosexual men who died from AIDS and sixteen presumed heterosexual men, six of whom died of AIDS.  His results suggested that the brains of the heterosexual men consistently had more brain cells in a specific area of the brain (INAH 3) that is allegedly implicated in sexual behavior.  When viewed with a homosexuality-as-biologically-determined bias, the data show that homosexuality is located in the brain.

Christians and non-Christians have often noted that this study in no way establishes a causal link between brain activity and homosexual behavior.  Even LeVay concedes the limitations of his study, suggesting that it is little more than an invitation to further research…He recognizes that AIDS may have confounded the results, that the sample size was too small to draw any clear conclusions, and that his measurements could be prone to error.  Furthermore, the brains of three homosexual men in the study were indistinguishable from the analogous brain areas in heterosexual men…From LeVay’s perspective the possible brain differences may just as likely result from homosexuality as cause it (Pg. 166-167).

Welch concludes his point this way: “At most, biology is analogous to a friend who tempts us into sin.  Such a friend might be bothersome, but he can be rebuked and resisted (Pg. 167).”

What About Other Genetic Behaviors?

I want to provide some other instances in which it is supposed that certain behaviors seem to be genetic.  There are people who believe that there is scientific evidence (though it is similar to that of the homosexual “scientific evidence”) that points towards alcoholism being genetic.  Likewise, kleptomania (thievery) is believed to be genetic as well.  In these instances, we wouldn’t automatically excuse these behaviors on the basis of genetics.  We would encourage the alcoholic and the thief to repent of their sin, even though they may always struggle with the temptation to sin.  The urging (genetic) is not the cause or the definitive action.  You cannot make the connection, then, that because a thief is genetically urged and disposed to steal, that then he is automatically going to steal, and if he does, then we will accept him for who he is and we ought not tell him that his lifestyle is wrong and encourage him to not steal.

For further reading, I would encourage all readers to read Welch’s book Blame It on the Brain, as it clarifies the difference between genetic influence and genetic necessity.  For instance, Alzheimer’s disease is a genetic necessity, meaning that those who have Alzheimer’s will necessarily be caused to have and experience memory loss.  On the opposite side, Alcoholism is a genetic influence, meaning that those who are genetically urged or disposed to alcoholism will not necessarily be an alcoholic, rather he or she is only influenced to be an alcoholic.  The choice and course of life still remains in their hands.

Part 2: The Naturalist Worldview and Homosexuality

Besides the lack of truth behind the argument of a homosexual being born (genetic) gay, there is a deeper rooted belief (whether assumed or communicated) behind this argument.  That is the naturalist/evolutionist worldview.  In this worldview, there is no such thing as objectivity as there is no being outside of the system.  There is no God, there is no higher power, there is only what is in nature.

The engine that makes naturalism work is evolution.  Let me clarify.  I do not mean microevolution.  Microevolution is simply change within species, or adaptations, such as what was witnessed with Darwin’s Finches on the Galapagos Islands or what is evidenced with different dog breeds.  I mean “big-E” macroevolution, natural selection, change across species and new species.  The explanation of origins for this worldview is the big bang, which is lacking because there is a huge lack of ability to explain how non-matter becomes matter, and then how non-life became life.  That aside, the argument homosexuals use about genetics is based in this worldview.

If natural selection, survival of the fittest is true, then objective reason and morality (right or wrong) is non-existent.  Even reason cannot be trusted because, after all, there is no reason for reason.  Reason itself becomes a part of the mechanism of natural selection, and what we say is reasonable now may be unreasonable, if it no longer suits for our advancement, in the future.  Therefore, the only reliable thing is what is natural.  If it a homosexual is born with a gene that then necessitates them to be gay, then it is a natural thing, and therefore a right thing for them.

In response to this, I would argue two things: 1. How do we know what is natural is interpreted rightly?  and 2. There is no right and wrong for anything or anybody.

Is Nature Reliable?

No.  What is natural can only be interpreted in the backdrop of what will advance humanity.  Even in this framework, homosexual genes would assume to become extinct via process of natural selection because it will not advance our species.  But that aside, there is no way to know if we are even interpreting what is natural correctly.  As stated above, reason itself, which is where interpretation comes from, cannot be trusted as true.

Is there Morality?

No.  In this framework, morality, or what is right and what is wrong, is only determined on an individual level.  What is right for you may not be right for me, but there is no real way of knowing (remember, knowledge and reason cannot be trusted) what is right.  In this view, then all actions of all humans must necessarily become arbitrarily accepted, not as good or right, but as what is right for the individual.  There is never a time to be able to call any action either right or wrong.  Therefore, a murderer ought to not be condemned as doing something wrong when he murders.  A child molester ought to not be condemned as doing something wrong when he molests a child.

Conclusion

Both parts of this post provide helpful information and insight into the argument.  There is no sufficient (or even semi-sufficient) scientific data or research that points towards homosexuality being caused by genetics.  Likewise, this argument is even grounded in a deeper, more imbedded worldview.  This worldview allows for humans to behave in ways that suit them, but it necessarily has greater consequences that even homosexuals have decried as evil.  But, after-all, their claim of evil is a borrowed morality from a Christian Theism worldview.

I will close by pointing towards Romans 1.  This is a spiritual issue, not a physical issue.  Homosexuals (and all sinners who refuse to repent) want their way because they have denied their Creator and have settled to worship creation instead.  Romans 1:18-25 says,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather that the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Genetics, Homosexuality, Naturalism, Worldview

The Pilgrim’s Progress

Pilgrims progress

I read Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan recently, and it was perhaps the best piece of literature I have ever read.  I love reading these types of books because they are engaging and the narration genre makes it like reading a great story, yet they are allegorical, which means they are meant to tell a story in which it causes reflection and affects change in you as you read it.  Pilgrim’s Progress is certainly all of that.  There are several encouraging things in Pilgrim’s Progress I wish to share with you, but this list is certainly not exhaustive.  I hope to encourage you to get a copy and read it in full for yourself.

Quick Summary

To summarize extremely quickly, Christian is the main character in part 1.  He is set on a journey by Evangelist, who tells him to go to the wicket gate (a wicket gate is a smaller, more narrow gate within a larger gate).  The wicket gate represents Christian’s conversion.  Once he goes through the gate, he is converted.  Think of Matthew 7:13 when Jesus says “enter by the narrow gate”.  Once through the gate, Christian comes in contact with several helpful people, including his friend Faithful, the Interpreter’s house (which represents the Holy Spirit), The Castle Beautiful (which represents the Church), and Hopeful, who goes with him until the end.

Along the way, Christian meets several challenges, such as the Slough of Despond, the demon ApollyonDoubting Castle and the giant Despair, the wicked town Vanity Fair, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death Christian and his friends meet with these different challenges and persecutions, but he and Hopeful eventually make it to the Celestial City, where they are met by the King of the Land, which is God Himself.

In part 2 of Pilgrim’s Progress, Christiana (Christian’s wife) and her sons, along with Mercy follow in the footsteps of Christian.  They are helped tremendously along the way with Mr. Great Heart, and their journey is much easier and they walk much more confidently towards Celestial City.  With ease they are able to defeat the different enemies of the Pilgrim’s along the way that gave Christian such a hard way.

This summary in no way does it justice.  Just go get the book and read it.  Seriously.  Stop what you are doing (after you read the rest of this review, of course 😉 ), and go get this book and read it.  Next I will give 4 reasons why I love Pilgrim’s Progress.

1. I love Pilgrim’s Progress because I love how it creates a picture of the life of a Christian

We (especially Western, American Christians) often have very “on the surface” Christianity.  Pilgrim’s Progress is written as an allegory, yet it comes from Bunyan’s own personal experience and life.  In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinner’s, Bunyan’s autobiography, he writes of similar struggles and doubts that Christian experiences in Pilgrim’s Progress.  Here’s the thing: the Puritan’s were so concerned with holiness and things of Jesus and God’s Word that it infected every single aspect of what they did on a day to day basis.  There was nothing that they did that was outside the realm of Christianity or outside the realm of mattering to God.  This is evidenced in Pilgrim’s Progress in that Christian struggles immensely on his way to the Celestial City.  My point?  The deeper we go into God, the less “on the surface” we become.

The Christian life is never meant to be easy.  In fact, we as believer’s are all but guaranteed suffering and persecution.  Christian certainly wasn’t concerned with the ease of his journey as much as he was concerned with being faithful on his journey in the midst of his trials and sufferings.  When He experienced extreme doubt and sadness in Doubting Castle, Christian remembered he had the key which opened all the doors there.  The name of the key was Promise.  Bunyan’s point here is that it is God’s promises which drive us into deeper and deeper trust in God, even and especially in the midst of suffering and trials.  This doesn’t mean that we necessarily pursue suffering, but it does mean that we have created an idol out of ease of life and comfortableness and pleasure.  Oh that we would be people who were so concerned with pleasing God that our minds and lives would be tormented in even the seemingly small things until we were walking in holiness and glorifying God through obedience and faithfulness!

2. I love Pilgrim’s Progress because of the way Christian keeps his heart fixed on the goal – the Celestial City

This reminds me so much of Hebrews 12:2, which says “fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith”.  Christian never let his circumstance grasp his heart.  Though he struggled and often needed reminders, he persevered until the end because of the greatness of the Celestial City and who was there – the King (Jesus, God).  What is it that sustains us in life?  God.  What keeps us going and ensures we will persevere until the end?  God the Holy Spirit.  There is a scene in the book where Christian comes in contact with the Interpreter’s House.  The Interpreter represents the Holy Spirit.  He takes Christian into several different rooms where different situations in life are displayed.  The Interpreter explains to Christian the meaning, and Christian is able to refer back to this time when he is encountering a difficult time.

Similarly, the Holy Spirit illuminates the Word of God to us, so that when we face different challenges of life, we are equipped and ready to faithfully walk through these life-stages.  This aspect of the journey is crucial for Christian.  It’s what he reminds himself of over and over – the Celestial City and what has been revealed to him about it.  What keeps us going as believer’s in Jesus?  Jesus Himself as revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Holy Scriptures.

3.  I love Pilgrim’s Progress because of Mr. Great Heart as a guide for Christiana

Mr. Great Heart represents a Pastor who is ushering Christiana, her sons, and Mercy along the way.  He is the one who reveals different truths to them, encourages them with different things, and fights off and wards off different enemies.  As a pastor, it reminds me of the severity of the calling and the necessity of the calling.

Another aspect of this point is the submission and the trust that Christiana and her companions have for Mr. Great Heart.  I have encountered such skepticism from church goers in the past (and sometimes present) towards pastors.  Some of this may be warranted, but overall, I have witness a general lack of trust and respect towards the office of the pastor.  Christiana knew that Mr. Great Heart was responsible for her journey and her soul, and she gladly followed and thought well of him.  After all, the office of the pastor in Pilgrim’s Progress is Mr. Great Heart.  This names encompasses the courage, the boldness, the tenderness, the care, and the devotion (and so much more!) that is required of being a pastor, and it encourages me to be that type of pastor in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4. I love Pilgrim’s Progress because of the way it makes you think deeply while captivating your attention in the great narrative of the story

This is an aspect that is found in literature of old.  I am not against reading modern fiction, but too much of it is simply “pleasure reading” and is not true literature.  True literature is written for the purpose of making the reader think deeply while remaining engaging on the level of the story.  Pilgrim’s Progress is a theological book with out being a Systematic, Biblical, or Historical Theology book.  I love reading “theology books”, and have several and I want more.  But there’s something about reading Pilgrim’s Progress which draws me in and engages me on an even deeper level in theology than “just” a theology book.

When you encounter a great piece of literature like Pilgrim’s Progress which does what I have attempted to explain in the above paragraph, it is a jewel and a gem.  Perhaps that style is so great because it is most like the piece of work that God has communicated to us in the Bible, which is the best book of all to read.

Conclusion

My list could go on and on of why I love Pilgrim’s Progress.  I look forward to reading it to my children and having them experience the joys of this truly great book.  Maybe you don’t read much, or maybe you don’t have time to.  Maybe you love to read.  Maybe you wish you could read better.  Pilgrim’s Progress will satisfy you, no matter what your current reading habits are.  I couldn’t put it down, and if you approach it seriously, I promise that you will not be able to put it down either.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature, Reading

Make Your Calling and Election Sure

Signs-coaching

2 Peter 1:10 says “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fail (English Standard Version).”  Self-reflection and introspection are often neglected in Christianity today.  Why?  Are we too busy?  Are we too prideful?  Do we have it already figured out?  Peter gets at something real quick in 2 Peter, and that is the fact that there are people who are professing to be Christian who are not really Christian.  Peter gives some quick, distinctively Christian qualities before v. 10.  He says in v. 5-7:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

Peter says these qualities are the qualities of someone who can make sure he is truly called and elect by God unto salvation.  Peter really gets at the heart of the matter quick, because in the rest of 2 Peter, Peter is going to lay down the gauntlet.  You know Peter is serious when he opens the letter like this: “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ…(2 Peter 1:1, ESV).”  What’s my point?  The point is that right off of the bat, Peter is separating people who actually have saving faith (to those who have obtained the same faith of the apostles, the faith in Jesus Christ) from those who only claim to have saving faith.  How does Peter separate them?  We have already seen the qualities Peter says are of those who have actually obtained saving faith in Jesus Christ:

  • Faith
  • Virtue (or excellence)
  • Knowledge (knowledge about who God is, since this is the highest form of knowledge)
  • Self-Control (which is really spirit-control, though true believer’s will have the power to be self-controlled)
  • Steadfastness (unwavering, unyielding trust and patience)
  • Godliness (holiness, because God is holy)
  • Brotherly Affection (love for the church, the brothers and sisters in Christ)
  • Love (general lovingness for God and for people)

But Peter doesn’t just give a check-off list for people to see whether or not they are actual believer’s in Jesus Christ.  He says for people to be diligent to make their calling and election certain.  This word diligent has an urgency behind it.  Peter wants people to be urgent, to not wait, to precisely and carefully self-examine themselves to see whether or not they are in the true faith.  I wrote a blog about what is meant by true faith, which can be read here.  Jude says something similar in Jude 3, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (ESV).”  Later, in 2 Peter 3:14, Peter again exhorts “therefore, beloved, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace (ESV).”  Again, Peter says in 2 Peter 3:17, “You therefore, beloved, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability (ESV).”

In 1 John, John writes of different tests which we can do to be confident of whether we are in the faith or not.  The other night during our Wednesday night youth group worship service, I read through some of these tests and made the point that these tests will either confirm for you that you are in the faith or will confirm for you that you don’t actually have saving faith.  One student remarked that the tests were “harsh”.  I responded in affirmation, affirming that indeed it is harsh and it is difficult.  In fact, I made mention that Jesus says it is “impossible”, at least for us on our own.  But with Christ, all of these things will come and will only serve to better confirm our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that we are saved by Him and in Him.

David writes of self-examination in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (ESV)”  Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”  And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (ESV)

These are but a few of the places in Scripture where we either see the writer doing self-examination or exhorting us to do self-examination, which is precisely what Peter is doing in 2 Peter 1:10.  Be diligent to self-examine yourself to make your calling and election as a believer in Jesus Christ certain.  The point is not to cause doubt.  The point is to cause security in the life of the believer!

But, each time self-examination is either being done or is exhorted to be done, there is always a hint of false faith.  So, why should we do self-examination according to Peter, Jude, John, David, and Jesus?  So that we will know that we are not following a false faith, a faith which will not save.  The false faith is tied into what we do, such as in the Matthew 7 passage where Jesus calls people who trust in what they do “workers of lawlessness.”  Peter’s point with the qualities in 2 Peter 1 is that the qualities only serve as evidence, or proof, of existing saving faith.  The qualities are qualities that are birthed out of a true faith that saves.

So, what is the true faith versus a false faith that doesn’t save?  True faith is only in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  False faith can be identified in a number of different ways, but here are a few identifiers of false faith:

  • Belief in self-works for salvation (Matthew 7:21-23, Ephesians 2:8-9)
  • Hatred for the body of Christ (1 John 3:11-18)
  • Love for the world (1 John 2:15-17)
  • Disobedience towards God in habitual patterns (1 John 2:4, 1 John 3:9-10)
  • Denial of the person and work of Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1-6)

These are only a few, but these are a good starting point.  Let’s turn the negative around and view this positively.  Let’s look at the true faith which is only in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  What is meant by the person and work of Jesus Christ?

The person of Jesus Christ means that Jesus is the God-man, 100% God, 100% man, and He alone is mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).  But this isn’t all there is.  The person of Jesus Christ is also tied to the holiness and perfection, or the righteousness, of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15).  This means that Jesus is able to be our mediator because He is perfectly righteous.  He alone is worthy to open the scrolls in Revelation 5:5, when one of the elders says to John, “weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals. (ESV)”  John then says in v. 6 that He sees a “Lamb, standing, as though it had been slain (ESV).”  The slain Lamb is the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, the One worthy to open the scroll.  Why? Because of His righteousness.  So, when a person comes to saving faith, they believe in Jesus because Jesus had no sin, and thus conquered sin and death via the resurrection.  Therefore, the convert believes he can have new life, or, as Jesus says in John 3, to be born again.  The convert may not recognize this in full, but in simple form, this is one aspect of the gospel, of saving faith, the person of Jesus.

The work of Jesus is directly and necessarily tied to the person of Jesus.  Why was Jesus able to conquer the grave?  Because sin had no hold on Him, He was perfectly holy and righteous and blameless.  So the saving person of Jesus means that we take on His righteousness, and the saving work of Jesus means that our sin debt is paid in full, and thus we are justified (it’s literally just as if I died – justified).  The work of Jesus is known as propitiation, which is a fancy word which means that the wrath of God is satisfied for sinners in Jesus.  The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross is enough to pay the price for sinners.

So, does it matter?  Does it matter what we lead people to believe about saving faith?  Does it matter what someone who wants to be saved believes?  Well, we certainly don’t think people need to affirm every doctrine, or even these doctrines in depth in order to be saved, else salvation would be tied to doctrine more than it actually is.  But, yes, it does matter what a person who wishes to be saved believes.  He at minimum must believe in the person (righteousness of Christ which gives me new birth) and work (propitiation, which pays the penalty for my sin) of Jesus Christ.  Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.  But what about Jesus?  That He was a good man? No.  That He healed people? No.  That He loved people? No.  That He helped people?  No.  Believe that He alone is the righteous One, that in Him you are born again, and that by His work on the cross your sin is paid in full.  Those other things are important, and must be affirmed, but are not necessary for affirmation at the time of conversion.

What is all that? Simply, theology.  A person wishing to be saved must have a theological belief about Jesus in order to be saved.  The theological belief is the person and work of Jesus Christ, which is simple form of rich and deep doctrines such as imputed righteousness and propitiation.  It matters what we believe.  Peter, John, David, Jude, Jesus, and several others in the Bible agree.  We ought not dare disagree with them.  We need to re-evaluate sayings I have seen recently, such as “theology has a place, but is not primary”, or “we don’t need to be theological in order to be effective in winning people to Jesus”.  Yes.  We do need theology.  Without it, there can be no true faith.

Leave a comment

Filed under Doctrine, Gospel, True Christianity

Preaching the Gospel – Words or Lifestyle?

keep calm and preach the gospel

A popular Christian saying I have heard in the last several years is in regards to preaching the gospel.  People say, “preach the gospel, if necessary use words”.  They usually ascribe this to St. Francis Assisi, which, is not actually true.  For further reading about the issue of quoting St. Francis, go here.  I believe that this quote is misleading.  One reason, as is said in the link above, is that it intimates that people who faithfully live out their faith are more faithful and better Christians than those who preach the gospel with words.  It also makes a distinction between the two that I don’t believe needs to be made.  There are cases of people who preach the gospel, but their lifestyles are completely opposite of their words, and in this case, I understand the idea behind this quote.  But I will make the case that true gospel living is gospel preaching.  I am preaching through the book of Acts in our youth group at church on Wednesday nights, and it is amazing that time and time again, the ministries we see the Apostles partaking in are primarily preaching and teaching ministries.  Not only in Acts, but the main thrust of Jesus ministry was also a preaching and teaching ministry.  I say “main thrust” only because I do not mean to say that all they did was preach and teach, and that the other things they did were not important.  I say “main thrust” because I believe the main ministry of the gospel is a preaching and teaching ministry, out of which flows other things, of which are important as well.

So then, how ought we preach the gospel?  With words?  With lifestyle?  I believe it starts with words, which is made evidence by our lifestyle.  So, yes, I am that guy saying “both and”.  In Acts 1:8, Jesus commissions His people and says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…(ESV)”  What does Jesus mean?  His people get Power which is distinct from other power, it is a borrowed power – a power which we receive when the Holy Spirit comes upon us.  In other words, Jesus says in Matthew 28 that all authority under heaven has been given to Him.  And how does He delineate His power to His people?  By giving us the Holy Spirit.  We now have the exact power Jesus meant when He said that He had all power.

But this power does something in Acts 1:8.  This power witnesses.  It is amazing to see time after time the LORD working through His apostles and establishing His church.  Oh that the Gospel would spread like that wild fire today through our witness!  The question, then, becomes how did they witness?  We just got done reading and studying through Acts 17, and I love verse 6 especially, when the angry Jews said of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, “These men who have turned the world upside down…” Oh that we would be people who turn the world upside down! So, again, how did they turn the world upside down?  By teaching and preaching.

Up until Acts 18, look at how often we see the Apostles teaching or preaching (WORDS!) the gospel:

  • Peter’s sermon at Pentecost – Acts 2:14-36
  • Peter commands repentance – Acts 2:38-39
  • The believers devote themselves to the teaching of the Word – Acts 2:42
  • Peter and John proclaim Jesus to a lame beggar – Acts 3:6
  • Peter addresses the crowd in Solomon’s Portico – Acts 3:12-26
  • Peter addresses the High Priest and the council after being arrested for preaching Jesus – Acts 4:8-12
  • The believers pray and afterward the place shakes with the power of the Holy Spirit – Acts 4:24-30
  • The apostles escape prison by an angel who broke them out, and afterward they return to the temple to teach – Acts 5:25
  • Again before the High Priest and the council, Peter preaches the gospel – Acts 5:27-32
  • The word of God increases and priests in Jerusalem are saved – Acts 6:7
  • Stephen, the deacon (THE DEACON!), preaches the gospel – Acts 7:1-53 (and the deacon preached a LOOONNNGGGGGG sermon, imagine that!)
  • Stephen, facing death, preaches the gospel again! – Acts 7:54-60
  • Philip proclaimed Jesus in Samaria – Acts 8:4-8
  • Peter comes and helps Philip, and also preaches the gospel to Simon the Magician – Acts 8:14-25
  • Philip preaches Jesus to the Ethiopian Eunuch – Acts 8:35 (Philip began talking, with the scripture!!!)
  • Saul (Paul), immediately after his conversion, begins preaching Jesus in the synagogues – Acts 9:20
  • Saul leaves Damascus and goes to Jerusalem, and continues preaching Jesus – Acts 9:28-30
  • Peter proclaims Jesus to Cornelius, a Centurion – Acts 10:1-34
  • Peter preaches to the gentiles – Acts 10:35-43
  • Barnabas and Paul preach Jesus for a whole year in Antioch – Acts 11:25-26
  • The word of God continues to increase – Acts 12:24
  • Barnabas and Paul preach the gospel in Seleucia and they go through the entire Island! – Acts 13:4-6
  • Paul preaches Jesus and a magician is healed and believes the gospel – Acts 13:9-12
  • Paul and Barnabas are asked to share a word, so Paul shares the gospel in Antioch Pisidia – Acts 13:13-41
  • They are invited back to speak again on the next Sabbath, so they do – Acts 13:42-52
  • Paul and Barnabas declare boldly the word of the LORD in Iconium and they become fugitives – Acts 14:1-7
  • Paul and Barnabas preach the gospel in Lystra, and Paul is almost stoned to death as a result – Acts 14:8-19
  • Paul flees to Derbe with Barnabas, and preaches the gospel the day after he is almost killed – Acts 14:20-23
  • They preach the word on their way back to Antioch Syria – Acts 14:25
  • They return to Antioch Syria, and they proclaim the gospel to the church – Acts 14:27
  • Paul and Barnabas remain in Antioch, after the Jerusalem Council, and continue to preach the gospel – Acts 15:35
  • Paul preaches the gospel and Lydia is converted in Philippi, thus began the Philippi church – Acts 16:11-15
  • Paul casts a demon out of a slave girl by proclaiming the name of Jesus – Acts 16:16-18
  • Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns (WORDS!), and the Philippian Jailer is converted – Acts 16:25-40
  • Paul and Silas and go to Thessalonica and reasoned with the Jews – Acts 17:1-6
  • Paul and Silas escape to Berea, and they preach the gospel to the Jews there – Acts 17:10-12
  • Paul goes to Athens and proclaims Jesus to the philosophers – Acts 17:16-34

And the book of Acts isn’t even over!  Certainly, they didn’t only preach the gospel, but don’t be fooled, that was their main objective.  Even when they did some needs-based ministry, it was always tied to the proclamation (WORDS) of the gospel.  Now, I think part of this saying to preach the gospel with our lifestyle, is the call for Christians to be holy.  Peter writes in 1 Peter 1 to “be holy in all of our conduct, because it is written, ‘be holy, because I am holy (says God).’ (my own interpretation)” So, when we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, yes, we ought to also have a holy lifestyle.  A life in which we are not hypocritically calling people to repent, while living in ongoing patterns of sin.  At some level, each preacher, each Christian, is going to be a hypocrite.  Every believer in Jesus Christ is going to sin, at least periodically.  We will, at times, be drawn away from the gospel and again believe the lies of Satan.  But the gospel doesn’t give license for sin, as Paul says in Romans 6:1ff.  The point of Romans 6 is that Jesus saves us so that we can obey Him and put to death sin in our lives, because, well, Jesus has already conquered sin!  It has no power over us.

So, when someone preaches the gospel, the proclamation is enhanced by a holy lifestyle.  I think of preachers who I know are holy men, that when they preach, the sermon is all the more powerful because I know these aren’t just empty words coming from them.  I also know preachers who, when they preach, are preaching only words, and their lives are not matching their proclamation.  But make no mistake – evangelism and witnessing and winning people to the Lord and missions is not done by living a holy life alone.  In fact, it isn’t even the holy life that is primary.  It is the gospel.  The words of the gospel and the sharing of them are what is required for believers.  All believers.  Not just the super-Apostles in the book of Acts.  Not just for the pastors.  But for you.  Where you work, you are called to share and witness for Jesus.  Where you go to school, you are called to share and witness for Jesus.  Where you live, you are called to share and witness for Jesus.  With words and with your holy living.  Not one without the other, but certainly not without words.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gospel, Holiness

The False Gospels of Antinomianism, Legalism, and Liberalism

fingers pointing

When Hollywood or political figures create a buzz for Christians, it is usually because we (Christians) are against what they have said or what they are doing.  We know these as commonly termed culture wars. A culture war is something where (at least) two sides sit opposed to each other and believe that what is best for society is their side and their view points.  Several culture wars are happening currently in Western society, and I would go so far to say that this is indicative of God’s judgment on our society.  This post is not a theological discourse of the judgment of God, so suffice it to say that in reading Romans 1, God gives people what they want, and that is often the very judgment of God.  Romans 1:21-25 says:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!  Amen. (English Standard Version, emphasis mine)

God gives people what they want when they don’t want Him – He gives them exactly the thing that they think will make them happy.  The point?  It won’t make them happy, only God can make them happy.

We as Christians see different culture wars happening and we are prone to lash out on social media.  We have a stigma about us that we are haters, judgmental (I assume in a condemning way, although when most people use this term, they don’t *actually* know what the Bible says about judgment), and bigots.  Of course, the irony is that in their accusations of us being intolerant, they want us to be tolerant.  The problem for them is that they cannot tolerate our views, so the tolerant become the intolerant.

The reason for writing this blog post is to warn and exhort believer’s to only post truth.  Post the whole truth or none of it.  If we want to be the light of Christ to the world, we must give the whole truth of who Christ is.  I generally see three categories of postings from Christians in response to cultural wars:

  1. Your sin is wrong!  The Bible says that is wrong, you shouldn’t do it, etc. etc.  (Legalism)
  2. (In response to #1) Just come to Jesus as you are, find His love for you, and He will take care of you because He loves you! (Antinomianism, also called “easy believism”)
  3. Just have faith, in whatever it is you believe in, and in the end we will all reach the same God (Liberalism)

I will give a short answer to each of these categories.  Before I do, let me be clear: we need clarity.  And we also cannot be silent.  As a theme of my last few blog posts, I have sought to articulate the need for defending the true faith of Christianity as opposed to what we see in much of Christianity today – “pop-culture Christians” who could care less about right thinking.  In doing so, I have challenged believers to think highly about everything.  We don’t have anything better than what the Bible has to say, so in our thinking highly about particular things, we ought to primarily and most importantly be thinking biblically and theologically about every issue.  After all, everything bears the weight of representing and reflecting the glory of God.  To that end, we as Christians have something better than each of these three responses above.  We have the whole truth.  Let’s be clear truth communicators, and remember, giving only part of the truth of the gospel is changing the gospel, which then it becomes no gospel, at least no Christian gospel.

1. Legalism

Legalism is that way of thinking that demands Christians hold to the Old Testament law in order to receive divine favor.  This way of thinking demands of people to become holy, so that you will be holy.  I hope the problem with this jumps out at you, but if not, here is what is wrong with this thinking – it is backwards!  The gospel is not to call people to conform to our moral code so that they will be saved.  Instead, the gospel calls people to Christ so that they can repent and turn away from their sin, and then they will be saved.  Apart from the Holy Spirit giving someone a new heart that wants to worship God and only God, we cannot and should not expect sinners to want to conform to our standard of morality.

In the story about the woman caught in adultery (John 8), the Pharisees bring this woman to Jesus and ask Jesus if they ought to stone her, because after all, the Old Testament law says she should be stoned.  Jesus responds with “let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her (v. 7, ESV).”  Jesus was denying validity to legalism and its demands.  Legalism demands righteousness before salvation.  The gospel that saves says that righteousness only comes after salvation.  This is the point Jesus makes.  And don’t forget, Jesus absolutely does deal with her sin.  The last thing He tells her is “go, and from now on sin no more (v. 11, ESV).” 

Our response to culture and to people on social media ought not to be legalism in its demands.  Yes, it is true that their sin is wrong, but that isn’t our message, it is only the beginning of our message.

2. Antinomianism

Antinomianism is also termed “easy believism” because it essentially tells people to come to Jesus just as you are, and you can stay just as you are.  In the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, antinomianism is defined as “an ethical system that denies the binding nature of any supposedly absolute or external laws on individual behavior.  Some antinomianists argue that Christians need not preach or practice the laws of the OT because Christ’s merits have freed Christians from the law.”

In response to the legalists, I have seen person after person, usually a well meaning brother or sister in Christ, rant about those ranting.  They will post something to the effect of this: “I am tired of seeing believers post against this issue because our message isn’t that, our message is love and we should love people and call them to Jesus and He will take care of them”.  Just like in legalism, this is only partly true.  In this system, though, we tell people to come to Jesus and that your sin won’t condemn you in Him and in Him you will have a better life.  This message is missing one huge aspect of the gospel – the gospel starts with us as sinners.  Jesus saves us from sin, from our former life.

In John 8, the antinomian would have Jesus only tell the adulterous woman “neither do I condemn you”, which Jesus actually does say to her (v. 11a).  But that isn’t all that is said – Jesus calls her to repent from her sin by adding “and from now on sin no more” (v. 11b).

Our message to non-believers and to culture is not a message of easy believism, rather it is a message of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  We ought to be careful that we don’t attempt to sugar coat the gospel in attempts to draw people in, only to “lay the hammer” on them once they are in by telling them they need to change their entire way of thinking and way of life (repentance).

Legalism says you must be righteous to be saved.  Antinomianism says Christ was righteous for you, so it doesn’t matter what you do before or after you believe, as long as you believe, you will be saved.

3. Liberalism

Liberalism is the increasingly popular idea that everyone is on the path to God, we just all take different roads to get there.  I see this posted by people who claim to be Christians, and I just cringe.  Our message is absolutely not a universal approach to God and to deep questions of existence.  Simply looking at John 14:6 will answer for us why – Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me (ESV, emphasis mine).”

I recently taught a group of high school students this truth.  In it, I used what I think to be a helpful illustration.  Liberalism and pop-culture seeks to say that we are all on the path to God, we just use different approaches.  I use the illustration of a mountain.  In liberalism, we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and God, or nirvana, or reincarnation, or whatever you believe about the end or eternity, is at the top of the mountain.  We are all – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, ect. – on the same mountain, we just take different roads to get to the same point at the top.

The true message of Christianity is 100% against this idea.  I like the illustration of a maze.  In a maze, everyone starts out at the same starting point.  To get to the end, there is only one way that leads out.  Other ways may seem right, but in the end, it only leads to a dead end or may even lead you back to the starting point.

The message of Christianity is that only the God of the Bible will satisfy your soul.  Your sin will not satisfy you now or for eternity, so repent of your sin, but turn to Jesus Christ, who will satisfy your soul, now and for eternity.  There are many other religions in the world, but only one has God rescuing people out of the mess of life and out of sin and into the state of true blessedness, now and forever.

As Christians, let’s not mix our messages.  Let’s not preach a one-sided gospel.  We have something better – we have the whole truth of God’s Word and the gospel.  The true Christian gospel is not legalism, it is not antinomianism, and it is not liberalism (all-inclusivism).   So, don’t fall into the trap of appearing to be any of those, because each of those will only lead people either away from God or into something that isn’t really God.

Leave a comment

Filed under Antinomianism, Legalism, Liberalism, True Christianity

The Ugly and Uncomfortable Truth About Sin

Sin is one of those topics that seem to make many Christians uncomfortable.  There are several reasons why.  One reason is that they think that by bringing up the issue of sin, they are being judgmental and they think it is wrong.  A second reason is that they would rather focus on the new life we have in Christ, after all, doesn’t the Bible teach that God separates our sin from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)?  A third reason is that they don’t know or don’t believe the full effects of sin and what it means for us as humans.  A fourth reason is that they think Jesus accepted sinners as sinners and never dealt with their sin, but comforted them and helped them, which is not what the Pharisees did.  They believe the Pharisees only wanted to deal with sin and keep the law and condemn people who didn’t, so, in efforts to not be like the Pharisees, they just don’t deal with sin.

My first response is to encourage all Christians to think highly about every issue, including the issue of sin.  There is truth in each of these reasons that sin makes us uncomfortable, but I believe that none of these reasons suffice as a reason to not deal with sin.  I will make efforts to deal with each of these categories from a biblical perspective.  A main doctrine of our faith is the doctrine of sin and man.  What does that mean?  It means we need the Bible as our source for what we believe and what we do in regards to sin.  Therefore, each response to these four reasons will be explicitly and unapologetically grounded in the Bible.  For more on the need for high thinking about true doctrine, read my blog post about true Christianity here.  Below, I will seek to answer biblically each of these reasons.  The bold type heading will be the objection to dealing with sin, and the subsequent paragraph will be the response.

1. If we bring up sin and seek to deal with people’s sin, we are being judgmental, and being judgmental is wrong.

The words “don’t judge me bro” have become a popular phrase in our culture.  The main thrust of this idea comes from Matthew 7:1, which says “Judge not, that you be not judged (English Standard Version of the Bible).”  Sadly, this way of thinking is similar to the popular way of thinking in our culture of individualism and self-seeking attitudes.  The Burger King slogan “Have it your way” is as telling as anything in this discussion.  Why did BK market using that slogan?  Because they understand that the generations currently alive (young and old) have a self-seeking drive:  I want things my way.  When someone begins or attempts to confront our sin, we automatically take this defensive posture.  We think, “whoa man, that’s my business, not yours”.  But this way of thinking is not what Jesus’ point was in Matthew 7.  The larger context of Matthew 7 is found in the proceeding verses of Matthew 7:1.  Matthew 7:1-5 says:

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce  you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (ESV, emphasis mine)

The emphasis at the end of this passage is telling.  I interpret this passage to mean this – don’t automatically first seek to deal with other people’s sins.  First, deal with the sin in your own life, and as you do that, then you will be more equipped and more able to rightly deal with other people’s sin.  The argument that is in this first objection would argue that this is only one way of interpreting this passage.  After-all, they would interpret this passage as Jesus telling us not to judge (don’t judge me, bro!).  It is true that several passages of Scripture can have multiple interpretations.  Suffice it to say that there is a right way to interpret each passage of the Bible.  There is a singular meaning.  Why say this?  Because there is a right way and a wrong way to interpret Matthew 7.  One of the best and most sound ways to interpret difficult passages (those passages which could seem to have multiple ways of interpreting it) is to search the rest of the Scriptures.  In John 7:24, Jesus also says “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment (ESV, emphasis mine).”  We need not look any further to see that it seems that Jesus is saying two different things.  On one hand, Jesus says Judge not, and on the other hand, He says judge rightly.  In light of John 7:24, I believe the more appropriate and accurate interpretation of Matthew 7 is the one I have presented instead of the one that is presented within the framework of this first objection to dealing with sin.

It is certainly true that people (even Christians, even well-meaning Christians) will sometimes abuse this responsibility that we have.  That’s why there are several other Scriptures which give us parameters and foundations for executing right judgment.  Some of which are:

  • Galatians 6:1 – “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression (SIN!), you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Sounds an awful lot like what Jesus said in Matthew 7, according to my interpretation)
  • Psalm 141:5 – “Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” (The restorative judgment is kindness!  It ought to be like oil on our heads – oil that heals my spiritual sickness – SIN!)
  • 2 Corinthians 2:5-7 (I reference this because this passage does not encourage us to ignore sin, but rather deal quickly with it, forgive, and move on from it in love) – “Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure – not to put it too severely – to all of you.  For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”
  • Hebrews 12:12-17 – “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.  Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” (We are to see to it that each one of us remains holy by seeing to it that we are not in sin, lest we turn out like Esau who was unable to repent!)
  • James 5:19 – “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (what covers a multitude of sins?  LOVE!  It is LOVING to confront sin, thereby saving souls from death!)

The list could go on, but because of limited space, this list is at minimum a good foundation to begin to understand how and why we should judge.  I actually believe that if we agree and follow this first objection, we are actually doing the body of Christ much harm and are acting most unlovingly towards each other.  There is absolutely a difference between judging condemningly and judging righteously.  I will address judging condemningly in the fourth objection.

This objection is also what has birthed the popular cliché “love the sinner, hate the sin”.  This cliché has taken pop-Christianity and culture by storm.  Any time someone attempts to call something sin, this statement is immediately claimed.  My problem with this statement is that it just isn’t what the Bible says.  I will deal more robustly and holistically with a biblical view of sin under the third objection.  For now, this cliché needs to be tossed out.  If you think you like this statement, let me ask you a question.  Do you have something better to say than the Bible?  I will answer that for you.  No.  You don’t have anything better to say than the Bible.  And certainly the Bible deals with sin in a much more definitive way and robust way than just “love the sinner, hate the sin”.  So, instead of giving people what they want to hear and “itch their ears” (2 Timothy 3:4), give people truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (how’s that for a cliché?)

2.  If all we do is deal with sin, aren’t we missing the new life in Christ?  Doesn’t Jesus want to compel us and propel us in this new life we have with Him, instead of living in our past and dwelling on sin?

This objection to dealing with sin is like wearing a patch over one of your eyes.  You may still be able to see, but your entire faculty of your senses has to be relearned and reprogrammed to functioning with one eye instead of two.  The gospel has two eyes, and this objection covers one of them in efforts to focus more finely on the other.  Yes, Jesus wants us to not focus on our pasts.  But, as believer’s, the only gospel that has saved us is the gospel that focuses on who we are at the time of salvation.  In the moment of our conversion, we are saved from something, sin.  Jesus dealt with our sin, yes, but this does not mean that we don’t have to as a result.  In one sense, though, we don’t have to deal with our sin.  Our punishment has been paid by Jesus on the cross, spilling His blood and covering the mercy seat by His sacrifice.  He is the scape-goat, and He separates our sin as far as the east is from the west when we believe and trust in Him and His work of death and resurrection.  However, this isn’t the end of the story.  We aren’t in the afterlife yet.  We still have a process of salvation which the gospel writers exhort believers to work out and live out – free from sin!  No, we do not have to make any payment for our sin.  We can’t be good enough, we can’t do any number of things or say enough confessions to pay any of our debt.  Salvation has been paid for – in full – by Jesus.  It is His payment that has been accepted on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21), He and He alone was good enough (2 Cor. 5:21), His work alone saves (Eph. 2:4-9).  But this doesn’t mean that we are in the clear when it comes to working out our salvation.  This is in the realm of the doctrine of sanctification.  Yes, we are holy.  But also yes, we are to continue to become holy.  How do we continue to become holy?  By putting our sin to death!

So, the gospel in one “eye” is focused on sin, and in the other “eye” is focused on new life in Christ.  The new life in Christ is only attained by Christ dealing with our sin so that we can continue to kill our sin.  When we are converted, sin doesn’t just run away and quit trying to be our master.  In some regards, sin “ups its game” to try and get us to fall even harder!  Consider these passages:

  • Philippians 2:12-13 – “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation (living the new life in Christ by continuing to kill your sin) with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:10 – “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.  On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
  • 1 Peter 5:8 – “Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
  • Genesis 4:7b – “…Sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
  • Ephesians 4:27 – “…and give no opportunity to the devil.”
  • Ephesians 6:11 – “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

The exhortation of the Bible is clear: be on guard against sin and the devil.  Continue to fight the sin that still so easily entangles you and clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1), or else it will master you.  The Apostle Paul understood the continued power of the mere presence of sin around him.  In Romans 7:15, he writes “For I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  If Paul writes of his own continued struggle and need to fight to kill sin, how much more do we!  This does not mean that this is the central focus of our lives as Christians.  We ought to be living in the new life that Christ has saved us for.  Again, the Bible gives us the way to kill our sin.  Colossians 3:2-3 says “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

On one hand, I live a new life in Christ.  On the other hand, I can only live that new life if I am continuously and mercilessly killing my sin.  We need both sides of the gospel, not just one.  If we remove one side, we create another gospel entirely.  This second objection to dealing with sin has “Joel Osteen” written all over it.  Time and time again he has said he does not want to talk about sin because he wants to talk about higher things to his people.  The problem is that Jesus talked about sin and hell more than any other subject.  To miss sin is to miss a part of the gospel, and to miss a part of the gospel is to change the gospel.

3. Why should we deal so seriously and intensely with sin when it isn’t all that bad?  Generally speaking, people are mostly good.  What we need is just a few minor improvements or adjustments, right?

These statements are from a neo-orthodox point of view.  This is liberalism at its best in regards to sin.  Liberalism seeks to make much of mankind, and in so doing belittles sin and makes it seem not all that bad.  Here are some easy and simple things, but truthful things, that the Bible says about man and what sin has done:

  • We are spiritually dead because of sin (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13; Ezekiel 37:1-4)
  • We are alienated from God because of sin (Colossians 1:21; Ephesians 2:12; Ezekiel 14:5; Genesis 3)
  • We are totally depraved because of sin (Romans 3:9-18, 8:7-8, 7:18; Ephesians 2:3)
  • We are enemies of God because of sin (Romans 5:10; James 4:4; Colossians 1:21)
  • We desire creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25; Isaiah 28:15; Jeremiah 10:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12)
  • We sin because we are sinners, rather than becoming sinners when we sin (Ephesians 2:1-4; Galatians 5 – Emphasis on old nature.  Also, Martin Luther’s book The Bondage of the Will makes this crucial point.  Man, in his natural state, is a sinner, and will therefore sin.  We sin because we want to sin.)
  • God’s wrath is burning hot against sin and sinners (Romans 1:18; Ephesians 5:6, 2:3; Genesis 6-9 – Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood; Exodus; and so many more examples).

These are but a few of the important things that the Bible says about sin.  For a more complex dealing with the doctrine of sin, go to this website.

Sin is too big and too important for us to casually move on from.  To hold a low view of sin is to hold a low view of Christ.  I think that the highest view of sin and its effects, meaning, the most devastating and most terrifying view of sin is actually the only view which magnifies Christ.  The light shines the brightest in the…DARK!  Bursting forth out of darkness (sinfulness) and into the light (Christ), this is what it means to be a Christian.  It is a theme of Scripture that God’s people are often tempted (and most of the time fall back) into the darkness.  So, sin is something to take seriously and have a high view of.  It means too much to miss and not deal with, especially in the body of Christ.  God took sin so seriously amongst His people that He actually struck people dead because of their sin.  Achan was struck dead in the book of Joshua because he disobeyed the command of the Lord.  Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead in the book of Acts because of the deceitfulness in their hearts and their pride which led them to want to have a certain standing in the church, but their actions said otherwise.  In both cases, God struck them dead – because of their sin!  Too much is at stake to simply ignore it or even have a low view of it.  Pick up a good systematic theology book or a topical Bible or do some research on your own as to the doctrine of sin.  I promise, the more you learn about the devastating effects of sin, the sweeter Christ will become to you!

4. Jesus was opposite of the Pharisees.  All the Pharisees wanted to do was judge people in their sin and hold people to the law.  Jesus just hung out with sinners and accepted them as they were.  In fact, Jesus said “you who has no sin can cast the first stone”.  So, there, we shouldn’t deal with sin because Jesus didn’t deal with sin.

Jesus absolutely hung around the sinners of His day, and I think that is commendable and good reason for us to seek to be around unbelievers in our day.  But Jesus didn’t merely hang around sinners.  He also didn’t only hang around sinners.  How do we know what the Pharisees were like?  Because they were constantly confronting Jesus, trying to trap Him and trick Him into slipping up.  But when Jesus was with the sinners, what was He doing?  Jesus was on mission with them.  And His mission and message were clear – “repent (turn from your SIN!) and believe” (Mark 1:15; Matthew 3:2; Acts 19:4, 20:21; Hebrews 6:1).  Not only that, but Jesus had other things to say about sin.  Luke 13:3, Jesus says “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  John the Baptist declared about Jesus in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Here are some examples of Jesus’ dealings with sinners:

  • Jesus calls Matthew in Matthew 9:9-13.  He also encounters Pharisees in this passage.  To the Pharisees, Jesus says “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (ESV, emphasis mine).”  Jesus obviously doesn’t believe the Pharisees are “well” spiritually.  He perceives their attitudes of believing they are “well”, which Jesus rightly targets as pride.  Jesus point?  I came to save sinners from their sin.  If you have no sin, then I am not here for you.
  • Jesus, in Mark 2:1-12, encounters a paralytic brought to Him by four friends of the paralytic.  They make a hole in the roof and lower the paralytic down to Jesus.  Jesus first declares his sins to be forgiven.  Then Jesus proves that He is the Son of God by commanding the paralytic to get up and walk.  What happens?  He gets up and walks!  Jesus restores this man to physical strength, but much more significant, shows He alone has the power to forgive sin.  Which was the greater need of the paralytic – his sins being forgiven (eternal focus) or his legs being made healthy (temporal focus)?  Obviously the greater miracle, and the point of Jesus in this passage, is to show that He has come to deal with people’s sin.
  • In Luke 19:1-10, Jesus encounters Zacchaeus.  He was a wee little man.  A wee little man was he.  But when Zacchaeus encountered Jesus, Zacchaeus had a completely changed heart.  He repented!  And Jesus declared salvation had come to Zacchaeus.  Jesus didn’t just leave Zacchaeus where He was.  Jesus wanted him to have the best life possible, and Jesus understood that the best life possible only comes through repenting of sin, which means to turn away and deny sin.
  • In John 4:1-42, Jesus confronts the Samaritan woman at the well.  What does He confront?  Is He just hanging out there, not making her feel uncomfortable?  No.  Jesus confronts her sin.  And she is convicted.  And she repents.  Though the repentance isn’t explicit, it is implicit.  Why was her testimony received when she returned to her village (v. 39-42)?  Because they saw her transformation.  Would anyone have listened to her other wise, if she hadn’t turned from her sin?  Her testimony matched what had happened her life.  In essence, her life was the testimony.
  • In John 8:1-11, Jesus meets the Pharisees and the woman caught in adultery.  They want to stone her, and ask Jesus what He thinks, since the Law of Moses commands that they stone such a woman (v.5).  Jesus says “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And they dropped their stones and left.  (v. 7-9).  Here’s the point of why Jesus addresses the Pharisees as He does – the Pharisees aren’t spiritually elite.  They are legalistic.  They believe (rightly so) that salvation won by being perfect.  But what they miss is that no one is perfect, save for One.  They think perfection is in themselves, thus gaining them entrance into eternal life.  The point Jesus makes is the same point Paul makes in Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned”.  Many who refuse to deal with sin use this passage as the reason why they don’t feel it is their place – because we all sin.  In that, they are correct.  But the thrust of the entire passage is not to confront dealing with sin, but rather to show the Pharisees exactly who they are – not perfect and that salvation is won for those who are saved by the only One who is perfect – Jesus Himself.  If the point of Jesus was to not deal with this woman’s sin, then we will have a difficult time explaining the end of this passage.  Jesus says to her “neither do I condemn you; go, and from no on sin no more (v. 11).”  Jesus deals with her sin – He confronts that she is a sinner!  By declaring that He doesn’t condemn her, He isn’t saying that she isn’t a sinner (hence the next phrase, go and sin no more), He is saying “I am the only One who’s judgment matters, and I have chosen not to condemn you, so go, and sin no more”.

There are several other instances in which Jesus points people to faith by healing them.  The thrust of the ministry of Jesus was “repent and believe or perish” (John 3:16).  So, when we speak of Jesus’ dealings with sinners, lets speak rightly of His intention.  His intention is to heal their sickness – their sin.

On the point about the Pharisees, Jesus sought to expose them for who they were.  I affirm that we are to strive to not be like the Pharisees.  But often we think that means that we run the other way.  Jesus exposed their intentions, not necessarily their actions, although because their intentions were wrong, so were their actions.  The action of judgment has already been done – God has already declared what sin is and isn’t, and what actions and mindsets and intentions are sinful and are not.  To say that we ought not judge sinners because that’s God’s job is to miss the fact that God has already judged what sin is!  The intention of Jesus is to encourage His people to deal righteously and redemptively with one another.  We ought to seek to lead each other into further holiness, into further life with Christ, more passionately pursuing Him and loving Him and worshiping Him.  The Pharisees were not doing this.  They only cared for themselves.  So, no, don’t be like the Pharisees.  But also don’t miss what Jesus was saying to be like.  He wasn’t saying what we think He was – “don’t judge me bro”.  He was calling us to higher calling – deal with your sin, lovingly, gently, not condemningly (like the Pharisees), with patience, and encouraging holiness in one another.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe the church has the right and the responsibility to hold one another accountable to personal holiness.  To ignore the issue of sin because it is uncomfortable is to ignore the very reason Jesus came – to bear the wrath of God on Himself for the sin of His people.  Matthew 1:21 says “and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (ESV, emphasis mine).”   We have something better than clichés, half-truths, or no truth – we have the Truth in Jesus and the Truth in God’s Holy Scriptures.  As Christians, saved to the most Holy Church of Christ, let’s start sanctifying each other with the washing of the water of the Word of God (Ephesians 5:25-27).  Let’s help guide each other towards holiness, lets fight and make war against sin in our own lives and in the lives of those in our groups.  We should love each other too much to let each other continue in the path of death and destruction.  Let’s encourage each other to live the blessed life, free from the worship of false, unsatisfying idols of sin and self, and let’s point each other to the One who does satisfy by saving us from our sin – Jesus Christ.  To God be the glory, forever and ever, amen!

1 Comment

Filed under Doctrine, Sin, True Christianity