Revolutionary Christianity- Living the Revolutionary Lifestyle in Condemnation

May 21, 2009

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23

” ‘You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.’ … ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ “ – Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28

” ‘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? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.’ “ – Luke 6:41-42

One of the biggest places where Christians fail to live the revolutionary lifestyle is in their condemnation of sin in the world. It doesn’t take much experience to know what I’m talking about. If you have seen a street preacher screaming damnation towards homosexuals, a youth group turning its back on a pregnant teenager, or a Bible teacher deriding the evils of dancing, cinema, and women in the workplace, then you have seen a “Christian” who is not living in revolt against the teachings of the world. Don’t get me wrong, there are evils in homosexuality, fornication, and drunkenness, but there is also evil in pride, gossip, and self-righteousness.

If we reflect on what I will personally call “the doctrine of small sins” we see that many religious people, as well as “moral” citizens, are capable of picking out the big no-no’s. However, there are many little eh-maybe’s that they let slide. “Eh, maybe I shouldn’t be mean to my wife tonight.” “Eh, maybe I shouldn’t yell at the guy that cut me off in traffic.” “Eh, maybe I shouldn’t look at the girl on campus that way.” But, there is no conviction, no desire, and usually no visible ramification that will make us to decide to follow those rules.

However, God doesn’t see it that way. Christ is quoted above saying “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” and “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Thus, it’s not just what you see, it’s not just that someone has sex with his secretary after work, but the fact that he thinks about it during his lunch break, that is in violation of God’s law. It is not just the man who murders a family, but also the man who desires to run a fellow motorist of the road that is worthy of separation from God. There does not have to be a physical action or a tangible sin to point at and say “See, that person is a sinner” for us to have sinned.

As well, it teaches that none are above sin and therefore there is no benefit in harping on certain sins of others while you have enough sin of your own to deal with. The place we see this the most is in the way religious people handle homosexuals. So often the cry of hellfire and gnashing of teeth is the only words that a gay person hears come from a “Christians” mouth and it never seems that the true mercies of God’s love are revealed to them. Yet when we look to the passage in John 8 where Jesus is confronted with a woman caught in the act of adultery, whom the scribes and Pharisees bring to him in order that they may see if he upholds the Mosaic law of stoning her to death. However, before Christ says anything to the woman, he admonishes the teachers who, in their zeal to see the woman punished, have failed to see that they too are as guilty as her before God. Then, once they all realize their own failings, Christ, the blameless one, grants mercy to the woman, as only he can, and commands her to leave and to not continue in her previous sins.

It is not the Christians job to convict of sins, that is the work of the Holy Spirit moving in the heart of the elect. No, instead it is for the believer speaking to an unbeliever to preach the gospel (Romans 1:15. 1 Corinthians 1:23, 1 Corinthians 9:16). And what is the gospel? It is the good news. Condemnation? That is the law. But the good news is that Christ fulfilled the law, that he laid down his life as a sacrifice, to pay the price for our sins, and then rose again from the grave so that we may have power to overcome sin, being justified in the eyes of God, that in the end we may be glorified and seated with him in heaven.

How do we live the revolutionary lifestyle in condemnation? Realize that we are all sinners, that God hates all sin and that all sin leads to eternal separation from God. And then preach the good news to all people, that through Christ some may be saved from hell (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Revolutionary Christianity- Living the Revolutionary Lifestyle in Purpose

May 20, 2009

“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ “ – Matthew 6:9-10

“And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’… Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ “ – Matthew 26:39,42

” ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’ “
– Matthew 12:50

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” – 1 Peter 4:1-2

As full-fledged Christian Revolutionaries, one of the main aspects of our lives that revolt against the teachings of the world is in why we do what we do. What is our will? What are the motivations behind living this revolutionary lifestyle the way that we do? Why should we choose to abstain from certain behaviors (such as premarital sex) and engage in others (like evangelism)? In short, it is because we should long to do the will of God!

The majority of other major worldviews, Humanism, Existentialism, Postmodernism, Universalism, and such, all view the purpose of man as to do his own will and seek his own good so that in the end he is either counted as a good person and/or worthy of attaining some sort of heaven. They view man as having a fundamental ability to do “good” and as being a naturally “good” creature.

However, as a Christian we see over and over that we are by nature not good (Ephesians 2:3, Romans 3) and that because of our nature we are all deserving of death and Hell (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1). Yet it is by the mercy of God that we recieve grace and forgiveness (1 Peter 1:3-5), and we can “take off the old self” and put on the new which was “created after the likeness of God” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Thus, we are called to our revolutionary view of our will. As quoted above in 1 Peter, we are to live “no longer for human passions but for the will of God”, and as illustrated by Jesus, both in the Lord’s Prayer and His own prayers in Gethsemane, we are to pray for and desire that the will of God be done, regardless of the cost to ourselves. That is revolutionary, that is completely against the nature of this world and its’ man-made philosophies which desire to satisfy the flesh and fulfill the desires of a man’s heart. As is the main thesis of John Piper’s book Desiring God, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him, and so we should not only seek to do His will but also to be happy in doing so.

As a Christian Revolutionary it is always for the will of God that I should strive, and that I may be more able to do it as He is conforming me to the image of His Son. When the world desires goodness and satisfaction they always turn inwards, but as a new creation to whom God has given “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” to (2 Corinthians 4:6), we know that the only way to truly have our joy fulfilled is by abiding in Christ and seeking to do the will of the Father.

Revolutionary Christianity- Living the Revolutionary Lifestyle in Public

May 19, 2009

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ “ – Like 19:5-8

“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘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.’ “
– Matthew 9:9-13

When Christians discuss Jesus and His life and ministry, so many want to focus on His parables or on the conversations He had with the disciples. However, only focusing on that stuff, as wonderful and beneficial as it is, neglects another very worthwhile portion of Jesus’ ministry: Jesus hung out with sinners! And no, not just in the “we are all sinners” way, but Jesus actually spent large amounts of time with the greedy, loose, drunken, and morally corrupt! He spoke at a well with a serial divorcee who was living in fornication with her current partner (John 4). He called a money-grubbing tax collector out from the collection tables to follow Him as a disciple (Matthew 9). He allowed a sinful woman to approach Him and wash His feet as He ate with a Pharisee (Luke 7). In short, Jesus didn’t shy away from sinners, but instead He embraced them and loved on them, and through this loving, He was able to effectually rebuke them and bring them to a saving faith (Luke 7:50).

So then, why as Christians today are we so afraid of the world? Why are we so afraid to go to the movie theaters or to be seen in places where *gasp* people drink alcohol? Why have we adopted the attitude of the Pharisee who says, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”?

To follow Christ is to be revolutionary in our public behavior. First, we are to be revolutionary to the lifestyle of religious people. As a true follower we must fight against the mindset which says we have to sit at home on Sundays or homeschool our children. For we see that Jesus healed on the Sabbath (“it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath“, Luke 9:12), and that Daniel accepted the schooling of the Babylonians, more opposed to God than any present-day public school, without religious conflict (Daniel 1). Jesus even makes a point to tell the religious people that “the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31), because the sinners, though sinful, have realized their need for a savior and repented to follow, but the religious people in their piety are unable to accept Christ as Lord.

Second, we must be revolutionary to the lifestyle of the world. Though Jesus ate with the sinners, socialized with the prostitutes, and partied with the drunkards, He did not partake in their sinful lifestyles (Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22). Moreover, Jesus, in His righteousness, was able to call these people out of their sin and into eternal life (Luke 8, John 4). In such a manner, we too are led. As quoted above, the apostle Paul makes it clear that we should use our freedom as Christians to better acquaint ourselves with unbelievers so that through our efforts some may be saved. Don’t get me wrong, if a brother struggles with alcohol, he shouldn’t minister in a bar. However, if a man is able to do so with a clear conscience, then a bar would be a great place to make friends with unbelievers. We must be revolutionary in our behavior, not acting like every fool with an STD and a lampshade on our head, but as a joyous, sanctified creature, fully intoxicated on the glory of Jesus Christ and longing to peer pressure non-believers into trying some too.

Christ was a revolutionary in His public and social life. His conscience was clear and His purpose was sure. He longed to meet sinners where they were and call them to repentance through a relationship with Himself, and He could not have cared less what the legalistic religious people said.

Revolutionary Christianity- What it Means to be a True Follower of Christ

May 18, 2009

Revolution \Rev`o*lu”tion\, n.
(1) a drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving;
See also: Revolutionary, n., a person who either advocates or actively engages in some kind of revolution.

” ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ “ – Matthew 10:37-39

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” – Ephesians 2:1-5a

One theme I wish to focus on over time in this blog is the truth of the revolution which was instituted with the ministry of Christ on this earth and the spreading of the gospel that followed His resurrection. Jesus was a revolutionary! If we look at the above definition we can easily say this, knowing that through Jesus’ ministry came a “far-reaching change” in the thoughts and behaviors of those who follow Him. That the world as it was B.C., before Christ, and the world after His death, burial, and resurrection, are radically different. The revolution was begun in Christ and still continues to this day, affecting more people than the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the various Communist Revolutions combined. It is truly a revolution in which no one is left unaffected and the rallying cry goes out to masses, either you are with Christ or you are against Him, there is no Switzerland in this conflict.

Therefore, we too, as believers, are revolutionaries. Our figurehead is Jesus, our manifesto is the Bible, and our charge to fight was given in the Great Commission. Thus, over the forthcoming posts in this series we are going to examine the various aspects of our revolutionary lifestyle and just why these are counter to the lifestyle of the world and to the ways of the “prince of the power of the air.”

Romans 12:2 tells us not to be “conformed to this world“, and as such we must stand firm in the principles of our cause (1 Corinthians 16:13), prepared to fight for them in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2), never ashamed but always glorifying the name of the Father of our leader (1 Peter 4:16). We are revolutionaries, we are soldiers who must persevere, striving always to advance the cause of the kingdom, until one day Jesus, the first revolutionary, returns, overthrowing this present principality and reigning for all eternity on. Viva la revolucion!

You Owe it to Him, Right?- John Piper on the Debtor’s Ethic of Christian Living

April 26, 2009

Talking about stewardship yesterday I mentioned the “debtor’s ethic”, an idea that we should do things out of gratitude to God in order to pay him back for his blessings and/or the gift of salvation.  As I said, this was not a unique creation of my own but is something I read in the writings of Dr. John Piper.  Today I think I would like to expound on this ethic a little further.

The written idea of the debtor’s ethic, at least as I encountered it, occurs in John Piper’s book on pastoral ministry entitled Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.  In the fifth chapter of this book Dr. Piper makes the statement, “Brothers, beware of the debtor’s ethic.”  He then goes on to describe the debtor’s ethic writing that,

[i]t comes packaged as a gratitude ethic and says things like: “God has done so much for you; now what will you do for Him?”  ”He gave you His lfe; now how much will you give to Him?”

[In this] the Christian life is pictured as an effort to pay back the debt we owe to God.  The admission is made that we will never fully pay it off, but the debtor’s ethic demands that we work at it.  Good deeds and religious acts are the installment payments we make on the unending debt we owe God. (p.34)

From just this much I would imagine that many of us know exactly what Piper is talking about.  This mindset is especially prevalent in Catholic homes and communities, where the ideas of penance and works righteousness are widely accepted as biblical truth.  Of course, from this Piper then asks teh question, “Have you ever tried to find a Biblical text where gratitude or thankfulness is the explicit motive for obedience to God?”  He admits that there are passages which elevate the position of gratitude in our service, but states that not a single verse or passage exists which explicitly suggests this philosophy as being commended by Christ.

Why is this so bad though?  Is it not okay simply to serve God and do good things regardless of teh motivation behind it?  No, it’s not.  In fact, a key characteristic of Jesus’ earthly ministry was that he charged people to take the primary focus in obedience off of the observable physical acts and placing it on the intentions of the heart (cf. Matthew 5-7).  Having right motives in serving God is what makes our service acceptable to him, as Hebrews 11.6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  Clearly, the focus of God is upon faith and our trusting in him.  Paying back an obligation can be a very apathetic action; acting in faith cannot.

I believe that we need to test for this in all aspects of our Christian lives.  The debtor’s ethic is an easy sin to fall into, yet a deadly mindset to overlook.  Even if we as believers have encountered and become aware of the yoke that the debtor’s ethic brings, we still manage to be in danger of succombing to it at any time.  The moment we sour on doing something, be it teaching Sunday School, loving our spouse, witnessing to the lost, or any other point of service in our lives, we find ourselves one step from continuing on sinfully trying to pay back a debt instead of proceeding to act in faith towards the one who has established us.  

Be on the lookout.  Burdening us with a sense of obligation to repay God is one of the more prevalent tricks of the devil today.  This is for sure a yoke we cannot bear; and yet, in light of God’s free gift of forgiveness through the sacrifice of Christ and our faith in this, it is not a yoke we need to bear either.

Stuck at Go- A Case Study in the Failure of Modern Evangelism

March 31, 2009

Since deciding to take this past year as a period of casual learning before jumping into seminary and formal pastoral education, I have found myself taking part in several church and generally “Christian” activities.  One of these is an evangelism group in which people are meeting weekly to learn a system of evangelism and then heading out to use it in attempt to reach people who have indicated an interest in our church.  To be honest, I am excited to be going out for evangelism and trying to take people the message of the cross every week, but I could give or take the particular system we are being trained in.

The system isn’t one of the fancy named deals like F.A.I.T.H. or Evangelism Explosion, but is a mixture of the general principles involved in these, all centered around the “Bridge to Life” tract put out by The Navigators.  I would imagine many Christians are familiar with this illustration; it is the one where man and God are separated over a chasm caused by sin and the only way for man to make it to God’s side is by the cross of Jesus, which allows him to choose eternal life over eternal destruction.  Now aside from the fact that this is an unabashedly Arminian presentation and that it utterly abuses passages such as 1 Timothy 2.5, Revelation 3.20, and John 6.47, this system does attempt to teach reconciliation with a righteous God through the grace of the cross and so I stomach going through it, even if I won’t necessarily plan on using it once on the field.

However, this past week, instead of being with my usual evangelism partner I teamed with another highly active member of my church, a slightly older guy (late 30′s-early 40′s), who serves as a deacon and teaches children’s Sunday School.  We had one prospect to visit, a Korean family who had come to our church the day before and who my partner casually knew through involvment in the public schools.  What happened during our visit was indicative of my greatest fears in the style of evangelism we have been taught, a style not that different from most other evangelical congregations, and served to further bolster in my mind the weakness of the modern Christian church’s view of salvation.

So we arrive at this person’s house, knock on the door, introduce ourselves, and get invited in.  We sit and make small talk for a minute, finding out what they thought of our church and how it was that they came to visit us.  Then, since my partner had a previous rapport with the family, I let him lead in with a testimony about his salvation experience and follow that up with the “key” question: “If you were to be in front of God for judgment tonight, what would you say to him about why he should let you into heaven?”  This, in some variation or another, is the basic first or second question in most contemporary evangelism schemes (the other being, “If you were to die tonight do you know where you would spend eternity?”), and their response is then used to lead into the gospel presentation if anything other than a “faith” answer is given.  However, on this night, the question was short circuited right from the start when our prospect told us that he is not particularly concerned with the afterlife but prefers to focus on how he lives his life today.  You could tell it from my partners eyes– our system has no ability to respond to that– and that is a problem.

Honestly, the objection that this man raised is (a) not in itself a bad train of thought, and (b) increasingly common in our postmodern culture.  Heck, I even find myself in this place often times, not that I don’t care about the afterlife, but that I find my motivation in living for God being more focused on how I serve him practically day-to-day and less in where I’ll go when I die.  The problem is, if a person really doesn’t invest too much in thinking about heaven and hell, what good does the “key” question do?  Moreover, why is it that we have left our congregations so inadequately prepared to deal with a very simple and prevalent kink in their system?  

This is one area of agreement that I have with the emerging/postmodern mindset.  We cannot just focus on trying to automatize evangelism and teaching God.  There are many legitimate variations on Christian thinking and experience that the modern evangelical framework is impotent at addressing, but that the church should not have any trouble dealing with.  Unless we train our people solidly in the Bible, and not just in some cute, 5-page presentation intended to astonish unbelievers into submission, there is no way that they will be able to stand a chance in the well read, broadly spiritual age we are living in, and their ignorance will continue the stigma against the church as being a simple-minded, anti-intellectual hot bed of judgmental radicals.  

The Scriptures really are sufficient, but unfortunately modern evangelism is neglecting a great portion of them in trying to advance easy believism, turn-or-burn Christianity.  This was one example how.

Why His Stripes Healed Us- Daniel Montgomery on the Old Testament Sacrificial System

March 16, 2009

(Note: If you like what you have read on this blog, please go here and vote for it in the 2009 Blog Madness competition.  I am listed as the 15th ranked blog in the West Division.  Thank you for your support.)

As some of you may know from talking with me or reading in the Author tab, this coming fall my family and I are headed to Louisville, KY in order for me to start attending The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  And looking towards Louisville we are also looking ahead to what church we plan on joining while there.  Of course, knowing my interests and what is happening in that city right now, the most obvious front runner for us would be Sojourn Community Church.  Thus, in preparation for visiting there in the coming months I have already begun listening to their weekly sermon podcasts on iTunes.

Let me first say that I am very impressed by the ambituous task that Sojourn’s pastor, Daniel Montgomery, has embarked upon this year.  He has felt led to take his church through a sweeping tour of the entire Old Testament, hitting the major themes and events along the way, during the 2009 calendar year.  I love that they are pursuing that idea since there seem to be so few Southern Baptists that I think have a firm enough grasp on what exactly is in the Old Testament and why that content is important for us to know in light of New Testament revelation about Christ.

However, beyond that initial respect I have for his series, Daniel recently came upon a topic which I was flat excited to here someone preach on– that being the issue of the Old Testament sacrificial system.  Because he is going straight through the Bible, when he got to the opening chapters of Leviticus there was really nothing else to do but to deal with all of the sacrifices that are laid out for the Israelites to perform.  I can honestly say I have never heard this precahed on before in any church I have attended or downloaded, and was so ecstatic to hear Pastor Daniel go through it from the pulpit.  It really was a great message and I want to recommend it to all of you as a sermon of supreme importance in terms of where we come from and just why it was necessary for Christ to pay the penalty that he had to in order for us to be redeemed by his blood.  There is so much confusion on the meaning of the atonement these days, and unless we place everything back in the light of God’s Levitical requirements for sin we can not truly understand why a bloody, beaten Savior is what was needed for the fulfillment of the law.  Please, take the time to listen to this wonderful exposition of God’s Word.

Daniel Montgomery- Leviticus 1-6, 16: Sacrifice

Sheep Turned Back in Terror- My Biggest Fear in Sharing the Gospel

February 24, 2009

I think without a doubt that one of the most terrifying passages in the Bible for people in the church to read is 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 will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Surely, at some point, every one of us has heard that verse and paused to wonder if Jesus is saying this to me.  Now, we might pick right back up, think off to our experience of regeneration, rest on the hope of the Spirit testifying with our spirit that we truly are a son of God (Romans 8.16), and be calmed in this fear.  But their is fear there nonetheless, if just for a moment, afraid that I might be one of those turned back that day.

Beyond the personal extent, however, this is probably the most terrifying verse to me as a Bible teacher and one-day preacher of God’s Word.  I will admit it, my biggest fear in the ministry is that my preaching might give someone the false assurance of salvation.  I know that the Bible says that those who teach will be judged with greater strictness (James 3.1), and though I am not sure how this will be played out, it certainly must be true and worth saying.  Then, in light of this, I can’t help but feel that there will be strict judgment on holding those in a flock, encouraging them as brothers and sisters in Christ, and then finding out in the end that the profession they made was not real.  That even worse they may have felt it was real, been strengthened in that belief by my teaching, and then ultimately devastated when Christ declares he never knew them.  I do not want to be a part of that.  I do not want to add to someones false hope of salvation, and of that I am truly afraid.

Practically, to me, what does that mean?  It means that I want to avoid saying, teaching, doing things that people will respond to through human means without being transformed by the Spirit to truly follow after them.  In particular, it means that I find myself analyzing and critiquing every gospel presentation or call to repentance that I hear.  I know that it is wrong to come “with lofty speech or wisdom” to try and convince people, and that God’s Word will always accomplish it’s purposes (Isaiah 55.11), and for Pete’s sake, I’m a Calvinist so I know that nothing will come to pass that was not already foreordained by God, BUT I also know that Satan is “the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12.9) and if I am not careful then my own tongue may be used to propagate his deceitfulness, so I want to watch what I say.

There are many phrases that do this for me, but one that specifically gets to me is asking people if they “have received the free gift of eternal life.”  Beyond the fact that this statement about “eternal life” doesn’t really make sense to most people, I feel like there is a gut reaction that says, “Of course I want that,” but it has nothing to do with the God of the Bible.  There is such a consumerist mindset among Americans today that they want everything that will be beneficial for them.  This means Christianity, but it also includes Buddhism, New Age mysticism, psychology, good luck charms, and just about anything else that is promoted as a positive towards living a “good life.”  Thus, many people will simply “accept” this.  Some may even become regulars at church, or even Sunday School leaders.  But, if there understanding of what’s transpired is that they have “accepted eternal life” then chances are they have not really believed.  Then, if I go in behind them and say things like, “1 John 5.13 says, ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life,’” and use that to assure my people that their “believing in Jesus” has truly given them that eternal life, without ever explaining that 1 John also says, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (3.10), then it seems all I am doing is adding to their lostness.

I guess to me, the point is  that I want to make sure people are fully aware of the condemnation that is on them when I speak the gospel.  Most people don’t really believe their sin is that bad, and unless that is made clear to them, I do not see how their response to God can be any more than a consumerist grab for more good karma.  As Mark Dever has said, the call from Christ is, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16.24), and this is not something that we should be naturally wanting to do.  If a persons first response to the gospel is an immediate visceral desire for it, then it is most likely that the gospel was either not preached or not understood or both.  Unless a person sees their own need for a savior, how can they truly accept Christ as it?

I know this probably makes me too scientific and too harsh on many well-meaning preachers of the Word, and I thank my wife for pointing out the times when I go too far off task in analyzing this stuff.  However, at the end of the day, I am still afraid of this.  I am still afraid that someone will go before Jesus at the judgment saying “Lord, Lord,” only to get turned away, and as they move towards an eternity away from the presence of God, they will think to themselves, Why did my teacher make me feel like I was safe?  I don’t want that and wish to always commit myself to the Spirit and the Word so that in my own fallen nature I will not cause it to happen.

What We Believe- Article II, God (part 2)

January 15, 2009

Following the prologue and general overview of God that we looked at previously the BF&M moves into a subarticle concerning God the Father:

A. God the Father

God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men.

Genesis 1:1; 2:7; Exodus 3:14; 6:2-3; 15:11ff.; 20:1ff.; Leviticus 22:2; Deuteronomy 6:4; 32:6; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Psalm 19:1-3; Isaiah 43:3,15; 64:8; Jeremiah 10:10; 17:13; Matthew 6:9ff.; 7:11; 23:9; 28:19; Mark 1:9-11; John 4:24; 5:26; 14:6-13; 17:1-8; Acts 1:7; Romans 8:14-15; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 4:6; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 11:6; 12:9; 1 Peter 1:17; 1 John 5:7.

I do not believe that this statement could be improved upon. They accurately represent as God as sovereign over “human history,” directing things “according to the purposes of His grace.” I particularly like how they emphasize the nature of adoption, saying that “God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

The final comment, that “[God] is fatherly in His attitude toward all men” is interesting in the fact that I think there is an increasing movement among evangelicals to include more here. Just look at all of the arguments around for “God the Mother,” drawing off of brief images and nuances of speech in certain OT passages (cf. Isaiah 49:14-15; 66:13; Psalm 131:2-3). Even supercool Rob Bell has a supercool Nooma video out entitled She which asks “”When we omit the feminine, are we missing a very fundamental part of [God's] nature?” However, what I think people are missing here is that the idea of God the Father is most prevalent from the way that Christ relates to him. Yes, God may and does have “feminine” characteristics, but in relating to his people, say for instance in “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6.9-13), God is portrayed as Father alone. There is a major difference between displaying feminine qualities and assuming a feminine role and when we overlook that or ignore it we begin to venture off into awkward, if not bad, theology. It is simply a symptom of our hyper-perverse and scatterbrained culture that we become so adamant to force this secular egalitarian philosophy into everything, even places were it clearly does not belong.

The second subarticle has do with God incarnated as Christ:

B. God the Son

Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.

Genesis 18:1ff.; Psalms 2:7ff.; 110:1ff.; Isaiah 7:14; 53; Matthew 1:18-23; 3:17; 8:29; 11:27; 14:33; 16:16,27; 17:5; 27; 28:1-6,19; Mark 1:1; 3:11; Luke 1:35; 4:41; 22:70; 24:46; John 1:1-18,29; 10:30,38; 11:25-27; 12:44-50; 14:7-11; 16:15-16,28; 17:1-5, 21-22; 20:1-20,28; Acts 1:9; 2:22-24; 7:55-56; 9:4-5,20; Romans 1:3-4; 3:23-26; 5:6-21; 8:1-3,34; 10:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2:2; 8:6; 15:1-8,24-28; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21; 8:9; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:20; 3:11; 4:7-10; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:13-22; 2:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 3:16; Titus 2:13-14; Hebrews 1:1-3; 4:14-15; 7:14-28; 9:12-15,24-28; 12:2; 13:8; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:22; 1 John 1:7-9; 3:2; 4:14-15; 5:9; 2 John 7-9; Revelation 1:13-16; 5:9-14; 12:10-11; 13:8; 19:16.

Again I believe this is a wonderful description of the life and workings of Jesus Christ. The writers make sure to emphasize his virgin birth and full deity, two aspects of Christ which many Christians throughout history have felt were up for debate, particularly in our current period of modernity and “scientific enlightenment.” We are also treated to the triple picture of Christ as prophet (he “perfectly revealed and did the will of God”), priest (“He is the One Mediator . . . in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man”), and king (“He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God”). As well, his second coming in glory, “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 12.28 ) among other things, is foretold.

One important addition that we find in the 2000 revision of the BF&M is in the passage that talks about Christ’s death. The 2000 version reads, “in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin.” Where this differs from the 1963 version is in the inclusion of the word “substitutionary.” Such a small word but such a big deal. There are so many theories abounding today which proclaim Christ’s death on the cross as simply an example of suffering or as a mistake which God later turned to his good, all the while trying to deny a substitutionary atonement on claims that to necessitate Christ going through such a thing would be nothing more than “cosmic child abuse” by the Father. We can breath a sigh of relief then knowing that, at least on paper, the standard of orthodoxy in the SBC recognizes that not only did Christ die on the cross, but that it was foreordained and necessary for him to do so in order that he might be “made to be sin” on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5.21a) and so “the record of debt that stood against us” may be canceled (Colossians 2.13-14), allowing us to “become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21b).

The John 3:16 Conference- David Allen on Limited Atonement (Part 2)

November 11, 2008

In yesterday’s post we overviewed Dr. David Allen’s argument against Limited Atonement and I began my response, giving a defense for understanding Edwards as a five point Calvinist and not as a four pointer like Dr. Allen claimed.

Moving on, I would want to address Allen’s exegesis next. Over all, I will be the first to admit that I am not a fan of running immediately to the ‘All’, ‘Whole’, and ‘Many’ arguments as an argument for or against limited atonement, seeing as how both sides can use these texts to say what they want, usually without much weight. Instead, what I think is more fruitful is to actually investigate the nature of the atonement, which I think will be sufficient to show that it can be no other than a limited act if not all are to be saved. That said, I won’t be doing that in this post, but in the next week or so look for a small series in which I attempt to actually execute this argument.

Observing then the attempted exegesis on the “Christ died for his sheep” and “Christ died for the church” passages, to claim that these don’t preclude a universal atonement based upon their silence on the matter is a violation of the pragmatic use of implication in linguistics. Dr. Allen used the sentence “I love my wife” to demonstrate that this does not necessarily mean the negative assertion that he does not love anyone else, but only the positive assertion that he does love his wife. Yet this is not the same, particularly as in John 10.11, 14-15. This passage states that “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . . . I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” It is true that Christ never says “I lay down my life for the sheep and none other,” but the context of the passage, Christ’s continual emphasis on his special role of protection and caring for the sheep, his intimate knowledge of who they are, screams that Christ laying down his life for the sheep is a favored and particular act. Otherwise, if Christ means only that he lays down his life for the sheep as a subset of all people, then the repetition of Christ’s distinct relationship to the sheep becomes superfluous. Why does Christ having a reason for dying for his sheep matter if he dies for everyone? If Christ does die for everyone is there no reason for why he would die for those who aren’t his sheep? To avoid the implication of a limitation on Christ’s dying is to make this passage more general than it intends itself to be.

Thirdly, in Dr. Allen’s attempts to give a defense for why the free offer of the Gospel means telling people that Christ died for them, I don’t think the evidence he offered was very convincing. Citing 1 Corinthians 15.1-5, Dr. Allen said that his view is supported by the passage “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (v.3). Yet, in this context, whether limited or unlimited atonement is true, the fact that Paul delivered to these people that Christ died for their sins is accurate because they are presupposed to be believers, a status which both camps would argue makes them recipients of the atonement. Thus, it is inconclusive whether Paul used the “God loves you and died for your sins” approach or the more Calvinistic “God gave his only begotten Son to die for sin so that if you believe on him you may have eternal life” (this being John Piper’s formulation) which is just as free, but does not obligate God to atoning for any but those who believe.

As for his other text, Acts 3.26, this is what it says: “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” Dr. Allen’s argument on this is that, if Christ was “raised up” and “sent to [them] first” to turn “every one of [them] from [their] wickedness” then this necessarily means that his death and resurrection provided an atonement which was freely available to all who are being spoken of. Yet this interpretation neglects the simple context of the passage. What we see here is that Christ being “raised up” is the completion of verses 22 and 23 which say, “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’” Thus, the raising up was not from the dead once atonement was made, but was as a prophet (teacher) to call the Jews to repentance, as Christ declares of himself in Matthew 15.24 (“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”) and John states of him in John 1.11 (“He came to his own“). Thus, the Jews were to be blessed by receiving Christ as a prophet to bring them to repentance under the Law, and yet instead they murdered him (Acts 3.13-15). Therefore, once again, this passage should not be understood as a justification for including an unlimited atonement in the free offer of the Gospel.

Finally, I would like to address Dr. Allen’s closing comments about the consequences of holding to a limited view of the atonement. Dr. Allen stated that limited atonement undermines God’s salvific will, undermines evangelistic zeal, removes the ability to tell a sinner Christ died for them, affects the way a preacher may speak to his congregation, attacks the idea of giving evangelistic invitations, and that “should the Southern Baptist Convention move toward 5-point Calvinism, such a move would be away from, and not toward, the gospel.” As we have already shown, the way in which limited atonement affects a preachers ability to speak to his congregation and the way we evangelize is only in a sense which to speak that way would have no justification in Scripture to begin with. (Resting on the Bible also restricts us from telling people that God has purple unicorns lined up for us in heaven, but oddly people don’t seem so determined to want to say this to nonbelievers.) Neither does the giving of evangelistic invitations stand on solid biblical ground.

The idea that limited atonement undermines God’s salvific will came only as an assertion, not a defended point, and following the argument of Edwards as quoted in the previous post, one can see that it in no way actually does this.

Finally, to state that limited atonement affects evangelistic zeal, and that a “move toward 5-point Calvinism . . . would be [a move] away from . . . the gospel,” though a common theme at the conference, and basically its initial impetus, was an accusation that was only ever stated but never hashed out. The fact that the greatest preachers and missionaries of all time held four- and five-point Calvinistic convictions seems lost on the speakers at this gathering, who simply hide behind the idea that these people were only evangelistic in spite of their convictions. This, to me, is the biggest problem with the current debate: large numbers of SBC ministers and deacons, who only know horror stories of legalists masquerading as Calvinists, coming into this with their own misconceptions of what Calvinism is and stirring up conflict with brothers that they are never actually willing to engage.

Overall, I felt Dr. Allen’s presentation against Limited Atonement, admittedly the hardest point to defend in Scripture, was poor and seemed more focused on rallying the base against a perceived evil instead of giving a strong biblical argument in opposition to it.