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.

Steps Away from the Dark Side- Thoughts on How to Avoid the Temptation Towards Christian Universalism

May 12, 2009

Last week we spent several days looking at Christian Universalism and several errors abuses that I claim are making it easier for evangelical churches to fall into this heresy.  The four I named specifically were a misunderstanding of the idea that “God is love,”  a misunderstanding of salvation by grace alone, the teaching of Free Grace theology as it pertains to perseverance, and the denial of the doctrine of a literal hell.  Today I want to briefly discuss what I think we can do to protect against these errors and hold off the advancement of Christian Universalism into our churches.  My thesis is this: in order to protect against the doctrinal errors that tempt Christians towards accepting the Christian Universalist viewpoint, we need to better teach, demonstrate, and embrace the traditional reformed doctrines of salvation, particularly the doctrines of total depravity and unconditional election.

First, I believe that holding to a true understanding of total depravity goes a long way here, the core issue of this being whether or not man is by nature good and able to choose on his own to please God.  He either is or he isn’t, there really is no middle ground, even though men like Paige Patterson muddy the waters playing fast-and-loose with this terminology.  

Total depravity teaches that man is by nature sinful, wholly incapable of pleasing God and radically undesiring to do so (cf. Hebrews 11.6, Ephesians 2.1-3, Romans 3.9-12).  Understanding this means that we are confronted with the fact that every second of a person’s life prior to being saved is spent in absolute rebellion against God.  At no point is anything this person does going to incline God towards them or merit God’s favor in any way.  ”[E]very intention of the thoughts of [their] heart [is] only evil continually” (Genesis 6.5).  This is all sin and all an affront to the righteousness of God, which incurs his just anger.  For God to forgive this requires more than just love.  This is not some little kid who doesn’t mean to be bad they just are sometimes.  This is a full-blown sociopath who shows no remorse or care that they are breaking every rule set out for them.  If God is just he has to deal with this.  If God is not just then he is not God and so were done.  Therefore, “God is love” proves to be insufficient and salvation by grace alone must be understood in the context of who actually did pay for our transgression, that being Jesus Christ.  If man is totally depraved then we have a real mess on our hands and it requires a much bigger God than the false God of Christian Universalism to fix what’s wrong with us.

Moreover, if man is totally depraved before salvation and yet able to please God after salvation then that means something happens at salvation.  This something is what we find in Ezekiel 36 and Titus 3:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36.26-27)

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3.4-5)

At the moment of our salvation God washes over our totally depraved hearts and brings them out anew, ready to walk in his ways, able to follow his commands and serve him in a manner that is pleasing.  We no longer are stuck in “following the course of this world” (Ephesians 2.2) but now are free to offer “spiritual worship” to our Lord (Romans 12.1).  Therefore, to not do so is wildly out of place.  Why would God set us up in such a way to do good works (Ephesians 2.10) if he did not have any intention on us actually doing them?  Why are we given “heart[s] of flesh” and why does he say that he will “cause [us] to walk in [his] statutes“?  Is God just being facetious?  Was Ezekiel 36 only written to committed Christians and not the everyday average Joe Christian?  Clearly not.  God went through great trouble to enable us to do good works for us to just shoo that away as if it is an optional text.  Totally depravity and Free Grace theology cannot coexist.

Finally, we can use the doctrine of unconditional election to deal with the denial of hell.  Unconditional election, the process by which God has chosen his people, his children, from before time, without regard for their works or merit (because they have none prior to salvation, right?), and predestined them unto a sure salvation.  Going further, because some Calvinists don’t do this, we need to understand that God saves ALL AND ONLY the elect.  All of the elect will be saved and only the elect will be saved (cf. Romans 8.30, John 10.24-27).  

But how does this help with the denial of hell?  Put simply, it gives us understanding that no one is going to hell who wasn’t already choosing to go to hell.  By our actions, our rebellion against God (in totally depravity) we are choosing hell.  The only way out of this is by God’s grace in salvation.  And the only way to salvation is through election.  So, God remains just.  He makes no man go to hell who did not already desire to go there himself.  We need not view God as a God who damns unjustly or saves willy-nilly.  God had a plan and purpose set out before the foundation of the world of whom he would save (Ephesians 1.3ff) and he is faithful to see that through.  There is no one in hell who does not deserve it, and there is no design among men by which they may save themselves (cf. 1 Corinthians 1.26-31).  God chose unconditionally and works this choice righteously to save those who are “called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28).

There is much more.  Taking on the reformed doctrines of salvation to their full extent (all five points of Calvinism) enlightens such a great portion of God’s plan that the confusion and mire of non-Calvinist soteriology and Easy Believism are wisked away.  Admittedly, Calvinism is prone to its own abuses (particularly thinking here of the hyper-Calvinist practice of non-evangelism), but at the end of the day I would rather deal with the error of a God who does not call people to missions over the one of a God who does not call people to salvation, wouldn’t you?

Steps to the Dark Side, part 3- Some Theological Abuses that Lead to Christian Universalism

May 8, 2009

Today I am going to briefly hit the final part of my argument over the four theological errors that are leading or contributing to a rise in Christian Universalist beliefs among traditional evangelical circles by discussing the denial of the doctrine of a literal hell.  Following today’s post I will take a day or two to jump back into the What We Believe series going through the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 and then at the start of next week I will return for one last post over what the evangelical church can do to combat against Christian Universalism in its midst.

Whenever I consider the denial of the doctrine of a literal hell my first thought is always over this quote from Brian McLaren which has appeared numerous times on my blog:

Tony [Campolo] and I might disagree on the details, but I think we are both trying to find an alternative to both traditional Universalism and the narrow, exclusivist understanding of hell [that unless you explicitly accept and follow Jesus, you are excluded from eternal life with God and destined for hell] . . .   Although in many ways I find myself closer to the view of God held by some universalists than I do the view held by some exclusivists, in the end I’d rather turn our attention from the questions WE think are important to the question JESUS thinks is most important. (Brian McLaren, Christianity Today5 May 2006)

This quote, in my mind, was the rallying cry for an acceptance of Christian Universalism into the mainstream.  McLaren’s writings are readily available in any bookstores ‘Christianity’ section, so his name, combined with the long-standing platform of Christianity Today among the evangelical community, makes this a powerful statement.

For clarity’s sake, when I say that someone is denying the doctrine of a literal hell, what I mean is that they deny the doctrine of a literal, eternal separation from God.  Many people want to quibble over things saying, “No, I don’t believe in a place of eternal darkness,” or “No, I don’t believe in a place of fire and brimstone,” but this is avoiding the point.  I do not care to argue over if hell is a fiery place, a cold dark place, if it is a place under the earth, an actual lake of fire, or maybe just New Orleans; that’s all of no consequence.  What matters is whether you believe in a “place” where God eternally punishes those who have not come to him in faith?  If you do then you believe in a literal hell; if not then you don’t.  

Now you may ask, why do I call this literal hell?  I mean, some Christian Universalists say things like, “The Universalist regards hell as signifying the consequences of sin, severe but salutary, to endure as long as sin endures, but to end with the reformation for the sinner.”  Does that not mean they believe in a literal hell too?  No, because they do not believe in hell in the way that the Bible believes in hell, which is where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9.48) and where people “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1.9).  The only literal hell is the one that is spoken of quite literally in Scripture.  (Of course, many will argue that the Scriptures are not so clear on this, but how many ad hoc arguments and hand-waving exegeses will we listen to before saying enough?)

So, is it obvious enough why the denial of a literal hell is a major contributer to Christian Universalism in evangelicalism?  

Looking at it again, there is one thing I agree with McLaren– the opposite of the denial of hell is exclusivism: “Although in many ways I find myself closer to the view of God held by some universalists than I do the view held by some exclusivists . . .”  What I mean is that ANY religion which believes you can be saved by some means outside of faith in the vicarious atoning death of Christ and his resurrection is functionally Universalism.  All other means are a lie and heresy just like Universalism and believing that one thing else can save you is for all intents and purposes a belief that anything else can save you.

I will probably have more to say about the denial of hell after reading the two chapters on it in Dr. Mohler’s new book The Disappearance of God, but I think this will do for now.

What We Believe- Article X, Last Things

March 25, 2009

Finally we have reached the place in the Baptist Faith & Message where we discuss the end times.  Here is what it has to say:

X. Last Things

God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.

Isaiah 2:4; 11:9; Matthew 16:27; 18:8-9; 19:28; 24:27,30,36,44; 25:31-46; 26:64; Mark 8:38; 9:43-48; Luke 12:40,48; 16:19-26; 17:22-37; 21:27-28; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 17:31; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 15:24-28,35-58; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 1:5; 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 5:1ff.; 2 Thessalonians 1:7ff.; 2; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:1,8; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:27-28; James 5:8; 2 Peter 3:7ff.; 1 John 2:28; 3:2; Jude 14; Revelation 1:18; 3:11; 20:1-22:13.

I will be honest right out the gate.  There is an extent to which I like studying eschatology, and then there is a level at which I have almost absolutely no interest in going (at least at this point in my life).  I don’t know if this is a personal reaction to the madness in our lifetimes surrounding the Left Behind series, or if it is more deeply theological in that most people who obsess over the end times seem to accompany it with a biblical interpretation of God’s plan that I mostly reject (i.e. Dispensationalism), but whatever it is, if the discussion gets too far into specifics of time, place, seals, and signs, I usually bow out.

That said, I am pretty happy with where the BF&M goes here.  It presents the level of biblical surety which I embrace, and actually enjoy for what it reveals of God, while avoiding the speculative sign-watching that I see many Christians using to perpetuate their pessimism about the depravity of the world.  (As a side note, I think it’s funny that most people who watch for signs of the end times get so fixated on the depravity that they see as foretelling it, and yet soteriologically they often reject the fact that mankind is totally depraved.)

Let’s look at what is said:

  • “God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end.” 

I completely agree.  I think the Old and the New Testaments are clear that there looms a great day of either judgment or salvation (cf. Joel 2.1-11, 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11, 2 Peter 3.10), a day that the New Testament reveals will be the consumation of all things, the end of the natural order (cf. Matthew 24.3-14, Romans 8.18-25, Revelation 21.1-2).

  • “According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness.”

Christ is fairly adamant that at the end he will return himself to reign over mankind, either as judge or saviour-king (cf. Matthew 24-25, John 5.25-29), and the New Testament authors speak frequently of the resurrection and judgment (cf. 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, 2 Thessalonians 1.5-12, 2 Peter 3.10, Revelation 20).  Their is great controversy over when exactly in history the rapture and resurrection of the dead will take place, and yet mostly I think this debate is for naught.  What is important is that it will occur and, as Mark Driscoll says, if people are going early then I’ll go, if not then I won’t.  Whether the rapture is prior to a tribulation, after a tribulation, or whatever, that doesn’t change how we’re supposed to respond in the here and now, and what has become many people’s inordinate fixation on “leaving this world” is most certainly not the focus of the New Testament teachings here.

  • “The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.”

Let’s not overlook this.  So many today want to pretend like this isn’t the case, but as long as 2 Thessalonians 1.9 is in the Bible, it will be hard to make that reasoning stick: “[Those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”  Whether we try to minimalize it with nihilist theories, or go all out and claim that God is secretly planning universal salvation, these can only hope to fall flat as “comforts” in light of genuine New Testament Scripture.

  • “The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.”

This is the only place I jump off a little from the BF&M.  I fully believe that the righteous (i.e. believers) will receive glorified bodies in the end and will dwell forever with the Lord, but the language of “reward” and our dwelling in “Heaven” are places where I think we sometimes fudge what is actually said.  

To begin with, I think there is way too much emphasis on “reward” and “treasure,” when I believe it is har to read the New Testament and see that we are fully indebted to God’s mercy for salvation and that the point of this salvation is that we may live to glorify for him and not to build up treasure for ourselves.  Yet most Baptist churches have a much more developed theology of reward and what I’m earning for myself than they do a theology of grace and mercy.

Secondly, the evangelical, pie-in-the-sky, ethereal realm of Heaven is a constant frustration to me.  We must define what “Heaven” is and take an honest look at where it says we’ll be.  I mean, the BF&M even states that we will have “resurrected and glorified bodies,” but why would we need those to go float around on the fluffy clouds of heaven with our wings and harps and such?  The answer is, we don’t.  But, if we realize that we are not going to some heavenly place in the sky, but that some heavenly place is coming down to us on earth, then the need for bodies there makes perfect sense (cf. Revelation 21.1-4).  We will be made to live in the New Jerusalem, a place on the new earth, an city prepared in heaven (Hebrews 11.13-16, 13.14), in which God shall dwell with us forever.

In closing, I do think it is important to look towards the closing bell.  In fact, one of my favorite rabbits to chase in Scripture is the preparation of God’s people and their unending pursuit of the Promised Land, a pursuit which started in Genesis 15 and is not completely fulfilled until the coming of the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21.  However, to go further than this and spend undue time in mapping out specific events through speculation and Christian mythology misses the point of what we are to be doing, which is glorifying God and fulfilling the Great Commission.  Amen.

A Kind Hand in Times of Darkness?- Thoughts on Loving God and Helping People

March 20, 2009

Mental health is a big issue, and in my own life it has become a topic with which I am highly interested.  Between spending a weekend learning from To Write Love on Her Arms counsellors to my pending arrival in seminary, the thought of dealing with mental health issues as a pastor has been square in my focus recently.  I do not believe there is any other social good the church can do that is in more need in mainstream America today than to be able to counsel people on mental health issues.  Sure, there are poor people.  And of course there are those with AIDS or other physical ailments.  But by in large, Americans are wealthy, healthy people (which, as an aside, makes the health-wealth-and-prosperity gospel all that more ridiculous since we are already much healthier and wealthier than 95% of the world).  However, what we are not is a very psychologically stable bunch.  Mental health issues such as depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide affect many Americans, regardless color, class, or gender, and should be just as prime a target of our churches as any other more tangible need.

A question that arises in mental health then, at least from the Christian perspective, is what can we say about it?  I will state right off that I think Christians can say a lot on the topic of mental health and that a reluctance to do so has led to a number of worsened conditions over the years.  Some mental health issues have a physical component to them, and handling that with medication should not be frowned upon.  But, where it really gets gritty is in trying to flesh out what we see the ultimate goal of the sufferer to be.  Is it just to contain a condition?  Or should we attempt to extinguish an issue altogether, if that is even possible?  Are we to rely on secular psychology or only Christian theology?

You can work through these questions on your own, as I have been doing and keep doing the more and more I am confronted with it.  As you think on it though, I would like to point you to a quote from John Piper talking about social justice that I think we can use to glean some information for ourselves in this situation:

“If you don’t love God, you can’t do anybody any ultimate good.  You can feed them and clothe them and house them and keep them comfortable while they perish.  But in God’s mind, that by itself is not what love is.  Love does feed and clothe and house- and keeps the commandments that include helping others know and love God in Christ.  But if you don’t love God, you can’t do that.  So if you don’t love God, you can’t love people in the way that counts for eternity.” [Finally Alive, pp.135-136]

Think about that.  Think about what it he means by “lov[ing] people in the way that counts for eternity.”   What might that look like for a Christian pastor or counsellor? and what is meant by “lov[ing] God” in such a way that doing this is possible?  If we really understand and embrace this thought I think it will inform a great deal of Christian psychology and will help us who desire to be pastors to actually be effective pastors in the truest meaning of the word.

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.

Too Late to Repent?- Confronting the Practical Bad Theology on Suicide

January 10, 2009

Today I want to deal with something that is a little away from the norm for me, but which I think is a tremendously important issue, particularly among teenagers and young adults. It is also an important issue for me in both the psychological history of my life as well as in the formation of my beliefs. This is the issue of suicide. What is the proper Christian perspective of suicide? or more importantly, What is God’s reaction to suicide?

To begin with, we should further refine this question into the frame of suicide of a professing believer. It is of no use for us to separate suicide from any other of a lifetime of sins in the heart of those outside of the family of God. All of that persons sins will be held against their soul and are worthy of condemnation, so the impact of suicide upon their eternal destiny is practically of no account. Unless someone has confessed with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believed in their heart that God raised him from the dead, the theological question of suicide makes no difference. If this is where you are I ask that you please honestly evaluate your standing before God and contact me or someone in a church in your area to discuss this issue.

That said, let’s set the stage. A person who at some previous point confessed their sin and followed the Lord Jesus Christ in faith decides that they want to commit suicide, attempts to commit suicide, and is successful in their attempt. What happens now?

Well, what can we say of biblical accounts? There is Judas (Matthew 27.3-5), but he should be omitted because it is almost assured that he was not a believer. Then we have Saul (1 Samuel 31.4), but again I think one may question his standing with God prior to the act. Of the 6 or so suicides mentioned in Scripture, I believe that there is only one committed by a man who we could undoubtedly say was a believer, that being Samson (Judges 16.25-30). The question with Samson however is was what he did actually suicide, at least in the typical sense? I don’t personally believe so. Therefore, it appears to me that if we are truly trying to find anecdotal answers to the case in question we will have no luck. Thus, we must look for other texts to develop our answer.

Augustine and the Westminster Shorter Catechism both link suicide with a failure to uphold the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20.13). The Shorter Catechism justifies this by looking to Ephesians 5.28-29, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” I would agree with all of this. I think when we look at the nature of suicide our natural conclusion must be that it is actually a form of homicide, which is clearly laid out as sinful in the Scriptures.

If this is the case, then what does that mean to a believer who commits suicide? It means that suicide is no different than any other sin! And thus, in as much as Christ died for your lustful thoughts and moments of greed or pride, he also died for the taking of your own life.

This is so important and is why my heart is in this the way it is. In my own life there was a time that I contemplated suicide. I had become a believer a couple of years earlier, but there arose a point in my life where I saw everything crumbling around me and I was panicking. To really add to the fire, I had some of Job’s friends in my life who kept telling me that if I were to commit suicide that that would estrange me from God, that suicide is an unpardonable sin. Now, thankfully I was lifted out of this depression, and with my head cleared I began investigating the claims of those around me. If suicide were really unpardonable then that has severe consequences on the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice as well as my responsibility in sealing my own salvation, things of which the biblical evidence just doesn’t support.

What is the proper Christian perspective on suicide? What is God’s reaction to it? As we have seen, first and foremost, God hates suicide. It is a violation of his sixth commandment and a sin punishable by hell. However, if the person is a believer, it is a sin just like any other which has been covered by the atoning work of Christ on the cross. For the believer, they are assured by Romans 8.38-39 that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Suicide is not God’s plan, but ultimately it will also not remove him from us if we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit as children of God.

Several years after my experience I was able to be on the other side of the conversation, speaking with a believer who was contemplating suicide. Armed with a better understanding of this, I was able to testify about a God who desired them not to take their own life yet who was powerful enough to forgive them in any failure. This may seem like it encourages suicide, but speaking from experience, for someone who feels that they need to take their own life, God seems awfully distant and the most comforting thing is to know that he is there, that he is a mighty God who loves them and whose hand they cannot be plucked out of. Never underestimate the power of a big God.

If you are interested in helping teens and young adults who struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide, please check out the resources at To Write Love on Her Arms and Hopeline. This is an important issue and one that is more prevalent than many will admit. Please help people not to suffer in silence anymore.

To Hell in a Hand Basket- (Not) Surprising News from the Pew Forum

December 19, 2008

Tomorrow, in light of the upcoming holiday, I will be staring a series of several posts on what I believe to be the real “reason for the season” of Christmas. However, with that in mind, namely the fact that so many people badly distort if not altogether ignore the significance of Christmas, I thought I would share a recent study with you guys that (sadly) is not surprising and really exemplifies why we see so little of Christ in Christmas.

The study is one conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and is reported on in an article entitled “Many Americans Say Other Faiths Can Lead to Eternal Life.” Now, the title itself may not be so shocking, but here is the first line: “A majority of all American Christians (52%) think that at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life.” What?

But it doesn’t stop there. If you scroll down and look at the box labeled “Which Religions Lead to Eternal Life?”, you get these interesting facts:

[Note: these numbers are from those who said "Many religions can lead to eternal life"]

  • 64% of White Evangelicals and 73% of White Mainline Protestants say that Judaism can lead to eternal life (Okay, maybe these are all dispensationalists that have gotten crossed up).
  • 35% of White Evangelicals and 55% of White Mainline Protestants say Islam can lead to eternal life (At least it’s still monotheism, I guess).
  • 26% of White Evangelicals and 46% of White Mainline Protestants say that Atheism can lead to eternal life (Umm, so we’re universalists, or at least we forgot that whole “justification by faith” thing that got us out of the Catholic church?)

Where it all goes to hell (and I mean that quite literally) is in the box labeled “What Determines Who Obtains Eternal Life?” This beautiful nugget informs us that:

  • 11% of White Evangelicals and 33% of White Mainline Protestants say that your actions (apart from belief) determine your eternal destiny
  • 10% of White Evangelicals and 10% of White Mainline Protestants say that it is a combination of belief and actions which determines your eternal destiny
  • 45% of White Evangelicals and 9% of White Mainline Protestants say that belief in Jesus and being born again determine your eternal destiny (!)

This means that over half of all white evangelicals and more than 9 out of every 10 white protestants disagree with Jesus when he says “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3.5). Nor do they agree with John 3.16. Or John 14.6.

This begs the question, at what point do we stop calling these people Christians? When we say “Most Christians” and when the society critiques “Most Christians,” it is now clearer than ever that they are not actually talking about Christians in the first place. They’re talking about people who wear the clothes of a Christian, but work for someone else. They’re talking about people who apparently don’t have anything better to do on Sunday morning (oh wait, they probably aren’t going to church, which explains our attendance numbers) and people who feel guilty for calling themselves what they really are, functional universalists (or atheists, since they seem to believe in no god I know of).

Why has this happened? Which came first: the denial of Scriptural authority and the inerrancy of God’s Word, or the abandonment of actual biblical Christianity? When did we become so self-assured that we lost the fear of God?

I don’t think I have anything constructive to say about this right now. Honestly, I’m shocked and appalled and a hair short of just really ticked off. I get so tired of people going around calling themselves Christians and then believing crap like that! If you wonder why Christmas is better called X-Mas and you are more and more likely to be shot trying to buy a Nintendo Wii than you are to hear someone talk about the birth of their savior and actually mean it, try these numbers on for size. This is sad, but unfortunately, it’s only sad because it confirmed what we’ve known all along.

I hope this motivates all of you, as it does me, to be more evangelistic and more adamant about the truth, the biblical truth, than ever before.

You Didn’t Really Mean That, Did You?- Answering the Hell Question, Wrap-Up

October 13, 2008

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” -Titus 1.9

I just wanted to thank all of you who have taken the time to read this series of posts on the question of “If God is loving/good, how can he send someone to hell?” As I mentioned in the posts, and as I have stated before in various comments (here and here), this doctrine of hell is one of the most contentious points for evangelical Christianity today. It is being attacked from all sides and as such we need to have a strong, well-formed, and biblical position on it.

To close us out I would like to post a sermon by JD Greear from The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC that he gave a few weeks ago dealing with this question. In it I think he does a great job of answering the objections as well as using the doctrine of hell to give way to the Gospel. Please take the time to listen to this and to begin formulating your own response for the next time this question is asked to you.

JD Greear- How Could a Loving God Send Someone to Hell?