Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas thought #2: Children and Christmas

UPDATED ON 1/23/07. Click here for updated material.

During our Christmas festivities, my family and I were able to visit a bunch of relatives; unfortunately most of them are not saved. When we went to one gathering, one of the children there (who is just a little younger than my oldest) was tightly carrying around a new toy. I asked him about Christmas and he began recounting how Santa had given him the new toy and how Santa had eaten all of the cookies and the reindeer had eaten all of the carrots that he’d left out.

First of all, let me say that it was pretty cute to see how excited he was about all of these things. Leaving that aside though, I was very sad to see that this little boy was so knowledgeable and confident in what he knows about Christmas, but was fairly ignorant about Jesus and the gospel. I was not under any delusional idea that the children present (other than my oldest) would know anything about the real meaning of Christmas except that it was Jesus’ birthday (and maybe not even that for some of them), but it is one thing to think something, and totally another thing to experience it.

Secondly, let me say that I have made it a priority to instruct my children in the law and the gospel from as early as they are able to communicate and repeat what I say. For example, my 3 ½ year old son and I have a very similar conversation during every one of our “bible time” devotions together. The conversation basically goes like this:

Me: Who wrote the Bible?
Micah: God.

Me: Who is God?
Micah: Jesus.

Me: Who else is God?
Micah: God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Me: How many gods are there?
Micah: One God, one Jesus, one God the Father, and one Holy Spirit

Me: But only one God?
Micah: Yes, only one God.1

Me: Where does God live?
Micah: In heaven.

Me: How many sins are in heaven?
Micah: Zero sins, no sins.

Me: What are sins?
Micah: No-no’s

Me: How does God feel about sins?
Micah: He’s so angry.

Me: Where do we find out what sins (no-no’s) are?
Micah: In the Bible. The 10 Commandments.

Me: What is one of the commandments?
Micah: No stealing.

Me: What is stealing?
Micah: Taking something that’s not yours.

Me: What’s another commandment?
Micah: Don’t tell lies.

Me: What is a lie?
Micah: Telling something that is not the truth.2

Me: Have you done sins?
Micah: Lots of times.

Me: Who else has done sins?
Micah: Mommy, Daddy, Noah, etc.3

Me: What happens to people if they die with sins?
Micah: They go to the bad place.4

Me: What happens to people in ‘the bad place’?
Micah: They are punished.

Me: Why are they punished?
Micah: For their sins.

Me: Who punishes them?
Micah: Jesus.

Me: Do you want to go to ‘the bad place’?
Micah: No, I want to go to heaven.

Me: But if you have sins, can you go to heaven?
Micah: No.

Me: So who had to come and help us?
Micah: Jesus.

Me: Why did Jesus come?
Micah: To save us from our sins.

Me: How many sins did Jesus do?
Micah: Zero sins.

Me: What happened to Jesus?
Micah: He died on the cross.

Me: What was God doing to Jesus?
Micah: Punishing Him.

Me: Why was God punishing Jesus?
Micah: For our sins.

Me: Then what happened to Jesus.
Micah: He died and rose from the grave.5

Me: Then where did Jesus go?
Micah: To heaven.

Me: What do you need to do in order to have your sins forgiven and go to heaven?
Micah: Repent of sins.

Me: What does repent mean?
Micah: It means you’re not going to try to do them again.

Me: Do you have to do anything else?
Micah: Believe in Jesus.6

Me: Then, when you die, what will happen?
Micah: You go to heaven.

Me: And you can go to heaven because your sins….?
Micah: Have been forgiven.

Now I do not show this to you in order to be boastful or proud in any sinful sense, but I do it in order to show the difference between a home that teaches a gospel centered Christmas and a home that teaches a Santa centered Christmas.7 My son knows almost nothing about Santa Claus, Rudolf, the North Pole, elves, or the other secular holiday lore. Actually, if you were to engage him in a conversation about Santa Claus, he’d probably listen and learn, but he wouldn’t know what was going on or be familiar with the stories. However, if you started talking to him about the Bible, Jesus, sin, or other Christian stories or concepts, he might not know exactly what you’re saying if he’s never heard that specific Bible story before, but he would surely have a place in his little mind of where to file it away.

What’s the point?

I am not setting myself, my son, or the way in which we have chosen to instruct our children as the end-all be-all of educating Christian children. There are plenty of Godly parents who choose a less direct approach than we have and still communicate the essential things (i.e. sin, righteousness, judgment, Jesus, the cross, repentance, and faith) in instructing their children about the gospel and Christmas. I am, however, contrasting the emphasis between parents who teach about Christ and the gospel and those who teach about Santa Claus. Our emphasis around Christmas (as well as the rest of the year) is clearly on the eternal things relating to the gospel; while the emphasis of other families is placed on things that the parents know full well are fictitious lies.

Some non-Christians would say that it is wrong to train or “program” a child with such information as I showed above. When confronted with this, I respond in two ways. First of all, would you (accusing person) teach your child that moving cars are dangerous or for the child not to touch a hot stove? Would you train your child to “religiously” brush his teeth each evening? Yes, any good parent does these things because of the inherent benefit to (a) staying safe and (b) staying healthy. I am simply applying this universally understood principle to our relationship to a holy God, the most important area of life.

Secondly I would respond by saying that all parents instruct their children in some form of eternal thinking. You can either be specific and direct about the truths of the Bible and that God and eternity are important like I do, or you can instruct them that these things aren’t important by the simple fact of not teaching them anything (or anything consistent). Either way, you are teaching your child something.

Be sure to know that all of the instructing time that I put into my children will be all but worthless if they don’t see me live out the convictions that I teach. If I teach but don’t walk, my kids will have a harder time believing because I’m a hypocrite. If I walk but don’t teach, my kids will have a harder time believing because there’s no foundation for them to build their beliefs on (i.e. clear instruction). If I don’t teach about Christ and I don’t live out a Christian life (whether I believe in Christ or whether I think that Christianity is a hoax), my children will not even have a clue of what to believe.

Finally, every parent places a certain priority on what they will teach their child. How much effort and time will be wasted on teaching about Santa Claus, who is so clearly a fairy tale meant only for naïve children, when they finally come to the heartbreaking realization that Santa is a fake? Contrast that to the rewarding result of the effort and instruction about the greater and weightier things of God when that child goes from a simple repetition of phrases and parroting of answers, to believing, owning, and treasuring the truth of God as revealed to them by the Holy Spirit in their own hearts when they respond in repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ.

UPDATE - 1/23/07 - You can view a video that I took of a similar conversation that Micah & I had just before Christmas, 2006. The video is on youtube, so click here to view the video.

1 Now, you are probably thinking that Trinitarian theology is a bit deep for a 3 year old, and I’d agree with you. That’s why I started it when he was 2 or 2 ½. You see, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! “ (Deuteronomy 6:4), called the Sh’ma, has been a common part of Jewish prayer for millennia. I am simply incorporating the Sh’ma into my son’s understanding of God who has revealed himself as a Trinity – three co-equal, co-eternal persons of the Godhead.

2 We also go through obeying mom & dad (#4) and not coveting (#10). Coveting come up recently when Micah started to whine a lot about things that he couldn’t do or couldn’t have. I explained to him that coveting something is where you want something so bad that it makes you mad or sad that you cannot have it.

3 It is kind of funny to ask him this part, because sometimes he’ll go into detail about how Noah (his 1 year old brother) sinned when he pulled Micah’s hair. He also has responded to “Has daddy done sins?” with a statement similar to, “so many times.” Funny. True. But still funny.

4 I have opted to use this phrase as opposed to the proper name of hell until he’s a little older in order to avoid any unintentional inappropriate use of this word.

5 Micah likes to tell me that it was after 3 days and 3 nights that Jesus rose from the grave. He picked up this time reference when we’d read about the story of Jonah (consequently one of his favorite Bible stories).

6 I don’t believe that any “act” on my part is what saves, and that is not what I am teaching my son. Both repentance of sin and faith in Jesus are gifts or works of God in the life of the sinner. But these concepts are only tangibly understood by people when communicated as the response of a saved person to the gospel. Basically, God saves people, and those whom He saves are the ones who are granted faith to believe in Christ and the ability to repent of their sins.

7 I am proud of my son that he has been blessed to retain this information and that it is as real to him as it could possibly be at his age.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Legalism vs. Liberty (Part 2)

Please read "Legalism vs. Liberty (Part 1)" before reading this post.

Now that we have established the understanding of legalism and liberty in Paul’s day, as well as how I believe contemporary Christians should use and understand these two terms, I want to journey into the practical application part of this lesson.

Since we do not have any constraining religious dietary laws that Christian leaders want to impose on the masses in order that they might be saved, we really can’t relate with much of what the Judaizers were teaching. Likewise, most Christians view circumcision as a completely symbolic option for boys or simply a choice that pertains more to health and has nothing to do with getting saved. So in the most direct sense, the exact application of the truth of Scripture here does not make one bit of difference for our lives today. We weren’t thinking that we had to be circumcised for salvation before, and we still aren’t.

However, I do think that it is important to see that there are a few things that modern “Christianity” has imposed upon the people and it directly relates to salvation. The two things that I am specifically referring to are the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Some congregations refer to these as sacraments and others (ours) refer to them as ordinances. But either way you look at it, these are the two things that Christ commanded us to do. The command to baptize new believers was included in many places, but most prominently Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus (John 3:3-8) and in the Great Commission.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’" (Matthew 28:18-20)

In the almost two millennia that has passed since Christ lived, preached, died, rose, and ascended back into heaven, many different institutions have tried to put greater emphasis on either or both of these different commands. For instance, some popular modern teachers and churches require that you be baptized in the name of Jesus in order to be saved. This teaching began out of the Pentecostal movement in the early 20th century, and its adherents believe that Acts 2:38 which states, “Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.“ is the fulfillment of the baptismal command in the Great Commission. This may seem like a small and insignificant error, and I would agree that it is if this were the extent of the teaching. They (Oneness Pentecostals) teach that any other baptism that was done in the style of the Great Commission (i.e. in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is not really baptism. But even worse than this is the belief that you must be baptized in their formula in order to be saved. This went from a simple disagreement over how best to adhere to the scriptural command to baptize believers into a heretical system that requires baptism in their formula and by their ministers in order to be saved. Consequently, since it seems to be the case that error on one issue begets error on others, Oneness Pentecostal’s also do not believe in the Trinity.1 It is notable that this heresy of Oneness Pentecostalism is not a new invention of the twentieth century, but it is the resurgence of an ancient heresy known as Sabellianism which was arose first in the third century.

I labeled the above doctrine on baptism (i.e. only in the name of Jesus) as a heresy because it places requirements or prerequisites for salvation over and above those contained in scripture. In a similar way, but definitely a more accepted and long standing tradition, the doctrine of baptism (or the Sacrament of Baptism) in the Roman Catholic Church states the following about Baptism:

“Theologians distinguish a twofold necessity, which they call a necessity of means (medii) and a necessity of precept (præcepti), The first (medii) indicates a thing to be so necessary that, if lacking (though inculpably), salvation can not be attained, The second (præcepti) is had when a thing is indeed so necessary that it may not be omitted voluntarily without sin; yet, ignorance of the precept or inability to fulfill it, excuses one from its observance.”2

Basically stated, if you know about the command to be baptized, and you are not baptized in their system by a Roman Catholic Priest, you cannot be saved. This is no less of a heresy than the modalistic Oneness doctrine described before it. It is possibly even a worse error now because it is so wide spread and taught that most people don’t even question it. And, if you think that I am being a little harsh on Roman Catholicism by saying that their doctrine of salvation (because with them baptism is undistinguishable from actually being saved) is heretical, read what the Roman Catholic Church states about those of us who hold a symbolic understanding of baptism; an understanding that baptism doesn’t save someone.

“This is the sense in which it has always been understood by the Church, and the Council of Trent (Sess, IV, cap, vi) teaches that justification can not be obtained, since the promulgation of the Gospel, without the washing of regeneration or the desire thereof (in voto), In the seventh session, it declares (can. v) anathema upon anyone who says that baptism is not necessary for salvation.”3

Basically, there is no love lost between the Council of Trent (and therefore Catholicism for all time) and the reformers in their understanding of baptism. As a side note, the Council of Trent equates the “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5) with the act of baptism, and that is through baptism. So, in order to be justified, one must first be baptized. This is so contrary to the biblical testimony that it would be funny if it were not so wicked. Justification comes by faith in Jesus Christ.4

In a similar fashion to Baptism, the Lord’s Supper has been distorted to be a means of grace, or something by which salvation is attained, maintained, or regained. The Lord’s Supper is referred to in several places, but it is primarily in the record of the last supper (Matthew 26:26-46; Mark 14:22-31; Luke 22:14-23; John 13:1-20), Jesus’ words concerning the fact that He is the Bread of Life (John 6:41-58), but the observance of this command by the church is recorded for us by Paul’s writing to the Corinthians.

“and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:24-26)

The Roman Catholic Church has built a doctrine surrounding the Lord’s Supper called Transubstantiation, which also called the Real Presence. Basically, the Roman Catholic Church, primarily looking at John 6:52-58, has built the doctrine that Jesus becomes truly present in the proper offering of communion, and it is the spiritual food for the Christian that is required for salvation.

“The sacraments of Christian initiation - Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist - lay the foundations of every Christian life. "The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity."5

The idea that our spiritual lives and devotion are dependant upon the food that we eat seems far fetched. Granted, Paul does warn against taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner which resulted in some of the Corinthians dying, but there is no clear implication that we grow spiritually in the same way that we grow physically, i.e. the more of the Eucharist that I take, the more spiritual and holy I become. But, the idea that one grows spiritually simply by partaking of communion is a smaller matter, although still significant, compared to the following blasphemous idea.

“Though Holy Communion does not per se remit mortal sin, it has nevertheless the third effect of "blotting out venial sin and preserving the soul from mortal sin" (Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, cap. ii). The Holy Eucharist is not merely a food, but a medicine as well. The destruction of venial sin and of all affection to it, is readily understood on the basis of the two central ideas mentioned above. Just as material food banishes minor bodily weaknesses and preserves man's physical strength from being impaired, so does this food of our souls remove our lesser spiritual ailments and preserve us from spiritual death.”6

In case you missed the reason for my outrage, it is primarily centered around Trent’s declaration the taking the Lord’s Supper has the power of "blotting out venial sin and preserving the soul from mortal sin." The translation is that some sins are forgiven (“blotted out”) by simply the act of taking the Lord’s Supper. Of course, there are qualifications that are listed elsewhere in Catholic dogma stating that the bread must be of only a certain recipe, the Priest must do all of the movements and recitations of the ritual perfectly, he must also have pure intentions, and the recipient must have pure intentions otherwise the spiritual value is almost insignificant.

But again, this is all window dressing on an even larger heresy. When the Lord’s Supper is given in the Roman tradition, it is called the Sacrifice of the Mass. Hebrews tells us that Christ died once for all, and He is not sacrificed over and over (Hebrews 7:27; 9:11-14; 10:10). It is a sick perversion of God’s promise to forgive sins to say that some sins are forgiven (or can be forgiven) in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Romans 5:1 says that we have been justified and we have (present possession) peace with God. Peace with God is only attainable without sin, and that is only available through faith in Jesus Christ, not through ceremonial observance.

So, you see, the application of the exact same type of false teaching that Paul was warring against in the book of Galatians is the same sort of false teaching that is around today. The only difference is that it has been repackaged into the Christian framework of western society as opposed to the Jewish framework of the early church. I affirm, just as the Bible teaches, that man is saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

We dare not become legalistic to teach that baptism or communion are necessary for one to be saved. However, I really appreciate what John Piper once said when he was asked this same question; is baptism necessary for salvation?

“It isn’t absolutely [necessary] because the thief on the cross was saved. Jesus said, ‘today you will be with Me in paradise’ and he didn’t have any opportunity to be baptized. So I wanted to start with the absolute statement: it s not absolutely necessary. However, if a person draws from that this inference, “Well who cares whether you’re baptized or not. I don’t care if Jesus said ‘go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter to me whether Jesus said [that] because John said you don’t have to be baptized to be saved.” Now that attitude towards the command of Jesus might signify [that] they’re not saved; they just don’t believe in Jesus. And so baptism then becomes the touchstone or a point at which “not to be baptized” doesn’t, in itself, damn you, but the attitude of refusing to be baptized is what damns you. And so I want to be careful how we say it. So baptism is not in and of itself, that is water on the body, somehow, either magically or sacramentally, the saving agent. We are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, and then we signify what has happened to us and bear witness to it in baptism.”7

I think that John Piper is right on when he refers to the attitude of refusing to be baptized as opposed to the lack of baptism as the thing that shows that you are condemned. The next question that might come up refers to someone who believes in the biblical doctrines of justification by faith and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner at the moment of salvation, but they believe in infant baptism where the bible seems to clearly indicate that baptism follows the conversion of the believer.

The question is then, that if people have the doctrines of justification and sanctification right, but they believe in infant baptism, does that qualify as a type of refusal that would show that a person is condemned? My short answer is no, and I’ll try to explain why.

There are many Christians who view baptism as more of a covenantal ritual similar to circumcision as opposed to strictly being the act of obedience following conversion. They would still baptize adults who convert, but as a rule, if a child is born to a family in the congregation, that child would be baptized. These same Christians believe that it is through faith that one is saved, and not through baptism (i.e. not baptismal regeneration). When confronted with the issue of baptism, these same Christian brothers defend infant baptism in this sense as the teaching of scripture and defend it with historically biblical arguments. So the reason why this same Christian brother does not get baptized as a believer is not because he is unwilling to submit to the command of God, but he is convinced that the act of baptism as an infant fulfilled this command of Christ.

So, the distinction is that this refusal (although it is still wrong in my opinion) is not a refusal because of a lack of zeal for God or for obeying His commands, but it is exactly because the person is defending what they understand from scripture that they refuse to be baptized as an adult. So if this is the case with you, and you are not convinced that the baptism of an adult should be the first act of obedience following conversion (this is also called believer’s baptism), this omission is not a sign of a rebellious and condemned faker masquerading as a Christian, but as any other sin or lack of direct application that any Christian does.

However, if you are convinced that believer’s baptism is what is mandated in scripture and you have, and have had, many opportunities in which to obey Christ, but you refuse to be obedient, this may indicate the fact that you have not been born again and are still in your sins.

When I attended Northwestern College, I had a saying that is very applicable now. You see, at NWC, there were many social guidelines that were in place for various reasons. All students, faculty, and staff had to agree (in writing) to follow these guidelines for as long as they were associated with NWC. A few of the rules that seemed to rub students the wrong way were the regulations not to dance or to drink alcohol (even when you were of age). This did not stop everyone from participating in these actions while associated with NWC. As a student, I would often get into conversations with my friends about this issue. My friends thought that these rules were oppressive, wrong, and unbiblical. But, whenever we’d debate, I would never challenge these conclusions, and I would, for the sake of the argument, agree that they were correct and that the stipulations in question were wrong for those reasons. However, that does not change the fact that every student, every member of the faculty, and everyone on staff agreed to these rules before they began with the school. So, my argument was simple: if you cannot keep yourself from drinking and dancing for four years, how much can you possibly love Jesus Christ?

It may sound like a little bit of a leap, but it isn’t. Christ demands our obedience, and if I do not obey Jesus, it is a sign that I am not a Christian. If I willingly put myself under the obligation to follow certain rules that I disagree with, I should – out of a love for Christ – obey those rules and count my “suffering” as a privilege. If I cannot put Christ and my love for Him and obedience to those in authority over me (as it relates to drinking and dancing at college) as a higher priority than my desires, how willing will I then be to forsake all things to follow Christ and endure harsher and more unpleasant repercussions of persecution and death for the sake of obeying Christ.

1 If you do not think that the Trinity is a doctrine to contend for, please read my previous article "an apologetic e-mail"


3 Ibid.

4 You can read Faith Alone - a Truly Biblical Doctrine and Justification: "Works" vs. "Works of the Law" for more on the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

5 CCC 1212


7 10/9/06 commentary before the Desiring God radio broadcast of “United with Christ in Death and Life, Part 2a”

Christmas thought #1: on Santa Claus

On the Wednesday before Christmas we had a candlelight Christmas service at church. We had a lovely time of singing before a message from a visiting pastor. His sermon was addressing the question about what the real meaning of Christmas is, and in it he referenced several different cultural expressions or answers to this question. He referenced Santa Clause, but not by name, and said, “If this guy knows whether or not you’ve been good, he possesses some form of omniscience….” He then made it clear that he is never comfortable ascribing the qualities and attributes of God to mere men or to fictional characters.

This comment about Santa made me think a little bit. At least some of the lore surrounding Santa Claus started because Nicolas, the Bishop of Myrna (lived in the 3rd or 4th century), was thought to have done some deed of gift giving as one of his miracles contributing to his sainthood. Therefore, stories about the true person of Nicholas morphed into his performing various miracles and then into the current stories surrounding Santa Claus.

So, I was thinking about the Christian roots of the myth of Santa Claus, and I had a very interesting revelation. Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that Santa Claus is real and he is good old (very old) Saint Nicholas. He has been blessed with virtual immortality (so that he could live for almost two millennia) and he even has a current ministry of giving gifts to people. And finally, his measuring rod on whether he gives gifts to little children (or anyone for that matter) is whether they’ve been naughty or nice.

Now, as a Christian, Nicholas has only one standard by which to measure naughtiness, and that is in view of what is good. Again, as a Christian there is only one true good, and that is God. Everyone else has broken God’s laws at some point during the year (during any given day, hour, or minute if you want to really get serious), and therefore no one would be qualified for receiving gifts. In fact, even if Nicholas had his job from the foundation of the world, he could have only given gifts to Adam and Eve before they sinned and then to Christ for his 33 or so years that He was alive.

So, basically, Santa Claus has had the biggest cake job in the history of the world. He has never had to deliver one present because no one, absolutely no one, can make it through one year and meet the standard by which any Christian measures good and bad. That standard is God’s Law, the 10 Commandments. Christ summed up the entire Law and the prophets in two commandments: (a) to love God your heart, soul, mind and strength, and (b) to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).

Realistically, there is no Santa Claus, but God does judge who’s been naughty and nice by the same standard. And if you’ve been naughty, you don’t get a lump of coal in a sock, you get eternal damnation. All humanity is under this curse and judgment. And it is only by seeing yourself in the light of this unmerciful standard of judgment that we can be in a place where we can trust in the only true and merciful Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Trying to change your life and cease from offending God will not help you. For it is only by God’s saving and renewing power that we can truly turn from our sins and live for Him. You cannot turn from sins without placing your faith in Christ, and you cannot place your faith in Christ without turning from your sins.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Quote of the Day (10/21/06)

Pertaining to the subject of apologetics and debating over various doctrinal issues, John Piper said the following:

“Try to understand another person's view before you criticize it. The rule that Dr. Fuller used to teach us back in seminary was that if you can't restate a person's view to their own satisfaction, so that they hear that you've got it, then you're probably not ready to criticize it publicly. And so I think to try to restate the view, let's say on baptism - I'm a Baptist, and so I don't baptize babies, but – I don’t want to taunt a person who believes in infant baptism by somehow charactering what they’re doing. I want to be able to re-say it, and I think I can, and I try to re-say the argument for infant baptism that is the best argument for it, and then show why, over the years of my interaction with folks, I have not been compelled by it.”1

1 This was transcribed from Piper's commentary before the Desiring God radio broadcast of “United with Christ in Death and Life, Part 2a” on 10/9/06.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Legalism vs. Liberty (Part 1)

On Sunday, I began our Sunday school lesson on Galatians 2 by writing two words on the board and asked for either their definitions or the connotations or implications of these words. These words were “Legalism” and “Liberty“.

Concerning legalism, most people (including my class) would define it as strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to a law or to a rule.1 Generally, in Christian circles, the title of legalism is applied to people who place boundaries or rules on themselves or others that are derived from biblical principles, but are not necessarily explicit biblical commands. Some of these types of rules can be seen at some churches or Christian schools and they include regulations on how a woman can dress (i.e. she must wear a dress or have long hair), no card playing of any kind (because it might appear to be gambling), no dancing (because it might lead to impurity), and other things.

We then went to discuss what liberty means and implies and only one word was said in the long space of time that was given for an answer. Freedom.

Could someone consider the statement “you should not commit adultery” as a legalistic requirement? The initial answer might be no, but is that true? This statement (the 7th of the 10 Commandments) is a rule that Christians ought to follow.2 I think that because Scripture so clearly states that the sexually impure will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) and that Christians will be sexually pure because of their new nature (1 Corinthians 6:11).3 So, being true to what legalism means, technically it is legalistic (i.e. a rule that should be strictly adhered to) even though no true Christian would probably classify it in this way.

Where does application of this command to be sexually pure go from being something that is universally understood and adhered to into being a legalistic imposition on the command? If I asked you that question, the following discussion between us would boil down to an issue of what action is commanded and where we have some freedom to apply that principle to our lives in various ways without compromising the letter and the intent of the command.

That brings us directly to the other issue of liberty. Now, where legalism was defined (or over defined and overused), liberty is just the opposite and is a very vague concept in our minds and is usually just thought of as a synonym for freedom. As an American, liberty means freedom, and it means that no one controls what I do. If I want to do something, I basically can. If I were to ask an American from the 1700’s what liberty meant, I would get an answer that probably included some reference to King George and being free from the tyrannical rule of England. Likewise, if I were to ask this same question to an African-American in post Civil War America, I would hear an answer of no longer being in slavery and not being owned any longer.

Because of the vagueness of our primary understanding of liberty and our liberal use and definition of legalism, I am advocating for a more specific use of these terms in our Christian dialogue.

When we discuss religion (Islam, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Christianity, or whatever), I would argue that we should not use the term legalism unless it is referring to a works righteous system of salvation. In the case of Christians who put restrictions on clothing, food, drink, or recreation, usually the reasoning is not one of attaining or maintaining salvation, but it is more for the edification and sanctification of the individual or community of people. This is very different from Islam where you must do the 5 Pillars in order to possibly have a chance that Allah will be merciful to you. Although the others are more veiled works-righteous systems, Mormonism, Hinduism, and every other world religion is basically a works righteous (quid pro quo) system. Similarly, Catholicism teaches that one must be baptized, take the Lord’s Supper, and do other things to be saved, to keep your salvation, or to regain it once you’ve lost it. That is different than saying that one should do these things once they are saved as a means of sanctification, and therefore it is a works-righteous and non-Christian system.4

It is this exact issue of legalism (works righteousness) verses liberty that Paul was referring to in Galatians 2. In this text, Paul recounts his experience with the heretical teaching of some of the Pharisaic converts to Christianity and the resulting council that was held at Jerusalem. When reading Galatians 2 and Acts 15 (the parallel historical account of this situation), you find that some of the Pharisees who had converted to Christianity had gone down to Antioch and were explicitly teaching that all people (Jew or gentile) must be circumcised (Acts 15:1) and keep the Law of Moses (Acts 15:5) in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas opposed this teaching vigorously, and because of the disagreement they went to Jerusalem and, “submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.” (Galatians 2:2)

There was much debate over this issue (Acts 15:7), but the issue was settled when Peter and James both declared that the teaching of the Judaizers was wrong, and therefore heretical. Peter was explicit in stating that both Jews and gentiles were saved in the same way, “He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:9)

Since the legalism of the pharisaic teachers was condemned and the liberty of the Christian was defended, I feel that we (today) must define liberty in the same context as we defined legalism and not leave it as a way to excuse poor or unedifying decisions. I think that we should define liberty with three basic statements that will get to what the bulk (I think) of what Christian liberty, or the law of liberty, implies. Christian Liberty says that:

  1. We have freedom from needing to fulfill the law in order to be righteous. God demands holiness, perfection, and sinlessness in order to be acceptable to God (1 Peter 1:15,16). We no longer have the requirement to fulfill the law in order to be made acceptable to God because Christ has already done that (Matthew 3:13-17; 5:17). Not only that, but it is impossible to be holy before God because everyone is guilty of sin (Romans 3:23; Galatians 3:22). So, the freedom that we have through faith in Jesus Christ is truly a great freedom from the oppressive and impossible yoke of becoming righteous by works.

    “Christ fulfills the Law by His person and work. So believers are under a new law; the obligation to walk by the Spirit of Life (Rom. 8:2-4). If we are under the Spirit then we are not under the Law (Gal. 5:18).”5

  2. We have freedom from the slavery and bondage to sin. We are also freed from our slavery and bondage to sin. All people are slaves of sin before Christ saves us through faith in Him (John 8:34; Romans 6:6,16-20; Ephesians 6:6).

  3. We have freedom to serve and follow Christ. Before we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), and our good and righteous deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), not as acceptable or pleasing to God. But since we have been made alive in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:22; Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13; 1 Peter 3:18), we can then go forward in good works “which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) But this only happens after we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, and only as a fruit of that salvation, not as a way to attain it.

Part 2 will follow very shortly, and in it I will deal with the practical application of shunning legalism in favor of grace and mercy and cling to the liberty in Christ.


2 I would argue that Christians, as a rule follow it. If you claim to be a Christian by you are a habitual adulterer or fornicator, your actions betray your claim, and you likely are not a Christian.

3 Again, this is not a statement that someone who commits adultery is by definition not a Christian, but I am referring more to the lifestyle or ongoing unchecked nature of sin versus a war with sin. See 1 John and Romans 7:14-25 for more on this concept.

4 I firmly believe that people can be saved in a Catholic Church. Not because of any mystical “specialness” of that church, but because the Word of God is read there and because the basic doctrines about the deity of Christ, the incarnation, and the Trinity may be heard. I believe that one can be saved in spite of the bad theology and wrong gospel that is preached there. I think the same thing regarding modern non-Trinitarian churches, a health and wealth charlatan of a TV preacher like Benny Hinn, and other venues. It is because of the power of the Word of God that this is possible.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Slaves to Christ

I have been recently catching up on John Piper's daily broadcast, and I just completed listening to the October lessons. At the end of October his sermons were coming from Romans 6. I was so impacted by his commentary about the concept of being a slave to Christ that I had to post it here.

In passing, I should mention that if the imagery of slavery bothers you – as it should in part – especially in America where the history of slavery is rooted in the most demeaning kind of racism, you will be encouraged to know that the imagery bothered Paul too. Verse 18 is parallel to verse 22 in saying, "Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of [were enslaved to] righteousness." But then notice how he pauses to apologize, in a way, for the inadequacy of the imagery. Verse 19: "I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh."

In other words, as humans we grope in our weakness and finiteness for language that is sufficient for great and glorious and complex realities, and have to settle for words and images that are partially helpful and partially misleading. Paul knows good and well that there were aspects of slavery that he would not want us to attribute to our relation to righteousness or to God, even though he says that we are "enslaved" to righteousness (verse 18) and "enslaved" to God (verse 22).

Jesus, you recall, did the same thing in John 15:15 "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you." So there are some aspects of slavery that we should apply to our relationship to God and some that we should not. And there are some aspects of friendship that we should apply and some we should not. We judge from the context what aspect of an image we are to focus on.

Slavery in Romans 6:6, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22 does not imply mainly being forced against our will to do something. It mainly implies that our wills are enslaved. They are bound to do sin or bound to do righteousness because by nature we either see the rewards of sin or the beauty of righteousness as more attractive. So in both cases we do what we want most to do. (This is true, we will see, even though chapter 7 will reveal that we can have a divided will, sometimes doing what we don't want to do.) But we are bound to do it – enslaved to do it – because our hearts are either so corrupt or so renewed in Christ that we see sin or righteousness as compelling. We are either enslaved to sin or enslaved to God in that sense.1

If I may be so bold, I am going to summarize what John Piper said that was so impacting on me.

Slavery, as we know it in the United States (or Western society in general), is the state where a person is bound against his or her will to do that they do not want to do or to go places that they do not want to go. In other words, the body is captive, but the will, the desire, is free and longs something better. Conversely, when we are slaves of Christ, it is our will that is captive by His glory and majesty, and therefore our bodies and minds willingly do that to which has captured our will. In other words, my mind is captive to and focused on Christ so much that my actions naturally work in harmony with my will because there is nothing better to focus my mind and actions on.

1 Slaves to God, Sanctification, Eternal Life from Romans 6:20-22 by John Piper (December 10, 2000)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Reckless and Irresponsible

I first became aware of Hank Lindstrom and his ministry when I read an article entitled “Repentance” that was being advertised or promoted on You can read his article and the reasons why I disagree with his conclusions by reading “Is Turning from Sin Legalism?”

Well, following my initial exposure to Dr. Lindstrom, I have listened to his radio program or perused his articles very rarely and cautiously. I say cautiously because I want to see what he is saying, and rarely because so often, what he says is so wrong and infuriating.

Yesterday I decided to listen to one of his broadcasts to see if I’d hear anything good, beneficial, new, or whatever. I expect to hear him blast repentance and faith and promote KJV Onlyism, but thankfully he only promoted KJV Onlyism in his monologue…sort of.

About 2/3 of the way through his program on 11/29/06, a man called in with a heartfelt request for prayer on behalf of his son who had converted to Islam. One of the tactics used by the Muslims, and now by this man’s son, is to say that the Bible is corrupt and it is untrustworthy because of all of the different translations (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV, etc.). Hank responded to the caller’s statement by saying that, sadly, the current state of bible translations is in the favor of the Muslims because he agrees that current versions like NKJV, NASB, NIV, and RSV1 have been corrupted by Satan in order to distort the gospel and mislead people.

But my problem was not primarily with the fact that his bible translation conspiracy theory gave credit to the Muslims’ attacks, but it was the following “fulfilled prophesy” that made my hackles stand up. When commenting about the state of affairs in the world and the amount of havoc that is caused by Muslims, Dr. Lindstrom said,

“We are being assaulted today, head on, with Islam. If you look up Daniel 9:11, you know the number “9 11” that’s when the twin towers were taken, well there is a verse there that talks about a curse coming because of our departure from God’s word. And if you look up the word “curse” in your concordance in Daniel 9:11, it is the Hebrew word “alah”. And truly hasn’t that been a prophesy fulfilled that Allah is the curse on this world today? And God said that He would bring this curse upon the world, and we are seeing the curse of Allah right now, and it’s because we’ve departed away from His word.”2

Well, first of all I did check Strong’s Concordance and found that the Hebrew word here is transliterated as “alah” and pronounced “aw-law”.3 But let me make sure that I understand this interpretation correctly. According to Dr. Hank Lindstrom, the meaning of Daniel 9:11 is that because of the world’s rejection of the Bible, God has cursed the world with Islam? I will argue that the current state of terrorism in the world is nothing but a curse and an abomination. However, to say that Daniel 9:11 is speaking about this because the Hebrew word for curse sounds like the name by which Muslims call God is absurd.

Do you know how our Christian brethren in Arab countries refer to God the Father? They use the word Allah. If you’re shocked, you shouldn’t be. The word “allah” is no different than the English word “god”. When we refer to God the Father, we capitalize the first letter in the word, but when we refer to other types of gods or goddesses, we do not. When a Hindu refers to deity while using the English language, they use the word god, and when we refer to Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Father, we use the word “god” but we write it as “God”.

You may still be wondering what the point of discussing the words “allah” and “god” has to do with anything. The point is that the context of the use of a word determines the meaning of that word. For instance, look at the following example using the word “can”:

  • I can do this. “can” means “am able”
  • I would like a can of soda. “can” means “metal container”
  • I have to use the can. “can” is slang for “lavatory”

If we attempted to force a single meaning of the word “can” onto all three of these sentences, you’d have gibberish and foolishness. Furthermore, if you lived in a country that spoke Spanish, and used the word “con” (sounds like “can”) which means “with” (i.e. chili con queso) and you forced the meaning “with” into these situations, you would not only have gibberish and foolishness, but it would be complete nonsense.

Why did I bring up Spanish? Well, Dr. Lindstrom made that leap right away when he equated the Hebrew word that sounds like the Arabic or Aramaic word for god with a specific reference to the Islamic religion. It is no less foolish to do what he did than it is to do it with the above “can” example.

Let me make the issue even more clear. There is a word in the New Testament that occurs 602 times in the KJV. This is the word that is translated “but”, it is the Greek word “alla” and it sounds exactly like “allah”. This word not only sounds like the Arabic or Aramaic word for god, but it also looks like it too (the letter lamda “l” has the “L” sound and kind of looks like an “L”). Should we understand or see some reference to Islam every time that this word is used in the New Testament? Of course not. It would be reckless, irresponsible, and wrong to do so. It would also make the message of the gospel all but unintelligible.

This is just one example of his reckless hermeneutics.4 The problem with bad hermeneutics is that you can distort and misunderstand the bible so much that the message and the truth is lost. It is almost funny (you either laugh or you cry) that someone who is an ardent KJV Only supporter (even though he has said that he is not one) and who heralds the current distortions of the bible with such a loud voice is so dangerously reckless with his personal bible study and interpretation.

1 In another broadcast, he called the RSV translation of the bible, the “Reversed Satanic Translation” Bibleline Radio Broadcast, 12/14/06 11:02

2 Bibleline Radio Broadcast, 11/29/06 41:50

3 Brown, Driver, Briggs and Gesenius. "Hebrew Lexicon entry for 'alah". "The KJV Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon". .

4 Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation, especially of the Scriptures

thank you, pastor Lamm

Recently I was blog surfing and I came across a comment from a familiar name. I wasn't sure at first, but I confirmed that the writer of that particular comment was my wife's pastor when she was a young girl. I have never met the man, but I wanted to express my gratitude for his ministry in the life of my family, even before it was my family.

Here is what I wrote to him:

to Pastor Steve Lamm:

Pastor Lamm, you do not know me, but you do know my wife, Stephanie. As I understand it, she and your daughter were best friends throughout childhood, and their friendship is still something that is dear to both of them, even though the demands of adulthood and children make it more difficult to get together. However, it is not about her relationship to your daughter that I would like to comment on....

First things first: how did I come to write you this letter? Well, I was reading the Pulpit Magazine article on “Grunge Christianity” and I saw your comment. I clicked on the link that sent me to your church and I found your bio. The facts seemed to fit what I remember of Stephanie’s stories, but I had to call her to confirm. So, that is how I found you online.

Why write?

As you well know, Stephanie grew up in a non-Christian household (Catholic), and was saved at 11 by the witness of her neighbor friend. She speaks highly of her memories of the church that you pastored and welcomed her into. Her only bad experience that she told me about was the way in which your ministry at the church ended – it was painful and difficult for her (as I am sure it was for you and your family), and she never officially joined another church until after we were married. Sadly her parents are still not saved. But gloriously, God saved her brother Jeff about 4 years ago (4 years this week, actually), and so now there are more of us to evangelize her family.

Basically, I am writing to say thank you.

Thank you for raising a godly daughter to be a follower of Christ and to be the true friend that my Stephanie needed.

Thank you for the instruction that she received from you and the various teachers that she had under your ministry.

Thank you for caring for her, for baptizing her, and for equipping her at such a young age and in such a difficult situation.

You will be happy to know that she has grown up to be a godly woman, wife, and mother. We have been blessed with 4 children; Micah (3 yrs), Noah (1 yr), one who will be born in July or August, and one who we lost 2 years ago before birth.

I trust that this note will encourage you. I pray that God will bless your ministry and your family.

Eric Johnson

I know that being a pastor is a thankless job many times, but at other times the knowledge of how you have been used by God can be a real encouragement. My hope is that in my ministry to the young adults and to the children of Ambassador will be used by God to mold, shape, and encourage young believers and that they would be faithful to the end of their lives.

To God alone be the glory.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Memorizing Scripture

Ok, I know that I have had a lot of videos lately on my blog, and I really don't want to have my blog turn into a primarily into something where I just link to other stories or post videos from others. I wasn't going to add another one for a while...but then I saw this one. This is a longer video, but if you love God's Word, you will not mind the length.

Aparently, this gentleman memorized Hebrews 9 and 10. But not only did he memorize it, but he worked with the text to be able to deliver it in a passionate and compelling way as oppsed to a static recitation.

Truly, I think you will be blessed by watching (or even just listening to this). If nothing else, I hope that you are edified by it and encouraged to memorize scripture yourself.

source: fide-o

Monday, December 11, 2006

James and the Gospel

I have recently begun studying (and teaching) through Galatians and it has already been well worth it. A few weeks ago we opened our study with a look at Paul’s pronouncement of anathema (condemnation) upon anyone who preaches a gospel contrary to what he had been preaching. “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!.” (Galatians 1:8-9)

The question that we looked at in that lesson was, basically, what is the gospel message that Paul preached? The answer from Galatians is that we are saved by faith in Christ. The English word “Faith” is found 228 in the New Testament and 161 of those times in the writings of Paul (19 of times in Galatians).

“nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)

“The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.’” (Galatians 3:8)

“But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:22-26)

Because I know that objections will arise, allow me quickly to deal with the epistle written by James.1 First of all, I must say that I affirm and firmly believe what is written in James. We must understand what he is saying in context. The next question that may come up is, “what is the context of this passage?” to which I reply with something similar to the words of a blogging opponent of mine, “The context is the context of Scripture as a whole. The entire New Testament must be considered when establishing doctrine. One verse cannot be elevated above all the others that appear to contradict it….”2 With that correct statement of the interpretation of scripture, we must look at the rest of Scripture to ascertain what the correct meaning of James’ words here are. Without going into an extended argument from scripture about the fact that it is faith and faith alone that God has chosen to unite the sinner with the righteousness of Christ, and therefore it is the vehicle of faith that justifies the unbeliever, we can look at the book of James and see that the direct context of James’ faith and works argument is in relation to showing partiality inside of the congregation. It is very important to note that he is addressing the hypocritical actions of members of the church in relating to different classes (rich or poor) of believers.

James makes the case that true faith impacts or effects the actions of the believer. First, he gives a negative example of how someone can have good theology without the fruit of works which indicates that they are not saved by saying, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (James 2:19) He then gives examples of both Abraham and Rahab where their true faith was perfected by their works.

The most difficult passage in this text is James 2:24, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” James uses “justified” three times in his epistle, and all of them within 5 verses of each other (James 2:21-25). The first time that it is used is in relation to Abraham when he was going to sacrifice Isaac on the alter. Did this happen before or after God had credited Abraham’s faith as righteousness (as James referenced later in the same chapter)? It was in Genesis 15:6 when the declaration about Abraham’s faith was made. This did not happen at a random or unimportant part of his life. The statement was made directly after God had promised that his son (that he did not have yet), not Eliezer, would be his heir. It was not a simple thing for Abraham to believe this statement since he was very old, and his wife was beyond child bearing years. In fact, it was not until many years later, following the birth of Ishmael and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, that Isaac was born. More than that, it was not until Isaac was a young boy that Abraham was tested by God when he was told to offer his son as a sacrifice.

So, Abraham’s faith was tested when God told him to sacrifice Isaac who was the miraculous fulfillment to God’s promise of an heir and the way that Abraham would be the father of nations (through him). Anyone would be hard pressed to hold on to faith in God when He seems to promise and demand two contradictory things. But, Abraham’s faith was proven true in that he was willing to sacrifice his son. Why? As we find out elsewhere, “He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19) and so he did not fear to follow the Lord’s command.

All of that to say this: Abraham was already justified because of his faith prior to the offering of Isaac, but it was the truth and the genuineness of his faith that was proven by his action (his willingness to kill his only son). This links us back to the beginning of the book of James where he says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4).

Another question that is helpful is to ask this: who is the proof of the faith for? Is the proof for God’s benefit or the believer’s? God already knows (whether you’re Calvinist or Arminian) if your faith is genuine before you do anything. Abraham was not proving his faith to God when he followed His command. It was God who was showing Abraham how solid and steadfast his faith is. Moreover, it was also statement of the degree of Abraham’s faith to the rest Abraham’s family as well as to everyone who has come after him.

In conclusion, James was not writing to those Christians who felt that they were obligated to keep the Mosaic Law in order to attain salvation (so many of Paul’s letters were combating this false teaching). James was addressing the anti-nomianists who try to make faith in Christ simply a mental action or doctrinal confession but that causes no change in life.

“He is worried about people who were confining faith to a verbal profession (v. 19) or to empty, insincere good wishes (vv. 15-16). This faith is dead (vv. 17, 26) and barren (v. 20) and will be of no avail the day of judgment (v. 14).”3

I will say again that I firmly believe the teachings in the book of James. If someone claims to have faith in Christ, but their actions betray that claim, then they have no more of a saving faith than the demons. I have never, and I will never, advocate for such a cheap counterfeit of the grace of God in salvation by saying that all that is necessary for one to be saved is to pray a prayer, sign a card, walk an aisle, or confess true doctrine. True faith will include some of these (i.e. true prayer to God and the confession of true doctrine), but it is not confined to either of them.

Likewise, I will not ever advocate a cheap counterfeit of the grace of God in salvation by saying that my good works are anything other than the fruit of a right relationship with Christ. They are important, and if I do not have the works that follow my faith, my faith is worthless. However, the works do not make me or keep me saved. They provide proof, both to me and to others, of the genuineness of my profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

1 People like to try and use James 2 as a bludgeon to say that people are justified by works (i.e. the works assist in the attaining of salvation).

2 This comment was made in reference to an eternal security debate, but the statement is no less true there (even though I disagree with his overall conclusion,) than it is here.

3 Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'James, Theology of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Noah is 1 Year Old

Noah is one year old! There's not a whole lot that I can say about my boy - I love him. The pictures can tell the story of just what type of a boy he is. God has truly blessed us with him. I hope that this little video blesses you.

Happy birthday buddy.

Friday, December 08, 2006

a remix

The original version of this video was funny, and this new one (with John Piper's commentary) is as good...if not better.

source: Provocations and Pantings

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

2 Peter 3:9

This video is a good look at this verse in 2nd Peter to see how it relates to biblical soteriology known as Calvinism.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

credit where credit is due (attention Catholics)

I came across an audio file of a short debate between Richard Dawkins and David Quinn on a radio program in Great Britain (Ireland or England, I am not sure which one). Richard Dawkins is the current bright and shining star in atheism, and David Quinn is an Irish Catholic columnist, and I think he's even a Roman Catholic Priest, if I'm not mistaken. It doesn't matter whether or not he is a priest or not, but it would be interesting if I could find out.

The reason I'm posting this article and the following link is that it is no secret how strongly I disagree with Roman Catholicism. Specifically, I vehemently disagree with Roman Soteriology, but Mariology and the doctrines surrounding the papacy fall close behind. Also, it is not a secret that I believe that someone who believes in the gospel according to Rome (i.e. that Penance, Baptism, Eucharist, or faith + works, etc. are necessary for the attaining and maintaining of salvation), that person is not be saved.

I only state that here to illustrate my overall distance from anything Roman Catholic so as to frame my next comment in the proper light. Today, I am commending and applauding the work of this Roman Catholic man. It was truly a joy to here a clear, concise, and articulate argument for Theism (it didn’t ever get down to Christianity) leveled against Richard Dawkins.

I thought that the questions and objections raised by Richard Dawkins were easily handled by David Quinn, and especially when they were surrounding the two main issues that come up during the debate. The first issue concerned causality. Causality is basically the fact that there must be an uncaused first cause (or an unmoved first mover) for anything at all to exist. The second issue was concerning the role of religious systems and people in war and atrocities. Quite frankly, I think that Dawkins got shellacked with his double standard when Quinn gave examples of how Dawkins deals with humanist/atheist atrocities verses those motivated by religion.

Way to go Mr. Quinn.

You can listen to the debate by clicking here. The part where Mr. Quinn and Mr. Dawkins get involved in the causation issue starts around 11 minutes into the interview.

The final comment that I want to make about this interview was one other issue that was discussed (actually, Dawkins really avoided it). That was the issue of free will. The only reason I bring this up is that I have a different view of free will than some questions (it’s more an issue of the scope of a person’s free will than of the existence of free will) and how Mr. Quinn seemed to define it. He seemed to be defining free will as the ability to make decisions and be responsible for those decisions by some means apart from a genetic or chemical reason. Many atheistic evolutionists deny free will because everything must have its cause from matter or biology. Basically, David Quinn articulated that you (as a person) make the decisions and are responsible for them; they are not the natural outcome of a biological or physiological reaction.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Jesus and Justification

In my recent studies and conversations concerning justification I have come across a few bible stories that seem to show Jesus declaring someone as being forgiven. In other words, people were justified prior to the death of Christ. And the reason why I have contemplated this issue from various different angles lately is that this is such an important doctrine. It is this doctrine upon which the reformation exploded from. The understanding that at one moment in time, a sinner goes from being judged by his or her own deeds and unrighteousness, but now this same sinner is judged on the basis of Christ’s deeds and righteousness as He perfectly fulfilled the law of God. This singular event of being declared righteous on the basis of the righteousness of Christ Jesus is very different from other theological views that espouse a process of justification.

Before I go further, let me briefly illustrate why this is so vital. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” If we, in the sense of process justification, become righteous over time (over time is implied and stressed in these frames of thought) by being righteous, then this verse means that Christ also became sin by being sinful.

"’In Him’, don’t miss those two last, little, explosive, words. What this teaches is that because of our union with Him, because we are ‘in Him’, we become righteous [in] the same way Jesus became sinful. How did Jesus become sinful? Did He become sinful by sinning? No, nor do we become righteous by doing righteousness. He became sinful by having God recon to His account my sin, and I become righteous by having God recon to my account, His righteousness. And if that isn’t the best news in all the world, I don’t know what is because I know that in this life, both biblically and experientially, I’m not going to ever arrive at a point where I would qualify to be accepted by God. Ever! Therefore I must have the qualification from another, and it is His. And then the question is, ‘How do I get it?’ And the answer is ‘In Christ!’ United to Jesus, my sin is on Him, his righteousness is mine, and do you then see how huge this issue is? [Do you see] how important being ‘in Christ’ is? Union with Christ is not a throw-away, minor doctrine; it is at the center [of our doctrine]."1

Let us not miss the scale of how important this doctrine is. This truth of justification as an event where the sins of the sinner are imputed to Christ and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner is the difference between complete biblical grace in salvation and every other human and demonically contrived religious system of works righteousness. This doctrine of justification is, to use a colloquialism, a hill to die on.

The story of the paralytic who was lowered through the roof of a house where Jesus was teaching and performing miracles is one of the more famous of His miracles. This account can be found in Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-13; and Luke 5:17-26, and one of the reasons that it is probably so famous is due to the extraordinary length that the paralytic’s friends went to in order that he might be placed before Jesus. The point that all three of these gospel writers seem to be making with this story has less to do with the actual healing of the paralytic but is primarily focused on Jesus’ ability to forgive the sins of men.

In all of the accounts, the man is lowered down through the roof and then Christ proclaims that this man’s sins are forgiven. The account goes on to show that Jesus shows the validity of His first statement by commanding the man, “get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” (Mark 2:11) The interesting thing is that this man was declared to be forgiven. We know that it is only on the basis of Christ’s (then future) atoning work on the cross that this is possible and that this atoning work covers all sins, this man’s justification was pronounced to all who heard, but most especially for the benefit of the Pharisees.

Another story of the healing and forgiveness of Christ, that is somewhat less well-known, is the story of the ten lepers that is found in Luke 17:11-19.2 These ten lepers came to meet Christ, but stood at a distance (as was customary with lepers). They then requested mercy from Jesus, and He responded by telling them to go and show themselves to the priests and “as they were going, they were cleansed.” (Luke 17:14) However, the point of this account is not primarily about the ten lepers who were cleansed, but about the one who was thankful. Only one leper came back to offer thanks to Jesus after he noticed that he had been cleansed of his disease. The account ends by saying, “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.’” (Luke 17:19) The phrase “has made you well” literally means “has saved you.”3 Christ said that this man was saved, not that he had to become saved or that he would progressively become better in order to attain this salvation, but that he was saved by Christ in that moment. Furthermore, once we are saved, we possess eternal life (John 3:15,16; 3:36; 1 John 3:15; 5:11-13). And, by definition, eternal life cannot end, so you will not ever lose the salvation that Christ purchased and gave to you.4

On a quick side note, I think that one of the other very interesting characteristics of these two accounts of Christ saving men is that they both have another thing in common. Both stories tell us that these men were saved, that they had their sins forgiven, and both of them omit any indication that these men came seeking this outcome. Their primary goal seems to have been what the others seeking Jesus were, and that was to be healed of sickness or other physical ailments. Jesus declares that these men were saved, and it is not based on their request or their seeking Him for salvation. It seems to be an argument for the delight of God to save whosoever He wills to save, and it is not ultimately dependant upon man to seek to be saved by God.

The final account that I want to deal with today is also found in the gospel of Luke. It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican and how they prayed in the synagogue (Luke 18:9-13). The first interesting note is that Luke prophases the parable by saying that it was addressed to a certain group of people, “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Jesus goes on to show how the self-righteous Pharisee compared himself to heinous sinners, even to the tax collector who was praying at the same time, and thanking God that he was not like them. However, it was the lowly sinner’s attitude in that he beat his breast and cried out for God to be merciful that Christ showed His approval for when He said, “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other.” (Luke 18:14) It was not the self-righteous attitude or actions of the Pharisee that find favor with God, it is just the opposite. It is the fact that the sinner knows and understands completely that there is absolutely nothing that he can do to please God, and that he stands totally condemned by his own actions.

It is in these passages that we glimpse one of the great doctrines and truths of all of scripture and redemptive history. This truth is the idea that justification, the once-for-all declaration of the forgiveness of sins and the righteous standing before God, is accomplished on the basis of Christ’s work alone. It is from this great and awesomely glorious truth that we can then see sanctification in its true light. The ongoing process of refining and becoming more Christ-like in our present condition (alive and redeemed, but still living in sinful flesh) is only possible when we are first made right before God.

1 “United with Christ in Death and Life” by John Piper 10/8/2000. I personally transcribed and added the information in the brackets of this transcription.

2 It is almost an entirely arbitrary personal accounting of how well known any of these stories are or aren’t. It primarily reflects my own familiarity with these stories prior to looking at them recently.

3 NASB footnotes on Luke 17:19. Also, the Greek word here has the root word that means saved in the sense of salvation.

4 There are other arguments for the perseverance of the saints (a.k.a. eternal security) that come directly from biblical texts, but my point is not to articulate those in this article. You can, however, read my thoughts on this wonderful doctrine by reading The Perseverance of the Saints (a.k.a. Once Saved Always Saved).

Monday, November 27, 2006

How I found out...

How I found out…

When one desires children and is joyfully looking forward to the day when God will graciously provide another member to the family, it is a very happy and surreal occasion when the news is revealed. I have said to my friends and family that when my wife was pregnant with my oldest, Micah, I went through various stages of realizing that this…was…real. If I recall correctly, I think that I called the inaugural events into these sequential stages “sucker-punches” of reality.

We found out that we were pregnant while we were visiting my parents. Stephanie and I were in total shock, we were excited, but we were in shock. As the husband and father, I am not blessed (or cursed) with the first-hand physical cues and reminders of the reality of the new child that is growing, so it is easier for me to not fully grasp the reality of this life at first.

The first sucker-punch came when we went to the doctor’s office one afternoon. I don’t remember if I was expecting anything profound, but when we were there, we were able to hear Micah’s heartbeat for the first time. I remember that once the pure ecstasy lost some of its hold on me, it felt like the blood drained out of my face. It was at this point that the reality of Micah’s little life was driven home a little further, and the responsibilities that I had for this new life began to terrify me.

While continuing on with life and taking care of my pregnant wife, I began to work through and deal with the various concerns and questions that were cropping up. I was still nervous about being a father, but I was trying to prepare for all of my new and upcoming responsibilities. It wasn’t too much longer (although at the time it seemed like an eternity) before we went in for one of the most anticipated things prior to the birth of the child – the ultrasound exam. It was in that little, dark room that I first saw Micah’s hands, feet, head, and body. And believe it or not, this was sucker-punch number two.

I have always believed (at least as far back as I have had to form an opinion on the matter) that babies are fully human from the moment of conception, even if their bodies form changes from being a mass of cells into being a fully formed baby over time. So it wasn’t the humanity of my child that was striking, but it was the fact that I could “see” his humanity. It wasn’t that he was just a little life, but he was a little life with a personhood all his own. I guess that it is hard to put it into words, but the basic idea is that the reality of the personal nature of my son hit home during that ultra-sound.

Prior to his birth (the mega-sucker-punch), there was one more time that the reality of his little life was hammered home. One day while I was almost out of the door going to work, Stephanie called me back into the bedroom where she was still laying in bed and she asked me to put my hand on her belly. Now, I do not know if I really felt Micah move before that day, but there was no mistaking it this time. I think that he actually drop-kicked me. I quickly kissed my wife and ran out of the apartment and off to work. It was on my way to work that the reality of Micah’s individual and personal will, thoughts, and actions sunk in.

All of this is to say that the stages of pregnancy (at least for me) are defined by these tangible benchmarks when I am able to experience (hear, touch, and see) the life of my child. Well, recently my wife and I found out that we are going to be getting another little crazy body in the house. In the past, I have been waiting in anticipation when she’s taken a pregnancy test (Micah, our second child, and the final test with Noah) when we found out, or I have been coming home from work to see my 1 ½ year old son Micah walking toward me with something sticking out of the pocket in his overalls (later revealed to be a positive pregnancy test for Noah). Stephanie had found out that she was pregnant while I was at work, and she came up with that fun way of telling me that we were going to have another child (even though the test was positive, the visit to the doctor the next day had a negative result…but we’ve still got Noah). This time, my wife was not short on ideas either.

We had been wondering if she were pregnant for about one week, and she had even taken a pregnancy test that came back negative, but we were still not convinced. So, on Saturday night while I was working on my Sunday school preparation, I needed some artificial stimulant to assist me in my late night studies. Stephanie volunteered to go to the store and get some groceries and to procure a special study treat for me. When she arrived home I was working and I didn’t look up at her right away, so she gave me a bottle of Mello Yello. She then said that she thought it might be an extra late night, and therefore she had bought two of them for me. She handed me the second Mello Yello… and I don’t think that I even looked closely to see what was in it. I just felt it, saw that things were awry (there was no liquid in the bottle, and there was a white “thing” in there), and then I looked at the jubilant expression on my wife’s face to confirm that we were having another baby.

God be praised! We are eagerly expecting to meet the newest addition of the family.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sola Fide Sermon

My good friend, Stuart, has been given the opportunity to preach during the Sunday evening services at Ambassador Baptist church. He recently finished a series on the 5 Solas of the Reformation. Regrettably I have not been able to attend these services as I am serving in a different ministry at the same time. However, Stu's sermons are posted on the church's website. I encourage you to listen to the sermon from 10/22/06 service where he goes through Sola Fide.

Click here to listen to this sermon. You can also right click this link and then select "save as" to save this sermon onto your computer.

May God bless you through the preaching of His Word.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Does the act of baptism save? In some circles of theology the answer is yes, and in others the answer is no. The differences on this issue are a microcosm of the differences on the overall theology of justification.

I hold to the position that the baptism is the act of a Christian who is obeying a command of Christ, and it is a symbolic and public profession of the faith that the believer holds. The act and meaning of baptism is summarized in the doctrinal statement of my church like this, “We believe that baptism is the immersion in water of a believer in Christ into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to show forth by solemn and beautiful symbolism, the believer’s identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, and that it is a Scriptural prerequisite to church membership (Matthew 28:19; Acts 8:36; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 2:38-41).”1

Before I go further, I must explain the reason why we hold that baptism (adult baptism by immersion) is a prerequisite of church membership. Jesus sets forth two ordinances, or acts, that are to be observed by all believers for all time, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (communion). The basic reason why baptism is necessary for membership at Ambassador Baptist Church is that baptism seems to be the first act of obedience to the Lord following conversion. All of the leaders, teachers, and other servants in the church must be found to be faithful and devoted servants of Christ. Since baptism is the initial basic command that believers are to obey, one cannot be an obedient servant of Christ if they have not been baptized.

John Piper was asked if you needed to be baptized in order to be saved. His answer was very profound. He said that one does not need to be baptized in order to be saved, but he went on to say that if a person willfully rejects being baptized after they have made a profession of faith, they might not be saved. Not for the lack of baptism, but for the lack of the fruit of baptism. If I reject to follow the command of my Savior, is He truly my savior? So, as much as I must affirm that baptism is not a prerequisite for salvation, the lack of submitting to the command of Christ to be baptized is a clear sign that one is not obeying Him, and this is a sign of an unbeliever.

Another point that I must articulate before going further is which position on baptism I am arguing against here. There are some traditions that embrace infant baptism as a symbol of the new covenant while not making the leap to affirm that one is saved by baptism (infant or otherwise). I do disagree with this understanding of baptism (held by Presbyterians and some other protestant denominations), but it is not nearly as big of a theological issue as the idea of baptismal regeneration held by others.

In my experience, two of the many verses that are brought up when someone is promoting a type of baptismal regeneration are John 3:5 and 1 Peter 3:21. On the surface, both of these verses seem to be saying that baptism is necessary for one to become a Christian.

“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’” John 3:5

“Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” 1 Peter 3:21

The first hurtle to jump over is the language barrier. The specific hurtle is with the Greek word “baptizw” that is translated baptize. The word and the use of this word don’t always require or imply a water ceremony, but it has gained that meaning because the Greek word was transliterated into English instead of translated. I deal with this issue in the first part of my pervious article, apostle.

John 3:5 is not a problematic verse when it is tossed in the face of someone who rejects baptismal regeneration. One of the ways that this has been argued in the past is that the baptism by “water” is referring to natural birth and the breaking of the bag of waters of the pregnant woman just prior to delivering her baby. Now, where this argument seems reasonable from a Western European standpoint, it would not have been the way that a first century Jew like Nicodemus. He was a teacher of the Law and any mention of baptism would have brought to mind the various places in the Law where cleansing was symbolized by baptism. One such place is with the story of Elisha and Naaman found in 2 Kings 5. The basic story is that Naaman (a Syrian) had leprosy and he went to see Elisha to be healed. Elisha told him that he needed to go to the Jordan and dip into the water 7 times, and if he did that, he would be healed. After some time, Naaman finally bends his will and humbles himself to go do the foolish act of dipping in the Jordan. Once he comes up the 7th time, the leprosy is gone.

This is not a story of the cleansing nature of water, nor is the point that the act of baptism saves. 1 Kings 5:13-14 show us what was going on in Naaman’s mind and why the humiliation of dipping in the Jordan was initially not acceptable to him. He wanted to do something, pay something, or otherwise have some credit for his healing. But the command of Elisha was to show that the power of God alone is what is able to cleanse a person.

Nicodemus would also have thought of Ezekiel 36 where the sprinkling of water was God’s way of saying that He was going to purify His people form the wickedness and idolatry that they were involved in. It was with not the sprinkling of the water that God would perform this cleansing; it was symbolic language to show the cleaning process of God.

1 Peter 3:21 seems a little more daunting to the Bible student at first, but once it is read in context, you can see that it is not advocating baptismal regeneration. The first key is found in the word “corresponding”, and we must understand to what illustration of Noah and the flood mean.

The story of Noah is found in Genesis 6-9. God was angry at all of humanity for our wickedness and he was going to destroy everyone, but He decided to save Noah. The text goes on to show that Noah and his sons built a very large boat, brought animals and supplies into it, and then Noah and his 7 relatives (his wife and his 3 sons and their wives) got into the ark. God then shut the door and He deluged the planet in a terrible flood that killed the men and animals that were not on the ark.

The question needs to be answered – what saved Noah. The obvious answer is God, but by what method did God save Noah? It was not the water that saved Noah, the water only brought death. Noah and his family were saved by the ark, by being inside of the ark they were protected from the wrath of God that He poured out on the world.

When did God pour out His wrath in order to deal with or judge the sinfulness of humanity? He did this to Christ on the cross. Christ was baptized into God’s wrath on the cross (Mark 10:38, Luke 12:50). We are saved by a baptism, but not the water baptism that the believer undergoes. No, we are saved by being found in Christ who was baptized in God’s wrath for the sins of those who would believe. The question then becomes, how can a man be found in Christ, and the overwhelming answer of scripture is that faith is the vehicle that God has divinely chosen to connect the sinner to the Savior (Acts 15:9; Romans 3:21-27; 4:5-20; 5:1-2; Galatians 2:16; 3:2-15).

1 Constitution of the Ambassador Baptist Church p. 4

Monday, November 20, 2006

a request for prayer

I (we) just found out that my wife is pregnant!


I humbly ask that you pray for my wife and the child, and that the pregnancy would go well and that my child would be healthy.

God be praised!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Tony the Vegan

I sometimes wonder which one is harder: whether working in a secular place of business or working in a church or para-church organization. One thing that I am pretty sure about is that, most likely, the grass always seems greener on the other side.

Many people have nicknames, and almost no one picked it for themselves. Some are inside jokes, some are abbreviations (i.e. EJ), and some are just random. Well, the name Tony the Vegan came about in a very different way, I guess. You see, when I come home from my job, I like to tell my wife about the day’s goings on: what certain people said or did, who got fired or promoted, and other various things. Well, for some reason, whenever I’d talk about a really nice co-worker named Tony, my wife (or other people) would look puzzled and weren’t sure exactly who I was referring to even though there were various stories that included or focused on my interactions with Tony in the past. So, I decided during one of my re-explanations of who Tony was to call him “Tony the Vegan” because his name is Tony and he is a Vegan. Since then, whenever I tell a story that includes Tony in it, people know exactly who I am referring to and they can call to their memory various things about him that I have relayed in the past.

Tony and I have worked together for around 2 years, and Tony is one of those guys that just doesn’t seem to fit into any specific paradigm of people. In the past I had tried to communicate the message of the gospel to him, and I don’t know if I ever did it effectively. I tried so many times to steer a conversation to eternity and to Christ, but it always fell short, mostly because we were working with limited amounts of time. Also I felt that he was simply humoring me (which he may have been, and I’m not upset about that). On one such occasion where I was trying to use anything, any window that would allow me to angle a conversation to Christ and spiritual things was when Tony was getting ready to make some popcorn. I noticed that the plastic wrapping had a curious sticker on it, and I wanted to have it. I asked if I could have it and he, looking puzzled, agreed. I then opened up my bible that I had with me and told him that he had just given me a profound bookmark to use in my bible. Humorous? Yes. Did we have a small conversation about the bible and eternity? Yes. But it still didn’t get too far.

Tony took a different job soon after and I tried to salvage my failed attempts by letting Lee Strobel do some talking for me when I lent him A Case for Christ and A Case for Faith. He, being a book guy, seemed genuinely interested to learn a little about Christianity from a biblical, protestant, and fundamental standpoint. Before I lost contact with him for a while, he gave me the books back and thanked me for letting him borrow them.

After that, I didn’t have any contact with Tony for almost a year. In the interim time, I had learned better ways to bring up and articulate the message of the gospel than I practiced before (thank you Ray, Kirk, and Todd). I always had the right ingredients (repentance, faith, Christ alone, etc), but it was the revelation of how to use the Law in normal conversation that really opened some doors for me. Now that we’re working in the same office again, I have tried two different approaches with him, but both have had the lack of clarity that I was aiming for, and that was due to the lack of time and my faulty articualtion of the gospel in that time.

The first thing I tried was related to some conversation about a fire (we may have had a fire drill or something, I don’t know). I asked him what characteristics he thinks that a fireman would need in order to allow him do do his job well. He said that the fireman should be strong, fit, and brave (not afraid of the fire). I then asked him that if a person was unaware that the building was on fire or that person was in denial of the severity of the situation, should the fireman be a little more aggressive in trying to convince the individual of the danger? Should the fireman try to persuade him or her to see the solution (i.e. get out of the building)? He agreed that the fireman should make all attempts to save the person from the fire. Having run out of time, I then told Tony that I’d be back to tell him why I asked those questions. Well, I dropped the ball and never made the opportunity to bring it up again soon enough.

The next time that I made an opportunity occurred was when I was on break (bible in hand) and I stopped by his desk to say something (totally unrelated to evangelism, actually) and he asked if I was carrying “the Book” or something to that effect. He then said something about how nice it is (or something), and I saw an opening and took it. I said that it is a great book, and it is good to know that I have peace with God. “But,” I said, “the bible calls you a child of wrath, and God isn’t happy with children of wrath – nor will judgment day be favorable to them.” He then looked a little perturbed, nervous, concerned, or something, and I told him that I’d show him what Bible verse I was referring to when I came back (he was busy and I had to do something quick). But before I could show him the passage, he had already found it (Ephesians 2:3) and he was concerned at the severity of the statement.

So, to my dear friend Tony (or anyone else for that matter):

The bible is clear that God is angry, and that all liars (not to mention murderers, drunkards, fornicators, etc) will have their part in the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8). The just punishment of sin committed against a holy God is the torment in the lake of “unquenchable fire” and where the “worm does not die” (Mark 9:43,48) where it is eternal and “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night,” (Revelation 14:10). This is a place reserved for all of those people “name was not found written in the book of life” (Revelation 20:15).

That is why the good news of the gospel (gospel means “good news”) is such good news. Tony talked about the qualifications for a fire fighter, and one of them was that a good fire fighter would do all that he could to get the people out of a burning building, even if the people inside didn’t know or believe that it was on fire. That is what I am trying to do. It is not because I delight in making people feel uncomfortable, uneasy, or that I like to make people dislike me because of what I believe. I do it because God has chosen this, the foolishness of preaching His message of salvation, as the means by which people can know (a) that they are terribly guilty before Almighty God, (b) that God must punish them, and (c) that if they trust in the perfect life, sacrificial death, and supernatural resurrection of Jesus Christ and repent (turn away or forsake) of their sins, then Christ’s perfect righteousness will be credited to them before God, and you will inherit eternal life with your Savior.

My bookmark says “Follow Directions to avoid SCORCHING” and it is true that if we obey what God has said in the Bible, we will not endure eternal punishment. However, don’t look to God to avoid hell (some sarcastically call it “fire insurance”), but turn to God because He is so kind that He will save you from hell. The difference is huge. One person will believe God until the fear wears off and never appreciate the grace of God whereas the other one will bask in the grace of a forgiving God and be amazed that God would save a sinful wretch.

He saved this sinful wretch. He saved a murdering blasphemer named Paul. He can save you.

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson