Friday, August 31, 2007

Quote of the Day - Justification: James & Paul

Over the past year or so, one of the issues that has come up a few times between me and my brother-in-law in our discussions is the issue of justification. Specifically, justification as it is related to the arguments in both Paul’s and James’ writings. Some (Roman Catholic’s, various Orthodox churches, and other works righteous systems) use James to argue that man is saved, in some measure, by a concert of faith and works. Protestants and bible-believers of all stripes reject this type of understanding that tramples over the doctrine of salvation by grace.

Going along with that, as well as the theme of election that I have been studying from Romans 8, Jeff graced me with a quote that I will attribute to him, even though he would attribute it to someone else, and so on and so on.

“Paul stresses justification by faith, and James stresses justification of faith. Paul treats of the justification of the man of faith, and James treats of the justification of the faith of the man.”1

This is a very good and concise way of articulating the different audiences, objections, and objectives that each author is dealing with.

Soli Deo Gloria, Solus Christus, Sola fide, Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia

1Jeff Buck, in an e-mail to me on Aug 31, 2007 11:52 AM, although he would attribute the framing of this quote to someone else, who also would, no doubt, attribute it to someone else…and on and on.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Good Exegesis and Application from John Piper

“What does it mean (number one) that God foreknew those He referred to in [Romans 8:28)? ‘Because those whom He foreknew,’ what does that mean? Some would say, many would say, it simply means that God foresees who will believe on Him and then He decides what will become of believers. Now there are two assumptions in that interpretation that are wrong, unbiblical, and which make that view impossible to believe. That he simply foresees who is going to believe, on their own, and then decides what the destiny of those believers will be.

Here’s assumption number one that is not true: it assumes that ultimately we, in our own will power, provide the decisive, ultimate cause of our faith. That’s the point of that interpretation. That God only foresees people, not resting in God to provide the ultimate, decisive, faith that they need to believe, but producing, on their own, the decisive ultimate ground and cause of their faith. That is a false assumption. It’s false elsewhere in the NT, because faith is described a gift from of God in Philippians 1:29 and Ephesians 2:8-9 and 2 Tim 2:24 and Matthew 16:17 and Jeremiah 32:40, and other places. Faith is God’s work, it is God’s gift, and not only that, it is shown to be such here in this very context.

Let’s look just briefly so that you can see. You don’t have to go anywhere else but right here in Romans 8:29-30 to see it. Look at verse 30, ‘those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified.’ [ESV] Now think about that with me. Everybody who is called is justified. You know and I know, from the book of Romans, that nobody is justified except through faith. Romans 5:1, ‘therefore having been justified by faith we have peace with God.’ Nobody is justified except they believe in Jesus, but this text says [that] everybody who’s called is justified. Not, ‘some of those who are called are justified’, namely those who choose to be, but everybody who is called is justified which means everybody who is called believes. How can that be? How can you say, ‘everybody is called believes? Aren’t some called who say “no” to the call?’ No! Now I’m rehearsing an old sermon from five weeks ago, so I can’t give it all, but here’s the summary statement. When God calls effectually, it’s like Jesus saying to Lazarus, ‘Lazarus, come forth,’ and he comes forth. Dead men live when God calls. When God called you to Himself effectually, in and through the preaching, the preaching of the gospel is not the effectual call of God. It’s the general call that goes out to everybody. In and through the gospel comes this mighty, ‘Piper, Live,’ and you live, and the cry of the newborn baby is faith. Therefore, this text will not allow us to buy the assumption that foreknowledge is simply a foreknowing of a faith which we produce on our own, without the decisive, ultimate, enabling of God. That’s clear, and therefore this interpretation won’t stand; that foreknowing is simply foreseeing self-wrought faith, it isn’t. It’s seeing God-wrought faith.

Here’s a second assumption that will make that interpretation not work. The interpretation that says all that foreknowledge is, is the foreseeing of human produced faith so that it will then decide what will become of them fails to give the meaning to the word ‘know’ in ‘foreknow’ a broad, biblical meaning that would make more sense out of this text. For example, let me read for you a half-a-dozen texts about ‘knowing’, and you supply the meaning. I might chip in a suggestion as I go along, but it will be plain to you what knowing means, and then keep this text in mind as I read these. In Genesis 18:19 God says of Abraham, ‘I have known him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord.’ Every English translation translates ‘y-da’ as choose, which baffles me, they shouldn’t. That is the meaning, but you ought to translate the word ‘know’ [as] ‘know’ so that people like you can read it and learn the meaning of ‘know’ for Romans 8:29. It’s not good when translators interpret, that’s another issue. In Amos 3:2 God says to the people of Israel, ‘You only have I known among all the families of the earth.’ He knew about all the families, but only chose Israel. In Matthew 7:23 Jesus said to the hypocrites at the judgment day, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’ What does that mean? I never knew about you? I never knew you were on the earth? I never knew anything about your life? No. I never knew you, I never made you mine, I never loved you with electing love. Psalm 1:6 says, ‘The Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.’ He knows about the way of the wicked too. But he knows the way of the righteous in the sense of approving and recognizing and loving. In Hosea 13:5 God says to Israel, ‘I knew you in the wilderness, In the land of drought,’ meaning he took note of your plight and cared for you. And Genesis 4:1 says, ‘Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.’ That is, he made her his, and knew her intimately and loved her.

If you don’t know that biblical background of the word ‘know’, so much richer than our heady word ‘know’, it will be hard, I think, to put a proper meaning on verse 29. ‘Whom He foreknew,’ cared for, loved, chose, made His own. Because of all those texts I think John Stott and John Murray are exactly right when both of them say, ‘”Know” . . . is used in a sense practically synonymous with “love” . . . “Whom he foreknow” . . . is therefore virtually equivalent to "whom he foreloved.”’ Foreknowledge, is ‘sovereign, distinguishing love’ (John Stott, quoting Murray, Romans, p. 249). It's virtually the same as set your affection on and choose for your own.

So the meaning of the first act of God that guarantees Romans 8:28 is that God foreknows his own people in the sense that he chooses them and loves them and cares for them. All things work together for good for those who love God and are called because they are foreknown.” - John Piper form “Foreknown, Predestined, Conformed to Christ” preached on 8/4/02, radio broadcast 3/30/07.

This quote is a compilation of transcribing (mine) some of the audio to supplement’s posted manuscript

Friday, August 24, 2007

Concerning the Doctrine of Election

One of the greatest sources of ongoing encouragement, edification, and positive challenge in my life is the relationship that I have been privileged to form with my brother-in-law. It has been a blessing for me to have been used by God, in some small way, in his conversion, and it is been an even bigger blessing for me to be built up and challenged in a wide variety of worthy areas.

Most recently he alerted me to an episode of the Bible Answer Man (8/13/07 broadcast) where Hank was asked a question concerning the doctrines of sovereign election and limited atonement and if holding these theological convictions has a negative impact on evangelism. It is no secret that Hank very strongly holds to an Arminian theology as well as to the idea that man has a libertarian freedom of the will. Both of these convictions stand starkly in contrast to what I believe and hold to as what is revealed in the Bible. So, I have transcribed Hank’s response, and I want to deal with what he brings up.

"The idea is that Christ died for the elect. And the basic idea has to do with what's known as circumstantial or compatibilistic freedom which is to say that God creates people in such a way that they cannot respond to the gospel, but the elect are…rewired, as it were, in such a way that they can respond to the gospel. And therefore it is only the elect that are saved because it is only the elect that can respond to the wooing of the Holy Spirit.

Now the polar opposite of that, within the pale of orthodoxy, would be what is known as libertarian freedom which is the ability to act or the ability to act otherwise. So that people are genuinely able to respond to the wooing of the Holy Spirit. Not just some, but everyone can respond to the wooing of the Holy Spirit, and thus they are genuinely culpable if they do not. And this is said to preserve both God's sovereignty, because He works through genuinely free creatures in order to affect His purposes (and doesn't have to work, as it were, with a stacked deck), and also it reserves the justice of God because people are morally held culpable for their sin because they choose to rebel."

Then the caller asks, basically, that if Christ died for all (non-limited atonement) and only some responded, didn't Christ die needlessly for some, and isn't it true that 'those lives were paid for in vain?'
"Well the lives of the elect, of course, demonstrate the sufficiency of Christ's atonement on the cross. You have an interesting debate here, and often times the debate is defined by way of analogy like the analogy of the Shakespearian play, Macbeth. Macbeth, in the analogy, murders King Duncan, however as various Calvinists will argue using that analogy, Shakespeare was fully, 100%, the cause of Duncan's death because Shakespeare authored Macbeth. And likewise, by way of the analogy, God is the author of evil even though we as agents carry out that evil, and as such we are morally culpable. I think that's kind of a dangerous analogy personally, because again it makes God, in this case, the author of evil. I would say that God created the potential for evil but God is not the author of evil as in this analogy. God created the potential of evil and we are the ones who created the reality of that evil the actual choices that we make.”1

I must say that even though Hank does not agree with the doctrines of grace (i.e. what is modernly known the Calvinistic sovereignty of God in the salvation of men), he does a fair job of articulating what the principles are. I characterize his articulation as “fair” as opposed to something better based on a few different reasons.

First of all, his way of describing the Christian’s freedom as “circumstantial or compatibilistic freedom” is not a fair representation of what we say. It is an unfair statement insofar as much that if the groundwork of the doctrine of original sin and man’s state as being dead in sin is not fit into place in order to illuminate what freedom in the will that men have, we cannot understand it properly. Even the view that Hank espouses has some limits on what man can choose, but I’ll deal with that later.

Secondly, his use of the term “rewired” as opposed using the language and concepts of regeneration or of being born again serves to, in my opinion, trivialize this grand stance of the reformed theology of salvation. This use of language, similar to my third concern, serves to paint the theology that he is opposed to in a negative light based more on the rhetoric and the words that are chosen as opposed to painting it in a negative light based on a correct and fair articulation of ideas themselves.

And thirdly, his characterization of the Calvinistic or reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty that He works “with a stacked deck” is actually quite offensive. It is not just a shot at our doctrine of salvation, but it is an offensive and evil characterization of God’s nature. Only cheaters, magicians (fakers), and hustlers work with stacked decks of cards, and to apply this idea same characterization to God in His dealings with humanity is very, very bad form.

Even though the two issues that Hank was asked to comment on were the doctrines of election and limited atonement, I think that the two issues that I would want Hank to address before coming to his conclusion are the issues of grace (i.e. sola gratia) and freedom of the will. It is primarily with these two interrelated issues that I want to focus on in my critique of Hank’s articulated position.

Hank’s overriding idea of his theological stance is, I think, understood with his repeated use of the word “genuine” when referring to man’s freedom to choose and therefore being “genuinely culpable” for the evil they commit, and they are equally “genuinely able to respond to the wooing of the Holy Spirit.” It is then implied that there is no genuine freedom in making choices and there is no genuine culpability for evil.

To understand why I differ with Hank and why I contend that man does not have a libertarian free will is that I don’t find that to be the position of man as articulated in the Bible. The Bible says that men are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), and the Bible says that there are no men who seek Him (Romans 3:11) because every intent of our heart is, naturally, wicked and evil continually (Genesis 6:5). Furthermore, Jesus, in John’s gospel, firmly declares that no one comes to Him unless God first draws that person (John 6:44) and all of the people that the father draws will come (John 6:37).

Hank’s understanding of libertarian free will contradicts both accounts. He would argue that man can seek and choose God which is contrary to Romans 3:11, and he would argue that man can reject the wooing by the Holy Spirit aimed at saving that person’s soul which is contrary to John 6:37. Hank would argue that the preservation of God’s justice and sovereignty, but if that is what this doctrine of libertarian freedom does, it does so at the cost of the doctrine of original sin, the depravity of man, and the fact that salvation is by grace alone and faith alone.

I know that saying that libertarian freedom is contrary to two pillars of the reformation may be viewed as inflammatory because any gospel other than one of complete grace based on faith alone apart from man’s works is a false gospel. I do not believe that Hank is intentionally advocating a works based salvation, but I think that his doctrine of libertarian freedom does if it is brought to its logical conclusion and ending. Let me state, for the record, that I am not saying that Hank is a heretic or someone who is advocating a false gospel. Some of his theology, I would argue, is wrong and this error could lead to heresy, but I am not laying that charge at his feet.

The reason why libertarian freedom is, at its core, contrary to a gospel of faith alone and grace alone is that the only difference between a condemned man and a man who is saved is not the work of Christ or the drawing of the Father, but it is that man’s own choice that he does on his own apart from any causative act of God. That would then make salvation contingent upon something that a man must do instead of something that was done for that man.

Let me offer an illustration to show that the end result of a libertarian freedom is contrary to the gospel of grace alone: There are two men, Joe Pagan and Doug Christian, but for this example we’ll refer to them as Pagan and Christian. Pagan grew up next door to Christian, and they had virtually carbon copies of the same life. Their parents were the same age, their families went to the same church, their dad’s had the same job, and on and on. Both Pagan and Christian were taught the exact same things by their Sunday school teacher named Mr. Harold O. Grace. Near the end of High School, both Christian and Pagan were sitting in church when they both heard the gospel preached and were exhorted to repent and believe in Christ. They both understood that this meant a life devoted to Christ and a casting off of the sins that they both loved. As it happened, Joe Pagan decided to reject the gospel while Doug Christian repented and placed his full faith in Christ.

In this example, as viewed from a Libertarian freedom stand point, the only difference between these two men was their individual choice at the end. Both had been under the same influence of grace that brought them to a point where they could choose to believe or not to believe. One man chose life, the other chose death. Make no mistake; there is no room for the advocate of libertarian freedom to say that there was any special work of God done on the part of Christian that was not done on the part of Pagan that influenced Christian to faith. For if that were so, it would no longer be libertarian free will, but a degree of what Hank called circumstantial free will. Both men must have had the same exact ability and opportunity to choose Christ as well as to reject Him, otherwise their choice was not, as Hank put it, a genuine one.

If this example is viewed from a position of sovereign grace, Christian was the one who was made new and given the faith to believe from God Himself. Pagan was not and so he did not want to choose to seek after God, nor could he, and so he freely rejected Christ. All men would be exactly like Joe Pagan if it were not for our Father drawing us and giving us the faith to believe. Even if proponents of libertarian freedom would argue that all men are given the faith to believe by God and still only some have faith, this still must place the determining factor in any man’s salvation squarely on that man and his choice apart from anything that God has specifically done.

The idea of libertarian freedom as it has been espoused and expounded upon by men like Hank Hanegraaff comes, I believe, from the pure motive of defending God from any implication in sin. However, he does this at the ultimate cost of the gospel of grace that he is so ardently trying to defend. There are ditches on all sides of an issue that one can fall into. We must be wary so that we do not try to fix one problem and at the same time create ten more.

Does God delight in the death of the wicked? No. Does God desire for all men to be saved? Yes. Does God elect that some are to be saved and not others? Yes. Does God save all people? No. Could He save all people? Yes. Could He have saved no one? Yes. If anyone believes in Christ and repents of their sin, will they be saved? Yes. Our job is not to reconcile seemingly contradictory and paradoxical statements of the Bible. We are called to believe what God has said in His word and to communicate that which He has said to others. While the Bible does give us information on how to understand and make sense out of these paradoxes, I believe, we must always be so careful about the answers that we give and what those answers imply.

“…while the truth of eternal punishment is the one most objectionable to non-professors, that of God’s sovereign election is the truth most loathed and reviled by the majority of those claiming to be believers.”2

1 Bible Answer Man Broadcast, 8/13/07

2 A.W. Pink “The Doctrine of Election” Chapter 1: Introduction

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Caribou & Starbucks Take Over The World

So you think you’ve seen everything (or most everything), but then you see something that makes you pause…look again…and say, “no way!”

Yesterday I was walking in the South side of Kellogg Blvd going from work to my car when I saw just such a thing. I looked and I saw a squirrel on top of a garbage can. The fact that the squirrel was on top of the can is not what was so interesting, it was what I saw on my double take that made me stop and stare.

The squirrel jumped down from the trash can and was carrying a cup from a gourmet coffee shop in its mouth. And it didn’t just drop down from the can with it, but then – to my shock – it started bounding across the lawn toward a tree with the cup still in its mouth.

At this point I had pulled out my phone that has a camera on it, but I knew that I had to get fairly close in order to get a picture where you could actually see the intended subject. Once I started moving toward it, the squirrel began to climb the tree…STILL HOLDING THE COFFEE CUP!!!!

By the time I was able to take my first picture, the frightened squirrel had lost its grip on the cup and it had tumbled to the ground. The squirrel jumped down and attempted to get it a few more times before resigning to get away from me by itself. So, my first picture shows the squirrel with the cup on the ground, and the second is when the cup had fallen and the squirrel is hidden by the tree. With my final picture, I was able to get fairly close to the tree so that you could (somewhat) clearly see the squirrel and the coffee cup.

So, in my endless pursuit to answer the why questions of life, I asked the same question as to why this occurred and I came up with two plausible answers:

  1. I was on a serious caffeine buzz and what I saw was merely a hallucination that had the creative power to produce these digital images. You may laugh, but with the post-modern “whatever you believe is true…can be true” kind of thinking, this should not be laughed at. (but in reality, this is a completely stupid and asinine idea, so yes, please laugh away at this idea with me)
  2. The consumer concerns for mom & pop coffee shops has come to a full and terrible conclusion…Starbucks and Caribou (combined) have infiltrated and taken over every market possible, and all types of…animals…are flocking to their seductive call.

If I’ve missed some observation of dire importance or a conclusion just must be made, let me know so that we can all learn from each other.

I’ve gotta go, my Caribou Coffee Mocha is getting a bit cold…maybe I need a refill…?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Missing the Point

I’ve been desperately trying to catch up on my podcast archives so I have been listening to Allestair Begg from July, John Piper from March, and John MacArthur from early August. The series that Dr. MacArthur is preaching on deals with what types of people God saves, and it is focused (at least as far as I am now) on the fourth chapter of Luke where Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah and proclaims that this very Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing. My point with this entry is not to re-state everything from MacArthur’s sermon but to offer an observation and possible correlation to modern Christendom.

As far back as I can remember thinking about various stories in the Bible and those involved in them, I can vividly remember being shocked at the apparent stupidity and ungratefulness of many of the people. Whether it is the idolatry of the Israelites with the golden calf, their lamenting of manna that God provided, or the unfaithfulness on the doorstep of Canaan that led to the wandering in the desert for forty years, every time that I read or hear those stories I got so annoyed because they were being so foolish and ungrateful to God. Along with those thoughts I remember, on many occasions, thinking that if I had been living in any of those times that I would not have worship the calf, complained about the manna, and that I would have been on Joshua and Caleb’s side.

But when I was in college, I began to think about these things again and I began to realize that I was not like Joshua or Caleb, but I was more like the ungrateful and unfaithful Israelites who constantly took God’s previous miraculous works and bountiful provision and counted it as normal and as something to be expected. Just like anything that we receive on a regular or daily basis, we tend to expect it and we become (as a rule) less overtly thankful for it because it has come to be expected and counted as normal occurrence rather than a blessing. What do these thoughts have to do with 4:14-30?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana1

The people in Jesus’ day had the privilege to see Christ and hear the perfectly articulated and tempered proclamation of the gospel that was a fulfillment to all that the Scriptures had been anticipating. They had the Perfect Law-Giver and Savior in their midst proclaiming that which the prophets and patriarchs wanted so desperately to see and hear, but yet virtually all of Jesus’ contemporaries missed it entirely while He was living, and even following His death, only a small percentage of national Israel has ever found her Messiah.

The question that comes to mind is how could these people who were so committed to the law and prophets and who were so knowledgeable about the commandments of God and the prophecies of the Messiah miss the very one they were awaiting and expecting? Through years of compromise or simple human vanity, the majority of Jewish people were waiting for a Messiah who was not primarily interested in the forgiving of sins and the salvation of the lost, but they were waiting for the Messiah to be the conquering king who would restore national Israel as a nation and kick out the Romans.

Since Christ has come and we have believed in Him, historically those who confess Christ have seen the folly of their error and have esteemed Christ as the only Begotten of the Father and have hailed Him as such. And we continue to be somewhat bewildered that Christ’s contemporaries could have missed everything that is so apparent to us. I fear that this same folly is as present today as it was back then. It may not take the exact form as it once did, but it is the same humanistic folly.

In Christ’s time, the popular and prominent teachers of the law saw no use for Jesus unless He would overthrow the Romans, and they demonstrated this by suing for His death. Some of those in opposition to Christ were, no doubt, committed disciples to the false religion that they had been instructed in. These same may have had no underlining agenda of personal wealth, fame, or preservation, but they believed that they were doing God’s work by having a false prophet and heretic executed. However, it is also just as likely that many of these religious leaders were more concerned about lining their own pockets, maintaining their own traditions, and holding onto their positions of leadership over and above worshiping and seeking after God, even if it would have been done in a false legalistic system that does not save.

Today many in the most prominent pulpits and ministries are preaching watered down and inclusive gospel messages, if they preach any kind of gospel at all. Teachers today are more focused on health and wealth, growing church ministries, or psycho-analyzing their parishioners rather than on the pure gospel message found in the plain understanding of the text of the Bible itself.

Some of the most frightening waves inside of Christendom are those of the emergent and social gospel movements. The emergent movement (specifically I am referring to those who are emergent in their theology, not in style of worship) seeks to blur all lines of doctrine in endless “conversations” that have no conclusions because all ideas are viewed equally valid. I agree with them, but not in the way that they intend. My views are equally as valid yours – they are both rubbish unless they are the views that are enlightened by the Holy Spirit and unless they come from a correct contextual reading and understanding of the Bible itself.

The social gospel movement removes the focus of the gospel from saving sinners and being justified in the eyes of God and instead puts the focus on social programs like feeding the poor. Feeding the poor and fighting disease is a good gospel work, but it is not the gospel. Feeding the poor and curing them of all sorts of diseases without explicitly preaching the true saving gospel of Jesus Christ is not an act of love, but it is an act of supreme hatred. If I know that God will condemn those who have not repented of their sins and believe in the gospel, but I do not exhort and plead with them to repent and believe, it shows that I don’t truly care for them.

Should Christians work to feed the poor and clothe the naked and heal the sick? Yes. But that should be done (a) because we are commanded to by Christ, (b) because we love those in need, and (c) because it is a testimony to the truth of the gospel. May we not fall into the folly of misplaced religious fervor, whether our main goal is to expel Rome or to feed and clothe those in need, that so easily grips the hearts of men, but let us focus solely on Christ and Him crucified for the salvation of sinners to the glory of God alone.

1 The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"‘Heaven without Jesus,’ if that is attractive to you, you’re not saved.”

“How many children, now I’m going to be dangerous here but this is a warning to parents, how many children’s testimonies say that they were scared when they heard about hell and wanted to escape and so prayed to receive Jesus? Now, I believe that in His mercy, God works in little children’s hearts often at those moments so that there is more than fear of hell going on. There really is a little seed of delight in God, love for God, love for Jesus. If there isn’t, they’re not saved. To embrace Jesus as a fire insurance policy and not a beloved savior is not salvation. To embrace Him as the forgiver of sins and not to embrace Him as the lover of our soul that satisfies our desires so that we want to be with Him forever as the result of our forgiveness is not salvation.

Do you know why we love to be forgiven? Do you know why we love justification? Do you know why we love escape from hell? Do you know why we love the promise of heaven? Because all of those things do two things. One, they show us the kind of God we have and two they get us there, they get us to Him. That’s why they’re precious. Who cares about forgiveness of sins unless it means reconciliation with our Father who satisfies our souls in relationship? Forgiveness means nothing if it doesn’t produce that. Neither does justification, neither does escape from hell. ‘Heaven without Jesus,’ if that is attractive to you, you’re not saved.” - John Piper

Transcribed from: “All Things for Good” by John Piper, originally preached June 9, 2002; radio broadcast 3/23/07

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Protecting My Children from Public Television

With three young children, my wife and I (like all good parents) must always be alert and on the lookout to ensure that they don’t go off and get seriously hurt or killed. We don’t allow our children to play in the street, to play with fire, or to have easy access to knives or sharp scissors. Likewise, we are not only mindful about the physical health of our children, but we also want to monitor and protect them in other areas too.

One of the other things that we monitor very closely is they type of television show or video that they watch. My eldest, Micah, actually didn’t really ever watch anything until he was nearly two-years-old. And once we introduced a limited amount of viewing time to his schedule, we have been careful to be very censorious. For instance, as general rule my boys only watch either Veggie Tales, Bob the Builder, Thomas and Friends, and (most recently) The Wiggles. Occasionally my wife will turn the television on when Elmo or Caillou is on, but that is it. Even with the number of different programs, the maximum time to watch TV on a given day is about 30 minutes. Sometimes it is more when one of the kids is sick or if the parent in charge is sick, but the standing rule is that we’ll watch 30 minutes if we watch any (and many days we don’t). And after a few different negative experiences with bending our rules a bit, we have been even more cautious.

One afternoon I was queuing up the video so that my boys could watch an episode of Thomas and Friends. We try to keep the channel of the television normally tuned into the public television station (the one where many of these shows air) so that we can avoid toy, food, or inappropriate advertising and content. So when I turned on the television and was rewinding the video, one of the female hosts was giving a summary of the program that had just concluded (I have no idea what the program was). She summarized the program by saying that the main character (I’ll call him “Billy”) had learned about sharing. The essence of what she said was this,

First of all Billy didn’t want to share his toys with his friends. Later he found that when he did share his toys, it made him happy. So now he is going to share because it makes him happy.

On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with learning about sharing. But I was immediately following the logic of her council to further conclusions. You see, the basis of what she said is that Billy should share his toys because it makes him happy. She didn’t say that he should share because it made his friends happy or because his mother or father told him to. So, the base “reason” for sharing is because it makes me happy. And if the reason why we do anything or everything is because it makes me happy, well then we will have big societal problems.

Now, you may be thinking that I am being overly critical and that children wouldn’t take what she said that far. And you are probably right. But the problem is that my children don’t like to share. In fact, both Micah and Noah like to hoard the toys and play with one simply because the other is either playing with it or is intending to play with it. I must teach them to share because of a reason that is more real and more solid than that it makes them happy.

This ultimately goes back to a principle that I believe is true. That is this: Teaching good morals without them being explicitly based on Jesus Christ and the truth of the Bible is wrong. If I were to teach someone not to steal and my reason was something other than Christ and His Word (i.e. because it makes you feel good), ultimately the issue of stealing is up for debate and whether or not it is a good thing to do will be determined based on my immediate situation and not on Christ. The pattern of American society is that we have had good morals and good ethics because for years these things were explicitly taught and based on the Bible. Now, we are told that “the Bible says so” is not a valid reason for teaching the masses ethics and morals and that is why I believe we are seeing the increased speed in the decline of the morals of our society.

About a week after my television experience my wife calls me at work to tell me what she just saw. She had turned the television on to have the boys watch Thomas or the Wiggles while she was feeding Hannah. When she turned it on, the program “It’s a Big, Big World” was on. Immediately both of my boys were captivated because of the bright colors and the fact that the characters were all animals. The main character was talking about acorns, and as it happens, Micah had been introduced to acorns a few days earlier and had collected a handful of them.

So my wife decided to see what they would learn about acorns. Apparently, it was a pretty neat program that showed how the acorn grows into a tree. My sons were very interested. But all of the sudden, the main animal who was talking referred to the spirit of a certain tree. My wife immediately turned a Thomas video of ours on which caused both of my boys to be extremely upset. Why in the world would it be necessary on a nature-type children’s show to refer to an idea that trees have spirits?

Well, this just went on to show us, yet again, that we cannot be too careful about what goes into the impressionable minds of my children. Would Micah end up believing that trees have spirits if we’d have let him watch that show? I doubt it. Most likely, he would have asked a question later and we would have answered it and corrected his false understanding. But the point is that I don’t want that type of confusion to enter into my children’s minds yet. One day they will be confronted with Native American mysticism, naturalism, humanism, and any other “ism” that you can think of, but I don’t want that to be this day. And one day my sons will build fires, play catch near or on the street, and use sharp knives to do various tasks. But in the same way that I won’t allow them to do those things now, I will do my best not to allow them to be assailed by false religious and philosophical ideologies until they are older and more mature.

Raising, teaching, guiding, and nurturing my children so that, by God’s grace, the will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ with a sensitivity toward sin in their lives and the instruction of God’s Word. As their father, that is my task. That is my duty. That is my goal. And to do that, I will do all that I can in order to protect them from harmful influences.

Monday, August 13, 2007

God Hates Minnesota…Apparently, Anyway

I received a mass e-mail message from a friend of mine, Kristy, last week concerning the Westboro Baptist Church’s (WBC) upcoming visit to the Twin Cities. Apparently this organization is coming to protest the funerals of those killed by the bridge collapse. If you’re like me, you’re not surprised by the fact that they’re doing this, but you may be just as curious as to why they are. The reason is that they believe that God hates Minnesota particularly because this state is considered a homosexual-enabler. In their press release, they said that they would picket “memorial services for the dead” citing the following reason,

“God Hates F**s! & F**-Enablers! Ergo, God hates Minneapolis and Minnesota - Land of the Sodomite Damned.”

They also claimed that their protest wouldn’t stop with the memorial services,
“WBC will also picket the funerals of those whom a sovereign God abruptly snatched from the Bridge in Minneapolis and cast into Hell,” 1

Well, the major city-wide inter-faith memorial service already occurred, and I didn’t catch any news reports of their protest. I sincerely hope that their statement of upcoming protest was about as truthful as the message that they preach (i.e. a lie).

My reason for bringing this up is simply that this kind of media and social toxicity, not to mention that they preach a false gospel, makes for a very delicate situation for presenting the gospel. This is an especially difficult situation when attempting to speak the truth of God’s word about death and sin when the godless hatred spewed out by WBC has already polluted and tainted the water.

I have seen these people before and, quite frankly, they are no more of a Christian and no more of a Baptist than Genghis Kahn was. I say this with no joy, but with sorrow. Even though I loath the teachings and methods used by the Phelps’ and WBC (as well as televangelists like Benny Hinn and others), I find no joy with the conclusion that they seem to be eternally deceived and unsaved. WBC is not associated with any traditional Baptist, much less any other Christian, denomination and they are a very good example of a cult, even though they go by the name of “Christian” and “Baptist”.2

Among the plethora of problems that they have with their theology is the basic misunderstanding of the gospel and revelation. They seem to believe that no one is a Christian unless they’re a member of WBC and they also seem to believe that they are the mouth pieces for God to tell exactly why specific things happen in our current age. I believe that, as a Christian, I can speak definitively about what God has said and why specific things happened only if they are detailed in the Scriptures, but I do not have that same ability of definitive knowledge of the “why” questions when dealing with anything contemporary. They draw conclusions about what God is doing (whether it is 911, the war, the Tsunami, or the Bridge Collapse) where the Bible, obviously, doesn’t provide them with any answer specific to that event.

Is God angry with America? I would say yes, simply because He has blessed us with so much, but as a nation America is no longer really that Christian when we once were. Also, it seems that, as a nation, we revel in our flagrant sin against Him. But I would not dare to assume that I could extrapolate that understanding into being able to articulate exactly why God is allowed or caused the 35W Bridge to collapse or why He caused or allowed any other specific death, disease, or disaster.

Is God angry at sin? Yes. Whether it be murder, idolatry, homosexuality or heterosexual fornication, coveting, lying, or stealing, God is angry at all sin… that’s what the Bible clearly says. But, can one say that God’s reason for either allowing or causing the bridge to collapse was due to any one specific reason that we are privy to? No. To give a specific reason for this situation is something that we have no Biblical authority to do. What we can definitively and specifically say is that the 35W Bridge collapse, Aids, the death of children, and all other calamities are ultimately a result of man’s sin against God.

The only response from Christians in this tragedy should be to show compassion for the hurting and share the gospel of repentance of sin and faith in Christ to all who will listen.

So from this man who loves Christ, loves the Gospel, and who really is a Christian (and a Baptist) who desires the lost to be saved, I say this: Even though I have no affiliation with these hateful people, I can say based on the Word of God that they no more represent Christ than I represent Buddha.

I sent this same message to Kristy and she responded with gratitude that I was able to state what I believed about this issue without being hateful. She then went on to make a statement along the lines that all people have their sins that they indulge in, but that God loves us all the same.

In a way I agree with what she said, but just not in the way that she meant it. An unrepentant liar is in no different position (relating to God) than someone who is unrepentant about sexual sin. God's love toward unrepentant sinners is displayed by his patient endurance (i.e. allowing us to live lives and enjoy them for as long as He allows) during which period His gospel of forgiveness and grace is preached.

When someone dies, whether that person is a liar or sexual sinner (or whatever type of sin) and they had not repented of their sin and trusted in Christ alone for salvation – the evidence of which is a life of change, where the liar makes every effort not to lie and the sexual sinner makes every effort to avoid extra/pre-marital sex – they will be condemned by God.

That is the truth of the gospel. God will save the sinner – freely – if that sinner will repent of their sin (turn from it and not do it) and trust in Christ alone (not in works, going to church, being a good person, etc) to be made right with God.

1 WBC Press Release
2 I use the word “cult” intentionally because this “church” is made up of a few hundred people (at most) with the vast majority of its members (some reports at over 75%) coming from one or two families.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

My Thoughts on the 35W Bridge Collapse

Since I am a resident of the twin cities, the news about the collapse of the 35W Bridge near downtown Minneapolis hit me fairly close to home. But since I live in the northern metro area and rarely take that route (only a few times in a given year), I was in much less shock than many of my friends and co-workers who travel it more often. I used to travel that route very when I would go back and forth from college to home. It was also the route that I’d take to get to one of my favorite eating establishments, the Old Spaghetti Factory, which is a bit south and west of where the bridge collapsed.

Before I launch into my thoughts about this catastrophe, I must explain why I have waited for one full week to pass before making any comments at all. One of the basic reasons is that I didn’t want to be one of the people contributing to speculation of the death toll and injury estimates. There was so much on the local news outlets talking about the rising number of deaths and so far, most of those same organizations have had to retract and amend their figures to lower numbers until days later when actual verification of the number of dead and injured was obtained. How much could I have actually contributed on my personal blog where I normally go out of my way not to comment on current events, not to mention a more limited readership? Not much, but it was the principle of the matter that silenced me until now.

The second, and probably stronger, reason why I didn’t write anything is that I didn’t want to fall into the trap that so many people, Christian or otherwise, can fall into. I didn’t, and still don’t, want to trivialize the situation and make light of the loss of life. I have personally heard, and been negatively impacted by, people making comments, like stating that there were “only” six or so confirmed deaths in this event (so far). It is true that the loss of life could have been much worse if certain things were different, but we must be most careful of how quickly we boil things down to thinking about them in terms of zeroes and ones.

I hope that now I have had some sufficient time to think about this situation and I hope that my comments may be edifying. I heard about the bridge collapse in stages. The first stage was when my mother-in-law walked by me while I was teaching some children at the beginning of our Wednesday night church service and told me that I should check out the news when I get a chance because “a bridge collapsed”. The second stage occurred about an hour-and-a-half later when we were on our way home and I heard which bridge it was and when (around 6PM near the end of rush hour) it happened. And the final (visual) stage did not occur until after we put our kids to bed when I got my first look at the pictures of the bridge.

The first picture is from before the collapse and is an arial shot.
The second is after the collapse and is looking from the North.

I don’t know why (i.e. what physical reasons) the bridge fell and I don’t want to play the blame game. Should any negligence or pro-active evil behavior be dealt with? Absolutely! But my desire is not to look at this whole ordeal from an angle of blame and of seeking retribution.

I must say that my first two thoughts after hearing about the extent of the damage and the potential loss of life were revealing for me on a few different levels. The second of my two initial thoughts was the knee-jerk post September 11th American reaction of, “Terrorists!?” I was grateful when terrorism was basically ruled out as a plausible cause for this event. This is revealing to me because it shows just how much of my thinking has been influenced by current events in America and it reminds me of the real danger that is Islamic terrorism.

My first thought, and it was almost an immediate reaction, was to mentally reference and summarize Luke 13:1-5 by saying, “Repent lest you likewise perish.” This was my knee-jerk Christ-centered reaction to this tragedy.

1 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3 "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:1-5)

I think that my initial gravitating to this passage of scripture reflects both something positive and negative about my attitude at that time. Positively speaking, I think that it is right to always keep eternity, the judgment of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and the call of the gospel in mind during my daily activities. My heart and actions should be motivated by the truth of Jesus’ words because no matter how good or bad someone is (“good” in comparison” to one’s neighbors or infamous historical dictators), God’s judgment is certain and terrible for those individuals who have not repented of their personal wicked sinfulness and trusted in Christ Jesus alone for salvation.

Negatively speaking I think that although my heart perspective was right in my above reaction, my heart attitude was wrong. There was no hate, anger, or malice on my part directed at those involved in the collapse (or anyone for that matter), but even thought I felt both compassion and sorrow for those involved, there was not a sizable amount of either of them. The reality of this truth hit me pretty hard last Friday before I went into work. You see, my wife loves to listen to the local Christian Music Station (98.5 KTIS FM) whereas I like to listen to preaching-style programming that is been on a local preaching station (AM 980 KKMS). Well, when I was sitting in my living room holding my 10 day-old daughter and listening to the radio that my wife usually listens to, an announcer came on between songs and was basically sobbing over the airwaves because he was so emotionally invested in the bridge tragedy and the people involved with it. And, to my shame, my first thought after listening to him for a few seconds was something like, “I wonder if this sobbing is contrived or staged” and “C’mon, buddy, get it together.”

Whether the sobbing by the announcer was a genuine display of emotions or not is not my concern. What was genuine and a true cause of concern was my reaction to it. How jaded must my heart be in some areas to have such a calloused reaction to this episode where I automatically assumed the absolute most nefarious motivations of the announcer? Thankfully, only a moment or two passed before the Holy Spirit pricked my heart and alerted me at how wicked these thoughts were. And in the time following, where I was graced with the ability and desire to repent and re-evaluate my whole line of thinking, and I began to ask some very difficult questions of myself. These questions are not difficult because the answers are elusive or unknowable, but they are difficult simply because the answers seem to be pretty easy, but the implementation of the necessary changes based on those answers is hard.

Here’s an illustration. I can’t remember when the previews started coming out for the movie 300, but I really wanted to go see it. It looked like a very cool stylized depiction of the famous Spartan stand. A few months prior to this, I had begun visiting various movie review sites that are more family friendly so that I could avoid certain types of things. The basic thing that I looked for was nudity – if a movie has it, I am not going to see it. So, much to my dismay, I found that 300 did in fact show too much skin, and I had to actually back out of plans to see it because of this discovery. Later that same evening when I was talking about this with my wife, I made a few comments:
  • All nudity in film or other media is something that I wish to avoid because I understand how my mind and sinful nature works.
  • Why is it that I was willing to go and watch 2 hours of graphic blood-and-gore violence, but the incorporation of probably only a few minutes of nudity caused an automatic veto?
  • Just how desensitized have I become to the loss of human life and the blood and gore of warfare?
  • How much do video games, movies, and TV serve to dull my sensitivity to the issue of war, violence, and death (not to mention blasphemy, materialism, and the “soft” pornography present in most all commercials and television shows)?

Following the collapse of the bridge, I had a conversation along these lines with a Christian friend of mine. I posed to him some of these thoughts and the movie “Saving Private Ryan” was brought up because it was noted as being very realistic in its depiction of the gore and horror of the assault on Omaha Beach in Normandy. I saw that movie and all of its intense and graphic depictions of WWII violence and so did my friend. His comment was that viewing movies containing violence was more a matter of the maturity of the viewer (i.e. you wouldn’t let your six-year-old watch it because it was really mess them up) and not so much to do with the actual nature of what was being displayed. My question was this: what if we’d shown this same movie to a 25-year-old man who had lived all of his life in an environment where he’d never seen any pictures of war (other than what was shown to the public during WWII) nor had he ever been exposed to violence (graphic or otherwise) on visual media? What would his reaction have been? I believe that he would have been very, very disturbed. I think that viewing what was included in that movie might have just scarred him in a big way.

So what is my point? The hours I have spent viewing violence on TV or movies or participating in violence while playing video games (actually, the time spent is probably best counted in days or weeks) have most definitely caused me to be desensitized to actual violence and to the loss of human life. And the problem that I have is…I like to watch movies and play video games. I try not to watch too much TV or spend too much of my time gaming, but if the result is that my emotions and conscience are being dulled to the point of apathy and a degree of derision, is it worth the cost? Unfortunately, I am sure that I am not alone among American Christians in the manner that I reacted (although I can’t imagine anyone else having such a wretched thought when hearing the announcer on the radio), and I am also sure that there is a scaringly large amount of non-Christians who react similarly.

The next question or issue that is usually brought up is the “why” question. Why did this happen? Where was God? Why didn’t he stop it? How could a loving God allow this to happen? These are the questions that many people tend to ask in times like this. The short answer is that I don’t know the specific answer for why this exact thing happened at this specific time and effected or ended the lives of these exact people involved.

While talking about this tragedy and the loss of life, Mark Dever, Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and asked to answer the “where was God” question, he said the following,

“We are not opposed to that question. I don’t want to speak in any way that makes it seem that that is a silly question for people to ask. That is the exact right question to be asking. We don’t want people to be atheistic, we want them to see and understand that they have a basic assumption that there is a God, and that that God is good, and that we should, in our lives, have evidence and experience His goodness.”1

Following that, Pastor Dever was asked to harmonize the concept of a good God and the collapse of the bridge that caused suffering, and why did God not stop it?

“Some of those people who died may well have, from God’s perspective in the final exasperation of God saying ‘No more time, this is it’ and [they] have gone to judgment. Others of them may have been dear sweet saints, whom God was saying [that] they’ve spent enough time far away from Me, I want them to come to me now. You and I cannot know the vast variety of things that God was doing in individual lives.”2

But the answer to the bigger “why” is something that I am able to provide an answer for. The Bible says that God controls all things, and that the entire universe is held together by Christ. In a very real way it is Christ who holds up all of the bridges, all of the buildings, all of the airplanes, and everything else in this world. So if we are going to ask the question of why God allowed or caused this bridge to collapse, it is only fair to God to ask Him why He allowed or caused all of the other bridges, buildings, and airplanes not to fall down. And this second question is only made more urgent if we rightly understand God’s immense and immeasurable wrath at sinful men and women. And when we understand that it is an expression of God’s general grace that is shown by His patient endurance when He allows sinful people, who deserve immediate death and damnation, to live and enjoy life for any length of time at all, only then can we see death and calamity in its proper God-centered context.

9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,” (2 Peter 3:9,15)

I have one final thought about this tragedy, but it doesn’t have so much to do with the actual collapsing of the bridge, but it relates to the public religious response. In order to do that, I am going to mesh some thoughts that I had about the memorial service Virginia Tech massacre with what occurred in Minneapolis at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral. But since I couldn’t find the full text or audio of the service following the bridge collapse, I don’t want to use some partial statement that a news agency may have given, but I can tell you that it truly was a multi-faith gathering.

That is why I am referencing the Virginia Tech memorial service, because it was a gathering where representatives of the Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Christian faiths were present to offer comfort from their religious perspectives. At the Virginia Tech service, the Muslim representative made a specific reference to Allah as being “most merciful, most compassionate”. He also quoted from two different passages in the “Holy Qur’an” saying,

“Those who say when afflicted with calamity, ‘to Allah we belong, and to him is our return.’”

“Nor does anyone know what it is that he or she will earn tomorrow, nor does anyone know in what land he or she is to die. Verily, with Allah his full knowledge and he is acquainted with all things.”

Similarly, the Buddhist clearly referenced the Dali Lama and another Buddhist leader while the Jewish representative clearly referenced Jewish tradition and even quoted from Ecclesiastes in both Hebrew and English. However the Christian representative didn’t reference the Bible nor did he mention the name of Jesus Christ at all! What kind of harlotry is this? Even President Bush quoted the Bible when he referenced Romans 12:21,

“As the Scriptures tell us, ‘Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’”3

President Bush didn’t proclaim the gospel, but at least he quoted the book that he ascribes to believe in. If the president of a secular government can make an explicit reference to the Christian Scriptures, how can a Christian not do the same or name the name of our Lord and Savior? How can someone claim to represent Christ without even paying Him the most meager amount of homage? In fact the “Christian” minister went out of his way to say that comfort can be found in all religions and that he affirmed the “sovereignty of life over death.” He went on to say, “We come to testify that the light of love cannot be defeated.” These are all very nice platitudes, but there is nothing specifically Christian about them. Christians affirm the sovereignty or power of Christ over death and He cannot be defeated. Some of his comments may have been elusions to the Bible, but since he didn’t mention the Bible or Christ, he may as well have been a secular humanist, because that is as “Christian” as his speech was.4

One of the problems with Inter-faith services is that it seems that those who call themselves Christians are the ones most hesitant to make any clear Christian claims when other religious traditions are vocal about their own claims. Most likely the reason is that any real Christian claim is clearly will be based on the unequivocally exclusive nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, referencing Christ and the Bible destroys anything that the fallen and secular world is seeking to do in an inter-faith service because the gospel does not allow itself to be one of many different acceptable forms of religion. The gospel separates Christ from all other demonic and man made religions and traditions because He was profoundly and undeniably exclusive in everything that He said and did.

After thinking about the inter-faith service and the hypocrisy of having Christian worship meshed with Islamic and Buddhist worship, I leaned over to my wife and told her that if I die in a national or local tragedy an inter-faith service might be convened, I don’t want her or anyone who mourns for me to go to such an interfaith service. Why go to where apostasy, falsehood, and heresy reigns but the comforting and peaceful truth that is only found in Christ Jesus is not? No, instead I want those who would mourn for me to go to a Christian service. Go to where the pastor will use the opportunity of my death to preach the gospel. So that through the opportunity presented by my death and the divine working of the Holy Spirit, maybe, just maybe, some lost and wretched sinner would be saved by the grace of God.

Soli Deo Gloria.

1 Way of the Master Radio 8/2/07 – Hour 1

2 Ibid.


4 An instrumental only version of “Amazing Grace” was played following the minister’s comments, but there was still nothing overtly Christian about his message.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Reality of Apostates (Part 2)

Having laid out some of the context for Jude 17-23 in Part 1, I feel comfortable to now move on into this text itself.

17 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, "In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts." 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” (Jude 17-23)

The first portion of this section of Scripture provides us what I have called the Marks of the mocker (vs.18,19). One of Jude’s favorite words that he uses in describing these apostates is that they are “ungodly”. The word simply means “Godless” or “impious”. Godless apostates, whether they are the proponents and advocates of their heresy or they are simply the duped (willingly or unwillingly) who follow them, hold to what Paul calls a “form of godliness” (2 Tim 3:5), but are as irreligious, impious, and debauched as they can be. They will follow their lusts, and “turn the grace of our Lord into licentiousness” (v.4). It becomes somewhat difficult to separate the leaders from the followers here, but Peter’s description, in his context is specifically of the teachers, is not maligned if we understand that the adherents will follow their leaders’ example.
12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13 suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15 forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;” (2 Peter 2:12-15)

One of the three marks of a mocker that are found in Jude’s letter here is that they cause division (v.19). We can gain an idea of what this might look like through Paul’s account of Peter’s hypocrisy at Galatia. Before the false teachers from Jerusalem came to Galatia, Paul would fellowship and eat with the gentile believers. But once they came and began spreading their heresy, Peter was stopped fellowshipping with the gentiles because of a fear of the Judaizers (cf. Galatians 2:12). Coming back to this point later in the book, Paul describes their tactics when he wrote,
“They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them.” (Galatians 4:17)

This method is a two pronged attack made by these teachers. First they come in and begin teaching things that and if you adhere to the teachings, it will cause you to disassociate and separate from the true brethren. And the second part is now that the convert has no connection with the former teachers of the true gospel, they are bound to the apostate false teacher. Paul also gives a description of these types of teachers and this ploy that they use in his closing to the book of Romans,
17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” (Romans 16:17-18)

The second mark of a mocker is that they will be worldly-minded and controlled by their lusts and passions. Many times it is the case that they will turn to the licentiousness (Jude 4) of sexual sin, but they may also be enticed by the allure of prestige, fame, or fortune. Paul refers to those who even preach the true gospel from impure motives and out of “selfish ambition” (Philippians 1:17). And if there are men who preach the true gospel because of ambition, how much more could proponents of a false gospel do so.

But perhaps the most notable mark of the worldly-mindedness of these false teachers is that they are sexually debauched, and revel in their perversions.
2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

13 They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you,” (2 Peter 2:2-3, 13)

The final mark of a mocker that Jude gives to us is the most personally tragic for that individual and it explains the other manifestations of their wickedness, and that is that they are Spirit-less, devoid of the Holy Spirit. Just before Paul lays out what the fruit of the Holy Spirit looks like in a believer, he contrasts it with what the deeds (fruit) of the flesh are.
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)

Apostates do these things, if for no other reason, as a testimony to the fact that they do not have the Holy Spirit indwelling them and are manifesting their true nature. Not only will these apostates who are devoid of the Spirit act out their ungodly nature, but they will even be unable to truly understand the things of God. And that is because they do not have the Spirit to make them wise.
"14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” (James 3:13-16)

Having reminded his readers what types of things to look out for in apostates, he then moves into reminding them what the characteristics of a Christian should be (vs. 20-21). The goal that they are working toward is one of being built up in the holy faith that was “delivered once for all to the saints” (v.3). The first way in which to work towards this goal that he reminds them of is by praying in the Spirit.
“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,” (Ephesians 6:18)
26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.“ (Romans 8:26-27)

“Praying in the Spirit” is similar to praying in “Jesus’ Name”. It is not a posture, a phrase, or a formula that we have and use; it is the act of praying in alignment with the Will of God and the commands of God. Jesus instructed that we pray that the Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So, just like praying in Jesus’ name is not the “stamp” that we put on our prayers to send them to God, praying “in the Spirit” is not the formula or posture of praying, but it is both the perspective of our prayer (i.e. God’s perspective) and the power behind our prayer.

Secondly he reminds them that they need to stay in the love of God. The big question is simply, how does one do that? The answer, just as simply stated, is,
5 Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.“ (2 John 5,6)

We stay in the love of God and we show that we love Christ by obeying His commandments. It is a direct answer to a direct question. The only problem is that when we attempt to live that out, we see just how much of our obedience (all of it) is dependant upon the Holy Spirit.

The final way that Jude exhorts his readers on how to build themselves up in the holy faith is to keep looking forward to and anticipating the return of Christ.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (Titus 2:11-14)
27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Hebrews :27-28)
11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:11-13)

This is and must be the hope and desire of all Christians that Christ would come back finally receive all that is due Him. We also see the same idea and desire in Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he vacillates between living and serving them and dying and being with Christ. He wants to be with Christ, not just to have an end of the trials, but because being with Christ is the reward of eternity.

This has been one of those things that I have had a hard time wrapping my mind around. Both this idea of eagerly anticipating the return of Christ and loving God are things that I know, but where they go from knowing and understanding to feeling is still tough for me. It is one thing that I pray for often; that God would cause me to love Him and long for Him. I know what it is and what it feels like to love my wife and what love to her should look like. I know what my love to God should look like, but the feeling…that is the tricky part for me.

Jude first describes the marks of the mockers, then he gives the characteristics that Christians should display, and now he moves on to three responses of rescue by the Christians to the apostates in their midst. In his commentary series, John MacArthur calls these three types of evangelistic targets the “confused, the convinced, and the committed”.1

First of all, we are to have to deal with the confused, and we are to “have mercy on those who are doubting.” This seems to be directed at apostates, or those who might-soon-be apostates, who are still fairly tentative and have doubts about what they are doing. The word “doubting” (v.22) shows that these people are not totally convinced yet of heretical and false teaching, but they are being wooed by the seductive nature of the teaching and the teacher. With these individuals, we need to come along side of them, showing mercy, and show them the love of God and the truth through the scriptures. It is possible that they may be won back to the Truth by the delicate and gentle means of exhortation and refutation of the false teaching.

The second group of apostates are those men and women that are convinced that the false teaching is true, and we are to attempt to save these people by snatching them out of the fire (v.23). The picture of this type of apostate brother by the fact that we need to “snatch him” or “grab him out” of the fire shows the severe nature of where he is in relation to heresy. He is so close to the brink and convinced in his error that we cannot simply, graciously, and mercifully reason with him, but we must be bold and zealous in our exhortation and in our warning. If we didn’t use evangelistic tactics and have that kind of mentality with the previous type, we certainly should now. But we need to be bold, because the increasing error of their belief is causing them to be taken further and further away from the truth, and closer and closer to destruction.

The final group of apostates here are those that are committed. And Jude warns us to be have mercy with fear and hate and be wary of the “garment polluted by the flesh” (v.23). In a contemporary understanding, avoid getting to close to these apostates as you would avoid sticking your hand into the mess of a dirty diaper. Do parents handle dirty diapers? Yes, but we are careful not too get to close or too exposed to the filth so that we do not become dirty ourselves. So, in seeking these people, we must have fear in our merciful undertaking of evangelism because if we get too close and become careless, we may be tainted by the lies that they espouse, even if we do not, ourselves, apostatize.
19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19,20)

I have used the term “evangelize” to refer to our mentality and method in going out after apostates. Is it possible that someone caught up in a heresy and showing signs of apostasy is in fact a believer? Yes, but that is not for us to determine. The truth of the gospel is able to shake a believer out of error in the same way that it is able to be the vehicle that God uses to give life to the dead. Some would argue that if we use this mentality that we are being judgmental and unloving of our brethren. My response would be that since we do not know based on the lives being lived out and truths that are being espoused if these people are saved or not, we best treat them in the most loving way fearing the worst reality. In other words, if we don’t know where they stand and we have ample reason to be concerned for their souls, treat them as unbelievers. Don’t fellowship with them in worship and go after them in evangelism.

1 “Second Peter and Jude – The MacArthur New Testament Commentary” by John MacArthur, P. 202

Click here to hear my sermon on this text.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Just Sickening - fleasing the flock & maligning the gospel

I recently have come across some video clips that show/discuss various televangelists and their money-loving/hording ways. I have three clips on here, and I want to briefly explain them.

The last clip is of a news story done by the local news from where Creflo Dollar resides. We get to hear in his own words how he views the gospel and prosperity. One interesting note is that both of the clergy critics of Mr. Dollar are on the left-side of Christian theology. In other words, they most likely wouldn't agree with me on many things, but we are all opposed to the false teaching of the prosperity gospel.

The second clip shows the exposing of Peter Popoff. This is disturbing, and what's more is that this is fuel for skeptics of all kinds to throw away the true gospel along with this rubish.

But the first clip is from ABC's 20/20 where John Stossil investigates televangelists and their money. One note about this one is that after this aired, it was brought to the attention of the public and 20/20 (i.e. 20/20 was sued) that the first minister shown in detail, K.C. Price, was taken out of context in his comments about his extravogent life-style. It seems reasonable to believe that he was taken out of context, but in a rebuttal to the newscast, he stated the following,

“It’s not in theology, It’s not in denominationalism, but it is in the Bible. I can go to the Scriptures and quote Scripture after Scripture after Scripture that shows us that it is God’s will for us to materially prosper. In my own ministry, and others that teach along these lines, we’ve been telling people [that] we’re always going to have opponents because Satan is going to fight us tooth and nail so he can keep everybody poor.”1

Even though his comments were taken out of context, and that is a horrible thing to do, it doesn't seem as if Dr. Price would be ashamed to admit (not boast, no no) that he had those things if he did.

If the viewer windows don't show up, you can view the videos by clicking up the hyperlinks.

1 Dr. Fredrick K.C. Price on the prosperity gospel. “THE TRUTH: About 20/20's Report on Dr. Price & CCC”

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Reality of Apostates (Part 1)

God has used the book of Jude in a very profound way in shaping my philosophy, vision, and burden for His church over the past (almost) three years. And I recently revisited the book and looked at verses 17-23 and what it has to say about apostates, whether they be teachers or not. Even though I studied this book in a fair amount of depth only a few years ago, I must say that God’s Word has again proven to be a deep reservoir of truth that I have yet to skim the surface of.

First of all, it is important to start off with the same definition of apostates or apostasy. Apostasy is defined as “a total desertion of or departure from one's religion, principles, party, cause, etc.”1 or “1 : renunciation of a religious faith, 2 : abandonment of a previous loyalty”2. So when I use this word, I am referring to those individuals who, at one time, either confessed the truth of Scripture while claiming to be followers or they have at least been confronted with the truth of Scripture and rejected it. Also, an important thing to note is that based on my understanding of Scripture, is that apostate people were never saved, and unless apostates repent of their sin and trust in Christ alone for salvation, they will be condemned because of their sin.

“But, dear friends, perseverance is not the lot of the few; it is not left to laborious preachers of the Word, or to consistent Church-officer it is the common lot of every believer in the Church. It must be so for only thus can they prove that they are believers. It must be so, for only by their perseverance can the promise be fulfilled, "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved" Mark 16:16. Without perseverance, they cannot be saved; and, as saved they must be, persevere they shall through divine grace.”3

When looking at these verses in Jude, the first thing that I noticed is that Jude admonishes his readers to remember what the apostles had taught concerning these things that he is writing about (v. 17). This is, I think, an important part of Jude’s writing. His whole book is a call to reminder, not a discourse on newly revealed truth. The other two places where Jude specifically calls his audience to remember something that they know or had been taught can be found in verse 3 where he says that we are to contend for the faith that had already been handed down, and in verse 5 where he reminds his readers of God’s previous judgments of apostates. In order both to give some context to the verses at hand as well as to give some Scriptural arguments as to why I have defined apostates in the way that I have, I’ll look at Jude’s call to remember in verse 5.
5 Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 5-7)

The first group called to mind here are the Israelites and the story of their Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites who were involved in this event witnessed the plagues that were sent upon Egypt, the parting and crossing of the Red Sea, they were led on their journey by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day, they were fed with Manna and Quail sent from God, and yet when they came to the very doorstep of Canaan, they were found to not have faith in God’s ability to deliver the land to them. In fact, only two men from that whole generation that had experienced the miraculous works of God, Caleb and Joshua, were allowed to enter the land. Jude explicitly says that the people that God destroyed in the wilderness were those “who did not believe.” Now, I don’t believe that all of the Israelites who perished in the wilderness were apostates, but as a nation and a generation, they were apostate because they had seen and believed (to a point, anyway), but failed to believe when it came time to enter the land.

The second group called to mind here are some fallen angels. I say “some” fallen angels because Jude refers to these angels as being “kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day”. Simply skimming the gospels and the book of Acts will show that there were many examples of demons that were free and active in the world. Also, Peter refers to Satan as a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), not as a captive in bonds. Jude seems to be referring to a particular group of fallen angels who “did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode” and, in a similar way as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, “went after strange flesh”. Based on this information, it seems best to me to look at the account in Genesis 6 to see what Jude is referring to.
2 that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.

6 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore {children} to them. Those were the mighty men who {were} of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:2,6)

Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the title of “sons of God” is commonly used to refer to angelic creatures. The book of Job seems to make this tie when both the sons of God came before the Lord and Satan came among them to present himself before the Lord (Job 2:1). It seems to me that the way to understand both the Genesis 6 account as well as Jude 6 is that fallen angels indwelt or possessed men in a certain way that when these men produced offspring, they were unique and a vile abomination in God’s eyes. That is why the Jude’s statement that the accounts of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and of these fallen angels was “in the same way” and they both “indulged in gross immorality”.

So it was these fallen angels, though there could have been others since then too, who suffer the fate described here by Jude. And the reason that these angelic beings could be classified as apostates in the same way as the children of Israel who died in the wilderness is that these angels were witnesses of the manifest glory and awesome presence of Almighty God before they fell in sin. These two groups that Jude references here first are, quite possibly, the quintessential example of the extent that an apostate can be a partaker in the things of God and yet be lost.

Finally, Jude comes to the apostates at Sodom and Gomorrah. One of the things that I found interesting is that these cities and their inhabitants would qualify as true apostates even though they were destroyed for their sin of homosexuality. The reason that the inhabitants of this area qualify as apostates is that God’s supreme demonstration of His wrath and His grace that had ever occurred up to that point on the earth had been displayed witnessed in the flood of the earth and the salvation of Noah and his family. The Interesting thing is that the Bible seems to indicate that Noah himself had only died about 40 years before the destruction of those cities, and that Shem (perhaps even Ham and Japheth) died 110 years after the destruction of these cities. So the inhabitants were apostates because they were the descendants of the people that God saved out of the flood. And more than that, those same people who had been saved were alive and able to testify to this through the life of these cities.

We can learn one very important lesson from the examples given here. Just because you or I witness or experience some miraculous work of God, that does not inoculate us from the real possibility of potential apostasy. It doesn’t matter how close we are in proximity to God’s manifest power and glory, simply being near Him and the displays of His power will not save us.

The only thing that will inoculate a person from being an apostate is if that person is born again, made a new creature by the working of God Himself. Some would argue that the modern day embodiments of people who I would call apostates are only backslidden and carnal Christians, but they are true and saved Christians. I don’t think that I could disagree with this sentiment more. You see, when I was growing up and I heard the word “backslider” used, I understood it to be referring to Christians who were having a tough time being consistent in their devotional and prayer life. But what I have come to realize that it now (and may have meant back when I was a child, I don’t know) refers to someone who at one time or during a season in their life had prayed the sinners prayer and had gone to church or a bible camp, but now they have very little (if any) visible sign of being a Christian and only vague platitudinous statements of belief that have no impact on their lives that are lived in a debaucheries, drunken, and worldly-minded manner, whether to a greater or to a lesser degree.

Man is saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone, and it is not of any work of man. However, it seems clear from the Scriptures that form that point on, we can know that we are saved, but not based on a feeling or looking at an experience that we have had, but by obeying the Word of God. Sure, feelings do accompany our salvation, but feelings alone are not what we should put our stock in because many will be deceived having felt and believed that they were saved. John’s sums up the reason for his first epistle when he wrote,
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
(1 John 5:13)

What things had john written, both in his epistles and in his gospel, that he is referring to?
"If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10)
“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 John 2:3)
“The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;” (1 John 2:4)

Paul makes the same point in his letter to the Philippians, and he makes it clear that it is God who is enabling and working through you to allow you to obey His commandments.
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6)
12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12,13)

And finally, Jesus, in many of His parables and illustrations, made distinctions between those who were truly born of God and those who were imposters or pretenders. Whether it is the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-17), the parable of the four soils (Mark 4:1-25), the living and dead branches coming off of the True Vine (John 15:1-11), the narrow and wide ways (Matthew 7:13,14), or the parable of the two foundations (Matthew 7:24-29), in all of these accounts, Jesus indicates that both parties believe (or at one time had believed that) that they are in the camp of the redeemed, but one is and one is not.

Believing that you are saved in spite of the fact that your life is not producing fruit is foolish. If you are at a point in your life where the pattern of your life is not one that is producing fruit, don’t get hung up on the fact that you think that you were saved at a young age, repent of your sins now and throw trust completely on Christ, read His Word and obey it. Later, once you have been growing and maturing, then you could look back and address the question of when you were saved. But now is the time to trust in Christ, repent of sins, and grow. This is not a one-time action that a Christian does. The same things that accompany the initial saving work of the Holy Spirit in our justification (repenting of our sins and pro-actively trusting in Christ) are the same things that continue throughout a Christian’s life.

1 "apostasy." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 02 Aug. 2007.

2 “apostasy.” Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary.

3 "Enduring to the End" by C. H. Spurgeon

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson