God And Culture


Culture is, according to the Oxford-American Dictionary, “manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” As a fantasy writer, I’ve learned that building a world requires putting in place the bits of culture that your pretend people have constructed including language, government, schooling, religion, entertainment, art or literature, and so on.

In our western culture, there seem to be parts of what we do as a people that are held in higher esteem than other parts. I suppose that’s true in all cultures, but I’d say these are the aspects of culture we value most: celebrity, primarily gained through sports or entertainment; wealth; political power, external beauty. A distant fifth might be intellectual standing, but that certainly doesn’t overrule any of the others.

Few people who serve others in sacrificial roles get much attention at all, and little or no emulation. In times of need they might receive some measure of appreciation from those who have been helped the most, but generally our society doesn’t lift up “serving others” as a role to be admired.

All this look at culture because I think the way we determine our values is upside down. As it turns out, God says as much in Scripture:

[Jesus concluded,] “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. (Luke 16:13-15, emphasis mine)

Think about that for a second: what men value, God finds repulsive. Essentially, God hates what we spend most of our waking hours trying to obtain. Unless we are countercultural.

I mean, it’s possible to be a self-sacrificing servant who no one notices, no one rewards or praises. It’s possible because we wouldn’t ever hear about those people.

It’s also possible that a man like Billy Graham who refused to take any credit for what God did through him, remains humble and committed to serving God, not fame or power or wealth. But there don’t seem to be many men like him. Too often the servants become the celebrities and then the wealthy, and somewhere along the line they are no longer serving but being served.

As I’ve been reading through the gospels, I’ve noted that more than once, Jesus told some person who He’d just healed, not to tell anyone what He’d done. Why, I wondered. The best answer seems to me to be the fact that the majority of the people of His day expected the Messiah to be a political figure, a military leader, even. Jesus didn’t want people to prematurely crown Him King of the Jews until He had a chance to explain, at least to His disciples, what that actually meant.

In addition, with His growing celebrity status as a healer, Jesus had fewer opportunities to preach, less time one-on-one. He wouldn’t be able to confront people about their inner life, about their sin, their need to repent.

So, more often than not, Jesus told the newly sighted blind, the healed lame person who could now leap and dance, the cleansed leper who could move back home, to tell no one about Him.

Jesus clearly was not seeking the stuff our culture values. Fame? He tried to dodge the limelight. Political power? He wanted the opposite. Status? He washed His disciples’ feet! Wealth? What He gave had no cost attached. More than once the Apostle Paul refers to the gift or even the “free gift” of grace or of righteousness, found in Jesus (see Romans 5).

I wonder. Are we Christians countercultural, so that the people we most admire are the ones rich in grace? the ones who live righteous lives? Is that what we want in our pastors? Our best friends? Our spouses and our children?

It’s kind of hard to do. We have to understand that God values suffering, that He tells us to rejoice when we suffer for His name’s sake, that we are blessed and the glory of God rests on us. So suffering for Christ—yes. Comfort? That didn’t seem to find its way into Jesus’s lifestyle very much. He had no place to lay His head. Of course He did have a place—just not one He could call His own.

I think it’s pretty clear those first Christians were countercultural. A look at the book of Acts makes that pretty clear. But where are we in 21st century western culture> Still taking up our crosses and following Jesus? Or are we looking for our 15 minutes of fame? Our piece of the American dream?

I don’t honestly know what a countercultural lifestyle will look for anyone else. All our circumstances are different. I have to be asking these questions for myself, not for anyone else. And the Holy Spirit is prompting me through the Word of God, to ask.

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God And Reconciliation


One of the things that’s hard for people to grasp is our unworthiness to be in relationship with God. God pretty much needs to spell it out because most of us compare ourselves to, well, us. So we look at our lives, our behavior, our attitudes, and it’s pretty easy to find someone who is doing life in a way that we can look down on. So if we start to feel bad about ourselves, we simply say, Well, at least I’m not as bad as ____. You fill in the blank.

Pretty much everyone can fill in the blank with somebody. Even the worst people we can think of. Hitler. He likely would have said, Well, at least I’m not a Jew. Though he actually did have Jewish blood. The point was, he had people he looked down on, people he said he was better than. Never mind that he was vile for doing so. In his mind, he could sort of congratulate himself for being better. And in his case, being under the influence of the ideas about a Superman race, Hitler likely thought he was better than most people on the planet.

I suspect most people, most tyrants even, do the same: they think they are better than some person, some group, and therefore, doing just fine, thank you very much.

God doesn’t measure us that way. He looks at our nature which causes Him to turn away. He doesn’t hold up some list of Do This and determine who is better at obeying then the others. He doesn’t grade on the curve. It’s pretty categorical: humans have sin in their DNA. All humans. All are therefore separated from God.

That would be the end of the story except for one thing. God loves us. Mysteriously. Surprisingly. Unearned. Without justification.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

So the story’s not ended. There is still hope. The only thing necessary on our part is to accept God’s free gift of grace and righteousness in Christ Jesus. Because Jesus doesn’t have a sin nature and He will clothe us with His nature, if we let Him. Then we will be in Christ.

Anyone not in Christ still has the same ol’ problem: measuring himself against others of like kind, ranking himself above some other poor soul, and finding solace that he’s therefore doing just fine. But slavery to sin is not fine. Paying the penalty of sin is not fine. Living apart from God is not fine.

These are all things that God offers to change.

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11; emphasis mine)

If we’ve received the reconciliation. God doesn’t force us to accept his free gift.

Those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17b; emphasis mine)

Just like revelation, God initiates reconciliation. He makes it available, but without violating His sovereignty, He puts His free gift out there for us to receive or to reject. No one is condemned for the stuff we do. Only for thinking we don’t need Jesus as our Savior.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

The part of the equation I don’t understand is why someone would not accurately assess the problem and/or accept a free gift. I mean, nothing has changed from the time God told Adam he would die if he ate of the forbidden tree. He ate, and he condemned to death the entire human race along with him. People have died ever since. I don’t think evolution even has an explanation for death, though I could be wrong about that.

Evolution doesn’t have an answer for how intelligence came from non-intelligence, how life came from non-life, how moral beings sprang from amoral beings. Does it postulate a theory about how death comes from life?

God gives a clear explanation: death is a consequence, but it doesn’t have to be a final one. God made a way of escape, a way out of the endless cycle of sin and death. A way to reconcile us to Himself.

Published in: on May 30, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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God And Revelation


I know this thought is not particularly profound, but I am struck by the necessity of, the utter dependence on, the helplessness which we have without the revelation of God—His character, His purpose, and His plan.

There really is no way we can reason ourselves to God. We might have a sense of intuition that opens us up to God’s existence, but that inner tug would not actually bring us any closer to God. In truth, God has to be the initiator if we are to have a relationship with Him. The lesser can’t move toward the greater.

Think about it this way: does a puppy pick out an owner or does a human pick the puppy he wants for a pet? Does the child choose his parent, even in cases of adoption? Does an individual choose his ethnicity? None of those happens because the lesser is not in charge, even to the point of knowing what life will be like in relationship to a particular owner or parent or ethnic group.

Rather, the greater chooses the lesser, or defines him.

When it comes to God, He is so transcendent, it’s hard to imagine that a human would ever come up with the idea of God—perfect, all powerful, present everywhere, unchangeable, infinite, knowing everything, and more. I mean, the human experience is sort of the opposite: fallible, temporal, moral, limited, without power, fickle, and more.

Sure, there are some qualities of God that we humans also have, in a limited capacity—things like love and forgiveness and kindness and wisdom—so it’s foreseeable that someone who wanted to invent a god would give him those traits. But who would conceive of something we humans don’t have? And not just humans, but which no creature in existence has.

Yes, it’s possible for imagination to take us to that which we have never experienced, such as unicorns (though we know what creatures with horns look like) or vampires (though we know what fangs are, what blood is) or hobbits (though hairy feet are not so different from hairy faces). But making something up and understanding that it is imaginary is something completely different from making something up and saying that is real.

Beyond God’s obvious qualities, there are the mystifying aspects of His nature such the trinity. God is one, and yet He is three. Who would make up such a difficult concept? Jesus is a man and Jesus is God. How would we ever conjure up such an impossibility?

Where would we get the idea that God breathed His life into humans and that sets us apart from all other created things? Where would we get the idea that God’s Spirit breathed inspiration into the written word, so that it is the work of individual people but also the exact word of God? How would anyone come up with the idea that justice and mercy are compatible qualities God exhibits?

Furthermore, who would invent sin? Why would anyone purposefully doom the entire human race? And then conceive of a rescue plan that cost only God?

I could go on. The point is, what the Bible tells us about God—His person, His working in the world, His long range objectives—is a bit outlandish and beyond the realm of human thinking. Except for revelation. God needed to tell us what He’s like. And He has.

Published in: on May 29, 2018 at 5:15 pm  Comments (14)  
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What Creation Tells Us About God


I had a conversation once with an atheist woman who proclaimed that everything in the universe is random and any patterning we think we see is actually a trick of the mind that determines disorder must be placed in some understandable pattern.

That in itself sounds very ordered to me. I mean, do all humans do this?

I bring up order because one of the things creation teaches us about God is that He is an ordered, and ordering, God. He does not subscribe to chaos.

Take, for example just one procedure that occurs within our cells: Protein Synthesis. Here’s the short explanation of what this is:

Protein synthesis is one of the most fundamental biological processes by which individual cells build their specific proteins. Within the process are involved both DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and different in their function ribonucleic acids (RNA). The process is initiated in the cell’s nucleus, where specific enzymes unwind the needed section of DNA, which makes the DNA in this region accessible and a RNA copy can be made. This RNA molecule then moves from the nucleus to the cell cytoplasm, where the actual the process of protein synthesis take place. (“What Is Protein Synthesis?”; emphasis mine)

Here’s one short animation of what this process looks like (only a 2:15 video in length).

I’m not a scientist, but one thing strikes me as I read about protein synthesis: this process occurs within the cells, every one of the cells, in the human body. And not just in some human bodies. In every human body.

To explain the process, scientists use words like code and sequence and engineered and rules and translated. None of those elements sounds anything like “random” or “by chance” to me. There is order and purpose and achievement, even at the microscopic level of the cell.

Which makes me aware of something else that creation teaches about God: He cares for the details. God didn’t throw spaghetti on the wall to see if something stuck. He cared and cares for the particulars, down to the microscopic and beyond. Because one story I saw said that we aren’t finished with the discovery of what makes up a cell. As our microscopes become more sophisticated and capable, we most likely will see even smaller “machines” that simply, with all practicality, couldn’t randomly come into being.

Something else that I learn about God from creation: He loves beauty. Places that no one has gone to for thousands of years, are nevertheless beautiful. We might be talking about the remotest part of the sea or out in deep space. The beauty which we uncover has existed since creation, even though no human until recent times had any idea of the existence of such rich colors and shapes and textures and interplay between light and shadow.

Another thing I see in creation, and therefore in God, is purpose. Atheists are fond of saying that creation is very inefficient, that there are extra organs or unnecessary appendages, for this species or that. And yet, humans are just beginning to understand the ecosystem and the delicate interplay of one element with another. I suspect the same is true within a particular species—each is simply a confined ecosystem with each member functioning for the benefit of the whole, even though we humans don’t yet know what all those functions are.

Take for example, the human appendix. For years people have believed it to be a do-nothing organ, something that can be removed or left in at the will of the individual. But not so fast. Some medical professionals now believe the appendix might do something important:

The function of the appendix is unknown. One theory is that the appendix acts as a storehouse for good bacteria, “rebooting” the digestive system after diarrheal illnesses.

Essentially, the jury’s still out, but tonsils, also once thought to be superfluous, have proved to have a significant job:

As part of the immune system, the tonsils fight infection; they are first line of defense in the throat (“What do tonsils do and why would we take them out“)

The point is simple: though we can live without these organs, they still have a purpose. After all, we can live without a leg or without our eyes or without a finger, but that fact does not prove that a leg, eyes, or finger has no purpose.

Another thing I learn about God by looking at creation is His might. I’ve seen the might of nature when I was hiking in the mountains in the winter. Well, hiking isn’t quite right. We were on cross country skies or on snowshoes. But the point is, navigating the snowy hillsides was hard work. We got tired and wet, and then the afternoon gloom started to set in. Suddenly I realized how frail we were, how vulnerable, how easy it would be for the simple elements of snow and cold to conquer us.

I learned the same thing when I, who don’t swim well, went body surfing at a place that had giant sets of waves. They weren’t breaking close to shore though, and I was quickly out further than I was comfortable with. And then the big waves came. They would break right on top of me, and crush me if I didn’t dive down and let the water absorb the power. So I did. I’d done it at other times. But this time I could feel the wave shake me as it rumbled over top. When it was over, I resurfaced, only to see another wave coming. Down I went. This took place countless times, and the last time, I thought, I’m out of energy. I can’t fight this water any more. I realized how frail, how fragile I am as a human up against . . . water. Just water. The power of the waves that God has created.

I could go on about God’s grandeur clearly visible in the mountains or His kindness to make a world where we humans have all we need to live in comfort. And even in the places where the climate is one extreme or the other, there are still polar bears or camels, fish or oases. By God’s grace and kindness we still have what we need to live.

And what about the infinity of God we see in space? Or His unsearchable nature? It’s hard for me to stop, but I wonder what others see of God by looking at creation. After all, Romans tells us His imprint is there.

Published in: on April 24, 2018 at 5:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What’s The Bible All About? — A Reprise


I think a lot of people have misunderstood the Bible—Christians and non-Christians alike. Some see it as a rule book, others as the Christian version of Confucius’s sayings. Many people use the Bible to prove whatever point they want to get across—sort of a handy debater’s list of proof texts. A number of folks believe the Bible shows people the way to God. Some say it is a record of God’s dealing with humankind and others call it “His Story,” referring to Jesus.

These last two views are true as far as they go. The Bible does indeed record God’s dealing with humankind, but what are those dealings? And the Bible does, from cover to cover, either explicitly or implicitly, point to Jesus Christ. But what particularly does it say about Him?

As I have said in this space from time to time, the Bible is one book and needs to be understood as a whole. Any use of its individual parts—verses, passages, chapters, books, or even testaments—needs to be measured against the whole message of the Bible.

For example, there’s a verse that contains this: “There is no God.” Someone might point to that statement and say, the Bible claims that there is no God. In reality, that line needs to be understood in relation to the entire Bible as well as to the specific context in which it exists.

A quick scan of the Bible shows that God appears throughout; consequently the statement “there is no God” is not an accurate reflection of the Bible’s teaching. In addition, the specific context of the phrase is this: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Psalm 14:1).

Occasionally I’ve seen a number of people quote from the book of Ecclesiastes to prove various points of debate. Again, that approach is suspect since much of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s thinking apart from God’s direction—his view of the world “under the sun,” as opposed to his view informed by God’s wisdom.

The question should always be, Do these thoughts align with the rest of Scripture?

But that brings me back to the central question—what particularly is the rest of Scripture all about? A former pastor gave an insightful and simple answer to this question, starting in Genesis.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they did two specific things—they hid their bodies from one another (covered their nakedness) and hid themselves from God.

In the cool of the day, God walked in the garden and asked Adam where he was. Of course, omniscient God wasn’t seeking information. He wanted to give Adam a chance to give up his feeble effort to cover his sin and to confess. In other words, He was seeking Adam in a much deeper way than to see where Adam’s GPS showed him to be.

A quick scan of Scripture shows that God continued to seek people in this same way. He said in Ezekiel, “For thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.’ ”

He took up Enoch and saved Noah. He chose Abraham and sought out David. He chastised Jonah and rescued Daniel.

Jesus graphically illustrated God’s relentless pursuit of us when He gave the parable of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep to find the one lost lamb. He followed that story with the illustration of the woman who looked throughout her house for her lost coin.

And therein is the message of the Bible—not that we seek God, but that He pursues us, giving up all that is precious to Him, even His own beloved Son, in order to bring us back to Himself.

The great, glad news, of course, is that Jesus bore our sins in His body, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. And because of His resurrection, we also have Christ, through His Spirit, living within each believer. As Romans 5 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in April, 2013,

Published in: on April 20, 2018 at 5:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Autonomy VS Freedom


I’m reading a thought-provoking book called Saving Truth by Abdu Murray, a member of the RZIM apologetics team. He introduces his topic by discussing post-truth and the effects on society of this mindset.

The greatest effect, Mr. Murray says, is that people now believe in autonomy, not freedom. Thankfully, he took time to explain what he means. Autonomy comes from two Greek roots, one meaning self and the other meaning rule. Thus, autonomy means self-rule, or without external control.

The problem with autonomy, of course, is that my autonomy and your autonomy may collide. And then, as Mr. Murray points out, might makes right. The stronger of the two dictates to the weaker. In other words, autonomy is actually the gateway to tyranny, with anarchy a stop along the way.

Mr. Murray likened autonomy to what Israel experienced in the era of the Judges. Scripture records this statement: “In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6).

The result was chaos and all kinds of immoral action. People abused others and reacted in violent ways. And no one was willing to take responsibility until civil war broke out.

Freedom is very different. It’s akin to liberty or the ability to stand on your own, and “implies the power to choose among alternatives rather than merely being unrestrained” (Oxford-American Dictionary). In truth, true freedom occurs when a person is guided by moral law.

I think of the example I heard years ago when I was teaching. Some experiment was done in which children were given an open field in which to play during their recess breaks. There were no walls, no fences, but the children concentrated their play near the building. Some time later, the children were provided with a fenced area in which to play, and this time they scattered to the distant parts of the designated field.

In reality the “restriction” gave the children a sense of safety that allowed them to take off their self-restraint and enjoy the area where they’d been allowed to go. Without the boundaries, however, they created self-imposed restrictions that hampered their movement.

Of course, the experiment could have taken a different direction. The children without the boundaries could have left the school grounds. They could have run into the street. They might have vandalized homes in the vicinity. They could have harassed neighbors. They might have stayed away instead of returning to school. They could have been abducted.

The point is, their autonomy didn’t have to result in self-restraint. It could just as easily have resulted in their impinging on someone else’s rights and misusing their property, even as they put themselves at risk to be harmed, accidentally or on purpose.

Freedom is something we can all enjoy. Autonomy leads only to chaos and ultimately tyranny.

Again looking to the era of the judges in Israel’s history, when society descended into chaos, the people cried for a king. They wanted someone to impose on them the rules of law that would bring order. Of course, the result was that the entire nation was then under the rule of one man who subjected them to the laws he decided to establish or follow.

As a result the southern nation was a bit of a yo-yo. When they had a king that followed God, they returned to the sacrifices and temple worship established at their beginning. When they had a king that forsook God and worshiped idols, then they built high places and indulged in child sacrifice and temple prostitution. At one point, the Mosaic Law was not just forgotten, the scrolls that contained it were buried in the temple so that the people didn’t even know what God’s standard was.

Post-truth. They lived at the whim of whoever was on the throne.

The northern kingdom fared worse. They actually went from one coup to another as particular military men vied for control of the nation. At one point in history, one man assassinated the sitting king, but the army followed a different leader. So the one who had connived to take the throne was himself ousted.

Chaos. Tyranny. By ignoring God’s law, by choosing autocracy, they actually forfeited their freedom.

Jesus says, The Truth will set you free. Of course, He also says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” So Jesus is the truth. The truth sets you free. Consequently, Jesus sets you free.

Christian Forgiveness: Conditional Or Unconditional?


The_Crucifixion001Some years ago I read a new thing about forgiveness—well, new to me. The idea popped up on a post at Spec Faith by Stephen Burnett, then expanded as I followed a link to a post by Kevin DeYoung. I respect both of these men, but I have to admit, I think they’re missing something important about Christian forgiveness.

As I understand the principle they’re presenting, they believe there are two ideas about forgiveness: one, a therapeutic forgiveness that is popular today even in the secular world, and two, a Biblical forgiveness that is dependent upon the repentance of the offender.

In his article about these two types of forgiveness, Mr. DeYoung goes to pains to explain that the second type of forgiveness in no way condones an attitude of bitterness or revenge:

We should always love our enemies. We should always fight against bitterness. We should cast all our cares on the Lord. We should learn to trust God’s providence. We should be eager to forgive those who hurt us and be reconciled to them.

The foundational thought to this idea that a Christian only forgives those who repent, is that we are to forgive like God forgives and He forgives conditionally—that condition being repentance.

Let me back up and explain “therapeutic forgiveness.” I’d not heard the term before, but I think it does describe a humanistic co-oping of a Biblical principle. The idea here is that giving forgiveness makes the person doing the forgiving feel better. There is no intent to reconcile, however. It’s just a way of escaping negative feelings like anger and bitterness.

Many Christians, influenced by Lewis Smedes and a lot of pop psychology, have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness. They think of forgiveness as a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. (“What Is Forgiveness?”)

The Biblical view, according to Mr. DeYoung, is that forgiveness is the means to reconciliation. Hence, the Christian should always be ready to forgive, but true forgiveness only comes when both parties move toward one another, repenting and receiving or offering forgiveness as necessary.

Again the rationale behind this concept is the Scriptural statement that we are to forgive as Christ forgave us.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (ESV, Eph. 4:32)

I’ll admit, I have problems with this approach. First, I don’t think there has to be two choices: either therapeutic or Biblical conditional forgiveness. I think there can easily be a third option: Biblical unconditional forgiveness.

Part of my thinking is that some Bible scholars get tied up trying to think the way God thinks. Mr. DeYoung, then, says God’s forgiveness is conditional and therefore ours should be too, as if it’s possible for us to understand the conditional nature of God’s forgiveness.

Ah, but doesn’t Ephesians 4:32 say that’s how we are to forgive? I don’t think necessarily it does. I don’t read the verse as saying we are to forgive in the same manner that God forgives, but that we are to forgive because we received forgiveness.

Paul says essentially the same thing in Col. 3:13:

bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

The intent does not seem focused on forgiving in like manner but extending to others the forgiveness we received.

In other words, I see these verses mirroring Jesus’s instructions to forgive in response to the forgiveness we received. See, for example, the parable He told about the slave who received forgiveness for his debt only to turn around and withhold forgiveness from his fellow slave:

Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ (Matt. 18:32-33; see the entire parable in vv. 23-35)

It seems apparent to me that this “in the same way” is not talking about manner or even condition. In reality neither slave asked that their debt would be forgiven. They asked for more time to pay it off themselves. The act of forgiveness was an extension of mercy—the undeserved offer to cancel the debt.

This is what Christ did on the cross

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Col. 2:13-14)

As I read those verses, I’m convinced that God didn’t forgive us when we had put ourselves in a position to deserve it by repenting. He went to the cross while we were yet sinners.

Consequently, I don’t believe as Mr. DeYoung does that God’s forgiveness was conditional. He gave His forgiveness to anyone and everyone, but not everyone has accepted it. When Scripture says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), I think the words “world” and “whoever” remove conditions from God’s side of the equation.

When Paul instructed Timothy to pray for all men, he explained his reasoning this way:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

There are literally dozens of verses throughout the Bible that carry this same idea. But one of the most telling, for me, is 2 Thess. 2:10ff which looks at salvation and forgiveness from the side of those who do not accept it:

[the lawless one will come with all power and signs and false wonders] 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (Emphasis added.)

These who perish did not receive, implying that they could have received. They took pleasure in wickedness, implying that they could have refrained from taking pleasure in wickedness. They did not believe the truth, implying they could have believed the truth.

All this to say, the third reason I don’t believe forgiveness for the Christian is conditional, based on the repentance of the offender, is because I don’t believe God’s forgiveness is conditional.

I understand there are believers of a different doctrinal persuasion from mine who will disagree, but maybe two out of three reasons will be enough to make the case against this idea that forgiveness needs to be earned by repentance.

This post is a revised version of one that originally appeared here in July, 2014.

The Passion Of The Christ: Good Friday?


When I was younger, I was troubled by the fact that Jesus said He would be in the tomb for three days and three nights and yet apparently spent something closer to a day and two nights in the grave.

When I was older, I learned that the way the Jews reckoned time, He would have been considered to be dead and buried for three days. They began reckoning for each day at sunset, not sunrise, so the day He died and was buried would be day one, the Sabbath would be day two, and the end of the Sabbath, at sunset the first day of the week would begin and that would be day three.

I’ll admit, ever since I heard that explanation, I thought it was cheating. Besides, it didn’t answer what Jesus said specifically:

for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matt. 12:40 – all caps indicates a quote of the Old Testament, boldface emphasis is mine)

Years and years ago, Pastor Charles Swindoll, who used to pastor my church, preached about Christ’s death and burial, postulating that perhaps we’ve figured His day of death incorrectly. Using the information from the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath and that He was resurrected on the first day of the week, at or before sunrise after the Sabbath.

But there’s a very good possibility that He may have been crucified, not the day before the Sabbath, but before a Sabbath.

First, the crucifixion took place during Passover–not a one-day event, but an eight-day celebration. How the commemoration was to take place is explained in both Leviticus and Numbers. Here’s the description from the latter:

Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the LORD’S Passover. On the fifteenth day of this month shall be a feast, unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work . . . On the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. (Numbers 28:16-17, 25 – emphasis mine)

These days of “holy convocation,” which could fall on any day of the week, apparently were understood to be a type of Sabbath. Leviticus 23 lists the holy convocations, starting first with the weekly Sabbath, then Passover and finally the Day of Atonement. In describing the latter, the term Sabbath appears:

You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath. (Lev 23:31-32 – emphasis mine)

Now add in the information from the gospels. Mark and Luke say Jesus died on the day of preparation, the next day being the Sabbath (Matthew simply refers to it as the preparation), but John adds some information, clarifying the day of preparation:

Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” (John 19:14)

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (John 19:31 – emphasis mine)

A High Day, one of those Holy Convocations, perhaps–treated as a Sabbath. And in this instance, perhaps falling in the middle of the week, a Wednesday, meaning that Jesus would have been buried on Wednesday night, and remained in the tomb all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, just as He said.

How important is our celebration of Good Friday rather than Good Wednesday? Should we start a campaign to get it changed? Hold boycotts of Good Friday services? It’s not an issue that should divide churches and no one’s salvation hangs in the balance because of the day we choose to commemorate Christ’s crucifixion. And no one should do any of the above to try and sway others into believing something different from the traditional understanding.

There’s much more we could discuss about the events surrounding Jesus’s death: Judas’s betrayal, for instance, and his subsequent suicide; Peter’s adamant statements that he didn’t know Jesus, hours after his failed attempt to prevent His arrest; the passerby named Simon who was commandeered to carry Christ’s cross; the seven recorded statements Jesus made from the cross; the soldiers gamboling for His clothes; the thief making a statement of faith as he hung dying, and Christ’s response to him. Each event is significant and has much to teach.

There’s also a common understanding of what took place after Christ’s death, from three in the afternoon until six. When the Romans realized that Jesus was already dead, they pierced His side “to make sure.” The blood and the water that poured from his pierced heart convinced them He had died.

One of his disciples, a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea, went to Pilate and claimed the body. He gave up his own grave on Christ’s behalf, then he, along with Nicodemus, wrapped the body in burial cloths with some spices, laid it in the tomb, and rolled the stone in front of the entrance.

This was a hasty burial, no doubt, because they had to finish before the Sabbath which began at six that evening.

Significantly, a group of women who we don’t hear a lot about, but who had followed Jesus also, saw where they put His body: “Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid” (Luke 23:55). Mark names two of these women: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of a man named Joses. Matthew mentions these two women also, apparently because they stayed by the tomb for a time: “And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave” (Matt. 27:61).

Why this is important becomes clear later. But at this point, Jesus was dead.

Of course, we know the end of the story—something none of those first century people understood. Jesus was about to do something new and miraculous and amazing and earth-shattering and death-defying—something only God could do.

This post is a combination of two previous articles: one posted originally in March 2013 and the other in April 2014.

Published in: on March 30, 2018 at 5:12 pm  Comments (3)  
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Only Sinners Need A Savior


Jesus made the point to the Pharisees that only sick people need a physician. He finished by telling them, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I think Christians today come to faith in Jesus Christ because we realize we aren’t righteous. We are, in fact, sinners.

Of all the ways in which society has changed during my life time—and it is quite different than when I was growing up—one of the changes that is hardest for me to understand is the prevailing thought that humans are good, that we deserve all that is deemed good.

We are good but we aren’t perfect, some will say. Which calls into question the meaning of good. Is good a relative term, as in, I’m not as bad as I am good. Or is it comparative, as in, That guy isn’t as good as I am? We could also say, My quota of good is greater than it was five years ago.

None of those ideas of “good” eliminates any “bad” however. So how can a person ever know if he is good enough?

The Christian has an easy answer, one that isn’t original with any of us. It’s actually something God revealed. Simply put, no good outweighs even the smallest bad. Because the definition of good is, perfect.

The truth, then, is that only perfect people don’t need a Savior. And who among us is perfect?

We can equivocate all we want, but eventually we have to face the facts that either in our thought life or our actions or in what we say we have not been good, we are not always good.

Ben Franklin is a good example. He analyzed his character and thought there were some traits he needed to improve, so he decided to concentrate on one at a time for a set period of time. The problem was, when he felt he had improved that one trait and moved on to concentrate on a new area, he found that the first trait had slid right back into the bin of “needs improvement.” He simply could not change by self-effort.

So even if we determined that the not perfect parts of us should change, we simply are not in a position to do more than cosmetically improve them. And we’re left with the consequences of our being “not good” in a specific area. For instance, what about lying? We might otherwise use our speech in beneficial ways, but if we lie, we can damage ourselves and others. We can break relationships because others no longer trust us, so if we praise them, they don’t believe us. If we report that we’ve finished a task at work, the boss doubts us. If we tell our spouse we have to work late, they are suspicious of us.

But we only have one little problem.

The real point here is that the relationship most at risk is a relationship with God. He is perfect and we are not, so how is that supposed to work? The closest I can come to picture this is a person with hands coated with mud attempting to shake hands with someone wearing white gloves. The contact would immediately transfer some amount of mud onto the gloves, so the handshake isn’t going to happen.

Unless . . .

The person with the gloves could take them off and give them to us to wipe away the mud. Then we’d have clean hands and could have the contact the mud prevented. In other words, we need someone to step in who is in a position to do what we couldn’t do. We need someone to remove our sin.

So Jesus did that. For sinners who come to Him.

Tears Of The Messiah – A Reprise


I re-posted this article two years ago (it first appeared here in March 2013), but I think it rightly brings a couple things together. First, it deals with the events leading up to Jesus’s trials, crucifixion, and resurrection, which we commemorate at this time of year. Secondly, it includes thoughts based on the book of Jeremiah, which I am again currently re-reading. Without further prologue:

– – – – –

Most people know that Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb before He raised him back to life. It’s a touching scene, one that has produced any number of sermons.

Fewer people, I tend to think, know about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem on his final entry into the City of David. Luke records the scene, as well as the build-up to it. Clearly Jesus cared deeply—not for the walls and the buildings, but for the people inside, for what Jerusalem stood for. This was the place God intended to be central to His worship. His people were there, the temple known as His house was there.

As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting:

    “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord;
    Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:37-44)

Earlier, when Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, He had similar thoughts:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! (Luke 13:34)

Jesus was deeply moved by the rejection of His rebellious people. He wanted them to receive their King, to experience the peace with God He offered.

Scripture makes it clear that God’s desire is still for rebellious people to repent and turn to Him. Jesus said in Matthew, “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (18:14) Then in 1 Timothy, Paul wrote

This [prayer on behalf of all men] is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I’m in awe that Jesus unabashedly wept for those who would turn their back on Him, that God, loving the world so much, paid the price for our sin just so we could enjoy peace with Him:

you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

I’ve never thought about it much before, but might not Jesus weep for each person who walks away from Him?

Jeremiah is sometimes called the weeping prophet because in a number of places Scripture mentions him weeping for Judah and their stubborn, rebellious heart—well, more precisely for the destruction of the nation which he foresaw.

At one point he prophesied that the people who had been taken to Babylon in the first wave of captivity would be better off than those left behind. They would prosper in their new land and one day be restored to Judah. But those who stayed or who fled to Egypt would bring destruction on their heads. I’m sure the people who heard him thought he was nuts. Captivity good, freedom bad, he seemed to be saying.

The problem was, they had limited sight. Jeremiah was speaking the words given him by omniscient God.

So, too, Jesus knows we are in desperate need of His life-giving blood—more dramatically than if we were in need of a transfusion. What’s more, He bled out for us. Why, then, wouldn’t He weep over those who wave Him off and walk on by to destruction?

Published in: on March 19, 2018 at 5:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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