Immigration And The Bible


border_mexico_usaSome people may think that immigration is a problem of contemporary times and that the Bible has nothing to say about the matter, but that’s not so. Scripture gives us principles we can follow in all kinds of situations though the details differ from those described in the pages of Holy Writ. When it comes to immigration, though, the people who lived in Bible times dealt with immigration much as we know it today.

True, a national identity wasn’t as defined as it has become. No one carried passports and there were no border crossings, no visas to procure, no inspections or laws about what you could and could not bring with you into the new country where you planned to settle down. Still, people left one city or people group and migrated to another.

Abraham, for example, left Ur of the Chaldeans and traveled to Haran where they settled for a time. God then directed Abram, as he was called at the time, to go to the land of Canaan:

Now the LORD said to Abram,
Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3)

Abraham lived a fairly nomadic life, but eventually his descendants more or less settled down—until a famine spurred them to seek a place where they could find food and water. Consequently, when his grandson, Jacob and all 75 of his clan made their way to Egypt during the seven year famine, the trip was not unheard of.

Staying for four hundred years—now that was the anomaly.

Of course, Moses himself was an immigrant even before he led the Israelite exodus. He had fled Egypt where he’d been born and raised, and lived in the land of Midian.

But even after the people of Israel escaped from Egypt and returned to their homeland, drove out the inhabitants, and settled in to build a national existence, people still immigrated.

Ruth, for instance, came from the country of Moab with her mother-in-law Naomi. Why? Because Naomi, her husband, and two sons had gone to Moab during another famine. One of the sons married Ruth, but died some years later. So Ruth immigrated to Israel.

She, a “foreigner,” ended up marrying Boaz, then gave birth to Obed, who was King David’s grandfather.

David himself did some immigrating. While he was on the run from King Saul, he spent time with the Moabites, more than once with the Philistines, and perhaps with others.

The question isn’t, did people immigrate in Bible times as much as it is, what did God say about immigrants?

In Abraham’s case, He directed him to migrate. Circumstances played a big part in others leaving home and going elsewhere, but regardless of the reasons for leaving, for going, God identified those who were separated from their homeland in order to follow Him just like He did orphans and widows, the poor and the needy. They were vulnerable and therefore God expected His people to protect them and care for them.

In fact when Ezekiel prophesied regarding God’s judgment of His people, the ill treatment of immigrants—sojourners—is one of Israel’s sins:

The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land, but I found no one. (Ezekiel 22:29-30; emphasis added)

Sojourners, then, were not to be oppressed.

But the Law spelled out in Leviticus indicates there was more than just not mistreating them:

‘Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. (Lev. 25:35; emphasis added)

Putting aside the point of this passage, which was to instruct how a poor person was to be treated, it’s clear that the sojourner was to be taken care of, at least until they were in a place to take care of themselves (see Lev. 25:47).

One last point: Scripture seems to make a distinction between the sojourner and the stranger who was living as an alien among them. This latter individual was not to be granted access to the temple. On the other hand sojourners were expected to keep the Sabbath and had access to the cities of refuge just like the people of Israel.

What can we conclude about immigration today, based on what the Bible says?
1. Sometimes immigration is necessary; sometimes it’s God directed.
2. Immigrants who want to leave their culture and be included with the people of God are welcome.
3. Immigrants are to obey the laws of the land.
4. The citizens of the land to which immigrants come, are not to oppress them
5. The citizens of the land to which immigrants come, should do what they can to help them with their transition.

Of course the US is not synonymous with “the people of God.” But I think we can extrapolate from the second principle that people who want to make their home in a new country, are welcome. They demonstrate their intention by learning and living according to the values of the country to which they’ve come. That’s what Ruth did.

We could wait a long time for our US Congress to reach an agreement on immigration policy. I personally think Christians who love God’s word should not wait. We should take it upon ourselves to follow God’s direction. We should be welcoming to those who have come to the US legally due to circumstances that necessitated their leaving home. We should help them to learn our laws and culture. We should do what we can to help them while they’re trying to get on their feet. We should do all we can to see that they aren’t oppressed.

In short, Christians shouldn’t ignore immigrants or assume the worst about a person who is new to our country. We should actually thank God for the opportunity to be a missionary without leaving home!

Published in: on January 25, 2017 at 6:03 pm  Comments (4)  
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Revelation


The Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye attracted attention to eschatology—the “part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” (Oxford English Dictionary). They are by no means the first writers to depict the events cataloged in the book of Revelation and other passages of prophecy. Back in 1972 A Thief in the Night, the first of a series of four feature-length films, made it’s way into theaters.

There was also a badly written novel—the title escapes me—that encapsulated the entire story of The End . . . in about 250 pages. I’m sure there were others. Certainly there have been since Left Behind. In 2010 Scars: An amazing end-time prophecy novel came out. In 2011 an author announced he was beginning work on The Revelation: a new end-times novel as part of NaNoWriMo.

Years ago, before Revelation became a subject of fiction, churches favoring a dispensational view of Biblical history, held prophecy conferences, complete with charts and time lines.

All this to say, there has been a fascination with Revelation and what it says about the future. But of late, perhaps in reaction to the so popular Left Behind books, there’s been a bit of a backlash against end-time fiction. Some publishers, for example, state in their guidelines they do not want end-time stories. Some bloggers make repeated references to the “bad theology” of the Left Behind books.

I suppose the main struggle with the book of Revelation is to know what is symbolic and what is literal. In some instances, an angel tells John, and therefore us, what the visionary language means.

As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Rev. 1:20)

These passages are not nearly as common as the pictorial, symbolic language filling most of the book.

That we struggle today to know what John saw that was figurative and what, literal, should be no surprise. The disciples struggled to understand Jesus, too. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, He told them. Oh, no, the disciples said, we forgot to bring bread. I’m going up to Jerusalem to die, Jesus said. Who gets to sit on Your right hand and left hand when You take over, the disciples asked.

When was He talking in parables, when was He speaking plainly? If they couldn’t tell, it should be no shock that we struggle a bit with the same issues when it comes to the revelation Jesus gave to John.

But there are some things we can know. So what is good theology when it comes to the book of Revelation? What is this book recording John’s vision of angels and trumpets and bowls of wrath and seals and beasts and the harlot Babylon, all about?

As my former pastor said as part of his introduction to a sermon series over the book, the one clear truth is that Christ wins. That being said, I think there are some additional key themes that run through Revelation which, I believe, Christians on either side of the theological divide, agree upon.

First, Jesus Christ is the Lamb that was slain, making Him the only one qualified to open that which God has held secret from past ages and generations.

In addition, He will return as the Conqueror and the King, defeating Satan and assigning him eternal punishment.

Revelation also portrays divine judgment on those who follow Satan, who do not repent and give God glory.

Throughout, the book shows God as righteous in His acts, even those that come directly from His wrath. Here’s an example:

And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” (Rev 16:5-7)

Another key theme is God’s provision of a new home—a new heaven and a new earth—for those whose names are written in the book of life.

One more, though undoubtedly there are others: there’s a clear warning to the churches to hold fast to the truth, to love God and obey Him, to resist false teaching or the lure of riches or complacency.

Revelation is a rich book because it shows us more about who God is than it does about what will happen someday. It shows us what He cares about and what His wrath looks like. It shows that He is worthy to be praised for His justice as well as for His redemption, for His majesty as well as for His righteousness. It shows that He is the Lamb who is Worthy.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2012.

None Righteous, No Not One


MOTORCYCLE_COPAccording to the Bible, none is righteous, no, not one. I think we might all admit it’s a hard truth. The problem is, we measure Man with Man, and as such we see that there’s a wide range—from Jeffery Dahmer and Joseph Stalin to Mahatma Gandhi and Bill Gates.

From our perspective, the man willing to die to bring peace is a good man. The one bent on giving away his massive fortune to those most in need is a good man. The cannibalistic serial killer, not so good. The murderous paranoid tyrant, not so good.

But reality is, God does not measure us one against another. He Himself is the standard and we, all of us, no matter how we compare against each other, fall short, far short.

The sad truth is, we are all deserving of hell.

Again, our cultural thinking makes this fact hard to grab hold of. Our inclination is to think, if everyone is doing it, then no one is guilty. Like speeding. Cars whip by going eighty when the speed limit is sixty-five. So if I go seventy, I’m really doing good, aren’t I? And none of us will be ticketed because all of us are exceeding the limit.

None of us may be ticketed, but the truth is, all of us breaking the law deserve to be ticketed.

For some reason we expect God to act like a traffic cop and let us all go, either because He’s off somewhere else and doesn’t see us breaking His law, or He doesn’t care, or He’s just such a nice guy, He’s decided to give us all a break.

But God is not the traffic cop. He’s the just judge.

Funny how we all want a just judge to preside over the trial of a heinous criminal or one who has wronged us. But do we really want a just judge to preside over our trial regarding the crimes we have committed against God? Wouldn’t we rather have a merciful judge?

The truth is, God is both, just and merciful. He will not violate His justice to extend mercy and He will not violate His mercy to exercise justice.

I think understanding this point is at the heart of understanding hell.

God’s actually very up front. He lays out for us what His standards are and He tells us the consequences for falling short. There ought to be no surprises.

Yet some people kick against these basic parameters. God’s standard (perfection) is too high, His punishment (hell) too harsh and too long lasting (for eternity).

But it’s this very kicking that is the problem. Who is Man that he should try to tell God how to run things? That’s like a three-year-old trying to tell Sully Sullenberger how to land a plane.

God, by nature of … well, His nature, is the only one who gets to make the rules. He is perfect so He knows what real righteousness looks like. He is good, so He knows what true goodness looks like.

We’re operating in the dark from a collapsed mine a half-mile deep, and we’re trying to direct our own rescue efforts. Or more accurately, telling everyone how we’re planning to pull ourselves out.

We’re telling the One Who provides the only way of escape we have no intention of confining ourselves in such a restrictive capsule for a twenty minute ride to the surface. We don’t deserve such ill treatment. In fact, come to think of it, we don’t really need rescuing at all. We’re fine where we are, thank you very much.

How is it we are so shortsighted? so unwilling to let God tell us what’s what?

The great, great news is, He not only wants to tell us how far short we are of His standards and the horrible consequences for that condition, He also wants to tell us about His love and mercy. Of course, only guilty people need mercy, which means all those people confident in their own goodness will turn down God’s offer. They’ll harden their hearts and go their own way—the way that leads to destruction.

This post first appeared here in October 2010.

Published in: on February 17, 2016 at 6:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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Mercy, Justice, And Abortion


Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_ChicagoChristians are often accused of being judgmental. I tend to think the people making the charge are reacting to a lack of compassion. It’s not that others think judging is so very wrong. They themselves are actually making a judgment when they say being judgmental is wrong.

Rather, it seems to me, people see Christians as unwilling to give a guy a break. Come on, they say, wait to have sex until you’re married? Give a guy a break! Or, You mean a guy can be faithful, a good father and provider, but you say he’s a sinner because he’s married to another guy? Come on, give him a break!

There are multiple problems here, the first being the notion that Christians are making the rules. Believers are not the ones inventing the no-sex-before-marriage standard. Or the no-homosexuality standard. Just like we didn’t come up with the no lying, gossiping, murdering, dishonoring of parents standards, either.

The second issue is that we can’t give a guy a break. We aren’t his judge. We get accused of being the judge because we report what the Judge has said about the matter of sin, but just like we don’t invent the rules, we don’t invent the punishment.

Third, we ourselves are under the same standards and don’t come out triumphant. We are no different when it comes to sin than anyone else. James says this clearly:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (2:10-11)

In short, there isn’t a single person who doesn’t fall into the category of “guilty of all” because we have all stumbled in one point, or more. If it’s more, we aren’t any more guilty of all than if we stumbled only once. Either way, we’re guilty of all.

So Christians are not better than abortion providers or those in the business of selling fetal tissue. At various times, when listing different sins, the Apostle Paul would add, And such were some of you.

This is true of women who have had abortions. I know women, and have heard about women, who have had abortions, only to embrace Christ and renounce their past actions. Take Norma McCorvey, for example, the “Jane Roe” in the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the US. She is now a Christian who stands for life.

Norma McCorvey is just like the people Paul addressed: “such were some of you.” But so am I and so are we all. If we haven’t committed the particular sins in Paul’s list, we’ve committed others. There simply is no one out from under the burden of sin.

Is that admission hateful or judgmental? Hardly! It’s the first step toward escape. When we admit our sin, we can embrace our Savior.

Then as people who have been forgiven, we can extend forgiveness and compassion to others.

I can’t forgive someone’s sin against God, however. I don’t have that power. I can’t acquit someone who has committed murder though he seeks forgiveness in the blood of Christ. God alone can forgive sins against Him. And He does.

He gave a great picture of the way this works when He ordained a religious ceremony with the Jews which required the release of a scapegoat. One goat would be sacrificed as a sin offering, depicting the fact that sin requires the shedding of blood which Christ freely gave, but another goat was released into the wilderness after the priest had laid hands on it, transferring to it the sins of the people and depicting Christ as the sin bearer who takes away the sins of the world.

God in Jesus Christ has made forgiveness available to all who believe.

But to those who don’t believe? They aren’t forgiven and we shouldn’t pretend they are. At the same time, they aren’t enemies. They may come to a realization of their sin later in life the way Norma McCorvey did. They are people for whom we should feel compassion. And empathy. Because we were such as they before we met Christ.

The difference, simply put, is Jesus. Without Him, deserved justice. With Him, unqualified mercy.

We who have received such mercy, how can we not extend mercy to others? No, we can’t wipe away their sins, but we can love them the way Jesus loves. We can forgive them their offenses against us, we can serve them and pray for them and refuse to write them off as a lost cause. No one is a lost cause. God alone gets to separate the wheat from the tares, the sheep from the goats. And He is perfectly just as well as perfectly merciful.

Published in: on September 2, 2015 at 5:33 pm  Comments (14)  
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Misunderstanding And Misusing The Bible


reading-the-bible-835822-mAtheists and “progressive Christians” alike are fond of pointing out things in the Bible they think are reprehensible. Some even claim to know more about these parts of Scripture than evangelicals who hold to belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.

Sadly, these are the people who are misunderstanding passages and misusing verses, twisting them to say what they want them to say. So they’ll take a verse like Psalm 137:9 (“How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones / Against the rock) as proof that the God of the Bible, or the God of the Old Testament, at least, is hateful and cruel, full of wrath and vengeful.

The problem is, such a view ignores passage after passage after passage that reveals God to be a protector of the innocent, a refuge to all who call on Him. Take Psalm 46:1-2 for example:

God is our refuge and strength
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.

Scripture portrays God as the Advocate for orphans and widows. He chastises Judah in part for not living in accordance with His heart in their treatment of the most vulnerable and needy. He pronounces judgment on nations like Israel, Edom, Assyria, and Babylon because they were greedy or their leaders cheated the poor or they employed violence against others.

God, in His role as Protector, pronounces judgment on those who mistreated others. More often than not, He used other nations to judge those whose wickedness had reached a point of no return. So there are passages in the prophets that warn of this coming judgment:

Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces
Before their eyes;
Their houses will be plundered
And their wives ravished. (Isaiah 13:16)

You can find similar passages in Hosea, Nahum, Lamentations, and Zechariah—and the pictures these prophets paint aren’t pretty. But that’s the point. Judgment isn’t a slap on the wrist, nor should it be.

And it is just such judgment the Psalmist was calling for in the passage above.

Here in California, much has been made of the sexual assault of a three-year-old who wandered into a garage where a young man was working. Because he didn’t behave as a predator, searching out a child to abuse, the judge gave the perpetrator a light sentence, and the public is rightfully outraged. His criminal behavior requires a stiff penalty.

But when God says He’s going to give a stiff penalty to the wicked, somehow many find this tyrannical. Not just.

I surmise they don’t believe those in Scripture who describe God as righteous and good. They don’t believe Him when He says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ex. 33:11).”

Such misuse of the Bible—pulling one verse out of context in order to draw a conclusion about God and ignoring scores of others that contradict their view—is more a reflection on those judging God than on God Himself.

There are other people, however, who misunderstand the Bible because they take it too literally. Parts of the Bible are history and certainly were written with the intention that their readers would take their words as factual. Consequently writers gave genealogies, mentioned reigning kings, noted particular towns or rivers or seas, included details such as a great earthquake or a siege or a civil war.

But another part of the Bible, including some of the stories and analogies Jesus included in His conversations and discourses, have a different intention. Their purpose is to point to a particular spiritual truth, not paint a black-and-white portrait of what God does or does not do.

For instance, Jesus said it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Since we know camels can’t pass through the eye of a needle, does that mean Jesus was saying no rich man could enter the kingdom of heaven? Clearly not. Abraham was rich, and Jesus told a story about Abraham, indicating he was in fact in heaven.

People who want to apply literalistic treatment to metaphorical language are simply misusing the Bible! I would suggest that dashing children in pieces is possibly an example of hyperbole, taken as an indication that judgment would reach down and affect the children as well as the adults.

The trick, of course, is to know what is literal and what is metaphorical. Some things are obvious such as the fantasy stories in the Old Testament about talking trees. The people who told those stories were trying to make a point to their intended audience and used analogous language to do so. No one should read those passages and come away saying, The Bible teaches that trees talk.

One way to discern what is literal and what is figurative is by how the people of that time understood the writing or discourse. Consequently, the Jews who built a tabernacle and commemorated the Exodus, undoubtedly understood the first five books of the Bible—their Torah—as historical or they wouldn’t have acted upon what was contained within those pages.

For me it’s a bit comforting to know that the disciples didn’t always know what was literal and what was figurative in the things Jesus said. They thought, for example, that His declaration that He would go to Jerusalem and die and be raised again on the third day, had some metaphorical, spiritual meaning. It wasn’t until after the fact that they realized He’d been talking about literal death and literal resurrection.

My point here is that misunderstanding isn’t something to be ashamed about. Rather, when we come to Scripture, it’s important to hold what we “know” loosely, to do some questioning and some comparison. And never to take the word of a person over the word of Scripture itself.

For example, someone might say in a convincing way that the story of Adam and Eve is a myth, not to be believed as literal, that they are simply archetypes of early humans, that there was no actual garden, tree of life or of the knowledge of good and evil, that there was no talking serpent (I mean, we already discounted the talking trees, right?)

However, the rest of the Bible clearly treats Adam and Eve as real people while equating the serpent with the Accuser, Satan. In other words, the people who wrote Scripture and to whom Scripture was originally given, and those who read it throughout centuries, understood Adam and Eve to be historically real people. So clearly, for us today to say, Adam and Eve are mythical, we would be taking the word of a person who came up with or is parroting the idea, over and above the word of Scripture.

Yep! It’s God


A_courtroom_scene_with_a_judge,_a_pregnant_woman,_a_guilty_l_Wellcome_V0039186

At the end of “The Great Divide,” I asked

Is Man righteous or is God? We can’t have it both ways because God has said Man is not righteous. So if God lies, He’s not righteous. It’s one or the other, Man or God. And there is the great divide.

So the answer is, God is righteous.

Of course, the great complaint against God—by atheists and Progressives alike—is that God is not righteous. In fact, I’ve heard from people in both camps say that God is a tyrant. Some claim He orders genocide and that His wrath, if it were true about Him, would be in direct contradiction to His love.

The atheist uses these charges as evidence that the God of those who claim to believe the Bible simply does not exist. The Progressives use these charges as an excuse to dump the Old Testament and the wrathful God it reveals in favor of the New Testament and the loving God they see in Jesus.

In truth, I believe atheists have more intellectual honesty here than do the Progressives, though they are unfortunately just as incorrect in their conclusions.

Because the atheist starts from a Man-is-good position, it is logical to conclude that a god who would order the destruction of a race of people (the Amalekites) or nearly an entire generation (Noah’s contemporaries), must be evil—who else would destroy so many good people?

That position is intellectually honest but wrong because of the starting place.

Progressives make the mistake of hanging their belief about God on an erroneous view of Jesus. Apparently they also start with a Man-is-good view and dismiss the wrathful god of the Old Testament for similar reasons as atheists do. However, they choose to embrace Jesus as the god of love.

This is not intellectually honest. Rather, it demonstrates a shameful lack of knowledge about the one they claim to worship—both what he did and what he said.

Jesus was no pushover, acting as a pacifist who would simply love, love, love and never correct anyone. His decision—twice—to cleanse the temple by chasing out the people who didn’t belong and who were conducting business which they shouldn’t have done, involved turning over tables and chasing people out and taking a whip to move them along.

Time and again Jesus, knowing full well what He was doing, healed people on the Sabbath—almost as if He were baiting the Pharisees who He knew wouldn’t approve.

In His direct confrontations with the sect, He called them names—vipers, whitewashed tombs, hypocrites—and used scathing language in accusing them of breaking God’s law. At one point He even told them Satan was their father.

I doubt very much if a single Pharisee would have thought “loving” when they looked at Jesus.

In addition, no one talked more above hell than did Jesus. He told parables in which the ungodly were thrown out into outer darkness, or into eternal fire or unquenchable fire or a furnace of fire. He also talked about praise for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, about choosing a narrow gate versus a broad gate, about separating goats and sheep. In other words, Jesus was not an advocate for some kind of universal happily ever after which His love would provide.

Both these two camps—atheists and Progressives—are mistaken. God is righteous.

First, God’s nature puts things into perspective. He is, among other traits, holy. Think of a surgeon who is masked, gowned, scrubbed, and gloved. He must not pick up any instrument that has not also been sterilized and made pure. To do so would contaminate him. In a similar way, God’s purity does not allow for relationship with those stained by sin. All of humanity, in other words.

The only hope for relationship, humans with God, is for us to become pure—something we have no way of accomplishing. Enter God into the world in human flesh to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

In addition, God is omniscient. He knows the heart of each person—the hidden thoughts of selfishness or hatred or lust or greed or jealousy or pride or covetousness or whatever other sin resides inside us. We can clean up on the outside and we can pretend, even to ourselves, but God knows the truth about us.

Then, too, God will judge between the afflicted and the oppressor. Granted, He provides a refuge in time of trouble. He hides and helps and delivers. But the oppressor isn’t the one receiving God’s protection and care. The oppressor is receiving God’s judgment.

This passage from Psalm 11 spells out God’s role as judge:

The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked,
And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Upon the wicked He will rain snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness;
The upright will behold His face. (vv 5-7)

Clearly His authority to test the righteous and the wicked is connected to His righteousness. No profit comes from pleading before a corrupt judge or one who disregards truth or loves evil instead of good. Judgment only brings justice if the judge is unbiased and adheres to the law.

That’s God. He is righteous. We, on the other hand, are not.

Published in: on December 30, 2014 at 6:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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Understanding Unconditional Forgiveness


tangled-pathway-in-the-woodsWith all due respect to Christians like Kevin DeYoung and Stephen Burnett, I’ve taken the position that the Bible teaches Christians to forgive unconditionally. Jesus seems quite clear in His teaching: our experience of forgiveness made possible by Christ’s death on the cross is to be mirrored in our treatment of other people.

In reality, we have to look no farther than the Lord’s pray, and Christ’s follow up instruction, which connects our forgiveness of others with God’s forgiveness of us.

‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors . . .

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matt. 6:12, 14-15)

What would a person’s life look like if he couldn’t be party to forgiveness unless the person who offended him repented? Would the Father’s forgiveness of him then be contingent upon the offender’s repentance as well?

I’m confident that isn’t what Jesus taught.

In fact, though He gave clear instructions for His followers to forgive as an outgrowth of the forgiveness we have received, Scripture makes it clear that God is the one who forgives sins.

The Pharisees understood that God alone forgives sins, and Jesus capitalized on their knowledge of right doctrine to present them with the truth that He is God. First He told the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven.

But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6-7)

Jesus then proceed to heal the man “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Mark 2:10) I find it interesting that Jesus forgave the man’s sins though we have no record of him repenting.

However, my point here is that God’s forgiveness and that extended by people are not the same things. Except, Jesus did tell His disciples that whoever they forgave on earth, would be forgiven:

“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:23)

Of course some people believe this was a special provision for the Apostles alone.

And yet, God makes clear throughout the New Testament that we are to forgive.

Jesus, in answer to Peter’s question about how many times we are to forgive, indicated by His answer that our forgiveness is to extend beyond anything we humans would consider doable.

And yet, though forgiveness is a clear command, there seems to be more text in the New Testament dealing with unity. Paul didn’t tell the two women in Philippi who were not seeing eye to eye that they needed to forgive each other. Rather, the instruction was that they were to live in harmony in the Lord (Phil. 4:2).

I tend to think the following verses were Paul’s formula for harmony: Rejoice in the Lord; show a gentle spirit; be anxious for nothing; let God’s peace rule; think on things that are true, right, honorable, pure, lovely, of good repute (Phil. 4:4-8). That latter point seems to be saying, have a charitable focus; give people the benefit of the doubt (I know—not the way we normally read Phil. 4:8).

All this to say, along with forgiveness Scripture also teaches reconciliation. We are to forgive and we are to work for peace with all men. All men. That’s a bit shocking, but that’s what God’s word says: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18).

Of course, reconciliation is not only up to us. It takes two to reconcile. Some people refuse to make peace. Nevertheless, our stance is to be open-handed—for one basic reason: we are not the Judge. God is.

The third aspect of relationships between offender and offended is that vengeance is God’s. We are commanded to get out of God’s way, essentially. We are not to take our pound of flesh because God might count that as the punishment the offender is to bear. Rather, we are to yield the floor to God who judges righteously.

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:19-21)

I think that’s a clear statement that God will not let the wicked escape. We don’t have to “fret because of evildoers” (Psalm 37:1a).

We actually know on a personal level that there are consequences for sin even though God provides forgiveness. After all, unless Christ comes back to take us with Him, we will die—a consequence of the sin endemic to our nature.

So we are to forgive, we are to work for reconciliation (peace with all men), and we are to let God work His justice.

But what about putting ourselves in the line of fire. Do we keep forgiving the abuser who is sorry, so very sorry—until the next time he becomes angry?

Scripture doesn’t speak to that exact situation, so I can only look for principles that would address the issue. First, working for peace seems contradictory to putting yourself in a situation where you know peace will not come about. So if we are to work for peace, there may be times when to achieve peace, we withdraw.

Second, Paul clearly instructed the church in Corinth to withdraw fellowship from the man living in open sin. Anyone who steals and doesn’t make it right, who treats another person with cruelty, or a variety of other sins, may need to experience a break in fellowship in order to bring about repentance and eventual restoration.

Sadly, churches today do little church discipline. I don’t think an individual was ever intended to figure out when withdrawal from fellowship is the answer. At one point, Paul said he’d given a certain person over to Satan! Now that’s a pastor taking a hard line against sin. Of course, today some people would accuse such a pastor of abuse himself, so there’s no wonder that we’ve moved away from the Biblical principle of church discipline.

Nevertheless, I think a believer needs to be plugged in with a group of mature brothers and sisters who know God’s word and can offer Biblical counsel, not emotional counsel. Above all we should resist the temptation to follow the advice of the world simply because it sounds easier or somehow more “user friendly.”

Sometimes God calls us to walk a hard road, a lonely road, a thankless road. And we should be willing to walk wherever He sends us—whether that’s to reconciliation or to a break in fellowship.

And as I see it, we are to offer forgiveness along either path.

Published in: on July 18, 2014 at 6:20 pm  Comments (5)  
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Christians And Immigration


Tijuana-San_Ysidro_border_crossingFrom time to time I think Christians get on the wrong side of certain issues, not because of our theology but because of our opposition to those who typically take positions we disagree with. Take environmentalism, for example. Apart from the ridiculous extremes that put Humankind as subservient to nature, Christians should be doing all we can to preserve and protect creation. That’s the job God originally gave us.

Immigration is another such issue. Christians are taking an unbiblical stand on immigration much of the time. Here’s what God’s position on immigration is:

For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:17-19)

No bribes? Good, good. We’re all for no bribes. Justice for orphans? Absolutely! Protect the orphans! For widows? Well, OK, though it sounds a little like welfare. But aliens? Love for aliens? Come on, don’t you realize . . . They might be here illegally. And we can’t condone illegal behavior. We simply have to maintain the rule of law.

I get the illegal issue, but I think that’s perhaps secondary. I think first Christians need to be front and center loving aliens and strangers—especially in America where we or our ancestors were most likely at some point aliens and strangers.

In fact, we celebrate and give thanks for the love our forefathers received when they were aliens and strangers in a holiday called Thanksgiving.

Now we’re in position to welcome, to show love toward, people who are new, who are learning the language, who . . . OK, I heard that . . . something like, But they AREN’T learning the language. Well, just maybe if we talked to them, we’d give them a reason to learn the language.

But think about being in a foreign country, where you don’t know how things work exactly, where you might be ridiculed for no other reason than that you came from somewhere else. Immigrants need love. They are precisely the neighbors Jesus said Christians are to love.

Yes, I think illegal immigration has muddied the waters. I do think we should be a land that believes in the rule of law. I do think people entering the country illegally should face some consequences.

But first, what we’ve been doing, isn’t working. Too many people who are sent back across the border because of their immigration status find a way to return.

Then, too, more and more people who have grown up in the US and who know no other home because they came here with their parents illegally as children, are facing the consequences of a decision they didn’t make and over which they had no control.

So what are we to do? I think Christians should become the vocal minority pushing for immigration reform. We need some brave lawmakers to step up and work out a fair law that will bring illegal immigrants the hope that they can become naturalized citizens without discouraging legal immigrants and without encouraging a new flood of illegal border crossings.

We also need to reach out to immigrants without worrying whether or not they are illegal. We should offer English as a second language classes and we should offer mentors who immigrants can go to when they have questions.

I’m sure there are many, many ways Christians can reach out to immigrants. My church makes a concerted effort to contact foreign students who are studying in our local universities. They are away from home, in a foreign country, adjusting to a different culture.

Sound familiar? Immigrants are going through those same things, so why shouldn’t we reach out to them in the same way, or more so? I mean, they’re staying, so we have a chance to build into their lives on a long term basis.

There are so many good things that would come out of Christians taking a stand to love immigrants. But above all, we’d be following the dictates of Scripture, and that ought to be enough.

It ought to be.

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Photo credit: © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

The Wages Of Sin Are A Slap On The Wrist


A_young_lamb_amongst_the_bracken_fronds_-_geograph.org.uk_-_287551This summer Christianity Today reported that the Presbyterian Church USA was disallowing Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend’s hymn “In Christ Alone” into their hymn book because of a line that clashed with their theology. They sought permission to change the offending lines “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.”

Until I read about this decision, I was unaware of the controversial nature of the doctrine referred to as “penal substitution.” To be clear, the PCUSA says the problem they had wasn’t with the idea of God’s wrath but with the idea of it being satisfied. Others, however, who have weighed in on the controversy, make it clear that they do indeed have a problem with the idea of God’s wrath. See for example this explanation:

What inevitably results from the penal substitution theory of the atonement is the picture of a God who is a blood-thirsty monster who demands violence and death in order to satisfy his boundless wrath and who apparently can conceive of no other response to sin other than murder (which ironically is itself a sin). (excerpt from “The Wrath of God Was Satisfied?”

I’ve heard similar accusations against God before. God is heinous, apparently, according to this view, because He actually meant what He said when He told Adam that if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. What’s more, when He said through the pen of Paul that the wages of sin is death, He only compounded the problem. Now people couldn’t view God the Father as heinous but Jesus as nice and loving because the New Testament was agreeing with the Old.

The ironic thing is that people who are rejecting God’s right to judge, are setting up themselves and their values as the “better way.” They are, in fact, judging God’s act of justice against sin and calling it “murder.”

People, apparently, don’t actually deserve to die. Our sin isn’t worthy of such a harsh punishment.

I’m not sure how those who hold this view explain that in fact, one out of one persons dies. We are actually and factually suffering the wages that God said would be ours as a result of sin.

The good news is that God has made a way of escape and life awaits us after death, if we accept by faith the gift of a cleared debt made possible by Jesus’s willingness to be our surrogate, to take the penalty we deserved.

The thing is, nothing could offer us a more complete view of God than this act of salvation. He is holy, so our sin separates us from Him. His is righteous, so His judgment is without error. He is just, so He doesn’t condemn that which is innocent. He is loving, so He is willing to redeem us at His own cost. He is merciful, so He forgives us when we have no hope of paying Him what we owe.

I could go on. It’s inconceivable that people who claim to be Christians are so willing to deny God’s nature in one area or another.

It’s honestly hard for me to imagine that thinking people could read the book of Leviticus and not see the picture of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world in the sin offering or the peace offering or in the Passover, or that they could read Genesis and not see the substitution of a ram for Isaac as the substitution of Christ for sinners.

The only way I can make sense of these accusations against God is to suppose that those saying God is a murderer simply do not believe that the wages of sin is death. Apparently, in their view, the wages of sin is a slap on the wrist. What’s needed then, is not a substitute to pay the price, but a gentle reminder or a stern reprimand because surely sinners know better and simply need a refresher course in how to please God.

Who Defines Morality?


Gilbert_Stuart_Williamstown_Portrait_of_George_WashingtonPresident Obama’s administration has taken a few hits lately. One of the latest problems to come to light has to do with the IRS targeting for delays groups applying for non-profit status if they had a conservative moniker such as Tea Party.

As an aside, I find it interesting that “Tea Party,” associated with one of the brave acts of rebellion by the forefathers of the US in the process of gaining independence from England, has become a negative in the eyes of liberal Americans.

Maybe that isn’t so much of an aside. The question is, who defines morality? Once, standing up to a government that wasn’t really all that repressive, but was unilateral in its decisions, was thought to be a brave act worthy of acclaim.

Today, the group of people standing against a Big Brother type of all invasive government is ridiculed by the media and, in this latest Obama administration gaffe, targeted for unfair treatment by the IRS.

As it turns out, the President himself spoke out against this kind of unfair treatment. But the incident brings up the question, who gets to define morality? Those opposed to the Tea Party were making a decision based on what they believed to be right, I would have to assume. I mean, they were violating common practice if not legal precedent in targeting organizations with whom they disagreed. Who would do that unless they thought those organizations were wrong?

But do government officials get to define morality in this way? Do police get to target people because of their political views or religious persuasion? Some actually think they should–in light of terrorist threats.

How do we then keep government from going after those with whom they disagree, just as the IRS so recently did? This is the kind of action dictatorial regimes take.

No wonder President George Washington said in his farewell address

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

How, President Washington seems to say, can morality exist apart from religion? How can political prosperity stand without the support of religion and morality?

Here we are in the twenty-first century, stripping religion from the marketplace of ideas, claiming that it has no place in government, and we find ourselves in a morass of immorality–or morality defined by one’s own ideas and beliefs.

How can we expect otherwise when we have stripped away any authority upon which morality is to stand? Why shouldn’t the anti-Tea Party IRS agent believe he is doing his nation a service by thwarting their processes? Who’s to say he is wrong? That is, if there is no authoritative, objective moral standard.

But if not from religion,from where does morality come?

Interestingly, Jesus was asked by the Jewish leaders of His day where He derived His authority. They wanted to trap Him and He would have none of it. But later, when he talked with His disciples, He let them know that what He said, He’d first heard from His Father. He was not making things up on the fly, not moving according to the whims of His own heart. He had an authoritative standard, established in conjunction with the Father and revealed by the Holy Spirit.

All this to say, the further government gets from religion, the weaker will be the grasp of morality. The latter will become a malleable thing, bent to the will of men and women in power, whether for good or ill, without any authoritative standard to guide it. Expect, then, more IRS-like scandals.