And The First Commandment?


I can’t get the ongoing discussion prompted by Pastor John MacArthur’s Social Justice and the Gospel statement out of my head. What the discussion has reminded me of is a question I’ve asked myself from time to time

You see, I’ve heard any number of great messages about the second command, as Jesus labeled it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These are excellent, Biblical, needed.

What I don’t recall hearing much are sermons about the first command:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.” (Matt. 22:36-38)

My thought is, if this is indeed the greatest command, shouldn’t we hear sermon after sermon about how we can actually love God with all of who we are?

Maybe that’s embedded in particular messages.

For instance, I heard one pastor whose sermons are on the radio, preach about abiding in Christ. Just recently I heard a message about being filled with the Holy Spirit, and a different pastor preached about the need for revival, in the Church but in our hearts first.

I’m not sure those are the same thing as the First Commandment. Isn’t loving God with our heart, with our soul, with our mind something we should do intentionally along with abiding in Christ and being filled with the Spirit?

Maybe having our relationship with God revived would address how, or to what extent, we love God. I’m not sure. The pastor made a good point that revival is for believers. You don’t revive dead people, and unbelievers are spiritually dead. We the Church need revival. The rest of the world needs to hear the gospel and respond for the very first time.

I’m thinking now that perhaps the angelic addresses to the seven churches in the book of Revelation were calls to revival. And to one of them the angel said, You have left your first love. In other words, you don’t love God with all your heart, soul, and mind any more.

Makes me think of what the prophet Joel said to the people of Judah:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

The chapter goes on to describe what can only be stated as sorrow for sins. Repentance.

So one part of loving God, I think, would have to include keeping short accounts with Him. Short and shorter. And when we sin, instead of just making it right with the person we have sinned against, perhaps above all we should make it right with God.

Not that our sins are somehow undoing our salvation. But they harm our fellowship. I don’t know how it works. God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west. Not just past sins, but all sins. Then how can they harm our fellowship with God? I don’t know. Maybe because we remember them, because we need to bring them to the cross to know that yes, that too, God has forgiven. All I really know is, repentance restores my soul. It simply does. It’s not a psychological thing. Not a trick of the mind. When my sins are removed, the are removed! And it’s something that only other Christians understand.

What else does loving God with heart, soul, and mind entail? Jesus said we love Him if we keep His commandments. That’s kind of interesting. Usually we think of keeping commandments to be a physical thing: do this good deed, make this sacrifice, give up this thing, stop doing that thing. But the command to love God with our heart, soul, and mind, would seem to be saying that loving God starts inside. So extrapolating on that, keeping Christ’s commandments starts first in our hearts, souls, minds.

Now I know that the First Command is recorded in other gospel accounts, like Luke 10:27, which add “strength.” So yes, we’d have to say there is a physical component in loving God.

That makes me think of the parable that Jesus told about the King, after He separated the sheep from the goats, said for those on His right to come into His kingdom. Why? because they had fed him, give Him a drink, clothed Him, visited Him when He was a prisoner, taken Him in when He was a stranger, came to Him when He was sick. When did we do that, the people asked. The King answered, “‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” (Matt. 25:40b).

And therein lies social justice, I think. It’s tucked inside our love for God. We care for the lest, the lost, the left out, because we love God.

But we can’t leave out our heart, our soul, our mind. Loving God starts inside. It doesn’t start by what we do. Nor is what we do, the sum of our love for God.

Loving God isn’t measured by how high someone lifts their hands in worship, and it isn’t measured by how much food they provide for the homeless ministry. There’s more. And I want to learn what all that is.

Years ago, Christians talked about “practicing the presence” of God. I never really understood what that meant. Just like I’m not sure what it means to abide in Christ or be filled with the Holy Spirit.

In all this rhetoric, I keep thinking, it shouldn’t be that hard. I just want to be with God, to cling to Him, to depend on Him, to please Him, to rejoice in Him, to celebrate Him. I don’t want to fight Him or ignore Him or stray from Him. I don’t know that these things come naturally, so I wouldn’t mind hearing a sermon or two on the First Commandment.

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Blowing Leads


The LA Dodgers, which is the first sports team I supported and cheered for, the baseball team I still follow and get behind, are going through a bad patch just now. They were ahead in a game against Colorado a couple nights ago, and lost. Then the following night, the Rockies earned a walk-off win when one of their players hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. It gets worse. The Dodgers came home to face the Giants last night, only to lose another lead in the ninth inning and once again lose the game.

These were all winnable contests. LA had the lead. The starting pitchers had put the team in position to win. But the offense stopped scoring runs and left runners on base, and the bull pen didn’t get the job done. In one instance there were two outs and the opposition onslaught started with a walk. In my way of thinking, the manager made some bad decisions, too.

My poor Dodgers.

But in truth, they remind me of America, and before it, Europe. And the Middle East. They remind me of the churches singled out in the book of Revelation. Those all started well, but there was this problem—not necessarily the same one for each. The warning was that they wouldn’t survive if they didn’t take care of their issue: “repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place” (Rev. 2:5b).

As it happens, the seven churches are located in the region we now know as Turkey. Though Christianity took root and flourished in what was then Pontus and Galatia and Cappadocia and Bynithinia, the warning of Revelation proved to be prophetic.

For more than a 1000 years the region was a bastion of Christianity . . . Even as late as 1900, Turkey was still 22% Christian. But by the end of that century the number of Christians had declined to 0.21%. Today Turkey is estimated to be about 97% Muslim.

Scholars have studied this change from one religion to another, but the bottom line is the warning of the angel to the churches: repent or your lamp will go out. Do what you did before.

I’m not one who thinks we should go back to “the good ol’ days,” but I was a coach and I did play sports and I do follow sports. There’s one thing that’s true of all sports teams: their players practice. They don’t practice fancy new trick shots in basketball, or new ways to field a baseball or creative concepts connected with throwing the football. No, actually even at the pro level, they practice the basics, the fundamentals, the right way of doing things, so that in a game they will instinctively do the right thing.

The fundamentals are important. When we’re talking about Christianity, we’re talking about the things those churches in Revelation were warned about. Things like not leaving their first love or being faithful unto death or not tolerating false teachers or holding fast to the truth until Christ comes. And most of all, repent.

How do we hold fast, avoid false teachers, remain faithful? I think it all starts by embracing God’s word and keeping it close. Reading it regularly. Memorizing it. Thinking about it, Talking about it. And mostly, doing it. I don’t know of one other thing that will return us to our first love faster than steeping ourselves in God’s word. Everything we need for life and godliness is there.

Rejecting Jesus


All three of the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—recount the parable Jesus told about the landowner who rented out some property to a group of vine-growers. At harvest time he sent a servant to collect what was due him—likely a percentage of the proceeds.

Instead of paying up, the renters beat the servant and sent him away empty handed. The landowner sent another servant and another and more. Some, those vine-growers beat, some they even killed. At last the owner decided to send his son in hopes that the tenants would respect the son.

They didn’t.

Instead they thought they saw an opportunity. If they killed the son, they reasoned, the inheritance would be theirs.

The key points here are these: the people listening to Jesus tell this story, recognized themselves as the bad guys who killed the son; they also missed the part about what happened to the tenants after they killed the son.

First, those corrupt religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus, and who finally succeeded in manipulating Pilate into declaring the death sentence upon a man he had determined to be innocent, knew they were the vine-growers in the story, making Jesus either a servant or the son they were planning to kill. In other words, they knew Jesus had come from God, and they didn’t care!

That’s the ultimate rejection.

In dealing with Jesus, people can respond in a variety of ways”

  • Jesus? Who’s Jesus?
  • I’ve heard of Jesus, and he’s a good man, but I follow _____.
  • Jesus is not a real person.
  • Jesus is the Son of God, and God is a tyrant. What does that make Jesus?
  • Jesus is the Son of God, and I bow before Him in humble submission and repentance.

Likely there are others, but only the latter is the response of the follower, the person who wants to be brought into relationship with God. The others, if they go nowhere else, are simply forms of rejecting Jesus.

The thing is, there’s no reason for the person who asks, Who is Jesus? to stay in a place of ignorance. There’s no reason for the person who thinks Jesus is a myth not to learn the truth about Him instead. In reality, it’s the person who has his eyes wide open, who hears the truth, who understands the truth, and then who denies the truth, that is digging himself a hole he may never be able to climb out of.

That position is the same as those wicked religious leaders of Jesus’s day. Not only did they not want to respect the Son or give Him what was due, they did what they could to prevent others from believing in Him and following Him. That’s why they plotted against Him and had Him killed. They mistakenly thought that would bring an end to their problem.

But it didn’t. Rejecting Jesus was just the beginning of their real problem.

“When the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”

They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” (Matt. 21:38-41)

The crowd listening to Jesus tell this story actually supplied the ending. Jesus simply confirmed what they said, tying it with Scripture:

” ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED,
THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone;
THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD,
AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” (Matt. 21:42b-44)

This story reminds me of Adam. He knew that God had told Him not to eat of the fruit from the special tree, but he ignored God and did what he wanted instead. He rejected Him just as surely as those religious leaders rejected Jesus knowing that He was in fact the messiah.

In fact, what did they tell Pilate during Jesus’s final public trial? We have no king but Caesar. In other words, Messiah who is to come and reign is not over us; God is not over us. That was their way of taking the Son out and killing Him in the hope that they’d get the prize—they’d get to keep the power and authority they had taken for themselves.

Today people reject Jesus so they can keep their own rule and authority over their little lives. They don’t want God to tell them what to do, so they reject the Son in hopes that the kingdom of their heart will be all their own.

News flash: It won’t be.

Published in: on June 26, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Comments (1)  
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Jesus And The Government


I just signed a petition urging the California State Senate not to pass a bill that the Assembly sent to them, but I’m not sure I should have.

We live in a representative democracy, so in that regard, I have some responsibility to shape the government as much as I can. But that’s not what Jesus did.

Of course He lived under the Roman Empire, in an occupied land with an appointed governor in charge. Yet I wonder.

After all, His counsel to the people of His day was to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” When He was interrogated first by Pilate, then by Herod, and again by Pilate, He did not revile in return, He didn’t utter any threats. What we have recorded in Scripture is either His silence or simple answers to the questions posed to Him.

What’s more, Peter instructs churches in the first century to

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. (1 Peter 2:13-14)

One more important piece of information: my hope is not in the government. I have no illusion that the government is going to fix things. The things that need fixing are a result of humankind’s sinful nature. We are increasingly becoming a nation of people who only want to do what is right in our own eyes. As a group we see humans as the arbiters of what is right and what is wrong. So if it looks good to us, if we think it might be tasty, if we think it can get us more power, more prestige, then we’re all for it. We are not thinking in any tangible way differently than Eve thought.

So government is not going to change our nature. In fact, our democratic republic was purposely designed to counter our sinful, selfish tendencies, and here we are, a scant 200 years later, considering a law that would undermine the very protection of rights our founding fathers thought necessary to include in our governing document.

Religious freedom? No, not if it’s going to clash with someone’s sexual desires. Or sexual proclivities. Or sexual perversions that they don’t even want any more. In reality, this law wants religion to shut up about sexual sin. The sin of choice in this case is homosexuality, but that’s because we have already OKed heterosexual sins. Even we in the church say very little about couples living together before marriage, or adulterous affairs, or multiple divorces and remarriage, or pornography, or pornographic entertainment disguised as TV shows or movies or books like Fifty Shades Of Grey.

Really? I’m bringing up that old book now? Well, yes, because that bit of our culture has had an influence on our attitudes—what we accept and what we think is OK.

Rather than looking to culture, though, we should be looking at Scripture and seeing what God has to say. He, after all, has our best at heart. He doesn’t give us laws to be a kill-joy. He isn’t thinking about the human experience and concluding that if He’d forbid X or Y or Z, then we’d be more miserable, so that’s what He’ll do.

Nothing could be further from the truth. God wants to give us Eden, He’s preparing a mansion. His free gift brings wholeness and healing. He sets things right. He doesn’t make life a little better. Instead, he changes our dead into life, our broken into made new, our slavery to corruption into freedom in Christ.

What does any of this have to do with me signing a petition?

If I am to emulate Christ, if I am to trust Him instead of government, am I spitting in the wind to do anything else?

Sometimes I think so. But I always come back to King Josiah who discovered God’s law and determined to bring his nation back to righteousness. In truth, a generation later, Judah succumbed to Babylon and the people were hauled into captivity. But Josiah had an impact during his lifetime. How many people found God and repented of their sins because one ruler determined to do what was right?

Shouldn’t we Christians be doing what is right, seeking to influence our government for right, all the while knowing that our trust is not in the government to fix things?

God Is Not Benevolent


copOne of the “faults” atheists find with God, and apparently some professing Christians share this thinking, is that He shows Himself in the Old Testament to be wrathful. The first conversation I had with someone about this subject made me think we simply were not defining “wrathful” in the same way. She, I believed, meant that God was quick to anger, that he “flew off the handle” easily, and that He was capricious about when and why He “lost it.” I knew He wasn’t any of that.

Apparently I was wrong about her definition. She meant that God was wrong for punishing the unrighteous.

There are indeed those in the world who think God errors because He judges sin. His wrath, then, isn’t acceptable in any form. There simply isn’t room for a god who doesn’t bend his will toward making life better for the universe. Only if he did so, in this view, would he be a benevolent god.

And clearly, so these thinkers say, the God of the Old Testament is not benevolent.

I agree with this conclusion. The God of the Old Testament, who happens to be the same as the God of the New Testament, is not benevolent by those standards. The Oxford English Dictionary defines benevolent as “well meaning and kindly.” Ah, but as C. S. Lewis reminds us, God is good, not simply well meaning and kindly.

God does not “mean well” in the sense that He’s hoping for the best and trying to help and aiming for what’s good. NO! God is good, does good, brings about good. But good is defined on His terms.

I can say it would be good for me to sell my book for a million dollars. But my understanding of good is limited and finite. I don’t know if a million dollars would make me happy or angry at people who I perceive as trying to leech off me once I got some cash. I don’t know if a million dollars would change my perspective so much that I’d stop doing things of value like writing blog posts and doing freelance editing. I don’t know if a million dollars would make me more prideful, self-centered, and egotistical that I’d lose all my friends. And most importantly, I don’t know if a million dollars would become my idol, if I would worship it in God’s place.

God knows these things, however, and may, for my benefit here and now, in this life, prevent me from getting a million dollars. I also have no doubt that God could give me a million dollars if that were truly for my good—if it would bring me closer to Him, cause me to serve Him more truly, make me conform more closely to the image of His Son. What’s a million dollars to the Owner of the cosmos?

But He withholds what would harm His people in the same way that a good parent doesn’t give a three-year-old candy for breakfast just because she asks. God knows better than we do what is truly good.

God Himself is good, so we can conclude that His judgment is good as well. When He says, the wages of sin is death, that’s not an arbitrary judgment—that’s the testimony of an all knowing Creator. Much the way that a policeman might point to a sign and say, this is a handicap parking zone; you’ll get a ticket if you park here, God has made plain what disobeying His righteous standards will cost.

handicap parking signSomeone who didn’t know what the handicap parking sign meant would be grateful that the policeman told him. They wouldn’t rail against him because he didn’t tear the sign down and let them park in the specially marked spot, and they certainly wouldn’t ignore the warning and park there right under the watchful eye of the policeman.

But that’s what many people want of God—that He would ignore justice for them. Of course, few want Him to ignore justice for those they consider enemies, but they reserve their idea of His benevolence based on how He treats them.

Jesus told an interesting story about a man who thought much as these people do. He owed a debt so great he could never manage to pay it back in his life time–the equivalent would be millions of dollars. His creditor said all the man owned would have to be sold and he himself would go into servitude until he paid his debt. The man begged for more time. The creditor had compassion on him but instead of giving him more time to pay, which was really an impossibility, he forgave him the entire debt.

The man left and immediately ran into a fellow worker who owed him the equivalent of about ten thousand dollars. The man grabbed his co-worker and demanded that he pay up or he’d have to sell everything he owned and go into servitude himself until the debt was paid. The co-worker begged for more time, but the man refused.

A bunch of other workers saw what happened and told the man’s creditor. And this is how the story ends:

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. (Matt 18:32-34)

Was the creditor in the wrong because he didn’t treat the man in a benevolent way? Of course not. He had in fact canceled the man’s debt. It was the man himself who wasn’t benevolent, who didn’t understand what receiving a gift of forgiveness actually meant.

So, no, God is not benevolent in the way the people of today want Him to be. He doesn’t tear up the ticket we deserve. Rather, He paid it for us. The point isn’t to get us off so we can go pile up more debt. The point is to change our status from debtor, to adopted child; it is to give us an inheritance far richer than any we can imagine.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in June, 2013.

Published in: on May 7, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What Happened To The Assyrians?


Jonah was God’s prophet. Granted, he didn’t always happily declare God’s message as he was instructed to do. But apparently God can use a reluctant prophet because when Jonah finally made his way to Nineveh, where God sent him, the people of this warrior country heeded the warning of calamity and repented. All of them, from king to commoner.

A hundred years later the prophet Nahum is once again speaking into the lives of the Assyrians to deliver God’s message of warning. This time, apparently, the response was nothing like it had been to Jonah. Instead, in a matter of years the very thing that Nahum said would take place, did in fact happen. Assyria collapsed, devolving into a series of civil wars until their territory was taken over by the Medians. They have never regained their standing as an independent and powerful nation.

So what happened? From repentance to calamity in a couple generations. Of course the Bible doesn’t tell us, but clearly, the people who repented in Jonah’s day did not successfully pass on to their children and their grandchildren the need to bow in humble repentance before the Living God.

In some ways they remind me of the people of Israel. God rescued them out of the hand of Pharaoh, miraculously provided for them to cross the Red Sea on dry land, and then met with Moses to give him the Ten Commandments. The people were completely on board with the idea of following and obeying God. They vowed to do so. Until they didn’t have enough water. Until they didn’t have any meat. Until they got tired of eating manna. Until they faced another enemy who wanted to destroy them.

At each of those turns, the people grumbled and complained, essentially accusing God of wrong doing against them. God, You shouldn’t have brought us here. God, You should have left us in Egypt. God, there are giants in this Promised Land of Yours, and we aren’t going up against them.

From gratefully vowing to do what God required, to complete rebellion. And it didn’t take them a hundred years to get there.

How easily we humans turn our backs on God. The Assyrians were no different. How could they be? We suffer with a nature that basically tells us we should be on the throne of our own lives. We should get to determine good from evil on our own.

So no wonder that today, some atheists deny a moral right and wrong. Those don’t actually exist, they say. Rather society simply decides what they as a group believe will be good or . . . not good. They don’t actually believe in evil, any more than they believe in a fixed morality, an absolute standard.

But God Himself is that fixed point, that unchanging standard, that Absolute Truth. We can either embrace Him or turn from Him.

Not that we necessarily turn from Him in one swoop. Repentance might sweep the city like it did Nineveh when Jonah preached, but turning from God seems to happen more slowly, over time.

It might start with our own grumbling against God by excusing our complains with the idea that God is big enough to handle our anger or God wants us to be authentic or God is so gracious and merciful, it’s OK if we vent to Him.

The thing is, all those are true, but so is the road to apostasy the people of Israel took on their way to their homeland. So is Paul’s statement to the Philippians:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (Phil. 2:14-15).

So who was a light to the crooked and perverse world of the Assyrians? Who stood in the gap for that nation?

Of course, the Old Testament prophets are so relevant today because they show us our choices. We can respond with repentance, as Assyria did in Jonah’s day, or we can respond by ignoring the warnings, as Assyria did in Nahum’s day.

Because of Jesus Christ, God has made those who follow Him

A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)

In some senses, we are no longer called to stand in the gap for a nation but for the whole world since Christ’s command to make disciples extended to the uttermost parts of the world. There is no limit to whom or where we are to proclaim God’s excellencies.

The early Church is a great example. The more they were persecuted, the more they were martyred, the more they grew.

Oddly, here in the US, the more we fight for our rights, the more we seem to lose significance. It seems we live in a strange tension. We can and should stand in the gap for our culture, our post-truth culture that wants to walk away from God as completely as if they were turning to a Buddha or a Baal or to the Egyptian sun god. But we ought not confuse the symptoms with the problem.

The problem is not a drift from our Constitutional rights. The problem is not a change from Biblical morality to reliance on feelings and perception. The problem is that our culture, our friends and neighbors, our family, need to know the Truth because the Truth will set them free, just like He has set us free.

Yes, He. Jesus Himself declared that He is the way, the truth, the life, that no one comes to the Father but through Him.

Coming to the Father is exactly what the Assyrians neglected. I wonder, in a generation will someone ask, What happened to the American Christians?

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.

Re-imaging Jesus — A Reprise


If I post an article from the archives, I usually try to pull one from the “you-probably-haven’t-been-reading-this-blog-that-long” past so that most of the current visitors might not have seen it yet. This one is not so old, but I thought it worth re-posting as we approach Easter. After all, if we don’t have a clear understanding of who Jesus is, the sacrifice He paid for the sins of the world will likely lose meaning.

This one deals with the view of Jesus which people who consider themselves to be “Progressive Christians” popularize. It needs to be corrected by looking at what the Bible says instead. The following appeared here in July 2015.

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Some years ago those in the emergent church started talking about “re-imaging” God, understanding him in ways that deviated from traditional theology. One classic conversation about looking at God differently developed from an article entitled, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” I addressed the issues brought up in the article in “Attacks On God From Within.”

But as so often happens, teaching that clearly oversteps the bounds of true Christian thought, begins to seep into the Church as if it is orthodox and normative, as if it’s what the Bible actually says and has said all along.

One such twisting of Biblical intent is the image of Jesus so many are throwing around. I’ve read more than once that if He were here today, He’d be hanging out in gay bars and with druggies and prostitutes.

This view is such a skewered picture of Jesus, it really troubles me!

First, Scripture tells us where Jesus “hung out”—His starting place when He arrived in a town—was the synagogue: “They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach.” (Mark 1:21)

Similar verses are all through the gospels:
“He entered again into a synagogue” (Mark 3:1)
“When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue” (Mark 6:2)
“Departing from there, He went into their synagogue” (Matt. 12:9)
“He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue” (Matt. 13:54)
“On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching” (Luke 6:6)

And when He went to Jerusalem, He headed for the temple. (see Matt. 21:14ff, 24:1, Mark 12:35, 13:1, Luke 19:47, 21:38). Most telling might be what He said to the chief priests and their men who came to arrest Him in the Garden: “At that time Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.’ ” (Matt. 26:55, emphasis mine)

When He needed more room to teach because the crowds grew, He hung out on hillsides and mountain tops and lake shores.

Oh, but He ate with sinners and prostitutes, those who wish to re-image Jesus will point out.

It’s true that Scripture does record Jesus eating with Matthew the tax collector and those he invited to his house. But Mark gives the complete picture:

As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. (Mark 2:14-15, emphasis mine)

In other words, these men called sinners were now disciples of Christ.

In truth, it was the Pharisees who accused Jesus of eating with sinners.

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34, ESV)

Jesus responded to the criticism by saying the sick need a physician and that He came to call sinners to repentance.

And yet those re-imaging Jesus have apparently chosen to believe the Pharisees, though Jesus identified them as sons of their father the devil who was a liar from the beginning and the father of lies (John 8:44)—a clear indication that Jesus knew them to be liars.

This new view of Jesus claims that He told stories and didn’t actually give directives. In fact, some say He loved people by first being with them, then being committed to them and showing Himself for them. Only later did He direct them toward truth and holiness out of His love.

Well, yes and no.

Jesus didn’t always show that he was committed to or for certain people—most notably the Pharisees, but also the Syrophoenician woman who wanted Him to heal her daughter. He flat out told her He’d come to the Jews. Some might even find His response racist and offensive:

He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:24-26)

Not quite the politically correct Jesus we’re shown so often these days, the one who loves everyone. He did heal her daughter and even praised her for her faith. But where was that “love for everyone”?

We seem to forget that “everyone” would include the Pharisees, and Jesus did not treat them in the loving way the Progressive Christian espouses. In fact, He was quite directive with them, hence the whip in the temple. Yes, those were most likely Pharisees He was going after when He overturned tables and drove out money changers—the sinners wouldn’t have been allowed in to do the work. They were presumably tagged sinners because they didn’t adhere to the Mosaic Law.

At the same time, Jesus was very directive in His teaching. He said if you look at a woman with lust, you’ve committed adultery. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he owned and follow Jesus. He said those who wanted to follow Him had to deny themselves and take up their cross daily. And each one of His stories had a point, a directive that was to guide action or expose truth. He was not trying to entertain.

Jesus also didn’t hang with prostitutes. The adulterous woman was brought to Him and He told her to stop sinning. The woman at the well who had had many husbands went into her village to tell the people she’d found the Messiah. The woman who the Pharisee Simon identified as a sinner and who poured perfume on Jesus was actually a disciple of Christ. Luke tells the whole story (7:36ff) and ends with Jesus reproving His host for his self-righteousness. In the process He clarifies the facts about her: “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for [this reason] she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

In the same way that the re-imagers want to make out that Christians are the new Pharisees, they want to hand Jesus the winebibber and glutton tag—only that’s now apparently a positive on his resumé.

But it’s not who Jesus was when He walked on earth. He came to teach, and that’s what He did, along with healing so many people there were days He didn’t even have time to eat. If sinners came to Him, He never turned them away. That’s who He came to save, but He wasn’t out trolling for the sinner hot spots.

It’s time we stopped rewriting the pages of Scripture to create this view of Jesus we think fits what our culture might like—Jesus, the anti-church, pro-gay guy who told cool stories.

The Pharisees weren’t “Church” and Jesus came to call sinners to repentance, not to tell them how much He’s for them.

Published in: on March 15, 2018 at 5:25 pm  Comments Off on Re-imaging Jesus — A Reprise  
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Becoming A Christian—What About The Repentance Part?


In my post yesterday I defined a Christian as someone who believes and continues to believe. But believes in what?

The Bible is quite clear. A Christian believes in three separate things. First he recognizes that he is a sinner and that his sin is the problem. His sin keeps him from God. Second he recognizes that the penalty for his sin is death—the physical death we all will experience, but also a spiritual death brought about by God’s judgment. Third, he recognizes that God took the initiative and sent His Son to die in our place, to bear our sins, and to attribute His righteousness to us.

In short, we admit our condition—we are essentially dead men walking. We acknowledge that Jesus did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves—namely that we couldn’t remedy our own condition, so He did it for us.

But what about repentance?

The first part of becoming a Christian is recognizing that sin is the problem. That no matter what we might desire, we simply can’t and don’t love as we should. We don’t love God as we should, we don’t love our friends and family as we should, we don’t love our neighbors as we should, and we certainly don’t love our enemies as we should.

We can do all kinds of things to get rid of sin. We can study self-help books, go to 12-step programs, see a counselor, attend church or even confession, and in some cultures still, perform sacrifices. No matter. Our sin remains.

But even if we do learn a thing or two, if we change our habits and patterns of behavior, if we “clean up our act,” we’re still guilty for what we have done in the past. We face the consequences and we face the penalty.

Unless we accept what Jesus did for us, paying our debt when He went to the cross.

So does that mean we’re then free to return to our sinful ways? Paul says in Romans, may it never be.

The thing about confronting the sin in our life is that we do more than acknowledge it—yep, that’s me, I’m a liar. I’ll just buy into the forgiveness thing and then I can keep on lying.

Or yep, that’s me, an angry person who lashes out at anyone who ticks me off. But I’ll buy into the forgiveness thing and then I can continue allowing my anger full rein.

No, no, no. That kind of admission of sin is more nearly condoning of sin. The only way sin can be properly dealt with is with repentance—a full recognition that the sin is short of God’s mark and deserving of His judgment. And the only way that this kind of repentance is actual, verifiable, real, is if there’s also a turning from that sin.

This discussion reminds me of a conversation that aired on the radio last week. Pastor Greg Laurie was interviewing Bart Millard, lead singer of MercyMe about the upcoming movie entitled I Can Only Imagine, and the book by the same name.

Both tell the true story behind the song “I Can Only Imagine,” which Bart wrote and which became a big crossover hit. As it happens, Bart’s dad was abusive, both physically and emotionally. To top things off, his mom left, but didn’t take Bart with her. He described his dad during that time as a monster.

And then He found Christ. His whole life changed.

Bart described his last years as his dad being the man Bart would like to be.

That’s more than repentance, however, that’s believing in the power of God to change a life. But repentance is certainly part of the equation. Bart’s dad was not thinking, OK, I’m saved now so it doesn’t matter how I treat people. Quite the opposite.

Paul says in Romans that we now walk “in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” It’s the difference between having to do something and wanting to do it. Instead of plodding along in our failure and guilt and shame, we can confess and forsake, with God providing the power through His Spirit to not only become new creatures in Christ but to live as new creatures.

Does such a transformation happen over night? Sometimes, but not usually. Romans 7 gives a good picture of the struggle between our new spiritual nature and the sin that controls our flesh: “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

The great thing is that the end of chapter 7, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” leads to the beginning of chapter 8: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Repentance, then, is actually the means to and the proof of our new relationship with God. Paul explains: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”

This dying to sin occurs as we identify with Christ: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Do you think I understood any of that when I became a Christian? Not at all. But I’ve come to understand more and more. I hear stories such as the transformation of Bart’s dad, and I know in a new way that what the Bible says is true.

Christ saves us from the penalty of sin and starts us on the process of living free from sin.

What’s So Horrible About Sin?


Well, actually, I’m wondering why some people react so negatively when they hear or read, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

You see, to them, it seems, saying they are sinners is a great offense. And we know how cruel you have to be to give offense to someone else! That’s why universities have safe zones.

It’s almost like the idea that we are all sinners is a punch in the face.

And honestly, I don’t understand. I’ve said it before—no one disputes the fact that nobody is perfect. We don’t have to witness every single person on the planet making a wrong choice or displaying a bad attitude or doing a wrong thing. But we know that all the people in our circle are not perfect. The people in the news and at the Olympics and in the movies and on the playing field—not perfect. So it’s an easy conclusion. Nobody’s perfect.

And the reverse? All have sinned.

But somehow that statement is heinous, shocking, unforgivable, even bigoted.

It’s not as if a Christian says, You’re a sinner and I’m not. On the contrary, Christians easily and readily admit they are sinners (except for a small group who believe in sinless perfection, but that’s a topic for another day.)

So why do people who reject Jesus think saying they are sinners is such a horrible affront?

I’m convinced that being confronted with their sinful condition flies in the face of the point of view of the world that Humankind is good.

We may not be perfect, they say, but we’re good.

Which means that “good” actually means “sorta good.” Not all the way good, but mostly good. More good than bad.

Which works fine in a culture that gives trophies to all the kids who participated. You don’t have to be on the best team or a starter or even one who made every practice—you still deserve a trophy. Because you’re good. And we all know you can be whatever you put your mind to.

The promise seems to hang in the air, that you might even become perfect one day.

And then along comes a Christian who says, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Fall short? Who says?

Well, God does.

Who’s God?

That’s the question Pharaoh essentially asked Moses during their first encounter. But he wasn’t asking for knowledge. He used the question to express his disdain. He actually didn’t care who God was. He’d already made up his mind what he was going to do and he didn’t care what God wanted.

But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)

That’s where so many are at today. Who cares what God says is good or evil. I say it’s good, so it’s good. I don’t need to worry about hitting his mark. I’ll just move the target closer if I’m falling short. Or I’ll make a bigger target. That’s it! None of this narrow road stuff for me. I want a big tent, a broad way, and a manageable target to hit.

Then I can declare with conviction, I’m not a sinner, you’re not a sinner. Actually I’m OK, and you’re OK. (Unless you’re a hypocrite Christian).

All humor aside, we’re losing our moral compass. What used to be a given when I was growing up is now up for grabs. “Sin” is now in the eye of the beholder, and repentance not needed.

But that’s not how God sees us. He has clearly stated we all fall short of His glory, which makes us sinners. And there’s only one remedy for sin.

Denying that we are sinners does not change the fact. Wishing sin away—no affect. Trying harder, doing good things to compensate, none of it can change our nature, which is the real problem.

It’s like we’re a glass of muddy water. Pouring clean water into the muddy water may dilute the mud, but it doesn’t get rid of it. Washing the outside of the glass does not get rid of the muddy water.

That glass needs a clean start, and no one can give that except Jesus Christ, the Fountain of Living Water. He washes, He cleans, He fills us with Himself.

And the sins so many try to deny or ignore?

As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

What a choice—pretend sins aren’t there or have them removed? This one seems like a no-brainer. Of course, have them removed! But for some, the idea that they have sin seems too horrible to admit, to devastating, to offensive.

The crazy thing is, the offense is not saying we have sin. Actually the sin itself is the offense. That’s what God has told us. But we humans like to have our self-esteem pumped up. And admitting sin doesn’t do that.

Kind of reminds me of my friend whose toe got infected, but he didn’t want to go to the doctor. Until he admitted that he could lose the toe, maybe the foot, even his life, he didn’t get proper treatment.

So too with sin. As long as we refuse the label of sinner, we won’t look for a Savior.

Published in: on February 27, 2018 at 6:16 pm  Comments (4)  
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