Do Nice People Go To Hell?


gas_craterIn the Facebook atheist/Christian group I’ve mentioned, one person asked, “Who here is going to hell?” The question was glib and the answers ranged from a Christian’s bemoaning the message in a picture of someone holding a sign that said “Going to hell and PROUD,” to a couple people who either echoed the sentiment or said they weren’t going because there was no such place. One person who embraced the idea that he’d be going to hell said, “The company will be amazing.”

In light of those comments and some of the questions that arose in another post here this week, I decided to revisit an article that originally appeared here in March 2011.
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What a question: Do nice people go to hell? There are a couple things we have to define, the first being “hell.”

In the New Testament, Jesus used the word we translate as “hell,” more than anyone else, which kind of shoots the ideas that some professing Christians have—that Jesus is loving and the Father, as the Old Testament reveals Him, is wrathful.

Even a casual reading of the gospels shows that Jesus made a clear statement about the judgment of those who reject Him. But how does He characterize this judgment? Sometimes as a place of darkness. Other times as a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In one parable, Jesus says the evil servant will be assigned a place with the hypocrites. In Luke’s account of Jesus sending away those who claimed to know Him (“I never knew you”), He said they would be put out of the kingdom of God. And, yes, sometimes He made reference to a furnace or a place where there will be fire and brimstone.

Interesting that we camp on the image of fire, when all these other descriptions are also in Scripture. One pastor I recently heard believes we have formed our opinion of hell more from classic literature than from Scripture. For example, he pointed out that hell is the place created for Satan and his demons—spiritual beings. Consequently physical fire, it would seem, would have no effect on them.

What we know for sure about hell is that it is the just judgment God will assign to the wicked. “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous” (Matt. 13:39).

So that brings up the question: Can nice people be “wicked”?

We know that there is none righteous, no not one. If we aren’t righteous—and what makes us “unrighteous” is that our own righteousness is nothing but contaminated tatters—then we are all, at our best, sinners.

Can sinners be nice people? Actually, yes. Before we were sinners we were made in God’s image. We have that about us still, though His glory is marred by our love of and commitment to ourselves. We are still a nice bunch … as long as I can be nice and receive credit for it. Or as long as I can be nice without going out of my way too much. Or as long as I can be nice and receive the same in return.

In short, we might look nice, but we come back to what Scripture says about our very best—it’s not pretty. And it most certainly is not efficacious for that which we need most—an answer to our sin condition.

Published in: on January 29, 2016 at 7:20 pm  Comments (5)  
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Topping The List? Pride


Engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Seven deadly sins. That’s what the Church declared in the Middle Ages, trimmed and altered from their original number developed by Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus. But from the beginning, pride was on the list and placed in the position of most egregious. I can’t disagree. And yet, there’s a fundamental problem that listing out seven deadly sins and their corresponding Heavenly Virtues and Seven Corporal Works of Mercy misses.

The real sin is rejecting Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God, given to us by the Father, because of His love, that we might have everlasting life:

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).

The passage goes on to describe the one who does not believe as loving darkness because his deeds are evil. So we’re back to sins—pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony, and lust, to name seven of them.

Of course, the Ten Commandments puts idolatry at the head of the list: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). And Paul, writing in Colossians says greed amounts to idolatry (3:5). So why would pride get tagged as chief among sins?

A year ago in an article on this blog, I made the case for Pride as The Fall—the sin which Satan embraced and the one to which both Deceived Eve and Willful Adam succumbed.

As I see it, pride is the act of putting self as a god before the Lord God, and I can’t imagine anything much worse. Pride was the sin of Nebuchadnezzar, crafting a statue of himself and ordering his people to bow before it. Pride was the sin of King Saul, declaring to Samuel that he had indeed obeyed the command of the Lord—all but the part about killing all the animals. After all, Saul had a better plan. He’d use those animals as sacrifices to the Lord. His way was better, infinitely better, because he’d kill the animals, save ones from his own flock and herd, and worship God, all in one. Great idea! Better than God’s. Better than doing what God had told him to do.

Pride, I believe, was the sin of Balaam, the prophet insistent on circumventing God’s blessing of Israel when hired by Barak to curse them. He may have been motivated by greed, but at some level he believed he could do what he wanted, not what God wanted him to do.

And isn’t that true of King David, too? And Samson. Lust may have motivated them, but at some point they believed they were not subject to God’s law, that they could make their own way, that they didn’t have to do what God said.

Moses’s sister Miriam succumbed to pride at one point, wishing to have her brother’s job or power or influence. And I tend to believe Joseph, Godly man that he was, needed to learn the lesson of humility in the Egyptian dungeon before God would elevate him to the position of power over the nation and over his own family.

Of course the great contrast is the Lord Jesus Christ who humbled Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, obeying the Father, and going to the cross (Phil. 2:7-8).

For the Christian, I suspect pride is still the weevil that would spoil the vine and destroy the fruit God wants us to produce. At least I know that to be true for me.

I find it interesting that Paul commands us believers to take on the humble attitude he described Christ having—regarding others as more important than ourselves, not merely looking out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

In Colossians 3 he lists humility as one of the traits those “chosen of God, holy and beloved” are to put on—as if it is a piece of clothing we are to don in order to be ready to carry out our mission of loving one another and serving each other and forgiving whoever has a complaint against anyone.

Thanks be to God that He provides the wherewith all to obey Him. It is not up to us to generate humility. Rather our source is Christ. How cool is that—His act of humility is not only our example but the very means by which we can learn to walk humbly before our God.

This article first appeared here in November 2011.

Published in: on January 22, 2016 at 6:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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Accusations Against God


English-barristerI finished the book of Job this week and much of what I read lingers. This book makes me dig for answers. Yet much of my understanding crystallized some years ago when I wrote a blog post entitled “Thoughts On Job.” It’s not a particularly scintillating title, but the ideas are ones I want to share, so I’m reprising the article under this new name.

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I’ve been thinking about Job and his sorry friends a lot of late. For one thing, the real subject of the book of Job seems to be God’s character. I’ve read snatches of commentary about the book and heard sermons and even read fiction based on Job’s story and much of it seems to focus on the “wager” between God and Satan.

Oddly, I don’t see a wager. That would reduce the exchange to a “betcha he will/betcha he won’t” argument. There is no “betting” when it comes to omniscience, as if God might actually be wrong in His assessment of Job.

Instead, He pointed Job out to Satan as an example of righteousness, and Satan turned around and accused God of buying Job’s loyalty. God basically said, See for yourself if that’s true, which it wasn’t

Here’s the part that I understood for the first time though. Job’s friends, perhaps the first health-and-wealth theologians, in essence agreed with Satan. They said, Job, if you will just do right (or stop doing wrong), God will pay you for it.

In other words, they were putting God in a box and telling Job he had the capacity to manipulate God into blessing him and prospering him. Job countered by saying, No, he hadn’t done anything to bring down God’s wrath, but He was punishing him anyway.

Here’s where Job sinned. He accused God too. Accused Him of wronging Job, to the point that he justified himself at God’s expense. (God even asked him, “Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?” – Job 40:8b)

But the critical point comes when God spells out for all of them the truth about Himself:

Who has given to Me that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.
– Job 41:11

Satan was wrong in his accusation of God. God doesn’t need to pay off His creatures to love Him. Job’s friends were wrong in their description of God. He can’t be manipulated into giving us good things as payment for our obedience.

Of course, God then called Job to account for his pride. His description in verses 12 through 33 of chapter 41 sounds like that of a dragon, the very term used of Satan in the book of Revelation. Then God adds verse 34:

He [the creature He’s just described] looks on everything that is high;
He is king over all the sons of pride.

Did Job at that point see himself as a son of pride? as a son of Satan? Most definitely he saw God aright, but I think that must have also made him see himself aright, too. As a result he retracted his accusations and repented “in dust and ashes.”

One more cool thing. The message of Job seems clear: God doesn’t pay us for right behavior. He doesn’t owe us anything nor does He need anything from us. He is over all and owns all. But He juxtaposed this book with the book of Psalms, so full of promises like

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked …
He will be like a tree firmly planted by water
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

So which is it? God doesn’t repay or God does bless the person who won’t hang with the wicked? Both.

It’s like the parable Jesus told about the landowner who hired workers at different times during the day. When those who worked all day received the same pay as those who worked only one hour, they were miffed and accused the owner of wrong doing. But he said, are you mad because I was generous?

God can be generous to whomever He wishes, to whatever degree He wishes.

However, the thing we too often miss is that His greatest gifts aren’t the external things that make this life more comfortable. The real gifts are the spiritual things that are eternal, and those eternal blessings we have no way of measuring here and now.

Published in: on January 8, 2016 at 6:30 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Golden Calf Syndrome


Golden calf idolIn revisiting unholy habits yesterday, I didn’t deal with the root issue—the idols we worship.

For some of us, we need to face the fact that we have accepted false gods into our lives, just as Israel accepted the gods of Egypt or as they adopted Baal or the Asherah of the Canaanites and the other neighboring peoples. We put in the highest place things like our desire for pleasure or for power, our desire for position or for prestige, even our possessions or the people we care about. These things are gifts from God, but when we let them rule in our lives they become idols.

But there’s a more insidious idol—of the kind that Jeroboam built. He set up a golden calf—two, in fact—and told the people that here were the gods who brought them up from Egypt. In other words, he decided to create god in the image he wanted him, with priests and festivals and worship ceremonies to his liking.

He didn’t want his people traveling to Jerusalem for Passover or any of the other feasts God had instituted through Moses. His reason for re-imaging God and redirecting the worship of his people was personal:

Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:26-28)

Jeroboam was afraid he’d lose his position as king, that his people would turn against him, so he decided he’d make god the way he wanted him. He ignored the commandment against making an image to represent God. He ignored the Law that required worship in the one place where God would establish it—Jerusalem, as it turned out. He ignored the feast days God established. He ignored God’s choice of the Levites and particularly of the descendants of Aaron as the priests who were to stand before Him.

In other words, Jeroboam wanted God to be who he said he was and he wanted to worship him how he chose to worship him. He simply wanted to be in charge of god.

Sadly we see the same thing today with people who pick and choose from the Bible what they decide they want to believe. God is loving but he’d never judge a nation to be so sinful its people needed to die. And the very idea that god would flood the earth to judge the wicked—horrible. Can’t believe that notion because MY GOD WOULDN’T DO SUCH A THING.

People following that train of thought are simply fashioning their golden calf. They don’t want God to be a just judge who declares that the wages of sin is death, so they fashion a god who looks away from sin because he’s tolerant and loves too much to declare anyone guilty and deserving of hell.

The grain of truth in such a false image is, of course, that God is loving, but His love provided the motive for Him to send Jesus to the cross to die for our sins, once for all. That great act of sacrifice is such a far cry from the false notion of tolerance, it’s hard to conceive of the idea that they’re talking about the same God I know.

And in fact they’re not. They’ve fashioned their own god. They’ve decided who god is, and it’s not the God who says He is jealous or who says vengeance is His or who reproves and disciplines. Some fashion a god who doesn’t call Jesus his son, others a god who added later revelation that contradicts the Bible.

Each of these methods of altering what God has disclosed about Himself are simply golden calves—the results of people making god into what they want him to be, not who He actually is. Jeroboam didn’t want Yahweh to be God because his people would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the Pharisees didn’t want Jesus to be the Messiah because they didn’t want to lose the power they had over the people.

I can suggest reasons why other people groups decide to re-image God, though I don’t know why for sure, but the bottom line is, whoever does so is replacing the One True God with a golden calf. In this day and age a host of religious people seem infected with golden calf syndrome, whether they as individuals decide that God didn’t really mean this or that which He said in the Bible or whether as a group they believe something more radically other than what the Bible teaches.

The result is the same: an idol, as displeasing to God as any Israel created.

Published in: on October 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm  Comments (4)  
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Reprise: Unholy Habits


Jeroboam and the golden calfFor some reason, holy habits seem hard to put in place. The unholy ones, not so much.

I’ve been thinking about the unholy habits cultivated by the kings of Judah and Israel, the divided nation that came from a split after Solomon’s death.

In the north, Israel began unholy habits in an intentional way. The king, a man named Jeroboam, was at the forefront of the civil war. He held power tenuously, or so he thought, and was especially fearful that his subjects, should they make their required pilgrimages to the temple of the One True God in Jerusalem, would decide they wanted to rejoin the south. His solution was to build two worship centers in Israel–one in Bethel and one in Dan. In each of those places, he erected a golden calf, assigned priests who were not of the tribe of Levi as God required, and told the people they were to bring their sacrifices to the altars at these high places.

From then on, Scripture records that not a single Israeli king departed from these sinful habits that Jeroboam instituted intentionally. Some of them added their own sins, but even the best of them–Jehu, for example, who got rid of Jezebel and all the Baal worshipers–continued in the ways of Jeroboam.

In Judah, the southern kingdom, the situation was a little different. The unholy habits of those kings seemed to creep in rather than being superimposed by a leader who intentionally and willfully decided to make worship what he thought rather than what God said.

One of the unholy habits was the practice of worshiping God in “high places.” As near as I can tell, these were local altars built on a hill where people sacrificed to the One True God.

However, Mosaic Law said they were to sacrifice only in the place God would designate. For years that meant they were to take their sacrifices to the altar that was part of the Tabernacle–the mobile worship center God had instructed Moses to build there in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Later that meant taking their offering to the Temple which Solomon built to replace the Tabernacle.

Such a little thing. I mean, it was more convenient, I’m sure, for people to go to the high place right around the corner rather than making the long journey up to Jerusalem. And yet that habit led to any number of other departures from God’s Law.

This habit of worshiping on high places became so ingrained in the culture that an Assyrian military officer suggested King Hezekiah had turned from God because he had removed the high places. Right in the eyes of this man, was wrong, simply because wrong had become the entrenched, cultural habit for hundreds of years. Never mind what God said about how He wanted people to worship Him.

What today, I wonder, might be the entrenched unholy habits of the Church? There’s really only one way to know. It’s the same way the kings of Judah and Israel were to know.

Part of God’s requirement of each new king was for them to read and copy the Law. I’m pretty sure that rarely happened. Too many kings were completely ignorant of the existence of the Law. King Josiah, for instance, ruled for thirteen years before they found a copy of the Law in the temple. When he read it, he recognized how offended God had to be because His people had wander so far from His plan for them.

I don’t suppose Christians today need to copy Scripture. ;-) I don’t think we’ll find that anywhere in the Bible. It does seem as if reading it and obeying it is in order, however. It’s the only way, I think, to unseat those unholy habits.

Published in: on October 29, 2015 at 5:25 pm  Comments (6)  
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We’re Number One


_World_Series_pregame_eventsFrom Little League to professional teams, those involved in sports—and their fans—are playing so they can be number one. In fact, throughout the season and on into the play-offs crowds have been known to break into a chant: “We’re number one! We’re number one! We’re number one!”

Except, the team they’re supporting is number one of what?

The league my middle school team belonged to when I was coaching, consisted of eight teams from private Christian schools scattered around western LA County. So yes, some seasons, we finished as number one, but one of eight! In a relatively small area of SoCal. Among Christian schools. With students aged 11 to 14.

How easy it is to lose sight of the big picture in our rush to declare our number one status. Nobody is thinking about all those high school teams that could wipe the floor with us. Or the college teams that would undoubtedly be tempted to pat us on the head and tell us how cute it was that we were trying to play.

When we’re talking about young people and sports, it’s not a big deal that we set aside the comparisons and allow winning teams to celebrate. Unfortunately this we’re-number-one mentality seems to be more and more pervasive in all of life, including our spiritual lives. Some set their hearts on being number one, to the point that they push the Only True Number One aside and claim the position for themselves.

The truth is, there can only be one Number One. That’s true in sports and in life. When all is said and done, one team will surface that is better on a given day than all other amateur and professional teams in that sport. If we add a qualifier—the number one college team, for instance—we are immediately acknowledging that the ranking is not universal. Not even for that one season.

So too spiritually. We as individuals or humankind as “a team” cannot be number one if God is number one. And yet time and again, we shove God aside and go our own way, do what we think is best, believe what seems right to us regardless of what God has said. I’ve read more times than I like words people have written stating that “if God is like that [whatever “that” is in the particular discussion], I want no part of him.”

Whenever a person reserves the right to believe in God only if He fits into his mold of “what God ought to be like,” then that person might as well break into the I’m-number-one chant.

Sadly, and almost unfathomably, there are people who name the name of Christ and hold this kind of position: If God’s going to condemn homosexuals who truly love each other, then I want no part of him. If God expects a woman to give up control of her body, I want no part of him. If God doesn’t want women to be leaders in his church, I want no part of him.

Some even reach the point of believing they want no part of God because he didn’t heal them or give them a better job or a bigger house. They don’t want any part of God because his people are hypocrites or greedy or mean spirited or abusive. In other words, God didn’t step in and create an environment that makes them safe and happy and fulfilled from the day they were born until the day they die.

I ran across (on the internet) still another group that claim to be Christians (I think), but who misuse Scripture so they can loudly proclaim, We’re number one!

There have been any number of others—false teachers, peddling a different gospel, such as the “agnostic Christians” or trinitarians or universalists or progressives or emergents. Some of these have said outlandish things—are we nicer than God? for instance—and their errors are not that hard to spot.

This latest false teaching simply twists what God’s word has to say about men and women. I don’t know if this group is large or small, organized or haphazard, but some are vocal, pushing their ideas in the “manosphere” (yes, they really use that term). And what are these ideas? They are essentially pushing back against feminism. They claim that God put men in charge, to exert “power and control.” You see, they say they believe in headship.

God did, in fact, make a husband the head of his wife, but He specifically used Jesus Christ as the example of what that headship looked like. Think about Jesus for a moment: He washed His disciples’ feet, the night of His arrest and trial. He came to earth as a sacrifice, that by His death we who believe in Him might be healed. Add in what we learn in Philippians—that Christ humbled Himself, emptied Himself, learned obedience to the point of death on the cross.

So where, I ask, does the idea of power and control come from in regard to headship? It certainly isn’t from Jesus.

Certainly God is sovereign, so He is in control, and He does have power—all power, in fact. But in His treatment of us, He exercises His love, mercy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience in order to bring us to Himself.

Furthermore, He tells us that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. In other words, He doesn’t force us to go against our will. If we choose to reject Him, He lets us go—though He’s made it clear there will be eternal consequences for rejecting Him.

The point is, God doesn’t use His power and control to bully us into submission. He loves us and asks us to love Him back by yielding to Him—not the same thing as making us bow the knee.

So here are these men claiming to be Christians who ignore the example Jesus Christ set for husbands and their responsibility to be the head of their homes. Love and service and sacrifice? Certainly not, they say. Headship means power and control!

Well, no. Only in their manosphere where they’re gathered to chant, “We’re number one!” God’s definition of headship doesn’t look anything like the bullying and even abuse these men dispense. They apparently are so fixated on their own need for power and control that they can’t see how they are pushing Jesus aside and telling Him He didn’t do headship the right way.

Reprise: What’s Offensive about Grace?


God's Great GraceWho would ever find grace offensive? We’re talking about God’s free gift. His favor—unsought, unearned, undeserved—yet something God chooses to give because of His great love. In what way is that an offense?

Yet people are offended by this good news. Why? I think there are several possibilities.

1) God’s gift of grace is a result of Man’s need for grace. And why does Man need God’s favor? Because not only are we sinners but our sin prevents us from coming to God on our own.

Some people, however, don’t want to hear about Man’s sin. They’ve bought into the worldly lie that humankind is good (it’s society that’s messed us up! :-o ) So the idea that God extends His grace is offensive. Only a weak, wounded, incapable person needs a saving hand. Someone who views himself as strong, whole, and adequate might be offended at a person declaring the opposite.

2) God’s grace requires belief in God. Unfortunately, some people are offended by the idea that God exists. If they can’t see Him, then He isn’t, from their perspective. Their unwillingness to accept revelation, and their determination to rely on their own understanding make the idea of a Supreme Being detestable. Consequently, His offer of grace is offensive.

3) God offers grace uniquely through His Son. The idea that Jesus is the only means by which a person can receive God’s grace is offensive to some. Could it be these people don’t like being told what to do, that they don’t handle do-it-or-else very well? Apparently they are offended at the lack of options, at the requirement to proceed through the only open door.

4) God’s grace is a free gift. Some people are adamant that they don’t accept charity. They pay their own way, and they’re determined not to change for God. He offends them by offering to cover for them because in so doing, He’s implying that they can’t make it on their own. And they’re convinced they can.

It seems to me that all these reasons for people to view God’s grace as an offense have one thing in common: pride. Pride colors our view of humankind so that we don’t see our sin nature. Pride keeps humans from accepting revelation over against our own rational interpretation of the world. Pride keeps us from accepting God’s solution instead of the ones people have imagined. Pride keeps a person from realizing he can’t reach God through his own efforts.

So why is grace the offense? Seems to me, grace rubs our pride the wrong way.

This article first appeared here in Feb 2009.

Published in: on October 13, 2015 at 4:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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Reprise: Sin Is Not The Problem


_A_volcano_on_the_Yemeni_island_of_Jabal_at-Tair_erupts_in_the_early_morning_hours_of_Oct._1,_2007Well, of course, sin IS the problem, but believing that sin is the problem has become a greater problem.

Western culture paints the belief that people sin in the worst light: If only oppressive religion didn’t make people feel so guilty. If only we realized our real potential. If only we weren’t so critical and judgmental. If only we looked for the good in others.

It all sounds so nice, so kind.

And it makes religion—Christianity in particular—seem so repressive, so intolerant, so blameworthy.

Yet no one holding this view seems concerned with what ought to be an overriding question—where did the first act of intolerance come from? How did the whole round of judgmental behavior get started?

Christian and non-Christian alike recognize that we all are not perfect. Yet somehow, the problem has become our feeling guilty for the wrong we do, not the wrong itself. The problem has become our judgment that others do wrong, not the wrong they do.

And we wonder why the lost world doesn’t want a savior.

Simply put, our culture has removed the need for a savior. Because, I’m OK and you’re OK. Not lost. And certainly not sinful.

The only people that ought to feel guilty are the ones pointing out sin. Shame on them for making the rest of us feel bad (not sinful—We Do Not Feel Sinful. To feel sinful would be … well, wrong).

So you see, our culture no longer believes sin is the problem.

It seems Christianity has played right into this deviation. No more fire-and-brimstone preaching! We don’t want people to hate coming to church. We have to bring them in with a good marketing strategy. Make church sound like fun and Christianity like the solution to whatever problem you are experiencing.

That’s not the way the preachers in the Bible went about speaking. John the Baptist called his audience a brood of vipers. Peter told his listeners they had killed the Messiah. Stephen called his audience stiff-necked and accused them of resisting the Holy Spirit.

And of course they died martyr’s deaths.

Many of our forefathers died the same way. But somewhere along the line, western Christianity got comfortable. Now we have rights and feel affronted if someone says something mean about Christians.

And more and more, we’re becoming silent. We don’t want to offend others by our “radical” religious views. So we’ll keep the peace and concentrate on lifestyle evangelism, because surely, just as people can see God when they look at nature, they can see Christ when they look at my life. Can’t they?

Why does it seem more and more that sin is not the problem as much as my willingness to say sin is the problem?

This post first appeared here in February 2011.

Published in: on October 7, 2015 at 6:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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Reprise: My Deceitful Heart


CO_21_NB_reassurance_sign,_Colorado_SpringsBack when I was in college, I would spend the summers with my parents in Denver. One year we took a couple short road trips on consecutive weekends. One was an hour’s drive north, the other an hour’s drive south.

The next week a family we knew came to visit for several days. During that period, their two teens and I decided to go to a popular movie they hadn’t seen yet. I told them I knew this particular movie was playing locally because I’d seen it at a theater we’d passed the previous weekend.

My dad helpfully looked up the information and gave me the exact freeway off ramp exit number. I took the directions, though I didn’t think I’d need them. After all, I’d seen the theater clearly from the freeway, so I knew we couldn’t miss it.

Off we went. Before too long, however, I noticed that the exit sign numbers were not advancing toward the particular one I was looking for.

No problem, though, I thought. I knew I was going in the right direction because I’d seen the theater with my own eyes. Perhaps, I reasoned, the numbers would reverse their order once we left the city proper.

My guests were amazingly patient, even as time and miles piled up. Even as the exit numbers continued to flip past in the wrong order. Even when that pattern didn’t change once we left the city. And even when we didn’t see the theater from the freeway.

I couldn’t understand what was wrong. Perhaps the information my dad had found was wrong or maybe he copied it incorrectly or … and then it hit me. I had indeed seen the theater, but not the previous weekend when we had taken our trip north. I’d seen it two weeks ago when we headed out of town going south.

Here’s the point, I learned that day how unreliable I am as a determiner of truth. I had the information my dad gave me, the exit numbers on the freeway signs, and a missing theater, but I still trusted my own idea of what was true. I even rationalized the differences and persisted when every indicator said I was wrong.

I’ve had to re-learn that lesson multiple times, but that one incident stands out as an illustration of how easily fooled my hard, prideful heart can be, and conversely, how much I need the authoritative Word of God to serve as the sign posts of life.

Of course, I have to believe what the signs say rather than rationalizing away what I don’t like or don’t agree with.

    Love your neighbor? Sure, I can do that … except, not that family with the really loud, late Saturday night parties and the noisy motorcycles (besides, their kids are probably involved with gangs).
    Speak the truth in love? Sure, I can do that … except, I don’t want to offend the people in my office, so I’ll just let slide their Bible-bashing (they probably wouldn’t change their attitudes even if I stuck up for the Bible).

It is so easy to find excuses to trust my own foolish, willful, wayward heart rather than the sure, authoritative, unchanging Word of God.

But you know what God says about my heart?

The heart is more deceitful than all else/ And is desperately sick;/ Who can understand it?
– Jeremiah 17:9

God goes on to say that He knows the heart and He gives “to each man according to his ways.” But here is His assessment of our ways:

We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
– Rom 3:9b-12 (the all caps are in the original and indicate quotations from the Old Testament)

Original sin? You bet. My heart so fools me, I’d believe in an instant that I’m good, if I could. In fact I tried. When I was very young, probably in first grade, the Sunday school teacher told us we were all sinners.

Not me, I thought. And I set about proving it. I figured if I could find one, even one person in the Bible who wasn’t a sinner, then I could be like that person. Jesus, I understood was perfect, but He was God, so I needed someone else.

I finally set on Moses and asked my mom if he wasn’t perfect. No, she said, he sinned. How? I asked. For starters, he committed murder.

Then how about David? No, he stole another man’s wife and had him killed. He wasn’t without sin either.

OK, I reasoned, if even the Bible people sinned, then it must be true. All sin, even me.

It wasn’t until years later I learned about my nature to sin, and I actually discovered that myself, when I was reading John 3:18. The problem isn’t sins I commit; the problem is my rejection of God. That’s the nature I have—one that wants to believe in myself, wants to choose my own way, wants to trust me despite the evidence and God’s witness that my heart is deceitful.

This post originally appeared here in September 2010.

Published in: on October 2, 2015 at 6:16 pm  Comments (7)  
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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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