New Clothes

Sunday our guest speaker, Tim Coulombe, who happens to be the son of one of our pastors, told a true story that illustrates a critical point that Christians need to grasp.

Tim and his wife adopted a little girl named Tsion from Ethiopia, and back in April went to pick her up. This little seven year old walked away from her orphanage with a small Ziplock bag containing the pictures and letters Tim and his family had sent her and the clothes on her back. Nothing more.

They went to the guest house where they were staying and where the Coulombes had a suitcase full of new clothes they’d bought for their new daughter, all just her size. Under the guidance of her new sister, Tsion bathed and shampooed her hair while Tim unpacked the new clothes and lay them out for her to choose from.

To the Coulombes’ shock, instead of picking out any of the new things, Tsion pulled on her old, tattered, dirty clothes. That’s all she knew, all she identified with as being hers.

What a picture of a Christian adopted by our Heavenly Father, laying out for us the new clothes He wants us to wear. Put aside all malice, Peter says, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander (see I Peter 2:1).

Put aside anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech, Paul says in Colossians (see 3:8).

These and other rags are our old clothes, the things God wants us to get rid of because He has brand new clothes for us to put on, beautiful things that will mark us as His children: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, love, unity, forgiveness.

See, for example, what Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:1-3)

But here’s the reason why:

we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,

Because we’re no longer orphans, we can put on the new clothes God has for us:

in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Eph 4:22-24)

The question is, will we? From now on, I suspect I’ll think of Tsion when I read verses like these in Scripture. Her choice is my choice. Do I want to wear the new clothes provided for me by my Heavenly Father or the filthy rags of my self-righteousness and sin?

Published in: on July 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm  Comments Off on New Clothes  
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Do Nice People Go To Hell?

What a question, Do nice people go to hell. There’s a couple things we have to define, the first being “hell.”

In the New Testament, Jesus used the word we translate as “hell,” the most, which kind of shoots the ideas that some emergent thinkers have, and which Rob Bell alluded to in his promotional video, that Jesus is loving and the Father depicted in the Old Testament 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, 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 I can be nice without going out of my way too much. Or 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 March 8, 2011 at 6:27 pm  Comments (9)  
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I’m On Elihu’s Side

Well, there aren’t really sides, per se. I’m referring to the exchange between the patriarch Job and the men who gathered to comfort him.

You might recall, there was initially some give and take between Job and three men who basically were counseling him to repent of whatever wickedness had brought on his terrible suffering. Then, and only then, God would restore his fortunes, they said. Job countered that he hadn’t done anything to cause his suffering. It was God’s doing.

At this point, I’m siding with Job. He sees God as independent, doing whatever He wills. His treatment of men is determined by His own will. In contrast, the friends see God as locked into reacting to whatever Man does — God’s treatment of men is determined by men.

Enter Elihu, a younger man than the three who first spoke to Job. In the past when I read what Elihu said, I was just confused. I couldn’t really figure out whether he was right in what he said, but I realize now that my reaction to him stemmed from my belief about Job.

Job, after all, is one of the heroes of the faith. The book of James uses him as an example of patience. What’s more, God used Job as an example of righteousness when He pointed him out to Satan. Job, then, is one of the good guys. Maybe he was the Best Guy, apart from Christ, who ever lived.

But not so long ago, it dawned on me that at the end of the book of Job, the hero was on his face, repenting of his sin. So somewhere between Job 2:10 (“in all this Job did not sin with his lips”) and 42:6 (“I repent in dust and ashes”), he did in fact sin.

I began to look at what Job said in a different light, and inevitably, as I saw Job more clearly, I began to understand what Elihu was saying.

I don’t have this down in a clear, systematic way, but here are the points I believe he was making.

1. God makes Himself known in a variety of ways. [Therefore men are without excuse].

2. God will not act wickedly. [Though Job is accusing Him of just that by saying He’s punishing him unjustly.]

3. God is sovereign, just, omniscient, and righteous.

4. Consequently, Job or the friends should have said, “Teach me what I do not see.”

5. Instead Job said, “My righteousness is more than God’s.” He’s punishing me when I did no wrong. [I found it startling to see that Job was taking the same position as some of the emergent thinkers like Mike Morrell, he of the “Am I nicer than God?” article.]

6. Job is teetering toward wickedness.

“Beware that wrath does not entice you to scoffing;
And do not let the greatness of the ransom [what he’d lost] turn you aside” (Job 37:18)

7. God is greater than we can know.

Enter God.

One of the reasons I never “got” Elihu before was because God never made any comment about him. He talked to Job and about the three men who spoke first, but never mentioned Elihu.

Did He need to? Perhaps His presence alone was validation of what Elihu said. I mean finally, after all the give and take, the defensive justifications and false accusations, someone speaks what is true about God. Then, and only then, did He show Himself. I think that might be corroboration enough that Elihu had it right.

Published in: on January 19, 2011 at 7:05 pm  Comments (3)  
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If God Were Not Just

Most of the regular visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction are likely unaware that a discussion cropped up a couple weeks ago on an unrelated post, centered on God’s justice. I’ve retitled the original post, “Why I Love Fantasy,” so that it now reads “God – A God Of Judgment?” The heart of the discussion, as I see it, lies in this comment I made to sometime-visitor and emergent-church conversationalist Mike Morrell:

You have stripped [God] of His right to judge, of His sovereignty over those who take a stand against Him, of His righteousness in doing so.

To clarify: some in the emerging church, as do atheists like Christopher Hitchens, regard God as He revealed Himself in the Old Testament as a tyrant, a genocidal maniac, a murderer. Therefore, they try to “explain” him in a number of ways. One is to reduce the Old Testament to the status of myth. Another is to suggest that God is evolving—becoming “nicer,” as Jesus demonstrated.

Seemingly the one thing these professing Christians cannot abide is that God is a just Judge, that He actually has the right to mete out punishment to those opposed to Him.

But this brings me to today’s topic. What would the world be like if God were not just? What if we had no sovereign judge?

First, I think it would be fair to say that a god who is not just would consequently also not have one of two other attributes: either omnipotence or goodness.

Here’s my line of thinking. If God were not just, then evil would be without recompense. If he were not just but still good, then it seems the only reason he would not act on behalf of good against evil would be because he lacked the power to do so. But if he retained all power, then his refusal to act against evil could only be understood as a lack of goodness which would necessitate him to redress wrong.

Secondly, if God were not just, then he also would not be righteous. A moral, principled, ethical individual could not look on the atrocities of man against man and take no stand.

Atheists know this. One of their accusations against God is that He takes no stand against the Hitlers and Stalins and Idi Amins and Osama bin Ladens of the world. Little do they understand that His action was and will be. He sent His Son and He will judge righteously.

The enclave of emergent thinkers accusing God of “genocide” in the Old Testament when He brought judgment to bear on nations, apparently think evil requires no action. Or else they believe evil does not exist in the heart of man, in which case, some other evil—society or Satan—is running around unchecked by an uncaring god devoid of righteousness.

Third, God’s love would not be magnified. If Man’s sin did not require payment, if Man was not destined to die, if sin would be solved simply by overlooking it, where then is the love of God? What love does it take to reward a good person, someone deserving of praise and adoration? Love shows best when it stoops to the unlovely, to the one who has nothing to give in return.

God’s love shines most brightly because He came and died to cancel the insurmountable indebtedness for each of us—not after we’d cleaned up a bit and earned a nod from our Creator. He made the supreme magnanimous sacrifice while we were yet sinners. He didn’t simply wave off our debt, though. He paid for it.

If we owed nothing, if there were no reckoning day when all accounts would be squared, then God’s sacrifice might be seen as a really nice gesture, but so unnecessary. People might actually cluck their tongues and say, What a waste, that he went through so much so unnecessarily.

How small God’s love looks if He is not also just.

Thankfully, thankfully, that notion is far from the truth.

Published in: on December 27, 2010 at 6:48 pm  Comments (19)  
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None Righteous, No Not One

A former student of mine wrote the line in the title above on Facebook as a comment to my blog post yesterday – “Do The Good Go To Hell?”

According to the Bible, she’s right, though I think we might all admit it’s a hard truth. The problem is, we measure Man with Man, and as such we see that there’s a wide range—from Jeffery Dahmer and Joseph Stalin to Mahatma Gandhi and Bill Gates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on October 14, 2010 at 5:57 pm  Comments (5)  
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